On Holland America’s new Rotterdam ship

The mood has changed and the glory days of cruising are docked back in NYC.

Holland America’s newest ship, the Rotterdam, made her maiden call in New York City on October 26 after a 12-day cruise, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the shipping company’s first transatlantic crossing.

On board it was easy to travel back in time.

Every day I saddled up at the bar for happy hour, which serves Dutch 150s (gin, bubbly, and lemon) and other classics for just $0.25. Some days I spent the money and ordered the G&T for $0.50.

In the main dining room, Roaring Twenties menu items include beef royal ribs a la Medici, Dutch ducklings and arctic char a la Normande.

But it was the sight of the pearly whites of the roughly 1,000 crew members that felt positive about the fin de siècle: For the first time in two and a half years, they no longer have to wear masks.

It has been 100 years since the Rotterdam first called at NYC.
©2021 Michel Green

Holland America’s OG Rotterdam was a 1,700-ton iron steamer that first set sail for New York in 1872. Our Rotterdam is a 99,800 ton luxury cruise ship. The passengers of the first Rotterdam slept on disposable straw mattresses in dormitories with six to twelve bunk beds. They couldn’t even bring their own bedding to prevent the spread of disease. Men and women, even married couples, were separated because at the time it was hard to tell who was legally married (scandal!), according to Rotterdam-based historian Bill Miller.

In the early days of the shipping company, there were also cows, sheep, chickens and one or two ducks on board on most trips – after all, they needed fresh milk, meat and eggs for the passengers.

The only animal on my trip was Joska, a Dutch guide dog with platinum status for sailing more than 700 days.

A new and improved Rotterdam flaunts retro flair.
A new and improved Rotterdam flaunts retro flair.
Holland America

But retro has its limits, and like the rest of the lucky 1,950 passengers on board, I slept on a pillow-top mattress with 500-thread-count sheets and no fewer than eight pillows. And should I want to bring the drummer of the ship’s jazz band back to my room after one too many Dutch 150s, nobody would stop me.

In the early 1900s, 5,000 immigrants, all steerage, arrived in New York Harbor every day. Many of them came on Holland America, which had six liners that served New York weekly.

Our journey started exactly 150 years to the day after the first Rotterdam left its eponymous city in the Netherlands for the Big Apple. This journey would take 21 days. It took us 12 days.

Sip-a-palooza: Cheers to Rotterdam's $0.25 cocktails.
Sip-a-palooza: Cheers to Rotterdam’s $0.25 cocktails.
©2021 Michel Green

I know we didn’t go full throttle because a fellow passenger complained that Cunard’s Queen Mary II passed us once.

I wasn’t in a hurry, but I couldn’t afford for this Atlantic crossing to take any longer. I spent the money I saved drinking quarter cocktails at the ship’s spa. While I was getting $400 Dysport injections (basically the new botox) in my forehead, the Medspa doctor was trying to sell me a $4,000 non-surgical facelift. I told her I would think about it.

Still, historically, cruising is great business.

Interior of a cabin on the new Rotterdam.
Passage on the newly launched Rotterdam will set you back around US$1,000 per cabin.
©2021 Michel Green

A ticket for the original Rotterdam cost about $120 in 1872. That equates to about $1,890 today. The passage in first class, where you were referred to as ladies and gentlemen, not just men and women, would have cost you $36. That’s about $3,400 in today’s money. Today, crossing the new Rotterdam starts at around US$1,000 per person for an inside cabin and goes up to US$15,000 per person for the 1,290 square meter Pinnacle Suite.

Note: These prices do not include WiFi. I paid an additional $279 to stay connected on board, but consistent with the throwback theme, the wifi was non-existent half the time.

“They rely on people not to complain,” said an older American woman next to me over breakfast as I struggled to see what was trending on TikTok.

Eat to your heart's content in one of the ship's many dining areas.
Eat to your heart’s content in one of the ship’s many dining areas.
©2021 Michel Green

Still, I stayed entertained. The ship even has a museum at sea. Located on Deck 12 in the Crow’s Nest, it contains historical photos, vintage menus, programs, promotional items and memorabilia. There is a lot to see. Over the past 150 years, Holland America has carried approximately 12 million passengers – many of whom immigrated to the United States via New York.

A name on a 1962 passenger list caught my eye. It’s Edward van Halen. Yes, the Eddie Van Halen.

He was born in Amsterdam and immigrated to the United States with his family on a ship from Holland America via New York City. He didn’t come in first class, but at least he was allowed in.

That’s all that really matters, right?

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