Friday, December 23, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Sunday, November 13, 2011
I decided to post my notes that I wrote during our cruise aboard the Pride of America departing August 6th. Enjoy this opportunity to see behind the curtain - so to speak. I missed the last two days....I just got too busy to write in this journal. Please feel free to comment below. Also visit our main website at www.cruisetalkshow.com and see ALL the content we posted including videos and photos.
Day one Pride of America 08/06/2011
We flew out of Minneapolis at about 10pm and arrived into Las Vegas at 11:30pm and our departure (transfer) wasn’t until 6:45am the next morning so we decided to take a shuttle to the stip in Vegas to see what was going on and we were amazed to see that this town dos not shut down, its open and thriving all night long. We were very tired of course but gutted it out and walked around the strip until finally we just couldn’t take it anymore and called out shuttle to take us back to the airport at about 4:30am. Our flight departed at 6:45am so we had plenty of time to check in and get ready for our flight to Los Angeles. Once in LA we had a short layover then finally it at about 8:45 it was time to get on the plane to Honolulu. Five and a half hours later we arrived in Honolulu to perfect weather 83 degrees and sunny. The humidity wasn’t too bad at all so it was a very comfortable temperature. I had arranged for us to be picked up by Jay’s Limousine service in Honolulu and Jay himself was there to take us to our ship the Pride of America docked in Honolulu.
We were able to bypass a large number of passengers waiting to check in because we were Latitudes members with Norwegian Cruise Lines. (Latitudes members are people who have cruised with NCL in the past). Having cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines several times in the past we were able to by-pass a large line of people trying to check-in. We were onboard the Pride of America within about 20 minutes, yet the staterooms were not ready for us so we ate in the Lido buffet for lunch. With Diamondhead off in the distance we had a nice buffet lunch until finally at about 2pm we were allowed to go to our stateroom. Our original room assignment was 8096 which was not bad, an average balcony stateroom. We unpacked and walked around the ship a little. In somewhat of a daze from a lack of sleep we started to really get tired at about 3pm, so we just hung out in our stateroom for a while. Our large piece of luggage, that we sent in advance with a company called Luggage Free, was delivered to our stateroom so we unpacked and relaxed in our room for a while. At 4:30 we had the usual boat drill and at 5:30pm we decided to have dinner in the Liberty Dining Room. I ordered the Lobster and Red Snapper while Terri had the beef. It was a pleasant dining experience, but I wanted to be out on deck when the Pride of America departed so we made sure we were finished with diner to experience the ship’s departure from Honolulu. The weather was perfect, the sunset was beautiful as the Pride of America moved away from the dock and headed out to sea past the beautiful Waikaki scene and the famous and Diamond Head backdrop. Upon our return to our stateroom, I noticed a phone message from the Hotel Manager. He wanted me to call him as soon as possible. I made the return call and he wanted to meet with me in the lobby. Ultimately he wanted to let me know that there was a cancelation in one of the suites and he ask me if I wanted to move into a suite so I accepted the opportunity to transfer into suite number 11006. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to have Terri, my wife, experience a suite with butler service. We quickly threw our stuff together and moved into the suite. We were both extremely tired so we unpacked quickly so we could go to sleep. Tomorrow we are in Maui, and our plan is to have a very relaxed day and get the sleep we need to be rested and able to move ahead with the busy project of creating video content for Cruising Authority.
