Escape from Paradise with Ingrid Lemme-Chalut

Ditching the Jet Lag for an Ocean Crossing!

Ingrid Lemme-Chalut

I am sure that some of our readers would probably visit ‘The Old World’ more often if it weren’t for these stressful flights, as most of the narrow seats are simply dreadful. We had experienced a few years ago what it’s like to cross the ocean during a repositioning cruise from Portugal to Fort Lauderdale on the now retired old ms Rotterdam. We recalled the 6-day crossing as delightful, and when an offer for another reposition cruise came along that would bring us, this time, from Fort Lauderdale across the ocean and up Europe’s West Coast to Rotterdam, Holland, we were in. This crossing would be particularly exciting because it would be taking place aboard Holland America Line’s new flagship, ms Rotterdam, which is a Pinnacle-class cruise ship and the seventh one to bear its name.

Our first impression of the breathtaking ms Rotterdam was one of awe and wonder. Her elegant design and luxurious amenities are complemented by her launch just under three years ago, which makes her feel still brand new. Ms Rotterdam is a marvel of sophisticated yet accessible design. With a cozy mid-size capacity of up to 2,668 travelers, she’s easy to navigate. During our 14-day cruise, we encountered mostly retirees who had chosen the leisurely way of crossing the ocean to avoid the stress of flying. There was always something fun and interesting on the agenda to do. Nevertheless, unless one is able to stay in Europe until the fall repositioning of these ships occurs, one flight cannot be avoided. In our case, we added an additional week on ms Rotterdam to explore the ports of France, England, Norway and Scotland. We visited family in Germany, then flew to Venice and returned home from there. But that’s a story for another issue.

As we wandered the public spaces of ms Rotterdam for the first time after embarkation, we found ourselves bathed in natural light streaming through expansive windows. The refined yet inviting decor features plush furnishings that create a homey atmosphere that’s both functional and stylish, without trying too hard to impress. The ship’s interior was further brought to life with fresh floral arrangements and an interesting art collection that weaves together musical, natural, architectural and other themes, adding a modern touch to the traditional features, along with a calming, neutral color palette.

For those with a love for cruise traditions, the main dining rooms still echo the grandeur of majestic ocean liners of days gone by. Some cruisers will find their heartbeat syncing with the rhythm of the state-of-the-art World Stage theater, boasting a 270-degree viewing experience. Or they might lose track of time dancing at the vibrant Music Walk entertainment complex. Whether you’re looking for a casual drink or a premium experience, there’s a dazzling array of bars and dining options to choose from. We located the light-filled, spacious gym alongside the Greenhouse Spa and Salon; the spa was unfortunately closed during our crossing.

During the quiet hours on board, between 5 and 6 am, ms Rotterdam offers a unique opportunity to experience the ship in a different light. As we sailed towards our destination, a few dedicated crew members on early morning duty had already set up fresh coffee stations and an assortment of freshly baked goods in the galley. Despite the challenges of adjusting every day to a one-hour time change, the peaceful atmosphere and warm aromas of freshly brewed coffee and baked goods make it a joy to get up early. Time changes, even gradual, get to one. My daily onboard adventures started between Decks 11, where our full ocean view Verandah Stateroom with balcony was located, and Deck 9. On Deck 9, I would walk through the glass-domed indoor Lido pool area, with an oversized LED screen, to reach the Lido buffet for hot tea, unless we ordered room service of course. By the way, there’s no up-charge for room service unless you order items that are not on the menu.

Ms Rotterdam’s culinary presentation under the ever-watchful eyes of Executive Chef Ali, was a feast for the senses. We especially adored his fresh-cooked seafood creations, which changed every time we reached a new port. From the more relaxed Lido Market with its panoramic views and creative hot and cold service stations, to the poolside New York Deli and Pizza, Dive-In’s for burgers and dogs, to complimentary Dutch treats and pea soup at the Grand Dutch Cafe, and the Dining Room’s visual splendor and bustling atmosphere, almost every meal was a treat. For an additional fee, one may dine at the Tamarind, the Pinnacle Grill, the unique Rudi’s Sel De Mer, or the Canaletto. Dinner at Rudi’s, as well as at the Pinnacle Grill, was an experience. So was our grand finale dinner at the Tamarind restaurant, created by food-art extraordinaire Chef de Cuisine Lalu Hilmi. The Canaletto offers a more relaxed Italian dining experience, but is a must as well.

