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Enjoy the "Treasures of the World" with Bill & Mary Ann on the 2014 World Cruise

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Thanks for taking us along. You guys seem to have a lot of fun no matter what you're doing. I love that you shop. I get so annoyed with those that look down their nose at shoppers. So many interesting things... and such a help to the local economy. I never regret my travel purchases. Daily memories.

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Report # 116 Roseau, Dominica April 24, 2014 Thursday Part 1 Partly cloudy, 81 degrees

 

Some ports of call are more suited to taking tours, or getting out of town. Others are better to stick around and see the local sites. This port, we feel, is better for touring to the interior of the island, or snorkeling. To put it gently, out of the three islands we have visited so far in the Caribbean, this one is not in the best shape for roving tourists.

 

The Amsterdam sailed into the harbor early this morning. It was already hot by 9am, and it sure was not breezy like yesterday's port of St. Lucia. The city of Roseau is the capital of the island, and from what we can see of the neighboring villages, it is the largest city. Originally established by the French in the 16th century, although it was taken over by the British 200 years later. The colonial buildings in town reflect both occupations of the past.

 

We saw the most prominent of these buildings as we left the ship and started walking uphill. Choosing not to take a tour, since we were here just two years ago, we opted to check out the town instead. We passed by the Methodist Church and the Roseau Cathedral. Both were closed to the public today. Further up the same narrow street, we passed by the Bishop House, also closed. Following the map from our room, we located the Botanic Gardens, a 40 acre hillside garden full of mature palms, tropical flowers, and a breadfruit tree. One of the highlites there is a cage that contained four rare Amazon parrots called Jaco and Sisserou. Similar to the birds we have seen in the Amazon, these are unique to this island. There is even a facility where they hatch and raise the chicks .

 

One memorable site in this garden is a crushed school bus under a huge limb of a baobab tree. Back in 1979, a hurricane caused this limb to fall on the empty school bus. Oddly enough, the tree survived, but the bus was history. Leaving the bus under the tree, it was a reminder to all the power of a hurricane. And oh yeah, be careful what kind of tree you park under.

 

Running into some friends, we asked where they had walked. They pointed to a trail that led to a flight of steep steps leading to a trail that would eventually have a view of Trafalgar Falls in the distance. With no railings, we chose not to walk the path. We have seen these falls up close two years ago, when we took a tour that took us to the top with a 20 minute hike on wet trails and stairs.

 

Continuing on, we strolled downhill and towards the new stadium built on the hillside near the Botanic Garden. Passing the stadium, we made our way to the river that runs through the town. Hard to believe that there are 365 rivers on this small island. We can not describe this area as really nice. The busy streets are quite narrow, and covered with cobblestones, making walking difficult even with the right shoes. Looking down all the streets, we noticed most of the buildings were in bad shape. Literally held together with corregated metal and pieces of plywood. From a distance, the town looked colorful, but close-up, it was a different story. We're guessing that not a whole lot of cruise ships come here, because that usually brings a lot of tourist dollars with it. In time, the businesses that cater to these tourists become nicer, more inviting. Today, we could not find a good place for lunch or even a beer.

 

Walking the waterfront, we strolled past the souvenier stands under umbrellas. They were selling the usual trinkets we have seen in all the ports so far. One item caught our eye. It was a ceramic tomato with a small knife, and six forks in it. It will be perfect for small snacks and cutting limes or lemons. At least we found something for a small momento of Dominica.

 

One thing we noticed was that there were absolutely no highend shops here. You know, the jewelry stores you see in most of the Caribbean ports. No duty-free shopping here. Our first clue to this, was that we did not receive the map with these stores marked on it. Just as well, since we never go in them anyway, except to cool off in their air-conditioning.

 

All aboard was at 4:30pm. We came back around 2pm, and immediately ordered room service lunch. The cheeseburgers you get through room service are even better than the ones in the Dive In grill on deck eight. Maybe that is because the patties are grilled and not fried. And you can have potato chips or potato salad with the burgers. The wait time for the food is never any longer than 30 minutes.

 

Sailaway came after 5:30pm, a bit later than planned. Apparently, someone had a medical emergency and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. No one we knew had any clue as to who it was that was taken off. We hate to see this happen, and we are certain the people involved never saw it coming. And they were so close to being back in Ft. Lauderdale in a few days from now.

 

We had unexpected company at dinner tonight...Ellen and Aart. They seemed to have a really good time, as we all did. Maureen did her usual Q&A with trivia questions, and stumped most all of us with the questions she thought were easy. Since many of the subjects were way out there, we answered with silly stuff, keeping everyone laughing through dessert time. We were sorry to see dinner end, except some wanted to attend the Casa Blanca Steel Orchestra show in the Queens Lounge at 10pm.

 

Tomorrow's port will be Philipsburg, St. Maarten, and the final port of this world cruise. We have not been there for 20 years, so it will be like discovering it like a new port for us. Only three days left now, and the folks will be going home.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

PS Pearliemae, yes, it sounds like we were on the last world cruise on the Seabourn Sun in 2001 together. We do remember Trevor well, but must have missed that highwire act. Wow. What a trip.

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Report # 117 Philipsburg, St. Maarten April 25, 2014 Friday Part 1 Chance of rain, 84 degrees

 

The ship arrived to the port of Philipsburg, St. Maarten early this morning. This is one unique island in that it is the smallest land mass that is divided between two governments......French and Dutch. The French govern 21 square miles of it, while the Dutch rule over 16 square miles. It was the Dutch who prevailed in the end, because they established the first duty free port, Philipsburg, the capital and main port of St.Maarten. The total population of people is 69,000, who speak French, Dutch, and also English. Compared to the last three islands we visited, St. Maarten is not the most volcanic, but it sure is pretty with its beaches, sailboats, yachts, quaint shops, and scores of good restaurants. And that is just the Dutch side we saw today. There is another French side that is equally as nice, perhaps more famous for their cuisine and "clothes-optional" beaches. We can guarantee that the 1.7 million cruise passengers went home happy from this beautiful island in 2012. We know that we did today. By the way, later in the day, we heard that there were six or more ships in port yesterday, with a combined total of over 25,000 tourists on the island. Wow, sure glad we missed that zoo.

 

We have been to St. Maarten twice, once in the 1980's and again within the last 10 years. What was here over 30 years ago, was not what we were seeing today. Back then, we may have had to tender ashore. Today we were docked, but not in the center of town. There were three ways to get to town. One was to take a local ferry for $7. each that took you to a pier in the center of downtown. But that same $7. ticket would work all day, so not a bad deal. The next way would be to take a taxi or van for the mile long ride. Or do what we did.....walk. It only took us about 15 minutes walking slowly to reach the beginning of the Boardwalk where the beach started and the shops began.

 

The Boardwalk is almost 50 feet wide, and is flanked by the Great Bay on one side, and lined with bars and restaurants on the other side. It has to be over a mile long. Behind this string of buildings are narrow streets filled with all of the highend jewelry stores, clothing stalls, boutiques, and souveniers shops. It is a shopper's paradise. We took our time checking out the sights from the Captain Hodge Pier, where the ferry brought many passengers from our ship to town. Three gorgeous sailboats were traveling across the bay, possibly one of the many water activities the shore excursion office offered today. The color of the ocean was as turquoise as one can imagine, and the white sandy beach was free of any broken coral, which usually makes it difficult to walk. As far as we could see, there were padded lounges with umbrellas ready to give shade to those who came to sunbathe and swim. Of course, there was a nominal fee, which at some places was the price of drinks and food. Another good deal.

 

As usual, we were searching for that best pizza we could find and ice cold beers. What we did not expect to see was a Hard Rock Cafe in the center of the Boardwalk. Forget the pizza today, we decided to try their generous portion of cheese nachos with Piton beers. The restaurant was on the top floor of the store, where we first bought a city t-shirt. Finding the best seats with the coolest breeze, we cooled off and enjoyed every bite of the nachos. Our waiter was also the bartender with a great personality. When he brought our bill, he added that the last two beers were "on the house". That has got to be the first time ever that this happened in a Hard Rock Cafe. Pretty nice.

