You may think a cruise ship experience is just a summertime thing. Not at all! We spent a wonderful November weekend on the ss Rotterdam which is now permanently moored in the city of Rotterdam. Although the ship doesn’t sail any longer, there are plenty of things that give you the feeling you are at sea. What’s more, the ship’s history takes you straight back to the 1950’s. Every part of the ship evokes the glamour of that time.
Driving on the quay, our daughter and her friend Sis are in awe of the giant steamship. On our way to check-in, we are welcomed by a boarding steward. As it happens, the staff are all dressed in uniform. Checking in also means a warm welcome for the kids; as they have their own special place to register and sign themselves in.
The 4-star hotel made a lot of history. It was christened by Queen Juliana in 1958 and was first used as a trans-atlantic liner, then as a cruise ship. “Around the world in eighty days” was its advertising slogan. The ship once belonged to the Holland-America Line. This shipping company arranged passage to North America for many emigrants including those from Eastern Europe. It even cruised around the Caribbean, as we were told by one of the many volunteers guiding guests around the ship. Many of them have been working on the ship for years so know lots of stories about “La Grande Dame” and the famous guests who have stayed aboard. The SS Rotterdam once accommodated 1,456 passengers and is the largest passenger ship ever built in the Netherlands. The ship offered first and second class trans-atlantic voyages. To make sure that passengers from different classes would remain separated, the ship’s stairs were placed in a ‘scissoring’ position, thus ascending in different directions. Nowadays, the ship offers 254 hotel rooms and has become a multi-purpose facility.
The kids stay in a room next to ours. Both rooms maintain their original low ceilings, so they don’t feel very big. But they offer all the space and comfort you need. A nice detail is the Dutch books from a bygone era found in every hotel room. You can enjoy a truly delicious dinner in one of the ship’s restaurants. The Club Room Restaurant or the Lido Restaurant, both are spacious and unique. But the kids, having spotted the countless small yellow boats slicing through the water, can’t resist the thrill of a boat trip. So, we order a water taxi that takes guests to 21 stops in and around the centre of Rotterdam, and set off through the waters of the Maas to the nearby ‘Ballentent’. Here you can eat the best meatballs in town. A reservation is necessary though.
Back on board, the kids discover an incredible ‘playroom’ with all kinds of Playmobil toys. The Playmobil cruise ship immediately attracts our attention. The kids, multitaskers as they are, play with the whole range of toys while watching a movie. As it is, we consider going to the Ocean Bar for some nice cocktails, but we opt for the live music in the Captains Lounge. The pianist asks us for a song request and we stay all evening enjoying both the atmosphere and the great improvisational skills of the musician.
The next morning, breakfast is served in the Lido Restaurant. The kids are writing a message that will be sent in a bottle – a service provided for the little guests. Various tours are available and there is even one especially for children. So on our tour we find ourselves searching for 12 hidden questions. Although it’s in Dutch, all the guides are very willing to help you out. Must say, we are lucky our kids are not complaining because the outdoor swimming pool can’t be used at this time. But they decide to go for a dry swim anyway and end up with a real Captain’s Diploma.
Do not forget the Salon Aliyah for a nice relaxing massage, manicure or pedicure. The ship also has a theatre where guests can regularly enjoy performances as well as films; mostly for adults though. Nevertheless we could easily have spent more nights here.
Besides the water taxi service, there is a free shuttle service to the metro station Rijnhaven. From here, you can go anywhere you want. You might prefer the Dutch way of transportation and rent some bikes from the ss Rotterdam, or try a scooter. The port of Rotterdam is the largest and most important port of Europe and there are many ways to experience this city. The centre of Rotterdam has lots to offer. We explored ‘Villa Zebra’ at the Stieltjesstraat (also accessible by water taxi) which is a nice museum with art exhibitions for children between 3 and 12 years old. It was, however, a hard choice between this museum and many others such as ‘Strips!’ (the cartoon museum), the 185-metre-high Euromast, the ‘Wereldmuseum’, and the Maritime Museum. After your visit, have lunch at ‘Hotel New York’, the former head office of the Holland-America Line which is nearby and a real eye-catcher in Rotterdam. This is a sister hotel and both are part of the West Cord Hotels group.
# An unique experience: the feel of being on an actual cruise ship in a historical setting. Even if it’s only for one day.
# We were pleasantly surprised by the hotel’s focus on children; there’s no kids club, but there surely is lots for them to explore.
# Great departure point for exploring Rotterdam and enjoying a city trip. The city is full of surprises. The historic centre was largely destroyed by a bombing in the Second World War. Nowadays, the city is known for its innovative architecture.