Tom and I just got back from spending a week in Norway aboard Holland America Line’s newest ship, the Rotterdam. Let me say upfront that Norway is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited and I’m so grateful for our time there. Lush, clean, and with landscapes that look like something out of a fairytale, Norway is one of those places I’ll remember forever. The cruising experience with Holland America was the perfect way to see Norway, so let’s get to it.
Norway is a picture-perfect destination in and of itself, but if you’re a winter lover like me and hate high summer temps, Norway is THE best place you can visit in the summer months. Mild, even cool temps, mean you’ll be comfortable.
Seeing Norway on a Holland America cruise is a really fun way to do it because you get to move around and visit several ports while also having the perfect vantage point for all the beautiful scenery. But we’ll get to all of that.
First, let me tell you where we went…
Norway cruise itinerary
The cruise we took was the Viking Sagas cruise on Holland America’s newest ship, the Rotterdam. The cruise was scheduled to be a roundtrip in and out of Amsterdam, but due to an issue with the canal, we were informed we’d be leaving from Rotterdam. It was about an hour bus ride from the Amsterdam airport and Holland America provides coach bus service right to the pier, so easy peasy.
Day 1: Depart Rotterdam
Day 2: At sea
Day 3: Eidfjord
Day 4: Flam
Day 5: Kristiansand
Day 6: Oslo
Day 7: At Sea
Day 8: Arrive Rotterdam
I’d say the majority of the passengers were Dutch on this cruise which makes sense since it was based out of the Netherlands. Americans came in second. The small remainder were a mix of different nationalities. We didn’t hear much French or Spanish at all. Ship announcements were done in English and Dutch and all employees spoke English, with many speaking Dutch as well.
Temps in late July ranged, but the high was in Oslo where it hit the low 70s F. The low was definitely up visiting the fjords in Eidfjord at 830 meters above sea level. It was only in the mid 40s F. Yes, in July! I loved it. Days at sea were breezy and sometimes cool. No complaints here!
In addition to the port stops, several days featured scenic cruising in and around the port just after leaving. The fjords and small towns were some of the most stunning I’ve ever seen. The vantage point from a ship was like no other and for a destination like Norway, I can’t recommend cruising enough. Seeing Norway’s landscapes felt surreal. It was such a change from the fried grass and droughts in my area of France.
Everything in Norway was lush and thriving. I even made myself blink twice and take off my polarized sunglasses just to check if what I was seeing really looked like that. It did!
One great thing about the port stops on our Holland America Norway cruise was that you could walk right off the ship and into town. Unlike some Mediterranean cruise ports like Marseille where you’re docked in an industrial area and have to take a shuttle or taxi to get into town, the Norwegian ports were right where you wanted to be.
In Oslo, it was a short walk from the ship to the heart of the downtown area. The other smaller ports were quaint little towns that you literally walk into when you get off the ship. The fact that we were so central was a major plus! Even if you didn’t do an excursion, you could spend the day on your own without much planning.
At each port, Holland America offers a selection of excursions that you can book ahead of time or once you get on the ship. They have everything from relaxed bus tours to more strenuous activities like kayaking and hiking. There’s something for every type of traveler. If there’s an excursion you have your heart set on doing, definitely book as far in advance as possible so you get a spot.
The ship: MS Rotterdam
Holland America has been cruising for nearly 145 years and the Rotterdam set sail last fall. As you’d expect for their newest Pinnacle-class ship, everything was gorgeous and upscale. Home to a max passenger load of about 2,600 and 984 feet long, the Rotterdam is a comfortable size and you’ll get to know the mid-size ship after just a day or two.
I appreciated that the deck plans were clearly marked next to each elevator bank so you knew which direction to head without any confusion. I loved all the special touches including the artwork in each staircase, which ranged from record cutouts featuring the faces of famous musicians to a knitted piece depicting traditional Dutch apartment exteriors, shown above. It was all so thoughtful and well done. Sometimes I took the stairs just to marvel at the art!
