- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

14 July 2021; ms Rotterdam (VI) Revisited.

Holland America is slowly starting up its cruise business again, with the Nieuw Amsterdam sailing to Alaska by late July and the Eurodam from Greece by mid August. However there is no option yet for me as Fleet master to start hopping between ships to provide my services so I am still at home. But last week I had to opportunity to sail on the 3 day maiden voyage of the Borealis, ex ms Rotterdam.  As I know that many of my readers have fond memories of this ship I thought you might find it interesting to see what the new owner Fred Olsen has done with the ship to transform it for the British Market.

On the 10th of April 2020 I left the ms Rotterdam in Fort Lauderdale while the ship was going into Lay-up after its Covid adventure with the ms Zaandam. Now 15 months later I re-joined the same ship but under her new name in Liverpool for her 3 day maiden voyage starting on July 05.

A lot of things have happened in those 15 months; the thing that remained the same was that I walked off the ship with my mask on and now I walked back on still with my mask on.

My interest in seeing the ship again was driven by the fact to find out how a Holland America Line ship the ms Rotterdam (VI) designed for the American market would be changed into a Fred Olsen ship for the British market. Two different cultures and interests although the language is (sort of) the same.

The ms Rotterdam (VI). As originally built, still without the “Sun Vizier” above the bridge which was added later to increase the Green House spa space.

The ms Rotterdam and ms Amsterdam were sold to Fred Olsen on 20 July 2020 after a review by Carnival Corporation established that 12% of its fleet, being 18 ships, only accounted for 3% of the yearly revenue. Some of the older (Carnival) ships went for scrap but the two smaller units of the R class were put up for sale. It was decided to keep the ms Volendam and ms Zaandam as they had a slightly larger guest capacity. (1432 against 1380 lower beds) The 2 S-class ships, ms Maasdam and ms Veendam were sold to a Greek operator where they were re-united with the ms Ryndam which had been sailing for P&O Australia. Fred Olsen obtained both ships for an extremely good price while Carnival had the chance to reduce their expected costs for the lay-up period. A period nobody knew how long this period was going to last.  At the time forecasts were dire so every penny was going to count.

The ms Borealis after she entered service on July 05.  The outward appearance unchanged from her HAL days.

Fred Olsen had the same challenge with the unknown length of the lay-up and thus both ships were laid up in the Firth of Forth with the rest of the fleet. Having them all together at one location gave the option to reduce costs and still maintain the safety standards and carry out any required maintenance at the same time while being able to utilise a combined crew for the purpose.

A problem with laid up ships is in general that the lack of constant inside cleaning and reduction in A.C normally results in little mushrooms and related vegetation to start growing in the public areas where in the past food was consumed. However good the on board cleaning is, and how hard you work at it,  you never get all the crumbs and past dried out fluid spill residue out of the carpets. In hot climates this is a bigger problem than in cooler areas but it happens regardless to a certain extent. So even if you were not planning to change carpets on a grand scale, a year in lay-up does make it necessary. Fred Olsen was planning to change the inside décor but had to wait until it was certain when there would be a tentative date for the restart of operations.  Hence carpeting and soft fabrics had the overriding priority once the start-up schedule was decided upon.

Thus the carpet in all public areas has been renewed, the wall furnishings (vanity stripes in the hallways) and all the cabin soft goods. (At least in the cabins I saw, which were mainly the suites on deck 7 and some cabins on deck 2) Due to budget constraints (Fred is not as rich as Carnival) this was the priority and thus there is still a massive amount of work to be carried out outside and inside. Hence the areas around the Funnel (tennis and basketball) were not accessible as major parts of the steelwork of the funnel base were being renewed, made rust free and painted. Also some parts of the ship to be used by the public some time in the future, were still closed off. The Neptune Day Lounge for suite guests was in use for collecting HAL artwork which was in the process of being removed from the ships public area’s and step by step replaced by Fred Olsen artwork.

Hallo America old style next to Norwegian new style.

