Excellence at Sea

Holland America launches ambitious upgrades

By: Duke Anderson

While it was only my second day onboard the MS Ryndam, I was already being referred to by name by a number of the ship’s staff. Without specifically requesting it, my cabin-service attendant knew that I would want Tabasco sauce with my breakfast. Barely had I stepped onto the pool deck before an attendant arrived with an armful of plush towels for my chair. I think I could easily get used to this kind of treatment.

In late 2003 Holland America Line began an ambitious enhancement program. Expected to be available fleetwide by the end of 2006, the Ryndam is the first ship to offer all of the improved amenities. The enhancements focus on five areas: accommodations, dining, service, activities and itineraries.

Although there were plenty of diversions available onboard, I would have been completely content to spend much of my time at sea in my cabin. With plush pillow-top mattresses, 250-thread-count cotton sheets and plenty of pillows, it was difficult enough to find a reason to get out of bed. The bathroom was filled with as many fluffy, Egyptian-cotton towels as one could ever need.

The flat-screen television in each cabin offered an extensive array of programming, including fairly recent hit movies. A DVD player, doubling as a CD player, ensured that my in-cabin entertainment needs would be met.

Much as I enjoyed the solitude of my cabin, I wanted to experience for myself the culinary offerings of the Ryndam. My first lunch was in the Pinnacle Grill. The reservations-only restaurant offered a leisurely, elegant dining experience. The room is intimate in size, and has plenty of staff on hand to make sure that guests want for nothing. Crisp Frette linens, Bulgari china and Riedel crystal stemware adorned the tables. The lovely dark woods in the room were accented with a fine collection of art and antiques. Servers had been well trained in their duties.

The food itself was as exquisite as its presentation. I feasted on fresh greens with goat cheese, foie-gras with pears and perfectly cooked Sterling Silver beef. An extensive wine list boasted many fine wines. Make sure to tell your clients to reserve a table early before they are fully booked.

Of course, the Rotterdam dining room offered fine meals as well as good variety in menu selections. I also availed myself of the Lido Restaurant and Terrace Grill, which served casual meals with a wide array of choices.

I was a bit let down by one aspect of the “Signature” enhancements, but it’s my own fault: I’m too old. Club HAL gives kids of all age groups plenty to do. Three separate zones have been created for specific age groups: 3-7, 8-12 and teens. Each of these areas is fully supervised, so parents can relax with no concern for their children’s safety.

Depending on the age group, Club HAL offers a playroom with art tables, big-screen TV, board games, arcade games, air hockey, foosball, karaoke, Internet access, Sony Playstations and DDR (Dance Dance Revolution).

Teens are especially lucky. They are treated to The Oasis. The entrance to this outdoor area at the top of the ship is clearly marked with a sign declaring it to be an “adult-free zone.” The focal point of this teen paradise is a huge, cascading waterfall and splash pool. Swinging hammocks, games and music give teens no reason to leave.

This is not to say that adults have been neglected in upgraded entertainment options. The Ryndam’s Wajang Theater has been outfitted as a culinary arts theater. Here guests can attend cooking demonstrations, or sign up for a more intimate cooking class for a nominal fee. While not much of a chef myself, the demonstration I attended was still highly enjoyable. The theater has a number of very large, flat-screen monitors that made it easy to see, from multiple angles, everything the chef was doing.

While learning how to make a perfect mango-pistachio strudel was enlightening, I decided to turn more of my attentions to the Explorations Cafe, powered by The New York Times. The entrance to the cafe houses an espresso and pastry bar, giving the area a comfortable, coffeehouse-style atmosphere. Carrying one of the most extensive libraries at sea, shelves are lined with more than 2,000 books selected by the editors of the Times. Music-listening stations with comfortable lounge chairs that face out to the sea provided lazy hours of pleasant relaxation. There are also Internet stations to stay up to date on news and e-mail, including free access to NYTimes.com. I was even able to access the Internet from my personal laptop via AirPort. Satellite access was spotty, however, resulting in a number of dropped connections.

Being a crossword puzzle addict, I especially loved the many tables with Times Sunday puzzles underneath a glass top. Erasable china markers are provided for your enjoyment (or frustration).