An Inspiring Morning in Rotterdam
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
The sun was out in full force early this morning to welcome Tauck’s beautiful new ms Inspire to the famous Dutch port of Rotterdam.
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands but, unlike Amsterdam, it didn’t escape the Second World War unscathed. The Rotterdam Blitz occurred nearly 74 years ago, on May 14, 1940, when Adolf Hitler ordered the city bombed as part of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. Nearly the entire city centre – save for a few historic buildings – was destroyed, and almost 900 were killed. Those who survived the Blitz were almost inevitably rendered homeless.
Today, the only remnant of medieval Rotterdam left standing is Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk, or Great St. Lawrence Church, constructed between 1449 and 1525. But if old Rotterdam is no more, the new Rotterdam is a shining example of modern Dutch architecture and sensibilities.
Colourful buildings with innovative, modern architecture adorn nearly every streetcorner, like some curious new-age cornucopia. But while modern Dutch architecture has the same sleek, clean sensibilities as its Scandinavian counterpart, it lacks the often cold design elements of its northern counterparts.
What I most wanted to do today was twofold: while most guests were headed to Delft – famous for its Delft Tile works – I wanted to take one of the Inspire’s bicycles for a spin again. I also wanted to see Holland America Line’s classic SS Rotterdam, now moored as a permanent hotel in Rotterdam after a long career as an ocean liner and cruise ship. And because Tauck is all about choice, both of those ideas were possible.
Although now based in Seattle, Holland America Line is one of the Netherland’s greatest institutions, and the 1959-built Rotterdam is one of the last great Dutch “ships of state.” She served with Holland America Line from her inaugural voyage presided over by Queen Juliana until 1997, when she was retired from cruising service. She was sold to Premier Cruises and operated for a time as their Rembrandt until Premier went belly-up in September of 2000.
Arrested in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it looked like Rotterdam was headed to the breakers at Alang, India until 2004, when she had her asbestos removed and hull repainted in Holland America’s 1950’s grey-and-yellow livery. Four years later, on August 8, 2008, she arrived once again in her namesake city to begin a Queen Mary-esque career as a floating hotel and restaurant.
I have always wanted to see the Rotterdam. I’ve enjoyed many Holland America Line cruises, and the old Rotterdam was the one ship that escaped me. She was retired in 1997, and I never began cruising until 1998. So, to visit her – albeit briefly – I cycled six kilometres in each direction from Tauck’s brand-new ms Inspire to the SS Rotterdam’s final resting place in South Rotterdam at 3e Katendrechtsehoofd 25.
If you’re curious, cycling around Dutch cities is amazingly simple: you just follow the signs. The SS Rotterdam was signed clearly for car traffic, so I just followed those directional indicators and coupled it with the bike lanes, most of which were dedicated and did not involve riding on surface streets. Only when I was five or six blocks away from Rotterdam did I have to venture onto roads shared with automobiles.
Rotterdam, like other Dutch cities, even has special traffic lights for bicycles that operate on the same principal as lights for cars, but with a silhouette of a bike over the green, amber or red lamp.
As I rounded the corner in what looked like Rotterdam’s least-friendly neighborhood (I cycled past discarded couches and people in hoodies hanging out in darkened doorways), the SS Rotterdam loomed large over her remote docking location, not far from the current Passenger Terminal. With her original livery and N.A.S.M logo painted on her superstructure, she looks painfully beautiful. Perhaps that’s why ships are all likened to women; there’s a certain beauty about them that’s decidedly feminine.
After 30 minutes spent admiring and photographing this beautiful ship – and, let’s face it, resting (I’m an out-of-shape North American, after all), I began my return cycle to Tauck’s ms Inspire. I wanted badly to tour the ship, but I didn’t want to risk leaving my Tauck-owned bicycle outside the ship. Murphy’s Law dictates that someone would have swiped it long before I ever finished the tour had I left it there, but I would love to see Tauck offer an excursion to this beautiful ocean liner at some point on a future itinerary. With so many North Americans having immigrated over the Atlantic via ocean liner, I think a tour of the Rotterdam would be a huge hit.
I absolutely love the ability to cycle through some of the ports of call on this Belgium & Holland itinerary, and it’s even better that Tauck provides these complimentary. In case you’re curious, not every river cruise line provides bicycles – some don’t even offer them, period. That’s a shame, because this is one of the most bike-friendly regions in the world.
Once back onboard the Inspire, I took advantage of the empty ship – and the internet access. As I prepared yesterday’s post online this morning, I noticed a reader had asked me an interesting question on Twitter. The question was:
Hi. Surprised you preferred Loft to French Balcony. Why?
To be honest, it was a question that took me by surprise – I’d wanted to experience one just for the ‘cool factor’ alone. But the fact that there’s nothing else like this on the rivers at the moment means that, to most, no one really knows what exactly a Loft Stateroom is.
Here’s why I’m in love with Tauck’s Loft Stateroom:
That Suite Feel – despite not being sold or marketed as a suite, the Loft Staterooms feel very suite-like since the raised loft area is physically separated from the bedroom. It gives you, in effect, separate living and sleeping areas.
More Bells & Whistles – the curtains, drapes, window, and television are all electronically opened, closed, raised or lowered. And there’s a certain cool factor to that.