There were several pools and jacuzzi areas on the Rotterdam although I didn’t even wear my swimsuit once on our cruise. It was a bit cool and I kept busy doing other things. Many people did take advantage of the pools, especially under the solarium area where it was a comfortable temperature and decked out with lounge chairs and other areas to relax. Tom loved the ping pong tables overlooking the pool here so we made sure to get a few rounds in each day.
The decor throughout the ship is tasteful with a somewhat subdued color palette. Everything felt calming and high-end.
Our MS Rotterdam cabin
We had stateroom 6103 on Deck 6, which is called the Mozart Deck. Holland America calls them Verandah Staterooms and ours was midship.
When you walk in, the bathroom is directly to your left with storage closets and drawers to your right, and the bed is just after that to the left with a TV opposite it. Then just before the verandah door that opens to the outside, you have a couch to your left with a small table as well as a desk with drawers and a mirror to your right.
The room feels comfortable for two people at about 300 square feet. There was more than adequate storage both under the bed for our luggage and the closets and drawers for clothes. There were a bunch of hangers and a drawers we didn’t even use, so I’d give the closet space a big thumbs up.
The bathroom highlight for me was the glass-doored shower. It came stocked with Elemis shampoo, conditioner, and body wash and the water pressure from the detachable showerhead was top notch.
Next to the vanity, there were some shelves for toiletries, but I like to bring a back of the door organizer so I don’t have to go digging around in my toiletry bag for all my lotions and potions. Also, I found the towels to be nice and big and quite thick.
Moving onto the next part of the cabin, each bedside table had its own light and set of drawers, as well as a plug and USB outlet for easy charging. The desk was on the smaller side but a perfect fit for a room service tray or computer. And let me not forget the bed.
I am picky about beds, let me say that upfront. I HATE firm mattresses and generally hate hotel beds. I am happy to report that the Rotterdam bed and pillows were fabulous. Our bed was actually two smaller ones put together (though you wouldn’t know it) and they were NOT as hard as a board.
The pillows were luxurious and fluffy and I slept so well. I know bedding is subjective but let me say that if you hate firm mattresses, you won’t be disappointed. It didn’t feel too soft either, but it was just right. Wow, I sound like Goldilocks. Sorry. But really, I loved the pillows and bed.
OH, and the robe. Let me not forget that. Our room had two robes to use while on board (that you could buy if you wanted to as well) and I took full advantage one morning when we got room service for breakfast.
The best part of the cabin was the verandah (sorry bed, you come in second) because when you’re in Norway, the views are everything! Even on sea days, I enjoyed sitting out there (sometimes with a blanket) and taking it all in with coffee or wine, a book, or just my thoughts. There were two chairs and a small table and the chairs had a separate foot rest piece so you could put your feet up or slide it under the chair out of sight if you didn’t want to use it.
You have a bunch of dining options aboard Rotterdam, many of which are included in your cruise fare. First up is the buffet on Deck 9. You can eat there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — and we loved it. Dinner included a roasting station with turkey or prime rib, a salad bar, a “Distant Lands” selection like Chinese stir-fry, comfort food like lasagna and mac and cheese, a full dessert spread of cookies, individual pie or mousse and ice cream and so much more. I’m really just scratching the surface here.
Also included is the main dining room at the rear of the ship on Decks 2-3, which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s open seating so you don’t have an assigned table or time. You can eat dinner whenever you want and aren’t required to come at the same time or to the same table each night.
We ate at a table for two and just walked in each night although you could also make a reservation for a specific time. I recommend you do that to avoid the line of people waiting to be seated without a reservation. One night we did end up waiting about 15 minutes for a table, so if timing is important to you or you have a bigger party, definitely make a reservation.
You can do that (and all kinds of other things like book excursions, view your photos taken on the ship, check your statement, and so much more) via the Holland America Navigator app, so be sure to download that before your trip.
For each meal, you are given a paper menu that has a selection of appetizers, main courses, and desserts — about 5 or 6 of each — plus a suggested wine list (wine is at an additional charge if you don’t have a drink package).
TIP: If you’re cruising at peak times like during the summer months, avoid the breakfast buffet from 8:30-10am. Opt for the complimentary room service or head to the main dining room on days when your breakfast timing falls in that range. It can get really busy and it’s hard to get a table in the buffet area at that time.
