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


WriterOnDeck
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Thank you for the wonderful commentary of your voyage. Did you mean November 26, rather than September 26? In any event, I do hope your ship will be able to travel up the Amazon, I would love to see your photos and observations of the Amazon. Great job!

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Thanks for your wonderful review and photos of Salvador de Bahia.   We were there on the GSA on the Volendam and every problem with the theft you mentioned we had on our ship.   Of all the ports in Brazil it was the only one where we heard about widespread crime.   Cell phones grabbed and necklaces torn off.  We were in the weird sculpture garden near the terminal and two women tried to shake us down because they thought they were in photos we were taking.   I hope that you are able to go down the Amazon.   If you make it to Parintins make sure to go to the Boi Bumba show.   Between that and the kiddos in Boca da Valaria they were the highlights of a fantastic trip up the Amazon.  

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

Fortaleza Offers Markets, Cathedral and Beaches (of Course)

Day 53, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023; Fortaleza, Brazil

 

With Brazil’s population of 200-plus million people, I shouldn’t be surprised that it contains some big cities. Today’s port of Fortaleza is another one, with three million people, give or take. Its long stretch of beach, backed by a skyline of tall buildings, provided a beautiful backdrop for our visit, especially as the sun set. Too bad a couple of moored ships photobombed the view.

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A big city comes with big traffic. My four-hour tour stretched to five, and once I saw the route tracked on my Pocket Earth app, I realized that we spent a lot of time driving between stops that were only a few blocks apart.

 

Perhaps the better option would have been to take the ship’s free shuttle to the market and just walk to those sites. However, our Do Brazil Right guide did give us a good background on the country’s history and that of Fortaleza, his home town.

 

I didn’t hear of any street crime against passengers here, but I’m sure many people wore no jewelry and were very careful with their smartphones. I attached a strap I had brought mainly to make sure I didn’t drop it overboard when shooting pictures from the deck and balcony.

 

Our first stop was at the old jailhouse, now filled with vendors, which reminded me of a similar reincarnation of a prison in Recife, Brazil, in 2020. The colorful necklace I bought there draws compliments every time I wear it, but I was unsuccessful in my search for another eye-catching purchase. Most of the wares were beautiful linens and yarns – something I don’t need.

 

The nearby modern Central Mercado has five levels of booths with more variety and plenty of food buffets.

 

We admired the beautiful Theatro José de Alencar with its rows of caned seats. The Metropolitan Cathedral is huge with beautiful stained-glass windows, but not much other adornment.

 

Our final stop was the Futuro Beach, not too far from the ship. I think most of those in our small group probably would have been happy with a longer visit there instead of shopping – it is a stunning beach surrounded by lots of trees and beach cafes, a pool and play areas. If in Fortaleza again, I probably would just taxi here for a few relaxing hours.

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During his sail-away announcement, the captain gave us the good – and somewhat unexpected – news that we will journey up the Amazon River, whose water levels have risen sufficiently. Our schedule will change somewhat, as we will need to transit the shallow areas in the daylight. His announcement, and the repeat by the cruise director at tonight’s show, drew cheers and applause.

 

Meanwhile, the Christmas decorations are starting to come out, and I expect during the next three sea days the ship will be adorned for the holiday.

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Activities seem to be picking up, with a Barn Dance on the Lido Deck one evening and a third “Cake Me Away” display and dessert offering at noon one day.

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

High-Energy Festival Interrupts Serenity of Amazon River

Day 58, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023; Parintins, Brazil

 

It’s all about the Boi-Bombá in Parintins. Each summer thousands travel here for this folklore song and dance festival, older than Carnival and one of the largest festivals in Brazil. As we are not here in June, we attended an hour-long performance by dozens of locals depicting the colorful costumes and pulsing music of the festival.

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About 300 of us filed into the convention center for the noon performance. I thought an hour was just about the right length of time. Fortunately, the facility is air conditioned, but the dancers seemingly never had time to rest and cool off. Not only were they constantly performing intricate steps, but they also wore complete costumes, and some were huge.

 

In fact, it reminded me briefly of the Beach Blanket Babylon musical review in San Francisco with its huge and intricate hats. (However, if there was any satire in Boi-Bombá, it went right over my head.)

