It was time… Time to get back to cruising after a three-year break!
So we recently joined George’s brother and sister-in-law on Holland America Line’s new Rotterdam cruise ship for an 11-night Southern Caribbean cruise.
Here’s our Holland America Rotterdam review.
Now, if you think you know what cruising is like on Holland America, think again!
Because Holland America (or HAL for short) has jazzed up its approach to cruising – especially on its latest Pinnacle Class ships.
Holland America Rotterdam review
Much of what we cover in this Holland America Line review applies to all Holland America ships.
So if you’re looking for Holland America cruise reviews in general, our article will also help supply the information you want.
You can also head over to our post on HAL’s alcohol and beverage packages if you’re looking for specific information on this.
Anyway, before our Rotterdam cruise, we’d sailed on other Holland America ships in Alaska, Europe, Eastern Canada and the Western Caribbean.
In this review, we’ll also point out where the Rotterdam differs from other HAL ships.
Okay, let’s hop aboard the Rotterdam!
Holland America’s newest ship
The ms Rotterdam is the newest in the Holland America Line fleet of 11 ships.
With a passenger capacity of 2,668, it was launched in late 2021 and christened by Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. (It’s the seventh ship to bear the Rotterdam name.)
It’s one of three virtually identical, Pinnacle Class ships. The Rotterdam‘s two sister ships are Nieuw Statendam (2018) and Konigsdam (2016).
The other Holland America cruise ships are smaller:
- Nieuw Amsterdam (2010)
- Eurodam (2008)
- Noordam (2006)
- Westerdam (2004)
- Oosterdam (2003)
- Zuiderdam (2002)
- Zaandam (2000)
- Volendam (1999)
Holland America entertainment
Perhaps the biggest difference we noticed on the Holland America Rotterdam ship (and the Nieuw Statendam, which we cruised on in early 2020) relates to the onboard entertainment.
It was music to our ears. Literally!
The Pinnacle Class ships all have a fabulous Music Walk with live entertainment areas.
(There’s no Music Walk on HAL’s other ships.)
Cruise entertainment is usually scattered about in different bars and music venues (and on different decks) on most cruise ships.
But Holland America’s Music Walk is a coordinated experience centered on one deck, and the Pinnacle Class ships were built with this purpose in mind.
You can stroll along Deck 2 from stern to bow, and listen to all kinds of different live music in the course of an evening.
(Indeed, several music-themed cruises take over the Pinnacle Class ships each year – for country music, classic R&B, Irish hits, you name it!)
Lincoln Center Stage
First up on the Music Walk is the Lincoln Center Stage.
HAL has partnered with NYC’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to feature music virtuosos perform in a series of concerts.
From Beethoven to Brubeck, you can listen to chamber music from talented cellists, pianists, violists and violinists.
Most are from the United States, but some are from Hong Kong, Europe and other places around the world, with varying musical backgrounds, including Masters of Music degrees.
On our previous Nieuw Statendam cruise, a gifted classical quintet on the ship’s Lincoln Center Stage played Schumann pieces to heart-tugging effect – stopping casual passers-by in their tracks and luring them in to linger.
Rolling Stone Rock Room
A few more skips down the ship’s Music Walk and you come to the Rolling Stone Rock Room, lit up with electric lights.
A live band here kicks out smash hits that get everyone rockin’ and rollin’ like it was the 70s again.
B.B. King’s Blues Club
The B.B. King’s Blues Club also got us into the groove with soulful and funky tunes from Memphis.
Then there’s Billboard Onboard, where a live pianist plays chart-topping hits.
Last but not least, there’s the main show lounge, called the World Stage.
On our Rotterdam cruise, a Step One Dance Company of six elite dancers wowed us with their dance moves – which were paired with striking images blasted on a two-story wrap-around LED screen in the background.
Talk about an innovative marriage of contemporary choreography and technology!
We also took in a couple of BBC Earth in Concert shows, where a live orchestra plays as you watch lions hunt in Namibia and penguins dive from Antarctic ice shelfs. Pretty cool!
Ship art that sings
The music theme is continued in the Rotterdam’s contemporary art collection.
Indeed, the Rotterdam is one of the world’s biggest floating art galleries, with a collection of 2,645 pieces valued at more than $4.1 million USD in total.
In the three-deck-high central atrium, a spiral staircase winds around a soaring $62,000 stainless steel sculpture resembling a harp.
Another striking piece is an illuminated crystal treble clef called the “Key,” valued at $27,000.
