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!).
Wendy and I typically spend a long weekend or two each March or April getting the Lake House cleaned and ready for the busy summer season. With our involvement in Almost, Maine taking precedent in March and April, followed quickly by our responsibilities at Pella’s Tulip Time in early May, we haven’t spent nearly as much time in the Ozarks as we would have liked. This week we made up for lost time.
Last weekend, after Chad and JP had facilitated replacing the decking on our swim dock and gangway, our two faithful friends headed home late Sunday morning. Wendy, meanwhile, made her way to the lake. She stopped in Osage for supplies and then joined me on a gorgeous Sunday evening. We celebrated our reunion by heading to Captain Ron’s for pizza, and to watch the Cubs.
The weather forecast for the week made it clear that Monday was the only day we would get by without rain. After taking care of a few work related responsibilities, we proceeded to make the most of a good day to work on the Playhouse. I mowed and trimmed the lawn, then proceeded to power wash the entire exterior of the house and windows, the entire deck (top and bottom) the lower patio, the sidewalk to the dock, and the entire dock. I also cleaned up the boat and the Waverunner.
Wendy, meanwhile, busied herself giving the interior of the house a more thorough cleaning than it’s perhaps ever had. By the end of the day we were really tired, but we still made a point of jumping in the boat in our grubby clothes for our first boat ride of the summer together.
The rest of the week was, indeed, rainy. We certainly had periods of sun, but every day was punctuated by showers. In many cases, we got some pretty strong thunder showers. At one point we lost power for a couple of hours.
We continued to work remotely each day, but then took the opportunity to continue cleaning and organizing. I cleaned out the store-room and shed. We checked all of the air beds to make sure they still held their air (2 of 3 did). We went through boxes and tubs and did a general purging of things we no longer wanted or needed. We also made our annual seasonal run to Walmart to stock up on supplies for the summer. It felt really good!
With the rain dampening our opportunities to get on the water a lot, we worked on a jigsaw puzzle and listened to the Cubs each afternoon/evening. On Wednesday evening we were surprised with a visit from old friends. Jim and Judy Halvorsen were parents of two wonderful friends from my high school youth group days back in the early 1980s. They happened to be nearby visiting Judy’s mother and made contact with me on Facebook. Wendy and I invited them over for burgers on the grill and we enjoyed a really nice evening of conversation on the deck. It was so good to catch up.
On Thursday morning we treated ourselves to a huge breakfast at ChancesR, a local greasy spoon. That afternoon we had a window of glorious sunshine and made the most of it. We jumped in the boat and enjoyed a leisurely ride to a quiet cove. We anchored and then read in the sun, enjoying the cool breeze and a cold beverage while getting our first sunburn of the season.
We were glad we got out in the sun. Very heavy rain descended late in the afternoon and continued all evening. On Friday morning we picked up, cleaned up and were on the road for home by noon. Our lawn at home had become a jungle in the 10 days I’d been away, and my first duty upon arriving back at VW Manor was to break the mower out. Afterward we cleaned up and headed to Mat and Anne’s for drinks and dessert. Keven McQ joined in the festivities and we enjoyed conversation late into the evening.
Yesterday was a busy day in Des Moines. Wendy made five cheesecake’s for our niece, Emma’s, graduation party. We headed into town about 9:00 a.m. and dropped the cheesecakes off with Lydia and Sam, who would then transport them to the event. Wendy and I then ran (too many, for my liking) errands. By 2:00 we were in Adel at Emma’s party.
It was great to celebrate Emma’s graduation. She’s the last of the nieces and nephews on the Vander Well side to graduate from high school. My folks were at the open house and we got to chat about what it was like to watch all your grandkids graduate. So fun to share with them in that blessing. Taylor joined us later in the party and we got to catch up briefly.
Taylor is headed back to Scotland in a month to go through her own graduation ceremony for her master’s program. She plans to work at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in August, and is applying for a job there. We’re excited that she has an opportunity to go back to Scotland, perhaps long-term, but not excited about the prospect of not seeing her again for a long time.
Our friends Kev and Beck enjoyed a weekend visit from Becky’s sister, Joy, and Joy’s boyfriend, Eddie. We met them at Emma’s graduation party. While Kev and Beck went on to two other parties, Wendy and I played host to Joy and Eddie back at Kev and Beck’s house. We spent the evening on Kev and Beck’s deck. Kev smoked some ribs for a scrumptious dinner, and we really enjoyed getting to know Joy and Eddie. It was very late by the time Wendy and I made it back to Pella last night.
Today marks the first full day I’ve spent in Pella in almost two weeks. A gorgeous Sunday began on the front porch with a cup of hot coffee watching the “W” flag wafting in the breeze and enjoying the peaceful quiet of Utrecht Laan.
Our week was full and the highlight of the past seven days was the wedding of our friends Matthew and Sarah Burch on Saturday night. The week began on Sunday afternoon at the house Matthew and Sarah are moving into in Hunter’s Ridge outside of Pella. It was Lincoln’s 7th birthday and they were having a a gathering of family and friends for a cookout to celebrate. It was a the first chance Wendy and I had to meet some of Sarah’s family.
