ROTTERDAM, Netherlands -- People here just couldn't stop staring at the Oosterdam.

Cyclists would rest on the nearby bridge and gaze at the 85,000-ton vessel in its berth. One woman snapped a picture from a moving trolley.

People stood on the pier at all hours of the day, looking fixedly at the ship -- almost as if they were admiring a painting.

"They come for every ship," a woman said of the people gathered by the river to see the christening of the Oosterdam. "But for Holland America, it's special."

Rotterdam residents, in particular, know Holland America Line (HAL) because this city was the birthplace of HAL 130 years ago, and the line was headquartered here until 1978.

It's now also the birthplace of the Oosterdam, which was christened here last week by Princess Margriet of the Netherlands during a celebration of HAL's 130th anniversary.

The Oosterdam is the second in HAL's Vista series, which, at 1,848 passengers per ship, was a "major change in thinking" from the line's other, smaller vessels, interior designer Frans Dingemans said.

But compared with its first Vista-class sister, the Zuiderdam, the Oosterdam was "more HAL," according to U.S. travel agents aboard the ship here.

"It's more elegant," said Nancy Wee, the owner of Wee Travel in Broomfield, Colo. "I just think HAL is so well known for its smaller ships. [But] I have a big group on here in November, and I think they're going to like it."

Stein Kruse, HAL's senior vice president of operations, said the addition of the Oosterdam also helps agents and clients put the look and feel of the Zuiderdam into perspective.

"A series of ships takes on a feel that a single ship does not," he said. "On the second ship, people will say: 'That's what this [new design] is about.' And by the time the fourth one comes out, this will be the Holland America [that people know]."

Agents here also said these builds go a long way to attract a younger demographic, which HAL has begun courting.

"For young people, [the Oosterdam] has a lot of things that will appeal," Wee said. "The stand-alone disco, the coffee bar ... Club HAL. They have to reach out to younger people."

HAL has two more 85,000-ton ships under contract with Fincantieri shipyard in Italy. The Westerdam is slated for an April debut; an unnamed Vista-class ship will be delivered in January 2006.

Earlier this year, HAL said it will begin conceptualizing a new build beyond the Vista series that will focus on longer itineraries.

The Oosterdam had many different visitors during its stay in Rotterdam. A contingent of agents from North America made up only a small portion of the guests, most of whom were Dutch and Belgian travel agents.

Past passengers, seafarers, Holland America employees who worked its ships during World War II and about 1,200 members of a club for Holland America buffs visited the vessel.

That the Rotterdam, HAL's 1997 build, was docked bow to bow with the Oosterdam was no accident. The Rotterdam (the ship) sailed from New York for the Rotterdam (the city) events. The ship is on its way back to New York this week.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

First Call: Aboard the Oosterdam

espite being identical in layout to its sister ship the Zuiderdam, the Oosterdam is a distinctly different vessel.

In fact, the Oosterdam's decor seems to have more in common with that of the Rotterdam, which was docked bow to bow in its namesake city with Holland America Line (HAL)'s newest ship.

The fun, flashy fabrics and "bordello red" colors that make the Zuiderdam eye-popping are absent on the Oosterdam. Instead, in a return to HAL's more traditional roots, blue, gold and burnished-orange patterns are featured prominently.

In other words: "It's more toned down," said Pat Eilermann, an agent with St. Louis-based Altair International Travel.

The Oosterdam strikes a good balance between the old-school "HAL-mark" rooms, like the Explorer's Lounge and the Crow's Nest, and the new-school disco and color schemes.

Funky touches are evident in some of the rooms, such as the glitter banquettes in the Northern Lights disco.

A crystal globe hanging in the main atrium suggests the Oosterdam will be a well-traveled ship, moving from its current position in northern Europe to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and Alaska within the next year. -- R.T.

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