Nieuw Statendam—some final thoughts

We have just about covered everything I wanted to from our 10 night cruise on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam to the Southern Caribbean, so this will be my last post on this trip. Just want to sum it up and give you some final thoughts on the best and the worst parts of the cruise.

Before I get deeper into the overall review it is VERY important to note that this cruise was deeply affected by COVID. In all I think it came down to two things, one good and one bad, that affected us and everyone else on the ship.

First, COVID gave us the dreaded masks. We had never sailed fully masked before. Even though we took a cruise in July 2021, it was on a very small ship (Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos) where everyone on board was fully vaccinated and we would be getting off on only one inhabited island (where we did wear masks). So for that cruise, no one masked up onboard except the crew. I should also say it was pre-Omicron. Wearing a mask everywhere on the ship meant that we probably spent more time in our stateroom than we have ever done before simply because we could be there without our masks on.

The good part of COVID was that there were less than 925 guest on board a ship that has a full capacity of more than 3,500 passengers. That meant no waiting anywhere, from embarkation to shore excursions. You could find a seat in any show. And with almost 900 crew members on board (a full complement), service was amazing.

The Best

So many things to name. We pretty much loved it all but these are some of the stand outs. I lifted some of these directly from the evaluation I sent to Holland America (HAL).

  • Pre-cruise: HAL was VERY specific about exactly what we needed to do to board the ship whether it was about check in times (they mean it), COVID protocols (they mean those too) and COVID testing.
  • Embarkation: Being in a Neptune Suite we were given “Priority Check-in” which means that we got to arrive at noon, the earliest check in. In our case I dropped off the rest of our foursome (my bride and my brother and his bride) and I took the car back to the airport rental car center. Then I grabbed a taxi back to the port (total time from drop-off to return was less than 20 minutes) and we walked in the door. From there we saw a very nice lady to show her our vax card, negative COVID test and signed our health questionnaire. We were then given a tiny receipt and had to show that to get on the ship. Start to finish 20 minutes. Our room keys were on our door.
  • Stateroom availability: Our suite was available as soon as we were on board. So we dropped and unpacked our carry-ons and headed to lunch at the Dive-In. No lines anyplace and lots of service. I think we were asked by at least four servers what we wanted to drink. While we were at lunch I went down to the stateroom to grab something and found…our luggage, already in our stateroom on the bed. Amazing.
  • Stateroom: You can read all about it by clicking here. And since I did that page with photos, I processed a video tour you can see by clicking here.
  • Muster Drill: YEAH! This is all virtual now. Well almost. As soon as you turn on the TV in your stateroom, the muster talk comes on. You watch it and then sometime after 1:30 you head to your lifeboat station (ours was the Main Dining Room) and check-in and get your key card scanned. That’s it! This is another benefit of COVID. Hopefully masks will go away soon and the NEW muster drill will stay. Actually I kind of like being served at the buffet too.
  • Food: I did an entire post on food. You can see it by clicking here. A quick summary is this: It was AWESOME! DELICIOUS! FANTASTIC!
  • Ports: We missed one (Half Moon Cay, HAL’s private island) due to weather. The sea and wind were too rough to tender in–this turned into a sea day. Then we visited Grand Turk, Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic, Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba. Loved Grand Turk and Bonaire. Thought Puerta Plata and Curacao were “fine” and sad that Aruba has turned into just another commercialized cruise port. Links are to my posts about each of these ports.
  • Shore excursions: We did Holland America Shore excursions in all ports except Aruba (Kathleen stayed on the ship, I walked around for a short time) where my brother and his bride did one. All the excursions we went on were all “fine.” In the case of two of the shore excursions, when they were a late or had to deviate from what we had been told they would be, they refunded our money even though we had still been able to go. Classy.We got two of them for free with the Have It All program.
  • Entertainment: In the evenings you could usually find us at BB Kings Blues Club or one of the other venues on the Music Walk. Sometimes we would go for the music and sometime for the comedians. There were three on board whose names I cannot remember but I do know they were HILARIOUS! We did not go to any of the “big shows.” One of the reasons was because they were so few people on board there was only one show a night and they alway seem to coincide with dinner (7:30 most nights). Also we aren’t much into these shows as we have seen so many of them so many times. We do want to add that the one show that is not to be missed in the big theater is the BBC Planet Earth presentation with live music by the Lincoln Center quartet. The video parts of the presentation are on the big circular screen and just amazing.
  • Sail With Seth: As you may remember, we were “Sailing with Seth” who is Holland America’s Brand Ambassador and an old friend. Here’s what we told HAL on the evaluation we sent:”We were part of the Sail With Seth group. I can’t tell you how incredibly awesome your Brand Ambassador Seth Wayne is. He has kept cruising alive for these last two horrible years. We felt like we were taking a virtual cruise each and every time he posted or was live on Facebook or Instagram. What an amazing person to have as the spokesperson for your company. On this cruise he was the epitome of what a host should be taking great care of us and just being Seth. He is the ONLY reason we decided to take this cruise. We are long-time Celebrity cruisers and had planned to restart after the pandemic with another Celebrity cruise, but Seth has kept us going for two years so when we heard he was taking a group on Nieuw Statendam, we jumped on it. When we sail with HAL again, we will always try to be part of a Sail with Seth group. You are so lucky to have him.” If you ever get a chance to Sail With Seth, do it!
  • Disembarkation: Was about as smooth as it gets. It was a little late while the ship was cleared by the port. But once we were cleared, I was able to walk off with my carry-ons, take a taxi to the airport, pick up a rental car and get back to pick up Kathleen, Steve and Jamie. We always end up having to get a car when returning to Fort Lauderdale because the nonstop Alaska Air flight we take home doesn’t leave until 6:05 pm. It works well for us because two of our favorite people live about an hour north of FLL so we drive up and see them, have lunch and head back. Great way to spend the day.

