Jump to content

Johnny B

  • Posts

  • Joined

Everything posted by Johnny B

  1. Sunday, February 25, 2024 Well, here I am again. It's been a long and difficult journey, but we're home, my medical needs have been taken care of, and I'm recuperating. Yes, I'm better, but my recuperation period of two months will make it impossible for us to rejoin the ship. We had planned to take a one-week overland, disembarking in Puerto Vallarta and flying to San Francisco, from where we could rent a car and drive to Auburn in Northern California to spend time with our (only) granddaughter. That was the plan. Not all plans work out. Two nights before Puerto Vallarta, with virtually no warning, I became very ill and ended up in the Medical Center, where Dr. Crous (I can't say enough good things about him) said that I had some gastric bleeding and I needed an endoscopy to determine whether I had a bleeding ulcer. He suggested that I have one in Manzanillo, Mexico, but I said "thanks but no thanks" since I'd be in California in two days and I could have it done there. Sure enough, after arriving in Auburn late on Tuesday night, I spent the next day feeling really lousy at our AirBnB, and on Thursday morning I went to the Emergency Room at Sutter Hospital (which turned out to be almost across the street). They assured me that there was no way I could have an endoscopy in my limited time, and then two hours later there was a cancellation, and I was scheduled for 7:30 the next morning. Because the gastroenterologist wanted as much info as possible, he had me sent for a CT scan, which showed that I had something called a GIST, or Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor on the side of my stomach. The only question was whether it was benign or malignant. Yikes! During my endoscopy, some samples were taken to be biopsied and we then made the decision to drive home for surgery there. Our gastroenterologist at home has been a personal friend for about 20 years, and he was texting and calling with me through all of this. He was able to talk with the pre-eminent surgeon in the area who agreed to do my surgery shortly after I returned home. Long story short: I spent seven days in the hospital, the (benign) tumor was cleanly removed with a 1 cm margin all around. It was then necessary to keep my stomach completely empty for 48 hours, followed by all the jello I could eat. I really hate strawberry jello now. Even though I've lost 15 pounds, I really don't recommend this as a diet plan. Three days post-surgery, I was able to check out of the hospital and come home. I've always been a very healthy and active person, so I figured a few days, maybe a week, and I'd be up and at 'em. Well . . . not exactly. For the first week I could do absolutely nothing. My strength was completely gone and my wonderful husband wouldn't let me go anywhere in the house without holding onto him. After a week, I began to feel a bit stronger, but when I went to see my primary doctor, she looked straight at me and said, "Diane, you are NOT a very good patient." I was told in no uncertain terms that I was to TAKE IT EASY, and I've been doing that ever since. I've become a very patient patient and I'm finding that I feel better almost every day. My limitation now is that I only do one thing a day that requires much energy. Today was taking a shower and washing and drying my hair. I know it's going to take a while but it will be worth it in the end. Regarding being at home: John is the best husband EVER! He does all the cooking and shopping, laundry, and housecleaning and reminds me when I'm trying to do too much. If you're not feeling well, I'm sorry, but you may NOT borrow him. His reward? We're signing up for the 2025 world cruise (not the Pole to Pole). I cannot say enough about Shannon, our cruise agent, as well as the officers and crew of the Zuiderdam. As soon as we found out how serious this was, Shannon got us all cancelled. Then Luisa, our cruise host, took care of having our (wonderful) room stewards pack up and ship everything in our cabin, which we received three days after the next port of Honolulu. Luisa has kept in touch, sending photos with various friends, officers and crew holding "Get Well" signs and "Happy Birthday" signs for John. Did I mention that this completely ruined his birthday? If you ever wonder which cruise line has the best officers and crew, I have no hesitation in telling you that it's Holland America Line. Thank you to everyone who has followed along with us and I promise that I'll get back to my blog as soon as we board the 2025 world cruise. So . . . that's where I've been and although I wish we were still on the ship, everything about my condition has worked out absolutely perfectly. God has been looking over my shoulder and I couldn't be luckier.
  2. Friday, January 26, 2024 Quepos, Costa Rica Not only are we getting a port that’s new for us, but we had a “taste” of it last evening. What was great about the afternoon and evening was that we only had to get all “gussied up” once, instead of one evening for our cruise agent’s cocktail party and another for a chef’s dinner in the Pinnacle. Of course I had to try on several different outfits to see which one was the best, and after deciding on my lovely little Calvin Klein (thank you Nordstrom Rack) black dress, we were off to the Crow’s Nest for cocktails. Last year’s cruise agent cocktail parties were in the Rolling Stone Lounge, which we think is great for dancing after dinner, but the decision to have it in the Crow’s Nest was a big improvement. I love light, and in a space surrounded by windows and a view of the Pacific, I couldn’t have been happier. I imagine the margarita might have helped, too. While we usually attend the second cocktail party (for late dinner seating), we had 6:00 reservations for our special dinner, so at 4:15, we began our evening. Even though our first event ended at 5:15, we stayed around with friends and killed time until it was time to show up for the evening’s main event, the Costa Rican Guest Chef’s dinner. Chef Maria Laura Zamora doesn’t look old enough to be such a prominent individual, but having studied in New York, Paris, and a few other spots, she is excellent at her craft. We began dinner with two green plantain croquettes, using a fruit which is common in Latin America. It was accompanied by La Fontana Albarino Rias Baixas in Spain, my favorite wine of the evening. Next we moved to the Two Colors Soup, a clever side-by-side blend of pumpkin (orange, of course), and palm heart soups. Then we had the fish course and John’s favorite, scallops served with a sweet potato sauce for a wonderful combination. The second wine made its appearance at this part of the meal: Solar Viejo Rioja from Spain. From what I saw, it was a popular choice, but I stuck with the white. When we saw that the main course was Costa Rican Pozole, we knew what it would be like, since it’s a somewhat common dish in Southern California. Guess what? It was nothing like what we expected. Traditionally, pozole is a soup or stew which originated in Mexico and features either chicken or pork with hominy. Maria Laura’s dish was her extremely creative alternative, in which she deconstructed the pozole and our plates included three braised and boneless pork ribs along with corn puree, and white beans in a sauce, Consuming it one part at a time was really delicious. Then it was time for dessert which was called Latin Tres Leches. It consisted of a very moist sponge cake (reminiscent of Caribbean rum cake) with meringue and peaches on the side. It was absolutely wonderful, but by that point I was so full that I couldn’t even finish it. Overall, the dinner was a “10” for creativity and taste, and we’d sign up for another Maria Laura’s dinners in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, she disembarked in Quepos and was anxious to get home to her 3-year-old daughter. * * * * * Today was, as expected, hot and humid, but we found Quepos to be a great port to visit. For a town of fewer than 20,000, it’s visited by thousands more each year and is said to be one of the best places in the world for big game sport fishing. If we didn’t believe that, the number of shiny white yacht-like fishing boats in the harbor would have convinced us. It’s also famous for being the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park, which contains mangroves, lagoons and beach-lined rainforests which shelter howler, white-faced, and squirrel monkeys. Even in town, there’s wildlife to see. We walked past several people looking as though they were taking photos of the ground, but we then realized the attraction was the 1-2 foot iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks. Just passing by, we probably counted at least a dozen of the pre-historic looking critters. Unlike the plain grey iguanas we’ve seen in the past, these had really nice stripe patterns on their backs. Of course they wanted to look their best for all those cameras. After wandering up and down the streets of the town and finding grandparent gifts for Jessica, we settled into an open air cafe to enjoy our first off-the-ship lunch of the cruise. We had been advised against it on the Amazon, but Costa Rica is a place in which we felt safe at restaurants. John’s fish tacos and my shrimp fried rice were really filling, and afterward we knew knew it was time to head back to the ship since a nap was calling our names. We’ve now visited Costa Rican ports on both oceans, and cannot say enough about how much we enjoyed them. Like any city, it’s important to stay alert and use common sense while traveling, but we’d recommend a visit to anyone. Costa Rica, we believe, is a country in which anyone would feel comfortable.