There’s also an eye-catching work of art titled “Billie Holiday,” created from three miles of thread.
The art is a big hit with guests.
We noticed several people on our Rotterdam cruise taking photos of the art pieces on their phones; one woman told us she was “in love with” the art.
Holland America Rotterdam cabins
Rotterdam also hits all the right notes when it comes to its staterooms.
There are four main categories:
- Interior cabins
- Ocean View staterooms (no balcony)
- Verandah staterooms
- Suites – Vista suites, Signature suites, Neptune suites and Pinnacle suites
Of the 1,340 accommodations, 912 have private balconies (164 suites and 748 Verandah staterooms).
Rotterdam Verandah staterooms
The most popular accommodations are the Verandah staterooms.
Most are 228 square feet in size (including the private verandah or balcony).
Some have extra-deep balconies, making them 405 square feet in size (though the interior is the same size).
Be aware that if you’re standing by the railing on one of these extended balconies, people from above can look down and see you.
From our Deck 5 Verandah stateroom, we could see guests on the deck below on their oversized balconies, when they stood by the railing looking at the view.
But we could only see their toes when they were stretched out on their deck chairs under the overhang closer to their stateroom door.
The Verandah staterooms are well thought out.
Dressed in white duvets, the beds (two twins or a queen) face a large flat-screen TV opposite.
There’s plenty of cupboard and drawer space, with lots of wooden hangers. And we liked the wall hooks for hanging sunhats and purses.
Bathrooms have decent-sized glass showers, so you can lather up with the ship’s Elemis products without bumping into the sides. (And we made good use of the comfy white bathrobes.)
A swack of USB bedside and other plugs meant we could recharge our phones, iPad, laptop and cameras all at the same time – a thoughtful convenience that other Holland America Rotterdam cabin reviews also point out.
Outside on our balcony, two grey lounge chairs came with footstools so we could even recline and nap (sort of).
The one awkward feature was the heavy glass door between the cabin and balcony.
Rather than a sliding glass door, it’s a door you have to push to open.
It’s inconvenient if you want to keep it open for fresh air inside. To do this, we’d have to wedge a footstool between the door and cabin – making it hard to maneuver around when going back and forth between the balcony and room.
Holland America’s Rotterdam suites
Suites offer more space and luxury extras than the balcony cabins.
The 104 Vista Suites are between 260 and 356 square feet, and have a bedroom with separate seating area. The bedroom area is adjacent to the balcony window.
Move up to a Signature Suite, and you get a king-size bed and a generous 400 square feet of space, bathroom with two vanity sinks, a whirlpool bath and a separate shower.
Then there are the Neptune Suites, which measure between 465 and 502 square feet. They have balconies twice as long as those in a typical Verandah stateroom.
Neptune Suite guests also get in-room coffee makers, complimentary laundry and dry cleaning services, dining privileges at Club Orange and priority embarkation and tendering.
The crème-de-la-crème are the Pinnacle Suites.
They’re just under 1,300 square feet in size (including the verandah).
In addition to the ensuite bedroom, they feature a living room, guest toilet, dining room and pantry with a microwave and fridge. The bathroom has a large whirlpool bath as well as a shower.
Holland America Rotterdam deck plan
See here for the link to the deck plan for this Holland America ship.
Holland America Rotterdam restaurants
We were never really impressed with the dining on Holland America before we cruised on the Nieuw Statendam and Rotterdam.
So we were very pleasantly surprised to find that both of these ships served meals that tempted us at every turn.
Our Rotterdam traveling companions (who’ve cruised on NCL, Princess, Celebrity and other lines) also remarked many times how really good the food was – especially in the specialty restaurants.
We often judge a resto by something as simple as the bread. If it’s not yummy, we don’t expect much from the rest of the food.
On the Pinnacle Class ships, each of the four main specialty dining spots even boast their own unique and palate teasing bread!
At the French restaurant (Rudi’s Sel de Mer), for example, you find crusty baguettes garnished with sprigs of fresh rosemary.
It could be that HAL has seriously upped its culinary game across all ships.
If you’ve sailed with HAL recently, let us know how you liked the Holland America food! (You can comment at the end of this post.)
Main dining room
The two-story main dining room is where you’ll eat most of your dinners on the Rotterdam.
It’s an elegant space to dine in – think white table cloths and blue-and-white Delft china.
For dinner, you can choose either fixed seating (at 6:00 pm or 8:00 pm) or open seating.
