New Year’s Eve 2020 was our 15th wedding anniversary, and we had planned a cruise down the Mexican Riviera. Covid messed up those plans like so many other things in life, and we ended up pushing it back a year.
Wendy and I headed to San Diego on December 28 where we worked remotely and took the opportunity to visit two of our team members who live there. On the 31st, our friends Chad and Shay arrived to join us for our anniversary celebration and embark with us on the cruise.
We made a late afternoon jaunt to the Gaslamp District of San Diego. It was crazy busy already so we opted to grab a quick bite at a small burger joint and pick up some wine at Ralph’s to enjoy back at the hotel. It ended up being a quiet celebration and an early night.
On New Year’s day, we headed to a great breakfast joint and did some shopping along the harbor. Chad and I found a bar to watch the Iowa Hawkeyes choke away their bowl game in the last eight minutes. We then walked up to the U.S.S. Midway museum. The decommissioned aircraft carrier was fascinating to tour. Even the ladies enjoyed it more than they thought they would. We had a ball.
The next day we boarded Holland America’s Koningsdam and headed down the Pacific coast of Mexico. After a day at sea, we made ports of call in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Wendy and I chose to stay on the ship in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. We really desired to enjoy the quiet on this trip. Other than a mid-day trip to the pool to enjoy a stogie while I read, Wendy and I spent a lot of time in our cabin and on our verandah. It was awesome.
A lot of people have been curious about how Covid affected the trip. The cruise required all passengers to be vaccinated and we had to produce a negative Covid test that was taken no more than 48 hours before embarkation. Masks were required in hallways, elevators, and interior public spaces when you weren’t eating or drinking. The ship seemed to be about half-full, so it never really seemed very crowded. The two things we really noticed were that the ship seemed to have a smaller staff so we sometimes had to wait longer than expected for someone to take a drink order around the pool, and we only got to hear the B.B. King All-Stars perform once. We assume that one of them must have gotten sick because all of their subsequent performances were canceled.
Wendy and I did get off the ship in Mazatlan to see Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, her husband, Chino, and our new nephew, Ian. Suzanna and Chino live in Mazatlan where they serve on the base of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). It was fun to see their apartment, get a tour of the YWAM base, and have lunch together right on the beach. The day flew by before we knew it and we had to depart. It was so much fun to see them!
Wendy and Shay enjoyed time in the Ship’s spa during the week, and we all enjoyed our evening dinners together. The final two days of the cruise were days at sea as we journeyed from Puerto Vallarta all the way back up the Mexican coast to San Diego. It was a great week. After the winter storm that we just experienced yesterday, we all agreed that we’d rather be back on the ship!
Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective (CaD Gen 47) –
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Genesis 47:9 (NIV)
This morning as I booted up to write this post and record the podcast, one app flashed a big banner saying “2021 is a Wrap” and offering to show me all the stats and data from the last twelve months. And so, it begins. December and January are typically times of contemplation about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Get ready for media to start posting all of the lists of the “bests,” “worsts,” and “mosts” for 2021.
We’re coming up on two years since COVID changed life on our planet. In early 2020, Wendy and I went on a cruise with friends. The pandemic had barely begun and was believed at that point to be confined to China. Our cruise line told us that passengers from China had been barred from the cruise. Within a few weeks after that cruise, the world was in full lockdown.
One of the observations I’ve made in these two years is the degree to which people fear death, and just how powerfully that fear can drive a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.
Today’s chapter is fascinating to read in the context of our own times. The known world was in a similar state of mass insecurity due to the seven years of famine they were experiencing. Step-by-step, Egyptians submitted their money, livestock, land, and their very selves to the State in exchange for their survival. By the time the famine was over, the State of Egypt owned everything and everyone.
The thing that resonated most deeply with me was Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh when asked his age. He speaks of his life as a pilgrimage. The Hebrew word is māgôr and it isn’t very common, though it’s already been used a few times in reference to the lives of Jacob, his father, and grandfather. What struck me was the metaphor. He sees his entire life as a pilgrimage, a sojourn, a period of exile on this earth. As the songwriter put it: “This world is not my home, I’m a just a passin’ through.”
Jesus called His followers to have this same perspective as Jacob. He called me to understand that what happens after this earthly life is more real, more important, and valuable than what happens here on this earth. What comes after this life is where Jesus tells me to invest my treasure, which in turn changes the way I observe, think, believe, and live in my own pilgrimage as a “poor wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe.” Jesus also tells me to expect trouble on the earthly journey and to be at peace in the midst of it.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded by Jacob’s experience that there is nothing new under the sun. Pandemics, famines, floods, earthquakes, wars, and eruptions dot human history. Jesus not only tells me to expect more of the same but also calls them the birth pains which will lead to the nativity of something profoundly new.