  3. Wednesday, January 24, 2024 At Sea en route to Quepos, Costa Rica After something as spectacular as transiting the Panama Canal, how could something else even compare? Well, it’s like comparing apples and hand grenades, but the evening was just as good. It was “Burgers and Beer by the Pool”. and it was not only fun, but absolutely delicious One great addition we’ve noticed this year are the events around the Lido pool. Each one is distinctive, but what they have in common is that they’re creative and just plain lots of fun. Last night’s event used the Dive-In burger kitchen and boy, did they put on a good evening. We decided we’d go and just take a look, but we ended up staying for some of the most impressive burgers we’ve seen as well as half-priced beers. I think beer is OK, but I much prefer hard cider, so when I asked if Blackthorn was also half-price, they said, “Sure.” Each of the burgers had its own name. John’s choice was “Chef Neil’s Dirty Challenge, consisting of two beef patties, a fried egg, pulled pork lettuce, tomato, cheese, bacon jam, and it was topped by two onion rings. The burger must have been about 7 inches in height and, as John said, “It’s delicious, but there’s no way I can finish that thing!” I opted for Chef Tushar’s Chix Magnet”, and I did indeed finish it. The other choices were Chef Tiff’s Scorpion Sting, Ronald’s Veg-olution, and Chef Dante’s Fishy Plan. Cute, huh? Did I mention that every burger came accompanied by HAL’s delicious fries? Oh yes. In addition to the food, the Zuiderdam band played during the event’s two hours, and, to top it off, most of the 2 and 3 star officers participated as servers. All of it was just great fun. In his announcement yesterday, the captain told us that we would be refueled by bunkering, which means a barge-like structure comes up beside us as we stay at anchor and our fuel tanks are refilled. He also told us it would take about six hours during the evening and night. However, this morning he gave us the rest of the story. First, the refueling ship was two hours late, and then the hoses were attached incorrectly, causing our six-hour refueling to take twelve hours. I guess it was just another example of Murphy’s Law. Today has been another relaxing sea day. After that massive burger last evening, John had almost nothing for breakfast, but by lunch he was ready for a couple of tacos. Strangely enough, the section of the Lido where pizza is available is also where passengers can have custom tacos made. I had my usual egg salad sandwich and they’re always nice enough to put a few dill pickle slices on the side. After skipping yesterday, John’s back to double pickleball today, once this morning and once in the afternoon. Since I’ve had enough of inactivity, I decided that, torn meniscus or not, I was going to get in three laps around Deck 3 for a mile. My doctor even said that walking was OK. However, after two laps my knee was telling me I’d done enough, so I gave it up. Since tomorrow’s we’re in port, I’m sure we’ll make my knee angry all over again. This evening is full of good things. Our cruise agent is hosting a cocktail party in The Crow’s Nest before dinner, and then we’re going to the Pinnacle with Martha and Bob for the guest chef’s Costa Rican dinner. I don’t think tomorrow will be a good day for a weigh-in!
  4. Wednesday, January 24, 2024 The Panama Canal For many people, today is probably the most exciting day of the entire cruise. We’ve spoken to folks who have taken a cruise just to transit the Panama Canal. Although we’ve been through it several times, we always find it absolutely fascinating, both because of the surrounding jungle and especially in admiration of the engineering wonder in which we spend the day. As you may know, there are now two Panama Canals, the original which we’ve always used as well as the newer, wider canal built in 2016 to accommodate much larger ships, including some of the new mega cruise ships as well as ships with more than 14,000 containers to pass through. Although the price for transiting the canal (in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars) seems high, it’s still less expensive than sailing all the way around South America and shortens the voyage by 7,800 miles and several weeks. The history of this marvel of construction was begun by the French in the late 1800’s, but malaria, yellow fever and corporate mismanagement proved to be greater enemies than the construction itself, and the French gave up the effort. Afterward, however, the United States took on the challenge, completing it in 1914, at a cost of more than 300million dollars (8 billion today) and 25,000 lives. Disease had run rampant during construction, resulting in a total of ten years for its creation. One thing that surprises many people is that the Canal doesn’t go east to west; it actually runs north to south. Only portions of the canal at each end contain the three locks (of which we’ve now gone through only one) while the largest part of the canal is Gatun Lake, which contains more than 100 species each of mammals and reptiles as well as 500 different birds. It’s always exciting to see a crocodile, so we wait on our verandah when we’re close to land to search for them. All of these animals are part of an extensive nature preserve in the middle of the lake and along its edges. The Culebra Cut is an artificial channel which covers more than eight miles across the Continental Divide. While we pass under the Atlantic Bridge as we enter the Canal, it isn’t until the end of our transit that we pass under the spectacular Bridge of the Americas. If you take it in your head to drive from North America to South America, this is the bridge which used to take you from one continent to another. The Centennial Bridge, however, has now replaced the Bridge of Americas as the route of the Pan-American Highway. As I write, we’ve now passed through Gatun Locks to Gatun Lake and soon we’ll transit the Pedro Miguel Locks to enter Miraflores Lake, leading to Miraflores Locks. It’s a rather relaxing day (except for the heat and humidity) especially while we’re sailing through Gatun Lake, but everything about the transit is simply fascinating, from the engineering to the operation to the wildlife and surrounding jungle. If you’ve been through, you know what I mean; if you haven’t, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s such a popular transit that there are now cruises that enter the canal from the Caribbean side, go through the first locks into Gatun Lake, and then turn around and exit the same way they entered. For us, since we’re going all the way through the Canal, it’s an adventure that began about 6:30 this morning and will take us to the Pacific Ocean at about 7:00 this evening. This morning we saw a double-decker ferry boat full of day-trippers, probably beginning at the Caribbean side, seeing part of the canal, and then returning the passengers to whence they began. One of the highlights of the transit is the morning treat, Panama Rolls. They are sugary donut-like buns filled with apricot puree. They are absolutely delicious. On our first HAL world cruise, we were so excited to try them, and then were puzzled when we also had Sydney Rolls, Hong Kong Rolls, and a few other variations. It still makes me laugh to think about it. Our last highlight of the Canal is the Bridge of the Americas, and then we’ll be fully in the Pacific and headed to Costa Rica and Mexico. It’s always a memorable day and we hope to be doing the same thing next year at this time.
  5. Tuesday, January 23, 2024 At Sea en route to the Panama Canal It’s been a busy couple of days on board, even though one of them was a sea day. The only thing better than a sea day is one on which we turn the clocks back, so even though it was busy, it was a good day. One of the things I’ve noticed about this cruise is the increase in numbers of special events. On our sea day, the special event was called “Island Dream,” and it was an evening of tropical delight. The crew had been busy decorating the area around the Lido pool with palm fronds and conch shells, with a large area left open for the frivolities. One of the biggest hits of the evening was the special drink, a pina colada served in a whole pineapple. From personal experience, I can tell you it was delicious - and that pineapple left a lot of room for the beverage. Instead of serving appetizers, the Lido was open for dinner at 5:30 (as usual) with all kinds of tropical dishes. We had fully intended to spend time at the Lido, enjoying the activities, but we ended up skipping dinner in the dining room and eating upstairs. The highlight for me was the jambalaya, full of shrimp and scallops. There were even more dessert choices than usual, including the Caribbean’s famous rum cake. Plates were piled high with salads, coconut shrimp, and all kinds of delectable dishes, and we knew that the kitchen crew had gone all out in their culinary efforts. After dinner, and after many of the guests had finished their pineapple pina coladas, the games started. One was “pineapple bowling,” in which six pineapples were arranged like bowling pins, allowing players to use a nerf ball to try to knock them over. It looked like fun, but I couldn’t figure out the scoring nor the prizes, if any. A conga line was, of course, a necessity, and Thomas, one of the entertainment directors, led it with great flair. We stayed until all the excitement was over and headed for the World Stage’s early show - something we’ve never done before. Each evening the shows are at 7:30 and 9:30, and we always go to the later one because of our 7:30 dinner. For the show we usually attend, one has one’s choice of seats, since attendance is less than the first show. Walking into the 7:30 show, however, amazed me. We had to actually hunt for two seats together, partially because the time is more convenient for most but also because the entertainers, The Flyrights, had already performed once and were absolutely amazing. The three of them sang and danced and had the audience singing along, with even a few in the first row dancing up a storm. Their performance did not disappoint tonight, with more singing and dancing throughout the theatre. The audience was not happy to be told that they’d be getting off in Curacao. * * * * * Our visit to Curacao was our first, and it lived up to our high expectations. It’s an autonomous country within the Kingdom of The Netherlands, famous for beautiful beaches and the pastel-colored buildings in Willemstad, its capital. Our cruise company, Cruise and Travel Experts, treated us to a tour of the island during which we saw a great deal of beauty. The most interesting stop was the first one. When we saw “Cathedral of Thorns” on the tour description, we (secretly) thought, “Oh no, another huge church.” We could not have been more wrong. When we arrived, we saw a building unlike any we’ve ever experienced. It was constructed of large bales of cuttings from the acacia tortuosa. If that second word sounds like “torture,” there’s a reason for it. That particular plant, a scourge on the land with its incredibly sharp thorns, has been used by Herman Van Bergen, a famed artist on the island, to illustrate that all of nature can be beautiful. The thorns also represent the harm that the Europeans did to the indigenous people of the island. Another beauty of the building is that the sunlight shines through each building block. My only regret is that we couldn’t return to see it at night when light shines through the structure. The building itself, which is definitely not what one thinks of as a church. It is almost more an art gallery, with the thoughtful works of various artists hung in niches within the “building blocks.” There are tall “doors,” one of which resembles something one might see in a mosque and another in a Christian church. It truly was a memorable visit and it was especially an honor to have Mr. Van Bergen be our personal tour guide. After visiting such an amazing place, we came back to earth with a drive to the Curacao distillery, home and only producer of the famous blue liqueur, which we learned comes in several colors, including clear. After touring the manufacturing facility, we had tiny tasting cups of three of the flavors (original, orange, and chocolate (!)). Then we had some free time in a beautifully shaded patio with two bars selling absolutely delicious frozen concoctions (thank you Jimmy Buffet) flavored with various types of Curacao and local fruit. Mine was mango, and it was very tasty. The day wasn’t over yet, for our cruise agent hosted us at the Restaurant & Cafe Gouverneur DeRouville, where we sat on a beautiful terrace overlooking the harbor and the Queen Emma swinging bridge. This bridge, which must open for shipping traffic, is unlike I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a very long pedestrian crossing, but when it must open, one end unattaches itself and the entire bridge swings to the edge of the bay. We watched that happen to make way for a freighter, and it was fun to see. Unfortunately, those pedestrians who wanted to cross the bridge must wait for the ship to pass through and the bridge to re-attach itself. Lunch was a buffet with something to please everyone, and we spent a happy hour and a half visiting with old friends and meeting new ones. Once everyone was done, the restaurant brought each couple or single a little box containing a small bottle of the original blue liqueur. Then it was time for the short walk back to the ship, but of course we took the long way around, wandering the old and colorful streets of the downtown area. It really is quite a beautiful city and we’d come back here in a flash. Since the evening’s show was the movie “The Little Mermaid,” we had an early evening, watched some Australian Open tennis, and then hit the pillow, or, as the crew members call it, “visiting pillow island.”
