Days 16-17 Key West & Sea Day

We were back in Key West on Monday. We arrived around noon but didn’t leave the ship until after lunch. Again we had no specific plans so we were not in any hurry. The weather was beautiful and the temperature perfect for walking, about 75 degrees. In fact it was much more pleasant than the 85 we experienced two weeks ago. Just for the exercise we walked the 1.5 miles to the southernmost point of the continental US near the end of Duval Street. Then on our return we stopped at our previous watering hole the Little Jazz Room. After returning to the ship we enjoyed watching the show provided by the locals in Mallory Square where we were docked.

From our balcony we observed a sword swallower, jugglers, HIGH unicyclists, tarot card readers and even a trained pig. This was only the performers not the “regular” people in Key West which are often a show on their own…

Tuesday was truly a day of leisure. Many of the activities on board either didn’t interest us or we had previously seen. We did go to one lecture on the “Legend of Ernest Hemingway “ which proved to be quite interesting.

At lunch today we were surprised to be greeted by Rex Hunt, who we had previously met and did an excursion with in Iceland on the Voyage of the Vikings cruise in 2011. He and his wife Donna had boarded the Ryndam on Sunday and were also staying on for 21 days but they were doing 7 + 14 instead of the 14 + 7. It is always good to meet old friends.

Another beautiful morning..

The following collection is a study of waves… there were many interesting patterns on the calm seas with the wind forming the patterns.

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Days 13-15 Sea days

We were scheduled to arrive in Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island on Friday at 8:00 AM. We had a hard run from Aruba at about 18 knots to make our arrival time. Unfortunately, upon arrival the seas were much rougher than forecast. This is a tender port and we were diverted from Georgetown to Bodington Town, about 30 minutes away. Here a Princess Line ship was waiting and communicated to our captain that they had hired a local company to tender due to the swells but had decided not to attempt landing. Our captain sent a security detail in a tender to check out conditions. To make a long story short, our visit to Grand Cayman was cancelled due to the rough water. We were only one of three ships which made the decision not to attempt landing. This was disappointing because it was one of our most looked forward to stops. Kay was anticipating some shopping and for Carl, Janet and Li this would have been their first visit to the island.

Instead of tendering in Grand Cayman we continued our way on to Tampa at a slightly more leisurely rate. The weather was dismal with cooler temperatures, some rain with the sun only occasionally breaking through. Since there is not very much to tell in terms of places visited during these past three days, I will take the time to relate some of the ship experiences and observations.

This is our first time sailing on the Ryndam but we have sailed on the Masdam, a sister ship, twice before and the ship layout is identical so we felt right at home. Our captain, Mark Rowden is very personable and does a good job keeping the passengers informed. With our travels on Holland America Line we have enjoyed all of our captains with the exception of the Viking Cruise in 2012.

As mentioned in an earlier post, we received an upgrade to a Vista Suite Veranda on the 10th deck, the Navigation Deck. We have enjoyed the cabin, especially its location. We are one deck below the Lido and the Spa and only two decks above the main dining room. Since we never use the elevators it is quite a haul when we go ashore, with debarkation usually from level 4. We have had a few issues with our cabin. First, being just below the Lido I am usually awakened around 5:00 AM with the initial activity as the cooks begin to prepare breakfast. For some reason there is a flurry of activity for about 5 minutes and then things quite down. This is only a slight negative for the upgrade in cabins.

The other issue we experienced was about ten days into the cruise. We began to experience an exhaust odor in the cabin. I initially noticed this as we were leaving port and thought it was from the pilot boat accompanying the ship out of port. When the odor returned in the evening I reported it to the front desk and an engineering officer soon visited us. The odor was coming from the air conditioning system and she assured us that they would address the problem. It did improve but returned again later in the evening and we slept with the veranda door open. I again reported the problem and it was responded to immediately. This time the issue was resolved. Interestingly, Janet and Carl who are next door did not have the problem until our first visit by the engineering officer and then the odor showed up in their cabin. We both received a complimentary $25 beverage card in acknowledgement of the problem.

This is our first “Collector Cruise”. This is where you do two or more consecutive cruses. It appears that around 200 passengers or about 15% were continuing on the cruise. Some of those returning have been on multiple legs of the cruise. At least one couple have been aboard for 70 days. As much as I enjoy long cruises, I don’t believe I could repeat the same 21 day itinerary more than once. From December to March the Ryndam repeats two routes, a 14 day southern Caribbean leg followed by a seven day western Caribbean leg. Our purpose for this cruise was primarily just to get out of North Georgia in January and that we have accomplished. The climate has been wonderful the food and service excellent, but the scenery certainly becomes repetitive.

