My wife and I had the chance to sail on the 3 day maiden voyage with the ms Bolette, ex Amsterdam from 16 to 18 August. Sailing from Dover and going nowhere, apart from having a leisurely look at the Scilly Isles and at the Channel Isles. Hence here a little update about what the ship now looks like sailing for Fred Olsen Lines. You might find the text somewhat similar to that of the Rotterdam / Borealis but they are sister ships so also a sister ship text.
The ms Amsterdam (III) was sold together with the ms Rotterdam (VI) on 20 July 2021 and then they went together in lay up at Rosyth in Scotland.
She was renamed in Bolette and scheduled to enter service about a month later than the Borealis. Fred Olsen ships naming system starts with a B and Bolette is the name of one of the family members of the current managing director who is one of the direct descents in the Fred Olsen Family line. When the ships were geared up to return to service the crews were flown in and put in quarantine on board the ms Balmoral which was also in layup in Rosyth. She is still there together with the Boudicca and they are scheduled to re-enter service next year. However the Bolette had much more time to prepare to return to service as she had more sea days, ” floating around”, than the Borealis.
The Amsterdam (III) was during her HAL days much less changed internally and externally than the Rotterdam (V) and Fred Olsen left her almost identical.
A problem with laid up ships is in general that the lack of constant inside cleaning and reduction in AC 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 and 6.
Because the ship had more time to start up and needed less internal work (Fred Olsen was quite happy with the near original HAL lay out of the ship) the ship was much further along than the Borealis. Lots of maintenance work was still going on but less in the face than on the Borealis. But also here 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.
As with the Borealis the art work in the cabins had been left in place and thus my cabin still showed the Dutch art from before.
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 it was all original. The amenities for these cabins are roughly the same as was offered by HAL Although HAL had dispensers in the showers and baths and also on the wash basin which we had in our cabin on but slightly different to Hal ; 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? The Crowsnest on the Amsterdam less had changed in the years than on the Rotterdam and was thus left the same. All the ships models on the portside were still there, only the bandstand was in another location than on the Rotterdam.
Important for me as an historian, Holland America had removed the art in the staircase entrance to the Crowsnest. This art came originally from the Nieuw Amsterdam of 1938 and will be used again on board our own ships. Fred had replaced this with a rowing boat, which I think had something to do with their history but there was no write up to explain.
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.
.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.
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.
While on the Rotterdam the aft pool had been reduced to a paddle pool in HAL days, on the Amsterdam this pool had remained the same, and Fred kept it so.
Fred Olsen also has a trademark tradition in the pool area and that is the installation of a bronze bow / figure head from their old days. Every time a Fred Olsen ship was sold the figure head was removed and put in the garden of the Olsen family until it could be used again on a new ship. In the old days it was located on the bow with the later cruise ships it was installed in the aft pool area.
The one installed on the Bolette comes from the old Black Watch (II) / Jupiter which was a car ferry from the 1960’s and 1970’s. This ship had a double name, Jupiter in the summer as car ferry, Black Watch in the winter as a cruise ship. Her sister Black Prince /Venus followed the same routine in those days.
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 in lay out, and so is the Ocean Bar on the 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. Onboard here I was told that the crew working in here do all the flower arrangements for the ship instead of down stairs as well as any requested by the guests.
Contrary to the Rotterdam, Holland America never introduced “The Mix” setup on the Amsterdam and thus the area – that used to be the Sports Bar-, was still there, and also the Night Club behind it.
The biggest change is in the area of the Casino. Here the difference between products becomes clearly visible.
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 were 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 the smaller Sports Bar area . This 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 the guests come out in force.
On the portside right behind it, is the Bookmark Café & Lounge, our ex Explorations Café, which has not changed at all. Behind it the Bolette Card Room, again unchanged apart from an aft section taken away and added to the space behind. This has become part of the new “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.
On the other side Holland America had the Explorers Lounge which was in use as a day room and in the afternoon and evening for classical concerts by Lincoln Arts 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.
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.
Covering both deck 5 and 4 near the bow was our Main Stage now called The Neptune Lounge. As mentioned above the place was left untouched apart from removing the Ladies holding the light fixtures on the sides of the lounge.
Deck 4, the 2nd public room area has been changed very little. The Cinema, we which called the Wajang theatre has been kept “As Is” With the kitchen, for cooking demonstrations, behind the movie screen and Fred continues 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 & Taste” Restaurant with menus inspired by the Far East.
Is the Fred Olsen product comparable to HAL now they have two of our ships? It is and it is not. There is nothing wrong with the Fred Olsen product but I am missing a lot of the small Holland America touches that made us stand out so much from the Competition. Fred is not exactly in competition as it concentrates fully on the British Market so I hope they will do well and our two HAL Ladies will serve them well.
My personal verdict: Fred Olsen has draft beer in every bar, in every lounge, but Holland America had nibbles, mixed nuts and canapé’s during cocktail hour that was something I really missed while on board.
A rather nice touch for me, although Fred Olsen might be Norwegian, he had left the sculpture of our (former) Dutch Queen Beatrix in place and she was still casting her benevolent eye over the guests gathering outside the Guest Services Desk.