 

As advertised, you could drink all of the local Caipirinha drink you wanted during the show, although you would have to work your way to the bar for refills. It is Brazil’s national cocktail, a mix of hard liquor made from sugarcane, sugar and lime. A few sips were enough for me, as I found it quite strong and sour.

 

The main part of the town of Parintins, accessible by water but not roads, stretches for a few blocks along the river. Many riverboats are docked along the river, which obviously is very low.

 

Today local vendors sold trinkets, jerseys, jewelry and feathery headbands featuring the blue and red colors of the festival. Even many of the pedicabs were decorated in one or the other (or both) of the colors. During the June festival, Coca-Cola has been known to offer cans in blue in addition to the traditional red. Local young “scouts” became ambassadors to meet us as we came ashore.

 

I reported several days ago that our journey up the Amazon River would depend on the water levels, which are severely low. Fortunately, enough rain has fallen to raise the river just enough for the Zaandam.

 

After sailing up at a leisurely pace for a day or so, our first stop was yesterday in Santarém, about halfway to our goal of Manaus.

 

Santarém lies at the junction of the Amazon and the Tapajós rivers, offering a view of the “meeting of the waters,” where the clearer water of the Tapajós runs alongside the muddier Amazon. We’ll see this again in Manaus.

 

I didn’t go ashore in Santarém, as I’ll be back next month and have a tour booked then. It is hot and humid, and I’ve been working on a seemingly endless project to review and sort thousands of photos on my smartphone – deleting most of them and moving the keepers to my laptop.

 

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson. I’ve enjoyed the hours and days of cruising the river, at times seeing houses on stilts hidden in the jungle and at others small herds of cattle grazing on the green grass growing from what usually is under water. It’s very obvious that the river is low.

 

Occasionally locals – frequently teenagers – come out in small boats to race alongside us. Barges carrying goods along this major waterway pass by. At times we smell and see smoke from small fires hidden by the trees.

 

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

Manaus: Far From a Remote Outpost On the Amazon River

Day 60, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023; Manaus, Brazil.

 

After cruising about a thousand miles up the Amazon River, I was surprised by the city of Manaus. I expected a sleepy river town, dominated by an opera house seeming out of place. Instead, I found a city of more than 2 million people, bustling and loud.

 

The river journey here itself was broad and muddy – not twisty and jungle-shrouded. And yet, it still was an adventure.

 

After leaving Santarém two days ago, we cruised upriver for a day and half. The earlier forests along the riverbanks were replaced in places by scattered small communities. Most notably are the broad sandy beaches, a result of historic low water levels – the lowest in recorded history.

 

Our most challenging passage was early yesterday, as we sailed over a sandbar with just about four feet of clearance under our keel. A pilot boat led the way, continuously taking depth soundings and marking the channel with both real and imaginary markers. The latter electronic aids show up on the ship’s charts.

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Just earlier a cargo ship strayed out of the channel and went aground. Our captain had been concerned about our ability to pass it in the narrow area, but now it simply served as another channel marker and the subject of hundreds of photographs as we passed by at a crawl.

 

Once we anchored off the port of Manaus, barges came alongside the Zaandam to load provisions, offload bags I’m guessing of trash, and pump fresh water into our tanks. Normally we make our own water from the sea, but we can’t from the muddy river.

 

Speaking of mud, the Meeting of the Waters is very clear here at Manaus, where the River Negro joins the Amazon. (There are other “meetings of the waters” along the river and its many tributaries.) The former’s dark water flows alongside the brown Amazon for miles without mixing together.

 

Because of the low river level and the need to cross the shallowest spots during daylight, our scheduled two full days here were cut to a mid-afternoon arrival on Monday and a full day today. We actually will leave overnight so we can transit the shallows tomorrow morning.

 

I’ll be back to Manaus next month during the early part of the 2024 Grand World Voyage and booked an all-day city tour then with my sisters. So this time I decided to just explore on my own. Being lazy this morning worked in my favor, as I missed a mid-morning driving rainstorm. Some fellow passengers, especially those on river tours, reported an exciting adventure trying to stay dry while avoiding submerged rocks and other hazards.

