Right royal con­nec­tions

The quest for the most re­gal of mar­ti­nis ends on board the good ship Oos­ter­dam

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - HE­LEN HUTCHEON

HER Royal High­ness Princess Mar­griet of The Nether­lands would have felt very much at home aboard Oos­ter­dam (it rhymes with ‘‘coaster’’ and is pro­nounced Oh-ster-dam) when she chris­tened this Hol­land Amer­ica Line ship in 2003.

A mem­ber of the Dutch Royal House, Princess Mar­griet had lived at Het Loo Palace in Apel­doorn, which was built in the 1680s and was known as the Ver­sailles of Hol­land. It be­came a pub­lic mu­seum and the princess now lives in the palace grounds.

With HAL’s sig­na­ture art­work and an­tiques and a glit­ter­ing Water­ford crys­tal globe sus­pended at the top of a three-storey atrium, Oos­ter­dam is fit for a queen (or, in this case, a princess) and is one of 11 com­pany ships to be named by Dutch roy­alty.

Last year was the 140th an­niver­sary of what started as the Nether­lands Amer­i­can Steam Nav­i­ga­tion Com­pany, mak­ing transat­lantic cross­ings be­tween its home port of Rot­ter­dam and New York, once a Dutch set­tle­ment called Nieuw Am­s­ter­dam.

Al­though Hol­land Amer­ica Line be­came a wholly owned sub­sidiary of Car­ni­val Cor­po­ra­tion in 1989, I am de­lighted to find on a Pa­cific Trea­sures cruise from Syd­ney that it has main­tained its rich Dutch her­itage.

On a pre­vi­ous voy­age aboard Volen­dam, the Dutch cap­tain told me this is what sets HAL apart from other cruise lines. Oos­ter­dam’s Cap­tain Henk Draper, who was born in the Dutch city of Haar­lem, agrees. He says the com­pany has a long and proud tra­di­tion of pre­mium, mid-sized cruis­ing and pas­sen­gers are drawn back to its ‘‘clas­sic el­e­gance’’.

The Dutch in­flu­ence is ev­ery­where. Jon­nie Boer, owner of De Lib­rije (The Li­brary), a three-Miche­lin star restau­rant in a for­mer Do­mini­can monastery in Zwolle that dates back to the 1500s, is a found­ing mem­ber of HAL’s Culi­nary Coun­cil. This dream team of chefs from across the world over­sees all din­ing out­lets, as well as the Culi­nary Arts Cen­tre where pas­sen­gers can take gourmet cook­ing classes.

HAL was a pi­o­neer in in­tro­duc­ing the al­ter­nate din­ing con­cept and Oos­ter­dam’s renowned spe­cialty restau­rant, the aptly named Pin­na­cle Grill, is the pin­na­cle of the art of the ta­ble, with Frette linen cloths and nap­kins, Bul­gari plates and Riedel glass­ware. The walls are dom­i­nated by portraits of char­ac­ters from Rem­brandt’s master­piece, The Night Watch, painted in 1642 at the height of the Dutch Golden Age. Do I imag­ine an amused smile on their faces, I won­der, as I strug­gle to fin­ish a baked alaska af­ter feast­ing on lob­ster bisque, a jumbo shrimp cock­tail and broiled lob­ster tail?

Alas, for safety rea­sons, the baked alaska is no longer flam­beed at the ta­ble, but sprin­kled with kirschvasser and set alight in the kitchen to fin­ish bak­ing the meringue. (There is a min­i­mal charge of $US10 for lunch and $US25 for din­ner and book­ings are es­sen­tial; cruise-savvy pas­sen­gers have made reser­va­tions be­fore the ship has even sailed from Syd­ney.)

In the main two-deck Vista Din­ing Room at the stern, also aptly named for its ocean views, I have a to-live-for Bo­eren­jon­gens Sun­dae, a Dutch des- sert of ice-cream with cit­rus-scented brandy sauce, sprin­kled with a lit­tle Dutch gin.

This is where I sit most morn­ings, gaz­ing at the ship’s wake as I en­joy the Dutch Break­fast, an open-face sand­wich of thick white bread, smoked ham, cheese and two eggs sunny-side up.

Aged Gouda and Edam cheese, both named af­ter Dutch cities are, of course, avail­able at the four-course din­ners.

At night there is also din­ing at Canaletto, named af­ter the 18th­cen­tury Vene­tian artist. This Ital­ian restau­rant has a cover charge of $US10 and melt-in-your-mouth tiramisu. It is ad­ja­cent to the Lido Restau­rant where vast buf­fet break­fasts, luncheons and din­ners are served.

It is hard to be­lieve any­one could eat be­tween the ship’s scrump­tious meals, but just about ev­ery­one turns up for the af­ter­noon teas.

The Dutch East In­dia Com­pany brought the first green tea leaves to Am­s­ter­dam from China in the early 17th cen­tury and Oos­ter­dam has a Royal Dutch High Tea on ev­ery sail­ing. As the Dutch have hearty ap­petites, this in­cludes sausage rolls and chicken and mush­room vol-au-vents, as well as tra­di­tional sand­wiches and pas­tries.

There are lots of ways to com­pen­sate for all the food — a state-of-the-art gym, a mas­sage menu in the Green­house Spa, the 5km ‘‘On Deck for a Cause’’ walk for an op­tional $US20 dona­tion to sup­port six in­ter­na­tional can­cer or­gan­i­sa­tions, daily fit­ness classes and wa­ter vol­ley­ball.

Not be­ing into sweat, I rec­om­mend a leisurely self-guided iPod Art Tour. It is like tour­ing a great es­tate and Oos­ter­dam has a sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tion of mu­seum-qual­ity art and sculp­ture, in­clud­ing an Andy Warhol paint­ing of Queen Beatrix of The Nether­lands, who ab­di­cated last year, af­ter a 33-year reign, in favour of her son.

It is one of a set of four Warhol paint­ings of the for­mer monarch; the other three hang in Oos­ter­dam’s Vista- class sis­ter ships Zuider­dam, Wes­ter­dam and No­or­dam.

Af­ter the art-themed walk, which takes about 45 min­utes, you may feel like a drink in one of the many com­fort­able bars and lounges. I cer­tainly do and re­sume my never-end­ing search for the per­fect gin mar­tini.

Gin, I dis­cover, comes from a Dutch word for ju­niper, the berry used in its pro­duc­tion, and when Wil­liam of Orange in­vaded Eng­land in 1688 Dutch gin came with him.

On board Oos­ter­dam I try a Dutch gin mar­tini for the first time. The charm­ing Mi­ra­sol, who runs the Pin­na­cle Bar, uses Bols Gen­ever, which is made with a malt wine of fer­mented rye, corn and wheat. To quote a bev­er­age writer: ‘‘It is not hot on the palate, but per­fectly bal­anced and smooth.’’

Af­ter many sam­plings in the panoramic Crow’s Nest, Atrium Bar, Ex­plorer’s Lounge, Lido Bar, Ocean Bar, Pi­ano Bar, Sea View Bar and Sports Bar, as well as my favourite Pin­na­cle Bar, I come to the con­clu­sion that it prefers a twist of le­mon to an olive.

I think my quest for the per­fect mar­tini is fi­nally over. Proost! He­len Hutcheon was a guest of Hol­land Amer­ica Line.

Clock­wise from left, Mi­ra­sol serves a Dutch gin mar­tini; Oos­ter­dam in Syd­ney Har­bour; the sleek Pi­ano Bar

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