Hence in some places it resulted in a bit of an unbalanced situation, HAL antiques versus modern Norwegian art but no doubt eventually the balance will be found. I was told that while Olsen Junior is running the company, Olsen Senior (now being 91 years old) was fully in charge of this operation and the Cruise Director had been assigned as the go-in-between for ensuring that each piece of art was going to be installed where Olsen Sr. wanted it and that only those HAL pieces were removed which Olsen Sr. wanted to be removed. It called for long and extensive emails to and from Norway with photos and explanations as Olsen Sr. could not come to the ship due to the Quarantine rules in the UK and the ship could not come to Mr. Olsen due to Norway still being closed to cruise ships.

Other locations which were closed and nearly impossible to find back were the public laundries of which Holland America had several, nearly one on each deck. Signage had been removed and the plan was to create one (larger?) laundry room on a deck 2 portside. The location was already indicated on the deck diagrams in the staircases but there was nothing there yet. According to the Fred Olsen website this amenity will be available in autumn 2021.

Part of the cabin art on Deck 7 in the suite cabins. Dutch landscapes in water colour.

The few cabins I was able to put my nose into were all as in the HAL days albeit with new soft furnishings. In some of the lower deck cabins the artwork had been changed but in the Suites on Deck 7 (which did have a better quality art work to be honest) all is still there and I hope it stays as it is really nice stuff even if it is Dutch. The amenities for these cabins are roughly the same as was offered by HAL Although HAL had dispensers in the showers and baths and small bottles and soaps on the wash basin; with Fred it is all bottles with pump tops. But the world atlas was there and the binoculars which had been standard before as well.

What else did change? In the Crow’s-nest, the Greek pillars around the dance floor were removed and a music stage was installed in front of the Wall TV.  Normally on a Fred Olsen ship the whole British Clientele goes for  cocktails before dinner and this means that each lounge is filled to capacity both for first and second sitting.

The Crowsnest. The name is unchanged. the dancefloor is still there for late night Disco but a band stand for live music has been added.

One deck down, the Spa area (Atlantic Spa and Fitness) was unchanged apart from some sprucing up of the wall fabrics and the signs.  Coming onto the Lido Deck (Deck 8) the Dive Inn / Hamburger Bar of Holland America was renamed in “The Poolside” with a different menu. I think it was not finished yet as the drawing in the cruise brochure indicated a different lay-out, without the Taco Bar. This self-service stand was still there but only in use as a display. The remainder of the Lido Deck with “The View” restaurant was identical to the HAL days with only the signage and fabrics changed. The speciality restaurant in the sb. forward corner, Italian food in the “Canaletto” by Hal has now become Indian Goa food in the “Vasco” by Fred Olsen. All the HAL art was still there with little reason to remove it as it fitted quite well in the new colour scheme.

The Lido Deck Aft outside pool. The Jacuzzi’s have been filled in with shrubs and the paddle pool itself is now a  sort of Zen ? happening.

Outside, the aft “paddle pool” of HAL is reduced to a pond with a large garden type area created by filling in the Jacuzzi’s and covering over the shallow pool sides still left.  Holland America had in 2008 decided to remove the outdoor salt water pool on the aft deck to be able to install indoor cabins under it and left on the top a shallow wading area or paddle pool. Under the forward overhang a more permanent bar had been constructed which is still there. On the portside there was a complete pizzeria with ovens for pizza making on demand but this has been removed permanently. Pizzas are obviously not part of the Olsen product. Looking up to Deck 9 and 10 behind the funnel, the children’s playroom (Club HAL is still there but boarded up. The open deck Kids area above (Called “The Oasis” in HAL days) is in use as a smoking and relaxation area for the crew

The main public rooms are on Deck 5 and 4 and thus here most of the changes were made. The show lounge is now called the Neptune Lounge and is unchanged and so is the Ocean Bar on starboard side behind it; and is still called the Ocean Bar. Same for the shops but the concession has changed from Dufry to Hardings and they were on this first cruise still busy with finding their feet. The Drugstore on the portside has been transformed into a Flower shop, something I have never seen before on a ship. Holland America had florists on board and a program for flower sales for special occasions but there was no dedicated outlet.

