By Cathy Meils
It’s day five at sea and there’s still no sign of Oprah. I looked for her upon boarding (maybe a larger-than-life photo greeting passengers as they board the ship, appropriate for Oprah’s larger-than-life personality?), searched the book shelves for signs of any Oprah book club selections, and even poked my head into the shops for Oprah-themed merchandise, or a copy of O, The Oprah Magazine. Nada, as the say in Spain, where we’ve just left.
Now that might seem a strange observation, but Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam, making its premiere voyage, has announced “the Oprah experience” as one of the highlights of the ship. Moreover, Oprah herself will be the Godmother of the ship when she officially christens it in a few weeks’ time. I’ve asked one of the cruise line’s vice presidents about the Oprah connection, to be told that’s its more of a “soft presence.” So far, that presence has been softer than the gentle rolling of the ship as we head out of the Mediterranean Sea.
When Oprah does show up, she’ll find plenty to like aboard the newest ship sailing the seas, starting with the ever-smiling staff and the music at the three themed venues. Personally, I think she’ll like B.B. King’s Blues Club, with its emphasis on Southern style blues. But she might also love the five energetic young women drawing crowds to their classical music afternoon concerts at the Lincoln Center Stage. Or the husband-and-wife rock piano duo killing it in the Billboard on Board club. Or, she could step across the walkway for a dose of hardcore rock in the Rolling Stone Rock Room.
I fully expect to see her being pampered (for a pretty price) at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon, before stopping in to pick up a bottle of perfume, a souvenir Delft china plate, and a few bits and bobs of diamond and gemstone jewelry at the ship’s shops. That, along with the port stops – at the Roman Empire city of Cartagena and the fine art city of Malaga, both in Spain, along with the lovely little Portuguese island of Madeira – would keep her well occupied.
Day six and Oprah’s here! Well, at least the Oprah book club selection is here, with a notice that passengers can pick up a copy at the Service Desk. However, when I stop at the service desk, I’m told all the copies have been given out. There were 35 or 40 copies available (the service desk isn’t quite sure), for the 2,135 passengers on board. Unfortunately, since we have no more port stops, there’s no alternative opportunity to pick up a copy of the book. And, the one thing Oprah might not appreciate on the Nieuw Statendam is Holland America’s decision to eliminate the library, due to the $2 million annual loss of books that passengers neglect to return. There are a few sparsely populated shelves of books primarily dedicated to the ship’s destination, but few fiction books, and nothing indicating an Oprah book club selection. We’re told the book club discussion will take place toward the end of the two-week premiere cruise, but without access to the limited copies available, it seems that the only Oprah experience most of will be having is hearing rumors about the Oprah connection over breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and late-night snacks conversations.
Day twelve of the fourteen-day cruise, I finally hear back from the service desk to my inquiry of a week ago regarding the Oprah connection. I rush down the steps to pick up the printed materials awaiting me. It turns out to be an eighteen-month old press release that once again touts the Exclusive Partnership. What does that consist of? Tai chi. Oops. Holland America used to offer that, but doesn’t do so on this ship. Healthy cooking. Hmmm. Holland America already has America’s Test Kitchen. Meditation. Yes! … for a $12 fee. I think I’d rather mediate on the twelve dollars I spent for a single session to sit lotus fashion repeating O-mmmm. And the book club, with enough copies for less than two percent of the passengers to read.
Still, I do manage to reach a three-degrees-of separation status when I chat with one of the musical groups on the ship. They’ve been told that the head of Holland America wants them to do a special performance for Oprah when she is on board for that much-touted ship’s christening. The passengers who are booked on that special cruise must be die-hard Oprah fanatics. According to the president of Holland America, that voyage sold out in just 18 hours. It appears tickets to that are even harder to come by than copies of the Oprah book club selection. As for the rest of us, well, maybe there will be photos of the big event hanging somewhere on the walls of the Nieuw Statendam greeting us as we come aboard …. next year.
Cathy Meils is a journalist based in Prague.