The week of 26-29 March 1996 was a busy one for our group of ship watchers. We had three ships lined up for that week, starting with Island Princess and ending with Holland America’s Rotterdam. In between these 2 visit was a cruise on board Rhapsody, but that isn’t covered in this blog entry. Of the three ships we experienced that week Rotterdam was easily the biggest and most impressive, though, she was on borrowed time, this being her last world cruise before she was sold out of the HAL fleet. There was talk of her being bought by Premier Cruises and being renamed “Big Red Boat Somethingorother” but she ended up operating as Rembrandt instead before ending up in layup where her future became increasingly more uncertain.
My notes for her read as follows: “Built for Holland America Line. Launched 13/09/1958. Last in service with Premier Cruises lines as Big Red Boat IV, (apparently she never formally carried the name Big Red Boat IV) was to re-enter service for CruiseShares. However, citing forthcoming SOLAS regulations, CruiseShares indicated that they would not be putting her into service and she remained laid up at Freeport until May 2003 when it was announced that she had been bought by the Port of Rotterdam and her original builders who intend refitting her back to 1960’s style and using her as a static museum ship. In mid July 2004 she arrived at Cammel Laird in Gibraltar for further refurbishment before returning to Holland. Since moved to Poland for refurbishment and removal of hazardous material, then to Germany for more refurbishment. Due to enter service as a static hotel/museum in May 2008. This was delayed until 2010 and the ship has finally been opened to the public. ” Even today her future is still uncertain as rumours abound that she is up for sale.
On the day we arrived back from our cruise Rotterdam (aka “The Grande Dame”) was waiting for us, having arrived the previous night to bunker. Our visit had been pre-arranged so it was just a matter of going on board. Like so many ships you only get to appreciate her size once you see her up close and personal, and Rotterdam was big. She has had a number of different liveries in her career, this time around she was in a dark blue with buff lifeboats, and nary a spot of dirt to be seen. The ship, both inside and out was immaculate.
In her early years she operated as a two class ship, but clever design ensured that it was not an obvious split. Her interiors seemed to originate from the 50’s and 60’s but it was not a jarring thing, if anything it lent her a lot of charm. This was not some mass market block of flats, but a very tastefully decorated, grand dame from the old days of passenger ship travel.
She has magnificent promenade decks, and was very well maintained. Our guide was on of the deck officers who was very proud of the ship and its heritage. The bridge was large and functional with a good view over her foredeck and bows.
Part of our visit included a trip to the engine room with its shining turbine installation and boilers. At the time of our visit most of the engine room was shut down with only 1 boiler fired to maintain electrical plant. From there we headed off for lunch at the buffet situated aft. The food was stunning compared to the mediocre meals on board Rhapsody.
And then it was time to leave this beautiful ship as she prepared to sail. We were promised 3 blasts on her whistles when she sailed past the North Pier, and we watched them single her up and prepared to take our last pics.
The light was perfect and made her superstructure glow as it faded. She looked majestic as she made her final turn into the channel,
And as she came abaft of us, her whistle blasted her farewell, we answered with our puny car hooter, and from the bridge wing a solitary officer waved his farewell. She would never again grace our shores, and if ever I get to Holland she is on my list. Ironically one of my friends who was on this visit was able to see her in Rotterdam and he said that she was still magnificent.
Her modern namesake comes nowhere near to her in beauty and class. I saw that iteration of Rotterdam in 2013 and I was not impressed. She too has left the fleet and since July 2021 is in service with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines under the name MS Borealis . A new Rotterdam iteration entered service in October 2021 but she just not compare to “The Grande Dame”.