Cruises: Drinking in the ambience aboard Rotterdam VI

Rotterdam VI's La Fontaine dining room during a cruise to New York.
(Karl Zimmermann)

Rarely has a city been as in love with a shipping company as Rotterdam, Netherlands, is with the Holland America line.

So July 3, when the 1997 Rotterdam VI left the Netherlands’ second-largest city for New York City, the Dutch turned out in force to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Holland America’s last transatlantic liner voyage.

My wife, Laurel, and I were aboard this 1,364-passenger ship, which is more reminiscent of traditional liners than many of today’s mega-cruise ships. We wanted to feel the faint rumble of engines under our feet and hear the swish of seawater as we made our way across the Atlantic, following a port call at Southampton, England.

We were fresh from an overnight on De Rotterdam, built in 1959 as the S.S. Rotterdam and opened in February 2010 as a 254-room lodging and conference center..


In its sailing days, the Rotterdam had been a favorite of ours, so as we walked across the gangway onto this now-hotelified vessel, it was with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. Would our recollections of voyages be compromised?

We needn’t have worried. Most of the public rooms have been impeccably restored: the grand double deck with its elegant lacquered teak murals; the intimate Ambassador Room, a bar and lounge with bottle-glass partitions; the tiny Tropic Bar; and the Smoking Room, with its unique love seats that can be flipped to face the windows or the room.

The staterooms have been constructed as hotel rooms in all-new (and mostly larger) configurations, and the original furniture, built-in and freestanding, has been reinstalled.

But as lovely and memorable as this all was, we looked forward to boarding a working ship, the Rotterdam VI.

The sailing itself would be unforgettable.

“Start spreading the news,” Frank in Person (a talented Dutch performer who channeled Sinatra perfectly) sang from the pier. “I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it, New York, New York.” Frank (his real name) sailed with us and performed along the way

“Those of you who know me,” Rik Krombeen, Rotterdam’s captain, had warned us over the public address system during the pre-departure lifeboat drill, “know that I like to use the whistle every chance I get.” He apparently had plenty of chances.

Lines were loosed at 9:30 p.m., and the Rotterdam edged into the harbor, its sonorous whistle offering salute after salute to the waving, cheering crowd, and then to the 1959 moored Rotterdam, which, of course, returned them in kind. Whenever Krombeen encountered groups on shore as we sailed through the late dusk toward Hoek von Holland and the North Sea, he acknowledged them.


The 10-day crossing spun by in the laziest, loveliest of ways, with one day of “strong gale, very high seas” (according to the ship’s log) to remind us what the North Atlantic can do to a ship. In the Crow’s Nest, a forward lounge on the 10th deck, we watched spray wash over the windows.

Otherwise, we drank in the Ocean Bar and dined in La Fontaine, circled the teak Lower Promenade Deck for exercise or sat reading on the wooden deck chairs there. We had chosen open seating for dinner and became pals with a Dutch couple — easy to do, since Hollanders outnumbered Americans 694 to 455 on this crossing.

After dinner we typically dropped in at the Explorers Lounge to hear the Adagio Strings play and occasionally took in the show in the theater. Every day the program listed 50 things we could see, do, taste or attend, and we skipped most. We were too busy relaxing, though we didn’t miss Bill Miller’s excellent maritime lectures.

Then before we knew it we were on the Rotterdam’s forward deck with Frank in Person, watching the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island slip by and listening to him sing “New York, New York” one last time.