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Live from the Zaandam, New England to Florida and the Grand South America


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[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]

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End of the Road in South America; Gateway to Antarctica

Day 29, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023; Ushuaia, Argentina

 

It’s hard to be a photographer or reporter when sometimes you just want to be a lazy tourist.

 

Such was the case this evening when we left Ushuaia, Argentina — “the end of the world” — as they like to call it. It was mostly a misty and sometimes drizzly afternoon in town, but by our departure around 8 p.m., the clouds dispersed, and the jagged snowy mountain peaks sparkled in the late sun.

Alas, I was enjoying dinner. We had a great view from our table in the dining room, but not so much a stunning photograph opportunity through the streaked window.

 

I feel a twinge of envy, of regret for being “scoped,” when I see on social media and blogs what others captured and reported. It’s a hangover from my days decades ago as a newspaper reporter, photographer and editor.

 

Oh well. Others will always take better photographs. Five years ago, I decided to leave my professional camera equipment at home (my shoulders thank me). My iPhone camera suffices, and I brought a small DSLR camera on this cruise to fill in for the iPhone’s inability to zoom.

 

That camera came in handy for our morning of cruising of the Beagle Channel and its Glacier Alley on the way to Ushuaia. And from the port side of the ship, I had the best views. Every five minutes a new valley appeared with its own glacier.

 

When I compare a picture I took this morning (the second photo) with one from the same spot in 2020 (the first), I wonder if the glacier has receded. Given that they were taken more than two months apart, it’s hard to tell.

 

But the snow is heavy this early in the spring season, making a sharp contrast with the dark rock of the ragged peaks.

 

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Earlier I had been disappointed to see we would not arrive in Ushuaia until 2 p.m. In 2020, we overnighted here. But now I realize that we needed the morning for the sail through Glacier Alley. Upon arrival at the dock, several groups of passengers left for tours to the Tierra del Fuego National Park and the southern point of the Pan American highway, which starts in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

 

I set off on my own walking tour of town, only in search of another cup of wonderful hot chocolate and a new t-shirt. I only have a handful of t-shirts as I don’t wear them much these days, but I couldn’t pass on one from Antarctica – or at least as close to Antarctica as we would find a shop. I also added another tiny nativity to my collection.

 

We had arrived just in time for siesta, so many shops were closed until late afternoon. It’s a big jumping off place not just for expeditions to Antarctica, but also to the wilds of Patagonia, and hiking, biking and outdoor suppliers line the main street. Mixed in with them are gem stores, chocolate confectioners and, of course, souvenir shops.

 

In 2020, we were joined on the Ushuaia pier by large boats loading frozen fish bound for China, I believe. This time it was all expedition ships. As I noted in 2020, the stacks of Zodiac inflatable boats identify them. Their passengers will be able to go ashore – 100 at a time – in Antarctica.

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Some time ago I decided that just cruising around Antarctica – rather than going ashore – would be enough for me. Should I include it on a list of “continents visited?” It doesn’t really matter to me. And I know I have only seen a tiny portion of the continent, but I’m satisfied.

 

Tomorrow morning we will sail around the island of Cape Horn (assuming the weather allows) and then head south across the Drake Passage. Two days to get to the Antarctic Peninsula, four days sailing around there, and another one to reach the Falkland Islands, our next opportunity to step ashore.

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I sympathize with you in regard to pictures.  Having done the Zaandam in March 2016, I know how cold, wet and windy it can be there.  There was a lot of wanting to see and capture the best views on deck or staying inside and looking through a window in comfort.  Hopefully the Antarctic days will be beautiful.

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[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]
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Antarctica Delivers Stunning Views, Icebergs and Cold

Day 31, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023; Antarctica

 

Thanks to our most excellent Capt. Smit, we arrived in Antarctica Monday ahead of schedule. And what an arrival – into a field of glaciers, some approaching the size of our ship.

 

After leaving Ushuaia, we spent Sunday morning circumnavigating Cape Horn at the tip of South America.

 

Our Antarctic expedition guides, Iain Miller and Dr. Neil Gilbert, have joined us and provided commentary on the history of the island, as well as the birds flying around. They will narrate our four days of scenic cruising in Antarctica. I’m afraid if you are a serious birder, you will be disappointed with my reporting. Last time I wrote about Cape Horn, I mentioned albatross sightings, and I hear some on the ship saw at least one this time.

 

There was lots of chatter on board about what we might find on our Drake Passage crossing. The captain estimated the swells at four to five meters (up to about 15 feet), and I definitely needed a hand on the railing when walking aft to dinner. We all joked about our “drunken reeling” when we hadn’t had a drink – yet.

 

Meanwhile, in preparation for our arrival in Antarctica, we had a briefing about protecting the environment – take extra precautions to ensure nothing blows or falls overboard, and do not touch any birds that might land on the ship. Capt. Smit showed a map of his Plan A for Tuesday, the first of four scheduled days. He, the ice pilot aboard and other officers will adjust the plan using weather data, satellite images of ice and reports from other ships in the area. He won’t be surprised if he gets to Plan L or M before we leave.

 

As always, I slept like a baby as the ship rocked away, and when I awoke Monday morning our motion had subsided substantially. It turns out while we slept, the captain sped up, crossing Drake Passage overnight to escape worsening weather. By noon we arrived at the northern islands of Antarctica and ducked behind them for protection.

 

Brilliant, I say! And we get another half day in Antarctica to boot.

 

After sailing through the field of huge icebergs, we spent yesterday afternoon circling Deception Island, a volcanic caldera offering a sheltered harbor – too small an entrance for us to enter.

