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mcmarya

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  1. Thank you, comcox, for sharing the information about the Guest Speaker part of the EXC program. If we are all confused about what to expect, it is not surprising. EXC has been reorganized several times in recent years, resulting in the kinds of inconsistencies that have been mentioned. My husband has been an occasional speaker since 2009, sometimes lecturing on 1 or 2 cruises a year, sometimes none, then several last year. There seems to have been a temporary ramping up which meant there were even Guest Speakers on some Caribbean cruises. With the latest EXC reorganization it appears that Guest Speakers are out again along with the term EXC except for the Maasdam EXC In Depth Voyages. Judging from the feedback my husband has received on our cruises, they will be missed, along with the excellent EXC Guides we have known.
  2. Since your cruise isn't happening for a few months I'll jump in here and revive your thread. We've stopped in Huatulco a number of times and have enjoyed it. There is a beach right next to the port where you can hang out if that is your thing lots of places with food, drinks, and wi-fi. We usually take a cab to the Playa La Entrega--it has been $5 each way for a cab, not per person. We enjoy that beach more because there is snorkeling that can be pretty good if the ocean has not been too stirred up by the passage of the ship. We've seen lots of fish, turtle, and sting rays in the roped off snorkeling area. This is where the ship's excursion goes but they arrive by boat. You can take a water taxi, too, but it is more expensive than a cab. You can also take a small boat trip to view several of the bays of Huatulco which I think is around $25 per person. You would arrange that at the little marina near the shops once you get off the ship. If you are a birder, your ship may have a tour for that. And, there is a small town nearby you can walk to or take a cheap cab (probably less than $5) called La Crucecita. Not much there to see, but there is a church with an interesting ceiling and various restaurants and bars. Apparently there is a nice waterfall out of town somewhere but a long excursion.
  3. We changed cabins in San Antonio, Chile and were able to get off the ship to go on tours to Valparaiso. The only hangup came when I returned to the ship earlier than my husband. I waited in line to get keys to the new cabin twice and neither ones would work. Apparently, my husband had to be back on board with his old card before we could get new cards that would work. On our ship (Zaandam) we could not have cards for 2 cabins at the same time. Otherwise, the move went fine. We packed everything except the hanging items into our suitcases that morning. Fortunately, we were able to transfer the items from our safe to the new cabin before leaving on our tours--the passengers who were leaving let us do so. The stewards took care of everything else while we were gone and there were no issues. Anyway, if you want to tour Tokyo do it--don't be held back by a cabin change.
  4. We did this tour with the same company you are asking about. After we got out of town the tour was great. Getting out of town we had an issue--we were the first picked up, outside, ready on time. Some others were picked up at hotels, then we headed out of town. At the edge of town the driver turned around saying that there were other passengers from the ship who were missed and that they would be meeting us partway back to the ship. Now, we had asked near the pier if they were expecting any other passengers from our ship and was told they were not. So, when we were part way back I asked if we were going all the way back to the ship and, if we were, they could drop us off at the ship when they picked the others up. At that point, they decided to turn around again and head out of town. I think that the passengers they had missed were actually last minute additions, not expected passengers. We were ticked off that we were losing precious time on our tour and were ready to give up on it. After the drama, we had a wonderful tour and were back at the pier in plenty of time, as promised. It is a little worrisome since the destination is so far from port and involves van and boat transportation. With your next stop being Harvest Caye, I would not hesitate to do the tour independently since you would make your way to the next port, if needed. Our next port was Cozumel so it was fairly low risk for us, as well. If you do the tour, I would be very straight with them about whether or not all expected tour participants are on board before heading out. I would also be prepared to ditch the tour and do something else if the departure is delayed too much.
  5. OK, the daily program I posted was from a 14 night Zaandam cruise that sailed 3/21/19--South America Passage. We also did the next cruise, 20 night Inca and Panama Canal Discovery cruise which had similar offerings for enrichment minus the Cultural Ambassador. On sea days there were 3 or 4 talks by either the EXC Guide or Guest Speakers. I should have written "EXC In Depth Voyages" referring to cruises on the Maasdam instead of EXC cruises.
  6. EXC cruises are on the Maasdam. The EXC program has been on all the ships to some extent but appears to be on the way out--even the shore excursions are no longer going to be called EXC tours (this directly from shore excursion staff). All enrichment offerings related to ports were prominently labeled "EXC" on the daily programs--Guest Speakers, port talks from the EXC Guide, cultural ambassador talks or other experiences (foreign language lessons, playing local instruments, music, etc.). I've attached the schedule from a recent cruise showing the EXC offerings for that day.