 

Making our way back towards the pier, we picked up a few souveniers, and also a hunk of Holland gouda cheese. There's nothing better than gouda, and to find it here was a surprise. It should last us for another two weeks or more. Even better than the cheese, was the treat of ice cream, which we found at a small gelateria on the Boardwalk. With a scoop of nutella and one of mint chip, we sat down in the shade of many palm trees to eat it. We weren't there for more than 10 minutes, when a cute little dog arrived at our feet. Remember Eddie from Frazier Show? Well this dog was his twin, except for the name on the dog tag was Phoebe, a girl. There was some melted ice cream left in the cup, so we gave it to Phoebe, who licked the cup clean as a whistle in a matter of seconds. She would have followed us back to the ship if we had more.

 

We needed to be back onboard by 4pm for the complimentary Grand Farewell Sail Away Party held in the Lido Pool, midship. Champagne, wine, beer, and soft drinks were served to all who came. And that was just about every guest on the ship. Caribbean-style appetizers were served while listening to the tunes of the Casa Blanca Steel Orchestra. The only downside to this affair, was the heat, humidity, and the crowded spaces in the Lido Pool area. The smart ones gathered their drinks, then headed out back to really watch the sailaway from port. A few kind waiters, Firman for instance, followed us out there with his tray of hors d'oeuvres to snack on. One of the nice bartenders kept us all with fresh beers and wine as we all enjoyed the breezes from the moving ship. Slowly, many more folks joined us.

 

That's when things got interesting. Perhaps because the cruise is coming to an abrupt end, or more so, because the folks were imbibing more than usual (free drinks), some guests ended up in the aft pool, clothes and all. The first to go was Cheryl, pushed in by her thoughtful husband. He did expect the same from her, but she couldn't catch him. Right after that, four more people got pushed in. It was so hot anyway, we are sure it felt good. As six of us wisely moved away from the pool's edge, an elderly lady was dumped from a rattan chair into the water. OK, now this is getting bizzare. This continued until almost sunset, believe it or not. Fun to watch for sure.

 

We needed to add three suitcases to our shipped luggage count, so that was accomplished within minutes with Sarah, the Fed Ex rep who joined the ship in Barbados. We inrend to walk off the ship in San Diego with only our hand carrys for the airplane. The luggage always arrives within a week or less, so shipping everything is well worth it. Besides, we still have shipboard credit to use or lose, and this is one good way to use it.

 

Dinnertime found our table number to be six, since two were in the Canaletto. We still have not gone there, and probably will not on this cruise. We just have way too much fun at our table to miss it.

 

Well, tomorrow and Sunday are days at sea, where most everyone will be packing. We may do some ourselves as well.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 118 Sailing Towards Ft. Lauderdale, Florida April 26, 2014 Saturday Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, rain

 

It was a fairly quiet day for us as the Amsterdam headed northwest towards Florida. Breakfast as usual, followed by a morning stroll on the promenade deck. After four days in port, it felt good to be out at sea once again. The weather has remained warm and slightly humid, although we would not be surprised to see some rain later in the day.

 

There were some activities going on onboard today, but we suspect most of the passengers were packing for most of it. Many sales were taking place in the photo gallery, the Park West Gallery, and Signature Shops. We even had a private invite to an exclusive jewelry unveiling in one of the owner's suites on deck seven this afternoon. We are sure it is tied to the Merabella collection, since all they sell is highend. The spa was pushing salon packages for massages, facials, body scrubs, and reflexology. A hot stone treatment, combined with any of the previously mentioned treatments would cost $109. Guaranteed to take the stress out of the chore of packing.

 

We caught up on emailing this morning, since we had been shut out yesterday. Guessing that the internet was turned off for the ship's team to work on it, we found out later on that it was deliberately shut down by order of the local military in St. Maarten. They had blocked it. We only have a couple of days now to recoup minutes lost for the system's shutdowns and cutoffs. Every time we have had problems logging off, or sending and receiving emails, we have applied for lost minutes. As long as their records show that during the times we have had these problems, they also did, we have had no trouble getting them re-instated. This will end with the world cruise on April 28th when most everyone leaves. We will try our best to keep the blog going, as long as the usage onboard is low with the newly-embarked guests.

 

We spent the afternoon at the aft pool, chatting with friends, and catching up on reading. The sun had been out most of the morning, but eventually clouds took over. By 3pm, we started to feel light rain starting, so we left. Since everyone else was packing, we decided to get a headstart on some of it ourselves. Gathering up all the breakables, we were able to fill two duffels. Most of the delicate things were the gifts given to us by the staff. On this trip, most of the souveniers we purchased were made of wood, like masks, bowls, and a small elephant. They are not necessarily breakable, but bulky. They usually travel well, packed in between lots of clothing.

 

Tonight was the Captain's Farewell Champagne Reception and Presentation in the Queens Lounge at 4:30pm and 7pm. Complimentary champagne, wine, and soft drinks were served followed by a recap of the ports of this 2014 world cruise. Although we did not attend, we heard Gene sang during his part of the celebration. We are not going home yet, so we will go to another one of these in 16 days from now. And besides, it should be on TV tomorrow, all day long.

 

Dinner tonight was supposed to be formal, but was voted down during the Stein Kruse visit. It should have also been the Baked Alaska Parade for dessert. But, even though Baked Alaska was on the menu, there was no parade with the waiters and kitchen staff after dinner. Years ago, the candles were banished, then the sparklers, and now, the whole thing. Guess that is another tradition to bite the dust. It seems that nothing stays the same forever in this business.

 

The entertainer this evening was Rita Rudner, a comedian and a television personality. She has been a headliner in Las Vegas since 2000, and is currently performing at The Venetian. We don't know why, but some of us have never heard of her. Half of us at our dinner table do not know who she is, because we do not all have cable TV, or access to satellite TV. For several years now, we have been limited to one network station and several PBS stations. Truthfully, there was a better movie on our room TV, so we skipped the 10pm Queens Lounge show to watch "Erased", a cliffhanger about a CIA thriller. Will report on the comedian show tomorrow.

 

We also had the surprise of two magnet Delft tile refrigerator tiles waiting for us after dinner. Good thing they are small and easy to pack, or else the folks will be complaining.

 

One more lovely day at sea, and we will be back in the good old USA. At least we hope the weather will be nice, because it was raining pretty hard around 9pm tonight.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 119 Sailing Towards Ft. Lauderdale, Florida April 27, 2014 Sunday Mostly sunny, 79 degrees

 

It was a bittersweet day.....the final one of the 2014 Grand World Voyage. Although some folks are happy to be going home, we believe the majority are sad to leave old and new friends as everyone heads home. Lots of passengers were lined up to make sense of their shipboard accounts. We all received the preliminary bill yesterday, and we had one discrepency. As five star members, we were entitled to two complimentary dinners in the Pinnacle Grill restaurant. However, our second meal in there was charged to our account. It is important to go over each item just for that reason. One nice surprise was that we each got a refund of $71.50 for port charges for missing the ports in Gambia and Senegal. That will be credited towards our credit card, or be ours to spend on the following Panama cruise. Works for us.

 

During this cruise, a gathering of knitters and crocheters have been busy creating hats, scarves, and more than 100 blankets for the Project Linus in Seattle. These items will be donated to the local Seattle hospitals, which is nice. All of these creations were on display today in the Explorers Lounge. Guess the old saying that busy hands, happy hearts is true in this case.

 

The passengers that participated in the games onboard were able to cash in their Dam Dollars on some exclusive prizes this afternoon. We heard that some of the more useful items, like memory sticks, were gone first, since they do not order enough. Of course, it was printed in the newsletter that it was on a first come, first serve basis. For the first time, we heard it announced that the Dam Dollars could be saved and used on next year's world cruise. Perhaps that diffused the situation, or not.