Fixed seating means you always dine at the particular fixed time and at the same table. And you’ll never have to wait for your table.
We had open seating, as we like the flexibility of choosing when to eat.
The downside to open seating is that there’s a bit of a wait between 7:00 and 7:30 pm, when most people want dinner.
Expect to wait a few minutes to put your name on the list.
Then you’re given a buzzer and can leave (perhaps to have a pre-dinner drink?) until you’re buzzed and your table is available for you.
The wait is longer during sea days.
Our first couple of nights, we cooled our heels for 30 minutes each time.
But as the cruise progressed – and people started spreading out into the specialty restaurants – the wait time became negligible.
As for the food?
Dishes are international, and the menu changes nightly. There are three courses, with meat, fish and vegetarian options.
Starters always include a soup (the French Onion soup is popular) and a salad.
You have a choice of some eight to nine entrée dishes.
Maybe you fancy the salmon with capers and dill, accompanied by honey-roasted carrots and brown rice?
The grilled lamb chops served during the Captain’s welcome dinner on the second night were a hit with us.
Pro cruise tip: Make reservations for specialty restaurants the first couple of days onboard to avoid waiting for a table in the main dining room.
Lido Market Buffet
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this Lido buffet restaurant has something for everyone.
You can get everything from made-to-order eggs for breakfast to sandwiches, salads, Indian curries and warm bread pudding with vanilla sauce (a crowd favorite) for lunch.
At many stations, staff serve guests waiting in line for their sliced roast beef or whatever.
But at some stations, passengers may help themselves to fruit salad and other dishes using the big tongs provided.
It’s a large and busy venue.
So we tried not to spend too much time here.
For lunch, rather than looking for a table outside (and losing each other – which we did once!), we preferred grabbing a big bowl of healthy salad (served from behind the counter) and a sandwich and eating on our balcony in our room.
And for breakfast, we loved room service – the perfect segue to the next item in our Rotterdam cruise review!
One of the great pleasures of cruising is to order room service on a sea day – to enjoy on your balcony, as you listen to the waves and watch the endless blue of the ocean.
Thankfully, Holland America does this right – a tablecloth-covered tray, heavy faux cut-crystal glasses, big cloth napkins.
HAL offers complimentary room service 24 hours a day on all its ships.
For breakfast, your room steward will leave breakfast cards for you to hang outside your cabin door the night before.
We found we could pretty well order anything we wanted from room service anytime during the day – and they delivered.
Sometimes, we just wanted something simple, like fresh-cut strawberries and tea, or whole apples and a pitcher of iced water.
Nothing was ever too much trouble.
HAL cruise hack: The beverage and alcohol drinks packages don’t cover ordering bottles of water to your room. So if you don’t want to drink the water from your bathroom tap (which is potable, by the way), ask room service for a pitcher of iced water. There’s no charge for this.
Other complimentary Holland America dining options
For casual fare, you’ll also find these places to eat on the Rotterdam, where the food is included in your cruise fare:
- New York Deli and Pizza – Fresh pizza, salad and made-to-order sandwiches
- Dive In – Burgers, hot dogs, fries and the like
Holland America Rotterdam specialty dining
Yes, there are lots of complimentary dining options on the ship.
But there are also four specialty restaurants onboard you’ll want to try.
While you have to pay a surcharge to eat at these, you only have to check out reviews of Holland America Rotterdam dining to see it’s worth forking out extra for the specialty dining experiences.
The four specialty restaurants are:
- Pinnacle Grill
- Rudi’s Sel de Mer
The Pinnacle Grill steakhouse is Holland America’s flagship restaurant, and it’s found on all HAL ships.
The other three are found on all Pinnacle Class ships. Some other HAL ships also have a Tamarind, which serves Asian-influenced dishes.
We’re writing a whole post about the specialty restaurants on Holland America, so stay tuned for this.
In the meantime, we’ll let you in on our fave – Tamarind. Definitely do not miss out on a reservation at this resto!
Cafés and quiet lounges
Holland America Grand Dutch Café
Cappuccino? Mocha? Other specialty coffee? The Grand Dutch Café is your place.
It was our first stop each morning on the Rotterdam – and we often popped in here at other times too.
With comfy navy blue leather armchairs and wide bay windows that allow the light to shine through, it’s the perfect spot for a coffee and cake.
But inspired by the Holland America’s Dutch heritage, this upscale bar and café serves a lot more than this.