 

By bedtime the sun hadn’t set, but I had a beautiful sunset out my window.

 

This morning, frost covered parts of the Crow’s Nest windows and the temperature had dropped into the 20sF.

 

By layering my fleece jacket with my puffer coat, I was able to keep reasonably warm for the brief periods I ventured out on the bow of deck 6 – a great viewing location for looking forward. I was glad I brought my fingerless gloves with mitten coverings, as today’s iPhones require all kinds of finger swipes.

 

We came across our first penguins, clustered on an iceberg but too far away to see in any detail even with my 60x zoom camera.

 

Keeping up Holland America’s tradition, waiters served Dutch Pea Soup on the decks and in the viewing areas throughout the ship.

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We ventured into the Neumayer passage, and some of the best views there were from my balcony. I kept the cabin TV on the bow camera channel, with commentary from our guides, so I knew when to move to another part of the ship.

 

[If you want more detailed information about the channels, bays and other areas we are exploring, I suggest you read Jeff Farschman’s blog. With more than 3,000 nights on Holland America ships, Jeff has been everywhere many times. He includes fascinating background and dozens of amazing pictures.]

 

By afternoon, the cloud cover had dropped and there wasn’t much to see. Many passengers escaped to the theater to watch March of the Penguins. Having seen it, I watched Glass Onion, downloaded from Netflix. I have found the movie selection on the ship to be disappointing – none of the more recent films that played on the Zuiderdam earlier this year. I have not even heard of most of these.

 

I could tell by leaving the bow camera view on my TV that there wasn’t much to see as the cloud cover fell. A sole person was visible on the deck 6 viewing platform.

 

Our guides announced this evening that the best viewing tomorrow will be early morning, with commentary starting at 7 a.m. I’ve looked ahead on the weather apps and know that by noon the low clouds will return, with snow and freezing rain in the forecast almost continually for the next couple of days. I’m setting my alarm – not quite as early as sunrise just after 3 a.m., but early enough.

 

By bedtime tonight, no sunset — but it would be on the other side of the ship. The balcony railing was covered in freezing sleet and snow.

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@WriterOnDeck I love your writing style and appreciate your posts on CC in addition to your more detailed blog.  How very generous of you to provide the link to Jeff’s blog.  I wouldn’t have found it otherwise and am gathering all the information I can find prior to my cruise on the Oosterdam in February.

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[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]
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Early Risers Get Best Views on Antarctic Day Two

Day 33, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023; Antarctica

 

I am not a fan of winter. I don’t like to be cold. Hence a cruise to the Southern Hemisphere made sense just as cooler temperatures arrive in North America. But I didn’t really think through the reality that we would arrive in Antarctica not during that continent’s summer, but during its early spring.

 

Today was just plain cold. The outdoor temperatures were below freezing, and even though we were in the protection of islands, the wind chill was much lower when I ventured outside for photographs. Even my preferred indoor viewing location of the Crow’s Nest was cold, as the automatic door to the outer deck was open much of the time as passengers slipped out for photos. The wonderful crew not only supplied us with hot coffee, but also lap blankets.

 

Capt. Smit suggested yesterday that we rise early to take advantage of a morning break in the cloud cover and precipitation. From the moment I opened my curtains at 6 a.m., I was stunned by the view (and the 19-degree F temperature).

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We started the morning sailing the Errera Channel between Cuverville Island and the Antarctica mainland. This island is a major breeding ground for Gentoo penguins, and as it is early in the spring, they are just returning. The clue to their location is the brown snow.

 

As we sailed in, a large group of Gentoos swam alongside us as they migrated to the island to breed.

 

Inside the channel, the Ocean Endeavour peeked out from behind an iceberg.

 

It is one of a half-dozen expedition ships in this area of the Antarctic Peninsula, according to my Cruise Mapper app. We watched as the ship was just launching its Zodiak boats to take passengers either ashore or exploring.

 

Watching the process just reinforced my decision to take a four-day “drive-by” cruise in Antarctica rather than an expedition. I am seeing plenty of stunning scenery, without donning waterproof pants, jacket and special boots and climbing into a Zodiak for ride through the waves and spray to a shore maybe reeking of penguin poop.

 

OK, I am painting a biased picture. I have friends who have loved their expedition cruises. They may question the validity of my Antarctic experience, much as our family did when we camped and backpacked in the Rocky Mountains rather than day visited from Estes Park or other towns.

 

I know myself, and I’m happy viewing from the comfort of the ship – even when the inside temperatures seem chilly.

 

As ice blocked the entrance to Paradise Bay, we approached from the south. Expedition ships are reinforced for ice, but we are not. This bay offers some of the most stunning views of the area.

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When we see a Chilean station, I kept trying to connect it in my memory with one we saw in 2020, but it doesn’t seem the same. Zooming in, I could see a huge number of penguins making their home – a clue it may be the same station. With so much more snow and ice, things look different now than in late January.

 

By late morning the weather had settled in, with low clouds and snow predicted for at least the rest of the day. I retreated inside as our scenic cruising commentary ended.

 

The cold didn’t stop crew members – many from Indonesia and the Philippines – from enjoying the snow. Even those who have crewed during the Alaskan summers hadn’t experienced falling snow like this.

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A few birds joined us, enjoying the railing and the aft pool.

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All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]

Antarctica in Springtime: An Entirely Different Experience

Day 35, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Friday, Nov. 10, 2023; Antarctica

 

Every tourist destination has its high and low seasons, and Antarctica is no exception. Throw in the changing weather that occurs in any season, and you never know what you will get.

