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As cruise ships go, Holland America's 16-year-old Ryndam is approaching its "golden years." But instead of slowing down, the ship has just undergone the second of HAL's "Signature of Excellence" (SOE) makeovers, with even more upgrades (including the addition of a few dozen cabins and a makeover to the aft pool area) to come in 2012-13. The result: She's fresher and livelier -- and not just because of the new carpeting and drapes everywhere.
During the last SOE makeover, Ryndam gained the Explorations Cafe, which functions as a library, coffee shop and media space; the Culinary Arts Center, a demonstration kitchen that now shares a stage with the Wajang Theater's movie screen; a sleek (though small) wine-tasting nook; and the you've-got-to-see-it teens-only Oasis, where designers have actually added a level to the ship for a Gilligan's Island-style tropical club with a waterfall and hammocks.
Ultimately, what was most compelling about Ryndam's second transformation was that it gave a mid-sized, older ship some fresh new flash. And yet, the ship also retains its status as a marvelously intimate, moderately sized ship that offers a uniquely cozy ambience.
"Guests love this size ship," says Hotel Manager Simon de Boer, a 16-year veteran with Holland America, who oversees all the Signature of Excellence makeovers. "On bigger ships, by the end of a seven-day cruise, you have lost some of the new friends you made." The makeover team began with Ryndam's 924 cabins, installing new drapes, carpeting, lampshades and granite countertops and flooring in the bathrooms. Most of the public areas were also re-carpeted. While a lot of that is simple housekeeping, there are three major changes to the public areas, and two of them are smashing:
The main showroom, the Vermeer, received a dramatic new terraced first floor, which greatly enhances the sightlines for the audience.
A clever collection of three specialty bars, together called Mix, has been laid out side-by-side near the casino. It's the hippest area on the vessel.
A horizontal slice of the Lido Deck Buffet restaurant converts in the evenings to an Italian specialty area with its own waiters. It's an interesting idea, but diners in the Lido already had an Italian option from the buffet, and the venue was largely forgotten on my sailing.
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On our trip, a Sea of Cortez itinerary, passengers skewed older; this varies, though, with Ryndam pulling in plenty of families with kids on holiday weeks, as well as younger singles and couples (i.e. under 50) when it visits more active ports like Puerto Vallarta. A recent three-day trip just after its makeover included a bachelorette party of 10 and a wedding party of 98. (The marriage was performed while the ship was docked in Tampa.)
On formal nights, passengers took the dress code very seriously with most men wearing tuxedos and women dressed in evening gowns. The alternate standard for evenings is "smart casual," which translates into collared shirts and long pants for men and casual dresses or slacks for women. No shorts or swimsuits are allowed in the restaurants for evening meals. In practice, I did see both men and women wearing shorts in the Lido deck restaurant at night, though Holland America's typically older passenger demographic means that most guests are content to dress up for dinner.