Aboard Rotterdam VII ~Marking Holland America Line’s 150th Anniversary on a Gala Transatlantic Sailing

First of two historic sailings underway!

There’s nothing like being a part of history…particularly when being a part of that history includes a transatlantic sailing aboard Rotterdam VII, Holland America’s recently launched 2,668-passenger flagship.

On October 15, 1872, the steamship Rotterdam departed the city of Rotterdam for a crossing that called at Honfleur, France and Plymouth, England before continuing on to New York City. To celebrate the line’s anniversary, Holland America is recreating this exact itinerary with a gala, history-drenched sailing that departed Rotterdam 150 years to the day that the first Rotterdam sailed. And if you’re kicking yourself that you missed it, don’t worry! The same sailing, in reverse, will depart New York City on April 18, 2023, and will feature all of the celebrations and events that we’re enjoying aboard Rotterdam VII right now.

As a special prelude to our sailing, I spent a day in Rotterdam before boarding Rotterdam VII and learned just how tightly intertwined Holland America is with this fascinating city that is, in fact, the busiest port in Europe and among the busiest in the world.

Historian Bill Miller Sets the Scene

Maritime historian and author of 115 books on ships, Bill Miller, who grew up in Hoboken alongside the docks where Holland America ships berthed before their home port moved to New York, kicked off a day of eye-opening history with a presentation that took us from Holland America’s leading role in Europeans’ emigration to North America to the impact of the 1958 birth of air travel on transatlantic crossings and the introduction of cruising for pleasure. Mr. Miller is a highly entertaining speaker, liberally sprinkling anecdotes and humor into his talks, to bring the past to vivid life. Our on board schedule features daily presentations by this engaging and knowledgeable expert and he will also be featured on the April 18th sailing.

Next Stop:  Rotterdam V, Now a Hotel and Conference Center

To so many (including me!), Rotterdam V, which entered service in 1959, was a magical ship, bringing elegance to the cruising experience. Today you may visit Rotterdam V or even stay aboard her, as the ship now operates year round as a 254-room hotel and conference center. …but this current incarnation was a very close call. After Rotterdam V’s 1997 retirement from Holland America and her sale to Premier Cruise Line where she sailed briefly as Rembrandt, her future was uncertain. Demolishers were actually aboard the ship planning to scrap this Grand Dame that carried in her lifetime celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and members of royalty. An outcry from the citizens of Rotterdam, who viewed this 1959 Holland America flagship as a symbol of remarkable achievement after the devastating impact of a war that nearly flattened the city, prevailed and she was given her new life. Having cruised aboard Rotterdam V several times during the 80s, I found myself scratching my head as I toured her: lovely, untouched spaces like the Ocean Bar and Ritz Carlton seemed awkward alongside newly constructed spaces geared toward conference business. But then I considered the devastating alternative.

                                                                                                            ~Ocean Bar aboard Rotterdam~

Holland America Archives:  What a Collection!

Early 20th century dining room menus. Ship manifests reflecting 2.6 million guests who sailed Holland America since 1900. Vintage promotional postcards and posters. That was just some of what we examined during a visit to Stadsarchief Rotterdam, the city’s ambitious archives. The records revealed a Holland America stowaway…the birth of two babies…and a dog who appeared to be traveling alone! While the organization chronicles roughly 700 years of city history, it is Holland America material that is most requested. (stadsarchief.Rotterdam.nl). (And don’t miss the magnificent, vibrant carpeting that depicts the city of Rotterdam in 1694–it, alone is worth a visit!)

Hotel New York:  Holland America Headquarters Preserved

A brief visit to Hotel New York was our final stop and if Hotel New York doesn’t sound very Holland American, brush up on your cruise history! This atmospheric 19th century building served as the original headquarters of Holland America. Despite its current operation, Holland America is very much in evidence, from the massive Holland America ship painting that stands behind the old world reception desk to exhibits of Holland America artifacts and, of course, “Holland Amerika Lijn” splashed across the building’s brick facade. Located across from Wilhelminapier pier, offices faced the dock lands so that executives could view their ships as the sailed into and out of Rotterdam.

A visit to Rotterdam was the ideal pre-crossing introduction to this historic Holland America sailing… and now the fun really begins as Rotterdam VII makes her way across the ocean! Check allthingscruise.com in late October for my detailed account of what promises to be a truly special voyage!

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