Wendy and I are once again going on a cruise with friends to start 2022. I’m looking forward to it despite the continued restrictions. Just as our last cruise marked, for me, the beginning bookend of COVD, I’m hoping I might look back on this cruise as the other bookend. In the meantime, I continue to press on in my own pilgrimage on this earthly journey and expectantly look forward to a homecoming that lies beyond its end.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Wendy and I experienced an unprecedented amount of travel between November 2019 and February 2020. Ironically, one of the first trips on the calendar was a Florida and Caribbean cruise getaway with our friends Kevin and Becky. It was after this trip was booked that we decided to spend the holidays in the UK with our daughter, Taylor, along with son-in-law Clayton and grandson, Milo. Then, our daughter Madison’s wedding and Wendy’s sister, Suzanna’s wedding got added to the calendar. Add business travel to these family events and I spent 57 of 105 days living out of a suitcase between mid-November and late February.
Fortunately, the first trip we booked ended up at the end of the travel gauntlet. We were ready to escape the Midwest winter, the stress of travel, and decompress with friends.
We flew to Florida in late January and worked remotely from a lovely suite in Pompano Beach, FL, just across the street from the beach. Kev and Beck joined us mid-week. We then departed from the Port of Miami on Saturday, Feb 1 for a seven-day eastern Caribbean cruise on Carnival’s Conquest. Super Bowl LII was in Miami that weekend, so it was a little crazy!
Our ports of call were Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. This was our first cruise on Carnival. Cruising will always be my favorite type of vacation. Being at sea fills something deep within me that this land-locked Midwestern boy can’t explain.
We loved our time with friends.
As for our ports of call, Grand Turk was okay. We shopped at the port and enjoyed drinks at Margaritaville. San Juan was, once again, a highlight for us. The old city is a favorite stop. We enjoyed lunch at the Choco Bar Cortes and Kev and I enjoyed a bevy and stogie at the Cigar House while the ladies shopped. St. Thomas was also an enjoyable port, and we really enjoyed a bevy at Taphus while shopping in the central business district. We chose not to get off the boat at Amber Cove, and enjoyed being on the mostly deserted ship.
The very best part of the cruise was, of course, our time with friends. We enjoyed the sun, fun, good food, good drink, laughter, love, and the making of so many memories. They are Kansas City Chief’s fans and it was a lot of fun getting to watch KC’s come-from-behind victory after dinner on Super Bowl Sunday.
We also enjoyed making new friends at the ship’s Alchemy Bar. The mixologists, Aleks, Brian, and Sonja became dear friends during the week. We learned from them and came to sincerely appreciate each one of them.
Below is a gallery of photos from our time in Florida and on the cruise. Enjoy.
He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it. 2 Chronicles 4:2 (NIV)
Earlier this year Wendy and I went on our second cruise in a handful of years. I love being on a cruise. I could sit on deck and look out over the ocean for hours and be perfectly content. I don’t know how this land-locked Iowa boy gained a love for the sea. I’ve had it since I was a kid and the ocean was just a picture in a book and figment of my imagination.
In today’s chapter, the Chronicler continues to describe Solomon’s temple and all of the furnishings that were crafted by an artisan named Huram. I couldn’t help notice that it describes Huram making a “Sea.” It was really a giant water reservoir or pool. The water was used for ritual washing and cleansing. But the Hebrew word used by the Chronicler translates “Sea.” Interesting choice.
In the Hebrew rituals, washing and cleansing were an important part of worship. You know, the whole “cleanliness is next to godliness” motif. Jesus and his disciples, however, were criticized by the religious leaders for not ceremonially washing before they ate (That’s right. Jesus was a religious rule breaker!). Jesus’ response was classic. He made it clear to his critics that washing their hands religiously while ignoring their filthy souls was completely hypocritical. Jesus would elsewhere claim to be “Living Water”: An internal, eternal, spiritual spring within to quench, refresh, sustain, wash, and cleanse.
In the quiet this morning I’ve been meditating on the “Sea” described by the Chronicler. A ritual pool intended to be a word picture of the internal, spiritual washing we all need. By Jesus day, the word picture had been lost to empty religious regulation. Jesus sought to redeem the metaphor. He would be the “sea” and “spring.” He would be the Living Water not for the washing of dirty hands, but the cleansing of our stained souls.
Paul wrote to his friend, Titus:
“[Jesus] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [emphasis added]
As I sit on deck of a ship and look out over the seemingly endless ocean, there’s something that it does for my soul. I think my spirit connects the sea to something deeper in Spirit. I look out over the sea and my spirit touches the word picture intended by the “Sea” made by Huram. My spirit connects to the “Sea” of Living Water endlessly springing up within, filling, quenching, sustaining, washing, and cleansing.
Back home in Iowa, a photo and a memory will have to suffice as a reminder (until our next cruise!).
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV)
Wendy and I came home from our cruise a week ago with a mixture of emotions. We’ve done some debriefing about it together this past week. As I admitted in my recap, our time aboard fell into a very simple (and some would say “boring”) routine. We read a lot. We watched movies in our room. We sat by the pool in the warm sun. We only went to one of the big stage shows they offer in the evenings. We only truly explored one of the four ports of call. The daily list of activities we could enjoy was mind-boggling, but we pretty much ignored it all. We didn’t want endless activity. We have that at home.