The Worst

This one is easy. Of all the things we had going on during this cruise, just about all of it was perfect. About as good as a cruise in the Caribbean can be. But one part of the trip just sucked—the internet. We got HAL’s middle cost Internet/WiFi package as part of the Have It All program. Their basic program is pretty much e-mail and texting. Their middle program is those two things and some additional websites like FaceBook, Instagram and Cruise Critic. I was able to do this blog as well. The speed on this plan was INCREDIBLY SLOW! And of course every time I signed on I would get an advert from HAL to “Move Up” to their top tier of internet. Finally I got totally fed up with the speed so I sucked it up and bought the top plan. Then came the shock.

Nothing got faster. If anything it got slower. And this was with the ship at one third capacity. I can imagine how slow it would have been with a full ship. So after trying for a couple of days and not seeing a single improvement from the $10 per day I had upgraded to, I went to ask the Neptune Suite concierge who I could talk to about it. She said for the suites, she was the person to talk to.

I explained my problem and she said that the top tier internet is NOT faster, it just gives you access to other websites. I am not sure what sites you would get besides what you already had but I know what you can’t do with the speed you have. You can’t watch any kind of video. I did find that I could download a video to watch later. I like to watch videos on my iPad when I ride a stationary bike in the gym so I wanted to download a couple of more episodes of a show I was rewatching. It took 3.5 hours to download a single 43 minute episode. And that didn’t count the number of times it just stopped and I had to start all over again. I finally got the episode to download by doing it overnight when no one else was using the internet. I was also told by the concierge that I could use Skype or FaceTime but with that speed, there is no way. BTW: I wanted to check the speed of my connection with a speed test but she told me that those sites were blocked 🙄.

If you have ever been on a Royal Caribbean ship you know what really fast internet at sea is all about. Their Voom product is as fast as I have here at home if you buy the streaming package. On RCL we were able to watch Netflix, FaceTime with the grandkids and I could upload this blog in seconds instead of the 30 minutes it took to upload my photos.

