After two sunny days in vibrant Amsterdam, we left the city always ready to party. Fortunately, we didn’t leave the fun-loving people behind.
Festive Dutch citizens filled our cruise ship and were in high spirits all week. They wore orange dresses, hats and shirts for the traditional “Orange Party”, enjoyed their afternoon beer and pastry, and sang and danced late into the night.
A nod to the ship’s Dutch Heritage is visible in the artwork, tulip designs in carpets, the orange touches on the staff’s uniforms and the traditional food served in the Grand Dutch Café. We were frequent visitors to this lively café to talk to fellow cruisers as we sampled the Dutch beers, decadent triple berry pannerkoek (pancakes), Dutch crepes, pea soup, and open-faced sandwiches with gouda or edam cheese, or herring and chopped onions on pumpernickel bread.
Like many cruisers, we love days at sea. Leaving the Dutch coast, I awakened early in the morning, pulled back the curtains and watched the dark sea and purple clouds sandwich a sliver of blue sky. Then I thought, “what shall I do today?” The list of activities seemed endless; attend a yoga class, sample delicious wines at a wine tasting, be pampered in the spa, sunbathe by the pool, soak in the hot tubs, play ping pong, play pickleball, or dive into the food scene of the many eateries aboard. One thing for sure, I was not going to read the news or check my emails.
The days we spent at sea allowed us time to decompress and simply relax. We visited the elegant library and then curled up with a book and a glass of wine in the comfy chairs on the balcony of our stateroom, listening to the gentle sound of waves slapping against the sturdy hull of the ship. We also walked, swam, ate, and decided which entertainment venues we would attend. Music is front and center for entertainment on the Rotterdam. When at sea we went to the B.B. King’s Blues Club, the Rolling Stones Rock Room, two classical music performances at the Lincoln Center Stage, the BBC Earth Concert and a dance show featuring music from different decades.
Of course, we chose to see the historical documentary “Origin Story”. During the hour-long show, we were immersed in the almost 150-year history of the cruise line. We learned about the glamour, glitz, and tough times during the 1930’s as well as the role of the ships during World War II.
All of this history is alive and well aboard the Rotterdam ship. Before the ship sailed for Norway, the beloved Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands came aboard for an elaborate “naming” ceremony and Gala dinner where she became the godmother of her fifth Holland America ship. The cruise line’s connection to The House of Orange goes back nearly a century to Prince Hendrik launching the Statendam III in 1929. Since then, members of the Dutch Royal Family have launched 11 more Holland America Line vessels throughout the years.
Kristiansand was the first stop in Norway on Holland America’s 7-day itinerary. We took a small boat tour of the surrounding islands sprinkled with summer homes and colorful boat houses.
Our next port was Stavanger, where we strolled through the old town among the white wooden houses with colorful front doors, flowerboxes and gardens bursting with purple lilacs and pink azalais. We discovered an elegant shop selling colorful, elaborately embroidered, traditional Norwegian clothing, buckled shoes, metal buttons, jewelry, and headbands. Norwegian folk dress has gained popularity in recent years and is worn to weddings, ceremonies and on the Norway’s National Day. We walked along Ovre Holmegate, the most colorful street in Stavanger. The houses are painted in vibrant colors. The lively coffee shops, bookstores and pubs make it a popular street for locals and visitors.
A highlight of our itinerary was a day of cruising in Norway’s Sognefjord. Nicknamed “King of the Fjords”, it is Norway’s longest, deepest fjord and cuts straight through the green heart of the country. Cliffs on either side of the fjord rise almost vertically from the water to heights of 1,000 meters and waterfalls tumble down the sheer walls. We caught glimpses of snow fields and glistening glaciers on the mountainsides. Dotted throughout the stunning landscapes are small villages with colorful wooden houses and remote farms connected to the outside world only by ferry.
We couldn’t wait to go ashore at the tiny village of Flam, located at the end of a branch of Sognefjord. We rented bikes and rode along the blue-green water and watched hardy locals swim at a small beach. At the port, we bypassed the shops brimming with hand-knit sweaters and caught the famous Flam Railway, one of the steepest and most scenic in the country. During the 2-hour trip the train ascends 866 meters, curves through green valleys and passes stunning waterfalls. The train makes a short stop by the massive Kjosfossen Waterfall. While we were taking photos of each other, booming music started to play and a blonde dancer in a long red dress emerged from the forest. She dances in the spray of the waterfall before disappearing into the rocky mountainside. While some people on the train found the performance a strange tourist show, we were mesmerized by the haunting Norwegian Folk music and her dancing.
On our last night at sea, we wrapped ourselves into warm blankets, and from the balcony of our stateroom, we watched the twilight disappear into darkness. Before our trip, the disturbing news of war, pandemic, global warming, and other weighty issues muddled our minds, like bad dreams. During the cruise, we left it all behind. We returned home reinvigorated by the spectacular scenery – from dramatic tumbling waterfalls to looming snowcapped mountains and deep fjords. “Let’s travel again, soon”, we promised each other.
Escape route For the 2022-23 season, Holland America’s new ship, MS Rotterdam will homeport out of Amsterdam and spend seven- and 14-day Norway cruises, as well as explorations to Scandinavia, Iceland and the Northern Isles. It will spend the fall and winter season in the Caribbean sailing tropical itineraries roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale. The 7-day Norse Legends itinerary, for July and August 2022, departs and returns to Amsterdam starts at $929 for an Inside Cabin, $1179 for an Ocean View Cabin, $1329 Veranda. Rates are per person and based upon double occupancy. Taxes, fees, and port expenses are an additional $110. Prices for June and July 2023 departures start at $1349 for an Inside Cabin, $1649 for an Ocean View and $1749 for a Veranda. Taxes, fees, and port expenses are an additional $120.
San Francisco-based Marybeth Bond has cruised with her husband and children to destinations such as Antarctica, Hawaii, the Med, The Baltic, the Caribbean and the rivers and canals of Europe. Known as the “Gutsy Traveler” she is the first person to volunteer to snorkel with the beluga whales, take the polar plunge in Antarctica or trek across a glacier.
This story was first published in Escape.com.au