April 18, 2012
Our Departure from Rotterdam aboard the Holland America ship the MS Rotterdam

Departure day for a cruise is always an exciting affair. There’s a big build-up, you have to be thoroughly packed, have all your travel documents on hand, everything you’re going to need while aboard the ship. After a filling continental breakfast in the hotel, we had a relaxing and scenic bus trip from Amsterdam to Rotterdam.

We had to catch a shuttle from our hotel to the bus early the next morning

Bus travel isn’t good for taking photos, but at least you don’t have to drive through traffic in an unknown city. The highway between Amsterdam and Rotterdam didn’t look all that different from most highways in Ontario, except for the occasional windmill far off in the distance.

Just hop on the bus, Gus... our morning trip to Rotterdam and our waiting ship

We caught the occasional glimpse of a distant windmill out the bus window as we speeded past

The kerfuffle starts at the cruise terminal, where you go through check-in and get photographed for your boarding/room card. As near as I can figure out, this essentially means letting them know who’s credit card to bill for all those shipboard expenses. Having flown in the day before, we arrived at the terminal before the rest of the passengers. So we got processed quickly.

There were more officials than passengers when we got off the bus and entered the cruise terminal

After being processed comes the long wait in the terminal. They design these things as if ten thousand people were expected to funnel through them all at one time. When we arrived there was hardly anyone else there. So there was lots of room, at first. At least the wait was only an hour or so.

Inside the cruise terminal we waited patiently to board our ship (visible beyond the window)

We were amongst the first to board the Rotterdam, and our rooms weren’t quite ready yet. That’s because the last of the previous passengers had only disembarked a couple of hours earlier. So, with nothing else to do, we did what everyone else does… we went to the Lido restaurant by the pool and got ourselves something to eat.

My boys enjoying their first meal onboard the MS Rotterdam (although we had sailed on her once before)

Relaxing is what cruises are all about, so we decided to start early

Once the announcement came over the speakers that our cabins were now ready, we (and everyone else) headed to our rooms. The cabin stewards had the room ship shape, with our bags laid out on our beds waiting for us. Cabins are never as big as you would like, but they’re as big as they need to be. We got a quad so that all four of us could stay in the same room. It’s… cozy, to say the least.

Our ocean-view quad cabin near the stern, on the port side (the ladder leads to Jeffrey's bunk)

Once all the passengers had boarded, a lifeboat drill was called. This is mandatory for all passengers. On our latest cruise anyone who missed the lifeboat drill was asked to disembark and not sail. I guess that’s the legacy of the Costa Concordia sinking.

We joined the other passengers at our lifeboat station for the mandatory pre-sailing drill

With lifeboat drill out of the way, we were free to wander the ship. We had sailed aboard the Rotterdam three years earlier, so we were all familiar with its layout. Too bad, to some extent, because exploring a new ship is always a lot of fun. Still, we had enjoyed our first trip aboard her, so it felt like coming home to an old friend.

Nancy checks out the view, with Rotterdam's stylish Erasmusbrug Bridge in the background

The beautiful architecture of old Rotterdam (most of the city was bombed during the war)

Nancy watches as the pilot boat drops off the channel pilot in preparation for our departure

Not all ports give the ships a big send-off. But I guess the MS Rotterdam departing from Rotterdam is something of a big deal. So there was a crowd and even a big, boisterous folk group there to sing us away from the pier and out into the channel to the open North Sea. People gathered on the pier to wave goodbye to friends and loved ones as the ship set sail. Even if you don’t know anyone onshore, it’s hard not to find yourself waving back.

A small crowd of waving, cheering people sent us off on our way (the folk group is on the second level)

Not all cruises are given such a musical, colourful and enthusiastic send-off

I defy anyone to remain in their cabin during a departure. There is something irresistible about these huge vessels navigating slowly through such narrow waterways.

Nancy and Robert watching as we sail away from Rotterdam and head down the channel

The channel to the open North Sea is several miles long. It is a busy waterway with lots of competing water traffic, tug services, dockyards, and freight piers. We even passed by one of the Rotterdam’s predecessors, still looking pretty good for an old girl.

Our Rotterdam is the third ship to bear the name, but this older version is still afloat

Robert and I standing at the railing enjoying this first part of our cruise

The Netherlands owes so much of its culture to wind and water. Water for shipping and commerce. Wind for production and for pumping water out of reclaimed lowlands.

A few locals even gathered on a dock to watch us sail past

What would a visit to The Netherlands (or Holland) be without seeing some windmills

New windmills in the form of modern wind turbines are everywhere

Our ship set sail at 5 pm and didn’t reach the open sea for another couple of hours or so after that. By then, being still jet-lagged, we were tired and ready to call it a day. Things usually quiet down the first day of sailing, with everyone finding themselves a quiet place to spend the balance of the evening.

Nancy enjoying the relative peace and quiet of the Crow's Nest observation lounge

Robert alone with his thoughts and the fresh sea air on the open bow deck

I found a quiet table by a window in the restaurant (but I think I lost my coffee somewhere)

The first day of a cruise is an exciting and optimistic time. You’re on your way. You know what ports you’ll be sailing to. You have your excursions all arranged. But the anticipation still keeps you from being completely relaxed. That’ll come after you’ve spent a couple of days on your feet sightseeing. Our next day was to be an “at sea” day as we sailed for Oslo, Norway.

As we finally reached the open sea, the channel pilot disembarked to a waiting boat

Nancy stares into the setting sun as we head out into the open North Sea

Nancy and Robert taking a leisurely sunset stroll along the Promenade at the end of the day

Sunset viewed aboard a cruise ship can be a peaceful and reflective moment


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