The biggest change is in the area of the Casino. Here the difference between products becomes clearly visible. In 2008 Holland America had changed the area between the Shops (sb. side) and the Casino (ps. side) into a new multifunctional venue called “The Mix”. It consisted of a Champagne Bar, a Cocktail Bar and a Sports Bar. Wedged between the champagne and the cocktails was a piano so this area was also used as the late night bar.

The new Morning Light Pub and lounge. The area has been opened up by removing the partition wall and the Champagne Bar.

The Champagne Bar and the Cocktail Bar have been removed to create more seating space and the area opened up to the walkway on the starboard side. The piano has been brought forward and a dance floor created in front of it.  This does not mean that British guests do not drink Cocktails and or champagne. It has just been centralized in one Bar. The former Holland America Sports Bar.

The old HAL Casino

On the portside the complete casino has been ripped out, including the Cashier booth and the two offices behind. (They must have had fun with getting the big safe out). Two new gaming tables are installed in the portside aft corner but no slot machines or anything else. The area has been re- designed as a sitting area, and can act as an overflow for the Ocean Bar and previous Sports Bar. The whole area is now called the Morning Light Pub & Lounge. I think it will work very well for Fred Olsen as they need a multipurpose day room as many of the established cruise staff activities such as the daily quiz / trivia still attract large numbers of guests.

Although due to Covid-19 the ships was sailing with a 50% occupancy rate, it did not feel empty. The guests were out in force in the afternoon and evening to create a good atmosphere. It was just nice that we did not have to hunt for seats during cocktail time. Normally on a British ship you have to be early to get a seat during cocktail hour as they come out in force. Hence Fred Olsen has draft beer in all public rooms to deal with the demand.

The new Morning Light Lounge. Note the sign on the chair. Social distancing was very much in evidence but with the ship being only 50% there was still ample space.

On the portside right behind it, is the Bookmark Café & lounge, our ex Explorations Cafe, which has not changed at all. Behind it the Bolette Card Room, again unchanged apart from an aft section taken out and added to the space behind. And behind is “The Forrest Room” but with the doors firmly locked it was still a mystery. In Holland America Line days this used to be the Microsoft Workshop for computer lessons. The other side has changed to a certain extent.

The Lincoln Art center for classical performances from forward to aft in the HAL days.

Holland America had here the Explorers Lounge which was in use as a day room and in the afternoon and evening for classical concerts by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. This has now been split up in two parts whereby the aft part has been transformed into “The Oriental Tea Room”. The aft inner wall has been removed, creating an extra entrance, which meant that the Terracotta soldiers and horses were removed.

The Oriental Tea Room looking from aft to forward. Some HAL art and antiques have remained. Interspersed with Modern Norwegian Art.

The Rotterdam “La Fontaine” Dining room now has different names for the upper and the lower part has remained unchanged apart from the fabric. Originally this dining room had two wings on the deck 5 level. The Kings and Queens. The Queens was giving over to the Microsoft workshop but the Kings was still in use for overflow and special dinners. This has now been changed to the “Indian Ocean Room” Restaurant. The Holland America antiques have been removed and replaced with a Tropical mural.

The old Kings Room now renamed in the “Indian Ocean Room” for special dinners.

Deck 4, the 2nd public room area has been changed very little. The tile display behind the Front Office, now called Guest Services, lost its sailing ships but the center display remained. The Cinema, we which called the Wajang theatre has kept it is Kitchen for cooking demonstrations behind the movie screen and it looks like Fred will continue to use it in its dual purpose role with the space now named The Auditorium. Right behind it is another speciality restaurant which started out life with us as the “Marco Polo” for Italian cuisine, then became “The Pinnacle” for North West fusion cuisine and is now the “Colours & Tastes” Restaurant with menus inspired by the Far East.

