Aboard the Amsterdam: Lounging about

TWcrossroads Managing Editor Michael Nassaur and his wife Heather are cruising the Panama Canal aboard Holland America's Amsterdam. He will be filing reports from the recently launched ship over the next several days.

ABOARD THE AMSTERDAM -- The skies for our scenic cruise of Golfo Dulce (aka the first sea day) were overcast, so instead of the usual lounging about, let me tell you a little about the lounges.

The Queen's Lounge is the grandmum of the four onboard. The two-level arena serves as the showroom and gathering place for any event expected to draw a big crowd, such as the very popular and very informative Panama Canal lecture today by Willie Friar, the former director of the Panama Canal Commission Office of Public Affairs. I'll try to include some tidbits from her program in tomorrow's installment when we'll be passing through the canal.

As for the showroom, its art deco influences are immediately evident in the support pillars that run the perimeter of the room and flank the stage.

Instead of the usual straight columns, Amsterdam's Queen's Lounge has a series of statues depicting a bare-breasted woman holding a semisphere above her head in an Atlas-like posture. They immediately reminded me of similar pieces from Gotham City in the "Batman" series.

The deco theme continues in the color palette. Against a cool backdrop of brass-trimmed steel gray walls and ceiling panels, the seats stand out in warm hues of burgundy, gold and bright blue.

The seats are arranged in a stadium-type arc with a hint of separation strategically placed to evoke the feeling of a cozy loveseat for two, yet open enough for larger groups to feel as if they were sitting on a continuous couch. Sight lines are excellent from every seat in the house, including the ever-difficult balcony back-row.

The next area on our agenda is the Explorer's Lounge.

Though this room is a feature of all of Holland America's current ships, each has it's own flavor and flare.

Amsterdam's Explorer's Lounge is filled with deep red and metallic hues. While some might find the decor to be a bit dark, overall the effect is a reflection of the warmth echoed in many of the ship's design elements.

Of course, every HAL's Explorer's Lounges are known to have one central piece of art, and Amsterdam's is no exception. The main piece here is a massive oil on aluminum painting by Peter J. Sterkenberg titled "Ships in front of 17th century Amsterdam."

The scene, depicting dozens of tall-masted vessels, evokes a strong connection with Holland's sailing history.

Indeed, pieces in the Art Gallery along the same corridor are Chinese artifacts and sculptures from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and it is not difficult to imagine some of Sterkenberg's ships returning from the Far East with similar items.

Just a little forward of the Explorer's Lounge is the Rembrandt Lounge, a small area along the starboard windows that is adjacent to a piano Bar. The furniture there also is deco in nature and done in gold, red and black solids.

The final of the four lounges is a special case. Literally. The Neptune Lounge on the Navigation Deck is available only to suite guests. Just as on the Rotterdam, membership has its privileges.

Perks in the room include concierge service; a big-screen TV, a cappuccino and coffeemaker; continental breakfast in the morning and tea sandwiches in the afternoon, and a private library of newspapers, books, magazines and videos. It also serves as the gathering place for exclusive cocktail parties for the suite passengers. However, it is not available for private events.

Switching gears a bit, I promised you some info on a special new service for art auction aficionados. As it turns out, it's not that new... but it is pretty neat for those who enjoy this activity.

About a year ago, Park West Galleries started offering an electronic gallery on all the ships on which it sells art. The result is a computerized catalog that enables the art director to show customers listings of hundreds more pieces than are available onboard.

If the customer finds something in the electronic catalog he'd like to purchase, the art director can send an e-mail or fax to the home office with the client's bid and find out if the offer has been accepted generally within 24 hours.

Tomorrow's installment will focus mainly on the Panama Canal, but I may include a few more tidbits on the suite life as well.

Meanwhile, read previous installments about the Amsterdam's Internet cafe and it's first port of call, San Juan del Sur.

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