Day Two – Pride of America - August 7th, 2011 (Maui)
After our very tiring travels on Saturday, we decided to lay low all day on Sunday. We woke up leisurely and spent a lot of time in our suite. We ate breakfast in the Lazy J Steakhouse. I ordered my favorite breakfast, Eggs Benedict, and there was something new on top of the eggs…truffle, which added a sophisticated touch. We walked around the ship a little today, since most of the passengers were on shore excursions. I didn’t produce any content for Cruising Authority today because we were just relaxing. I did some work on the computer, loaded a few photos, and wrote out some of the questions I plan to ask the Captain, Cruise Director and a few other members of the crew. My initial walk around the ship these first two days, experiencing the dining and service onboard has impressed me. After having dinner the first night in the Liberty Dining Room, then the second night in the Skyline Dining Room, I noticed the soups were a bit on the salty side. The first night I ordered the Mushroom Soup and it was a little too salty, and then the second night I ordered the Black Bean soup and it too was salty. The food overall and the level of service, however; has been exceptionally good. I have enjoyed the décor in both the main dining rooms. The Liberty Dining Room has a very patriotic décor with red white and blue, the stars and stripes, paintings and statues of America’s great early Presidents. It was a very classy design to the room, and the staff were all very attentive and accommodating. The Skyline Dining Room had an art deco décor, depicting sky scrappers of New York in the 30’s and forties. Again a very classy design. As odd as it may sound, this Sunday evening while docked in Maui, my wife and I took a walk off the ship to a little mall area and we decided to go to a movie, just like we might do at home on a date night. It’s odd because here we are at this beautiful island of Maui, on a luxurious ship with a plethora of entertainment options onboard, and we end up going to a movie. We saw, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. After dinner my wife and I did go to the Aloha Polynesia Show and enjoyed it very much. Today we rested, but tomorrow I plan to get to work on producing video and audio content for Cruising Authority. The onboard Group Coordinator and the Hotel Director are working with me to arrange my interviews, which should begin in a day or so. Tomorrow, Monday the 8th, we are planning to go into Maui and explore the sites a little more.
Day Three – Maui (August 8th – Monday)
The Pride of America was docked in Maui all day today. I took some time this morning to steam in the steam room. I really like the steam room on the Pride of America, located up in the Spa on deck 12. We stayed onboard until about 11:30am then we decided to rent a car and explore a little of Maui. Thanks to a great local car rental broker at Discount Hawaii Car Rental, we drove off to a valley between a mountainous region and saw some beautiful rock formations that reminded Terri and I of our cruise on the Yangtze in China, and the rock formations in one of the gorges. We were told that it was a unique day because usually the top of the mountains are covered with clouds, but during the time we were there, the mountain top was visible. We then drove off to the other side of the island just for the drive and to see the sites. We returned to the Pride of America about 3:30pm. Tonight we experienced the Italian restaurant called Little Italy. I had the Salmon and Terri had the Chicken Parmesan. After dinner I set up my video gear for two interviews, one with the Hotel Director and the other with the Shore Excursions Manager. Both were excellent interviews. At 9:00pm we went to the Illusionist show, and finally retired for the evening at 10:45pm.
Day 4 Hilo
Today in Hilo, the Big Island of Hawaii, we stayed onboard the ship all day. Terri and I enjoyed a very pleasant hot tub on deck at 8:00am to wake up after a restful sleep. Next I made my way to the steam room in the spa while Terri headed back to the suite to shower, then we grabbed some breakfast at Lazy J’s. Today we explored the ship, I took some pictures and video. Terri had a Bamboo massage today at 12:45 and loved it because of the soothing oils and tension-relieving therapy for aching muscles. This evening, dinner was very special and romantic. Both Terri and I selected our favorite entrée’s from the menu and had our butler serve dinner on our verandah. It was a beautiful and perfect Hawaiian evening in Hilo as the Pride of America made it’s departure enroute to our next port of Kona. After an exquisite dining experience, we had more interviews scheduled in the Library with the Cruise Director, Hawaiian Ambassador and the Food and Beverage Director. After our interviews, which will be seen on our Cruising Authority talk show videos, Terri and I went to see a show with Second City, a comedy troop that does improv. Both of us were very tired after a full day on the beautiful Pride of America so we retired for the evening.