The bottom line is this: I would NEVER pay for internet on this ship. I don’t remember it being this bad when we were on Westerdam a few years ago so maybe this as an aberration. We can hope so. It was the only thing that drove us nuts during the entire 10 days. I know, first world problems 😜.

The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.  —Oscar Wilde

Avoiding Aruba and why I still don’t like the Caribbean that much

See—I love those alliterations. Can’t resist them in headlines. Never have been able to 😜.

Let’s talk Aruba. We have been here before…a very long time ago (2004) on our first Panama Canal cruise. It was the stop the day before we went through the canal. I totally get that things are going to change in 18 years but I guess I wasn’t expecting it to go this far south (pun not intended).

When we were here in 2004, we had heard it was really easy to get off the ship and immediately rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and drive all the way around the island so that is what we did. It was (to that point and until this cruise) our favorite Caribbean experience. We had a lot of fun, saw a lot of stuff and generally enjoyed ourselves. The island reminded me of what we found in Curacao on this trip, not overly developed, not overly touristy.

Well that changed. If you saw my post two days ago about the commercialism in cruise ports you know what I am talking about. I have friends who follow this blog  and know that I have never been a big fan of the Caribbean in general. Now they are reading the last few posts and I am being asked if I now have either softened my stance on the Caribbean or changed it all together. I think I figured it out last night when I started writing the post. It’s not that I have changed my mind about the Caribbean, it’s that I have seen a different Caribbean on this cruise than we have seen before.

I figured this out when I was explaining to my brother and sister-in-law about the Caribbean islands we had seen as opposed to the ones we had seen before. In our past experiences down here we have stopped in…

  1. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
  2. St. Maarten
  3. Labadee, Haiti
  4. Casa del Campo, Dominican Republic
  5. Cozumel, Mexico
  6. Costa Maya, Mexico
  7. Puerto Rico, USA
  8. St. Kitts & Nevis
  9. Grand Cayman
  10. Nassau, Bahamas

If you know the Caribbean and you see this list you realize that these are all the commercialized ports that ships sail to. These and the cruise line’s private islands are about it. On this trip we stopped in one of those places—Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic. When we were touring there it reminded me of all the things I really don’t like about the Caribbean. Tours of rum distilleries, tobacco/cigar factories, chocolate stores…anyplace they could sell us something.

In the new Caribbean I found on this trip they took us to Grand Turk, Bonaire and  to some extent Curacao. Places where it is probably much like the Caribbean used to be. No chain stores, beautiful beaches, tours that featured the natural beauty of that island. Sadly, those places are few and far between. But they reminded me of being in Galapagos. The guides in both places were proud of being from those places and they wanted to preserve the things that were important to life on their island.

Which brings us back to Aruba. Since we were here in 2004 I have always said that of all the islands in the Caribbean we had visited, I liked Aruba the best. And now I know why. Back when we visited it was like Bonaire. Oranjestad was a sleepy little town. It’s not anymore. Check out my photos below to see what I mean. There is a pink building that you can see in the center of my Oranjestad photos. When we were here in 2004, you could walk to that building from the port and not really pass any other buildings. And right outside the ship you could rent that Jeep to drive around the island. There were at least six places at the pier you could rent a car. Not so anymore. When I went walking in town, I asked where you could rent a car and was told that Enterprise was about three blocks away. That’s sad.

So what did Kathleen and I do in Aruba? Pretty much nothing. Kathleen stayed aboard and I took about a 45 minute walk to shoot some pics, get some postcards (yes, we still send those) and a magnet (yes, we collect those for the door of our garage freezer), ran into our buddy Seth and that was about it. Came back to the ship and had lunch with him. So the pics below are either from that short walk (not much to take pictures of) and stuff I shot from the ship. Please note the ENORMOUS hotel in the distance. Not here when we were here before but we are told it is incredibly expensive and they are building more.