On one hand we truly enjoyed the rest, the warmth, and the break from routine. We enjoyed being together as we always do. It was quiet and peaceful. At the same time, we both came home feeling that our Spirit-tank was empty. Independent of one another, we had thoughts of some thing on which we wanted to ponder and dig into. We had plans for journaling, meditating, seeking, and conversation together. We thought the downtime would afford us the opportunity to dig deep from a spiritual perspective. In retrospect, we didn’t do that, nor did we really even talk about it before we left.
In today’s chapter, Jeremiah’s prophetic poetry is pointed at his own people. He offers a word picture that leapt off the page for me in the quiet this morning. They had access to God’s “spring of living water,” but chose to dig their own cisterns instead. Yeah. I get that. I kind of feel like that with our missed opportunity a few weeks ago.
That confessed, I’m not beating myself up about this. It is what it is. It was a restful week and an enjoyable getaway. Nevertheless, it has served as a reminder for me. The line between “surface” and “Spirit” is an important one. Drinking from the spring of Living Water is not the same as drinking from the well-dug cistern of personal satisfaction.
Chalk up another lesson for the journey. I’m going to do it differently the next time we getaway together for a time of rest.
Four years ago Wendy and I enjoyed a seven-day Caribbean cruise on the Holland America Line. It was wonderful, and we’ve been looking forward to repeating the experience ever since. Last week we headed out of Ft. Lauderdale Florida on Holland America’s MS Eurodam for long-awaited week-long adventure back to the Caribbean.
As Wendy and I looked back on the experience I found it fascinating what a difference four years can make. I think we were more tired going into this trip. We were less set for adventure and more interested in rest. That said, I think our expectations may have also been set higher by the amazing memories we shared from our previous cruise.
The truth is, we did very little by way of the commercial-worthy activities. We sat around in the warmth of the Caribbean sun. Most days sailed by with the two of us reading by the pool and sipping cold, fruity concoctions. We dressed up and ate good food in the evenings. We had fun being alone together. We met a few interesting people, but most of our interpersonal interaction was with the kind and warm-hearted staff who almost always went out of their way to take care of us.
For the record, here’s the summary with photos to follow:
2/24/18 Des Moines to Ft. Lauderdale. Wendy and I have some travel-hell stories from our past and we’re always waiting for some way we’re going to get screwed by weather or airlines whenever we travel. We came close this time as our flight from to DSM to O’hare was late taking off and we had zero time to run (we did the literal terminal sprint) to our connecting flight. Fortunately, the gate agents were waiting for us and they shut the door behind us. Nevertheless, the stress level was a little high as the plane made what felt like a 60 mile taxi from runway to Terminal C. We spent the evening at the Renaissance Cruise Port, took a little stroll to do some shopping and called it a night.
2/25/19 Leaving Fort Lauderdale
We took a transfer service from the hotel to the Cruise Port. The shuttle service was terribly unorganized and the whole thing felt chaotic, but we eventually made it to Port Everglades along with about 3 million other cruise passengers. Wendy and I boarded the ship and had a little lunch on board until it was announced that our stateroom was ready. We were in stateroom 7060 which was a suite with a private verandah. The Eurodam has recently been updated and the room was gorgeous and spacious with lots of features like USB ports for charging devices and a big screen television stationed directly across from the bed so you can lay in bed and watch one of the on-demand movies or television shows.
Our luggage arrived fairly quickly and we get settled in. We were really excited to finally be on board and heading out to sea. We also had complimentary champagne in the suite so we drank champagne and stood on the verandah watching as we left port. The warm Florida sun felt great on our cold, pasty-white midwest bodies.
We decided to dine the first night at one of the on-board restaurants, Canaletto’s, which was offering a discount for the first night. We enjoyed an Italian meal before heading to bed.
2/26/18 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Wendy and I had been to the private island, Half Moon Cay, on our last cruise. It’s a small island set up specifically for Cruise ships stop to let passengers sun themselves in relative seclusion as well as participate in any number of activities. We opted to stay on the ship this time and we settled into what became our repetitive routine for the trip:
Get up. Eat breakfast.
Go to the pool at the back of the Lido deck
Read. Maybe sit by the pool for a few minutes. Go back to reading.
Have a cold fruity drink.
More reading, and another cold, fruity concoction.
Watch a movie in our stateroom (nap, maybe). It was a “Marvel” week. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Dr. Strange, and Thor Ragnarok
Get showered and dressed.
Go do dinner.
Take in a little entertainment.
Go to bed.
2/27/18 At Sea
One of the things Wendy and I love about a cruise are the “dress up” nights. The reality is that most people don’t really take it too seriously, but we like getting dressed to the nines and making an evening of it. We stopped at the Pinnacle Lounge for a pre-dinner cocktail and ran into a group of fellow passengers from Scotland who were wearing their dress kilts. Awesome. I totally have to channel my Scotch/Irish genes one of these days and do the kilt thing.