Day Five - KonaI think it’s a great way to start the day by enjoying a good steam in the spa, which I indulged in again this morning, however; this time I convinced Terri to also hit the steam room. Lazy J’s has such a great breakfast menu, and this time I ordered the crabcake eggs benedict. I wasn’t too sure about the first bite then I added a little salt and pepper with a twist of lemon and ahhh, what a great taste! Terri had the scrambled eggs and bacon. Today in Kona the Pride of America was at anchor while passengers tendered into Kona. I did more video commentary on deck and met up with the Hotel Director and explained to him that I’d like to take some portraits or photos of the Pride of America from the tender before heading over to the port. When the ship is at anchor that’s a great time to get video and photos of the ship clear of any dock. The pictures I wanted to get required a sleight deviation from the usual tender route to port, so the Hotel Director made arrangements for a special tender ride to get the optimal position for photos. I did get some great pictures and then we headed to port for a little walk around town.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
The Silver Spirit is Silversea’s newest and largest vessel with luxury accommodations for 540 passengers. At 642 feet long and 36,000 tons, Silver Spirit is not a small vessel, however; compared to most of the newbuilds today, she is on the smaller more intimate size. With 376 European crew members serving the 540 passengers, the crew to guest ratio is higher than on most other cruise ships. It is this exclusivity that is so appealing to Silversea passengers, in a ship that offers amenities and services for a few hundred as opposed to a few thousand passengers. I didn’t see crowds of passengers nor did I wait in any lines for dinner. The feeling onboard the Silver Spirit was close to being at a private club or yacht, but the most distinguishing element was a relaxed, carefree, precise environment to indulge in the good life…whatever that may mean to you.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Cruising the locks and canals aboard any of the Gota Kanal Steamship Company vessels is saturated in the Swedish culture, which includes traditional Swedish cuisine. The highlight of each day aboard the Diana, for example; was breakfast, lunch and dinner. A common element to Scandinavian dining is fish prepared in many ways including pickled, fried, baked, poached, and certain menus include specially prepared raw fish. Onboard the Diana we enjoyed a fixed menu, however; for those with special dietary requirements and made arrangements in advance, vegetarian entrées were available. Seating was assigned during lunch and dinner, yet for breakfast, which is buffet-style, passengers could sit wherever they wish. A classic tradition is the ringing of the dinner bell. The waiter or maitre d’ will walk the decks ringing a bell or gong to announce that it’s time for dinner. Some of the characteristic sounds onboard during lunch and dinner is the click-clacking of the dumb-waiter delivering the prepared meals from the galley below. Dining aboard the Diana was a first-class experience with crisp white table linens, fine tableware, and the wait-staff are dressed in white jackets with black and gold epaulets and gold buttons. Fine spirits, cognac and wine, were also available for an additional cost to enhance the dining experience. There was the occasional beef or poultry entrée, however; the majority of cuisine was fresh local fish. The Chef in the galley, one deck below, prepared each entree with artistic flare and included fresh cooked vegetables, potatoes and the perfect accompaniments for each main dish. The dinning room itself aboard these Gota Kanal vessels, has an intimate, friendly and classy ambiance, yet without exception, passengers will enjoy a delightful social experience, a highlight of this special Swedish journey.
The crew aboard the Diana were genuinely proud to serve each passenger. In Stockholm, at the conclusion of our cruise or journey across Sweden on this historic and charming vessel, with the red carpet rolled out just past the gangway, the entire crew of the Diana stood in line to shake our hands and hug us as if we were family. At the very beginning of the journey when we embarked on the Diana in Gothenborg, as I stepped aboard for the first time, I felt like we were about to experience something special, and upon disembarkation in Stockholm my premonition was clear and accurate. I think my fellow travelers also experienced a camaraderie unique to this journey, where the rich heritage and culture of Sweden came alive aboard the Diana. The Gota Kanal Steamship Company, and the crew of the Diana indeed offered somewhat of a time-travel experience reminiscent of a simpler era. It was clear that the folks who live in the small towns along the canal passage saw the Diana as a gleaming and proud representation of their rich culture and heritage, and consequently, our fellow passengers clearly experienced that sense of exclusivity and pride of participating in the journey.