 

One speaker gave a talk about rocks and landscapes of the cruise. Jill Eyers explained how every rock tells a story. The morning talk was given by Tom Goltz all about revolutionary Che Guevara from Argentina, who played a pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution in the 20th century.

 

The weather was so beautiful outside, we had no choice but to spend the afternoon by the pool....our last one with our deck buddies who like the sun as much as we do. By this time tomorrow, there will be 100 lounges set up with little space to walk in between the rows. It will be different, no doubt about it.

 

At 4:30pm, we had an invite to a special gathering of the ongoing guests who are staying onboard for the Panama cruise. It is considered a "Collector's Voyage", which comes with some perks. One of those perks was a complimentary dinner in the Pinnacle Grill restaurant, but only tomorrow evening, or the first or last day of the next cruise. Since we also get two more free dinners there (5 star Mariner), we went right away to make reservations for three evenings. Once the new guests board, we may have a hard time getting the evenings we want. Anyway, the meeting for the 27 of us, was held in the Piano Bar, which was closed off to everyone else. Gene and Barbara H. gave detailed info on the following cruise, as well as directions for tomorrow's mandatory clearing of the ship. They have made it fairly simple for us intransit guests. Now the good news that came out of this meeting was that our stop in Costa Rica will be at Puntarenas, which is way better than Puerto Caldera, because there is nothing there. We would have not gotten off the ship, because the only way out of that working port is to take a tour. And we have done them all at least once. Now the really nice thing about this meeting were the cocktails of our choice and the appetizers of crispy chicken fingers and breaded jalepeno poppers. Nice surprise.

 

A bigger surprise was what happened next around 5:30pm, while walking on the promenade deck. A whale breached the water not too far from the ship, making everyone on the lounges jump up and actually clap and cheer. Oh, that could be because they were all drinking wine and beer at the time too. There may have been a pod feeding, because we saw this repeated every minute or so as we sailed in the opposite direction. We all guessed that we saw humpbacks, because that is the species in this part of the world this time of year. They travel to the Caribbean to have their calves in these warmer waters. Anyway, that made our day, as well as everyone that witnessed these massive mammals.

 

Our final dinner was fun as usual, although a little sad. Nobody likes saying goodbye, but all good things must come to an end. We will miss our old friends and our new buddies, Bill & Marianne. We all knew from day one that we were going to like both of them. There was a parade of waiters and room stewards, but not with the Baked Alaska dessert. That's history. After one sweep through both the lower and upper dining rooms, they stood on the winding staircases and sang an Indonesian song of farewell. By this time tomorrow, we will be having our dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, thinking of all of our tablemates, who will be eating at their favorite local restaurants at home. All of them admitted it will take a while to get into the groove of cooking again after this nice and relaxing vacation.

 

So, stay tuned, and we hope to keep you all amused for another 15 days.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 119 Sailing Towards Ft. Lauderdale, Florida April 27, 2014 Sunday Mostly sunny, 79 degrees

 

It was a bittersweet day.....the final one of the 2014 Grand World Voyage. Although some folks are happy to be going home, we believe the majority are sad to leave old and new friends as everyone heads home. Lots of passengers were lined up to make sense of their shipboard accounts. We all received the preliminary bill yesterday, and we had one discrepency. As five star members, we were entitled to two complimentary dinners in the Pinnacle Grill restaurant. However, our second meal in there was charged to our account. It is important to go over each item just for that reason. One nice surprise was that we each got a refund of $71.50 for port charges for missing the ports in Gambia and Senegal. That will be credited towards our credit card, or be ours to spend on the following Panama cruise. Works for us.

 

During this cruise, a gathering of knitters and crocheters have been busy creating hats, scarves, and more than 100 blankets for the Project Linus in Seattle. These items will be donated to the local Seattle hospitals, which is nice. All of these creations were on display today in the Explorers Lounge. Guess the old saying that busy hands, happy hearts is true in this case.

 

The passengers that participated in the games onboard were able to cash in their Dam Dollars on some exclusive prizes this afternoon. We heard that some of the more useful items, like memory sticks, were gone first, since they do not order enough. Of course, it was printed in the newsletter that it was on a first come, first serve basis. For the first time, we heard it announced that the Dam Dollars could be saved and used on next year's world cruise. Perhaps that diffused the situation, or not.

 

One speaker gave a talk about rocks and landscapes of the cruise. Jill Eyers explained how every rock tells a story. The morning talk was given by Tom Goltz all about revolutionary Che Guevara from Argentina, who played a pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution in the 20th century.

 

The weather was so beautiful outside, we had no choice but to spend the afternoon by the pool....our last one with our deck buddies who like the sun as much as we do. By this time tomorrow, there will be 100 lounges set up with little space to walk in between the rows. It will be different, no doubt about it.

 

At 4:30pm, we had an invite to a special gathering of the ongoing guests who are staying onboard for the Panama cruise. It is considered a "Collector's Voyage", which comes with some perks. One of those perks was a complimentary dinner in the Pinnacle Grill restaurant, but only tomorrow evening, or the first or last day of the next cruise. Since we also get two more free dinners there (5 star Mariner), we went right away to make reservations for three evenings. Once the new guests board, we may have a hard time getting the evenings we want. Anyway, the meeting for the 27 of us, was held in the Piano Bar, which was closed off to everyone else. Gene and Barbara H. gave detailed info on the following cruise, as well as directions for tomorrow's mandatory clearing of the ship. They have made it fairly simple for us intransit guests. Now the good news that came out of this meeting was that our stop in Costa Rica will be at Puntarenas, which is way better than Puerto Caldera, because there is nothing there. We would have not gotten off the ship, because the only way out of that working port is to take a tour. And we have done them all at least once. Now the really nice thing about this meeting were the cocktails of our choice and the appetizers of crispy chicken fingers and breaded jalepeno poppers. Nice surprise.

 

A bigger surprise was what happened next around 5:30pm, while walking on the promenade deck. A whale breached the water not too far from the ship, making everyone on the lounges jump up and actually clap and cheer. Oh, that could be because they were all drinking wine and beer at the time too. There may have been a pod feeding, because we saw this repeated every minute or so as we sailed in the opposite direction. We all guessed that we saw humpbacks, because that is the species in this part of the world this time of year. They travel to the Caribbean to have their calves in these warmer waters. Anyway, that made our day, as well as everyone that witnessed these massive mammals.

 

Our final dinner was fun as usual, although a little sad. Nobody likes saying goodbye, but all good things must come to an end. We will miss our old friends and our new buddies, Bill & Marianne. We all knew from day one that we were going to like both of them. There was a parade of waiters and room stewards, but not with the Baked Alaska dessert. That's history. After one sweep through both the lower and upper dining rooms, they stood on the winding staircases and sang an Indonesian song of farewell. By this time tomorrow, we will be having our dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, thinking of all of our tablemates, who will be eating at their favorite local restaurants at home. All of them admitted it will take a while to get into the groove of cooking again after this nice and relaxing vacation.

 

So, stay tuned, and we hope to keep you all amused for another 15 days.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

so glad you are continuing your "blog" while sailing to SD!! it lets us that have been following a few of you World Cruisers down easy, since most have finished their voyage and their blogs. We, that have been following can now get back to doing the things we put off to read the exciting adventures of you cruisers.... have a wonderful time in the PC, and a safe trip home.... thanks for taking us with you!! your pictures were great!!:D

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For staying on the ship for an other cruise.

WE can't just stop (cold turkey) reading yours

and other blogs about your great WC. lol

 

Glad you had a good time and saw such wonderful

places/people/things on the WC.