 

The area around the tender pier reminded me of many other cities, from those in Mexico just across the Texas border to Southeast Asia and western Africa. Storefronts selling clothes and electronics front sidewalks and side streets where vendors peddle fruit, nuts (Brazil nuts of course), smartphone cases and t-shirts. I moved slowly while watching my step on the sidewalk, not wanting another fall while on a cruise.

 

The Amazonas Opera House is perhaps a half mile from the dock. This best-known landmark in Manaus was built in 1896 with materials brought from Europe, including French glass, Italian marble and tiles for the dome. Today it was closed to the public, although most city tours included a visit inside. Christmas decorations, including those for its Nutcracker performances, are going up outside.

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Back on the ship, tonight was the ubiquitous Orange Party – a celebration on every Holland America cruise based on the Dutch celebration of the king or queen’s birthday. Regular cruisers make sure to pack something orange to wear or purchase orange boas, headbands and other accessories in the ship’s shops.

 

I brought a new bright orange wig and actually wore it to dinner in the dining room before going to the party in the Crows Nest. The crowd kept my favorite bartenders Richard (pictured with me) and Walter busy. Many friends did not recognize me. I figure I will get a lot of use of the wig during future cruises.

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A couple of days ago, the theme around the Lido Pool was Glamp Out, or fancy camping. By the time I arrived after dinner, the crowd had thinned. Watching staff try to maneuver a large canoe in a small pool seemed to be the main entertainment, and it was nice to have live music by the Ocean Band.

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Jo, love the orange hair look on you!!  Ha ha.😉

 

Your cruise really has sounded fun!  I'm seriously considering going on this itinerary possibly at the end of 2025 if it's offered.  (I'm booked with other travels for 2024 and the first half of 2025)

 

~Nancy

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10 minutes ago, WriterOnDeck said:

A marine transportation publication used my photo and quoted my post on the ship that went aground. You can learn more about the incident here.

 

https://maritime-executive.com/article/low-water-on-the-amazon-strands-tanker-near-manaus

Great job of reporting and photography! I didn't know it had actually struck something hard rather than just being aground on a sand/mud bank.

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

Have I Mentioned that Brazilians Like Their Beaches?

Day 62, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023; Alter do Chao, Brazil

 

Sand, sand, sand.

 

Alter do Chao is known for its beaches, and when the Amazon River is at record low levels, the beaches multiply. Today’s port is near Santarém, where we stopped five days ago, but a world apart from that city. This is a small beach town sometimes known as the “Caribbean of the Amazon.”

 

Tendering was only part of the journey ashore. A large wooden pier loomed up high, sparking the imagination of what this area must look like when the river is up. Our tender docked at a boat, which was rafted end-on-end with another boat, which was rafted end-on-end with a floating platform, which led to a long wooden pier and eventually a hill of sandy beach. After climbing that sand hill, we reached the original pier to be met by a local dancer.

 

The only ship excursion here went back to Santarém. Most of us just fanned out through the few blocks of the town and along the boardwalk. Shoppers bargained for jewelry, straw hats, t-shirts and mounted piranhas, spending any Brazilian real they still had, as this is our final of nine ports in the country. The piranha earrings were a big draw, as this seems to be the only place along the river to buy them.

 

Beyond the boardwalk is a long stretch of sand and a bit of shallow water, with beach huts on the far sandbar. Distinctive blue boats with white benches were anchored in the shallow water.

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After walking through the town square with its small church and admiring the colorful murals, two of which marked the bathrooms by the pier, I reversed my journey back to the tender and the ship.

 

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My recent reports on our shallow passage by the grounded ship near Manaus have made the “big time!” Fellow cruiser Ralph Bunting sent me the link to an article from The Maritime Executive, which provided details about the ship’s mishap. It also used one of my photos and referenced my report. In my ignorance of ship types, I called the vessel a cargo ship when it is in fact a tanker, so I corrected the original blog post.

 

Back on board, it seems trite to say “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” but that’s exactly what has been happening since the beginning of the month. Wreaths and other decorations are showing up here and there, and garlands grace the atrium stairways.

 

But the big activity was the construction of gingerbread villages near the Ocean Bar on the Upper Promenade. First the carpenters built platforms, and then the culinary and housekeeping teams started with draping, decorations and gingerbread creations.