I do want to add that my brother Steve and and his bride Jamie took an overall bus tour of the island and loved it. They saw a lot of the stuff we saw on our Jeep ride in 2004 and told us they had a great guide who truly loved his island. So maybe some of that spirit is still out there. All I know is that it kind of made me sick to walk through what downtown Oranjestad had become because now it looks a lot like the other ten places we had been before. I hope Bonaire and Grand Turk don’t succumb to this but I don’t have high hopes for Curacao.

Here’s the pics, such as they are. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That’s it for our ports of call. The last two days of the cruise are sea days as we make our way back to Fort Lauderdale. Yesterday was a lot of fun as we spent much of the day doing Sail with Seth stuff including a group photo, a cooking demo and a mixology class. Took up most of the afternoon.

My plan is to do three more posts about this cruise. One on the food, one on the ship and finally an overall review. Watch for those in the next couple of days. I will do them today (our last day onboard 😔) and tomorrow on the flight home and then post when we are home.

I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this.   —Anthony Carmona

Colorful Curacao

Usually my headlines are written just for the alliteration but this one really is true.  We thought things were pretty colorful the day before in Bonaire, but Curacao really takes the colorful cake. It appears that this town loves color. We took a short tour on the town’s trolley and our guide told us the real reason that Curacao’s capital Willemstad has so many colorful buildings is that about 100 years ago, the governor of the island decreed that houses could no longer be white. That they had to be painted one of a set number of colors. After he left office it was found that not only was he the governor but he was also part owner of the only paint supplier on the island 😂.

But it has served Curacao well as you will see from my photos. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Besides all the colorful buildings my photos benefited from one of the bluest skies I have ever seen.

But before I show you the photos I want to tell you what we did to tour. First, when the ship arrived there was quite a bit of discussion between the ship and the port. It went on for a while. So long that many people were waiting for the Captain to announce we were going to have to skip the port. But finally, almost an hour later, the port allowed us to disembark. There was one big change though. We were originally scheduled not to leave the port until 11;00 pm but because Willemstad had a 9:00 pm curfew for everyone in the town they moved up our all-aboard time to match up with the curfew and let us off.

Our included (in our Have It All promotion) shore excursion for this port was the aforementioned Old Town Trolley Tour. We were actually picked up by taxis (vans) and driven across the Queen Juliana Bridge to meet up with the trolley and our guide in downtown. Our tour was in a three car trolley pulled by a gas-powered engine that looked like a train engine (bell included). We saw lots of colorful architecture on our about 90 minute tour which started and ended at the old town fort. Our guide was good, the driver a great guy but I can’t recommend this tour. The fumes from the engine were horrible. By about halfway through we were either nauseous or getting there or we had a horrible headache. This trolley engine needs a tune up or a replacement before anyone should try and take that tour again. But it was interesting (when you could breathe). What we saw is in the photo captions. Funny but it was one of the few times we were thrilled to be wearing masks. Can’t imagine how bad it would have been without them.

After we were done they gave us the option of either walking back to the ship or taking the taxi back. Kathleen had a bad headache from the fumes so she headed back. I wanted to take more pics of downtown so I elected to stay and walk back across the fabulous floating bridge.

So here’s the pics that explain everything else. Remember, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That was about it for downtown Willemstad. From the bridge it was about a ten minute walk back to the ship, back aboard and after a nice evening (more about entertainment and food coming soon) we went to bed and woke up sailing into Oranjestad, Aruba. More about that tomorrow.

What makes things memorable is that they are meaningful, significant, colorful.   —Joshua Foer

Creeping commercialism in the Caribbean

As I am writing this Kathleen and I are sitting on the 9th deck of Nieuw Statendam looking out over downtown Oranjestad, Aruba. From what I can see here I have just figured out the commercialism index of the ABC islands.