On Monday night Wendy, Suzanna and I all headed to West Market Park for Union Street Players’ potluck picnic and annual meeting. It was a gorgeous evening and we had a great turnout. I have just completed my 10th year as President and Wendy just completed her 11th on the Board, most of those years serving as Treasurer. We decided earlier this year our time of service on the Board has been fulfilled. Time to let others step up and step in to leadership. Elections were held and we officially entered lame duck status until September 1st when the new officers will take over.
The gorgeous summer weather would continue on Tuesday and it was a great night for baseball. For the second year in a row, the Vande Lude boys treated me to Dude’s Day as a birthday present. We headed to Des Moines and had pizza at Scornovacca’s before heading to Principal Park to watch the I-Cubs take on the Nashville Sounds. The I-Cubbies dropped the game 3-2 but a good time was had by all. Throughout the evening Chad and I plied Nathan and Aaron with “Dude’s Day Questions.” Two of my favorites:
Tom: Dude’s Day Question. Blonde, brunette, or redhead?
Tom: If mom was a superhero, what would her super power be?
Aaron: Kissing daddy.
Thursday night was supposed to be a bridal shower for Sarah at our house and a Guy’s night out with Matthew and the boys. Matthew’s guy’s night transitioned to just a dinner between Matthew and me, then late in the afternoon Matthew bailed on me to spend some time with family who had arrived for the wedding. So…..while Wendy and the ladies celebrated Sarah I walked down the block to McQuade Pub and enjoyed drinks and stogies with Kevin and Linda which is always, always a great way to spend the evening. Wendy had a great time with Sarah and her friends.
On Friday we enjoyed a quiet day at VW Manor. Late in the day Taylor and I enjoyed a nice time of conversation downstairs in VW pub watching the Cub’s and White Sox and Kevin McQuade joined us late in the game to watch the Northsiders win their eighth game in a row. Taylor took off to join Emily Boyd and her boyfriend, Zac at George’s Pizza for dinner. Wendy made wonderful Tilapia filet’s for a quiet dinner just the two of us.
It was a hot one on Saturday, but I was determined to tackle one of my summer honey-do projects before heading to Des Moines for the wedding. I had stained some green treated 2x4s late in the week and spent Saturday morning building a deck step outside our patio doors on the back patio. Felt very manly.
Becky, Shay, Taylor and Wendy
Me and Kevin.
Wendy and me with Chad and Shay Vande Lune
Panorama of the ballroom during dinner.
Chad is sad. Kevin, not so much.
Our dinner table.
Selfie with Shanae & Olivia Burch
Taylor and Becky.
Selfie with Shanae Burch
Pre-Wedding cocktails at Centro
Wendy, Taylor and Becky.
Kevin and Becky Roose
Paul Jones and me with the happy couple!
Me and Shanae
Kevin, Taylor and Becky.
Wendy, Taylor and me.
The Grand Ballroom of the Temple of Performing Arts is a gorgeous wedding venue!
During the ceremony Matthew, Sarah, and their kids mixed colored sand as their lives are being mixed together.
Pre-Wedding cocktails at Centro.
It then felt manly getting cleaned up and donning my tux. Wendy, Taylor and I drove to the Temple for Performing Arts in Des Moines where Matthew and Sarah’s wedding was scheduled for 5:30. It brought back a lot of memories for Wendy and me as we got married at the Temple on New Year’s Eve 2005. We arrived about 4:00 and checked in with Matthew and Sarah who were taking pictures in the Grand Ballroom. After snapping a picture or two we met Taylor and Kevin & Becky Roose at the Centro bar for drinks.
The grand ballroom is an unbelievably gorgeous venue for a wedding. Matthew and Sarah were stunning and the wedding was really meaningful. Matthew had asked me to stand and provide a brief introduction of him for those who may not know him. It was fun to share a few words. After the ceremony everyone moved into the Recital Hall for drinks and appetizers as they readied the ballroom for dinner. I enjoyed conversation with Matthew’s friend from his grad school days at Fuller and we also hung out with Chad and Shay.
The dinner was amazing and it was a wonderful feast. When the feasting was over the dancing began. So much fun was had by all. Late in the evening Matthew and I stole away to the guy’s dressing room where we had a few minutes of quiet time and I got to pray over the groom. By the end of the evening it was the Vander Wells, Rooses, and Vande Lunes who were the last ones on the dance floor. It was midnight before we got home.
This morning it was back to Des Moines where I had the privilege of sharing the morning message at Westview in Waukee. Taylor came with her friend Curtis. After the service she and Curtis headed to the Des Moines Art Center for a lunch date. Wendy and I had lunch at the Roose’s with Keith and Tanya Wilhite.
I took this photo over Fourth of July weekend. We were sitting out on the deck at the lake watching the fireworks. This tiki lamp was sitting on the deck railing and I loved watching its flame dance in the slight breeze which was blowing. In fact, for a while I found it’s quiet illumination more enjoyable than all of the fantastical explosions happening above and around us. There’s something I find fascinating about the fact that the electric lights we take for granted are still a fairly new concept in the course of time. For ten thousand years, up until the last century, the quiet light of a small lamp was the only thing people had to pierce the darkness of night.
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!