 

During four and a half days here, we had some breaks in the low-lying clouds that gave us stunning views of the snowy mountains and gleaming icebergs, as I reported in my previous two blog posts. But by and large, the clouds were low with little visibility, and our exploration was limited by heavy early season sea ice.

 

Having been here once before in late January, I appreciate the opportunity to see the tip of this continent in two seasons. Early November is the best time to see large icebergs – and I’ve seen many, many more of them than on my previous trip. The snow is heavier on the land, as well.

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I also am coming away with a much better appreciation of the foreboding seas and land that drew intrepid early explorers.

 

Today’s sail around Elephant Island provided just such an experience. This is the island where in 1916 Sir Ernest Shackleton left 22 crew members from the HMS Endurance and sailed off over 800 nautical miles to South Georgia Island seeking rescue. If you are not familiar with their story, a quick internet search will provide numerous books and movies about the amazing adventure. (Spoiler alert: They all survive.)

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We could barely see Elephant Island through the clouds and mist for much of our passage, but expedition guides Iain Miller and Dr. Neil Gilbert kept us engaged with the story of the Endurance, doling out chapters every 20 minutes or so. When we could see more details, we were amazed that anyone could find a place to land on the rugged coast.

 

Fortunately, the cloud cover lifted enough that we could see Point Wild on the northeast coast, where Shackleton returned to rescue the crew.

 

By using my 60x zoom camera, and then magnifying that picture, I could make out the memorial placed on the spot, surrounded by a few penguins. Flocks of birds circled overhead.

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With nothing left to see, we then turned north toward the Falkland Islands, where we will arrive on Sunday and – fingers crossed – find conditions will allow us to tender ashore. In 2020, we had no such luck.

 

Yesterday we hoped to find good and protected cruising in Admiralty Bay on King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands. The approach was promising — the sun peeked out as we approached a large iceberg.

 

Instead, we found the worst winds of the cruise so far.

 

I had cautiously ventured out on the bow of deck 6 but only took a few steps before turning back. The wind felt strong enough to blow me overboard, and I was still in the shelter of the bulkhead.

As I left, I heard the staff captain ordering everyone inside. The winds were in excess of 70 knots (80 mph) and probably gusting higher. Instead of providing shelter from the winds, the bowl of the bay was accelerating them. We turned around and headed out before we could see much more than the Polish base station (one of three on the island) and Point Thomas Lighthouse. It is the most southern lighthouse in the world.

 

I spent the afternoon sheltered from the wind by the Lido pool, painting in my sketchbook while passengers participated in the “polar plunge” It was moved in from the outside Sea View Pool, which birds had taken over. That pool will need a good cleaning before passengers can swim there again.

 

My biggest disappointment of this trip, if I can call it that, is the dearth of wildlife sightings. We’ve only seen penguins from a distance, with the exception of those swimming along with us. I saw one whale surface and take a dive – showing its flake on the way down, but the only evidence of whales in my photographs is their faint spray.

 

I haven’t seen a single seal, although a few others have (see blog posts by Tim Bowman and Jeff Farschman). Not only is January a better season to see wildlife, but with less ice blocking the inlets and channels, large ships can get closer.

 

The biggest thrill has been the number of large icebergs, particularly huge tabular bergs that approach the size of our ship. These have table-like tops and sheer sides, having broken off in huge pieces from ice shelves. I find it mind boggling to realize that 80 percent of each one is below water.

 

We encountered hundreds of smaller bergs on their way to becoming bergy bits and growlers – descriptions of icebergs of diminishing sizes. Some are white, some have dirty streaks, and a few are brilliant blue.

 

They have myriad shapes, as they melt from below and overturn or break apart. Our captain and the ice pilot who joined us did a masterful job of navigating through the ice fields.

 

And now, we head out of the Southern Ocean and into the Atlantic, our third ocean of this voyage.

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I have really enjoyed reading along, especially your photos of Antarctica.   During our January GSA on the Volendam the seas were such that we couldn't visit Elephant Island but we were able to sail close to Deception Island instead.  You were fortunate to have sun to enjoy so much more.  Our crew would have gone crazy to see all the snow you had.  

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[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]

Once Again Weather Prevents Visit to Falkland Island Penguins

Day 39, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023; At Sea, Atlantic Ocean

 

Never pick a cruise just because of a single port, and you won’t be disappointed when the unexpected happens. Ports do get canceled, usually due to weather but also political unrest.

 

I can’t say that missing the Falkland Islands on Sunday was unexpected. Capt. Smit warned us Saturday that the weather conditions weren’t looking good. My unofficial survey of well-traveled passengers indicates that the Falklands are missed about two-out-of-three cruises. That means, having missed this port twice now, I am due next time.

 

Penguins are the big attraction on the Falklands, and the best place to see them is Volunteer Point, a two-and-a-half-hour drive over mostly gravel roads and finally cross rough terrain in 4×4 vehicles. But when you arrive, you are greeted by the largest colony of King Penguins in the world. Apparently, they are unafraid of people so tourists can almost walk amongst them, as well as the Gentoo and Magellan penguins also nesting there.

 

The penguins, Volunteer Point and the Falklands will go back on my list. At least one passenger immediately booked the once-weekly flight to the Falklands from Rio de Janeiro next week. Another couple booked a South America cruise for early 2024. A repeat for me doesn’t look likely for the next two years – I’ll follow my rule of not picking a cruise for just a single port.

 

On the off-chance we would go ashore, I was up early on Sunday, dressed warmly and packed for the full-day excursion. It became obvious that we weren’t stopping when I tracked our progress on my phone and noted we sailed right past the harbor.

