The "New" Prinsendam

Holland America's newly acquired 794-passenger Prinsendam arrived in New York in June, 2002 and if ever there was an example of a ship being transformed from an outclassed dowager to a clubby world cruiser, this is it. The moniker that HAL applies to the vessel - Elegant Explorer - is aptly chosen.

Originally completed in late 1988 as the Royal Viking Sun for the Royal Viking Line, she was designed to bring back roominess and space to that fleet. Royal Viking's original three ships, built in the early 1970s, were later "stretched" with new midsections inserted, boosting their passenger capacity to 750 and their size to 28,500 gross tons. The Royal Viking Sun carried 758 passengers within 37,845 gross tons.

The ship was first sold to Norwegian Cruise Line; then Carnival Corporation moved her to its Cunard Line, where the Royal Viking Sun soon became the Seabourn Sun for the Seabourn division -- an awkward fit, since she was so much larger than the original three Seabourn vessels and the Sea Goddess pair.

With a spare Scandinavian décor, she had a loyal following, but many felt she lacked warmth and bordered on the dull. Some improvements were made under the Cunard Seabourn banner; and now after more than a month in a Norfolk, Virginia shipyard, she has re-emerged with a new look that wooed nearly everyone I spoke to on the two inaugural sailings, notwithstanding some ongoing refurbishment of cabins and bathrooms.

The "new" Prinsendam remains roomy, with a passenger space ratio (gross tonnage divided by passenger capacity) of 47.86. She has taken on some familiar Holland America Line features, but with half the usual passenger capacity and a clubby atmosphere, she is quite distinctive, and well suited for ambitious worldwide itineraries. The captain remains Norwegian and the crew of 443 includes some Dutch but mostly Indonesians and Filipinos.

Apart from the 1983-built Noordam, the entire HAL fleet design is based on the Statendam model, with subsequent vessels adding more upper-category cabins, increased tonnage and -- in the case of the Rotterdam and Amsterdam -- a couple of knots of extra speed.

Now with the Prinsendam, HAL has a distinctive ship suited to the upper end of the premium market, with brochure rates five to 10 per cent higher than the rest of the fleet.

As you approach the ship, you'll notice her newly painted blue hull. Once aboard, you'll see a curved double staircase rising through the five-deck atrium, decorated with handsome glass bas relief, tubular glass sculpture and Dutch maritime art.

Prinsendam's Promenade Deck is "Grand Central," and from the atrium, the ship's public rooms (renamed to coincide with the rest of the HAL fleet) range fore and aft. Forward, the Queens Lounge, the ship's 424-seat show room, presents five new productions for each cruise on a new stage, with new lighting.

Walking aft, you'll pass the Erasmus Library, furnished with four leather chairs. Then the angled corridor becomes a shopping arcade leading past the 100-seat Wajang Theater, used for films and lectures. The clubby Java Bar and Cafe´┐Ż connects to the Oak Room, a largely unchanged masculine-style smoking lounge with electric fireplace; and to the moderately small casino, offering roulette, poker games, blackjack, dice and slot machines.

On the starboard side, the former Compass Rose has been freshly transformed into the Explorer's Lounge, a walk-through piano bar with tan leather chairs, dark veneer paneling and a patterned wine-red carpet. The artwork is a traditional style of Dutch maritime painting on aluminum (because of Coast Guard safety regulations), and a set of drawings touting early Dutch exploration.

Lower Promenade features a continuous wraparound walking deck where four laps equal a mile. The width permits easy passing, but not a line of lounge-style deck chairs as with the rest of the fleet.

In the restaurants, you'll find significant changes. The main restaurant was originally built to handle all passengers at one seating, but to match the rest of the HAL fleet, it has been downsized to accommodate two sittings. Most passengers will want to secure a table in the big window section aft rather than in the starboard side passage.

Tables are set with Rosenthal china and Holland America embossed silverware. For dinner, the chairs were covered with a white drapery, giving the otherwise handsome room a sterile look. The upholstery beneath is plum purple with a pattern.

The former mid-ship section of the restaurant was converted into Holland America's trademark Ocean Bar, the ship's social center, with the varnished wood deck passage running through the lower lounge section parallel to the promenade deck windows; the bar, dance floor and bandstand are recessed on the raised interior portion.

The piece de résistance is this ship's Odyssey Restaurant, the alternative dining venue offering an Italian menu at no extra charge. Unlike the fleet's other Odysseys, which are windowless, this one looks out onto the Lower Promenade. It offers just 48 seats in a lovely paneled setting, with Murano glass wall scones set against a wine red and pale yellow fabric, the rich colors also matching the carpet. Happily, the Odyssey is also open for lunch, but reservations for more than one night per cruise will be hard to come by. Suite passengers get the first shot at reservations.

Moving to a different part of the ship, the Crow's Nest high up on Sports Deck is a lovely blue, green and aquamarine observation lounge, bar and piano bar. Its scale is more intimate--and better arranged for viewing--than the vast three-sectioned Crow's Nests on the bigger HAL ships.

Outdoor spaces include cozy fore and aft sections on several decks and the standard lido-style pool deck. This ship does not have a Magrodome, and the oversized whirlpool is almost as large as the small swimming pool. A larger pool is tucked aft behind the spa, gym and beauty salon complex. The lido restaurant is designed with double lines, plus a terrace grill, ice cream bar and sit-up bar, and a most attractive awning-covered seating area aft, a la Seabourn and Silversea.

Other spaces include an 11-station Internet Cafe, meeting and card rooms, art gallery, practice tennis, volleyball/basketball court and golf driving range.

The ship's 398 cabins, in seven categories, include just 25 insides and 151 with private verandas. A new block of 10 poorly designed balcony cabins is clustered aft in a private section of promenade deck. Eight have balconies that can easily be seen by those on the deck above, and two have smoked glass enclosures jutting out onto the aft deck. The Midnight Sun Lounge was sadly sacrificed to increase the passenger capacity.

Twenty-five standard inside cabins measure 128-138 square feet; two outside singles 191 sq. ft.; 220 large outsides 181-191 sq. ft.; 82 deluxe veranda outsides 228-238 sq. ft. (including a 51 sq. ft. veranda); 50 superior veranda suites are 362 sq. ft. (including a 75 sq. ft. veranda); 18 deluxe veranda suites measure 488 sq. ft. (with a 97 sq. ft. veranda); and the one penthouse veranda suite is 724 sq. ft. (including 147 sq. ft. of veranda). This latter unit features a whirlpool set in an alcove on an enclosed veranda. The 19 suites on Sports and Lido decks have use of the Neptune Lounge for reading, snacks and concierge services.

All cabins have telephones with computerized wake-up service, multi-channel music system and closed circuit TV. Eight cabins are handicapped-equipped. During the refit, not all cabin bathrooms were redone, and some soft furnishings will be replaced, both ongoing projects. All but the inside cabins have full tub baths.

The biggest project of all was fitting 41,000 connections to provide the latest fire sprinkling system. (The previous Prinsendam, completed in 1972, burned and sank off Alaska in 1980.)

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