Our 4th day at sea began with an exciting twist as we crossed paths with Executive Chef Ali during his morning round at the Lido. He graciously invited us for a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen galleys, which are no longer accessible to the general public due to safety concerns. We gladly joined him on the tour and had the opportunity to learn about the dedicated team of culinary professionals who work hard behind the scenes to ensure an exceptional dining experience for us passengers. Holland America Line’s John Mulvaney, Director of Culinary Operations, whom I had the pleasure of meeting personally, emphasized that the company has a reputation for hiring the industries most talented Chefs. Btw HAL’s Global Fresh Fish Program was recently spotlighted on the Emmy, James Beard, and Critics’ Choice Award-winning Bravo series, “Top Chef”.

This chapter includes one of these unusual cruising stories that needs to be told. It might be especially interesting for travelers who are wondering what’s going to happen if they get sick on board! Most cruise lines have hospitals on board, and the Holland America Line is known for their high-tech medical facilities and for hiring the finest medical professionals, such as Dr. Giola from South Africa. I suffer from asthma, mostly episodic, but it can progress rapidly at times, and it’s a worrying combination with bronchitis. Make a long story short, after nurse Neil had taken my vitals and Dr. Giola, MD, pointed out my severely low blood oxygen level, I found myself minutes later breathing on a nebulizer and nurse Lumka administering a double drip as prescribed by Dr. Giola. Though I had to return to the infirmary for a couple of days for infusions, I didn’t miss a day of activities, or a meal, or my Fire & Ice mani & pedi with the incredibly talented Ruati at the Green House Spa.

Allow me to introduce some of the other stars of our crossing, like ms Rotterdam’s celebrated Hotel General Manager Errol Nelson. We witnessed on several occasions how the handsome, hands-on, always approachable, professional worked the crowd. And not to forget Nick J. Hollevoet, ms Rotterdam’s esteemed Cruise Director. The classy actor performed the ‘Behind the Scenes’ show on the World Stage almost single handedly until it was time to introduce the esteemed Captain Bas van Dreumel, the entire team and finally the staff in a Grand Finale. Soumik Mandal, one of the young Guest Service Associates took care of our needs on several occasions. Noven, is an incredibly creative florist on ms Rotterdam. Maroff Cadet Officer Floris Von Der By, who is 18 years old, is currently undergoing training on HAL’s ms Rotterdam. And our room stewards, Seno and Tony. They were the paragon of intuitive teams, providing unparalleled care and maintaining our cabin on the 11th floor to perfection. In the two-level dining room, Restaurant Operations Manager Rick Kolvoort excelled, along with all the wonderful hostesses, waiters and waitresses, but especially Mr. Wawan and Edwin. You guys rocked the boat!  We will miss you all terribly, particularly the 3pm Afternoon Teas on Sea Days and the fresh, warm, and incredibly delicious almond croissants served with hot tea and a glowing sunrise.

We were lucky with the weather and calm seas during our crossing, which was a blessing considering that we took off mid-April. When we finally stopped in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal, after 6 days, we walked off the ship with excitement and gratitude for Captain Bas van Dreumel and his crew who sailed us safely across this huge body of water, known as the Atlantic Ocean. Our next ports were historic ports like Brest, France; Portland (Weymouth), England; Le Havre (Paris), France; Dover (London), England, UK; and finally Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Ms Rotterdam’s home port is Rotterdam, Holland. It is the largest seaport in Europe and the world’s largest seaport outside of East Asia. It is located in and near the city of Rotterdam, in the province of South Holland in the Netherlands, and is a fascinating port city.

Until next month from the amazing city of Venice, Italy.

— Yours in travel, Ingrid

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