  7. Super. Maybe if there are enough threads/posts it will catch the attention of someone at HAL.
  8. Hopefully this thread will still be active. I look forward to hearing our report. We did an Alaska cruise on a Princess ship a few years back and were very pleased with the enrichment provided even on a 7 day cruise.
  9. Sorry, I thought you said you would be sailing soon on the Westerdam and could give some feedback from that experience.
  10. Please report back on your Westerdam cruise experience regarding the EXC program/Guides. If we get reports back from quite a few ships, it should become apparent whether or not the demise of the EXC program on ships other than the Maasdam is Fake News. I personally hope it is but that may be wishful thinking. I think some of us would also love to know if there is any other destination relevant EXC program enrichment currently being offered---guest speakers, local experts or entertainers, etc. Knowing if they have also gone the way of the Dodo bird could influence our choice of cruise line.
  11. I think that the EXC program is phased out on a ship when there is no replacement for the EXC Guide when that guide's contract runs out--that's why some ships may still have a guide while others have not had one for awhile. Of course, the Maasdam is different since EXC is supposed to be what sets it apart from the rest.
  12. Since no one has responded I'll jump in--assuming you are going in the fall and not on an eclipse cruise this summer. It kind of depends on what kind of budget you have and what you enjoy doing. There are tons of things you can do in Callao. I personally would not recommend the rushed cruise line trip to Machu Picchu that is usually offered. Assuming you have an overnight there, I highly recommend the Magic Water Fountain Circuit. Unless you are there on a Monday evening, your ship will probably offer a tour for a reasonable price--it was $40 pp on the Zaandam recently or you can take a cab on your own if you are adventurous like us. We shared a cab with another couple for $20 each way (for the cab). Admission is free if you are a senior with ID. Of course there are plenty of other tour options--the Main Square area is worth visiting--changing of the guard at the government palace, the Cathedral, the San Francisco church and convent with the catacombs, etc. If you are on a Holland America ship, you will probably be shuttled to Plaza San Martin which is not far from a couple of great museums--the Larco Museum and the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History. There is a zoo and park--Parque de las Leyendas--within walking distance of Plaza San Martin. Miraflores is a great place to visit with the oceanside park areas, Kennedy Park, the Mall, Huaca Puclanna, etc. I believe all cruise lines shuttle passengers away from the dangerous port area and there will be plenty of taxis waiting at the shuttle dropoff point. In most cases they will be happy to take USD so you don't necessarily need to change money. Of course, your cruise line will have plenty of options to these and other attractions. La Serena is not the most exciting port, I would have to say. La Serena has a historical downtown area and most tours take you up for a great view from the University. You can take a tour to the Observatory and/or the Elqui Valley out of town. You can also take the local bus to La Serena if you are an independent traveler. Coquimbo is OK for just walking around the town or out to the fort at the end of the peninsula. I've not done it but you can also tour the Mosque there. As is true of every place we have visited in South America, there is a very nice, modern mall to the left from the port. There is free wi-fi in the port building. Manta is the tuna capital of the world so you may see ships unloading their catch which is good for a few minutes. On a nice day, the beach is OK, though the sand is not particularly inviting. The port building has decent wi-fi and there is a nice mall across the street from the port exit as well as a small museum. Some days of the week there is a market less than a mile to the left along the waterfront. You can take a tour or the local bus to Montecristi where they make Panama hats. If your cruise ends in Chile, you may want to avoid Tagua nut souvenirs--the carved items look a bit like ivory. My husband picked up one of the uncarved nuts on a tour which was confiscated in San Antonio, Chile. They did not notice the Tagua nut magnets I bought so I am not sure if they would have also confiscated those. Chile is very strict about anything that can be considered agricultural entering their country. As you can see, we did not arrange any independent tours--did a couple of ships tours and did the rest on our own. My husband speaks Spanish so we did OK. Good luck and have fun.
  13. I think the term "Main Stage Productions" refers to the cast shows performed by a company of singers and dancers who stay on the ship for several months and perform anywhere from 2 to 4 or 5 set shows, depending on the length of the cruise. The Maasdam has not had these kinds of shows and it looks like they are being phased out on other ships, as well.
  14. Wish it were Fake news. Sounds like they haven't made changes on all the ships yet. We have corresponded with a couple of EXC guides. One has been promoted to Entertainment Director, the other is out of a job come fall.
  15. Only the cabins toward the front of the ship have portholes--as far as I know, each has 2 portholes--see photo. You should be able to tell from the deck plans which ones those would be. Some of them are a bit small. As the ship narrows at the fore, the cabins become shallower, accommodating a chair instead of a love seat or sofa.
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