I had accumulated quite a few frequent flier airline miles and found that I could use some of them to book a cruise on Holland America Line. Marney and I had never cruised before. We did book a Caribbean Cruise on the ss Rotterdam from November 3rd through November10th in 1984. We paid a little extra for an outside cabin. This cruise was round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and was scheduled to visit Philipsburg in St. Maarten, Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Nassau in the Bahamas.
Unlike today, the inventory of ships in the Holland America fleet was very limited. They had only three ships cruising the Caribbean and Mexico - the ms Nieuw Amsterdam III, the ms Noordam III, and the ss Rotterdam V, which was its sole remaining steamship.
This was a very eventful cruise as I describe below. We booked a cruise on another cruise line several years later but did not find our experience on that cruise nearly as enjoyable. We in fact found our ss Rotterdam experience so enjoyable that we cruised exclusively with the Holland America line after I retired and had the time available for cruising. In fact we have since accumulated over 350 days at sea on Holland America ships since our humble beginning on the ss Rotterdam. What we liked most about Holland America was the on-board experience on the ss Rotterdam —the staff, the fellow passengers, the excellent food, the entertainment, and especially the ultra-friendly Indonesian and Filipino crew. In fact our positive experience on the ss Rotterdam has continued over the years on our other Holland America cruises. We especially have continued to enjoy the crew - so much so that my wife Marney learned basic Bahasa to converse with the Indonesian crew as a sign of respect. We also always bring along goodies for every cruise to give to the crew - snacks from an Indonesian Grocery store in Los Angeles and treats from the Filipino Goldilocks Bakery in Los Angeles, although with travel restrictions we have recently had to reduce what we carry on board significantly.
But I digress. We just completed a Mexican Riviera cruise on the ms Koningsdam. On this cruise we attended an excellent presentation in the World Stage Theater on the history of Holland America. The discussion of the Rotterdam V in this presentation lead us to remember our experiences on our first cruise on the ss Rotterdam. Fortunately I had scanned many Kodachrome slides taken on this cruise and had also retained all of the materials we received on this cruise - including all of the menus, all of the daily events listings, several ship newspapers (including the election coverage of Ronald Regan), and many other memorabilia. I decided to prepare this blog to share our experiences, photos, and documentation of this cruise. We have many fond memories of this cruise even 38 years later.
Unlike today, passengers were able to tour the bridge and the engine room as well as the kitchen. I captured many photos from these tours. Our cabin was very small but quite functional - unlike the expansive Neptune Suite with Verandah that we had on our latest cruise. But we did not spend a lot of time in our stateroom on the ss Rotterdam cruise.
It was a beautiful day as the ss Rotterdam arrived in Philipsburg on Tuesday, November 6, 1984. Unlike today, the ship had to use tenders to transfer passengers from the ship to Philipsburg. We rented a car and spent the day traveling around St. Maarten. The weather became progressively worse as the day wore on, but we arrived back in Philipsburg in plenty of time to catch the tender back to the ship for our scheduled 8:15 pm dinner, and well before the last tender service at 10:30 pm. But all tender service had been suspended when we arrived at the dock. A hurricane (Hurricane Klaus) had moved into the area much faster than the ss Rotterdam staff had expected, and the sea conditions were such that tender service was impossible. Passengers waiting to return to the ss Rotterdam were told to hang out for the time being in a local bar with the ship's dentist, who also was stranded with us. After several hours the seas had died down a little bit, and the Rotterdam once again attempted to retrieve passengers from Philipsburg. But it was still a very dangerous trip on the tenders. In fact the ss Rotterdam took the unusual step of placing a ship's officer on each tender. Passengers were slowly transported back to the Rotterdam. When it was our turn, we experienced a very rough ride with the tender bobbing up and down in the huge waves. When our tender arrived at the ss Rotterdam, the tender operator drove the tender as close to the Rotterdam as possible. We were still bobbing up and down many feet as we passed above and below the ship's portal. Two crew members on the Rotterdam grabbed each passenger one-by-one as they passed by the ship's portal. This took a considerable time since the crew could not always grab each passenger successfully as they passed the portal. Marney and I eventually were grabbed aboard. I can still remember being greeted by the ship's captain (as all tender passengers were) who assured us that our dinner had still been saved for us. Eventually all passengers had been returned to the Rotterdam and we sailed on to our next port, Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I can vividly remember that evening as we slept in our cabin how we could hear the ss Rotterdam creak, moan, and rock from the hurricane as we sailed on. (Wikipedia indicates that a small cruise ship sailing about a mile off St. Martin coast was wrecked from this hurricane, so the hurricane was more damaging than we thought at the time).
Our next port was to be Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This again was to be a tender service. But the captain did have to cancel this port because of the hurricane. We later found out that, about a month after the storm passed, President Ronald Reagan declared the U.S. Virgin Islands a major disaster area from the damage attributable to this hurricane.
We eventually made it to our third port, Nassau in the Bahamas, where we did dock successfully and enjoyed a day in the Bahamas.
As a result of the hurricane we did spend much time aboard the ship, thoroughly enjoying the food, entertainment, crew, fellow passengers, and wonderful artwork on the ship. We particularly have fond memories of the Roger James Orchestra, David Pengelly in Showtime '84, and particularly Frank Gusto leading the late night entertainment in the Crow's Nest. The food on the Rotterdam.was outstanding—we still remember the Beef Wellington and the Baked Alaska Ceremony. The enclosed Promenade deck provided us an opportunity for a little exercise even in the inclement weather.
Our first cruise on the ss Rotterdam was very eventful and memorable, and led us to an accumulation of almost a full year of cruising with Holland America.
Several years later we briefly visited the ss Rotterdam when it was in port in Los Angeles, and on a much later cruise we visited the ss Rotterdam Hotel in Rotterdam where this wonderful ship is destined to spend its remaining days as a hotel.