  6. Sunday, January 21, 2024 At Sea en route to Willamstad, Curacao If you’ve been on an HAL cruise, you know that the crew is just wonderful. Every time we’re on board we decide that our room stewards and our dining room servers are just the best, only to be topped by those on the next cruise. Yesterday we had a great example of why we feel this way. On our way back to the ship in the afternoon, we stopped in the local “super” market to buy some fruit punch. (Was rum to be involved? Who knows?) At the checkout, we began talking to a room steward named Putu from Bali as he paid for his chips, chips and more chips. He paid for his purchase in dollars and was given change in local currency. When we checked out, I asked how much it would be in dollars (1 USD=2.5 Grenadaian) and as we were discussing it with the checker, Putu took some of his local change and paid for our purchase. Here we were, two people on a world cruise being “treated” by someone whose salary probably goes straight home to his family. When we tried to repay him, he absolutely refused and at first wouldn’t even tell us his name so we couldn’t hunt him down. We followed him out of the store and tried again, to no avail. Are HAL crew members the best in the business? We think they are. What great fun it is to board a boat called Rhum Runner, drink rum punch, and try the limbo! Well, it was great fun to WATCH the limbo, with our friend Karen getting into the spirit and going under that limbo stick. We had talked about going to the beach on Grenada, and then John saw that there was an HAL excursion including a rum-drinking boat ride to Grand Anse, the most beautiful beach on the island and we were sold, especially because the cost was so reasonable (for HAL tours). We were actually going to become “sticker people,” and sure enough, when we checked in, our sticker read “24”, and we were ready to go. We saw that our friends Karen, Pam, and Peggy were on the same tour, so it was good to have familiar company. At 10:00 we boarded the Rhum Runner, accompanied by a steel band playing island music (and even a few Elvis hits) and continued during the whole cruise, both coming and going. Before we knew it, a lovely young lady was circulating among the 40 of us, distributing cups of pretty powerful rum punch. Refills were frequently available as we sailed through the bays of the island, learning some history and geography of Grenada. The captain of our boat told us that this was the only British colony ever to receive its independence without firing a single shot. Instead, the residents simply closed down all essential businesses: post office, banks, markets, etc. and left them closed until the UK agreed to grant independence. In reading about this time period, I can’t find any reference to such a strike, but it’s a great story. Once arrived at the beach, we grabbed our towels and spread them out on the soft white sand, then taking turns going into the lovely warm water. As much as I love Hawaii, more specifically Kauai, I admit that the water temperature in the Caribbean is much better for swimming, especially in those winter months when Hawaii’s water chills up a bit - at least for this weather wimp. John took long walks to either end of Grand Anse and took some great photos. Since I still am suffering from a torn meniscus, I couldn’t join him because I have to keep my mileage to a minimum, so the best alternative was a peaceful nap on the beach. Lying in the sun always puts me to sleep, but he didn’t have too much trouble waking me on his return. After a great hour and a half on the beach, it was time to return to our rum-soaked vessel, where the punch was again available, along with beer or soft drinks for those who preferred them. I have a sweet tooth, so the rum punch was fine by me. Then the real fun started. The young woman who had been responsible for distributing the punch began a conga line, and most of us joined it. It wasn’t the best thing for my knee, but it certainly was fun and the music was great. It seems that every time we’ve been in the Caribbean, usually on a cruise ship, the song “Hot, Hot, Hot” is played, and that’s what we danced to. Next was the highlight of the cruise: the limbo. The limbo stick was set fairly high, and some of the crew as well as a few passengers (including our friend Karen) joined in. I can only imagine what that would have done to my knee, so I was an appreciative spectator. The fun really began as they lowered the limbo stick, and when it went just too low, Karen just got on all fours and crawled under. It was great fun to watch. Finally we were back in St George’s (the correct spelling of the capital) and wandered through the “mall” which had everything a tourist might want. All we wanted was a postcard, and that was quickly accomplished. Returning to the ship, a short shower was necessary to wash off the remaining sand, followed by a visit to the aft deck to join the sailaway party. Promptly at 5:00, our ship’s whistle blew, we waved goodbye to the P & O Britannia in the next berth (holding 3,600 passengers - yikes!) and we were off into the Caribbean for a restful sea day before arriving in Curacao on the 22nd.
  7. Friday, January 19, 2024 At Sea en route to Grenada We’ve now left the excitement of the incredibly active Atlantic waves and are peacefully sailing through the relatively calm Caribbean waters on our way to Grenada, where we’re looking forward to enjoying our first HAL shore excursion, called Rhum Runner Pleasure Cruise, which, as you might guess, includes rum punch (I don’t know why they added the “H”), and time at the beach, which was our first consideration. The activities never cease around the ship. Last evening was Casino Royale, most of which took place, of course, in the ship’s casino. It was the second formal night of the cruise, and Daru, our waiter told us that we would have two formal nights a month, unlike last year, when there was only a total of four. We got ourselves all fancied up in tuxedo and white glamor dress and headed out. The fun began at 8:30, so we headed straight to the casino when we finished dinner and saw more folks than ever at the slots. When we were on the Koningsdam in November, there were occasionally people in line to use a slot machine, but on the world cruise, it’s unusual to see more than three or four people gambling at a time. For 90 minutes, however, the slots were free, and the prizes, instead of money, were raffle tickets for small and medium-sized prizes. The highlight of the evening occurred at 9:00, when the Captain picked up a bottle of Champagne and created a Champagne waterfall. You’ve probably seen one of those, when glasses are built into a pyramid, causing the champagne to spill over and fill all of the glasses. After the “pyramid” was filled, more flutes were filled, and everyone in the immediate area was served from a try of sparkly. We were sitting at the nearby bar with our friends Lydia and Sheryl, and the bartender decided that each of us needed TWO glasses, so we didn’t argue with her! That was followed by last evening’s show by The Flyrights. a group consisting of three young Englishmen who sang and danced and involved the entire audience who clapped along. At the end of the show, several people were still dancing in the aisles. They were incredibly entertaining, but unfortunately, this was their only performance onboard ship. Today was our King Neptune ceremony, something that takes place whenever a ship crosses the equator. There was a “King Neptune” and his queen sitting alongside the Lido pool while the “judge” introduced the activities. At the other end of the pool sat the five members of the “jury,” including the Captain (he’s been a busy fellow), Henk, the Hotel Manager, and three Captain’s staff. Traditionally, this ceremony is to welcome those crew members who’ve never crossed the equator in a “Kiss the Fish” event. For our purposes, about 25 crew members were introduced in small groups, and the “jury” was to decide whether it was thumbs up or thumbs down. Up and they only had to be covered in “fish guts” (colored meringue-like gooey stuff) or “into the drink (the pool). In the middle of each “trial,” each of the accused had to kiss the fish. In the past, this has been a real fish, huge in size and pretty smelly. However, according to Henk later on, the fish failed to arrive, so a papier-mâché substitute was used. All of it was great fun, and almost all the passengers were gathered around the pool or up on Deck 10 to see the activities. In 2020, since it was his retirement cruise, Captain Jonathan jumped into the pool at the end. Now everything has calmed down, but those passengers who thought they were going to be in the pool this afternoon must have been pretty disappointed. The pastel-colored goop was floating in clumps and the poor maintenance crew had to drain and scrub the pool before it opens tomorrow. We’re back to our nice quiet calm afternoon and casual dress for dinner. The Zuiderdam singers and dancers are on the stage, and we’ll probably get an early night in anticipation of Grenada tomorrow.