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I bet the ship’s officers liked it much better when every passenger didn’t have access to such technology. After we left Antarctica, we each received a map of our track – which didn’t reflect our back-and-forth cruising night after night in the same channel. My tracker app showed every lap.

 

As we left the Falklands for another day at sea, the captain deviated from our planned course to Montevideo, Uruguay, to miss the worst of the swells and winds. By the time we arrive tomorrow, we will have been at sea for 10 straight days. There has been plenty to do, and after the announcement early Sunday that we would miss the Falklands, we had a new daily program full of activities.

 

The most popular activity seemed to be ordering free drinks at bars around the ship from 1 to 2 p.m., a “consolation” gift for missing the Falklands. I couldn’t decide between a sea breeze and a chocolate martini, so treated myself to one of each. Which ruined any intention to paint in the afternoon.

 

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Last night was our second formal night of three – a feature only on grand cruises — and the Masquerade Ball followed dinner. Masks ranged from hand made in a crafts class aboard to fancier versions brought from home. The thin metal “half-mask” I ordered from Amazon fell in the middle. It traveled flat and bent to the shape of my face, so it’s a keeper.

 

I partied from the bar in the Crow’s Nest, enjoying the Ocean Band’s music. It reminded me of days gone by, when this venue was lively every night to the music of the Station Band. Things do change, and often for the better. But I hope the suits at Holland America hear about the exceptional evening and consider bringing back more of them.

 

Back in the cabin, I discovered a gift of what looked like a very small bag with wheels – until I unzipped it and discovered a rolling duffle bag. It also is a keeper!

 

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The crew was busy overnight and this morning a menagerie of animals greeted us at the Lido Pool.

As I left for dinner tonight, I caught what I hope will be the first of many sunsets off my balcony. For the sail south in the Pacific Ocean, I caught the sunrises. Now we are in the Atlantic Ocean and heading north, so my balcony faces west.

 

The temperatures are quickly rising, from the 20s a few days ago in Antarctica to a forecast 72 tomorrow in Montevideo. I’ve already packed my coat, jacket, wool hat and gloves away. I suppose they’ll next come out in February when we are in Japan.

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2 hours ago, WriterOnDeck said:
 

I can’t say that missing the Falkland Islands on Sunday was unexpected. Capt. Smit warned us Saturday that the weather conditions weren’t looking good. My unofficial survey of well-traveled passengers indicates that the Falklands are missed about two-out-of-three cruises. That means, having missed this port twice now, I am due next time.

 

 

 

 

That's what I thought on the 2020 WC but missed it for my 3rd time then (first try in 2008 and 2nd in 2013) so still haven't made it there. Hopefully someday I'll figure out another way to get there from land/air 🙂

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4 hours ago, WriterOnDeck said:
[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]

Once Again Weather Prevents Visit to Falkland Island Penguins

Day 39, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023; At Sea, Atlantic Ocean

 

Never pick a cruise just because of a single port, and you won’t be disappointed when the unexpected happens. Ports do get canceled, usually due to weather but also political unrest.

 

I can’t say that missing the Falkland Islands on Sunday was unexpected. Capt. Smit warned us Saturday that the weather conditions weren’t looking good. My unofficial survey of well-traveled passengers indicates that the Falklands are missed about two-out-of-three cruises. That means, having missed this port twice now, I am due next time.

 

Penguins are the big attraction on the Falklands, and the best place to see them is Volunteer Point, a two-and-a-half-hour drive over mostly gravel roads and finally cross rough terrain in 4×4 vehicles. But when you arrive, you are greeted by the largest colony of King Penguins in the world. Apparently, they are unafraid of people so tourists can almost walk amongst them, as well as the Gentoo and Magellan penguins also nesting there.

 

The penguins, Volunteer Point and the Falklands will go back on my list. At least one passenger immediately booked the once-weekly flight to the Falklands from Rio de Janeiro next week. Another couple booked a South America cruise for early 2024. A repeat for me doesn’t look likely for the next two years – I’ll follow my rule of not picking a cruise for just a single port.

 

On the off-chance we would go ashore, I was up early on Sunday, dressed warmly and packed for the full-day excursion. It became obvious that we weren’t stopping when I tracked our progress on my phone and noted we sailed right past the harbor.

fullsizerender11-compressed-1-5.jpg?resi

 

I bet the ship’s officers liked it much better when every passenger didn’t have access to such technology. After we left Antarctica, we each received a map of our track – which didn’t reflect our back-and-forth cruising night after night in the same channel. My tracker app showed every lap.

 

As we left the Falklands for another day at sea, the captain deviated from our planned course to Montevideo, Uruguay, to miss the worst of the swells and winds. By the time we arrive tomorrow, we will have been at sea for 10 straight days. There has been plenty to do, and after the announcement early Sunday that we would miss the Falklands, we had a new daily program full of activities.

 

The most popular activity seemed to be ordering free drinks at bars around the ship from 1 to 2 p.m., a “consolation” gift for missing the Falklands. I couldn’t decide between a sea breeze and a chocolate martini, so treated myself to one of each. Which ruined any intention to paint in the afternoon.

 

fullsizerender9-compressed-2-6.jpg?ssl=1

 

Last night was our second formal night of three – a feature only on grand cruises — and the Masquerade Ball followed dinner. Masks ranged from hand made in a crafts class aboard to fancier versions brought from home. The thin metal “half-mask” I ordered from Amazon fell in the middle. It traveled flat and bent to the shape of my face, so it’s a keeper.