 

Now there are more than 50 whimsical gingerbread structures, all made and decorated by the ship’s culinary team. Most but not all are in the central display, surrounded by lit trees, giant gift boxes and lots of hanging ornaments.

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Other decorations grace the bars, lounges and restaurants – even by the Lido’s handwashing stations.

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So far there has been no official opening ceremony, but it could still happen, as we are on board until Dec. 19. On previous pre-Christmas Grand Asia cruises, we had a tree unveiling with caroling and a visit from Santa Claus. After 30 years of cruising, this will be my first actually on board for Christmas, as I’ll jump to the Zuiderdam to join my family on Dec. 22.

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9 hours ago, WriterOnDeck said:

A marine transportation publication used my photo and quoted my post on the ship that went aground. You can learn more about the incident here.

 

https://maritime-executive.com/article/low-water-on-the-amazon-strands-tanker-near-manaus

 

That's pretty cool!  So, you're a reporter again!! 

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Just wanted to say thank you for posting your adventures on the Grand South America, it has been such fun to follow along. Boarding on next week for the holiday cruise and it's nice to see all the wonderful places that the ship has been these last two months and all the great stories and photos along the way.

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

Traipsing in Heat Through Former French Penal Colony

Day 65, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023; Devil’s Island, French Guiana

 

We are at Devils Island today, and appropriately, it’s hot as hell.

 

I didn’t check the temperature, but on land it felt like the hottest day so far. It’s hard to remember that just a month ago today we were leaving Antarctica. I hear through the grapevine that the ship’s medical team treated some passengers suffering from the heat on the island.

 

We passed the equator into the Northern Hemisphere as we left the Amazon River on Friday and enjoyed two sea days before anchoring here this morning. Technically we don’t go to Devil’s Island (Île du Diable), as it is closed to the public, but rather tender to a pier on Royale Island (Île Royale). Charter boats from the French Guiana mainland and independent sailors also visit here and the third island in the group, St. Joseph Island (Île Saint-Joseph).

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I remember it being hot in 2020 when I was last at Devil’s Island. Today I planned to explore more of the island than I did four years ago, but after 20 minutes in the heat I followed a similar short walk of perhaps a half mile or so.

 

I didn’t climb the steep paths or stairs to the buildings higher on the island. Most are closed and dilapidated administration and cell buildings from the penal colony days. A few have been rehabilitated and offer a small store, restaurant and even overnight accommodations. The islands have been made famous by a number of movies, including two versions of Papillon, the most recent of which was aired on board before our visit.

 

Perhaps when I am here again in a month (while on the world cruise), I will get off the ship earlier and explore farther. Although I don’t think it is much cooler at 7 a.m. than at 9 a.m. this close to the equator.

During my walk I saw a few passengers and island visitors swimming in an area mostly surrounded by huge rocks. Signs along the coast walk warn of slippery rocks and swift currents. I didn’t see any of the monkeys I remember sketching four years ago, but others reported sightings. I did a rough sketch of the nearby Devil’s Island, even though I think I sketched the same view previously.

 

Things are getting busier on board as we count down to our Dec. 19 disembarkation. Thursday night was our final dressy night, with just one formal night remaining. Laundry resumed after being halted while we were on the Amazon where the ship could not produce fresh water. The laundry service on the Zaandam is the fastest at sea, I believe. I sent my bag out in the morning and it was back by midafternoon, some clothes still warm from the dryer.

Late this afternoon crew members were transforming the Crows Nest into a fairy tale wonderland, with giant mushrooms and signposts pointing to Neverland, the bean stalk, Oz and the rabbit hole. We were urged to come in our pajamas for a night of fairy tales.

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I had intended to go, but at 9:30 I was watching the sad ending of the Kansas City Chiefs-Buffalo Bills game. Every Chiefs fan, I’m sure, thought that last penalty that denied my Chiefs the winning touchdown was highly questionable. Sigh.

 

The Oi Brazil cultural team is still on board, leading dancing and music classes. Guest speaker Andy Fletcher, a regular on long Holland America cruises, is speaking about science and physics, but I’ve heard these same lectures before.

