The ship was built in Rotterdam. It left the city to come back again many years later. The legendary former flagship of the Holland America Line is 228 meter long, 28 meters wide, 61 metres in height, rich in history and renowned for its cultural and historic value. ss Rotterdam is also referred to as La Grande Dame. At www.stoomschiprotterdam.nl you can read about the ship’s entire history. Below is a summary.
1956 – 1959
Exciting years, exciting furniture
The crossing from the Atlantic to America to many people meant travelling to ‘the new world’. Sailing across the Atlantic, however, was not always a treat. For at times the see could be rough, climate unpredictable. This is why HAL set specific requirements to the design of its latest ship. A gracefully shaped hull and a sharp, high bow were necessary to further upgrade the seaworthiness and speed compared to its predecessors. The engineering room installation changed place and the ship was provided with two modern flues located next to each other. The traditional chimney made room for a deckhouse, to ensure an eye-catching and streamlined profile. Design perhaps seemed controversial considering its age, however many ships that followed later on copied the same layout. HAL also paid careful attention to the ship’s interior, engaging famous architects and artists. The renowned interior designer Van Tienhoven was made responsible for significant elements that had to be luxurious and functional at the same time. He designed furniture which was considered exciting back then using modern materials such as plastic, ceramics and aluminium. Working together with famous Dutch artists he created a coherent whole in which applied art was pivotal.
13 September 1958
Queen Juliana used a silver hatchet to cut the wire holding the champagne bottle and spoke the historic words: “I name you Rotterdam and wish you a safe journey.” Thousands of spectators were standing along both sides of the Nieuwe Maas to marvel at the half-built ship, clapping and cheering.
3 September 1959
One year later, on 3 September 1959, the graceful ship was completed and ready for its first voyage. Some people had to get used to the ship’s striking appearance. They thought the slender flues, instead of the traditional chimney, were perhaps a bit too modern. With 38,645 GRT ss Rotterdam, the flagship of the Holland America Line and the Dutch merchant navy, joined the top-10 of large passenger ships.
Destination: New York. On this day the quayside was covered with heavy suitcases and gigantic trucks loaded with provisions. There was a good reason for this because in eight days no fewer than 31,000 eggs, 4,000 lettuces, 2,000 kilos of butter and 10,000 kilos of beef were consumed. Twelve hundred passengers and special guests (incl. crown princess Beatrix) expectantly came aboard. The people ashore kept pointing at the diminishing figures on deck. In New York water spurting tugboats sailed towards the ship ensuring a cordial welcome.
1959 – 1971
Cruising in luxury
In these relatively uneventful years ss Rotterdam was used for transatlantic crossings and cruises as well. By now crew members had become used to spectators gaping at the ship in every port. The gigantic dimensions made quite an impression.
First-class … always
Flying is a relatively cheap en much faster alternative for crossing the ocean. This alternative meant the end of liner services to New York. ss Rotterdam too made its final crossing. Nostalgically passengers went ashore in New York, looking back one more time wondering whether they would ever see the impressive ship again. The answer was yes, because ss Rotterdam lived on as a cruise ship thanks to the then HAL manager De Monchy. He was a man who could see beyond today and already during construction, he ordered a monumental stairwell to be constructed with sliding panels. During the transatlantic crossings these panels divided decks into two classes. This meant first-class and second-class passengers travelled separately. The creative aspect of these panels is the fact that they could also remain open to have one class only. This quickly transformed ss Rotterdam into a cruise ship without separating classes. After some minor architectural adjustments ss Rotterdam was ready for its new career: five-star cruises to far-away, exotic destinations (popular to today).
The early 1990s
ss Rotterdam, a maritime icon
By now the international cruising standards had changed. ss Rotterdam too was no longer meeting all security requirements. HAL, which had been property of the American Carnival Cruise Line since 1988, thought renovation had become too expensive. The shipping company preferred to carry on with modern cruise ships, abandoning the nostalgic setting and glamour of ships like ss Rotterdam. By now the ship had become an icon in the marine world.
‘Rotterdam’ became ‘Rembrandt’
In 1997 HAL accepted an offer from Premier Cruises that had been operating older cruise ships attaching value to authenticity. The new owner renamed the ship after one of our greatest painters, Rembrandt. After several adjustments ss Rotterdam was ready for short cruises in Europe among other destinations. In October 1998 the ship even visited Rotterdam. Again, thousands of people came to see the ship.
The economy was suffering a setback and Premier Cruises went bankrupt. Despite its popularity, Rembrandt was no longer put to sea and chained for an indefinite period of time in the port of Freeport (Bahamas). For a while, nothing happened …
This uncertain period lasted until 2005. Too long a period, according to Friends of Steamship Rotterdam (2001). The foundation invested best efforts to return the ship with so much historic and cultural value back to the city where it belongs, the city of Rotterdam. Lobbying paid off and in 2004 the ship was transferred from the Bahamas to Gibraltar. The City of Rotterdam recognised opportunities for the city and decided to grant the popular ship a permanent berth in Maashaven in the Katendrecht district. HAL agreed to ss Rotterdam adopting its old name. One of the larger housing corporations in the Netherlands made sure the old steamship served a new commercial, recreational and training purpose. ss Rotterdam was rescued.
2005 – 2008
Grand and compelling
Prior to different renovations, the ship sailed one more time. After many dormant years ss Rotterdam was no longer able to do so on its own. Tugboats were used to transfer the ship from Gibraltar to Cádiz and on to Gdansk and Wilhelmshaven. On its way ss Rotterdam regained its old shape little by little. The grey hull was provided with the typical gold piping and the original name once again appeared on stem and stern. The fantastic interior, masterpieces, drawing rooms and furniture … every single detail was restored much to its original. Some of the tapestries were woven once again and even the huge mural in the Grand Ballroom was restored. It was a gigantic project. At the same time, a dedicated team of designers prepared the ship for the modern age introducing stylish restaurants, larger and better equipped hotel rooms, a parking area and entrances at the 3rd Katendrechtsehoofd.
The ship was prepared for an elegant comeback.
4 August 2008
Yesterday is today, and today is tomorrow
At last, after almost 50 years ss Rotterdam made a grand and compelling entrance. Behold La Grande Dame. From Hoek van Holland the quaysides were swarming with people wanting to witness this great happening live. Even the ever sober-minded people of Rotterdam could not hold back their tears. Finally, after surviving all wanderings,ss Rotterdam was granted one of the most beautiful spots it can wish for: Katendrecht in the very heart of Rotterdam. Yesterday is today and today is tomorrow. On 15 February 2010 the ship welcomed its first visitors and by now ss Rotterdam is without a doubt one of the most popular places in the city of Rotterdam.
12 June 2013
WestCord Hotels proud owner
On June 12, 2013 the ss Rotterdam was officially handed over to WestCord Hotels, a Dutch family-owned company with 14 beautiful hotels in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft, Leeuwarden, Garderen, Raalte and on the Wadden Vlieland, Terschelling and Ameland. Proudly WestCord Hotels ss Rotterdam added as a new jewel in the 14th WestCord hotelchain.