 

I partied from the bar in the Crow’s Nest, enjoying the Ocean Band’s music. It reminded me of days gone by, when this venue was lively every night to the music of the Station Band. Things do change, and often for the better. But I hope the suits at Holland America hear about the exceptional evening and consider bringing back more of them.

 

Back in the cabin, I discovered a gift of what looked like a very small bag with wheels – until I unzipped it and discovered a rolling duffle bag. It also is a keeper!

 

fullsizerender5-compressed-1-1-6-1024x76

The crew was busy overnight and this morning a menagerie of animals greeted us at the Lido Pool.

As I left for dinner tonight, I caught what I hope will be the first of many sunsets off my balcony. For the sail south in the Pacific Ocean, I caught the sunrises. Now we are in the Atlantic Ocean and heading north, so my balcony faces west.

 

The temperatures are quickly rising, from the 20s a few days ago in Antarctica to a forecast 72 tomorrow in Montevideo. I’ve already packed my coat, jacket, wool hat and gloves away. I suppose they’ll next come out in February when we are in Japan.

Thank you for sharing your Grand SA with us.  Another guest onboard has raved about the new stage shows.  Have you seen them?  I really have enjoyed the step one shows, but it is time for some new ones.

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20 hours ago, St Pete Cruiser said:

Thank you for sharing your Grand SA with us.  Another guest onboard has raved about the new stage shows.  Have you seen them?  I really have enjoyed the step one shows, but it is time for some new ones.

I must admit I haven't attended many. I saw a few on the world cruise, but don't know if they are new this cruise.

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[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]

Uruguay – Delightful Experience of Wine, Food and Dance

Day 40; 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023; Montevideo, Uruguay

 

After 10 days at sea, everyone was glad to arrive in a port – and a warm one at that. Just a few days ago we were shivering in sub 20-degree temperatures with stiff winds. This morning in Montevideo, Uruguay, the temperature was near 60 degrees and quickly reached the low 70s.

 

Having explored town on foot with my sister (on her birthday) in early 2020, I decided to see more of the country today and joined a ship’s excursion to the Juanicó Winery. I had the good fortune to sit with a budding sommelier on the bus and at the winery. Robie works in the beverage department and knows a lot about wine, so he was a great companion. The winery staff was eager to delve into the details with him.

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The Juanicó Winery traces its roots back to 1740 and for more than 100 years was owned and operated by the same family. We toured the vineyards, hearing about the various grapes that grow in this soil. Harvest won’t start until January, so the grapes really haven’t even formed yet.

Scattered throughout the vineyards are the clay nests of the Hornero, built by the male in hopes of attracting the female. I saw similar nests in Kruger National Park in South Africa in March – were I a birder, I could tell you whether they are the same or not.

 

The winery complex has several historic buildings, as well as a more modern venue where we sampled four of the wines. My favorite was the Albariño – a light white wine. Then we had a huge meal. Uruguay, like its neighbors Argentina and Brazil, is known for cattle, so steak was the centerpiece, along with sausage and chicken. Salad and roasted potato (white and sweet) filled out our plates. A pavlova served as dessert, accompanied by a port wine.

For the finale, we enjoyed a performance of malambo, a folkloric dance developed by gauchos (Argentine cowboys).

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During our free time to explore the estate, I started a sketch of one of the pavilions, but will need to finish it later.

 

Before heading to the winery 30 minutes north of town, we toured the city, with its mix of colonial and modern architecture.

 

Everywhere I saw the popularity of maté, a traditional South American caffeine-rich drink. In a lecture a few days ago on the ship, we learned how the drink is made and consumed all the day. Dried yerba maté leaves are soaked in hot water in a “maté,” also the name for the container traditionally made from a gourd. Locals carry a thermos of hot water to keep replenishing their maté, which they drink with a special metal straw. I saw them everywhere – in the park, on the bus and at the winery.

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Upon returning to the ship, I indulged in a massage and facial port-day special. My neck has been stiff the last few days and I’m hoping this will help. It sure felt good at the time. I was way too full for dinner in the dining room, so enjoyed a caprese salad and fresh papaya in the Lido. The papaya was popular – when I went back for more it was gone.

 

The night ended with the sight of suitcases in the hallway, including a few of the new rolling duffle bags.

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I get a little thrill when I see them and know mine aren’t among them, as I am not yet leaving. About 250 passengers who booked just the first segment will disembark tomorrow in Buenos Aires. I will miss some of the new friends I have made. About 125 new passengers will join us for the last 33 days of this cruise.

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[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]

Buenos Aires: A Vibrant City Built on a Grand Scale

Day 42, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Friday, Nov. 17, 2023; Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

Were I to describe Buenos Aires in one word, it would be “Grand.” Sure, other words apply – lively, colorful, bustling, eclectic, exciting, vibrant. But this is a city of grand boulevards, grand statues, grand monuments and grand buildings.

 

I broke one of my customary guidelines of booking tours no longer than five hours and spent yesterday on an eight-hour Best of Buenos Aires ship excursion. Perhaps I am getting into the rhythm but it didn’t seem too long to me. We drove (slowly – traffic is horrible) through many districts, from Retiro and San Nicolás in the center to La Boca in south Buenos Aires and then Palermo and Recoleta in the north.

 

Much of our sightseeing was through the bus window, but we stopped for photos at Plaza de Mayo (the balcony Eva Perón made famous) and the obelisk in the center of Avenida 9 de Julio.

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In La Boca, near the original port, we had 45 minutes to walk the block or two of Caminito, a colorful – and now touristy — immigrant neighborhood. Nearby is the home stadium of the Boca Juniors, one of the most popular fútbol teams in Argentina – and one of 18 professional teams in the city.