 

Instead of spending my sea-day afternoons water coloring as typical, I’ve been sorting through thousands of photos that have filled my iPhone. It got totally out of control this year, as I just kept taking more but not deleting. I only want to keep perhaps a dozen photos from each port, so it’s delete, delete, delete. I’ve cut about 10,000 I took over the last three years, and still have about 7,000 to go.

 

Yesterday morning the captain presented dozens of passengers with new medallions, recognizing 100, 300, 500 or 700 days cruising with Holland America, followed by the traditional Mariners Luncheon. Tomorrow will be another ceremony and luncheon for the other half of the awardees. Among the first group was my long-time friend Ralph and new friends Bryon and Francie.

 

After a sea day tomorrow, we have five consecutive Caribbean ports before two final sea days. The time seems short, but I remind myself that I still have more days left than most people have on their entire cruise. It’s a good reminder for an obsessive planner to live in the moment. To concentrate on finishing those three bottles I have left in my wine package. And to enjoy the sunsets.

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

Relaxing Barbados Tour Followed By Frustrating Visa Process

Day 68, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023; Bridgetown, Barbados

 

Suddenly, the atmosphere has shifted on the MS Zaandam. We know our days on this cruise will be coming to an end, with just about a week left. I think it was the transition into the Caribbean, with five ports in a row before two last sea days.

 

Many of us on this cruise have sailed a lot before, and I dare say started with Caribbean cruises, as I did in the 1990s. So Tobago and Trinidad, Barbados, Dominica, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are not new ports. Still, I haven’t been on a Caribbean cruise in years. So the sounds of calypso music and steel drums brought back memories.

 

Today I toured Barbados with a group from my travel agency. I’ve been here half a dozen times and have taken a very similar island tour before, but this one was complimentary so I couldn’t pass it up.

 

New to me was a visit to Sunbury Plantation House. The plantation dates back to the 17th century and the production of sugarcane and rum. Over the centuries fires and hurricanes have destroyed many of the original houses, including the one at Sunbury. But the rebuilt house is full of antiques from the era, and it is the only one left open to the public.

 

After our tour of the house and its various collections (carriages, farm implements, optical instruments collected by a previous owner), we had lunch on a shaded patio along with rum punch.

 

Our journey to Sudbury took us up the west coast and then across the winding roads to the east – and wilder – coast of the island. We could see why these beaches are favorites for surfers but not swimmers. Every parish has its own Anglican church, and we stopped to tour one.

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Back at the port terminal, I suddenly saw family-size bags of Maltesers for sale. After spending a semester in England, my sister introduced us to what is now a favorite candy. I quickly bought a bag, texted a photo to my sisters, and returned to the shop to buy bags for each of them. We’ll see if the bags survive until my sisters join me in Florida next week.

 

Yesterday’s port was Scarborough, Tobago. Local dancers and musicians energetically welcomed us on the pier.

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My plan was to walk to the Botanical Garden, but before I got there a light rain began to fall and the sky showed more coming quickly. I returned to the ship after just an hour on shore, to face a challenge that I have put off for days.

 

Our 2024 Grand World Voyage, which starts Jan. 3., requires visas for a few countries. Getting a China visa can be a challenge, but I still have a valid one from a previous visit. The ship will take care of a Vietnam visa. But it is up to us to get visas for India, Sri Lanka and Brazil.

 

Sri Lanka should be easy, but we can’t apply until Dec. 28. India has instituted an e-visa, so it’s an online application. The big problem is Brazil. Its visa requirement for Americans goes into effect in early January, and they only just activated their application website a week ago. Let me just say it is not ready for prime time. Applications are being rejected routinely, and the requirement for uploading documents seem to be almost impossible to meet.

 

Holland America has said we cannot board the cruise if we don’t have a Brazilian visa, but late word today is that a record of application may be enough to board the ship, where Holland America will have staff to help us get approved.

 

Pete Laszcz, blogger at The Inside Cabin, has been a wonderful resource for many of us – holding multiple zoom calls to answer questions and offering help with editing photos and PDFs to meet the strict requirements.

 

Not having a scanner on board, I have struggled trying to meet those requirements, but finally succumbed to getting Pete’s help while I was out on tour today. I spent my afternoon completing my India and Brazil submissions. I’m anxiously waiting to hear whether they will be accepted.