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Report # 120 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida April 28, 2014 Monday Sunny, 84 degrees, humid

 

Whew....what a day. Turnover day, or the morning that the world voyage ended, and the 15 day Panama Canal repositioning cruise began. Who would think it was possible to remove thousands of pieces of luggage from the long time cruisers and load up once again for 1300 newbies (less 27)? It was done before noon, at which point, the entire population of the ship had been cleared through immigrations, and the happy Panama Canal guests were ready to board by 1pm.

 

Making no sense to us, when we tried to go online this morning, we found the system was shut off. Checking with the front desk folks, we found out that a couple of IT techs were onboard to "tweak" the system, and it would be shut down for most of the day. We found that our accounts were not only shut off, but our minutes had been erased. Doing a back-to-back cruise, these minutes should have rolled over, but did that surprise us? No, we would deal with it later.

 

We had decided to leave the ship early, and not wait for our 11:30am slot for our intransit group to be led through immigrations. Being caught up in that group, we have been trapped in the terminal waiting for an hour or more to re-board the ship. So today, we went off before 10am, showed out intransit cards, and went right through the special line for immigrations. We had no luggage, and since we were not getting off here in Florida, we did not have to fill out the declarations card. Piece of cake.

 

There was a line of taxis waiting outside the terminal, which was Pier 26 today, the very same one we left from back in January. Anyway, we took off for a ride to the Galleria, the closest mall to the ship and also to the beach. Since the all aboard time was 3pm (how rude), we did not have a whole lot of time to spare, especially since we wanted to go out to lunch. It was a 15 minute drive to get to the mall, and it ran about $20 with a tip.

 

Once at the Galleria, we found the entrance and walked from one end to the other. It is a really nice mall, although it does not have all the super highend shops, it does have Macys, Neiman Marcus, and Dillards. It was too early for lunch, so we walked several blocks to the Ft. Lauderdale Beach, which has seven miles of white sand and gentle surf. Something we noticed about three days while sailing towards here, there was a lot of green matter in the water. We figured it was some kind of algae bloom. Anyway, this same stuff was washing up with the waves all over the beach. Kind of glad we did not plan to swim today, although there were a ton of local sunbathers for as far as we could see. One of us has a hobby of saving small jam jars of sand with seashells from beaches and deserts all over the world. The sands of Ft. Lauderdale Beach added one more to the collection. The funny thing, is that this sand has been imported from China, according to what our guide told us last year. Who knows, perhaps it came from the Gobe Desert or something?

 

It was getting close to noon, and we had spotted a possible place for lunch...somewhere that we have been wanting to try for awhile. It was PF Chang's, an Asian restaurant. But first, we needed to buy a few things at Publix, which was right across the street. Doubt we will be able to find the kind of crackers we like on the way to San Diego. Finally, we went to lunch, and were pleasantly surprised with the food. It was great. We ordered crispy Vietnamese veggie spring rolls and a plate of BBQ ribs to share. Both starters were finger-licking good. Since we were not at dinner, we could pick up the ribs and eat them, sauce and all. They did supply an ample amount of hand wipes.

 

By now, it was nearing 2pm, so we went back by taxi to the ship. Even this early in the afternoon, the traffic was heavy. The ride was $25 with a tip this time, but still well worth it.

 

While reporting our internet problem with Christel, our friendly guest relations manager, several other "world cruise" subjects surfaced. Henk (her spouse), our equally as friendly hotel manager, happened by, and joined us. We discussed our concerns about special treatment of certain demanding individuals (passengers), thus creating the atmosphere of a two-class ship. By the way, we are not alone with our constructive criticism, as many other longtime HAL guests have witnessed what we have. Agreeing with our comments, they will try to remedy this situation in the future. Whether they can or will follow up on it or not, well that is to be seen. And that's all we will say about that for now.

 

The first request of the day was to attend the mandatory muster drill at 3:15pm. This was our fifth and last drill of our voyage. Guessing by the number of folks surrounding us by lifeboat number 6, we would say they were all from Canada. This is a popular itinerary for our northern friends, since they sail back to where most of them live. So far, we have not seen many kids, but the average age of the guests has dropped significantly. Kind of nice for a change, because this crowd may be the partying and gambling crowd. Good for business so to speak.

 

The sailaway party was much like the ones on the world cruise, if you are looking for comparisons here. Many drinks of the day. blue coco mojitos ($5.95) were being served, as well as appetizers passed around to guests on the aft pool deck. A new group, Darlene and the HALcats were playing poolside, and the folks were loving it. Now we can watch a much younger group of ladies dancing to the up-to-date tunes. At the same time, a solo guitarist, David, entertained the people in the Crows Nest at sailaway time.

 

The Amsterdam departed the pier about an hour late, but Captain Fred Eversen, our new commander, announced that we should still be on time at our frst port of call in Half Moon Cay tomorrow. That suits us just fine.

 

Checking out the entrees in the Lido for dinner, we were happy to be greeted by the kitchen workers who thought we had gone home today. You never think they notice the passengers, especially us, since we never eat dinner in the Lido, but only check out how the food looks. There were not much changes in the entrees, except there was only one fish item. The rest looked the same.

 

Our dinner this evening was in the Pinnacle Grill, where we ordered the veal chop once again. The cuisine from the muse through our dessert of Baked Alaska did not disappoint. Perfect way to start the new cruise.

 

When we got back to our room, we had the gift of one HAL tote bag, along with a plate of white chocolate-covered strawberries, a token of appreciation for our continuing trip with them. We have a feeling this is the start of many special touches to come on this voyage. Oh yeah, the one difference we noticed tonight.......the card saying "good night" was not placed on the bed with the pillow candies. Guess we can live with that, ha-ha.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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My sincere thanks for providing us with such an outstanding report of your world cruise!! I have enjoyed every minute and am looking forward to your Panama Canal cruise!

 

If you try PF Changs again try the chicken lettuce wraps....outstanding and I belief my dh is addicted to them...they are tasty:):):)

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Report # 121 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas April 29, 2014 Tuesday Part 1 Sunny, 84 degrees

 

Well, we made it to Half Moon Cay, despite the many reasons we could have missed the stop. We think Captain Fred put the pedal to the metal all through the night to arrive here at exactly 8am this morning. Looking out the window, we saw two large tenderboats from the island, ready to take on ticketed passengers. Last night, we had received a notice saying that as five star Mariners, we did not need tender tickets. It is a nice perk, but as it turned out, we did not get off the ship until 10:30am, when no one needed tickets.

 

The first and last time we stopped at this little bit of paradise was back on the 2005 world cruise. Ever since then, we never were on an HAL ship that had this stop on their itinerary. So we were looking forward to seeing what we remembered, and what was different in almost 10 years. What we remembered was a beautiful cove of white powdery sand with the clearest, aquamarine waters you can imagine. The amenities of shops, bars, some watersports, a restaurant, and an expanse of beach was what we recalled. The horse stables are still here, but out of sight. What we did not see back then was the Stingray enclosure on the Bonefish Lagoon where a tour was offered. Another new addition was the aqua trax adventure, where they rented jet skis, also on the lagoon. Kayaking and biking may have been offered, but since we don't participate in those activities, we aren't sure they were here many years ago.

 

Several different sizes of cabanas were situated near the food pavilion, bars, and restrooms. For some unknown reason, the price for those was not posted in the shore excursion booklet. We did notice that a canvas clamshell with a sunshade and two lounge chairs were available for a rental fee of $16. Dozens of lounges were there for everyone to use for free. The island tram ride, snorkel by boat, the glass bottom boat, and horseback riding were the most expensive tours in the book, costing up to $90. per person. No tour was over 2 hours.

 

Once we arrived to the island, we took a hike towards the walking track, which eventually took us to the stingray adventure area. Standing above the group, we were able to photograph the rays while the guests were learning their habits and how to feed them. Also in this lagoon are nurse and lemon sharks, bonefish, conch, and sea urchins. The surrounding mangroves of the lagoon are a sanctuary for birds. We saw most of them, but some only briefly since it was hot and they do not come out much in the heat. A pretty chameleon lizard crossed the road in front of us, as the local mockingbirds were singing their hearts out. Besides the black-headed gulls, we saw some seed eaters, doves, and some pigeons. We understand there are some burrowing owls as well as hummingbirds. The largest animals on the island are horses, kept at the Pegasus Stables, but we saw no dogs or cats.