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We stopped for lunch in the nearby Puerto Madero, the site of the original port and now home to renovated brick warehouses and shiny new skyscrapers.

 

When I say lunch – I mean multiple courses, including a 10-ounce steak and plentiful wine. I dare say some of the group dozed as we drove north to admire the mansions in Palermo and sights such as the Floralis Genérica sculpture.

 

Our final stop was the famous Recoleta Cemetary, where all the graves are above ground, laid out in blocks connected by tree-lined walkways. Each mausoleum seems built to outdo the next. Of course, the most visited is that of Eva Perón, buried in the Duarte family vault. One of the most unusual is that of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, killed at age 26 by an avalanche in Innsbruck, Austria, and memorialized with her dog.

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Again, I skipped dinner last night, settling for a small bowl of chicken noodle (really spaghetti) soup in the Lido. Many passengers left the ship for tango shows, but I knew that on the overnight stop local entertainers would perform on board. It was a lively modern show.

 

Just in case I wasn’t eating enough, I set off this morning on a food tour. We first spent an hour or so inching our way through traffic to see many of the central sights of yesterday, this time with no stops for photographs.

 

In the tree-lined streets of Palermo we left the bus to first have empanadas in one restaurant, and then walk a block or two to another for a huge lunch – this time with two different steaks and all the accoutrements. Finally, gelato to end the meal. And another evening with a light bite in the Lido.

 

As we left, Buenos Aires, Capt. Smit announced that unfortunately we will miss tomorrow’s scheduled port of Punta del Este, Uruguay. The port, which doesn’t have a cruise ship pier, will be closed to tender boats due to high winds. Instead we will have a sea day, but Holland America scrambled this afternoon to add a new port – Santos, Brazil – for Monday. It’s close to São Paulo, but not close enough for a day trip. We’ll see what last-minute tour and sightseeing options are available.

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Substitute Port Offers Beaches, Christmas Spirit but Little Shopping

Day 45, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Monday, Nov. 20, 2023; Santos, Brazil

 

If you set the bar for expectations fairly low, you are likely to exceed it. I would say that describes my day in Santos, Brazil.

 

As I wrote at the end of my last post, Holland America added a day in Santos, Brazil, today to make up for missing last Saturday’s planned port call to Punta del Este, Uruguay (weather). The only last-minute tour excursion quickly sold out. Cruise and Travel Director Jeremy warned us that today is a holiday, meaning virtually everything would be closed except the vast beaches and nearby restaurants. The ship provided a shuttle to a modern mall, where the stores wouldn’t open until 3 p.m. – 30 minutes before the last shuttle back to the strip.

 

I debated whether to even bother going ashore, as the forecast this morning called for likely rain through the afternoon. It was too bad that São Paulo is too far away – I would have loved the Ayrton Senna-themed tour of this famous Formula 1 driver’s hometown and the Interlagos track that hosts the Brazilian Grand Prix every year. Maybe next time when I can plan ahead.

 

Regardless, on the shuttle I went, and today exceeded my expectations. The mall was fairly busy with foot traffic – even beyond the cruise passengers wandering through. I sipped my first Starbucks latte of the cruise as I watched families take photos at the large Christmas tree and associated decorations in the mall center. They are the first signs of Christmas I have seen this season. (The exception being in the Lido buffet area, where since the beginning of the cruise a timer occasionally rings out with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” No explanation provided.)

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I wandered through the attached Carrefour supermarket, where you could buy everything from groceries to tires, except Pringles. I always look for the spiciest ones for my cabin stewards, and generally find them. Today I struck out.

 

Next I walked about three blocks to the beach.

 

This is what Santos is known for – a huge stretch of beach lined with tall apartment and condo buildings as far as you can see. In between is the longest beach garden in the world – 3.3 miles long. In addition to the palm trees, flowers and expanses of grass, bike and separate walking lanes wove their ways through the garden.

 

The dark and white stone walkways reminded me of my recent trip to the Azores, and to Lisbon and Madeira. Of course! They are all Portuguese.

 

Despite the overcast skies, many people were spending the day here. I had brought my Solis hotspot with me, and with a great signal had a good phone chat via WIFI with my sister. Often on the ship it is uncomfortably laggy.

 

The rain held off until I made it back to the ship, and we left to cruise down the long river. Parallel piers line the river, and it is easy to see that this is one of the biggest ports in the country. What looked like nearly abandoned shanties (but note the white cat) lined the other side of the river, but soon high-rise buildings filled the view.

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Meanwhile, members of the Oi Brazil cultural team offered samba classes in the Ocean Bar. On sea days, Richard Watson (a transplanted Brit) is lecturing on the history, geography and natural life of Brazil and especially the Amazon River and forest. Joao Bosco de Oliveira offers talks on Carnival and the music of Brazil. This group provided the Latin talent for and recorded the soundtrack of the latest James Bond film, “No Time to Die.” I’m sure they will bring a high level of excitement and energy to the next two weeks of this cruise.

 

As I have written, I seldom seem to make it to the evening shows on the World Stage, but tonight I went, as I had heard that the singer was outstanding in her previous show. Camila Andrade hit all the high notes in her performance of bossa nova, jazz and blues. It´s good to see this quality of performer back on stage and live music from the Ocean Band to accompany her.

 

Last night, the stage was dark as the Lido Deck took on the spirit of a county fair. Passengers competed in classic carnival games, such as bag toss and cornhole, receiving coupons for each win. A raffle at the end awarded a few lucky passengers with gifts, but I didn´t stay long enough to learn what they were. I was impressed that a cotton candy machine made its appearance, along with popcorn, ice cream and candied apples.

