Interior view: Holland America Line’s Rotterdam

Holland America Line is challenging the typical idea of innovation by bringing timeless elegance to its ships through food, music and art. My Nguyen tells Jon Ingleton more

Interior view: Holland America Line’s Rotterdam
Lincoln Center Stage offers programmes of classical music and contemporary favourites with a twist

Paying homage to its first ship which sailed its maiden voyage in 1872, Holland America Line is celebrating the Rotterdam name with its new vessel, scheduled for launch in August 2021. Despite being the newest member of the line’s Pinnacle class, My Nguyen, design director of Holland America Group, believes Rotterdam will reflect the timeless European elegance that customers have come to love from the brand.  

“If we’re talking about the essence and design of what makes Holland America, it’s absolutely Rotterdam,” she says. “The onboard spaces offer a feeling that is historic and uniquely Holland America.” 

While the brand is known for its classic elegance, Holland America and its team of designers – which include Tihany Design, YSA Design and Nguyen – work to ensure that each ship is different and has its own personality.  

“We all have our own styles, but they merged to create this timeless design on Rotterdam,” says Nguyen. “There is a layering of materials, colours and shapes that are not so trend-oriented. They aren’t focused on the past, present or future, but they make you feel comfortable and welcome. I think all three design perspectives were able to capture that.”  

Rotterdam is built on underlying themes of music and its architecture. This is reflected in the ship’s multiple music venues, including the classical Lincoln Center Stage, piano bar Billboard and Rolling Stones rock venue, as well as some striking design features in spaces such as the atrium.  

“The sculpture in the atrium is very unique,” says Nguyen. “Taking inspiration from the inside of a harp, it features shards of metal that span different decks. I think of it as a piece of architecture that exploded from rocking out to great music. 

“The art onboard also captures the musical theme throughout the staterooms and public areas. There are a lot of curves and flowing features in the shapes of the furniture, as well as carpets that underline that thread of music and musical notes.” 

With art playing a key role in Holland America’s ships, the designers of Rotterdam carefully curated the pieces to tell the right story for the new vessel. 

“We were able to salvage some really special pieces from the ships that were sold during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Nguyen. “Not only were we able to give new life to them, but we were also able to pay homage to the rich history associated with the Rotterdam name.” 

The cruise industry has transformed in recent years. Ships now boast modern features such as robotic barmen, rollercoasters, water parks, and endless retail and hospitality options. Guests rightly expect a lot from their cruise holidays. While Holland America doesn’t necessarily present as the trendsetter of innovation, Nguyen believes Rotterdam will wow guests.  

“As a designer, I always think of innovation as the next big thing, but what I’ve learned during this pandemic is it’s not the big flashy things that matter to everyone. The simple experiences with the people I love matter just as much. Holland America is the perfect brand to have those experiences. What more do you need than good friends, great food and a beautiful environment to have the best vacation?” 

And the line’s success is proof that customers feel the same.  

“We have one of the highest repeat guest ratios in the industry, and they keep coming back for the unique spaces onboard our ships,” says Nguyen. “Rotterdam is full of these – the atrium, the Grand Dutch Café, Exploration Central. You wouldn’t see these on other ships, they are distinct to Holland America for being uniquely European and luxuriously intriguing.  

“When our passengers come back for our cruises, they have an expectation based on their previous experiences with us. We are known for our amazing crew, food, music and art, so we don’t really feel like it’s necessary to put in amusement park features to entertain our clientele.” 

Nguyen highlights some hidden gems that she believes really embody this trilogy of food, music and art. “Notes is a whisky-tasting corner that invites intimate experiences and conversation,” she says. “It features a tower of whisky and a small circular bar that seats six. It’s the kind of timeless, elegant ‘wow’ that you will remember forever, both in the design and in the conversations you will have in this gem of a space.”  

Despite this, Rotterdam will feature new products that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly. “In the staterooms that I designed, I specified a new product on the market made of 100 per cent wool with natural colouring,” says Nguyen. “It is completely recyclable and during its production, no harmful chemicals enter the environment – that’s huge! There are tens of thousands of metres of carpet on each ship so that is a massive proportion of material that can make a positive environmental impact. I’m so proud to be able to design things that have sustainability at their heart.” 

Now that the ship’s launch is just around the corner, Nguyen is excited to see guests enjoying the onboard experience.  

“I think they’re going to get the best combination of things that are really important to them: cuisine, entertainment, music, variety and a wealth of ‘wow’ moments in the art, textures and interior spaces,” she says. “This ship has all of the makings to create really great memories – what more could you want?” 


This article was first published in the 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
23 June 2021

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