  8. Thursday, January 18, 2024 At Sea - in the Atlantic Ocean After a week of adventure, we’ve now left the Amazon basin and have entered the Atlantic Ocean. Even if we hadn’t listened to the captain tell us what to expect, we would have known. How? From the “motion of the ocean” in the middle of the night. I was awakened by the ship’s rolling, something we hadn’t experienced since we entered the enormous but calm Amazon. This morning the ocean looked not quite angry, with whitecaps and wind, but at least a little annoyed. John went up to the pickle ball court to check out the possibilities, and he came back to report that there would be no racket sports this morning. When it’s relatively calm, they play pickle ball, and when the wind comes up they play paddle tennis. The latter is played with heavier paddles and a tennis-like ball. This allows the ball to easily carry through the wind, unlike pickle ball, which is played with a plastic “wiffle-like” ball. Because of its lightness, the pickle ball itself will fly through the air and possibly into the ocean. The wind went down a bit this afternoon, so the usual suspects (Alex, John, Marina and Rich) played a couple of hours of paddle tennis. Another difference about leaving the Amazon is that we no longer have to worry about cutting back on water, so I sent our our first laundry order in a week. It was a good thing, too, because the underwear was getting ready to run out. I really don’t understand why, but apparently when we’re at sea or in port we have access to pretty much unlimited water for all our needs, but in the muddy brown Amazon, the amount of water is limited. If anyone knows more about this, please let me know. Since our ship, because of its smaller size, has fewer specialty restaurants, the Pinnacle Grill hosts many “pop-up” dining opportunities, including Cellar Master dinners, Taste of Tamarind, and dinners to celebrate the cuisine of many of our destinations. Last evening, with Martha and Bob, we enjoyed our first Taste of Tamarind dinner. In November, while we were on the Koningsdam for seven nights, we enjoyed dining at their Tamarind restaurant twice, sitting at a table overlooking the aft pool. During the day that view is fairly mundane, but in the dark, with the pool lighted from within, it really is quite magical. Last night’s dinner was excellent, and we’ve enjoyed their menu so many times that we almost know it by heart. First they pour green tea into tiny little cups and follow that with a basket of shrimp crackers with dips that range from mild to “Oh My!” I could make a whole meal out of the those crackers. For starters, we had a choice of five wonderful treats. We could have had seasoned baby back ribs, sushi-like dragon roll, satay sampler with various meats, tempura shrimp, and one more, which I can’t remember. John chose the ribs, which for me would have been the whole meal, butI really enjoyed the tempura shrimp with dipping sauce. For our main course, there were also five choices: barramundi in curry sauce, Penang red curry chicken, Sechuan shrimp, a wasabi-crusted filet steak, and a vegetarian noodle dish. As much as I like noodles, I opted for the barramundi and John, as always, had the red curry. They were, as usual, delicious. Martha and Bob both chose the filet, and Martha reported that it was the best steak on the ship. Desserts were just as good, with a choice of three: a mango posset, a trio of sorbets, and an Asian-inspired cheesecake. Overall, we had a wonderful dinner, and because of its popularity, the Taste of Tamarind is the most popular of the specialty dinners, occurring twenty times during the course of our 128-day cruise. There are dinners which do not fit any of the other categories, and they are some of our favorites. While there are four cellar master dinners, the highlight for us, at least last year, was the “Jellicle Dinner,” held on April 1. In honor of that special day (April Fool’s), we were served a wonderful dinner made up of strangely named individual dishes. For example, one course was “Dirt on a Plate,” which turned out to be sautéed mushrooms with little vegetables scattered across it, making it look for all the world like a garden. While we really enjoy the specialty dinners (which incur a surcharge), we have been very pleased with the meals in the Main Dining Room. Last year they were pretty good, but this year their quality has improved remarkably. There are really interesting choices and whatever we’ve chosen, we’ve commented, “This is so much better than last year.” During last year’s Q & A with Gus Antorcha, HAL’s president, he answered questions, listened to comments and even took notes for more than three hours. That’s something we’ve never seen before, and this year we have the benefit of his attention to improvements. Again, thanks, Gus. While we are always asked about “all that food” on the ship, we find that those of us who are on for 128 days tend to be fairly conservative in our choices. In fact, after the feeding frenzy that was called “The Holidays,” we boarded the ship with a goal of weighing less when we get off than we did when we got on. Strange, I’m sure, but true. Now it’s off to our second formal night of the cruise with the theme of Casino Royale. We’ll get out the fancy duds and enjoy the evening, which includes an hour and a half after dinner in the casino, where there will be playful table games, a free slot tournament, or a game of poker with the officers. At 9:00 there will be a champagne tower with the Captain. It should be a glamorous evening and we’re looking forward to it.
  9. Wednesday, January 17, 2024 At Sea (sort of) en route to Grenada Yesterday we thought we had said goodbye to Brazil, but it was a bit premature. Today we’re still in the muddy brown Amazon with jungles miles away on either side. The size of this river is amazing; during the rainy season, the mouth of the Amazon can be about 300 miles wide. As we sail now, not quite to the mouth, it’s several miles to the shore on each side. It does provide a quiet peaceful day, with no ports and nothing to see except jungle in the distance and calm waters. We even watched as the last river pilot disembarked this morning. It’s an amazing (and dangerous) thing to watch, since the pilot, in a harness, lowers himself on a rope ladder and then must jump on board a small, moving boat which will take him to shore. I don’t think I’ll be applying for that job any time soon. Not only have we not left Brazil geographically, but last night we had an amazing view of Brazil culturally. We’ve had the members of Oi Brasil! on board for the last week, and their show last night was its culmination. This group mentors and teaches young people from impoverished backgrounds and helps them to escape poverty. In fact, one of the videos they showed was a young man with a hat that said “Favela,” the name of the slums on the hills of Rio de Janeiro. The energy in their singing and dancing was amazing, and by the end of the show the audience was on its feet, clapping in time to the music and swaying back and forth as the cast came down from the stage and up the aisles to wend its way through the ship. Even Kimberley, the cruise director, came out in costume (a little less skimpy than some) and joined the group. What an amazing group. What did we learn from our Amazonian adventure? First, the river is immense. We’ve read about it and seen photos, but nothing prepared us for entering a waterway where we couldn’t see the banks in either direction. Our ship sailed 900 miles up the river, but smaller ships can travel all the way to Iquitos, Peru - over 4,000 miles. We have found a fascinating country, and although crime is an ever-present danger in some areas, it’s a great place to visit with preparation and precaution. We learned to say “obrigado” (thank you - “obrigada if you’re a woman) and that’s really how we feel about our visit to Brazil.
  10. Tuesday, January 16, 2024 Santarem, Brazil Our final Brazilian port provided us with a beautiful sunny day and weather that was probably as hot (90 degrees) as before, but the humidity seemed to have been dialed down a notch. We hopped on the tender at about 9:00 and a ten-minute ride ferried us to the Santarem’s port, where a shuttle waited to take us to the main part of town. We were let off at the Praca Pescador, or Fisherman’s Square, a large and beautiful park across from the shore. Santarem, with about 300,000 people, is a beautiful city at the confluence of the dark blue River Tapajos and the pale, sandy-colored Amazon. The really amazing part of this confluence is that the two colors never blend; they simply flow along side by side with a sharp divide between them. Apparently there are other places on the Amazon where this happens, but this one is the most famous. We stood on the esplanade overlooking the rivers and were amazed at this natural divide. We walked along the incredibly long promenade overlooking the water, going about a half mile in one way and then a half mile in the other. As we moved to the side streets, we found that the city is a bustling place of business, with dozens of different types of stores. Again, the most common footwear on sale was flip-flops, and most people we saw were wearing them. One of the great beauties of Santarem is the 60 miles of white sand beaches along the fresh water of the rivers, making it a great ecotourism destination. The beaches stretch to Alter do Chao, our first Amazonian destination. There are also tours of the Amazon Rainforest, one of which was offered by our Shore Excursion Department today. In fact, the names of both places can be found together on tee shirts available at the market stalls. The waterfront is incredibly busy with boats of all sizes, most of which are for commercial purposes. We saw a group of men in a line carrying sacks of either rice, beans, or something similar from a waterfront truck to the hold of a ferry, no doubt taking the products to outlying towns and villages. The boat’s deck also held plastic chairs, 5-gallon bottles of water, appliances and even a glass-walled shower. It seems that the Amazon is just like a freeway, taking people and products from one end to the other. Finally, however, the heat and humidity got to us, and we hopped on a tender to return us to the ship. I survived better than yesterday, when I returned soaked from the weather, but I was still exhausted. Lunch around the Lido pool made me feel a bit better, and a nap did even more. The rest of the afternoon was very low-key until it was time for sailaway. Last year’s sailaways were pretty ho hum, but this year they are head and shoulders better. If there’s not a four-piece band, there’s a DJ, the sun has been out, and there’s always a specialty drink. Yesterday’s was Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha, a combination of cachaca (a rum-like liquor) lime and sugar. Since we missed it yesterday, we just sat up at the Seaview Bar and enjoyed one today. If you like margaritas, you’d love a Caipirinha. And so we say goodbye to Brazil and the Amazon, toasting with our caipirinhas. It’s been an excellent experience, experiencing everything from a village full of indigenous people from the village and beyond to a city of over two million people. Although the heat and humidity have been a challenge, we wouldn’t trade this experience for any other.