2/28/18 Ocho Rios, Jamaica
We got off the ship for, maybe, 20 minutes. Our plan had been a quiet, leisurely stroll to do a little souvenir shopping and taking in the local sights. We were so inundated with aggressive locals getting in our face and trying to sell us everything from taxi cab rides to tours and other (unmentionable) things that we ended up feeling really uncomfortable. We turned around and getting right back on the ship. Sad, really.
3/1/18 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
We stayed on the ship and followed our routine.
3/2 At Sea
Somewhere along the line Wendy and I decided it would be fun to do our own personal Pub Crawl on our day at sea. We counted nine bars on the ship and knew we’d need plenty of time and space between stops. We started with an early Margarita by the pool at 10:30 am and gave ourselves 12 hours to hit all nine venues, ending at 10:30 pm. We had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and we met the challenge (but it’s probably not something we’ll repeat on our next cruise!).
3/3 Key West, FL
On our final day of the cruise we docked in Key West. It was the one port-of-call that we got off the ship and enjoyed. We walked down Duval Street, make a pilgrimage to Sloppy Joe’s (where Ernest Hemingway hung out back in the day), and stopped at Kermit’s for some authentic Key Lime pie (it was delicious).
Here are some of my photos from the week:
Eurodam docked in Ocho Rios.
“I’m hard of hearing. Do you have a quiet table in the back?” I should have specified “with lights”
Had to stop at “Irish Kevin’s” in Key West for our friend Kevin McQuade.
Our suite was very enjoyable. Lots of room, plenty of storage, and extremely comfortable.
HAL does a nice job with the little added touches.
Dapper and ready for dinner.
Wendy wouldn’t let me order it “shaken not stirred” but I still felt like 007.
We’re headed to sea! Cheers!
Hanging on the verandah at Half Moon Cay.
Enjoying our muster moment.
Love this woman.
Coffee, waves, and a good book. Perfect morning.
The sun sets on another lovely cruise.
Gotta love complimentary bubbly for embarkation!
This photo summarizes our week.
Waiting at the hotel for our shuttle to take us to the Cruise Port.
Sloppy Joe’s Key West.
View from our verandah in Key West
Wendy was pretty happy to be on vacation!
A pre-trip bevy at the Des Moines Airport prior to take-off.
This past weekend Suzanna reminded Wendy and me that it was just a year ago (on Valentine’s Day) that she and I left to go on a glorious seven day cruise. Over the weekend I have been thinking about all that changed in life since we returned from that cruise. Yesterday, as we gathered with our fellow Jesus followers, we were given time during worship to do some journaling. I poured out a list. Here’s a partial list:
We gave up our long-term dream of renovating 607 Columbus
We bought a lot and started planning to build a house
Suzanna finished high school and entered the working world
Taylor went through a divorce
Madison became a flight attendant
Moved to Salt Lake City for a month of training
Moved to Chicago to work out of O’Hare
Moved to back to Colorado
Taylor moved to Scotland to start grad school
Wendy’s parents moved
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
We broke ground on a new house
We decluttered 607 Columbus and put it on the market
Seismic shifts in work, relationships, and directions
Robbery of my hotel room: Computers, electronics, photos all stolen
607 Columbus sold, closed, and packed up after almost a decade.
Holidays without either Taylor or Madison present
Needless to say, life has felt a bit like shifting sand under our feet. I was reminded again by Ezekiel’s words this morning. The “end has come” for many things in our lives since Wendy and I arrived back in the harbor one year ago. With endings come certain feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and grief. And yet, I am reminded that God’s Message also tells there is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for endings and a time for beginnings. There is a time for some things to die away and a time for new things to be born. There is a time for old things pass away and a time for new things come.
Today, I am choosing to embrace both the grief and hope that come with transitions.
So I’ve been meaning to write a more extensive journal of our cruise for the archives, but being gone for a week and coming back to multiple work deadlines and the start of rehearsals has kept me from getting it done. So, here goes….
Our cruise was an anniversary present to ourselves. Eighth anniversaries aren’t known for huge celebrations, but we realized that we haven’t truly had a “get away from it all and unplug” vacation since we went to London back in 2009. Plus, this has been such a brutal winter that we both felt we needed to get somewhere sunny and warm for our mental health. Wendy had never been on a cruise, so during our anniversary dinner back in December we looked at options and quickly settled on a 7 night Holland America cruise of the Eastern Caribbean aboard the M.S. Westerdam.
I have done a few cruises in my life, but never on Holland America. We chose it because:
We’re not big partiers (scratch Carnival).
We preferred a smaller, quieter experience (scratch Royal Caribbean’s mega ships).
We preferred a slightly more mature crowd as opposed to a ship full of families and young people (scratch Disney, too).
Holland America has a reputation of providing more of an elegant “old world” cruising experience and while there were certainly younger families and adults on the voyage, we’d read that the average age of passengers was about 54. It turned out to be about right.
Knowing that winter weather can wreak havoc on getting anywhere from the midwest in February, we gave ourselves a one-day cushion and scheduled a flight to Ft. Lauderdale early on Valentine’s Day (Friday). We were scheduled to get in at 2:30 p.m. and booked a hotel near Port Everglades. We wouldn’t get on the ship until after noon the following day.
