Sorry I disappeared

I hate that I haven’t finished the story of our cruise. I just wanted you to know that I will finish it as soon as possible. We are still in the midst of our move, Kathleen’s broken arm needs surgery and by the end of the day, when I usually write, I am beyond tired. Saturday morning is my no-workout, so I have a few minutes to leave this note.

I still have a lot to say about the cruise…A LOT. I promise to come back and say it. I have been writing notes; I just need to put them all together.

I kept a diary right after I was born. Day 1: Tired from the move. Day 2: Everyone thinks I’m an idiot.  —Steven Wright

26 miles across the sea…Santa Catalina is the place to be!

First, Kathleen is doing better. The arm doesn’t hurt as much as it is a giant plaster albatross attached to her arm. We are in Seattle as I write this with two more days to go on the cruise. On Friday we disembark in Vancouver and drive home. Our plan for today is to take a Lyft to Bellevue to sign our escrow papers.

As promised, here’s our report on Catalina. We had booked a tour with Catalina Tours called Bison Expeditions. There are approximately 150 wild bison on Catalina Island if you didn’t know. They were brought over years ago when Hollywood used the island to film many Westerns. They were left behind, and the herd grew. They thinned the pack a few years back and now have 150. But, like a whale watching tour, you aren’t given a 100% guarantee that you will see any bison…and we didn’t. But that was OK because our original intent was just to see the island’s interior and that we got to do in spades.

We got lucky when our jeep (see photo at right) pulled up, and our guide Halvorsen introduced himself. He turned out to be the highlight of the trip. And the tour turned into much more than we had expected. It became a combination of a wild ride (that would match anything at any Disney park), a historical lesson about Catalina, a nature talk about the flora and fauna and a floor show full of impressions of presidents. All that for a very low price; we would recommend this company very highly.

I did take some photos I liked, so they are in the gallery below. Remember, if you click on the first one, it becomes a slide show that you can scroll through.

26 miles across the sea…Santa Catalina is the place to be.   —1960’s Los Angeles television advertising jingle used to attract folks to Catalina Island.

Going again

I bet you thought I died…or worse. But we are still here. And tomorrow, we leave on a two-week vacation that will find me posting a whole bunch. First, we are headed to Southern California to spend the night with my brother and his family in San Juan Capistrano. Then Tuesday, we head further south to San Diego, where we board Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium for a cruise back up the coast to Vancouver, BC.

On the way, we have stops in Santa Barbara, on Catalina Island, two days in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon, Seattle, Victoria and finally Vancouver. And of course, I will be writing all about it and posting photos, so watch for my daily posts. I am happy this cruise has a couple of sea days, so I will do some posting and photo processing on those days. Hope you enjoy coming along.

But the real reason I haven’t posted in more than a month is that we are moving. And so we have been doing all the things you do to get your house ready to sell and dealing with all the fun of buying a new one. So I hope you will excuse my absence, but now it’s time to travel again. See you soon.

Let’s look at the art—what a classy ship.

This post will be the second to the last of my posts from our Nieuw Statendam (NS) cruise to the Southern Caribbean from January 23 to February 2. Today I promise to give you some photos of some really great art around the ship. So let’s get started.

Before I retired last June I was a graphic designer for 40+ years. I like to think I understand color and design. Some cruise ships drive me bats. Pretty much it’s the brash, gaudy colors that look like they were furnished by the same people (as my bride says) who designed downtown Las Vegas. Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam (and I am told it’s Pinnacle Class sisters) is one of the classiest ships we have been on.

Another thing I love on a ship is art. Themed art is even better. Somehow along the way of building NS they decided that the theme should be music. It does go along with their Music Walk venues and to be honest, I loved it. Most of this art was located in the stairwells so many cruisers who take elevators never see it. I never take elevators on a ship unless I have luggage with me so I got to see a lot more. Even though I hardly ever take pictures of other people’s art, I wanted to showcase some of the ones I loved. Here’s a quick gallery with some comments of the pieces I really liked. 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…

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.       —Aristotle

 

It’s a cruise—it’s always about the food

One of the biggest questions I get when it comes to cruising is…how was the food? And yes, I will fully admit to having consumed three times the number of calories I should have consumed over the last 10 days and probably gaining a good 10lbs but I promise that within two weeks I will have walked it off…because even though I worked out…the food was off the charts and I just could not resist it.

Before I start, just let me state up front that after 30+ cruises, we have had room service a grand total of once (maybe twice 😜). So if you are looking for reviews of room service, this is not the place.