Innovative new design – no one else is doing loft-style staterooms on the waterways of Europe, period. But I think it’s going to catch on. Rather than having a small sitting area with an unusable table, these Loft Staterooms have two plush chairs and a full-sized table that’s so big that I can have two drinks, a novel, a full-sized laptop computer, a fresh flower, an iPod, and stacks of brochures and daily programs on it and still end up with space left over. Plus, the room itself is just ridiculously well-designed.
Connection to the River – being situated on Deck 1, these staterooms have a connection to the river that rooms on Decks 2 and 3 do not. You’re closer to the waterline, and the river zips past at an amazing speed. Ships look bigger. The shoreline appears more detailed. And, as I write this, we’ve just entered a lock alongside several cargo vessels – and it is an inspiring sight at this level!
Value – if you look at the brochure price for next week’s departure aboard the Inspire, April 14, according to Tauck’s 2014 European River Cruising brochure, Category 3 Loft Staterooms start at $5,460 per person. A Category 2 French Balcony stateroom – smaller at 150 square feet – goes for $4,945 per person. A comparably-sized French Balcony stateroom measuring 225 square feet is Category 6 – which goes for $6,730 per person on the April 14 sailing. These are, of course, all brochure list prices and your mileage may vary, but there’s a significant financial advantage to choosing a Loft Stateroom.
So yes, I’d take this over a French Balcony stateroom any day. Not that there’s anything wrong with French Balconies on Tauck or any other line – they’re great staterooms, and I doubt the Loft staterooms will tempt guests who’d normally choose one of Tauck’s 300 square-foot Suites on Deck 3. I do, however, think they will seriously tempt guests who would normally book a standard, fixed-window “river view” stateroom, and customers who would normally book a French Balcony and are looking to save a buck, but not compromise on the quality of their vacation.
The other great thing about these is that they give Tauck some bragging rights. Every river cruise line has their own unique set of accommodations. On Viking, it’s their full-sized (and massive) suites and large proportion of step-out balcony rooms. On Avalon, it’s the way the line has positioned beds to face the windows that can cascade open. AmaWaterways believes that customers want both French and step-out balconies. And so on.
With the Loft Staterooms – and 22 full-sized, 300 square foot suites situated on Deck 3 – Tauck has garnered serious bragging rights with the Inspire and her forthcoming sister, Savor, which will set sail in June. Not that Tauck would brag – that’s not their style. But they can be justifiably proud, and you can bet that the competition will take notice.
We departed Rotterdam at 2pm and spent the rest of the day sailing toward the quaint Dutch town of Veere. It was a wonderfully relaxing day, and one that really allowed the guests to get to know one another and to become better acquainted with the dedicated staff here onboard.
Following a special lecture on all things Dutch this afternoon and a movie on the Delta Works, guests indulged, laughed, and made merry over pre-dinner drinks. More and more guests are socializing until well after 7p.m., and the open seating dinner from 6p.m. until 8p.m. is a real lifesaver for those who, like yours truly, appreciate lingering over a good drink and better conversation.
Dinner, of course, gave way to post-dinner drinks in the Panorama Lounge, which gave way to a special game show tonight: Battle of the Sexes. And with the Moet & Chandon flowing, it was a real battle of the wits that the women ended up winning handily.
Afterwards, guests lingered to socialize with each other over a nightcap. The atmosphere onboard the Inspire – as with the Swiss Jewel two years ago – is exceedingly warm and inviting.
It’s social. It’s friendly. It’s unmistakably Tauck.
Tauck's MS Inspire - Belgium & Holland
|April 7, 2014||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Arrive Amsterdam; Embark Tauck's new ms Inspire|
|April 8||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Private river cruise through Amsterdam's Canals; visit the Rijksmuseum; tour Keukenhof Gardens|
|April 9||Hoorn, Netherlands / Enkhuizen, Netherlands||Walking tour of Hoorn or visit to Alkmaar. Walking tour of Enkhuizen & open-air Zuiderzee Museum.|
|April 10||Arnhem, Netherlands||Choice of tours - De Hoge Veluwe National Park exploration with Vincent Van Gogh at the Kroller-Muller Museum, or tour sites associated with the WWII airborne assault on Arnhem.|
|April 11||Rotterdam, Netherlands||Tour of Rotterdam & its museums, or optional excursion to the historic city of Delft.|
|April 12||Veere, Netherlands / Middleburg, Netherlands.||Exploration of Veere or excursion to Neeltje Jans Delta Works to learn about the country's storm surge barriers. In Middleburg, enjoy time exploring on own.|
|April 13||Antwerp, Belgium / Ypres||Orientation walking tour through Antwerp's historic city center & visit the Red Star Line museum. After lunch, Tauck Exclusive tour to Flanders to observe the centennial of World War I with dinner and a private visit to the In Flanders Fields museum.|
|April 14||Antwerp, Belgium / Hasselt, Belgium / Maastricht, Netherlands||Drive to Margraten to see the Netherlands American Cemetery. Tauck Exclusive Lunch at Chateau Neercanne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guided visit to Maastricht & free time in the Old Town.|
|April 15||Brussels, Belgium||Disembark ms Inspire & travel to Brussels for a full day of sightseeing. Overnight at the Hotel Amigo.|
|April 16||Brussels, Belgium||Onward journey home.|