Next stop: the Caribbean

Luxury: Holland America gives a tour of its flagship Rotterdam at Seagirt Marine Terminal.

April 16, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

The penthouse suite aboard the MS Rotterdam cruise ship brought plenty of words of admiration from a group of tourists yesterday with its private balcony, Jacuzzi bathtub with gold knobs, walk-in closet and its own dining and living room.

"Now this is the place," said Tina Hein, a radio station manager from York, Pa. "Can you imagine how much money you'd have to pay to stay here?"

Well, none -- for a few hours yesterday at least. Hein was among a few hundred guests who took a private afternoon tour of the Rotterdam, a Holland America ship, before it departed Seagirt Marine Terminal for a 10-day voyage to the southern Caribbean last evening.

The tour was a way for Seattle-based Holland America, a new player to the Baltimore market, to show off its goods to travel agents and invited travelers.

It was the first visit aboard a cruise ship for many of yesterday's visitors. Some were chosen as longtime travelers with Holland or were invited as guests by their travel agent.

City officials saw the tour as a way to build momentum for Baltimore's growing cruise industry. Mid-Atlantic ports such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Norfolk, Va., have become more attractive for cruise business since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Some travelers don't want to take a plane to Florida to sail to the Caribbean.

"Today was a way to showcase one of our ships," said Darlene Frank, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration. "We want to increase the cruises that we have and we want to attract new ones. I realize we are one of the younger ports, but we want to grow all of those areas."

This year, 70 cruises are expected to depart from Baltimore, up from 42 in 2003 and 36 in 2002. A recent license plate survey by the port administration found that people are driving from Ohio and upstate New York to cruise from Baltimore.

Holland America is one of five cruise lines sailing from the port of Baltimore.

Hein and other guests ate a four-course salmon or steak lunch at La Fontaine, the ship's main dining room. They passed through a gallery of Asian art -- the ship contains $2 million worth of artwork and antiques -- and by a casino and a lounge with a royal blue piano. They squinted in the bright April sun as they sat poolside among potted palms and an outdoor bar.

"This allows people to see firsthand what the cruise has to offer," said John White, AAA manager of public and government relations. Travel agents with AAA Mid-Atlantic brought 40 members to tour the ship.

Among them were Gary and Deborah Crouse of Middletown, who said they always wanted to take a cruise but put it off for more kid-friendly vacations such as Disney World. Now that their daughters are older, the Crouses are planning a trip to sea soon by themselves. Yesterday's visit to the Rotterdam piqued their interest even more, the couple said.

"I want to experience being able to stop at different ports and getting to see a variety of cities rather than just flying into one," Deborah Crouse said as she ate a cup of fresh fruit in the dining room.

Robert and Mary Stryjewski of Towson began taking cruises from Baltimore because they didn't want to go through the hassle of boarding a plane to get to exotic places. They also like the pampering on a cruise.

"It's just relaxing," said Robert Stryjewski, an engineer. "You get on board and it's anything you want."

Holland America began departing from Baltimore last year and has two trips leaving from the port this year. The city is one of three test markets for the cruise company, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp. Philadelphia and New York are the other test markets.

Company officials said they've been pleased with the number of passengers leaving from Baltimore, which is well-situated in the populous Northeast, said Erik Elvejord, director of public relations for Holland America Line.

"It's the time investment," Elvejord said. "It takes so long these days to fly that you could drive to a plane terminal in the same time."

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