You can order Dutch specialties like pea soup and apple-and-bacon pancakes at the counter, and it will be brought to your table. If you miss breakfast, the café makes a great open-faced grilled cheese, egg and bacon sandwich.
You can also choose from among 16 Dutch and Belgian beers.
The Grand Dutch Café is only found on the Pinnacle Class ships.
Note: The food is complimentary but the beverages cost extra (unless you have a beverage package).
The Explorations Café (Crow’s Nest) is another of our favorite Holland America cruise ship lounges.
It’s featured on all ships.
On the Pinnacle Class ships, it’s located on the top deck at the bow. It serves espresso-based coffees, cocktails, pastries and other snacks. (There’s an extra charge for the specialty coffees and cocktails.)
Surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, it’s a great spot for relaxing while taking in the ocean views.
Read a book with your feet up on a window footstool, play a boardgame, put together a jigsaw puzzle, browse one of the international newspapers – this is an inviting quiet spot to do just this.
Sea days are perfect for relaxing on deck by the pool, right? We had three such days on our Rotterdam cruise.
There are two pools on the Rotterdam (also on Nieuw Statendam and Konigsdam).
The main pool is mid-ship, with a retractable glass roof. It’s surrounded by lounge chairs topped with thick cushions.
There’s also an upper deck overlooking the pool. Here, you can loll about like a Roman on cool cocoon-like couches and chairs, which are separated by breezy white curtains.
You have to be savvy to snag a lounger here though (easier come mid-afternoon). We were never lucky.
Aft is another pool.
Not surprisingly, both pools are very popular places.
For a pocket of tranquility, The Retreat is a separate sanctuary with pool- and ocean-view cabanas, a separate hot tub and dedicated staff to serve you drinks.
There’s an additional cost. But if you like your space and serenity, you’ll probably want to hang out here on sea days, rather than by one of the general pools.
Book early. On our previous Nieuw Statendam cruise, we tried to reserve a cabana for our second sea day; sadly, they were all gone.
And then on our Rotterdam cruise, we completely forgot about The Retreat until it was too late! (We were quite happy kicking back on our cabin balcony.)
Holland America’s Greenhouse Spa & Salon is found on all HAL ships. Whether you want to get your hair or nails done or treat yourself to a massage, you can do so here.
Fitness center, sports deck and walking
No excuses! You’re going to use the fitness center!
You’ll want to. On the Rotterdam (and Pinnacle Class ships), it’s flat-out fabulous.
Positioned at the front of the ship, it’s surrounded by forward-view windows, meaning you have ocean views while burning calories on the elliptical or treadmill.
The only problem? With so many state-of-the-art machines, it’s hard to figure out which ones to try!
We love fresh air (especially these days) – and so we were happy to see that the doors to the fitness center were always propped open on the Rotterdam.
The fitness center was still air-conditioned (so a comfortable temperature). But fresh air from the outside Lido deck could blow in and circulate.
You can even play pickleball!
All HAL ships now feature pickleball courts on the top sports deck.
Don’t know how to play the fastest growing sport in the United States? No worries.
Complimentary beginner lessons are offered by instructors on the ship.
Promenade walking deck
As for getting fresh air and exercise by walking, the Promenade Deck (Deck 3) is perfect. It’s an unobstructed walking deck – no trying to circumnavigate around sun loungers.
Three laps equal a mile.
It’s also covered and shaded, so even at noon in the Caribbean, we could comfortably walk around the deck when at sea, without getting sunburned.
Holland America Line appeals mainly to a mature crowd.
Most have cruised before – and many are repeat HAL guests who are members of Holland America’s Mariner Society (loyalty program).
Our most recent Rotterdam voyage skewed toward the older set (perhaps because it was a longer cruise).
But a HAL cruise isn’t just for your granny – though she’s very welcome!
Our previous one-week Caribbean cruise on the Nieuw Statendam attracted a wide range of guests, from young families (with well-behaved children) to globe-trotting silver-haired couples.
In fact, the three Pinnacle Class ships welcome families with 32 Family Oceanview cabins.
These cabins accommodate five people and are designed for families with kids. (They have a queen bed, additional sofa bed for two little ones and an upper bunk, plus two bathrooms.)
As well, HAL has a supervised youth activities program called Club HAL for kids and teens aged three to 17. It’s complimentary and offered on all its ships except Volendam and Zaandam.