Every person who has ever taken a cruise knows about Diamonds International (DI). They are a chain of jewelry stores that you find in about 90% of cruise ports around the US, Alaska, the Caribbean, Mexico and sometimes Europe (go to Gibraltar—you will think you are in the Caribbean). When we were in Bonaire I walked around downtown Kralendijk for about an hour and if there was a DI, I didn’t see it. So they get a four or five star rating on Jim’s Commercialism of Cruise Ports scale. Since five is the best, that’s pretty good for a cruise port. (BTW: All the Alaska ports fail completely except Icy Strait Point–but I haven’t been there in a while so they might fail now.)

Yesterday in Willemstad, Curacao as I was walking back to the ship I passed a DI. It wasn’t someplace I had to go. If I had not walked back from downtown on a particular route I would have missed it…but it was still there. So I give Curacao a 2-3 on Jim’s Commercialism scale. Not great but not bad. I had to look to find it.

Today in Oranjestad, Aruba, as I am sitting on deck nine, I can see the damn DI! FAIL! They get 0 out of 5. You can’t get much more commercial than that.

I was going to make this post about Curacao but I have decided I want to talk about one of the things I totally wish would stop in cruise ports all over the world—the commercialism from outside sources. Diamonds International and its ilk (there are lots of these chains who “feed” the cruise industry—a typical one might be XXX T-Shirt company, put your port name in for the XXX) have run independent local stores out of  business. Take a look at Skagway, Alaska as maybe the worst case. More than half the town has been taken over by these franchises. In many cases they don’t even hire locals to work in them. For instance in Skagway a civic leader told us how they fly in employees and put them up in tent encampments just outside of town. So other than some sales tax money, these businesses don’t give back to the communities that depend on tourism dollars to exist and to employ locals.

For years it has been rumored that cruise companies were heavily invested in these franchise company but no one has proven it so I can’t state it with any accuracy. What I can ask is that if you are cruiser, walk by these stores. Buying something from them is not helping the people in the port you are visiting, it isn’t always the best bargain for you. Sure, the price of that diamond ring might be really low, but when the diamond falls out of the setting or you wash the garment and all the colors run or it rips at the seams, who do you take it back to? Take another cruise and hope that by the time you get there you can still take it back?

Do yourself a HUGE favor and walk by these stores, go downtown and find a local merchant. It is kind of sad to me when I Google “Skagway (or any other commercialized cruise port) I get a list of franchise stores. Before you buy, ask…is this a locally owned business. That should be what you are looking for. Let’s drive these vultures out of business.

Thanks for listening to my rant. I promise to give you the update tomorrow about Curacao. It was pretty nice and I got some decent pictures.

There’s a lot of bad isms floating around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism.  —George Seaton

Beautiful Bonaire—I’m impressed

Yesterday (Friday January 28th) we were in beautiful Bonaire. One of the three ABC islands, the island is predominately known for its diving—both scuba and snorkeling. I could go on and on about their politics, their industry and the rest of it but if you really want to know—click here—for a link to the Wikipedia page for Bonaire.

What I will tell you about is the two (yes 2) excursions we took and how impressed I am with the island. First let me say that we are NOT divers of any kind. We leave that to our friends Mike and Cathy. They do the snorkel thing and the scuba thing. They live in Florida so they have warm water. We live in Washington where if you go in the water, you freeze to death in less time than you can say, “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”

So we started off the morning with a ship’s excursion called “The Best of Bonaire.” There were three groups of about 12 people in three different vans. We had settled into one of the vans when the head of shore excursions asked for volunteers to move to another van because they had miscalculated the numbers on ours. We were in the front so we said we would switch. Best decision of the day. I have nothing against the guide and driver on the original van but the new van had a guide that made our day—Gladys. Now we really doubt Gladys is her real name because she acted like it was a joke all day long but if you are in Bonaire doing this tour, get Gladys. The woman is a HOOT! Not to mention an excellent guide and you could tell how much she loves her adopted island—Bonaire. She is originally from Wisconsin but has been on Bonaire off and on since 1963 so she knows her stuff. Her driver was a guy she called Cheech because of his past life as a cop confiscating marijuana and being in charge of burning it after the perpetrators were caught.