As it turned out, we were glad we gave ourselves cushion. Weather the day before meant that the crew who was supposed to fly us to Houston got in late the night before. There was a dispute between the crew and the airline how many hours of mandatory rest to which they were entitled so the three hour delay turned into a five hour delay getting out of Des Moines. Fortunately, a Houston based crew who were dead-heading home on the flight volunteered to fly the plane. Nevertheless, we missed our connection and got re-routed on a U.S. Airways flight through Charlotte. Long story short, we to our hotel after 11:00 p.m. after having gotten up at 3:00 a.m. that morning to be in Des Moines for 5:30 a.m. flight. Ugh!
Saturday morning was gorgeous in Florida and we walked over to a shopping area to get a few essentials and a couple of bottles of wine. Holland America allows you to bring one bottle of wine per person on the ship with you (no liquor). On board the ship water, iced tea, coffee and juices are included. Soda, beer, wine and liquor are available for a charge and 15% gratuity/service charge.
We got to Port Everglades about noon and got checked in. This being our first major vacation in four years, we splurged and upgraded to a Neptune Suite which came with a host of perks beyond the larger room and verandah. After hanging out in a large greyhound-esque warehouse lobby for an hour or so with everyone else going on the cruise, we were among the first group allowed to board the ship.
After our long day of travel on Friday, we were relieved to finally get to our suite on the 7th deck of the ship. It was luxuriously large (for a cruise) with a king sized bed, large windows, sitting area, walk in closet, double sink bathroom with jacuzzi tub and shower. A door in the suite led to a large verandah deck with two lounge chairs and a table for four. Our suite package included a bottle of champagne chilled and waiting for us in the room. Our luggage didn’t arrive at our room for an hour or so, so Wendy and I took our bottle of champagne out on the verandah and relaxed while we waited. We then took a little walk around the ship to acquaint ourselves with the public areas of the ten decks.
When you enter or leave port, it’s natural to want to stand along the rail and watch. The nice thing about having the verandah was that we could step out of our room anytime. By the time we had unpacked all of our belongings and organized our room, it was 5:00 p.m. The ship’s loud horn blew, signaling our departure and we stood out on the verandah and watched as we left port to smooth seas and a peaceful sunset.
As part of our upgrade we were invited to a reception in the Crow’s Nest Lounge that first night with the Captain and key members of the ship’s crew. It was nice to meet some of the crew and ask them some questions, and the drinks were free so, hey, why not?
Day 1 – At Sea
12:00 p.m. 24-33.3′ N 074-55.9′ W
Wind NE 7 knots
Partly Cloudy, 80 degrees F
After the craziness of getting to Florida, we were happy to spend the first day of our cruise at sea. We started the morning having breakfast delivered to our stateroom and eating out on our verandah. By the time we got the food and sat down to eat it wasn’t exactly hot, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.
The ocean was amazingly calm. Many people ask us about whether the motion of the ship bothered us. It didn’t. You can certainly feel the gentle rocking and rolling, but both of us found it to be kind of pleasurable. Wendy and I spent much of the day simply hanging out. We hung out at the pool for a while and worked out in the ships excellent fitness facility. Lunch was the ship’s buffet restaurant and the afternoon was spent napping and reading. We headed up on the deck at the back of the ship to watch the sun go down and took some pictures before dinner.
Dress for dinner in the ship’s gorgeous dining room was usually “smart casual.” We discovered that this basically meant no jeans/shorts/swimsuits. I wore a coat and tie most nights and Wendy wore a dress, but we discovered that most people gravitated towards the “casual” end of “smart casual.” The two days at sea were designated “formal nights” and so Wendy and I dressed to the nines. I brought my tux along and Wendy had a gorgeous dress.
Anyone who’s been on a cruise knows that evening meals are usually at a set time and you are assigned to eat with a table of other passengers throughout your voyage. Wendy and I had “open seating” with our cruise which meant we could go whenever we wanted and could choose to eat with others or eat by ourselves. With this being our anniversary cruise we chose to eat by ourselves on all but one night. This meant that we had to wait for a table to open up on a few nights, but they gave us a vibrating pager like other restaurants and we relaxed in the lounge nearby until called. The wait was never very long.
We ate in the Vista dining room each night and really enjoyed the experience. There was a standard menu with 6-8 items available anytime. Then each night there was a unique menu of appetizers, soup/salad, entrée, and dessert. On Holland America all soda, wine, and spirits are additional charge, but we discovered the a few nights in that we could oder a bottle of wine and have it saved under our room number for the following night. This was a cheaper option as we were able to milk one bottle of wine over three nights. The food and service were wonderful!