  11. Monday, January 15, 2024 Martin Luther King Day Parintins, Brazil We’ve almost never visited a city which is entirely on an island in the middle of a river, but today we did. Parintiins is a a city of 100,000 people and the only way to access it is by plane or boat. The boat approach was, as the captain said, “the most challenging tender transfer of the entire world cruise.” We didn’t understand what that meant until we were ready to board. We had to walk down several stairs, very carefully board a local two-deck ferry, and then cross from it into a larger ferry which would take us to town. Before tendering began, Kimberley, our Cruise Director, made an announcement that because of the shifting of the boats and the rough seas, that no mobility devices (wheelchairs, scooters, etc) would be allowed. That became very clear as the tender process continued; there were stairs, boat-to-boat transfers, and ramps to manage before arriving on the main street of Parentins. The most interesting fact about this city, however, is what it’s famous for. Almost everyone knows about Carnival in Rio during Mardi Gras, but almost no one knows that the second most famous and well-attended festival in Brazil celebrates a 19th Century fable about a resurrected ox (go figure) takes place in Parentins in June, more than doubling the population of the city for a couple of weeks. It’s called Boi Bumba, and a show exhibiting its color and excitement was put on today for the benefit of our Shore Excursion department. We did not attend, since we wanted to see as much of the city as possible in the time allotted, but our friends Greg and Heo did go, and they couldn’t praise it enough. Oh well, maybe next time we sail up the Amazon and stop at Parentins! The downtown area has all the requisite shops and open air markets, but the surprising thing to us was that of the many, many shoe stores, virtually every one only sold flip flops. Why? As we looked around, we noticed that that was all anyone wore as footwear. Considering the heat and humidity as well as the frequent rain creating mud and puddles, it certainly makes sense. We wandered through the fish market as well as the produce area, and even though there were many tempting items, the lack of refrigeration made us shy away. The same was true of the little food stalls along the street, so when we returned to the ship, we were hungry. Even though no one I know has ever heard of, let alone visited this city on the Amazonr, it’s the type of port that I think is most interesting. We had no pre-conceived ideas about it and appreciated the fact that it seems very authentic in its Amazonian existence. Going to a place like Dubai simply allows us to see what has been advertised over and over, but Parintins gives us a look at a place which enhances our knowledge of the world and its people.
  12. Sunday, January 14, 2024 Manaus, Brazil We have wanted to visit Manaus for a very long time, and today was the day. We’ve read about it, talked to friends who have visited, and looked at photos Above all, we wanted to visit the famed opera house, the Teatro Amazonia. Since it’s the only opera house in the entire Amazon region and was designed to imitate the Paris Opera, it had been on our bucket list for a long time. For some reason, I have long assumed that Manaus was a pretty little village with a large and impressive building in its midst, but it has more than two million people and is the capital of the state of Amazonia. We docked a bit later than scheduled, due to a great deal of debris in the river, but dock we did. As we approached, it looked like a baby dock, not nearly long enough for our ship, but even though we stuck out a bit fore and aft, it seemed to work. As we looked out at the dock from our usual breakfast table on the Lido, we saw that there was a steep ramp from where we docked up to street level. While we were wondering how some of the passengers with limited mobility were going to get up that ramp. It turned out that no one had to manage that task; it was considered a construction zone, so buses were ready and able to take us up to street level. From what others have told us, the current low level of the Amazon has caused ships to dock at a much lower level than the streets, so the ramp was built and the buses were made necessary. We left the ship at about 9:00 and, after getting directions to the Opera House (“Go straight up this street”), we headed out. Since it was Sunday, it seemed to be family day, and as we reached the pedestrian area of the street, there were cafes and booths selling everything from underwear (some of it very attractive) to tapioca bars to shoes. We watched the cafe workers preparing rice (and more rice), sausage, and fruit, but we’d just had breakfast, so we took a pass. It was about a mile walk, but we had so much entertainment along the way that it seemed to go by quickly. Once we arrived across the street from the opera house, we just stood there and admired it. We knew that it had been built in 1896 when Manaus was referred to as “The Paris of the Tropics” and was the heart of the rubber boom at the time. It had taken 15 years to construct it, with almost all materials imported from Europe. It contains 198 crystal chandeliers, 32 of which are made of Murano Venetian glass and reportedly has superb acoustics. The architect modeled it on the Palais Garnier in Paris (Phantom of the Opera anyone?) and the ceiling makes you think you’re looking up at the Eiffel Tower. The most amazing part is the dome which is created from 36,000 tiles imported from Alsace. While the opera was being constructed, Brazil became a republic, and to celebrate that fact, the dome’s tiles create the image of the Brazilian flag. Now, with all that grandeur, we could hardly wait to get inside. Did we? No, of course not. We did get through the front door and walked through the indoor cafe and the foyer, where we met with a gentleman who seemed to be a combination of security agent and concierge. When we asked him if we could take a tour, he told us that the dozens of ship passengers on an HAL tour were the only ones allowed in for a tour. I asked if we could just peek through the door to see the auditorium and he told us that no one would be able to into that space because of a chemical spray which had been used and required that no one be exposed to it. So. . . even though the ship’s passengers had paid for a tour including a tour of the opera house, they, like us, couldn’t see the most spectacular part. Across from the opera house is the San Sebastian park, a large square with beautiful trees and benches. Since it was time for our daily FaceTime with our granddaughter, we decided that the square would be the perfect place for two reasons. One, it was quiet, and two, because of the large number of tourists, it was surrounded by about a dozen military police. We had been warned about thievery in the city, especially of cell phones, so having the police presence made us feel much better about sitting in plain sight talking to Jessica. After our call, my knee was telling me it was time to head back to the ship, so we headed back down the hill, past the cathedral, the market and the cafes, and arrived safely at the shuttle that would take us back down the ramp to the ship. We were especially happy to return when we found out that there had been an announcement warning single people to either stay on the ship or find someone to walk with. This, we were told, was in response to two ladies who had been held up at gunpoint and relieved of all their jewelry. We had been warned several times to leave jewelry on the ship, but such an event must have been incredibly traumatic for them. Brazil is a beautiful country, but travelers just can’t be too careful. Even though we didn’t get to see the main auditorium of the opera house, we are so glad to be finally traveled to Manaus and come “up close and personal” to it. It’s a destination well worth seeing, and we’re glad we did.
  13. Saturday, January 13, 2024 Boca da Valeria, Brazil Yesterday’s Amazonian port was a small but thriving town with a beautiful beach and many shops and residential areas. Today, however, is pure Amazon. It’s what we imagine as the quintessential Amazon village, with indigenous people and primitive structures. This was an early port, with tenders beginning shortly after 7:00 AM for a 10-minute “drive” to the village. We were told that when the water was higher, the ship could dock closer to the main part of the village, but now a tender is necessary and a small pier has been constructed for the tenders. We didn’t want to go ashore quite so early, so we had our typical morning, with coffee and breakfast by the pool on the Lido, followed by showers and covering ourselves and our clothes with bug spray. We use little packets containing bug-repellent saturated paper which we rub over all exposed parts of our bodies and then use DEET spray on our clothes. So far so good. When we arrived and looked up the trail toward the village, we thought we had a huge welcoming committee, as both sides of the path were lined with locals, some dressed in traditional clothing and some in very modern sports outfits. I was very pleased that they all wanted to High-Five me, until I realized that their hands were hoping for dollar bills instead of just a hand-slap. Before boarding the tender, we had changed some bills into singles, since we had been told that villagers expected a dollar for a photo. As we walked along, we saw children holding all kinds of local critters. There were lizards, baby crocodiles, parrots, parakeets, and, my favorite, sloths. At first I thought the fuzzy little creatures were monkeys, and then I decided they must be lemurs, but then we found out they were sloths. They’re really cute and fuzzy, but our friend Heo discovered they also have sharp claws. Walking through the village was fascinating. The houses were all built on stilts so as to remain dry when the river rises and also, I imagine, to keep some jungle animals at a distance. There’s a quaint church, a bar/restaurant, and around the corner were porta-potties. We really didn’t know the sanitary conditions in the village, but I don’t imagine flush toilets are part of the houses. Although we have been told that the village houses about 100 people, there were far more than that today, so we suspect that those who live even further into the jungle come into “town” when ships call. We did use most of our dollar bills for photos of some lovely children and adults, some with feathers and others just holding little jungle creatures. Even though the costumes some of them wore were from another time, this visit gave us an insight into another part of the world with people who lived along the river in such a different world than we’ve ever known. It often occurs to me while traveling that “the luck of the draw” is much in effect in our lives; how do some of us live in relative luxury while others suffer hunger or violence to survive. * * * * * This afternoon was an excellent example of the differences in our lives. After seeing people who live in difficult circumstances, we had “For Cakes’ Sake” at 3:00 in the Lido. This was one of the most over-the-top displays of decadence I’ve seen, with every serving surface in the Lido covered with beautifully decorated cakes and pastries. It was one of those events which allows photos for 15 minutes before serving time, and it was incredibly difficult to even get close enough to get some pix. If you have a favorite cake or pastry, you would have found it here, everything from Black Forest to strawberry to eclairs to croquembouche. John had asked me to be the photographer while he played PB, and by the time he wandered through the Lido at 3:30, he said it looked like a swarm of locusts had come though . Even though I hadn’t intended to, I did give in and enjoyed an eclair and an eclair-shaped piece of chocolate mousse covered in a dark chocolate glaze. Oh my! * * * * * Tonight is a “dressy” night. HAL used to have two kinds of evening dress, smart casual and formal. Now they have three: casual, dressy, and formal, with the last one only occurring about four or five times during the cruise. Since I have a closet full of formal dresses from earlier cruises, I tend to sneak one in on the “dressy” nights. Tonight’s will be short, black, and sparkly - I guess that will qualify. Tomorrow is Manaus, a port we’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I imagine we’ll be off the ship fairly early, hire a touring taxi, and see everything we can in the time we’re allotted, especially the famous Opera House. Can’t wait!