 

Wanting to go swimming, we popped out through the mangrove somewhere near the end of the long stretch of beach. Few people were out this far, which was nice. Right near to where we came on the beach, there was a gazebo made with lattice walls. There was a round picnic table and two rattan chairs under the roof. This was not a cabana, and since no one was using it, we claimed it like squatters. If someone was renting it, then we would gladly leave. As it turned out, no one ever came along, and we spent the day there. Our main objective was to use the chairs, eliminating the need to sit on towels in the sand. In fact, we spent more time in the water, than out of it. Pure paradise.

 

Truthfully, some people did approach us and inquired about the gazebo. They asked us if this was the massage cabana, which is was not. Not realizing who this couple was at first, we figured it out that it was the ship's doctor and his wife, who have been onboard with us since January. By now, you would think they should know that these services had to be booked before we arrived here. It was not even listed as an option in the tour book, so we believe that it is not happening right now.

 

We never did seek out lunch, which had been brought to shore straight from our ship. All of the food was served free, except for the beverages of sodas, beers, and bottled waters. All of those drinks could be charged once again, to your shipboard account. We did bring a bottle of water, left over from our water package on the world cruise. That was all we needed since we had eaten a good breakfast before we left this morning.

 

The last tender was at 3:30pm, and we were among the final guests to leave the island. They have a bar here that is named, "I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever Bar". How appropriate. We had a super nice day here, and yes, we could stay here forever. Except we think no one stays here forever. Not even the help. We heard that a designated crew does stay on the island to keep up the maintenance and horse stables, but the other employees loaded up on the ferry boat, and were taken west of the island to parts unknown.....perhaps one of the larger islands in the Bahamas.

 

We attended the sailaway party at the aft deck, where drinks and appetizers were once again being served. We actually got some crispy fried chicken tenders with honey mustard sauce on them. Most days while at these parties, the waiters never made it back to us. The food was snatched up instantly. Darlene and the HALcats entertained us with Caribbean music, while many folks danced.

 

When we went back to our room, we found a twelve pack of Coke Zero on the desk. It was another gift from Captain Eversen and Henk, our hotel manager. Later on when we saw Nestor, he said he automatically exchanged the wine for the soda, remembering we did not drink wine. Another welcomed surprise was the invitation to a cocktail party in the Explorers Lounge before dinner. It was the suite guests and collector's voyage guests invitation to share drinks with Captain Fred and some of the officers onboard. Once we got our drink order, we spent the evening chatting with the new housekeeping officer, Emily, the librarian, Tom, the dining room manager, and finally Peter, the purser. Peter has extensive knowledge on the finer whiskeys and scotches of the world, although, no officers or crew are allowed to drink hard liquor anymore. Wine or beer is OK.

 

Our new dinner seating was at table # 85 on deck five, a balcony table for four, but set for two. Our new waiters are Darma and Eka, who remembered seeing us over the last four months. There really are few changes with the dinner menu items. In fact, we noticed some new entrees. One nice thing about eating at a table for two, is that our food was served quicker and it was hot. And since some of the shows begin at 9:30pm, we may even go to some. Last night, the Latin harpist, Shirley Dominquez, entertained the folks. This evening, the show begins at 10pm and was Timeless, performed by the Amsterdam singers and dancers.

 

We now will have two days at sea, and it's looking good for sunny skies and smooth seas.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Sounds like the Caribbean agrees with you after your long long voyage.

We love it too. HMC is one of the world's neat places.

 

Thanks again for all your hard work in sharing your cruise with us.

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Just as we felt at our table with you, we won't say goodbye, just safe travels. We were home by noon on Monday, the 28th, and the luggage arrived from FedEx by Tuesday noon - much more quickly than we had guessed - and unpacking has been prevalent ever since. Keith's 4 foot statue from Sri Lanka arrived safely, as did the other suitcases. Now we are experiencing the reality of meal preparation, laundry, and house cleaning - plus sorting the mountain of mail. The memories are nevertheless strong and pleasant, particularly the safari we shared with you two. Enjoy the rest of the cruise, Margaret & Keith

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We absolutely love Half Moon Cay - and have had the pleasure of visiting the island 3 times during our cruising life. The last time we were with 3 other couples and booked the large 2 storey cabana which was great for our group. Although many on these boards poo-poo the idea of such buildings along the beach, we would certainly consider booking one again.

 

When we were at HMC last, we spoke with some of the employees, and found that they take the ferry from Eleuthra Island every day to work. Friends of ours used to live on Eleuthra and it's similar to Half Moon Cay, but inhabited.

 

I'm glad you finally had the chance to re-visit this beautiful little island.

 

Smooth Sailing! :) :) :)

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Report # 122 Sailing Towards Cartagena, Colombia April 30, 2014 Wednesday Sunny, 84 degrees

 

Funny thing about this cruise.......if there are 1300 passengers onboard, you sure wouldn't know it. A sharp contrast from this same cruise last year, there are no crowds of passengers anywhere so far. There could be a few explanations for this. First of all, everyone traveled some distance to get to Florida to board, so there may be a lot of jet-lagged folks. Second, after a long day in the sun and surf at Half Moon Cay, some may be sunburned, and tired from the outdoor activities. And third, this crowd looks every bit as elderly as the world cruisers. That was the general comment we heard from some of the officers at the cocktail party last night. If there are any kids onboard, we have not seen them. Not that we are complaining, we just find it different not to have to search for two spots at the aft pool. There were even fewer lounges set up back there than on the world cruise. Last year, we could barely walk between the rows of chairs, as they were spaced very tightly.

 

Up to this point, we have not noticed any huge differences in this trip compared to the grand voyage. Of course the dining room hours have changed, as well as the fixed and open seating arrangements. No longer two set dinner times, there's the upper dining room with fixed seating at the slightly different times of 5:45pm and 8pm. The lower dining room is open seating from 5:15pm to 9pm. Our world cruise waiter, Firman, is now on deck four with the open seating diners. He has moved to the center section, where we can watch him serving the last of the diners by 8:30pm in his section. He is now our breakfast waiter in the main dining room. Joseph, our assistant waiter is on deck five with a new partner serving the large tables in the back of the room.

 

Lots of things were going on today, according to Gene's general annoucement at 10am this morning. The only thing different we see in his day, is that he hosts trivia at 1pm instead of 11:45am. This makes more sense, because it gives the folks a chance to eat in the dining room or the Pinnacle Grill from 12 to 1pm. Gene also hosts a pub trivia at 7pm in the Piano Bar. The pianist in there is now Derek.

 

Starting at 10am, Barbara H gave a talk on upcoming ports of Cartagena to Puerto Chiapas. One of the numerous ads we have gotten in our mail slots, was announcing the addition of a port shopping ambassador, Chris Lindsay, who will give shopping talks in the Queens Lounge. He will be giving away some prizes to the guests who attend his talks which will give hints for going ashore, top buys in each port, and places recommended to buy emeralds for instance.

 

The Lido Buffet went back to the regular self-served operations today at noon after the required 48 hours of full service. That is a good sign that the ship's population is healthy, and there is little threat of the spread of the dreaded stomach virus. For one thing, we have not noticed any sick people coughing, sneezing, or obviously ill. That was not the case back in January at the start of the world voyage. Many folks came onboard ill we think, considering that it was the middle of winter.

 

We spent the afternoon at the aft pool, of course. It was quiet, and we had plenty of space. The few lounges that were placed around the pool had been dragged to the shade near the showers and restrooms. This crowd is a shade-loving group, instead of sun worshipers.