A lot of people have asked about the beverage policy on Holland America. Water, iced tea, coffee and juices are free. There is a drink package available for $45 per person which affords you up to 15 drinks per person per day. There are a few important caveats to consider, however. If one person in a cabin takes the drink package then both must get one. The 15 drinks does not include premium wines (we were not impressed with the house wines) or premium cocktails (which would not have been a problem as all the cocktails we purchased were standard). Wendy and I are not heavy drinkers so we opted out of getting the drink package. Looking back at our bar tab at the end of the week, we were wise to have done so. It only makes sense if you’re going to drink a lot. One more thing: I did purchase one of the optional “luxury packages” before the cruise. I got a rum/coke package for $45. It was a larger bottle of rum than I expected and was in our room waiting for us along with three cans of coke (which the bar steward swapped for diet coke upon request) when we arrived. This allowed us to have drinks in our room (with the two bottles of wine we brought) and I was able to nurse that bottle pretty much the entire week. I was glad I did it.
We went to the big show in the Vista Lounge that night. It was the Holland America singers and dancers. Wendy and I considered the show “Glee” for adults. It was your basic show choir review of popular show tunes. The vocalists were strong but we thought the show to be fairly mediocre.
Day 2 – Grand Turk, Turk and Caicos Islands
Docked: 8:12 a.m.
12:00 p.m. Winds East 7 knots
Partly Cloudy, 86 degrees F
Undocked : 2:48 p.m.
We opted to stay on the ship in Grand Turk. It sounded like a great place if you’re a diver or snorkeler, but we are neither. To be honest, we were still kind of decompressing from our travel experience getting to Florida, and the idea of being part of the crowd getting off/on the ship didn’t sound like fun to us.
The nice thing about staying on the ship is that we had the whole place pretty much to ourselves. We’d been to the pool the previous day at sea and it was totally packed. There was hardly a deck chair to be found (we did eventually nab a couple) and the pools and hot tubs were busy. While everyone was off the ship checking out Grand Turk, Wendy and had just a handful of people joining us on deck and we had the pool to ourselves.
In retrospect, we kind of wished we had just jumped off the ship after the initial crowd and walked around a little bit. It’s not a huge regret, however.
Dinner in the Vista dining room again though we chose to do an earlier seating and to go to the earlier (8:00 p.m.) show in the Vista Lounge. This was a mistake. We discovered that the generally older crowd on the ship prefers the earlier dinner seating and show. When we got to the Vista Lounge it was packed with our parents generation and we had trouble finding seats. Once again, the entertainment was so-so.
We checked out the guy in the piano bar and enjoyed it, but we like to sing and the piano bar guy was a little more interested in telling jokes and making up his own words to songs. We got tired of that.
We went to the Queens Lounge for the late set by the B.B. King All-Stars, a group of Memphis based musicians/vocalists who sang three sets pretty much each night in the Queens Lounge and did the main stage show in the Vista Lounge on Thursday night. They were phenomenal. Once we’d seen them we couldn’t get enough and made a point of hanging out whenever/wherever they were playing.
Wendy and I did not have any planned excursions the day we pulled into San Juan. I’ve been there once before and really enjoyed just walking around the old city, so that’s what we decided to do. It was a gorgeous day. It’s easy to just step off the ship and walk through the old city. We found our way up to the old fort of St. Sebastian, but opted not to pay for the tour and took a few pictures in the public areas instead. We grabbed lunch at a sidewalk cafe right by the port and called family and friends back home. St. Juan is a U.S. territory so we had cell service.
We’d read about a chico bar in the old city and sought out the place called Casa Cortes. Once we saw the menu we regretted eating at the sidewalk cafe. Everything on the menu was made with chocolate and looked delicious. They only had one kind of pastry left (made fresh daily) so we each took a pastry and ordered a drink. I had a White Chocolate Russian which was Kahlua and vodka mixed in a martini glass then topped with a layer of white chocolate which floats on the surface. We loved this place and hope to return some day. We made our way to the Red Gate and walked along the sea in the intense afternoon sun. We expected we could get up to the Castillo San Felipe del Morrow from this path, but after about a mile walk we found the way was gated due to construction.
We walked back to the ship along the ocean. We stopped at a CVS pharmacy and grabbed some diet coke and snacks for our room. We then chose to lounge on our verandah for a while and make a few more calls home.
We got ready for dinner and headed up to the Crow’s Nest Lounge for a pre-dinner cocktail. We liked the Crow’s Nest a lot. There was a young woman who played solo acoustic sets with her guitar and ukelele, and she was lovely to listen to. The Crow’s Nest had a expansive set of windows from which we watched the lights of San Juan as we pulled out of port. I stepped out on the deck to take some pictures.
There were a million things to do on the ship. Wendy and I did precious few of them. We were on the cruise to celebrate our anniversary and relax, so we kept to ourselves and didn’t do much of anything.
I did a “Mixology” class one afternoon while Wendy napped. It was fun, but overbooked. That mean that I only got to mix one of the three drinks they taught. For the price of the class you basically got three discounted cocktails to drink. I wouldn’t do it again.
We also aren’t big shoppers or gamblers so avoided the shops and casino. We had our pictures taken by the photographer one night for their premium “Black Label” portraits. They were gorgeous, but with a price tag of $600 for five 8×10 photos we quickly said “no thanks.”