Is the Fred Olsen product comparable to HAL now they have two of our ships? Too many options that the ship can deliver, varying from TV channels to the availability of all public rooms, are still missing. But it will be interesting to see how far the ship will have grown into the full Fred Olsen product in a year or so.

While on board I asked the Captain if the Mooring Telegraph on the bridge was still there, installed by the Rotterdam Captain and I during the period before April 2020 (meant as a photo shoot point for later bridge tours), and it was. So now I was able to hand over a framed narration which detailed the history of the telegraph, from its Moore McCormack days, via the Veendam (III) and the Rotterdam (V) to the Rotterdam (VI) and now the Borealis.  This made everybody on board quite happy as they all loved it (Including Mr. Olsen Sr.) but nobody knew exactly what it was and where it came from.

The old mooring telegraph from 1954.

40 Comments

  1. Good to hear from you, Captain.

    It sounds like Fred.Olsen is taking good care of HALs old ships. I think I like the product, and look forward to trying it out.

    Love those watercolors.

    Have they made any changes to the Lower Promenade? Do they have teak steamers?

  2. Wolfgang Rüdiger Müller

    July 15, 2021 at 11:39 pm

    Danke für den interessanten Bericht

  3. A really interesting account. I miss that ship as I am sure others do as well.
    It’s great to read one of your posts again. I hope we will see more from you soon and often.
    All the best, Don

  4. Captain Albert, thanks for the background information about the former ms Rotterdam VI to the Fred Olsen ms Borealis.

  5. Thank you, Captain Albert!
    It’s great to hear from you again.
    Be well!

  6. Julia Peterman

    July 16, 2021 at 12:35 am

    Was so happy to see your name appear on my screen. Have really missed your daily blogs! Thank you for the information about the Rotterdam VI. Loved that ship! Now looking forward to cruising on the Rotterdam VII in November. Hoping all goes well and HAL will be back to normal soon!

  7. It’s totally awful that with sale of the four ships there is no longer the piano bar with really good entertainers. The dual pianos usually r awful and I travel a lot on Holland and I’m not the only one who misses The piano bars. Same on Holland.

  8. This is a very interesting (but still sad) update our our Rotterdam. Thanks for this, the pictures, etc. I’m glad you were able to sail on her and hope maybe you’ll be able to sail on Bolette too? Pretty please? With over 900 days on my precious Amsterdam, I have a vested interest in her and hope she’s treated just as well by Fred.

  9. Capt. Albert, so good to hear from you we cannot wait to sail with HAL again.
    Carol & Ted Heap, Florida, USA

  10. Oh my, such a wonderful tale. You held my interest with every word.

    So good to hear from you again. As we all awaken from the Covid nightmare, I hope you will be on the blog often.

    Thank you so much!

  11. So very nice to hear from you. It is very interesting how another cruise line goes through the process of making a ship their own. I’m sure they were delighted to have you there.

  12. GERDINA OLSON (nee Snoek)

    July 16, 2021 at 2:16 am

    Very nice to see that “our” ships are being taken such good care of and given attention to. It all looks quite lovely . And nice to hear from you Captain Albert.
    I had to chuckle about your comment re artwork in Suites on deck 7 : “….all is still there and I hope it stays, it is really nice stuff EVEN IF IT IS DUTCH” Hahahaha!
    Nice one Captain !!

  13. Mary Beth Burns Texas, USA

    July 16, 2021 at 2:50 am

    Seems like a lifetime but it is only a year and a half (still much too long) since we were reading your blog and comments.
    Let’s all get back to what we called normal and proceed with our lives and give a salute to HAL.
    God bless to you Captain Albert. I booked today on the Eurodam to Alaska and more after that one.
    Stay well,

  14. Simon Kortleven

    July 16, 2021 at 3:07 am

    Good to hear from you, Captain.
    Love those watercolors.
    Hailing from Rotterdam, I miss that ship as I am sure others do as well.

  15. Kirsten Ulmer

    July 16, 2021 at 3:49 am

    This blog answers many questions that some of us may have wondered about – written in lively detail with photos to accompany explanation of changes. Looking forward to reading future blogs written by Captain Albert.