One of the “perks” with the higher level cabins is the experience of your cabin steward. Ours for this trip is Donne. He is a lead cabin steward. He is Indonesian and has been with HAL for 10 years. He is married and has three children. He spends 10 months each year on ships but has plans to soon remain home with his family. In the past we have had two stewards who serviced more cabins. Donne works by himself but has fewer cabins to service. His service has been excellent.

Our arrival in Tampa yesterday for the second leg of our cruise was interesting. US custom authorities require that the ship be completely emptied of passengers and the crew must all go thru immigration. Since we were continuing on the cruise, we were issued “in transit” passes. We left the ship, presented our passport & custom duty form to the Officer (which took about 30 seconds, after having wait in line for a while). We then had to wait until customs cleared the ship for re-boarding. Fortunately our “in transit” pass allowed us to board immediately instead of going through the normal boarding procedure.

Last night Janet won a liter of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum in the free Signature Shops raffle. This is the second prize she has won. Previously she received a very nice bracelet in their giveaway. Janet seems to be the lucky one this trip, maybe we should send her to the casino…

It has been a number of years since we have traveled on a cruise of less than 15 days. The first leg of 14 days of this cruise was pretty much what we normally experience on our longer cruises. With Holland America, it’s an older crowd of experienced cruisers who are pretty laid back. We were wondering how different our new fellow travelers would be on the shorter 7 day leg. It didn’t take long to find out! Although the average age is still much older that you would find on a Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise, it is still much younger than a longer HAL cruise. There are more children, but still not too many.

I think the biggest difference is that the majority of passengers are not long time cruisers and as a result want to experience everything NOW. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this but it does make for a totally different atmosphere. Last evening there were more people in the shopping area, the casino and the showroom than I have seen at any time on the previous 14 days.

This is the reason I believe that most people who have never done a cruise longer than 7 to 10 days can’t understand how one could do a single cruise for one to three months. The answer it that it is a completely different type of cruise on the longer voyages. There is much less emphasis on the food, bar and casino and more emphasis on experience of new places, people and your personal educational opportunities. I love the longer cruises, but this might be my last short cruise.

Moon over Tampa

The attractive skyline of Tampa

Small lighthouse in the Port of Tampa

These poor guys were trapped for over 2 hours when their lift failed during routine cleaning operations.

Days 11 & 12 Oranjestad, Aruba and Sea Day

We arrived in Aruba early Wednesday morning. We have all been here before so no tours were planned. After a leisurely breakfast we wandered around town and made a few small purchases. It is a beautiful town and “one happy island”, but if you are not snorkeling or sailing there is not much to do.

We sailed at 1:30 because it’s a pretty long run from here to Grand Cayman. I believe the captain said we would need to average about 18 knots.

Thursday was a sea day with not much planned except a Mariners lunch and some spa time.

Dawn in Aruba

There were 5 ships in harbor today

Maintenance starts minutes after docking

We could not find any FREE internet in Aruba L

Day 10/21 Willemstad, Curacao

We docked early and were cleared to leave the ship by 8:00AM. David and Li ate early in the Lido because they had an excursion. We were not in a hurry since we had no specific plans and were not leaving port until 10:30 PM. After breakfast we spent a couple of hours exploring the area. I was surprised with Curacao. It was well developed, very clean and inviting. It was fun to just walk the streets, window shop and observe the people.

We returned to the ship for lunch and then went back into town to explore some different areas. We found a nice outside café/bar and relaxed for about an hour. We had a pretty busy evening. After dinner we watched the movie “42” about Jackie Robinson, which very good. We had about 30 minutes before the show started so we went to the Crows Nest for about 30 minutes of music. We then attended the show with comedian and impressionists Jeff Burghart. The show was over at 11:00 PM and we went topside for a glimpse of Willemstad as we were already out of the Harbor.

The view from our veranda upon arriving in Willemstad

Storefronts along the waterfront. This reminds me of Norway.

The famous Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, completed in 1888. This floating bridge swings open to allow ships enter and leave.

Colorful metal art is very popular here

Many of the Lesser Antilles continue having Christmas festivals through January.

The indoor market in Willemstad

Beautiful night colors along the waterfront.

