First Look: Oosterdam

| August 26, 2003

Recently dedicated in Rotterdam as the second in Holland America Line's Vista Class series of ships, the 1,848-passenger Oosterdam represents a distinct evolution from the first vessel in this category, Zuiderdam. Whereas Zuiderdam�s interior design carried "punch" (CruiseMates' Anne Campbell wrote that in some areas, "You won't need morning coffee!"), Oosterdam is much more refined and quieter than its sister.

Throughout Oosterdam, the predominant color schemes are royal hues of purple, blue, burgundy and gold. There are no jolting colors whatsoever, and the overall effect of the ship's decor and architecture is one of comfort and embrace. Oosterdam just sort of wraps its arms around you.

As on Zuiderdam, there are lots of cozy nooks that provide intimate settings. In fact, Oosterdam's public spaces absorb and disperse passengers so effectively that even at full capacity -- as the ship was during my time on board -- one could always find an unoccupied nook.

My favorite spots for pre-prandial cocktails were the Ocean Bar, which featured cozy bay window sitting areas that looked out on the Promenade Deck and the sea; and Explorer's Lounge, one of the most traditional public rooms on the ship. The other signature public room, the Crow's Nest, was a popular after-dinner spot.

The ship's intimate atrium, only three decks high, bucks the trend of soaring atriums found on today�s new ships. It has the feel of a fine hotel. The centerpiece, a Waterford crystal world globe, features raised continents in earth tones, impressing upon passengers the fact that Holland America, which celebrated 130 years with Oosterdam's launch, touches all seven continents with its fleet of 12 ships.

Aside from its pleasing color scheme and intimate ambience, Oosterdam has the feel of a classic ship. HAL traditionalists will appreciate the maritime themes that imbue this vessel with a sense of historical continuity.

VOC Penny

In the aft stairwell, for example, are beautifully framed replicas of Dutch East India Company (VOC) pennies. The pennies not only encourage an extended gaze but also have historical significance. Coins were used to steep the masts of VOC ships. (The custom supposedly dates back to Roman times, when superstition dictated that should a ship meet with mishap at sea, the crew would be able to pay their way across the fabled river Styx.) Throughout the ship are also the renowned marine paintings of Captain Stephen Card.

The so-called "Hal-mark" of HAL ships is an abundance of museum-quality artwork incorporated into the design. Oosterdam�s elaborate cast-aluminum elevators doors, for example, were inspired by the art deco designs of New York's Chrysler Building.

Northern Lights Disco
Elevator landings were like mini-museums. At the landing on Upper Veranda Deck was a gorgeous Welsh Talbot Vase. One deck below, the landing featured a Garden Statue, and one deck below that, a Winter Statue. These were gorgeous unifying works of art, not to be missed, and you'll certainly see them if you use the glass exterior elevators, my favorite mode of vertical transport on this ship.

Even the ceilings were inspired. In the Internet cafe, where computer stations and wireless hotspots were available, designers created abstract wall panels resembling computer chips as a counterpoint to the Baroque ceiling panels. The creative juxtaposition of these two disparate themes worked well.

Vista Lounge
The two-level Vista Dining Room featured stylized ceilings with golden flowers over the circular staircase. The effect was an elegant and airy ambience. The reservations-only Pinnacle Grill featured dark blue ceiling ornaments that evoked the Northwest's marine influence.

The grill, with a cover charge of $20 per person, offers U.S. Sterling Silver beef and Northwest seafood. Table settings feature beautiful Italian Frette linens, Bulgari show plates crafted by Rosenthal, Reidel stemware, and aluminum chairs by the Italian artist Lebirge.

Pinnacle Grill
Oosterdam�s four dining venues also include the Lido and its serving stations, and the Windstar Cafe for quick snacks and specialty coffees. In total, these venues offer more than 500 menu choices on a typical seven-day cruise, plus complimentary 24-hour room service.

The latter is a good substitute for a wake-up call. Each evening before retiring, I ordered room service for 7:30 a.m., and each morning, there was a knock at my door at 7:25 a.m. I took a leisurely breakfast on my verandah, which was large enough to host an Olympic field event. OK, that's a gross exaggeration, but verandahs were large, ranging from 54 square feet to 318 square feet.

Penthouse Veranda
If a verandah is important to you, two-thirds of the Oosterdam's staterooms have them. Superior Verandah Suites measure 398 square feet, with a verandah twice as big as Deluxe Verandah Outside staterooms, which measure 254 square feet with verandah. Bumping up to Penthouse and Deluxe Verandah Suites gives you even more exterior real estate, and access to the private concierge Neptune Lounge. If verandahs are not important, Inside and Standard Outside cabins also are available, and 28 of the ship's 924 cabins in various categories are wheelchair-accessible.

Oosterdam also features a dance club, Northern Lights; the Queen's Theater, for late-night shows, cabaret performers and other entertainment for smaller audiences; the Vista Show Lounge, for large-scale productions; and other lounges. Families aren't forgotten on Oosterdam, which has KidZone, designed for ages 5 through 17; and WaveRunner, a teen-only area. For pampering and fitness, the ship features the Greenhouse Spa and Salon with fitness gym and hydrotherapy pool.

Following her maiden season in Europe this summer and fall, Oosterdam will sail from Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale November 19 to join Zuiderdam in offering seven-day alternating eastern and western Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale December 7 to April 11. Then she heads off in the spring for a series of Alaska Explorer cruises.

(Ralph Grizzle is editor of Porthole Cruise Magazine)

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