Journalist for Life

When being a teenager is too old

Aboard the Ryndam — This isn’t your grandmother’s Holland America fleet.

More hot bars – one featuring a flight of six mini martinis — an Italian specialty restaurant carved from the pool deck’s buffet-line eatery, smart seating in the big theater room.

Also, more denim, more Miller Lite, a tiny disco just for teens …

At 15 years, four months, the Ryndam is one of the oldest of the 14 ships in the fleet of the venerable Holland America line. For decades, HAL catered to retirees. Instead of midnight blue, its hulls could have been painted the blue rinse color favored by little old ladies.

Opting for a makeover to lure younger passengers, the company – owned by the industry’s Big Dog, Carnival Corp. – rolled out its Signature of Excellence makeover. Think plastic surgery, Botox, wardrobe adviser – everything short of tattoos and piercings. But some of the new passengers are bringing those aboard.

Starting in 2005, HAL revamped everything from floor to ceiling: higher-thread counts on the sheets atop the new memory foam mattresses, metal ice buckets in place of plastic, flat-screen TVs and DVD players in the cabins, new case goods and drapes …

That was then. But the 1,270-passenger Ryndam is very much now.
It has just come out of a rapid-fire drydock makeover that in 14 days physically changed the original structure.

Instead of a flat level for seating on the lower level of the two-deck main showroom, the Vermeer, now there are five terraces of couches and chairs.

Gone is the enclosed Piano Bar and the casino’s bar featuring overhead TVs tuned to sports shows. The walls were taken down from the Piano Bar opening a horizontal slice of the public space converted into three themed bars: martinis, champagne and beer and top-shelf liquors.

No walls, so you can walk from one casual seating group to another, or between stools at the two bars. The piano is now in the open, and when a pianist isn’t warbling, it the guitar-picker’s turn. There are more than a half-dozen champagnes by the glass, 36 white, red and sparkling wines, and 17 beers, including four imports on draft. A half-dozen tables here have touch-screen computers on which you can play games.

It might be the liveliest place on the ship, at least after dark, except for the Crow’s Nest Lounge, with its 2-for-1 happy hour, and theme music events – 1950s prom night, line-dancing night, karaoke, etc. A huge wall of TV screens alternates music videos and cable programming with live TV views of the broad dance floor. (And the Crow’s Nest is where the ship’s officers and entertainers hang out.)

Most ships’ pool deck features a casual-dress restaurant, usually with buffet lines for all three meals. Part of the SOE makeover has re-purposed a horizontal section of the Ryndam into a 62-seat dinner restaurant, Canaletto, featuring mostly familiar Italian cuisine. Waiters wear the traditional gondolier’s striped T-shirts; seating is by reservation or walk-up.

Again, all cabins and public areas also received updates – new carpeting and curtains, granite countertops and new flooring in the cabin bathrooms.

Some HAL standards are still in place: a string quartet charms the savage beast in various venues during the day, the Ocean Bar combo plays jazz and show tunes nightly, the small movie theater still has cooking demonstrations on its stage, the Explorations Lounge has its specialty-coffee bar, internet café, library and Eames chairs. The spa is still staffed by the ubiquitous Steiner operatives; some fitness classes are free, there are charges for others. There are classes in Windows technology most days.

But overall, the Signature of Excellence makeover has done more than rouged the cheeks of your granny. Now, you almost have to check her blog to see what’s shaking for her tonight.

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End Bag, the new book from Bob Jenkins, collects his best stories from 19 years as travel editor. Available now on View a sample at Read more about End Bag here.

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