There was a gala black tie dinner onboard Sunday. One last time through the Ritz Carlton, to see the gorgeous painted lacquers of opulent exotica. One more stroll through the rich velvet smoking room. One last dinner in the LaFontaine Dining Room. One more time to trace with my finger the outline of the carvings of Greek mythology. I remember Hans wandering around the first time he was back onboard the Rotterdam as an adult, looking for the table in the dining room he and his mother shared with a cousin and a young American priest returning from Europe on the maiden voyage. He was only a little boy then, but he remembered and we found it. He had a black and white photo taken on that maiden voyage, right there, at that very table, so we took another one. "Compare and contrast". Hans changed in thirty years. The SS Rotterdam didn't.
One recent time when we were onboard for dinner while she was in New York, there was a full moon and a clear night over the Manhattan skyline. We stood on the bridge with First Officer Hans Hoffmann and his wife, who was also onboard with him then, and just took in the view. That's one memory of her that will be with me for a long, long time. Shortly after that, we heard the rumors about her end. We wondered how a ship like this could be withdrawn from service.
One of the main reasons I'm interested in cruising, or interested in ocean liners at all, is because of the SS Rotterdam. Stepping onboard for the first time years ago conjured up the great history of elegance, beauty, and grace that was once ocean travel. Who couldn't succumb to that kind of charm. Modern day cruising only teases of the way it must have been. Looking around the SS Rotterdam, one knew instantly how much attention to detail and pride the Dutch put into her. She is truly a flagship. There may be another, newer Rotterdam on the horizon, but there will never be another quite like this one.
I'm not her only admirer, not by a long shot. There are legions of fans that are broken-hearted about her leave-taking. One in particular, Stephen Payne, senior naval architect for Carnival Corporation and project manager for the new Rotterdam, is another big fan. He sailed on her for the last time this winter on a segment of the world cruise. His post card to us a few months back reflected that sadness I think we all felt Sunday evening. He wrote a stunningly well-detailed book about her several years ago, a testament to the depth of his fondness for the SS Rotterdam. He was there, too, Sunday evening. A small group of us wandered around onboard as if we were awaiting our own passing. We looked at all the objects, the things that made this ship special and unique that we'd seen many times before, but we studied them this time, touching and pausing at every corner down every deck. We kept using the words "like an old friend" over and over again. It was hard to believe this would be the last time. I must say, I had a few felonious thoughts about souvenirs, but no...she will be left intact. No one should pick an Old Lady's pocket or steal her purse.
Morose? Somewhat gloomy and depressing? I suppose. I do feel like I'm losing a familiar friend. For all the newbuilds, for all the glitz and shine and mirrors that has become ship design and cruising in general, the SS Rotterdam was always out there, sailing somewhere in the world. We used to be able to pull out a current HAL brochure and figure out just where on the planet she'd be on any given day. For as sad as I felt Sunday, I'd bet Hans felt three times as melancholy. Every time we'd embark in the past, he'd take his own personal tour, inspecting her and making memories. I do hope she gets to live a long life of retirement someplace fitting, someplace where we can maybe visit her again in her old age. Because she is, of course, the Grande Dame. And she always will be.
I know I'm rambling, but I'm full of memories tonight.
(This seems fitting for the occasion, the lyrics from a song and the thought to do it at all from John Fisher, having enjoyed his most appropriate quotes in the past.)
"So, goodbye my friend,
I know we may not see you again
The times together through all the years
will take away our tears, so...
Goodbye my friend."
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