  14. Friday, January 12, 2024 Alter do Chao, Brazil Yesterday was wonderful, from one end to the other. After figuring out that it was a sea day (talk about feeling dumb), we used the day to relax, read, do French lessons, and, of course, play pickle ball. It was so hot and humid that John returned wearing a soaking wet tee shirt and feeling like he’d been run over by a truck. But last evening was just the best. At 6:00, we joined our friends Martha and Bob in The Pinnacle for the first cellar master dinner of the cruise - and was it wonderful.Our friend Jacques, the Cellarmaster, worked with Tiffany, the ship’s executive sous chef, to come up with a delightful menu, to which Jacque added paired wines. We began with a glass of Le Grand Courtage Brut Rose, a sparkling French wine. It went nicely with the first course of foie gras, followed by mushroom and artichoke soup with a Washington state dry Riesling. John said afterwards that the soup was his favorite course. Our “salad” was made of warm sliced lobster, accompanied by tiny asparagus spears and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite wine of the evening. Our main course, beef tenderloin, was paired with an Italian Valpolicella, and even thought I’m not much of a beef eater, I thought it was delicious. The final delight was a chocolate pot au creme (fancy French chocolate pudding) with a couple of toasted marshmallows on the side. There was port served with dessert, but we took a pass. Overall, all four of us decided that Jacques and Tiffany created a wonderful menu, and we’re all looking forward to the next Cellar Master dinner, which will have an Italian theme. After three hours at dinner, it was time to go work it off, so we headed upstairs to the area around the Lido pool for a show put on by Oi Brasil, the cultural group which has accompanied us since Tobago and I believe will stay on for the rest of our Brazilian ports. When they put on a show, they really put on a show. The costumes were incredible, with brightly-colored feathers reaching two feet above their heads, and the dancing amazed us. We took lots of photos and wondered how they could dance like that. It was like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but with skimpy, colorful outfits and lots and lots of feathers. We had a great time, and my trip around the pool with the conga line was way too much fun. Of course we slept late this morning, until almost 7:30, but we knew that we weren’t arriving at our port until 10:30 so we had plenty of time to do all our regular morning things. We had been told that Alter do Chao was a lovely, undiscovered little port, and that was the absolute truth. From the ship we could see miles and miles of golden sandy beaches and when we tendered ashore we were able to visit a small part of them. Ilha do Amor (love island) is a sandy peninsula which was clearly a popular destination for local folks. The “island” is between the Tapajos River and Lago Verde, and the blue of the water was rather nice after sailing through the brown Amazon. After walking through town, we paid $2.00 each to be rowed out to the “island,” where we wandered across the soft sand and watched entire families enjoy lunch, swimming, and playing games on the beach. It is said that Alter do Chao has the most beautiful freshwater beaches in Brazil and it is often referred to as the “Caribbean of Brazil.” It’s such a hidden gem with almost no foreign tourists, but many Brazilians come here for their holidays. We’re just glad to have spent time here before the hordes of American and European tourists arrive - because we know they will. Two great days in a row - how could anything be better? We look forward to finding out when we visit Boca da Valaria tomorrow. Stay tuned!
  15. Thursday, January 11, 2024 Basically a Sea Day - sort of Well, I guess I need new glasses. When reading the itinerary yesterday, I wrote about Alter do Chao as today’s port, and I was simply wrong. Today is actually the town of Macapa (thank you, Sir PMP), and it’s not a port but a place where we can board a pilot. Everything I wrote about Alter do Chao is correct, but it’s tomorrow, not today. What we learned from the captain’s midday talk yesterday was that the Amazon is, as many of you may know, at a very low level and in order to sail and not run aground, we are cruising at about 1 knot in this area, where the water level is less than 30 feet and only because our ship has such a shallow draft are we able to sail - even at such low speeds. That means that the view from our verandah looks like we’re at anchor somewhere. I guess we’ll gain some speed as we head upriver, so it doesn’t take us until Christmas to visit Manaus. One request that the captain has made of the passengers is to use as little water as possible, including laundry, showers, sinks, flushing, etc. At the same time, however, we are reminded to stay hydrated because of the heat in the Amazon basin. The two requests seem contradictory, but both are necessary. Another communication from Captain Frank has to do with our crossing of the Equator yesterday. We received a funny little card yesterday from “King Neptune” telling us that we’d be crossing the Equator again when we leave the Amazon and that our King Neptune ceremony would take place at that time. We’ve watched the ceremony many times, but I always find it great fun and join in the “Kiss the Fish” cheer. I imagine those who are covered in pink, blue and green foam are glad that it’s not fish guts anymore! Last year we were disappointed in the evening entertainment but this year we haven’t missed a show. I think we still get credit for leaving one show early, since that comedian didn’t make me laugh once in the 15 minutes we stayed. Last night we saw Camila Andrade for the second time, and she has such a beautiful voice. On Friday, we have a return visit from Chris Ritchie who is listed as an impressionist, but is actually a singer who “covers” famous songs with the sound of the original artist. We do enjoy the Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers, a group we’ve known since our 2022 South Pacific voyage. This evening, the World Stage entertainment is a movie (Golda), but like most of the passengers, we’ll be going up around the Lido pool to enjoy Brazilian Social Night, an event to celebrate Brazilian New Year. It will feature performances by Oi Brasil Cultural Ambassadors as well as the aforementioned Camila Andrade. It should be fun, as are most of the Lido poolside parties. This evening will be the first Cellarmaster Dinner, a collaboration between the head chef and Jacques, the ship’s cellarmaster. We took a peek at the menu and found many of our favorites, beginning with pate paired with sparkling rose (which I love) and ending with a chocolate pot au creme served with port (not my favorite). Of course they give me too much to eat, but I’ll enjoy every bite. I did get into the gym this morning to visit the scale, and I must say I do like my weight better in kilos. Of course I do love an extra sea day, but I’m really looking forward to our first Amazonian port tomorrow - which I did my best to describe yesterday.
  16. Wednesday, January 10, 2024 At Sea en route to Alter do Chao, Brazil (and, coincidentally, crossing the Equator) As you know, I love sea days, but this is one like no other we’ve experienced. We began this morning in the beautiful blue Atlantic between Devil’s Island and Brazil, and as we sailed into the Amazon River, the blue water turned to lighter blue and then to tan and now, at 5:00 PM, to a muddy brown. Every day, about 1.3 million tons of sediment empty from the mouth of the Amazon into the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in a milky brown color. The fresh (?) Amazon water flows into the Atlantic for almost a hundred miles. Virtually all of the sediment that reaches the Ocean has traveled from the foothills of the Andes mountains, contributing to about 85 to 90 percent of it. The effects of the sediment are not just changing the color of the water; it’s loaded with nutrients that make the entire Amazon area rich in feeding both plants and therefore animals, especially fish. Those vicious piranhas that I watched strip a cow down to just bones in scary movies when I was a child were fed by the sediment, but were highly exaggerated in their ability to eat entire animals. Sailing up the Amazon was a real highlight of this cruise for us, and now that we don’t need the blasted visas (until April 10 if you’re interested), John has just had his approved and it should arrive via email any day now. The villages we’ll visit are still very primitive, even though there are passenger ships that sail past and occasionally stop. For example, the village we’ll visit tomorrow has about a hundred residents, including two buildings clearly labeled “Restaurant” and “Bar.” The idea that there are 1200 of us on board makes me wonder how the day will go. I imagine that markets will have been set up, but we’ll only be there in the afternoon, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Since the Amazon is famous for its mosquitos and malaria. we’ve each brought along a prescription of Malarone to keep the former from giving us the latter. The directions tell us to take one the day before entering a malaria area, then one each day while there, and then for seven days afterward. We brought Malarone for a trip to India once before, but after about five days into our drug regimen we both had nasty side effects so stopped taking them. We’re also equipped with cans of spray with DEET for our skin and clothes as well as little wipes that serve the same purpose. Unlike most diseases, malaria is particularly nasty because it can recur without any further exposure as long as 50 (yes, 50) years after you’ve had it. That’s a great incentive to take our pills and spray our skin and clothes. Now that I’ve dealt with the less lovely parts of visiting the Amazon, one of the best parts is the Oi Brasil group that has joined us on board. Our first exposure to this talented group was in the Rolling Stone Lounge last evening. We were watching the dancers (no dancing until my meniscus gets better) and noticed that two women and one man were dancing beautifully together and it became obvious that their dancing was highly choreographed. All three were tall, slender and incredibly good dancers. They will be part of a dance troupe performing the evening of our visit to Santarem as well as teaching samba, ballroom dancing, Capoeira (rhythm, strength and self-defense) and Acai jewelry arts and crafts while they’re on board. There will also be a couple of speakers in the World Stage, today’s being “Beliefs, Legends and Myths from the Amazon.” All in all, any of us who are interested in more than the muddy water will be learning a great deal. While I’m sure there are some passengers who will not even get off the ship while we’re on the Amazon, most of us will explore to our heart’s content, from the small villages to the city of Manaus, with more than two million citizens and the only opera house in the Amazon rainforest.