There was a television and DVD player in our room. The satellite television was mostly ship board information. There were some news channels, a couple of movie channels and two channels of ESPN which was European based and showed mostly soccer and cricket. We were bummed that there was no coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi available on the cruise, though the news channels had periodic updates. There was a big library of DVDs available, but we didn’t watch any movies. We generally chose to watch the ocean instead.
The small island of St. Maarten/St. Martin is divided. Half of the island is Dutch St. Maarten and half of the island is French St. Martin. The cruise port is on the Dutch side. Wendy and I took an excursion which had received really favorable reviews on-line. We got on a small bus and went to the homes/studios of five artists who live and work there on the island.
The first stop on the tour was a mansion on a hill that the artist did not own, but was allowed to use. The artwork was interesting, but it was the view from the porch of the house that was truly breathtaking.
The nice thing about the tour was that it took us around the entire island and allowed us to see what life and homes were like away from the colorful tourist areas. It was fascinating to see where the artists lived. There was great diversity in the types of art we saw and it was sort of interesting to meet them and have the opportunity to talk to them.
The excursion did take some time. We had a couple of people on our tour who found it difficult to get around and there was some walking and climbing awkward steps involved, so we spent a fair amount of time waiting. By the time we got back to St. Maarten we were ready to find some food and enjoy what little time remained on the island. Our tour guide offered to let us leave the tour at the home of the last artist which was on the far end of the boardwalk in St. Maarten. From there we got to walk down along the beach and back to the ship.
We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in St. Maarten and watched a little of the Olympic hockey match that was on. Many people, especially Canadians, had sought out the Hard Rock to watch hockey. We did a little souvenir shopping before walking back to the ship.
Our afternoons on the ship generally included a nap. I slept really well on the cruise. In fact, at least a couple of mornings Wendy was up before me and left me sleeping in bed. This is a very rare occurrence. The motion of the sea was something I truly enjoyed. I felt like God was rocking me to sleep.
Our evenings often started with a pre-dinner cocktail in the Crow’s Nest or in the lounge next to the Vista dining room. Our first night on the ship we met a young man named Roldan from the Philippines who was a barman on the ship. Roldan became our favorite person on the ship’s impressive staff. He remembered our names (and our favorite drinks) and we enjoyed getting to know him. He worked days in the Crow’s Next and could usually be found in the Vista Lounge or Queen’s Lounge in the evenings. Whenever he saw us his face would light up, he would greet us by name, usher us to a seat and always took good care of us.
After our pre-dinner cocktail we would head to the dining room. Because we did open seating the time was never consistent, but it was generally after 8:00 when we arrived. With open seating you get put wherever there is an open table in the dining room so we had a number of different stewards and sat in several different locations in the dining room. The food and service were always good. After dinner we almost always returned to our verandah to have a after dinner glass of wine and look at the moonlight on the waves.
After finding out how good the B.B. King All Stars were, we really didn’t care ‘t about any of the other entertainment on the ship. We found ourselves at the Queen’s Lounge each night to catch a couple of their sets. I was always surprised at the small crowd, but we tried to make it an enthusiastic one.
Day 5: At Sea
12:00 p.m. 21-09.4′ N 069-28.6′ W
Wind NE 9 knots
Partly Cloudy, 84 degrees
After our breakfast that first morning on the verandah, the rest of our cruise we ate each morning in the Pinnacle restaurant. This was one of the perks that came with our upgrade. Instead of eating in the Lido Restaurant Buffet, we were given the white glove treatment. The gentlemen in white coats sat us at the table, put a napkin on our lap, and delivered a delicious breakfast at a beautifully appointed table – usually near a big window where we could watch the ocean outside.
We worked out in the fitness area in the late morning. Because Holland America does such a nice job of keeping portions small, Wendy and I didn’t feel like we overate all week. We did eat more than we would normally eat at home, but we avoided the buffet (other than lunch) and kept our portions reasonable. Even the little delicacies which were available to us in the Neptune Lounge all day were typically bite sized. It was nice.
I think I mentioned that the ship had a library located in the Crow’s Nest Lounge. Wendy had picked up a novel our first day and I had a novel I’d brought along. So, after working out in the morning our day at sea was spent quietly reading on our verandah. I should explain that for the first half our our journey our stateroom faced north, so we were in shade all day. This was pleasant, but our pasty white midwestern bodies were craving some Caribbean sun. Once we left St. Maarten the ship was headed west and our stateroom verandah was in the intense, tropical sun. So, we sunned ourselves and read much of the day away.
Because it was a day at sea, it was also a formal night. We dressed to the nines once more and headed out to dinner. The B.B. King All Stars were playing the main stage show in the Vista Lounge, so we got there early to get a front row seat and enjoyed an amazing concert. The stage and lights in the Vista Lounge were really amazing. Being theatre people, Wendy and I marveled at the set up they had and what they were able to do. After the show we stood at the stage and looked up at the rigging. One of the grips saw us and came over to talk to us. He was from Peru and gave us a little information about the equipment and staff they had on the ship. It was really impressive.