 

Although there are no guest speakers scheduled, the Dancing With the Stars at Sea has begun. The waltz will be taught today with the help of the Amsterdam dancers and Gene too. We will probably never know the results of this contest, because we will be debarking in San Diego, about 5 days before the end of this voyage.

 

Dinner this evening was formal, with Captain Fred giving a welcome toast in the Queens Lounge before showtime of 8 and 10pm. No pre-dinner cocktail reception like on the world voyage. We noticed that most of the gentlemen wore suits and ties, and also a few wore tuxes. A select few had only a long sleeve shirt with no tie. Come to think of it, there was no description of the two acceptable forms of suggested dress.....smart casual or formal. Something was not working with the air-conditioning this evening, especially in the upper dining room. So most of the fellows with jackets had taken them off. The waiters were having the hardest time. Tom G., the manager, said there was a team of Russian workers that came onboard while we were in Ft. Lauderdale. It seems that they will be doing some needed maintainance with the motors and belts, thus shutting the system down as necessary. We wish they could save this work for the night time. According to Tom, they may be tackling this job all the way to San Diego. So far, our deck on one has remained cool, and we hope it stays that way.

 

We ordered one entree of beef wellington and one of the grilled lamb chops. Both were equally excellent, and hot, we might add. We have to give our new head chef Daniel an A plus for his over-the-top cuisine on this continuing trip. We are also happy to hear that he will be back for next year's grand voyage around the world.

 

The show for tonight was the Phillip Huber Marionettes, a popular and very funny performance that made everyone smile as promised. We sort of expected the late show to begin as 9:30pm, as they tended to do on the world cruise. But so far, the shows have been mostly at 8 and 10pm. This adjustment may be made to accommodate the numbers that show up each evening. No matter how the staff does the scheduling, some folks will just call it an evening after dinner, and go to bed, thus cutting off their chances of getting that extra revenue in the casino or the bars.

 

Getting back to our room, we found another invitation to a cocktail party tomorrow in the Explorers Lounge, hosted by Captain Fred and Henk M. This one will be at 7pm, and is for after-dinner or pre-dinner cocktails. Don't know what the occassion is, but we will be happy to attend.

 

Looking forward to another day at sea tomorrow. We have been rocking and rolling a bit, but not enough to bother us. We would not have even thought about it, but while at the front desk, we could not help but overhear one guest after the other asking for seasick meds. We were sailing around Cuba this afternoon, an area where it is also turbulent and choppy.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 123 Sailing Towards Cartagena, Colombia May 1, 2014 Thursday Totally cloudy, 81 degrees

 

It sure did not look like it was going to be a sunny day when we woke up this morning. The clouds were thick and the seas choppy once again. At least it is not raining, and it is still warm, but sticky.

 

The morning's activities began with another ship's fire drill. We could see the water from a fire hose cascading from deck three or two in the forward end of the ship while we were walking. There is a handful of passengers that walk in the morning like us, but not many. Most all of the teak lounges have filled up now that we have a few days at sea. Wonder if this ship will ever be converted to have lanai suites on the lower promenade deck? Bet that would start a war with the regulars.

 

Barbara H gave a talk on things to do and see in Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. Actually that stop has been moved to a much better location at Puntarenas. At least there, we can get off the ship and walk the town and beachfront. Dozens of vendors are set up along the beach, as well as many bars and cafes. Tours out of the area take you far into the mountains and the country's capital of San Jose. It's a long and winding drive, which we have done numerous times in the past.

 

The Panama Canal is coming up soon on Saturday. We have lost count as to how many times we have transited this famous waterway. There is always something to learn about its history, and also the continuation of the improvements being made over the last 10 years. We have been lucky to see the new projects taking place as the locks are being expanded on both ends of the canal.

 

This may sound funny, but we were happy to find that the broken elevator in the aft section has been repaired, and it is finally working. This elevator has been stuck on 8 for four months now. There is still one problem however. The sign inside the car will say deck B when you are really on deck 4. If you ignore the sign and listen to the annoucement in the elevator, you cannot get lost.

 

Wine tasting was held at 2pm in the lower dining room, complimentary by invitation for being a five star Mariner. Since we seldom drink wine, we usually do not attend. Red wines can give one of us a pounding headache, so it is something to avoid completely. Thank goodness there is no such problem with a good, smooth and aged scotch.

 

Even though it was cloudy, we spent a few hours at the aft pool. It was still warm and muggy. The funny thing was we counted about a total of 10 people sitting back here today. Someone on the bar staff had decided to change the piped music back here, and play something new and loud enough for us to hear it. By 4pm, we had time to watch a movie, The Bounty Hunter, in our room. Yesterday, we watched, Saving Mr.Banks, and found it very well done.

 

Dancing With the Stars at Sea involved learning the cha-cha this afternoon. We will have to take a peek inside the lounge to see how many potential dancers are participating on this cruise. It sure was popular on the grand world voyage, although in all fairness, we think that it was more of a personality contest as much as a dance contest.

 

At 7pm, we were invited to another cocktail party with Captain Fred and Henk M in the Explorers Lounge. The staff did something different in here tonight by taking out most of the single chairs, and putting tall cocktail tables in the center between the couches. This worked well, because you could leave your drink on the table, and be able to snack on the jars of formal nuts and the appetizers that were being passed around the groups. A new duo, Adagio, entertained us for the hour of party time. There was one violinist and one pianist, a woman that could be a sister of Emily, our librarian. We do believe that Margaret and Keith would have been much happier with this duo, as they played quite well together......on key and not shrill.

 

Dinner followed at 8pm, and we each had a different entree. The parmesan-crusted veal was really tasty, and the twin stuffed roasted quail were also good. The show was at 10pm, and it appeared that Jordan Bennet may have been a comedian, reading between the lines of Gene's description.

 

On our way back to the room, we checked out the casino to see how busy it was. We can report that it was full of customers, which will make the staff and HAL quite happy.

 

With the time change last night, we were finding that we were tired and glad to turn in by 10pm.

 

Tomorrow's port is a short stop in Cartagena, Colombia. Doubt that we will leave the gate.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 124 Cartagena, Colombia May 2, 2014 Friday Part 1 Chance of rain, 79 degrees, very humid

 

Today's port of call was Cartagena, Colombia, located on the northern coast of South America. These days it is called the Pearl of the Caribbean, athough its history is conflicting. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, Cartagena was a gateway for gold leaving for Spain, and slaves arriving from Africa. Then along came the pirates, such as Sir Francis Drake, who sacked the city, robbing them of their riches. Massive forifications were built, and have lasted to this day. Mixed with the Old Walled City, Cartagena has towering highrise buildings, resorts, and hotels for those seeking a warm vacation. There are castles, churches, cathedrals, palaces, museums, many of which are within the Old Walled City, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. And we have seen them all many times over the years. For that reason, we chose to stay near the ship at the cruise terminal. Another good reason to stick close to home was the fact that all aboard time was 1:30pm.

 

While we were dining on deck four, the Coral Princess pulled across from our berth. She must have a gazillion passengers. That means there will be about 4000 passengers onshore today, and that is not counting crew members. With the large number of buses parked on the dock, we assume many of those were on tours. We watched from the promenade deck while the people were coming off of the behemoth ship. The line never seemed to stop. Actually, there were two exits on the Coral Princess, which is a good thing.

 

Walking to the terminal building, we realized it was going to be a very hot and humid day. Rain would have been welcomed if it happened, which it never did. It was quite overcast today, but what veiled the city was more like smoke or smog. It ony added to the stickiness. This is probably one reason that this is the end of the tourist season. As hurricane season approaches, the weather must get even less comfortable.

 

The terminal building houses a very nice and air-conditioned shop for souveniers. As well as highend jewelry, they offer coffee, candies, liqueres, clothing and all types of Colombian souveniers. We always find something to buy in here, and today was no exemption. They sell a collection of locally-made calabash or gourd jewelry sets. We added one more set to the growing collection.

