Do you believe in signs, in omens? I think maybe I do.

I saw two bears ( a mother and a younger one) in my back yard last week, knocking down our bird houses and feeders, and then playfully running amok in the neighbor's garbage. I think I may have related that incident to some of you when it first happened. Today I looked down from the Sports Deck on the Amsterdam, HAL's newest ship in their fleet, and saw those two bears, forever frozen in art at the head of the Lido pool.

Tonight, I feel all warm and tingly. I actually LIKED this ship very much, and I was really afraid (after the Rotterdam VI) that I wouldn't. HAL has taken the basic design of the Rotterdam class ships and matured it, refined it and thought it through. This ship has interesting textures and spaces. It's thoughtful and quiet where it needs to be and comfortable and familiar to any who have sailed on HAL before and enjoyed it. This ship doesn't try so hard...and it's certainly illustrative of a near-culmination of a work in progress as a result.

Holland America Line was very gracious to invite us to see their newest addition while it was in New York for it's debut. I expected to be able to meet up with many of the folks I know from this newsgroup, but it seems we got side-tracked and instead got to see many of the small nooks and crannies of this ship the others didn't get to see. We weren't on the ship ten minutes when I turned my back on Hans and found him ponying up to the Captain, speaking to him in Dutch about azipods. We were later invited up to the bridge to look around at all the new equipment, everything almost gleaming it was so new. The technology is simply dazzling on these new ships.

First things first, and that was lunch in the alternative dining room, the Odyssey. This is much like the same dining area on Rotterdam VI, with deep reds and chunky gold-gold-gold. The look is Italianate/ Baroque, with painted scenes of Italy complete with Magritte-esque cleverness, if one looks closely. Our meal consisted of champagne to start, then saltimbocca of scallops and lobster on red onion confit and grilled fennel, penne with gorgonzola and basil olive oil, pan sauteed medallions of veal with risotto, asparagus tips and caramelized carrots, and a fresh raspberry symphony with sorbet and warm zabaglione. Italian white and red wines were served with lunch, as well as a delightfully light Italian liquor (with the clean taste of lemonade that I'm not familiar with) served with our friandises. Everything was just superb.

We had a tour of the galley right after dinner and the scent of baking cookies and bread almost did me in. The Odyssey chef, Michaelangelo, is proud, and rightly so, of what goes on in his specialty dining room, and he beamed as he showed off his venue. He also took us up to see the main dining room, the La Fontaine, which I found to be warmer and more sophisticatedly decorated than the R6. With lots of yellow and gold fabric, semi-art deco tables and chairs, and intricate railings surrounding the entire upper level and down the stairway, it was stunning.

The Lido was the one part of this ship that I found most familiar. It is a typical HAL Lido, but that familiarity's great for early morning breakfasts, quick lunches and casual dinners. I was happy to hear that dinner is now served, buffet-style, every night in the Lido, giving diners alternate options for both venue and dress. The beverage equipment is brand-spanking new and state-of-the-art, and the news bureau manager assured me herself that the coffee on the Lido is "1,000% better".

The Explorers Lounge is beautiful on this new version of HAL. Light beige "shorty" club chairs with faded rust brocade-ish sofas and semi-baquettes were accented by brass ginger jar table lamps and round accent tables with the same brocade in the top insert. Lovely! Around the corner and down the hall (where those evil clay warriors I've been harping about for the last few years are on R6) was a duel tapestry. Very colorful and it filled the space, but it's still evident HAL's interior designers don't know what to do with this passageway. The Erasmus Library has a beautiful marble inlaid table and quiet ocean-facing tables for writing. The card room is right next door, with more quiet nooks and interesting art and wall treatments.

The Piano Bar on this ship was the Tropic Bar on the R6 and I found this small but cozy room to be a bit schizophrenic. The colors were all over the place, where in the Tropic Bar, they were just "tropical" and just right. In fact, I remember I loved that room onboard the R6. The Amstel Bar adjacent was yet another mass of color, with fabric whirling faster than a dervish. Maybe a warning not to drink too much there?

The Crow's Nest is the same vast and airy space as on R6, however, it's "cleaner", also somewhat deco in style and seems sleeker somehow. It's just the right spot to enjoy a before-dinner rainbow in the middle of the ocean as we did on the R6. It's almost as if you can see the world at sea from that spot on the ship. Right at the entrance to the Crow's Nest is the interesting and historic "Four Seasons" wall hanging, which was last seen on the classic HAL "darling of the Dutch" ship Nieuw Amsterdam. It was gratifying to know that the Unofficial HAL web page had something to do with the ship's acquisition of this beautiful piece from it's previous owners, and to see some of what went before proudly displayed again by the company.

The main show lounge is a two-deck ensemble of silver, gold and rust. Lots of silver ladies with "things" on their heads surround the entry and the outer walls. Tiny bubbles in tubes at the outer edges of the stage. If anyone reading this has seen the ship already, they'll know what I mean. For all of you about to sail on her, check it out. It's a reason to go to the reviews and the shows in the evenings.

There's a great little Internet Cafe right next to the Java Bar and across from the movie theatre (where religious services are also conducted). I noticed that the upholstered seats in the theatre were done this time around in a dark, soothing subtle tone, not the wild gold and blue swirls of the R6's theatre. Popcorn, as always, is available right outside, pre-show.

I saved the best for last. HAL (in my not so humble opinion) has had trouble with the atrias on their newbuilds. The space is not so large that the area goes blossoming from deck to deck easily, but so far the "contraptions" set as centerpieces have been failures, again IMHO. On the Amsterdam, a majestic foyer clock with all the celestial trappings, stands stunningly alone, using the entire space wonderfully for a change. I found myself going back to look at this several times, as it was just so intricate and detailed. Every time I looked I saw something else interesting going on there.

What can I say? I enjoyed everything about my day onboard the new Amsterdam. The ship is a stunning success, and I think all who are lucky enough to sail on her will love her.

PS Stephen Card's newest paintings are GRAND and make a great ship even MORE interesting!

(October 24, 2000)