 

Meanwhile, we are busy with social activities on board, many of which seem to be packed into this last week or two. The highlight of last night’s Christmas Tree lighting was trays after trays of Christmas cookies, and I must report that they were delicious. I’ll be seeking some of the recipes.

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

Lazy Days Exploring Familiar Caribbean Ports

Day 71, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Saturday, Dec.16, 2023; San Juan, Puerto Rico

 

Eighty-four days after I left my sister’s home to join Holland America’s ms Zaandam in Montreal, I arrived this morning at our last port of this journey around South America. After today we will have two sea days before I disembark in Fort Lauderdale.

 

Because (of course) Puerto Rico is part of the United States, we each had to pass through immigration on the pier this morning. It always ends up being an arduous process, as once you pass through, you cannot return to the ship until everyone exits. Some people seem to think this rule doesn’t apply to them, and hundreds wait on shore for the dozen or so laggards to respond to urgent announcements of their names and cabin numbers on the ship’s loudspeaker.

 

My plan for the day was fairly simple. My weather app forecasted rain for the afternoon, so I left at 8 a.m. to explore Old San Juan, just off the main cruise pier. (Large Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships were docked at a less favorable location near the airport runways.)

 

As I left early, I enjoyed my morning latte at a nearby Starbucks and then headed up the hill to Castillo de San Cristobal, one of the historic forts of Old San Juan that I haven’t visited before. The Spanish initially established this and the perhaps more visited Castillo San Felipe del Morro at the entrance of the harbor to provide protection not only to Puerto Rico, but to the entire Caribbean.

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The forts later became part of the American defense, particularly important during World War II. Now they are part of the U.S. National Park Service. Not thinking, I had left my lifetime park pass on the ship. Oh well, if I’m going to contribute $10 to a federal agency, the National Park Service is high on my list.

 

I explored the tunnels, turrets and other defensive elements of the fort and then meandered back down the hill through narrow streets lined with apartments and later shops that mainly cater to tourists. I thought I had found a rare t-shirt with my name on it, but the sales guy saved me from embarrassment by telling me it was a dirty slang phrase. I did find a tiny nativity scene in a gourd for my collection. By late morning, I was back on the ship.

 

The ship hosted a big party on the Lido Aft Deck for our final sail away, complete with live music and complementary wine and cheese.

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Those who ate dinner in the Lido were treated to a Caribbean feast, including roast pig.

 

Yesterday I spent even less time ashore in Road Town, Tortola, the main island in the British Virgin Islands. I’ve been here several times before, but mainly arriving by air to charter a yacht for a couple of weeks at a time. It’s one of my favorite places to sail, with many smaller islands just a short distance away.

 

From the looks of the marinas, and the boats returning to them in the mist this morning, most of the charter boats now are catamarans. When my nephews were young, I took the whole family on a bareboat charter in just such a catamaran.

 

It promised to be a rainy day, but I managed to head out just after one deluge and return as another was threatening. Since last time I visited, the town has added a block or two of shops just off the cruise pier, with the ubiquitous jewelry shops and souvenirs. I headed a few blocks away to Pussers Rum and Pub, where I had planned to hang out if caught in the rain. But it was too early in my mind for drinking, so I shopped the outlet store and found a nice t-shirt instead. A local bookstore resulted in a great children’s book about ocean adventures, which I will send home for my great nephew.

 

On Thursday we stopped in Roseau, Dominica, but docked a mile out of town. I was disappointed to see the Eurodam on the center city dock – in my mind, our grand cruise ship should have been at the preferred dock. But those decisions are way above my pay grade. I enjoyed a day aboard the ship, as it is another port I have explored before.

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This is the last post for this voyage. I'm not sure that I will do another "Live" thread on Cruise Critic. It takes a good deal of time to edit and post from the blog site. I think most people that are interested now subscribe to the blog by email. Thanks to all of you who followed and commented.
 
After 3 days in Fort Lauderdale, I'm now aboard the Zuiderdam for a 12-day holiday Caribbean cruise, and then will continue on the 2024 Grand World Voyage. It has been great fun to see so many friends -- passengers and especially crew members. I'll be writing about that on the blog site.
 
