Cruise ships don't age as quickly as, say, dogs and cats. They are more like your automobile. So into its 16th year, the Ryndam was about ready for one of those "collectible" license plates that Florida gives drivers of old cars.
But not yet: The 1,270-passenger ship, which sails from Tampa on weeklong cruises from October through April, is fresh from a multimillion-dollar makeover that was much more than a couple of shots of Botox.
During 14 days in a Bahamian drydock, as many as 970 workers swarmed the ship almost from hull to bridge. Not only did the 631 staterooms get new drapes and carpeting, plus new flooring and granite countertops in the bathrooms, but so did the crew's two-person cabins — they even got flat-screen TVs like those the passengers have.
Much of this would simply be in the nature of a mammoth spring cleaning. But there are also three changes to public areas, and two of them are smashing:
A clever grouping of three new specialty bars, much better seating in the main theater and an Italian cuisine restaurant carved from the casual dining room.
Each of those is part of what Holland America Lines calls its Signature of Excellence, providing tangible upgrades to maintain the line's premium market position, above Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
Earlier upgrades ranged from higher thread-count bed linens to a creation of a combination library-Internet cafe-specialty coffee bar. Lighter-colored, more modern upholstery and wall coverings were introduced to some public rooms.
Also added were cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and daily lessons in computer usage, taught by "techsperts" at no extra fee.
The Ryndam underwent that makeover in 2004. But a couple of years ago, Holland America decided to continue modernizing the 14-ship fleet. Hence, Ryndam's February update.
Most impressive is the added set of lounges, collectively titled Mix.
Walls enclosing the popular Piano Bar were taken down and the nearby casino bar was removed. This newly created space has been converted into three alluring specialty bars — serving champagne, martinis and beer and top-shelf liquors.
There is a broad range of selections: 17 beers, including four imports on tap, 36 red, white or sparkling wines, and 11 champagnes, six available by the glass, starting at $12.
The seating is in conversational clusters, on upholstered chairs or chocolate-leather couches, and on bar stools. A half-dozen tables offer something extra: Their tops are touch-screen computers that will offer games.
The other major change is in Ryndam's two-deck-tall Vermeer theater, where the musical revues and headliner shows are staged. The Vermeer was originally built with a flat first level, which meant poor sightlines for many in the audience. Now, this lower deck has been terraced into five levels, most of them about 6 inches higher than the one in front. At the back of the room, the level is three steps higher.
The other large makeover was creating an Italian restaurant, Canaletto, within the pool deck's casual restaurant. This mainly involved placing some dividers to separate the 62 places from the rest of the dining room and assigning waiters to what is, otherwise, buffet-line service.
Next up for Ryndam, in 2012-13, will be the renovation of decking around the smaller of the two pools and the addition there of a huge LED screen to show movies. Also, some office space and existing cabins will be restructured to create 39 staterooms with balconies. The beds in these "Lanai suites" will be flush against one wall, providing more open space in the cabin, and the door to the balcony will be operated by remote control.
That's just a couple of years away, about the time Ryndam qualifies for the nautical version of a nip and a tuck.
Robert N. Jenkins is former travel editor of the Times.