Check out our photo albums from our Gota Kanal Journey:
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Day four Gota Kanal
May 2nd, 2011
Today we had somewhat of an adventure because the Diana got stuck in a lock where there was some maintenance being done on the lock. Somehow a large piece of plastic got caught in the propeller so we were delayed for several hours while a diver went down to unwrap the plastic from the propeller. Once the plastic was removed we were on our way once again across a lake. The Diana went through more locks and we came to a “step lock” where there were about five locks in a row, all stepping down to another lake. We were allowed again to disembark the Diana and watch as the boat made it’s way from one lock to another until finally reaching the lake. These are great moments to take pictures of our boat doing what it was built to do, which is to navigate from Gothenborg to Stockholm on this classic journey across Sweden. Today we passed more historic homes along the canal and ventured out into yet another lake. It began to get more and more cold as we progressed. I need to mention that one of the more endearing times spent onboard the Diana is the wonderful meals, particularly at diner where traditional and exquisite food is prepared. The Diana has such an interesting mix of passengers from all around the world. Today a passenger got the news on their iPhone that Osama BinLaden was killed, so I can say I was cruising the Gota Kanal when I heard this historic news, that many Americans have been waiting to hear for many years.
On our cruise we have people from Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, England, America and as far away as Australia. The conversations and the lazy cruising is very relaxing and enjoyable. The Diana, even though she is the youngest boat in the Gota Kanal fleet at 80 years old, is like cruising in a time machine because it’s not difficult to imagine what it was like in the 30’s 40’s or 50’s navigating the exact same route onboard such a charming, classic vessel. The décor onboard hasn’t changes too much since the 60’s with beautiful wood finish and brass fittings in her interior spaces, teak decks, wicker chairs on deck, in fact these Gota Kanal boats have attracted famous passengers like the King of Sweden for example. The sunset was beautiful as we enjoyed our dinner. Near the end of dinner I had to stand up and stretch, so I walked out to the bow to enjoy the colorful sunset glimmer on the calm waters ahead of us. I took-in the fresh chilly air and finally went back to the dinning room for some hot tea and more delightful conversations with our fellow passengers. Tonight I got to go on the internet with my lap top. A fellow passenger let me use the Wifi from his iPhone. It was fun to talk to a friend on Sykpe and also talk with my wife Terri, who couldn’t make it on this particular trip. This evening, once again, went very late as we stayed up until about 1:00am to socialize. I was recruited to show some magic tricks so I entertained our little group of 25 people for about an hour. I usually don’t like to stay up so late, but the conversations were so fun.
Day 5 Gota Kanal
May 3rd, 2011
This is our last day aboard the Diana with Gota Kanal. I woke-up at about 7am and made my way to breakfast . I still have more commentary to do for my talk show and a little video to make. I’ll be glad when I return home and all my video, and photos have made it safely. Some observations I’ve made about the type of people who would consider a Gota Kanal journey like this. I’m in my forties and there were some younger people on this cruise who were mostly tour agents from travel companies taking a familiarization cruise with Gota Kanal, so it was not the typical passenger complement. The younger generation may not appreciate a trip like this because there’s not much to do onboard, but watch the scenery go by, rest, relax, and enjoy the fine dining. The usual age of passengers on a journey like this tends to be more elderly, those who enjoy the more restful pace, and a nostalgic, classic, and historical journey. Those who are naturalists, who enjoy the beauty of the country, can experience what the more rural interior of Sweden is like, and go deep into the Swedish culture. Today during breakfast it snowed and it was quite cold outside. This is not the typical time of year that Gota Kanal operates, so the weather is a bit colder than usual. The normal season for Kota Kanal cruises start the end of May and go through the summer months when it’s warmer.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Day One Gota Kanal, Gothenborg Sweden
April 29th, 2011
We arrived into Gothenborg around 11:30am and took a bus into the city. A cab ride was 450 Kronas yet the bus was only 80 Kr. Unfortunately we paid too much for a cab ride to the hotel. It was only about two miles, and the cab driver charged us 265Kr which is about fifty dollars. We stayed at the Comfort Hotel right along the waterfront on Gothenborg, however; when we went to check-in at the hotel, the front desk person said we were too early, and check-in was not until 3pm, so we had a few hours to walk the waterfront area with many interesting boats and a maritime museum. I was thrilled to see all three of the Gota Kanal company’s fleet of boats docked in a line, and I had the opportunity to go aboard each of them for a look around. I was particularly interested to visit the Juno, which is the oldest passenger vessel still in active service, first launched in 1874 as a steam ship. Of course she has been re-engined with diesels, but overall, the three Gota Kanal boats have retained their old-world charm and décor. The boat we were to embark on is the Diana built in 1931, and the crew was quickly getting her ready for the first voyage of the season on April 30th. You have to wonder what it would be like to cruise the Gota Canal on a 80 year-old vessel, and I was about to find out the next day.