On the left is the “open” pontoon bridge, at the top right is the Crown Princess which is docked at the “Mega Pier”

Janet, Carl & Kay seem to have the stern pool deck to themselves tonight…

Days 8-9/21 St. Lucia & At Sea

We arrived on the northwestern coast of the island of St. Lucia at the capital city of Castries. Founded in the mid 17th century by the French, Castries eventually became a major coaling station for the Royal Navy. The city has been rebuilt several times after suffering devastation from three substantial fires in 1976, 1813 and 1948. Today tourism is the major industry.

We had scheduled our only Holland America tour for this stop but unfortunately it was cancelled due to road flooding. As a result we decided to just wander around the town. It could have been a charming walk but the local taxi drivers and tour companies made the walk quite miserable. I try to keep in mind that they are just trying to earn a living but they couldn’t seem to understand why ANYONE would WANT to walk for the pleasure of it. The only other ship in port was a Princess liner and we met a nice couple from North Carolina. After visiting the local Market, which was about the only thing open because it was Sunday, we spent the remainder of our walkng tour dodging the tour hawkers and the rain.

It forever amazes me how these caribbean ladies balance their loads on their heads, apparently effortlessly.

This was one of several interesting signs we saw, the CCC we were informed is the City Council.

Two parallel lives, oblivious to each other although I could observe both simultaneously. I find these type of photos fascinating. A young mother palying and caring for her daughter while an older neighbor does her ironing.

An interesting perspective on the airport as we passed by on our way out.

The twin peaks or the Tetons in St. Lucia. These mountains, as are most on the island were formed by volcanic activity.

Monday, a sea day, was a day of relaxation, food, some exercise, a movie, some good music at 2 for 1 in the Crow’s Nest and the show performed by the Ships’ band the HalCats. Not a bad day. Tomorrow we dock in Willemstad, Curacao at 8:00 AM

Day 7/21 St. Johns, Antigua

Antigua (pronounced An-tee’ga) and Barbuda are located in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. To the south are the islands of Montserrat and Guadalupe, and to the north and west are Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts, and St. Martin. The settlement of St. John’s has been the administrative center of Antigua and Barbuda since the islands were first colonized in 1632, and it became the seat of government when the nation achieved independence in 1981. Saint John is also the capital of Antigua.

Antigua, the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands, is about 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, encompassing 108 square miles. Its highest point is Mount Obama (1319 ft.), formerly known as Boggy Peak, located in the southwestern corner of the island. Barbuda, a flat coral island with an area of only 68 square miles, lies approximately 30 miles due north. The nation also includes the tiny (0.6 square mile) uninhabited island of Redonda, now a nature preserve. The current population for the nation is approximately 68,000.

Temperatures generally range from the mid-seventies in the winter to the mid-eighties in the summer. Annual rainfall averages only 45 inches, making it the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands, and the northeast trade winds are nearly constant, flagging only in September. Low humidity year-round.

We docked in St. John, Antigua at 7:30 AM and were cleared to debark by 8:00 AM. Since we had an early excursion scheduled Kay and, I as we customarily do on these days, ordered room service for breakfast. The rest of our group ate in the Lido. We all gathered at 8:30 in the Atrium to make our way to the dock.

As scheduled our guide was waiting for us at 8:45. Ira Fabian, as we learned his name, led us about a block to his Land Rover where we made our way through town and the very busy market area and started our tour of the island. Over the next 3 ½ hours we road along the shore, ascended narrow rut filled trails up into the mountains and snaked through the many tiny villages on the island. All along the way Ira answered all of our questions and shared what life was like on the island. We also learned that Ira’s life experiences were not limited to Antigua. Ira has traveled the world as a competitive bicyclist. Ira is not 51 years old but still competes in his age class. He also has children who live in New Jersey and a brother in Atlanta. Ira treated us to rum punch which he provided on the top of one of the islands highest points which is only accessible by walking or a sturdy four-wheeled vehicle. Later at a beach front restaurant I had the opportunity to sample the islands only locally produced beer, Wadadli and Wadadli Gold. They were typical Caribbean lagers, too light for my preference but at least I added two more to my list of tried beers.

As mentioned above, Ira confirmed that the temperature varies little, hardly ever below 70 and never reaching 100 degrees. As a result of the beautiful weather a number of celebrities call Antigua home for part of the year.

Ira Fabian, our guide on Antigua

A photo of Ira and his bicycle, taken from the internet

Produce sold from the back of a truck in the town market

Views from the mountain top

Views of one of the 365 beautiful beaches in Antigua

Our “home away from home”

Tomorrow we arrive in St. Lucia at 8:00 AM. Kay and I do not have any excursions planned. We will probably do a little window shopping and maybe find a local beach to relax on for a while.