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8 hours ago, scubacruiserx2 said:

 We haven't heard from you for awhile and we hope that you are OK . Thank you for writing this live thread and we wish you and everyone a Happy Thanksgiving Day .

Thanks for asking! I'm fine -- just lots of busy port days and tons of photos to go through.... We have another sea day tomorrow and I'll try to catch up. Meanwhile, turkey is on tonight's menu!

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[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]
 
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Escaping Rio’s Electric Energy for Mountains, Forest

Days 46- 47, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 21-22, 2023; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

If “grand” describes Buenos Aires, then “electric” describes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for me. I would say the city comes alive, but then, when is it not alive?

 

Our sail-in wasn’t as spectacular as some, given the low clouds that obscured the Christ the Redeemer statue in the distance. Clouds swirled around Sugarloaf Mountain as we sailed right past it into the large bay. Some passengers were caught by surprise as we arrived an hour earlier than planned.

 

On my 2020 overnight port call into Rio, we took a two-day tour that covered all the highlights – Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Escadaria Selarón (set of famous tiled steps), etc. Rather than repeat the same experience, I started by leaving the city.

 

First, a bit of history that I didn’t know. Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the Portuguese empire when the royal court (10,000 people) relocated from Lisbon in 1808. The king’s eldest son, Pedro, essentially grew up in Brazil and made it his home after his father returned to Portugal, becaming Brazil’s emperor. To escape Rio’s summer heat, he built a summer palace in the mountains north of the city, today named Petrópolis.

 

It’s not that far from Rio, but between the city’s traffic and the winding road through the mountains, it took us about 90 minutes to get there. Our itinerary included a visit to the Imperial Museum in the palace, a full Brazilian steakhouse lunch with meats served from skewers and countless side dishes, a tour of what once was a grand casino, and stops at the cathedral, Crystal Palace and a scrumptious chocolate shop.

 

I made a quick dash through the museum (not that interested in the old furniture and prohibited from taking photographs) and settled in the gardens to sketch.

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As we returned – and the scenic side of the trip was on my side of the bus – the sun began to set over the mountains.

 

A quick bowl of fresh pineapple served as dinner after my heavy lunch, and I hurried to the special show presented by our Oi Brazil team, joined by more local dancers and entertainers.

 

Today I joined a half-day Jeep tour of the Tujica National Park, a rain forest on the mountainsides right in the midst of the city. Again, it was a hot and slow drive through Rio’s crawling traffic, but we felt the temperatures quickly drop as we moved higher in the forest. It is filled with waterfalls, lush vegetation and numerous trails. Apparently, there also is wildlife, but we didn’t see any (except wooden replicas), despite the tour’s note that “wildlife sightings are likely but are not guaranteed.” Our guide said there was essentially no chance we would see any in the middle of the day.

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As we left the forest, we headed to the popular beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. Even with the screen over the open vehicles, it was hot in the midday sun and humidity. Were I to do it again, I would hire an independent guide to tour the forest, and then perhaps actually go to the beach rather than pass by at a crawl in heavy traffic.

 

The Oi Brazil musicians and dancers led our sail away on the Sea View Deck, leading the crowd in conga lines. The showgirls were happy to spend the evening posing with no shortage of older men (whose wives generally were taking the photos).

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If we think we are escaping the heat, just two weeks after shivering in Antarctica, we will probably be in for a surprise. We’re heading up the Brazilian coast toward the Amazon River and the equator. I’ve seen media reports that the river’s water level is low, and many passengers are wondering whether we will be able to spend a week on the river, sailing up to Manaus. I guess we will have to wait and see.

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24 minutes ago, WriterOnDeck said:

We’re heading up the Brazilian coast toward the Amazon River and the equator. I’ve seen media reports that the river’s water level is low, and many passengers are wondering whether we will be able to spend a week on the river, sailing up to Manaus. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Please keep us posted on any information you get about the Amazon river cruise. We are scheduled to sail there for Christmas on Regent Mariner and you are an eagerly watched test for us. The Azamara Quest has just made it to Manaus, but Viking have cancelled two Amazon sailings, substituting extra stops in the Caribbean. The Zaandam is a bigger ship than the Quest or the Mariner. So if you make we should too.

 

Love your postings. Thanks for doing it.

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Búzios: Boardwalk, Beaches, Boats and Brigitte Bardot

Day 48, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023; Armação dos Búzios, Brazil

 

Some describe Armação dos Búzios as a bit of St. Tropez on the Brazilian coast near Rio de Janeiro, with its cobblestone streets and beach-side restaurants and bars. To me it seems more like the Caribbean.

 

Perhaps it is the heat and humidity, the turquoise water and the many beaches. In fact, 10 of Trip Advisor’s top 15 things to do in Búzios are beaches.

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Regardless, it was a fun break after the hustle and bustle of Rio, and I didn’t even make it to a beach.

 

In 1964 Brigitte Bardot escaped to Búzios with her Brazilian boyfriend, and celebrities from Mick Jagger to Madonna have followed. Her name is on everything, from the Orla Bardot Boardwalk to an upscale beach restaurant.

 

Most famous is her life-size bronze statue tucked away on the narrow boardwalk (mostly stone, not wood).

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Tourists line up to sit on her knee for photographs.

 

Further along the walk is a statue of former Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek and – of more interest to me — the Escultura Os Três Pescadores.

 

These three fishermen are planted in the shallow water, hauling in nets filled with their catch. Like the Bardot sculpture, they were created by Brazilian artist Christina Motta and have been named “one of the 26 most beautiful sculptures in the world.”