Still, you won’t find water slides or rock climbing walls like on some cruise line ships. Adults come first on Holland America (it’s not family-focused).
Nor are these party cruises.
If you like to dance in a disco with a DJ spinning hits until 2:00 am, Holland America wouldn’t be a good choice for you.
The live music and nightlife generally shut down between 11:00 pm and midnight – not a problem for us, as we’re not night owls and we had shore excursions most days that started at 8:30 or 9:00 am.
You have a choice of three paid Internet packages for getting WiFi on the ship:
- Basic – Which is good enough just for Facebook and Instagram
- Surf – To get emails and browse the Internet
- Premium – For downloading videos
But the type of WiFi Holland America has on its ships only works for cell phones and Apple laptops and iPads.
The Internet won’t work on your PC laptop unless you disable your Virus Protection Program like Norton. (Bad idea.)
It was somewhat annoying for us because we’d brought our laptops aboard (which are PC laptops: Dell brand) so we could keep up with work – and we couldn’t use them.
But if you just plan on using your phone (whether an iPhone or Android device), you’ll be fine.
HAL has gone high-tech.
HAL’s Navigator app, which you download onto your phone, contains all your booking information, shore excursions, dining reservations, etc.
You may need a little help with the app. The guest services team can set you up.
And gone are the days of paper tickets for shore excursions. The tour operators just need to scan your phone (or your keycard) to find your tickets.
What’s different post-pandemic
We’d read that to recoup some profits lost during the pandemic, cruises are getting creative with cost-cutting and up-charging where possible.
We noticed this on our Holland America cruise.
No more free lobster
Remember the time when lobster (free) was on the menu in the included main dining room for the Captain’s welcome and farewell dinners?
Now there’s an extra charge of $15 if you want lobster in the dining room.
And even though you’ve already paid a surcharge for the Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant, you’ll have to shell out an extra $10 if you fancy adding a lobster tail to turn your steak dinner into “surf-and-turf.”
No more automatic evening turn-down service
After greeting us on embarkation day, our room steward advised us that most guests prefer their rooms to be cleaned only once a day in the morning.
However, if we wished, we could still ask for evening turn-down service and have towels refreshed.
Holland America itineraries
You’ll find Holland America cruises most parts of the globe, except Africa.
The smaller older ships tend to do the longer, destination-focused itineraries.
The newer ships with more amenities (like the Pinnacle Class ships) stick mainly to Europe, Alaska and the Caribbean.
As for the Rotterdam and Nieuw Statendam, after summering in Europe, the ships return to their Fort Lauderdale home port in November for a winter season of Caribbean cruises.
The star port-of-call on Holland America’s Caribbean cruises is Half Moon Cay – included on most itineraries.
Picture the dreamiest of tropical islands with powder white sand and limpid waters. Chances are it looks a lot like this, HAL’s private island in the Bahamas.
You can pet stingrays, ride horses and pedal a bicycle around the small island.
But we were happiest just lazing about on the beach under the shade of waving palms.
When your stomach starts growling, there’s a BBQ lunch to tuck into. Or you can plonk yourself down on wooden bar stools in the breezy Lobster Shack to chow down on fresh grilled lobster (extra charge).
Ahhh… Eat, swim, sleep, repeat. And evenings of first-rate entertainment to look forward to.
This is what a Holland America Caribbean cruise is all about!
Pro tip: On our 11-night Southern Caribbean itinerary, all of the ship’s shore excursions sold out. Book in advance if you’re interested in a Holland America shore excursion.
That’s a wrap for our Holland America review of the Rotterdam!
Holland America Line’s Rotterdam is a beautiful ship.
If you’re a music lover, in particular, you’ll enjoy all the different entertainment venues and options onboard.
It’s a classic “big” ship with lots of amenities and programs (including a casino and art auctions).
We have to qualify “big” though.
But it will feel considerably smaller and more intimate than mega ships which carry more than twice as many passengers – like MSC Cruises’ Virtuosa (passenger capacity 6,334) and Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas (5,700+ passengers).
As other Holland America Line reviews also indicate, the Pinnacle Class ships, especially, are perfect for multi-generational families cruising together.
And for older seasoned travelers, HAL offers great value for money.
For more information, see Holland America’s website.
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Photo credits: All photos © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase, except where credited to HAL
We sailed on the Rotterdam (and Nieuw Statendam) as media guests on a complimentary basis. But as professional travel writers, we always maintain the right to freely express our views – you can trust that we share the good as well as the not-so-good!