 

Outside surrounding this shop are gardens that are full of birds and even some monkeys. Some are caged, but most of the birds are free-flying. One rather feisty blue and yellow macaw was having a fine time chasing the folks and trying to chew or untie shoes. He was quite adept at pulling velcrostraps on sandals, showing how smart these birds can be. One thing he did know, was what a cane was, as many of the elderly ladies shooed him away with it. We are not totally sure he was harmless, because with that strong beak, he could be capable of severing a finger if he chose to. Anyway, it was amusing watching his antics as he chased lots of folks.

 

What else did we see? Well, there were the too familiar peacocks, many of them roosting in the trees overhead. Kind of makes us wonder how noisy they have become at home? Springtime brings out the noise with these birds. A cage in the garden was full of small vermillion cardinals, native to South America. Also caged were a broad-winged hawk, a band-bellied owl, and a few toucans. They had both the keel-billed toucans and the channel-billed toucans....so colorful, they did not look real.

 

A special breed of monkeys were either in cages or running around loose. They were small, and unfortunately unidentified without any signs showing their name. At the entrance to the terminal, we saw a flock of greater flamingos, which they have named American flamingos. In the same enclosure with them, were a half dozen black swans. Joining this group were a few large iguanas, who were happy to munch on lettuce their caretakers had just left for them. The peacocks also seemed to like the lettuce, like ours do at home.

 

Outside the terminal, we saw some great egrets, brown pelicans, and the magnificent frigate birds. Great-tailed grackles, which look a lot like crows, were sneaking into the enclosures and stealing the bird feed. A dark reddish squirrel was busy eating the papayas and seeds that were left for the birds. We are not huge fans of squirrels, since they are responsible for the destruction of our walnuts, pecans, and almond trees at home. But this one was very neat-looking, and probably just as destructive.

 

After spending about an hour here, we headed back to the ship. This time we cheated and took the waiting free shuttle back. We were melted and in need of some ice water. Gallons of it. Sailaway was at 1:30pm, and we were surprised to see piles of lounges that will be set up tomorrow on the aft deck while we are sailing through the canal. If the weather is as hot as today, we doubt there will be a whole lot of people outside tomorrow. Today there were many more people at the sailaway. There was also a different type of music back there with the newly-embarked guitar man, David, playing some nice tunes. Guess you can say he is a little bit country, and little bit rock and roll. We like his music, as it is a nice change from the world cruise band.

 

Cooling off in our room, we ordered room service lunch while watching a movie, Gravity. It sure was different than most movies we have seen.....really plays with your imagination.

 

Other things happening today included learning the tango for the Dancing with the Stars at Sea program. One could also sign up for the special dinner, Le Cirque, held in the Pinnacle Grill this evening. We did notice that the price was the usual $49., but the dinner with wine pairing was $69., which we believe was $10 less than on the world cruise. We stuck with the dining room dinner, having entrees of turkey with all of the trimmings.

 

Let's Get It On, was the show performed by the Amsterdam singers and dancers this evening at 8 and 10pm. Last year, this showtime was at 9:30pm, and we expected that to remain the same on this voyage. Wonder who sets the times on these activities? The cruise director perhaps? Anyway, the heat of the day had left us really tired, so we missed the show again.

 

Tomorrow will find us all waking up and finding we have started into the Panama Canal locks. Hope the weather cooperates because we like to watch the transit from the outside decks all day.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 124 Cartagena, Colombia May 2, 2014 Friday Part 1 Chance of rain, 79 degrees, very humid

 

Today's port of call was Cartagena, Colombia, located on the northern coast of South America. These days it is called the Pearl of the Caribbean, athough its history is conflicting. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, Cartagena was a gateway for gold leaving for Spain, and slaves arriving from Africa. Then along came the pirates, such as Sir Francis Drake, who sacked the city, robbing them of their riches. Massive forifications were built, and have lasted to this day. Mixed with the Old Walled City, Cartagena has towering highrise buildings, resorts, and hotels for those seeking a warm vacation. There are castles, churches, cathedrals, palaces, museums, many of which are within the Old Walled City, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. And we have seen them all many times over the years. For that reason, we chose to stay near the ship at the cruise terminal. Another good reason to stick close to home was the fact that all aboard time was 1:30pm.

 

While we were dining on deck four, the Coral Princess pulled across from our berth. She must have a gazillion passengers. That means there will be about 4000 passengers onshore today, and that is not counting crew members. With the large number of buses parked on the dock, we assume many of those were on tours. We watched from the promenade deck while the people were coming off of the behemoth ship. The line never seemed to stop. Actually, there were two exits on the Coral Princess, which is a good thing.

 

Walking to the terminal building, we realized it was going to be a very hot and humid day. Rain would have been welcomed if it happened, which it never did. It was quite overcast today, but what veiled the city was more like smoke or smog. It ony added to the stickiness. This is probably one reason that this is the end of the tourist season. As hurricane season approaches, the weather must get even less comfortable.

 

The terminal building houses a very nice and air-conditioned shop for souveniers. As well as highend jewelry, they offer coffee, candies, liqueres, clothing and all types of Colombian souveniers. We always find something to buy in here, and today was no exemption. They sell a collection of locally-made calabash or gourd jewelry sets. We added one more set to the growing collection.

 

Outside surrounding this shop are gardens that are full of birds and even some monkeys. Some are caged, but most of the birds are free-flying. One rather feisty blue and yellow macaw was having a fine time chasing the folks and trying to chew or untie shoes. He was quite adept at pulling velcrostraps on sandals, showing how smart these birds can be. One thing he did know, was what a cane was, as many of the elderly ladies shooed him away with it. We are not totally sure he was harmless, because with that strong beak, he could be capable of severing a finger if he chose to. Anyway, it was amusing watching his antics as he chased lots of folks.

 

What else did we see? Well, there were the too familiar peacocks, many of them roosting in the trees overhead. Kind of makes us wonder how noisy they have become at home? Springtime brings out the noise with these birds. A cage in the garden was full of small vermillion cardinals, native to South America. Also caged were a broad-winged hawk, a band-bellied owl, and a few toucans. They had both the keel-billed toucans and the channel-billed toucans....so colorful, they did not look real.

 

A special breed of monkeys were either in cages or running around loose. They were small, and unfortunately unidentified without any signs showing their name. At the entrance to the terminal, we saw a flock of greater flamingos, which they have named American flamingos. In the same enclosure with them, were a half dozen black swans. Joining this group were a few large iguanas, who were happy to munch on lettuce their caretakers had just left for them. The peacocks also seemed to like the lettuce, like ours do at home.

 

Outside the terminal, we saw some great egrets, brown pelicans, and the magnificent frigate birds. Great-tailed grackles, which look a lot like crows, were sneaking into the enclosures and stealing the bird feed. A dark reddish squirrel was busy eating the papayas and seeds that were left for the birds. We are not huge fans of squirrels, since they are responsible for the destruction of our walnuts, pecans, and almond trees at home. But this one was very neat-looking, and probably just as destructive.

 

After spending about an hour here, we headed back to the ship. This time we cheated and took the waiting free shuttle back. We were melted and in need of some ice water. Gallons of it. Sailaway was at 1:30pm, and we were surprised to see piles of lounges that will be set up tomorrow on the aft deck while we are sailing through the canal. If the weather is as hot as today, we doubt there will be a whole lot of people outside tomorrow. Today there were many more people at the sailaway. There was also a different type of music back there with the newly-embarked guitar man, David, playing some nice tunes. Guess you can say he is a little bit country, and little bit rock and roll. We like his music, as it is a nice change from the world cruise band.

 

Cooling off in our room, we ordered room service lunch while watching a movie, Gravity. It sure was different than most movies we have seen.....really plays with your imagination.