  16. Marlene Reinecke

    July 16, 2021 at 4:20 am

    I was so good to hear from you! It must have been a bit nostalgic being on the ship again. I have been following the Fred Olsen news about the ship and it seemed they were really happy to have it. I appreciate your taking the time to write of your time on it now and submitting the pictures was wonderful. I have mixed feelings on sailing it now as loved it as the Rotterdam VI. My September trip on the new Rotterdam VII was cancelled so hope to go in May. Thank you again and hope you will soon be back soon.

  17. Patrice Pallone

    July 16, 2021 at 5:37 am

    Thank you for this interesting & detailed update, complete with photos! Some of the photos I had seen, previously, showed more of the old art, which, apparently has been removed. I had hoped more of the Rotterdam’s most impressive antiques & art (such as the terracotta soldiers & horses) would be incorporated into the new decor. Although we were sorry when many of our favorite ships were sold, it is good to see them continuing on in their new format.

  18. Wat fijn om weer van u te horen Capt. Albert. We hebben u gemist en het is goed om te lezen hoe het met de Rotterdam is gesteld. Het vertrouwen in FO was er al maar uw gedetailleerde verslag heeft dit nog meer versterkt. Dank daarvoor. Ik kan me verheugen op een volgend verslag waarin u misschien iets kunt uitleggen betreffende het trappenhuis. Wat is er gebeurd met de plaquettes/borden die detstijds zijn overhandigd bij een “frist call” door de betreffende havenautoriteit?
    Bij voorbaat dank voor uw reactie.

    • Goede vraag ! Heb al eerder geprobeerd om hier een antwoord op te vinden, misschien kan de Captain ons informeren.

    • Captain Albert

      July 17, 2021 at 8:43 am

      Mijn dank voor uw reactie.

      Ik heb daar ook naar gevraagd op het schip en alles plaquettes zijn ingepakt en in een doos naar een opslag in schotland gestuurd. (Dat is ook gebeurd met de terracotta soldaten en paarden ut de Explorers lounge) Volgens de mensen aan boord ging Mr. Olsen Sr. dan later een beslissing nemen over wat er mee gaat gebeuren.

      mvg

      Capt. albert

  19. Stephen Morton

    July 16, 2021 at 6:13 am

    Thank you for your report. It sounds like a good cruise. It is interesting to here how the two products have been blended. With Fred those ships could go on for another twenty plus years. They must have been pleased to get such fine ships. I am sure Fred. will look after them well and make further interesting changes.

    I am cruising on Bolette next year. I hope all the facilities are open. Particularly the self service laundry as I am onboard for seventeen nights.

  20. hans van bemmelen

    July 16, 2021 at 7:59 am

    thanks foor the detailed story
    How many passengers where on board?

    • Captain Albert

      July 16, 2021 at 3:25 pm

      Approx. 600 so 150 short of the 750 that were allowed.

      There is still a reluctance to travel, even with the restrictions being lifted more and more.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  21. Wlbert L.J. Bosma

    July 16, 2021 at 9:41 am

    Dear Captain Albert, it’s so good to read your interesting stories again! have you been able to work on your “Captains of the past”?

  22. Pam and Jim Simms

    July 16, 2021 at 11:19 am

    Thank you for an interesting look inside! We always enjoy your writings.
    Looking forward to being back onboard HAL in 2022!!

  23. Gary Borremans

    July 16, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    Great story captain, thanks Gary B.

    • Captain Albert

      July 16, 2021 at 3:27 pm

      Yes,

      Capt. Pauw has been completed, Captain Van den Heuvel is about half way. Captain Buhse was added. Captain Scale was added, but waiting for more information.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  24. colleen davis

    July 16, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    Very in depth description of the changes made!! Only you can put it into words that bring the description to life! Thank you for sharing!

  25. Kees van der Kooy

    July 16, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    Het blijft onze Rotterdam VI.
    Wat ze ook doen om het hun schip te maken.
    Eén voordeel we hebben nu de Rotterdam VII.