These two took us all over the island and while Gladys regaled us with stories, history, geography, science, nature and local customs, Cheech kept a VERY sharp eye out for the best flora and fauna he could find. And find it he did, time and time again. Check out my pics to see what I mean. He found parrots, parrot fish (he was good at parrot stuff 😜), lizards and all kinds of other stuff. Then he would slow down or stop so that us photographers could get the pics we were after. (BTW: I am so sorry I did not get a photo of Gladys or Cheech—my bad.)

We were out touring with Gladys and Cheech for 3.5 hours and other than my knees giving me problems from sitting for so long we had a great time and saw a bunch of great stuff as you will see in the photos. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Our second excursion a little later in the day was a short but very nice trip on a glass-bottom boat. Having never been on a glass-bottom boat before I thought maybe I could get some great underwater photos without going underwater. And our guide and skipper Kim took us out to the coral reef around a large island called Little Bonaire that is just off the main port. While we were able to see some very pretty fish, the only photo I could even slightly make work is the one of the turtle you see below. The other pics are from the boat ride but just not the underwater parts.

To sum all this up, I would say the one thing that most impressed me about Bonaire is that they have not succumbed to the usual cruise-type shops. No Diamonds International, etc. Also, both guides we had were so in love with their island and the things their government (which is funded and supervised by Amsterdam—Bonaire being a Dutch protectorate) is doing for their people, their environment and the flora and fauna of the island. It I also impressive that 70% of the island’s power (even powering their desalinization plants) is from wind. And they hope to be 100% renewable within 5 years. Not only that but everyone there has health care, an education, a guaranteed retirement…all things that every human should have a right to.

I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this.  —Anthony Carmona

Puerto Plata…was really hotta and other things

Can’t remember the last time I wrote two posts in one day but I thought that since we are on a sea day (for the non-cruisers that means no stops today) and have three ports in the next three days (Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba), I would get yesterday’s stop out of the way today, while I have some time to write. But I don’t want to overload you so I will post it tomorrow (which for you might be today).

Yesterday we were in beautiful Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic (DR). Kathleen and I have always been under the impression that we had been to the DR two other times because we had stopped at a small port called Labadie while on a Celebrity ship. Turns out we had the island (Hispaniola) right but the country wrong. Labadie is in Haiti so this was our second visit to the DR. But we had never been to this side of the country before.

The ship actually docks at Amber Cove which is just 13 kilometers west of the city of Puerto Plata. Amber Cove is a port developed by the Carnival Corp for all the ships under that umbrella to dock for this city. Imagine if Disney created the Caribbean without rides…you get Amber Cove. Lots of shops, pretty grass, clean and spic and span surroundings.

We were only in Amber Cove long enough to jump on a bus with our guide Rrrrafael 😜. He really, really rolled that first R. We were doing a tour (along with the Sail with Seth crowd) called “Flavors and Traditions of Puerto Plata: In partnership with Food and Wine magazine.” I am not sure why it has this title because we saw no one or heard nothing from Food and Wine magazine. What we did do was:

  1. Took the bus into Puerto Plata while Rrrrafel told us all about the city and the Dominican Republic.
  2. Stopped at the town square and walked around while Rrrrafel told us about the buildings and traditions of Puerto Plata.
  3. Went to a cigar factory/showroom where I was told that one person got to roll and smoke his own cigar. Being highly allergic to cigar and cigarette smoke/smell, I (and the rest of our pod of four) stayed outside while this part of the tour took place so I can’t say for certain that’s what happened.
  4. Went to a chocolate factory to see how chocolate was made and taste hot chocolate (like we were cold 😜) and a tiny brownie. Personally I consumed neither. Not a big chocolate guy. But I was told both were great.
  5. Had lunch at an outdoor restaurant where they had set up a buffet of rice, beans, chicken, tortilla chips, salad and your choice of water or soft drink. It was very “nice.” Not bad, not great. just “nice.”
  6. Toured the grounds of the restaurant where there were koi ponds, artwork and a variety of flora including orchids.
  7. Went to a rum distillery where we saw a film about how rum is made and how great that distillery is and then we got to taste some rum. Eight different kinds but if you poured them all in the same glass, you might have an ounce.