 

Other things happening today included learning the tango for the Dancing with the Stars at Sea program. One could also sign up for the special dinner, Le Cirque, held in the Pinnacle Grill this evening. We did notice that the price was the usual $49., but the dinner with wine pairing was $69., which we believe was $10 less than on the world cruise. We stuck with the dining room dinner, having entrees of turkey with all of the trimmings.

 

Let's Get It On, was the show performed by the Amsterdam singers and dancers this evening at 8 and 10pm. Last year, this showtime was at 9:30pm, and we expected that to remain the same on this voyage. Wonder who sets the times on these activities? The cruise director perhaps? Anyway, the heat of the day had left us really tired, so we missed the show again.

 

Tomorrow will find us all waking up and finding we have started into the Panama Canal locks. Hope the weather cooperates because we like to watch the transit from the outside decks all day.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

I had been re reading your Barbados day, and you mentioned a large yacht that you saw there, and wondered who might own it?.. We were in the Caribbean in January and that same yacht was moored across from our balcony, and again moored in Ft Lauderdale, when we got there! We found out that the yacht belonged to Steven Spielberg!! the blue on the back of the boat is a swimming pool, it has a cover for it that is a heli - pad!! We watched as the crew aboard opened a garage in the side of the boat, where there were 2 speed boats, and a wave runner, among other things. We only saw crew aboard, never could tell if the owner was aboard!! When we got to Ft. Lauderdale, we happened to be on the dock right next to that same yacht!! there were a few signs saying it was a private yacht, and had cameras watching!! :eek:

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We too have seen his yacht. He keeps it docked here in FLL for the winter usually at the Hyatt at the docks in front of the Pelican Bar. Quite impressive to see in person

 

 

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Report # 125 Transiting the Panama Canal May 3, 2014 Saturday Chance of rain, 82 degrees

 

We started our day with the treat of Panama Rolls, served to us in the dining room this morning. These were made with the traditional filling of custard and tangerines, the only way we really prefer them. A filling made with beancurd just did not cut it, although we are certain the crew members enjoyed them. We found a change in the breakfast amenities......no more little jam jars. We have the round packets of jams and jellys now.

 

Today's transit through the canal started at 5am when the local pilot boarded the ship on the Caribbean side at the city of Colon. We were waking up sometime after we had entered the Gatun Locks at 6:30am. By the time we finished breakfast, we were sitting in Gatun Lake, awaiting our turn to begin the transit. It was so hot outside, and made worse by the fact there was no breeze. The humidity today was so heavy, you could have cut it with a knife, so to speak. Walking the promenade deck only made us sweat more, so we went down to the room to take care of emailing.

 

That was not so easy, because the system shut down for no reason at all around 10:30am. That has been the biggest glitch in this new system so far. Your computer is not automatically shut off when this happens. No, the minutes keeping ticking away, even though you are not online. We sure hope this gets remedied soon.

 

Wanting to watch the transit, we went to the aft pool and set up our usual spot with our lounges. As we expected, many more lounges were set up on both sides of the pool. But they were empty. It was too hot for most folks to sit in this sun. You had to get in the pool often to cool off. Once the ship began moving, there was a breeze making it tolerable. Right behind us was the Coral Princess, the same ship in port yesterday. Wonder if we meet up in Costa Rica in a few days?

 

The ship reached the Pedro Miguel Locks before 1:30pm. A funny thing happened at this lock today. Coming into the lock, we saw their firehouse and truck involved in a test, we assume. They had sprayed foam, which was a sudsy type of dishwashing liquid. It even smelled like dishwashing liquid. Anyway, it was picked up by the wind, and was floating in the air, giving the appearance that it was snowing. It did temporarily scare away the flocks of frigates, pelicans, and egrets that we had been watching all day.

 

By the time we went under the Centenniel Bridge, we noticed a change in the weather. There was a nice breeze blowing, and we soon discovered why. Looking on the horizon, we saw very dark skies, especially in the Panama City area. We could hear thunder in the distance, and knew we were going to get some rain. It started lightly but soon turned to heavy by the time we reached the locks at Miraflores. It sure felt good, but we were disappointed not to be able to wave to our dinner buddies, Bill & Marianne, who made us promise we would wave for the webcam on the Miraflores building. We did retreat to the promenade deck in hopes we could be seen from there. We did wear yellow clothing, so we do hope we were visible. One thing for sure was that we were quite visible to the many flies and bees coming from the wooded shoreline. Lucky we did not get stung.

 

Going under the Bridge of the Americas, we passed Balboa, Panama City, and Fuerte Amador as we headed out into the Pacific Ocean and on our way towards Costa Rica. The rain had stopped, even though we could still hear the rolling thunder over Panama City. Guess we are close to the start of the wet season. An indication that it has been dry, were the presence of brightly yellow blooming trees among the forested islands and hillsides flanking the canal. Our narrator today, Antonio Grenald, pointed these trees out, explaining that they only bloom once at year at the end of a long dry spell. They are called guayacan trees, unique because the blooms will last less than one week. It was our lucky day to be here during this bloom period, because in all of our transits, and there have been over a dozen, these trees have always been deciduous or leafed out.

 

Instead of turning left out of the canal, like we did back in January, the Captain turned right, heading towards our next stop in Costa Rica. More times than not, we did a half day site-seeing in the Gulfo Dulce. But not on this cruise. In fact, Captain Fred has said in the past, that he does not prefer to go there, because we see only some trees and an occassion dolphin. And it is always hot and humid.

 

We ended our day with a delicious dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, by special invitation with the hotel manager and guest relations manager, Henk and Christel. We have had the pleasure of sailing with them on most all of the world cruises since 2008, when they joined the Amsterdam. The four of us discussed the world cruise in detail, especially the addition of our new head chef, Daniel, who we have found to be one of the best ever. It was interesting listening to both of them tell us how they have to cope with the different personalities on the ship during the grand voyage. Of course, on a world cruise, many of the guests are well-traveled, but also more demanding. As managers, they seem to be able to take this in stride, but admitted they are really enjoying this cruise, because the pressure is off. They now have the freedom to walk the decks without constant recognition, and being asked millions of questions. Sure, they miss some of the folks, as we do, but not all.

 

We asked about how many repeat passengers had sailed on this year's world cruise, and the answer was about 20%, or about 200 passengers. That is a very high rate of returnees, and reflects on the job they have done to keep them coming back. Not that he was bragging, but they are receiving some of the early returns on the guest surveys, and so far, they have some of the highest marks ever on a world cruise. They deserve bragging rights on this one. They stressed it was important for all of the guests to complete the online surveys, as they are only good for 10 days after the trip ended.

 

We found out some interesting facts concerning the Mariner Days onboard the ship from Durban to Cape Town. According to Henk, this affair was over two years in the planning. To gather the guests involved in the affair, this was the only suitable time frame they could utilize. It did not work for all of the guests, since many were on overland safaris, like us. Now according to the separate questionnaire that we filled out after the entourage all left, the guests were more in favor of this type of party, rather than disrupting the ship for several days while building structures for a one evening blast. Keeping that in mind, they are leaning towards providing the complimentary wine/beer/soda sailaway parties occassionally throughout the world voyage next year. And perhaps the new format of this Mariner Days will continue in the future. Sure sounds good to us.

 

Henk and Christel will be staying on this voyage until it ends in Seattle, then will have a very welcomed break to spend some vacation time at home in the Netherlands. They will be returning on the last couple of Alaska runs, and will be here for the final Grand Asia/South Pacific Voyage in the fall. We thanked them for the 2 1/2 hour dinner, where we got to share info about all of our families and interests off of the ships.

 

We were way too tired to go to the show, we know, another lame excuse. t The entertainer was Shirley Dominguez, a harpist, who was also playing at the end of the world cruise. Lucky for us, the clocks went back one hour this evening.......always a plus.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Love those panama rolls. I noticed they were about a 1/3 of the size they used to be. Good I guess, because I didn't gain as much on my cruise.

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