Beyond the buffet and main dining room, you have two other complimentary meal options that lean on the more casual side. The Dive-In that has burgers and hotdogs which were excellent and the NY Deli & Pizza where you can get sandwiches, salads, and pizza. You can order in person or from the Navigator app and then go pick up the food to eat there or bring back to your room.
Maybe I just really like hamburgers and I’m an easy sell, but I found the Dive-In burgers to be really good! You can even get one without a bun that comes sandwiched between two pieces of lettuce.
Then there are several specialty dining options that incur an additional fee. We went to Rudi’s Sel de Mer, which is a French-style brasserie named after Master Chef Rudi Sodamin. I had lobster and Tom went with the salmon. Our waiter was from Morocco and it made his day to speak French with us since most passengers are not French speakers. The decor was an under the sea theme and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Other specialty dining options include sushi and Asian fare at Tamarind and Nami, the Pinnacle Grill, and more. But make no mistake about it, the main dining room meals were excellent. The food overall on Holland America was excellent, so let me stress that. You can stick to your budget and still feel like you had amazing food even if you don’t do specialty dining.
We loved the buffet options and found the main dining room food to be top notch–really. From fish to chicken to lamb and more, the food always came out hot, perfectly cooked, and with a good serving of vegetables. The portions were always on the generous side, I found. Even the fruit platters at breakfast had a good amount of fruit. If you want to eat, you won’t go hungry!
There were also two formal nights on our cruise. Some people got super dressed up in tuxes and fancy eveningwear and others simply wore a tie and jacket and a nice dress. As long as you’re not in shorts and a t-shirt, all types of dressed up looks were totally OK. Tuxes and heels not required!
Each day, we received a paper program in our room that would let us know what was happening throughout the day and evening. There were organized activities, meetups, tournaments, and more. Think fitness classes, a Pride and friends meetup, origami folding, and a cornhole tournament in addition to shows and other entertainment.
There was something for everyone including flower arranging demonstrations, ballroom dancing, shuffleboard, bingo, and history talks, just to name a few.
After dinner, you have a few on-stage entertainment options.
A highlight for me was the World Stage where the evening dance shows took place. The theater features 270-degree LED screens that line the walls for a high-tech backdrop. You can see the stage from every single seat and it was a great space to watch the high-energy dancing. A team of six American dancers dazzled us with several different shows. Humanity was my favorite and featured a bunch of upbeat dance numbers to popular songs.
If you wanted to rock out instead, the Rolling Stone Rock Room was where you’d go for one of their three nightly shows, often in the 9, 10 and 11 p.m. timeframe. The band played all kinds of music from days past and today. There was also B.B. King’s Blues Club which brought the best of Memphis R&B to the sea and my gosh, did they have energy!. The Lincoln Center Stage was another musical option where I watched a string quartet play.
It’s not a cruise unless I go to the spa. I took some time to relax in the spa with an hour massage that was heavenly. You could also choose from face and body treatments, a spa pass which gives you access to the hydropools, sauna, the aromatherapy steam rooms, thermal beds, and more. The Rotterdam also offered salon services if you wanted to get your hair done. They even do teeth whitening.
I love testing my luck at the casino when at sea and fully enjoyed myself playing a little here and there. The ship had a nice mix of slot machines and live dealer games like roulette, blackjack, poker, and more. I usually stick to slot machines and watching others play at the tables. But one night it wasn’t too busy and I figured I’d try something new. One of the dealers gave me a quick roulette tutorial so I could learn the ropes and then I played conservatively for an hour. I felt comfortable playing without an audience and actually won a little bit (and then lost it the next night).
One thing to note is that a certain section of the casino does allow smoking (otherwise you have to go to a designated area on Deck 9), so if you’re sensitive to that, the casino might not be a good choice when it’s busy.
Another thing I love is working out with a view and the gym did not disappoint! The fitness facilities were on Deck 9 at the front of the ship near the spa overlooking the sea. Treadmills and other cardio equipment had standout views and I loved using the treadmill during our scenic cruising days. Lots of other people had the same idea.