Day two Gota Kanal, Departure from Gothenborg
April 30th, 2011
Departure from Gothenborg aboard the Diana was scheduled for 9:00am, so we made sure to be at the pier no later than 8am. We were greeted by the First Officer and the Activities Manager, along with several crewmembers, who were ready to carry our luggage to our stateroom. Departure day is always a very exciting time because we meet the crew, fellow passengers and board the vessel that we will call home for several days. I was asked for my cruise documents and then escorted to our stateroom number A14. I must say something about the “staterooms” aboard the Diana, which were the smallest accommodations I have ever seen. Our room had two bunks, there’s a washbasin with very little space to even stow our luggage. It’s a good thing we only traveled with small carry-on luggage, because there’s barely enough space for two people to even stand in this tiny room. These “staterooms” are merely for sleeping at night, not for lounging. I could make an old joke that I must leave my “cabin” to change my mind. I should add that our cabin does not have private toilet and shower facilities, so passengers on A Deck must walk out on deck to a dedicated public bathroom aft of the passenger accommodations.
Shortly after our departure from Gothenborg the crew gathered all passengers in the lounge for an introduction to the staff, a safety talk and an explanation of our itinerary. All passengers were on deck to watch as we arrived at our first lock. It was fascinating to watch the crew members prepare to pass through the lock system, as one crewmember would jump off the boat to assist with tying-up the boat.
Today we docked so we could visit several locks that are no longer in operation. One of these locks was like an archeological sight in ruins, having been built in 1800 and it operated for over one hundred years till 1916. What was truly amazing is how massive and challenging this structure was to build with such primitive tools in 1800. The lock is impressive even for 2011 standards. More about the amazing locks later.
Later in the afternoon, passengers were allowed to disembark the Diana to walk along-side and watch as the boat went through several locks. This was truly fascinating to watch the Diana rise up in the lock, then pass through to the next lock. We were also blessed with great weather and I got some nice pictures and video.
Dinner on our first evening was a wonderful occasion featuring a local fish and an elk roll. We were still trying to adjust to the time change from the U.S. to Sweden, so I thought I’d be going to bed rather early, but instead, I stayed up very late to socialize with a few passengers. We had a great time talking about our various languages, accents and dialects. We went to bed at midnight, and I must say it was rather challenging as we tried to figure out how the two of us will navigate around our luggage and get into our bunks…it was like a puzzle, but once we finally got into our bunks, it wasn’t long before we were sleeping.