Day 6/21 Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

We sailed into St. Thomas early this morning to a beautiful sunrise. We were cleared to debark at 8:00 AM. But since our tour wasn’t until 9:30 we were still having breakfast.

Sunrise at St. Thomas

The Dutch West India Company established a post on Saint Thomas in 1657. The first congregation was the St. Thomas Reformed Church, which was established in 1660 and was associated with the Dutch Reformed Church. The Danish conquered the island in 1666, and by 1672 had established control over the entire island through the Danish West India and Guinea Company.

In 1917, St. Thomas was purchased (along with Saint John and Saint Croix) by the United States for $25 million in gold, as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during the First World War. U.S. citizenship was granted to the residents in 1927. The U.S. Department of the Interior took over administrative duties in 1931. American forces were based on the island during the Second World War. In 1954, passage of the U.S. Virgin Islands Organic Act officially granted territorial status to the three islands, and allowed for the formation of a local senate with politics dominated by the American Republican and Democratic parties. Full home rule was achieved in 1970.

The post-war era also saw the rise of tourism on the island. With relatively cheap air travel and the American embargo on Cuba, the numbers of visitors greatly increased. Despite natural disasters such as Hurricane Hugo (1989) and Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn (1995), the island’s infrastructure continues to improve as the flow of visitors continues. Hotels have been built from the West End to the East End.

We our guide, Coco Brown, was early and we got away about 9:15. For the next 2 ½ hours we got a great overview of the island and its history.

Coco Brown, our guide on St. Thomas

Coco first drove us to what he referred to as a “farm”. It was located about at about 1400 feet elevation and really consisted of only a few acres on the mountain side where the owners grew several local crops and many herbs which they sold at a roadside stand. Here Coco treated us to fresh sour sap and passion fruit juice. Although I have tasted both of these previously in Brazil, I believe these were much better. What we enjoyed as much as the juice was the view. We had an incredible view of Crown Harbor where our ship was birthed as well as several of the smaller island adjacent to St. Thomas.

The Ryndam is patiently waiting for our return.

In this photo the St. Thomas Airport may be seen in the upper right.

Following a couple of additional scenic stops, we made our way back down the mountain into town. Here we saw the old fort which has some interesting architectural features.

After leaving the fort and a brief tour of the downtown shopping district, we decided to stay in town to explore on our own and walk back to the ship. We found a restaurant (Myrtles) which Coco had recommended for some local type food. We shared a delicious meal of Kalaloo (a type of gumbo), Conch Fritters, jerked buffalo wings and Fungi (a mixture of corn meal with various local plant meals) with Creole sauce along with fried plantains.

One of Gladys’ quotes.

Pauline, our waitress along with Leiona and Kay

Following lunch walk back to the ship took about 30 minutes and was about 2 miles. It was HOT but good exercise.

Tomorrow, we will be in St. Johns, Antigua at 8:00 AM ..

Day 5/21 San Juan

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San Juan, officially Municipio de la Ciudad Capital San Juan Bautista (Municipality of the Capital City, Saint John the Baptist), is the capital and most populous municipality in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 395,326 making it the 46th-largest city under the jurisdiction of the United States. San Juan was founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, who called it Ciudad de Puerto Rico ("Rich Port City"). Puerto Rico’s capital is the second oldest European-established capital city in the Americas, after Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic.

Today, San Juan is one of Puerto Rico’s most important seaports, and is the island’s manufacturing, financial, cultural, and tourism center. The population of the Metropolitan Statistical Area, is about 2 million inhabitants; thus, about half the population of Puerto Rico now lives and works in this area.

We arrived in San Juan about 11:30 AM. We planned an excursion before leaving home with Shore Excursions Group. We were to take a tour of Old and New San Juan, but the departure time wasn’t until 3:30 PM. We decided to have lunch in the main dining room since we were not in hurry to leave the ship. We met our guide/driver Frank at 3:10 and we had a private tour for the 6 of us.

Frank was quite knowledgeable and provided a very nice overview not only of San Juan but of Puerto Rico as well. After about 2 ½ hours we asked to be let out in Old San Juan and we walked back to the ship.

Not much else to tell. Dinner, the spa, watched the Sail-away from our veranda at 11 PM. A few photos are attached. We will be arriving in St. Thomas tomorrow at 8:00 AM with a scheduled tour at 9:30. Got to get some rest…

Frank, our guide.