There were also strength training machines, a full dumbbell rack, a cable machine and Smith machine. In addition to the main gym floor, there were also two fitness studios. One is used for yoga, Pilates and other classes and the second is a cycling studio with about 20 or so indoor cycling bikes. You can take classes for $20/class or buy a more cost effective pass which gives you access to all of the classes for the week.
The gym gets a big thumbs up from me. It was light, spacious, and open until 9 p.m. each evening. Zero complaints. There was also an outdoor track area and basketball court on the upper deck if you want to take your workout outside.
For some good, clean fun, put your cell phone away and head to the game room. I didn’t expect to see such a well-done game room with so many choices. It’s up near the Crow’s Nest space toward the front of the ship, has about 10 tables and features a wall of neatly organized briefcases.
Each one corresponds to a specific game and you can find Monopoly, Clue, Yahtzee, puzzles, card games, and so many more. It was a popular place and for good reason.
If books are more your thing, the library is where it’s at. This special room blew me away. It was like a mini Barnes & Noble where you could borrow one of the many titles available to read in your cabin or in one of the chairs there in the library (complete with a blanket!).
All of the books were new, there were several copies of each, and spanned many different genres. How cool is that? As someone who has always liked to read, the library was one of my favorite things about the Rotterdam (although I didn’t get too far in my book, despite my best intentions)!
We had the premium internet package and found it to be just OK. There were even a couple of days around the fjords where it didn’t work at all. Understandable given the landscape, but just don’t plan on doing any live streaming or Zoom calls because the internet is better suited for simple web browsing and email. We were told the day prior when internet would be poor due to the fjords so that way people could plan their internet use accordingly.
Is Holland America for retired age people?
This is one of the most common questions I got from friends and family. Is Holland America Line for older people? Holland America is an American-owned cruise line — Carnival Corporation is the parent company — and its cruises are for people who want a classic, upscale cruise experience at whatever age.
While Holland America has a reputation for attracting an older crowd due to its classic style (no waterslides or twerking contests here!), it’s really about your cruising mindset and what you want in a cruise.
I’d say that more than half the ship was over 55. There were many people well into their 70s. But there were also families with kids and grandkids, younger couples like us, and a bunch of teenagers that gave the ship a younger vibe. This is especially true during peak summer times when kids aren’t in school. It didn’t feel like a retirement cruise though by any means.
Holland America also has Club HAL which is a babysitting and kids/teen area. While there aren’t some of the things you’d find on more kid-centric cruise lines like kiddie pools, there are specific activities for kids and teens and they are welcome.
Would I cruise with Holland America again?
Absolutely, yes. We had a great time! In fact, my dad and I are looking at a cruise for us to go on together next year.
It’s a more classic style and feels more low-key than other cruises. What I mean is that you won’t find activities on the schedule at 2 a.m. The shows don’t have a cast of 20 people. There’s also no nightclub/DJ, although there is a dance floor at B.B King’s and the Rolling Stone Rock Room.
We also didn’t witness any crazy behavior that people sometimes associate with cruises stateside. You know, overly inebriated folks who make a scene and that sort of thing while wearing their swimsuit to dinner.
Holland America is classy and attracts a clientele looking for an upscale, cultured experience. Even in college, I was 20 going on 60 and am not big into nightlife and partying. I am an early riser and go to bed early so some of the more lively nightlife you’ll find on other cruise lines isn’t my thing.
But as I mentioned, there were things going on well after I went to bed. The last Rolling Stone Rock Room show was at 11:45 and the casino and bars were still open too.
For me, Holland America is suited to my personal cruise style. Good food, a nice selection of music and entertainment, great gym, a casino and spa, and loads of areas to relax and hang out.
Cruising to Norway with Holland America was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Norway is gorgeous and if you have the opportunity to go, definitely do it! Holland America was fabulous and if you’re into delicious food, great service, a low-key atmosphere and upscale cruising (that is still affordable), check them out. You won’t regret it!
Have you taken a Holland America Norway cruise? Is it something you’d consider?
For more on cruising, check out our Mediterranean cruise on Costa’s newest ship, the Toscana.
Coming to France? I have an eGuide with tips every traveler needs before they go.
Disclosure: Thank you to Holland America for hosting us on this incredible trip. All opinions are my own.