Day three Gota Kanal
May 1st, 2011
The day started very early, at 4:30am because we couldn’t sleep any longer. I cleaned up using the washbasin in our cabin, and in a few minutes I was ready for the day. I got some nice photos of the Diana early in the morning with a subtle mist or fog just above the water. We passed a quaint town where the local people come out to see the Gota Kanal boats like the Diana pass through the area. It’s a special occasion for these locals because the the Gota Kanal boats have such a rich history of passing through these locks and canals since 1874, and interestingly enough the exact same boats have been in operation since the beginning. When we reached this little town some of the locals came out to sing for us with an accordion and a guitar. The children were out to greet us to, they gave us flowers, and because most of these locals were church people, they spoke a blessing for us and our journey and finished with How Great Thou Art, and old Christian hymn. The weather was beautiful today and we passed through long stretches of canal with farmland and a few small rural towns with very nice homes that faced the canal. Today we went through more locks and a large lake, before arriving at an interesting excursion to visit a massive fort built in eighteen hundreds which became the gold depository for Sweden until about 1960. We walked through tunnels that went underground where the army would hide and store their weapons and artillery. What made the tour fun was the sounds of gunfire and cannons, it was kind of an adventure tour. This fort complex is massive and currently houses a compliment of the Swedish army. It was Sunday and May 1st, so no stores were open that day. Finally, the Diana docked in a town for the evening, and a few of us went into town. Of course nothing was open except for the Seven Eleven, so I bought some chips and chocolate cause I wanted a snack. Upon returning to the boat, a few of stayed up till midnight in the lounge to talk and socialize.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
As a Cruise Industry Journalist, I was very busy onboard throughout the whole cruise aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam gathering video and audio content for my Cruising Authority website at www.cruisetalkshow.com and admittedly, I didn’t relax as much as I should have. My wife helped me with getting the videos, so she worked extra hard on this “vacation” along with me. We did have our moments where we enjoyed time together as a family on shore excursions and some meal times. For us it was convenient to check our son into Club HAL while we worked on getting the video content together. Most passengers with children however; could use the “Club HAL time” away from their kids and enjoy the pool, the spa, or laying out on deck.
My son enjoyed Club HAL, which came as a surprise to me because they didn’t have the water slides and water parks like some other cruise ships. Club HAL has rooms onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam dedicated to certain age groups; there was a child care area for little kids then a “tween” room for kids up to about 12 years old then a teen area. The “tween” room is where my son hung out for various planned activities. This “Tween” room had an authentic New York Taxi Cab for the kids to play in and around. This cab allows for the kids to use their imagination and pretend to drive everywhere. These days, I guess if the kid’s facility has enough video games, that’s sufficient to entertain these younger passengers. I know Club HAL also had numerous other activities to keep the kids busy like Spy Night and Paper Airplane Night, and a Club HAL version of the Olympics as well as a pajama party. Even though there are no water slides, my son swam for hours in the Lido Pool area on Deck Nine midship. As a parent it made me happy that my son was having a good time on this cruise, and I could count on Club HAL to provide the activities for him to enjoy himself. Jacob is nine years old and was given the opportunity with our permission of course to check himself in and out of Club HAL. I think my son enjoyed that freedom and responsibility to be able to leave if he was bored and go to our stateroom. Boredom, however; was not in my son’s vocabulary during this cruise when he was engaged and plugged into Club HAL.
Dining onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam was a treat for all of us as a family. Since we were on vacation, if my son wanted pizza, we gave him the freedom to go for it, and on Deck Nine aft there is a little pizza place called “Slice” where pizza was available throughout the day. I enjoyed the mornings as a family because we usually ate together in the Lido, and of course there was a plethora of options including, eggs, omelets, sausage, bacon, breakfast rolls, cereal, and my breakfast of choice in recent months, oatmeal. There were fruits and juices and pancakes, nearly any breakfast you can imagine was available in the Lido each morning. We also ate from the Terrace Grill at the Lido Pool area for lunches. I was impressed to be able to have a turkey dog or a salmon burger rather than the usual beef hotdog or hamburger. Our first night onboard, as a family we had reservations in the Tamarind Restaurant, which was delightful! Even my son enjoyed some of the unique options and he was adventurous enough to try a little caviar. The service, presentation and quality of the food in Tamarind was excellent and worth making reservations in advance to eat in this place. There is a charge to eat here, and it’s worth the extra few dollars to experience this Asian fusion dining. To truly go over-the-top and indulge in fine dining at it’s best, without question the Chef’s Table eight-course meal in the Pinnacle dining room was exceptional. We dined on the best Versace tableware, had the best wine sampling for each course, and I ate things I normally wouldn’t care for, because it was prepared with exquisite culinary skill and craftsmanship. Particularly delicious was the Frappe of Lobster and Porcini Bisque, wow, that was such a delightful and smooth taste! This evening at the Chef’s table was the first time I had ever indulged in the delicacy of Goose Liver and I was surprised there was not a “liver” taste to it. We also had Sea Bass with Caviar, Veal and completing the evening with the “Dialogue of Chocolate Seduction” which was seductive!