[All the photos are on my blog site, https://www.writerondeck.com/.]
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Wrapping up One Cruise; Prepping for Another

Between Cruises

Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023; Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 

I hadn’t planned another blog post about my 73-day Grand South America & Antarctica cruise, but several friends on board urged me on. Who knew so many people who are on the cruise with me are reading a blog about this cruise? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – I frequently follow the blogs of fellow cruisers. Each of our journeys is different, even on the same ship and itinerary.

 

Our last two sea days have been busy with activities. Ben Sack, the artist in residence who joined the cruise in Buenos Aires, unveiled his approximately 5-foot by 6-foot drawing of the cruise itinerary. I’m always tempted to order a smaller print, but it would just sit in storage.

 

The towel animal menagerie took over the Lido deck once again – this time with notes from the housekeeping staff. I found several made by Andri and Dwi, my great cabin stewards.

 

My travel agent arranged a rare bridge tour while the ship was underway. It’s nice to see some women working there.

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A highlight of long cruises is the Crew Talent Show, and they have evolved and improved over the years. This year brought eight acts ranging from traditional Indonesian and Filipino songs and dances to contemporary pop and rock performances. It’s easy to forget that the wonderful crew we see in “corporate” uniforms around the ship are mostly just young people who follow the current music trends.

 

“Ask the Captain” is always a popular event, and this was one of the best sessions I’ve attended. Passengers asked interesting questions, and Capt. Ane Smit gave candid answers.

Had we been scheduled to sail up the Amazon River just two days earlier, the voyage would have been canceled. Just enough rain fell upriver to allow us passage. At times we had just one meter of water beneath our hull.

 

The odds of being able to tender in the Falkland Islands? He estimated them at 90 percent. I guess I’ve just been unlucky to have missed that port the two times I’ve cruised there.

 

What he might have done if he hadn’t had a career on the sea? “I think I might have been a farmer.”

We sailed an alternate route skirting Cuba on our way back to Florida from Puerto Rico due to a storm last weekend on the East Coast. After seeing very few other ships – and cruise ships in particular – on our cruise around the continent of South America, we passed a whole raft of them yesterday heading out for Caribbean cruises.

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It took me most of yesterday to pack, mainly because I was trying to pack things for my three days in Florida in one bag, things for my 12-day holiday cruise in another and everything else for the world cruise in the last two, as I will be changing cabins for it.

 

When I finally got the luggage outside my cabin last night, I was somewhat embarrassed about how much there was and tempted to put a couple of the bags outside another door. I do remind myself that this is what I have to live with for eight months.

 

After dropping the bags at my hotel, I spent today shopping for a few things I need, getting some Christmas decorations for the cabin door, and upgrading my iPhone. I had planned to wait until next summer, but after a few passengers were robbed of their phones in South America, I decided I wanted to have a backup. I’m excited to see my sisters and nephews, who will arrive tomorrow.

 

In a few days Holland America will send me an extensive survey about the cruise, but here are a few thoughts. The Zaandam is in great shape, and I love the smaller size. The captain and hotel manager have worked together for years and it shows – this was perhaps the smoothest operation overall of any cruise I’ve taken. I loved my “vista suite” cabin with its nine desk drawers and full-length sofa. Newer ships have much smaller cabins.

 

I would say an area where Holland America falls a bit short is entertainment, and that is determined by headquarters. I thought the piano bar musician shouted more than sang, and apparently many others agreed, as there was seldom more than a half-dozen people during his sets. That deprived me of one of my favorite evening venues. On the World Stage, the comedians got mixed reviews. I think most of them cannot maintain a show for 45 minutes. There’s a reason late-night talk show hosts only do a short opening monologue.

 

Good news on the ongoing Brazilian visa issue. I still don’t have mine, but the visa contractor has finally sent it to Brazil for review. Even better, Holland America said no one will be denied boarding if the visa logjam doesn’t break. Instead, we will go somewhere else. Of course, many people are looking forward to the Amazon, so we all have our fingers crossed.

 

I’m planning to take a short break from regular blogging during the holiday cruise (although don’t be surprised if I sneak one post in).

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