That was the tour folks. To me it was a typical overview of a city tour, Rrrrafel did a great job and because we were with Seth, we had some good old fashioned fun. And I loved it because I got to do my second favorite kind of photography (after general travel photo), street photography. I love taking pictures of interesting people with interesting faces or doing interesting things. I think I like to do this because I spent more than 50 years doing high school and college yearbooks as a student, a teacher and a rep for Jostens Yearbooks. I can’t sell them or use the ones I take in any commercial way because I would need a release from the people I shot. Still, I love taking them. My daughter tells me, “Dad, when you die I will look at these and wonder who the heck they are and should I save them because they might be family?” So I also take them to bamboozle her.

Here are some quick examples of what I mean. The captions will tell you a little more about street photography.  Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

After people see my street photography stuff, they often ask if I ask permission before I take the picture. I don’t. Mostly because they have no idea I took their photo. In all the pics above I was more than 100 feet away using a very long (300mm) zoom lens so they had no clue I was taking any photos of them. I do have a rule that if there are street performers and I shoot their picture, I always tip them. It’s the right thing to do. If I don’t have money for tips, I don’t take the picture.

Here are the rest of my Puerto Plata pics. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

When you see a panoramic photo in my shots, it is actually not done with my iPhone set on Pano. I take these with my Nikon. When I say I take “them” with my Nikon, the photo above that shows two ships (Nieuw Statendam and Rotterdam) on opposite sides of the pier is actually made up of 26 individual photos I took while standing in the same spot and turning my body almost 360 degrees. The two ships were actually parked at the pier right next to each other like you can see in the next shot. Then I open those 26 pictures (most of my panos are much less photos–the last one only has 16 photos) in Photoshop and merge them together. They create huge pictures that I could print up to billboard size. I have always loved taking them.

PS: Sorry about the headline. I couldn’t resist.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.  —Dorothea Lange

 

Surprising Grand Turk and some other stuff

After missing our first port (which should have been HAL’s private island, Half Moon Cay) due to weather conditions and not COVID, our first stop became Grand Turk Island. Grand Turk is the Turk part of Turks and Caicos. This was our first time on this island so we had no clue what we were in for.

On past cruises we hardly ever do ship’s shore excursions but using HAL’s Have It All program, we not only received a drinks package, two nights in specialty restaurants and complimentary Wifi but we were able to sign up for some HAL shore excursions for free. With that said, we chose “Charming Grand Turk by Open Air Tram.” This was just one of those overview tours where we would see the island and hear from a guide who would tell us a little about the island, their country and its history.

Sometimes things go wrong on a cruise and you just hope it’s not a big deal. This turned out to be one of those times. We had arrived at the correct time for the afternoon tram ride and after they signed us in they told us that the morning tram group had not come back yet and we would have to wait 15 minutes. No biggie. But the 15 minutes turned into 30 and then almost an hour. The shore excursion team offered us a full refund or we could wait another 15 minutes. In fact the tram never showed up (they might still be there 😜). Some people chose to take refunds and headed back to the ship. We had decided to wait the full hour and then take the refund.

But when an open air bus (not our tram) came in after their second tour, the HAL shore excursion people asked the guide if he would take us. We were totally impressed with their efforts and he agreed to tour us around. We were thrilled because he had a higher and larger open air bus than the tram would have been, which made it much easier for me to get the photos I ended up with (that I am thrilled about). The shore excursion manager did her job that day, totally coming through for us. Not only that, when we got back to the ship and checked our accounts we found that she had reimbursed us for the entire tour because it was late and we handled it so well. Going above and beyond—HAL’s service is blowing us away.