  17. It's on our page as DianeandJohn St John (no periods). I don't know if it's case sensitive or not, but that's what our page says. Good luck - John has some great photos.
  18. Monday, January 8 and Tuesday, January 9 At Sea and visiting Devil’s Island We had a wonderfully relaxing sea day, during which I tried to improve my French, visit with friends and read about a few of the books that were highlighted in our Booklovers meetup. I still don’t know how Stephanie managed to not only list the books but provide summaries and reviews of each. The document which she provided to each of the meetup attendees was 11 pages, double sided. It has taken me more time to read through it than I think it took her to write, assemble, and distribute it. This will give me reading material for a couple of years, at least. John, of course, spent his sea day playing pickle ball, both morning and afternoon. They try to play pickleball, but if the wind is too strong they resort to paddle tennis. That wouldn’t be so bad except that shortly before we left home he pulled a muscle in his right forearm, so as soon as he comes back into the cabin, he heads for the bag of ice. Does he get any sympathy from me? Of course not! But he does love both the game and the interaction with others. Heck, he makes more friends playing pickle ball than I do with other activities. We even stay in touch with two couples from last year’s pickle ball games on the WC and had dinner with Peter and Ellen in San Diego the night before we sailed on a 7-day California Coastal cruise. Today was a repeat port for us, but a fascinating one. If you’ve ever read Papillon or seen the movie, you know it told the story of Henri Charriere, an escapee from Devil’s Island, only one of two men ever to succeed in this almost impossible task. Devil’s Island is actually a small group of three rocky islands, only one of which we may visit. Its name is Isle Royale, and it was also part of the prison. I guess the best comparison here is Alcatraz, where prisoners were held in the heat of the tropics in the middle of incredibly rough seas. These islands are part of French Guiana, so the language is French and we were able to use some of our euros for beverages. What most call Devil’s Island is now called Iles du Salut, and was the prison to Alfred Dreyfus for four years. Many political prisoners were held here and, sadly, statistics say that only a third of the convicts sent to Devil’s Island ever returned to France. During WW I, the island was used to incarcerate spies and deserters. The last prisoner did not leave Devil’s Island until 1953. After disembarking our tender, we hiked along the side of the island (saying hello to an iguana along the way) and then continued all around the island, seeing many abandoned buildings overrun with tropical plants. There is a prisoners’ swimming pool, an area of the surrounding ocean surrounded with a wall of stones to keep out sharks and the worst of the ocean tidal action. There were prisoner dormitories, workshops, an infirmary, a chapel, a cemetery, and houses for the administrators. A hotel has now been added along with a restaurant, and that provided us a visit to the bar and then a rest stop on the verandah. John took some great photos, so if you’re interested, they’re posted on Facebook at johnanddiane st john. And if a visit to such a memorable place as Devil’s Island isn’t enough, we had a wonderful sailaway party on the aft deck. So far, the sailaway parties have been head and shoulders above last year’s. For example, today there was a variety of appetizers including arancini, tempura shrimp, and salmon mousse on crostini. We even had a live band playing for everyone’s enjoyment. I think we have Gus Antorcha to thank for this improvement as well as others we’ve noticed. Thanks, Gus.
  19. Sunday, January 7, 2024 Tobago (Part of Trinidad and Tobago) After three blissful days at sea, we arrived at our first port, Scarborough, Tobago. Our first challenge was to learn the correct pronunciation. Was it Tobaigo or Tobahgo? We heard both on the ship, but when we walked ashore, we heard the locals welcoming us to Tobaigo, so that’s what we used the rest of the day. Speaking of the people here, they are friendly and helpful. The only drawback was that it was Sunday, so almost everything was closed, and it seems that most of the residents spend a good part of the day in church. In the middle of a downpour, we dashed into a little mall, where a church service was being broadcast. The music was great and the pastor broke up her sermon between songs so that listeners could focus on one part at a time. Maybe I’ll suggest that to our minister at home! Tobago is the “little sister” of this fairly new country, Trinidad and Tobago, which gained its independence in 1962. It is smaller, than Trinidad, and has less development, fewer people, and one of the most beautiful nature reserves in the world. In fact, we read that the reserve here, covering thousands of acres, was the very first in the Western Hemisphere. We had considered hiring a taxi to tour the reserve, but then the rain started and we gave up that idea. From hot and sunny to light sprinkles, to a heavy downpour, still in the 80’s, the weather here seems pretty changeable. Finally the rain stopped and we decided that it was time to go to the beach. While watching a couple of YouTube videos at home, we learned that the best beach was Pigeon Point, at the “bottom” of the island. it’s about a 20-minute drive and, since taxis have set prices, we also found out that the drive would be $25.00 US each way. That seemed reasonable, since it guaranteed that our driver would come back to pick us up at a set time. The drive to Pigeon Point was not only interesting but beautiful. We drove alongside the white beaches and turquoise waters on the left and some colorful houses and a great deal of rich foliage on the right. Our driver, Alexander, told us bits and pieces about his island, where he was born and has always lived. We had been told that Pigeon Point was a national park with an admission fee of $7.00, but were pleased to find out the fee was per car instead of per person. Alexander dropped us off near the beach, snack shack and restrooms, agreeing to return for us at 2:00, giving us a little more than two hours to enjoy ourselves and have a local lunch. Making our way between the restrooms and the cafe, we came upon a truly beautiful beach. The sand could not have been whiter and the 85 degree water could not have been more beautiful. Groups of people were splashing around, making me kick myself for not bringing my swimsuit. We settled down on the concrete benches of a concrete table to enjoy the views, wet our toes in the warm water, and decide what to do about lunch. I’m a sun fan, but I quickly moved to the shady side of the table because it was just too hot. After perusing the menu on the wall, John decided on fish tacos and the grilled pork looked good to me. Then he found the drinks list so, figuring that this was a lot like Hawaii, we ordered two mai tais. We were reminded that we were in the tropics so we patiently waited, and waited, and waited for lunch. However, that gave us time to begin chatting with Sid at the next table, learning that he and his wife were from near Toronto and that they come to Tobago for two weeks every Christmas to stay with his wife’s grandmother who lives here. I can certainly understand the draw - and Christmas weather is bound to be better here than in Toronto! Our food and drinks did eventually arrive, giving us time to work up an appetite and really enjoy our lunch. My pork was nicely grilled with crispy bits, and a small side salad accompanied it. John’s tacos were huge, and when he looked he said, “If I’d known they were this big, I would have only ordered one.” Clearly, the servers knew how to use rum in the drinks, because I had to sip mine slowly. Because of my torn meniscus, I couldn’t join John in his walk down the quarter mile of beautiful white-sand beach, but he took some great photos and splashed in the water a bit. By then it was almost 2:00, so we walked back to the pickup point, where Alexander was patiently waiting for us. It was another beautiful drive back ( this time I was on the ocean side of the car), and even though it was only 2:30 with an all-aboard time time 4:30, we were really tired from the sun, so an afternoon nap was on the agenda. We awoke in time for sailaway, where we enjoyed tasty appetizers and the company of some of our friends. Finally the wind really started to come up, so we headed inside to get ready for dinner. Altogether it was a lovely day with a beautiful port, friendly people, a gorgeous beach as well as a visit to a new port and country for us.
  20. January 6, 2024 - En route to Tobago The best way to start a world cruise, I am convinced, is three days at sea. There is luggage to empty and put away, old friends to greet, activities to plan, and jet lag to overcome (for some of us). Our friends Greg and Heo flew in from Sydney four days before the cruise, and they’re still having a bit of “lag.” Those who haven’t been aboard the Zuiderdam have a ship to explore and figure out if they’re going the right or wrong direction. In November, when we enjoyed a 7-day cruise on the Koningsdam, we went the wrong way more than once, even though we’d sailed on her before. It’s just a really good way to begin our 128 days. Tomorrow is Tobago, and I think we’re all now ready to face the ports, some more willingly than others. This morning John and I attended a lecture on Tobago, presented by Kimberley, our Cruise and Travel Director, and boy, were we impressed. We were used to our friend Barbara Haeni for several years, whose title varied, but most recently was Port Lecturer. Barbara had been everywhere, knew everything about it, and happily shared her knowledge with anyone who asked. She could give you directions to a shop in Singapore that sold Chinese attire for the next formal night on board or to a coffee shop in Naples that made “the best cappuccino ever.” After she retired, we really noticed a difference, simply because the individuals in that role didn’t have the experience. Now the job of Cruise Director has been combined with what was the Port Lecturer, which I’m sure is an enormous challenge for any individual. Kimberley may not have been everywhere, but she certainly does her homework and introduced a full World Stage audience to tomorrow’s port, making it informational and interesting. We gained knowledge (without a sales pitch for shore excursions) and got pretty darned excited about tomorrow’s visit. After lunch, it was time for John to head up to pickleball and for me to head to the Explorer’s Lounge for the “Booklover’s Meetup.” The room was full, and Kimberley (who ran the “meetup”) gave everyone a chance to recommend a book that they were currently reading or had read in the past and could highly recommend. Meanwhile, she was taking notes on the books, and she will type up a list of them, along with brief summaries and reviews, and deliver the list to each of the attendees. I don’t know when Kimberley sleeps! It turned out that the woman next to whom I was sitting is a published author, and while she spoke, I looked her up on Amazon. I had expected a book which I might not enjoy, but my “flawless first impression” led me to a long list of her novels, most of which sounded incredibly interesting. A man sitting in the back, who told us he only came because he saw his wife sitting there, turned out to have published several non-fiction books on birds and birding, including a 2-volume, 1000-page book on the evolution of birds in Texas from European settlement to today. It may not be my cup of tea, but I am impressed. This evening is the “Captain’s Welcome,” an event which begins every world cruise. so that we may meet 18 of the ship’s officers. Champagne will be poured so that we may toast the beginning of our Grand World Voyage. The World Stage will be jam packed with passengers who are excited to begin this great adventure, no matter how many world (or other) cruises they’ve been on. It is always such an honor to share in the adventure of a world cruise, seeing some new places and re-visiting destinations which have become old friends. Of course on this cruise, because of the current world situation, some of the ports have already been cancelled and others are in jeopardy, but as long as we’re on board, we’re quite happy. You may know (or not) that our three Israeli ports have been cancelled - for obvious reasons, and now there is some question about the Red Sea and Suez Canal. This is certainly a “wait and see” cruise, but we’re still excited to be a part of it.