For the Manhattan Dining room I would recommend either first or second seating rather than the new “As You Wish” dining, because chances are you’ll have a different wait staff each visit who will not have the opportunity to know you and your general preferences. We elected to dine in the Manhattan Dining room twice with As You Wish reservations and I wouldn’t recommend it. The reasoning is because the wait staff has numerous tables at different levels and times of their course which may be somewhat challenging for the wait staff to accommodate the varying schedules efficiently. We felt that our waiter rushed us through our dinner and even brought out two courses at the same time, like for example our salad and entrée arrived at the same time. This may have been an isolated incident, however; we noticed that both of our experiences in the Manhattan Dining room were similar. Additionally, although the wait staff was very efficient, I felt that our waiters acted with more of a robotic precision rather than the more personable and friendly manner you would expect when enjoying a fine-dinning experience. Again, I think if we had a regular wait staff each night, we would get to know them and they would get to know us, and there would be a more personable exchange, which we felt we missed in the “As You Wish” dinning experience. One more observation about the Manhattan Dinning Room was the level of noise when the room was full. Wow, it got loud and difficult to carry on a conversation with someone across the table. I think part of the noise is from the design of the room, which acoustically allowed for sound to bounce all over the place because of the smooth surfaces. I think that perhaps if you are able to get a table away from the center two-level-high section of the room, in a corner, you may have a better experience with regard to the basic dinning room volume and maybe enjoy your conversations with your tablemates easier.
This voyage aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam took us to the Eastern Caribbean ports of Half Moon Cay, Holland America Line’s private island and beaches, St Maarten, San Juan and finally Grand Turk Island. I am convinced that Half Moon Cay is one of the top three private beaches owned by a cruise line with it’s soft, white, powdery beaches and beautifully colored water. Holland America Line has done a great job of building play areas for kids and families with a fun water park and now a new two-level high pirate ship bar. From the pirate ship’s top deck you can get a great view of the whole island. As a family we didn’t get off the ship in St Maarten and elected to hang out and swim in the Lido pool while most of the passengers took off for excursions. We did, however; go on the Rain Forest Drive while in San Juan. I had been to San Juan about fifty times but never visited the rain forest, so this was my opportunity to do something I had never experienced. I was a little concerned that my son would get bored, and in fact he didn’t want to go, but fortunately he found a friend his age on our bus and he had a great time exploring the observation tower and the lush trail through the forest. We stopped at a waterfall and climbed around together, which I think my son really enjoyed. The rain forest tour was a success! Finally, with our visit to Grand Turk, we decided to go on the horse back riding adventure and swim. This was my first time to Grand Turk and my son’s first time riding a horse. My son was so funny, as I tried to take video of him while he was riding the horse, and he kept telling me he cannot look back because he was concentrating on driving the horse. The tour was very organized and I got a kick out of the operators of the tour as we were all being assigned a horse to ride. I felt like I was in high school waiting to be chosen to play on a particular team, as the operator would size up the various people in our group and then select a horse they thought would be best for that person. I would guess that the children in our group were assigned horses that were more obedient and docile. I was told that these horses came from Jamaica and were retired race horses. After a ride along the beach to the lighthouse, we returned to the little coral so the saddles could be changed for riding in the ocean. The operators would take small groups to the beach on horseback, and into the ocean up to our knees. The horses would plow through the water and even run through the ocean which was quite exhilarating. If there was one moment during our cruise that I was glad we had travel insurance with Access America, this was it. You never know what could happen, and even though we were all safe and there were no accidents or injuries, I had peace of mind knowing that if there was a problem, we would have been taken care of.