Once we got out on the road with our guide Nate we knew we were in a very fun tour. He was hilarious. He had two teenage girls working with him and they took great care of us as we drove all over the island. We learned a lot about Grand Turk and its history (for instance, did you know this where John Glenn landed after his first orbit of the earth?). Nate was also great about stopping for photos. I am going to tell you a little more about Grand Turk in the captions of the photos below. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my pictures on a phone. Please…

Not sure what more I can tell you about Grand Turk but I will say that this cruise is almost making me like the Caribbean. (For those new to this blog, this has NEVER been one of my favorite places—too warm, not a beach person, etc.) We loved Grand Turk, we had a great day in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic yesterday that I will write about later this afternoon or later this week and the weather has been near perfect. Yes, it has been hot when we are out and about and I think wearing a mask makes it about 10 degrees warmer but I am writing this on a sea day, sitting outside on our verandah. The temperature is 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the seas are flat as a lake and the breeze is awesome. I could get real used to this, really fast. We are already talking with our buddy Seth about doing another Sail with Seth in a warm climate. We will keep you updated in case you want to join us.

One more thing to mention about the Sail with Seth part of our cruise. This morning he arranged a special Coffee with the Captain just for the group and the captain verified that there are 895 passengers on board and a little more than 800 crew members. That means we have almost one crew member per passenger. No wonder the service is so awesome!

There’s definitely healing properties to being in proximity to the ocean and that breeze. There’s something about that Caribbean climate and humidity.   —Johnny Depp

I May Have a New Favorite “Big” Ship

Many of you know that we are long-time cruisers with more than 30+ cruises in our past. And of those, 20+ have been on Celebrity Cruise line ships. While we have sailed on Holland America before (this is our fifth time), I thought their ships were “fine.” Like in, “that place is just fine.” We always liked Celebrity ships better. Until two things happened. First, Celebrity put all their money into the new Edge class of ship and stocked it full of their “revolutionary” infinite verandah staterooms. (To be honest, this is just an outside stateroom with a window that opens and closes…and not always at your discretion). They also made it so that a great deal of the people on the ship had certain areas they could not get into. For instance, the only forward looking spot (to see what’s in front of the ship) on an Edge class vessel if you are not in a suite is…the gym. That’s just wrong. Sailing into Stockholm or through the Panama Canal I can’t even imagine not being able to take pics from around the entire ship.

As I said in the headline, I may now have a new favorite “big” ship. I put those quotes around it because to be honest, this ship is not that big. In October 2019 we sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas which is TWICE as big as the Nieuw Statendam. But let’s talk about why I am loving this ship. BTW: Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos will always be our favorite small ship.

First, the design is better than any I have seen on a HAL ship before. Everything is  just beautiful, without a hint of gaudy. The crew and the service have been amazing. Easily an equal to any Celebrity cruise we have taken before. Of course that may be because of our reduced passenger load but as of now, just about every waiter/server/manager/etc. that I have come in contact with more than once…knows my name. Seriously. (BTW: Correction needed. We had been told that there were only 750 or so passengers on board but we found out that there were actually 900. 750 of us departed Fort Lauderdale on Sunday while the other 150 or so were already on board from a previous cruise.)

I have loved all the public rooms we have been in and since I showed you our stateroom yesterday, here’s my shots from around the ship. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Yesterday we were in Grand Turk where I took some pictures that were so good they really surprised me. I did not think there would be anything that great to shoot in Grand Turk—but there was! And today we spent most of the day in the company of our buddy Seth and some of his Sail With Seth group touring Amber Cove and Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. More about that and our visit to Grand Turk tomorrow, because thankfully—we have a SEA DAY and I can get some more photos processed and some more writing done.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.    —Steve Jobs