Day 4/21

Our second sea day. Truly not much to report for today. My semi-regular routine, up early for a workout at the fitness center, picked up a couple of coffees to bring back to the cabin. After a shower and getting dressed we met the rest of the gang in the Rotterdam at 8:15 for a leisurely breakfast.

Having already looked over the event schedule for today, Kay and I had decided there really wasn’t anything which were interested in. It was not that there wasn’t plenty to do, we would just rather take the day to relax. And relax we did. After breakfast we had a brisk 4 lap mile walk around the promenade deck (actually 1.14 miles according to Mr. Fitbit). This was followed by an hour at the spa. Carl and Janet show up about 30 minutes after us and we were the only ones there. Like having your own private spa!.

After again showering and getting dressed it was almost time for lunch which we did at the lido today. I left to get pizza and a salad and asked Kay to order a Stella for me when the barman came by. I returned to find she had ordered a bucket of Stellas! WHO is this WOMAN… LOL She explained we saved 20% and could put any extras in our refrigerator also she wants to be sure we use up our complimentary beverage cards before the end of the cruise. Good thinking, except I drank two rather than one which on top of the meal left me pretty worthless.

Following lunch Carl and I made our way to the aft pool (which literally is about 15 seconds from our cabins) to get a little sun. Kay and Janet did some more walking. After about 45 minutes I left, returned to our cabin and took a much needed nap.

We usually don’t do the shorter cruises for a very good reason. There is much less stimulating programming on the shorter cruises than the longer ones. We knew this when we scheduled this back to back 14 & 7 day booking and were ok with it. On this trip our primary goal was to relax, get out of the cold and just have fun. So far we have been able to achieve this.

For dinner tonight I had an excellent baked halibut steak, lamb kebabs and chicken soup. We followed this with a show and then an Elvis music program in the Crow’s Nest Lounge. We must move our clocks forward 1 hour tonight so it’s bedtime for me. Good night…

Day 3/21 – Sea Day

Although I walked over 10 miles yesterday, according to my Fitbit, I did not sleep well last night. I have to attribute it to overindulgence in food and drink. Today was our first sea day of two in a row as we make our way from Key West to San Juan. Normally I would think of this as a slow day. It was anything but. I was up at 6:45 and went to the Lido for a light breakfast. Everyone else was going to the Rotterdam at 8:15 but I had a salon appointment at 8:30 for a haircut. After breakfast I walked 1.5 miles before my appointment. My hair stylist, Valerie was from Naples, Italy. It was quite interesting talking with her. She became employed with Holland America through an agency in England. She was looking for a position where she could improve her English. She had to take written as well as practical exams to see if she was qualified. After she was accepted she had to complete 2 weeks of HA orientation. She was three months into her first tour and originally only expected to do one contract. She is enjoying is so much she now expects to continue with Holland America for a while.

After my haircut, I joined Kay for another mile around the decks after which we attended a seminar on ports of call and then another on excursions. After these it was time for lunch. We met back up with the rest of the gang for lunch in the Rotterdam. I had a wonderful banana-nutmeg soup followed by fish and chips and coconut cream pie.

We then attended a meeting about future cruises offered by Holland America. It is a no-brainer to sign up for a future cruise even if you don’t know what you want at this time. For a $200 deposit you have 4 years to schedule a cruise. Your payment is credited to your cruise and you receive an additional ship credit up to $400. If you decide not to cruise again your deposit is refunded as it is at the end of 4 years if a cruise is not booked.

It was now almost 3:00 PM and we headed to the Thermal Hydrospa room for a little relaxation.

Heated ceramic lounge chairs in the HydroSpa.

After an hours rotation thru the steam room, mineral bath and finally the thermal chairs you are totally relaxed. The only problem is now it is time to get dressed for dinner and tonight is the first formal night.

For most of the day we have been able to see Cuba off the starboard side. We are of course about 10 miles away but land is still quite visible. I really didn’t realize just how large Cuba is.

Cuban coastline

Carl relaxing before dinner

The meal was great. Our group split evenly between lobster and rack of lamb. I had the lamb with vegetables and potatoes. This was preceded by steamed mussels and fish soup and followed with an interesting dessert of lavender and almond flan.

We are all dressed up for dinner…

Preceding the show tonight the captain introduced the ship’s head staff with a champagne toast. Entertainment was Den West from Nashville. He played five different string instruments during the show and did an excellent job with them all.

It’s to bed early for me tonight…