While in Grand Turk, I happened to be in the right place at the right time and was able to meet Winston Scott, who was one of the astronauts from the space shuttle program. We happened to be in Grand Turk during the grand opening of an exhibition celebrating the splash down of the John Glenn space capsule in 1962 just off the coast of Grand Turk Island. There was a mock-up of the John Glenn space capsule and some very informative placards explaining the history of the space program and how Grand Turk Island has been a pivotal place for NASA and the U.S Military.
Holland America Line has certainly evolved over the past ten years or so in order to gain a wider and more diverse demographic which includes a less elderly yield. The entertainment for example, appeals to more discerning passengers with a taste for higher quality and more professional entertainers. I think what Holland America Line has done with the entertainment is excellent. They are working with a shore-based entertainment company that provides top quality and talented musicians that have the flexibility to stand on their own as entertainers. As an example, there was a quartet of violinists that alone performed an entire concert in the Explorers Lounge, and their talent was also utilized in the bigger, combined shows with singers and dancers. The same can be said about the four-man group called Cantare, who were also utilized in a number of other shows during the cruise. I enjoyed the grand finale show where Sandy Patti’s “Love in Any Language” is sung as crew and staff from all over the ship come together to bid farewell.
Was I unhappy with any aspect of the cruise? Holland America Line creates such a comforting environment, it would truly be a challenge to find unhappy passengers, however; on our cruise there was a very small number of passengers who were experiencing gastro-intestinal issues or norovirus, so the crew had to work extra hard and longer hours to make sure the ship was sterilized and absolutely spotless. Hand sanitizer was used at the entrance to all the restaurant areas so it was mandatory for all passengers to sanitize their hands when entering the dining venues or entering the ship from shore. The buffet in the Lido was on lock-down so no passengers could help themselves to food, rather the food was served by the crew. No salt and pepper shakers were available on the tables, but individual packets were available upon request. The biggest disappointment for my wife and I was the fact that the spa with the thalassotherapy pool and the thermal beds and hot tubs were unavailable and closed throughout the duration of the cruise. This was a precautionary measure to minimize the risk of spreading this GI disease. I wouldn’t of course blame Holland America Line for this, because they were in fact taking extra stringent precautions to prevent further spreading of this highly contagious virus. After speaking with the Hotel Director, he informed me that their extra stringent measures were effective in preventing further issues, which overall, allows for more passengers to fully enjoy their cruise.
I think the new “Signature-Class” vessels, the Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, both of which I have cruised on, are the maximum size of ship that Holland America Line should build. The cruise industry has plenty of larger ships, and Holland America Line maintains that “premium” standard, even with ships as large as the Nieuw Amsterdam. Both the Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam are wonderful ships, well built, with classy interiors and with truly exceptional crew members. With ships of this size, however; there is a magnified “feeling” that this is a very large company and I think the more intimate, personalized, experience onboard is watered down a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the crew onboard do an excellent job and the ships never feel crowded, in fact I think Holland America Line has mastered the art of providing an excellent, comfortable, classy and “premium” vacation experience. It’s like the “feeling” you get when you live in a small town, compared to living in a larger metropolitan city. It’s that “small-town” feeling that causes passengers to become so loyal to Holland America Line. For the discerning vacationers, Holland America Line delivers. For families with children vacationing aboard any of the Holland America Line vessels, you can be assured that your kids will also enjoy a fun and memorable vacation.