 

Of course, I had to stop and sketch it.

 

This was a short port call, ending in the early afternoon, with only a couple of tours available. Most passengers tendered in to the center of the village and walked the boardwalk and streets, where the main mode of transportation was a cross between a jeep and a golf cart. And then they retreated to the air conditioning of the ship. How soon we forget about being cold in Antarctica a couple of weeks ago.

Today also is Thanksgiving – for the Americans on the ship. Canadians celebrated last month. Our family tradition was to repeat our Thanksgiving menu at Christmas. In the late 1990s, Mom figured out that by cruising at Thanksgiving, she could avoid fixing one of those multi-dish dinner extravaganzas. So a new tradition was born, and I’ve spent many a Thanksgiving at sea, but seldom ordering the traditional turkey dinner.

 

Tonight I opted for the turkey, which I do love. The ship’s stuffing (or dressing as we always called it), wasn’t so great, as I’m used to one based on cornbread. I might have been tempted by pecan pie for dessert, but tonight’s pie included chocolate. Of course, I love chocolate. But it wasn’t traditional enough for me, so I settled for my decaf coffee instead.

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I’ve learned that some dishes are disappointments – not that they aren’t delicious, but they aren’t the version that reminds me of home. Mom’s meatloaf and Dad’s grilled hamburgers are two prime examples. As are cornbread dressing and pecan pie. I’ll just have to wait until I cook with my sisters to indulge in those memories.

 

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Salvador Offers Taste of Africa with Brazilian Twist

Day 50, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023; Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

 

Salvador, the fourth largest city in Brazil, welcomed me with a fun tour of the lower city that included a sacred church, beaches (of course!), art and markets selling food and handcrafts.

 

Unfortunately, the welcome for a few of our fellow cruisers involved muggings and theft. I know first-hand of a handful of cases and through social media posts and onboard chitchat of others. Most common, it seems, were smartphone thefts – grab and runs while the owners were taking pictures. Another couple lost their necklaces – nothing fancy, just stainless steel MedAlert chains – right in front of the cruise ship terminal. I haven’t heard of any serious physical injuries.

 

Before several ports we received written warnings about opportunistic crime. Of course, it can happen anywhere in the world (I think Barcelona is one of the most notorious). Nowadays, when our cellphones also are our cameras and thus used frequently while on tour, a loss may mean a security risk and an interruption in communications.

 

I had planned to wait until next summer to upgrade my iPhone, but I might buy a new one while between cruises in Florida next month, thus having a backup. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I’ve always felt that being over prepared helps to ward off problems.

 

Back to Salvador. It was the first capital of Brazil and has a lovely collection of colorful colonial buildings. The town is divided into two parts – the Upper City with all those buildings and the Lower City by the water. The Lacerda Elevator near the cruise terminal connects the two and costs just 15 centavos (3 cents in U.S. currency).

 

My half-day tour with Do Brazil Right was of the Lower City, so I missed the more stately colonial area of Pelourinho.

 

I wasn’t disappointed, as today Salvador’s upper city also was the site of a huge African parade and celebration, including Afropunk, a major black music festival. The city has more black residents than any other Brazilian city, a lasting result of the slave trade. Those who did go to the Upper City in the morning said streets already were closed in preparation.

 

Salvador is built on the huge Baía (Bay) de Todos os Santos, and we visited the protected beach where for years wooden ships are brought on the sand for repair.

 

We drove to the Nosso Senhor do Bonfim Church, described as the most famous church in the city and the home of a huge procession of pilgrims seeking miracles each year. While Catholicism is a major religion here, so too is Candoblé, a culmination of religions Africans brought to Brazil. I enjoyed sketching from a bench in the large plaza in front of the church. The faithful tie Bonfim ribbons to the metal fencing, in the belief that wishes will be granted when they break.

 

The most colorful stop on our tour was the Feira de São Joaquim – a market where locals go to buy almost everything, our guide said. We wandered a labyrinth of alleys, jumping out of the way of motorcycles and wheelbarrows demanding passage. It is the opposite of the clean modern markets we visited in Ecuador and Peru, but busier and just as mesmerizing.

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Not only was virtually any food available, but also coils of tobacco and the clothes, dishes and other items appropriate for the multiple Candoblé practices. It was a feast for a photographer – only one merchant waved me off when I started to take a picture of his snake.

 

The Mercado Modelo is a better market for souvenirs and thus filled with tourists. Booths offer everything from t-shirts, trinkets, wooden carvings and beaded jewelry to linens. Earrings and a necklace made their way into my bag, both meeting my criteria of only buying something I would pack for a cruise. Interestingly, we were advised by the ship that any wooden purchases would be stored in the ship’s freezers for 48 hours to ensure they weren’t hosts to stowaway bugs.

 

I did violate my buying criteria by purchasing a hand painted tile during our tour. The artist invited me into his studio, featuring work in progress and his kiln. Of course, I chose the tile with a sailboat. You never would guess from the exterior that the building is full of beautiful tiles.

We stayed in port until nearly midnight, but I doubt many passengers ventured out. We now have two sea days before arriving in Fortaleza.

 

Update on the Amazon River

At noon on Sunday, Sept. 26, the captain warned us that our week-long cruise on the Amazon River, including an overnight in Manaus, is in jeopardy, due to low water levels. We’ve been reading about the issue and wondering how the conditions might affect our cruise. We won’t know definitively for a few days, as we are not scheduled to enter the river until around Dec. 1. Missing the Amazon would be a huge disappointment, but there isn’t much we can do about it. I’ll report more when I learn anything new.

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