Every major cruise line owns their own island in the Bahamas. For Holland America this is Half Moon Cay which is a little slide of paradise. There is no pier, so the ship anchors in the bay and a group of tenders (small barge like boats that seat a few hundred people) shuttle people back and forth to the island.
On the island there is a little welcoming center with shops and a bar. The beach is easily accessible and there is a road with little trucks which ferry people up and down the island. Wendy and I had booked a horseback riding excursion, so after a quick walk down the beach and back we met up at the excursion’s gathering point.
The horseback riding excursion felt like it had been oversold. As a result, we spent a lot of time waiting. Horses were brought from the stable one-by-one and a rider saddled. Those who had been saddled stood or were allowed to walk their horses in a big circle. It took a long time to get everyone on a horse (Wendy was one of the first, I was one of the last). The downtrodden horses were then led on a well rehearsed walk on some trails near the beach. No one was allowed to get out of line, trot, gallop or run the horse. It was a lot like those little kiddie pony rides at the fair. The young men who ran the excursion, meanwhile, rode up and down the line of horses yelling commands at you. One yelled at me to move my hands up on the reins, and a few minutes later another yelled at me to move them back down on the reins. It was really frustrating.
Once back at the stable everyone got off and the horses re-saddled. More waiting. We got back on the horses in smaller groups (more waiting) and this time they took the horses into the ocean. Once in the water the horses ran about a hundred yards or so in the ocean. This was, admittedly, a pretty cool experience. You had to hold on for dear life and it was wild to feel the ocean rushing by you as the horse ran while at the same time the waves were crashing into you from the side. A handful of people fell off.
By the time we got back to the beach it was 1:00. What we didn’t realize is that the food and drinks on the island are all brought from the ship by the ship’s staff. So they have to haul it on, set it up, feed everybody, then break it down and take it back to the ship. All of the documentation said that lunch would be served until 1:30, but by the time we got to the eating area things were already being broken down. We got a cold hamburger but there were no condiments to be found. The water had already been taken, so we were lucky to find that the bar tender would grab a beer which was already packed up and ready to be shuttled back to the ship. We’d hoped to have a drink on the beach before returning to the ship, but by the time we finished our cold hamburger and walked to the beach the bar had already been emptied and cleaned. Frustrated and disappointed, we opted to head back to the ship.
Our Half Moon Cay experience was really one of the few disappointing experiences of our week. If we were to do it again, we would have not booked the excursion and simply sat on the beach and enjoyed the ocean.
When we got back to the ship we got a bucket of beer from the Lido bar and returned to our stateroom. The tenders were pulling up to the ship right below our verandah, so we sat and enjoyed a cold bevy while watching the tenders shuttling people back to the ship.
We cleaned up and headed down to dinner. One thing I also want to mention is that Wendy and I were blown away by the artwork on the ship. There were some amazing original pieces of art scattered throughout. There was also a lot of art related to the history of Dutch ships and trade. Knowing a thing or two about our Dutch history, Wendy and I probably appreciated it more than most, but I really enjoyed stopping and checking out the artwork as we walked to different places on the ship.
We had heard all week about happy hour in the Crow’s Nest Lounge but had never made it up there. From 4-5 p.m. you can buy one drink and get another drink for $1. We wanted to see our friend Roldan one last time and say good-bye. The place was packed like we’d never seen it, which sort of made us happy we’d avoided it. Nevertheless, we had a drink and got to say farewell to Roldan.
We returned to our stateroom, dressed up and enjoyed our final evening meal in the Vista Dining Room. After dinner we headed to the Queen’s Lounge to see the B.B. King All-Stars one last time and then headed back to our stateroom to pack since our luggage had to be outside our stateroom before midnight.
I have told many people that I have not been so grieved to go home since I cried on the way home from Camp Idlewood when I was 12. Wendy and I had a fabulous time and loved our experience on Holland America. Wendy and I were already talking about booking our next cruise before we got home!
Suzanna asked Wendy and me what our “favorite” thing was from the cruise. For me, it was sitting on our verandah taking in the view of the sky and ocean. I spent a lot of time last week simply sitting quietly and watching the ocean roll by. It’s not something I get to see living in Iowa, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Sometimes I like photographs, not because they are a particularly perfect from a photography perspective, but because they are linked to something very personal and intimate. I took a lot of photographs of the view from our verandah last week. This photo captured, as well as any, a hint of the immensity of it. I loved that the sun was high and intense. There was a balance to the elements and the gradient of the hues of blue (my favorite color) in both air and water was gorgeous. This photo is linked to my experience and all the moments of peace, comfort and quiet looking out over the vast ocean, and that makes it special to me.
Wendy and I spent last week aboard Holland America Line‘s M.S. Westerdam for a cruise of the eastern Caribbean. I plan to write a more comprehensive post about our adventures in the coming days, but this morning I find myself a bit overwhelmed, and buried underneath the piles of all that has been building up after completely unplugging from daily life for a week. So, to satiate the curiosity of family and friends who are wondering how our vacation went, I threw together this little three minute slideshow of our trip. Enjoy!