  21. 1/5/24 - At Sea en route to Tobago For those of you who have been kind enough to read my scribblings before, you know that I just LOVE sea days. There’s nothing or everything to do and everyone has personal choices. For example, there’s one very nice couple who puts a towel across a Lido table and plays cribbage or reads much of the day. As I’ve already mentioned, our interests lie in the areas of pickle ball, reading, and French lessons, with the occasional lecture thrown in. A typical day for us begins with a visit to the coffee shop in the Crow’s Nest, since I can’t go to the gym. John has an Americano, since he calls the ship’s free coffee “swill” and I have a cappuccino. We take them down to the outdoor Lido (our favorite table is on the starboard side) where we sip, watch the ocean, and chat with friends and crew members. Then it’s time for breakfast, after which we go our separate ways, John to PB, and I’m off to either read or write. I’m a creature of habit, so on the old Amsterdam (before HAL sold it to Fred Thompson Lines), I used to go to the library (now THAT was a library), sit at the long marble mosaic table at the end of the triple room, and write my blog. On the Zuiderdam, we do have a brand-spanking-new library, but instead of a nice long work table, there are small groupings of chairs with a small table in the middle. It would be great for a cocktail party, but I really miss my Amsterdam table. My new spot is at one of the two desks in our cabin with a lovely view out at the water. I guess I’ll stop whining at this point. No matter what your interests, there is no doubt something for you on board. Many passengers love the daily presentations in the World Stage, today’s being The Deep Blue: Life Below the Water’s Edge. Often there are local experts who speak about ports or just things in general. One of our favorites was an astronomer whose lectures explained the night sky and who then organized a nighttime sky-viewing from the ship’s top deck. There are all kinds of classes: dancing, creative writing, exercise (tai chi, abs, yoga, sunrise stretch - and on and on), tech, and so many more. Our friend Bonita is teaching a class in how to play mahjong as well as Zumba, renamed Exercise Dance to avoid copyright issues. There’s bridge, trivia, watercolor class, and even coloring for adults. I can’t imagine anyone being bored. The daily program called, creatively “The Daily” takes two full pages to list all the day’s activities. If you like music, either for listening or dancing, there is a variety in the evenings. You might go to the Rolling Stone Lounge for rock and roll, Billboard Onboard for dueling pianos, the Ocean Bar where Third Avenue West plays light jazz, or the Explorer’s Lounge, which has replaced Lincoln Center State with classical music. If you like music, there’s bound to be something for you. The evening’s main entertainment in the World Stage seems already much improved over last year. Last night we enjoyed Camila Andrade, a talented Brazilian singer who sang jazz, pop, and Brazilian standards. And boy, could she dance. Tonight we have a British musician named Chris Ritchie, whose show is called “The Music in my Life.” Our “Entertainment Guide,” which we receive every two weeks, gives us a heads-up. The first issue lists instrumentalists, a comedian, a movie, the Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers, and a local show the evening we’re in Santarem, Brazil. So. . . if you’re worried that you’d be bored on a 128-day world cruise, think again. There is so much to do that the problem is not “What shall I do?” but “How shall I fit it all in?”
  22. JOHN AND DIANE ARE AT SEA - AGAIN! Thursday, January 4, 2024 At Sea en route from Ft. Lauderdale to Tobago After days of preparations (how could they have taken that long?), a four-hour drive to San Francisco Airport, overnight in the airport’s Hyatt, a flight to Ft. Lauderdale and two nights with our Cruise and Travel Experts group, we finally settled into an exhausted lump into our Zuiderdam stateroom - only to be faced with four HUGE suitcases containing the clothes that had been picked up at our house on December 14. I knew immediately that I’d packed way too much in my two bags (plus the slightly smaller one carried with me on the plane), but now I not only had to face the crazy job of unpacking it all but then finding places for everything.) Finally, with everything removed from the bags (which were then nested for storage under the bed), we began wandering the beautiful Zuiderdam. The best part is always running into old friends, whether they be officers, crew, or passengers. It turns out many of our WC cruise friends have joined the 101-day Grand Australia cruise, but there are still lots here to keep us company and it feels like “coming home” to rejoin the ship. We’re in a Signature Suite, slightly smaller than a Neptune Suite. Our midship location on Deck 8 gives us a smooth ride and proximity to most things on the ship. We met our friendly room stewards and spent a bit of time on the balcony, even though it was pretty chilly and windy, before heading to the Ocean Bar, our pre-dinner hangout to meet yet more crew members we haven’t seen in almost a year as well as to meet some new ones. This year we opted for an upstairs table. John has often wished to sit upstairs at a four-top for two (a table for four for just the two of us and occasional guests) near the railing. We found our table easily, but it turns out that HAL, in its wisdom, had assigned it to us - as well as another couple. When we spoke to Presty, the Dining Room Manager, we agreed to change tables, so now we’ll have to see what tomorrow will bring. The greater problem for the Zuiderdam and its guests, however, has been the Brazilian visas. As of January 11, all citizens of the U. S., Canada and Australia are required to secure a Brazilian visa before visiting that country. Unfortunately, they only began making those visas available on November 28, while in their instructions they indicated that visitors should apply “90 days in advance.” Four items were required for the visa: a 2 x 2” photo, a photo of the photo page of the passport, an itinerary, and a bank statement showing that the applicant had at least a minimum amount of $$ to ensure a return home. While that sounds easy enough, the actuality was pure chaos. My application was returned with a request for a better photo of my passport page, so I sent back the original photo which was then approved and I now have my official 10-year visa. John’s application, however, was like most of our fellow passengers. First he was required to resubmit three of the original four items (which we did), and then they wrote to tell us that his date of birth was different on the application and on his passport. What this turned out to mean was that his passport DOB was 23-02-XXXX, while on the application we had written 02-23-XXXX. The drawback, however, was that we had no access to make that correction. Because of the time zone of their “Help Center” (somewhere in Eastern Europe?), there were several midnight phone calls which were only somewhat helpful, in that the “helpers” couldn’t do anything but file a “complaint” about the problem. I guess they finally got that solved, but then they wrote telling us that a letter explaining the situation could NOT have the Brazilian reference number in the subject line but it must be in the body of the letter along with the citizenship of the applicant. What???!!!! OK, letter sent in requested format and John’s status is now . . . “Pending.” What now? Holland America Line has paid for two Brazilian visa “experts” to be on board until we arrive on their shores, so it should be an interesting week or so as those still without visas (including John) will be called in to expedite the process. This afternoon is an event called “Block Party” that Captain Friso began last year, At 4:00, everyone is invited to come out of their room into the hallway, where officers and crew will come through to pour wine and provide snacks, hoping to allow shipboard neighbors to get to know each other. It’s a great idea and we made several new friends near last year’s cabin. Very few passengers turn down free wine, so the hallways are crowded. We’re looking forward to doing it all over again! So how do we spend our days? If we’re not in port, John is atop the ship playing pickle ball all day (even though he has a rotator cuff injury) and I’m either doing Duolingo French lessons, reading on the balcony, or writing my blog. I’d love to be in the gym (as I have always been on previous cruises), but I have a tear in my meniscus and my doctor says, “Rest and time,” so my physical activities are limited. Oh well, it will get better - or so she says. P. S. The block party was a roaring success. We met both Carolyns who are our neighbors and various other new friends. The wine was freely poured and the snacks (olives, chips/salsa, and peanuts) were a nice addition. Can’t wait to get this show on the road. P. P. S. We received an email late last night telling us that the Brazilian government has now agreed to postpone their visa requirement until April 10, 2024. What a hassle it has been, but John's happy he can now go ashore.
  • Create New...