  26. Jan Willem Goudriaan

    July 16, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    Dear Captain Albert,

    Thank you so much for your detailed story!

    As the majority of my HAL cruises were on board of ms Rotterdam (more than 200 days) , she has a special place in my heart and therefore nice to see she is in good hands.

    Thank you again!

    For now wishing you and all crew and office staff the very best, such hard times for all of you. Especially thinking about all the crew, anxious waiting at home for a new contract yes/no.

    For us passengers, well , patience although I hope to be on board again soon
    (4 cruises booked……)

    Stay well, very best regards!

    Jan Willem Goudriaan

  27. It was a lovely surprise to see your name in my inbox again. It is always sad to see ships change but the Fred Olsen Line is well loved too. I still remember the old Rotterdam with the Ritz Carlton room and beautiful woods and metal decorations and floors. Many happy memories of hundreds of days spent on HAL ships.

  28. Frances Sue Nitz

    July 16, 2021 at 8:23 pm

    So happy to read your news, Captain Albert. I hope one of these days you are on of of the HAL cruises that I do. I enjoy your letters so much and all the information & ship history. I have been counting the days until sailing again after all the cancellations. I was thrilled when Alaska cruises opened again out of Seattle so can go again in 2021. Also I booked it for 2022 since it is my favorite world wide. F. Sue N. from Tucson, AZ

  29. Great to hear from you and what’s been happening to MS Rotterdam VI. I was due to take a Baltic cruise on her in May 2020 which had to be cancelled. As someone who had to shield and still has to take extra care I’m waiting patiently for 2022 before going cruising. Ever hopeful things will improve even more. Stay safe.

  30. George Swindell

    July 17, 2021 at 4:58 pm

    Many thanks Capt Albert.
    As always ; interesting and your blog has been sadly missed.
    I have just returned fro a short cruise on Borealis and it was very enjoyable.
    As you say lots of pictures and other items from her Holland America history.
    some things are better , other less so.
    I never sailed on her as “Rotterdam” only on Westerdam and Oisterdam but I believe they were simlar in character?
    I think its good that Fred Olsen have taken her over as I know she will be well looked after as there was lots of works still going on.
    On a negative and rather sad note, on our last day, due to engine (starting?) problems the last sea day was cancelled and she is still in Portsmouth not having been able to return to Liverpool. I do hope its nothing too serious and is back riding the ways soon. thanks again.
    Best regards George Swindell

  31. Robina Herrington

    July 18, 2021 at 11:44 am

    Lovely to read your Blog again seems a life time . You must have had an
    Interesting few days on the Ship, let’s hope it will not be too long before
    You can return to the HAL ships with your wonderful observations

  32. I was on bard the Rotterdam with you for its final complete trip through the Panama Canal to Sun Diego in March 2020, and it is fascinating to read what has been done with the ship. Though also very sad as this was truly one of the best cruise ships on the sea.

    Hoping to meet you again on a future HAL cruise, we’re booked for Mexico this year and hoping for South America next.

  33. Roger Tollerud

    July 22, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    Captain A
    Welcome back I have missed your stories of the sea. I hope you are soon back on a ship and telling us about your adventures.
    Best regards,
    Roger T

  34. Will you be making a cruise on Bolette (former Amsterdam)?

    • Captain Albert

      August 15, 2021 at 7:51 am

      yes Sir,

      I will be on the 3 day maiden voyage. there will be a write up on my return.

      Best regards

      Capt Albert

  35. Thanks Captain, for this excellent write-up. I was so sorry to hear the Rotterdam was sold, as with 200 days on board, it was by far my favorite. The newer HAL ships are much higher capacity, and the experience is just not the same. I also read your (former) Amsterdam comments. I had about 100 days on that ship, which was okay, but I much preferred Rotterdam.

    However, I saw you last on the Amsterdam, a few rooms down from me, in 2018 I believe. As always your presentations are excellent. We also sailed a couple of times together on the Statendam, I hope we meet again!

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