I spent a night on SS Rotterdam last week as part of Holland America Line’s 140th anniversary celebrations, a wonderfully restored piece of history.
Built in 1956 in the Netherlands and christened by Queen Juliana in 1958, SS Rotterdam was the flagship of the HAL fleet, plying the Atlantic back and forth from Holland to New York until her retirement in 2000.
At the time, “The Grande Dame,” as the 1,456-passenger ship was known, was regarded as the height of fashion and taste. Thirty architects and artists designed it, creating stylish, elegant and modern rooms, with wonderful late-Art Deco design throughout.
The ship also had some quirky features. One of the most famous was the “scissor” staircase, designed to keep first- and second-class passengers separated. The stairs started at the same point but went up and down in different directions, arriving in different rooms, so neither class would ever have to meet. Each landing had a different glass partition design, so passengers would not even have to see one another.
The company that bought the ship in 2000 went bust soon afterward, and it was left languishing in the Bahamas for a number of years (much as QE2 is currently doing in Dubai). It was only through the backing of the Dutch government – which presumably saw the ship as an important historical artefact – that the money was raised to tow it back from Nassau to set up permanent home in Rotterdam.
It was towed in to the port and arrived with much fanfare August 4, 2008, where it now operates as a hotel and conference facility.
The area where it is moored was run-down when it arrived but in the past five years has seen a renaissance with new housing and shops. SS Rotterdam is also a stone’s throw from the old Holland America Line headquarters (also a hotel).
What struck me on my one night onboard was how lovingly restored it has been, with original – or accurate copies of – fittings throughout. It’s like a time capsule, with fabulous 50s decor and design, taking you back to a more glamorous era.
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