Breakfast

On most of our cruises, breakfast would have been in the buffet but because we were in a Neptune Suite we got our own restaurant we could eat in for breakfast and dinner—Club Orange (Holland America’s colors are blue and ORANGE). We went there every day for breakfast except one. We went to the buffet to just get some granola and yogurt after having way too much dinner at a specialty restaurant the night before. The experience in the buffet was a good one but more about that later. (I should note that you don’t have to be in a Neptune or Pinnacle Suite to be able to eat in Club Orange, you can buy just a membership for—as of this cruise in February 2022—$50 per person, per day.)

Club Orange has some of the best breakfast food I have ever eaten. They have a HUGE variety. Three kinds of Eggs Benedict, as many omelets as you can think of, fruit, pastry, donuts, muffins, toast, skillets…you name it…I think they either had it or would make it for you. I fully admit to having any and all of the above mentioned breakfast food during this cruise. The team in Club Orange is the absolute best dining team we have ever been served by. From the second time we came into the restaurant they knew our names, they knew what we wanted to drink (for me it was coffee, a single espresso shot, a mimosa and maybe some extra orange juice to add to it) and how you liked your eggs. My coffee cup was never empty and the food…was spectacular.

Here’s some breakfast pics for you. I wish I had more to show you but darned if we didn’t eat all the food too quickly. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and feel free to look at these on your phone. That’s what I used to take them.

Lunch

While we ate all but one breakfast in Club Orange, we kind of moved around for lunch. There are so many great places to eat on board that it is hard to choose. Which made it a good thing that Club Orange did not serve lunch. Here’s where you can eat lunch on Nieuw Statendam and her sister ships:

  • The Lido Market Buffet. Located midships on Deck 9 (the Lido Deck) the Nieuw Statendam is a superb buffet with stations for just about everything. We went to the buffet when we made our one or two attempts to eat healthy. Grabbed a salad and a roll for lunch…and of course a couple of cookies or gelato/gelato pop. All the buffet was NOT self-service. You walked up to a station and either told them what you wanted to eat or just pointed. They did have some standard items (like Caesar or chopped salad, etc.). All the food we had for lunch in the buffet was fresh and excellent. The service was superb as well.
  • The Dive-In. A great place for a burger, a hot dog and fries. They have a variety of types. Ate there twice and truly enjoyed it. Have the Cannonball, skip the Gainer. Their fries are the second best on the ship and they have good Dive-In fry sauce. You will find the Dive-In on Deck 9, just forward of the buffet on the starboard side of the ship. Right next to it is the Gelato spot where you can get the best value on the ship. You have to pay for gelato (ice cream from the buffet is free), but it is only $2.50 for a cup that is probably half a pound of gelato. We only had it once but man it was good. I had a biscotti gelato with huge pieces of biscotti in it. Delicious. They also have gelato pops for $2 (although we heard these may be discontinued) which are just like ice cream bars on a stick with a coating and gelato inside. Tried one of those and they were awesome. Seth promised us another but we never got around to it.
  • New York Deli and Pizza. Just upstairs from the Dive-In on the port side of the ship is this deli/pizza place. We did not try the pizza but my brother and his bride did and they said it was quite good. We went up and Kathleen had a salad and I had a Rueben. I love Ruebens so this may the only place where the food I got onboard was not as good as a Rueben I could have gotten off the ship. And no fries there. Just chips. But still go try it. Great place to grab a quick bite.
  • The Grand Dutch Cafe. Down on deck three (the Promenade Deck) right at midships is an undiscovered gem of a place for lunch. I say undiscovered because we didn’t discover it until more than halfway through our cruise. Lots of other people did and now we know why. We had heard about it and wanted to go and since we were late getting back from Grand Turk we headed there as soon as we were on board. They serve lots of Dutch delicacies. For instance, I had a veal croquette sandwich. Kathleen had a wonderful melted ham and cheese sandwich. But the real star of the show were the French fries. They were amazing. How good were they? On subsequent visits, we always had them for dessert too. One other big plus is their selection of European beers. If you are a beer aficionado, this is the place for you.

Dinner…ahhhh dinner

When we bought the cruise we were part of a special HAL deal called Have It All. With that deal we got the cruise and some other perks. Two of those perks were dinners on two nights in two of their four Specialty restaurants. Since they had included two we decided to go ahead and purchase dinner in the other two just so we could tell you about them. See what kind of sacrifices I go through for my readers 😜.

I need to let you know that we never had dinner in the buffet nor the MDR (main dining room). If we weren’t having dinner in one of the specialty restaurants (five out of ten nights) we had dinner in Club Orange. But, I should also mention that the only difference between the menu in the Main Dining Room and Club Orange are two menu items (one appetizer and one entrée) that are available in Orange that are not in the dining room. And we only ate one of those during the entire cruise (it was Peruvian Chicken—one of my favorite meals of the entire cruise) so we really had much of the same food as the MDR.

Trying to figure how to handle telling you about the dinners. I think I will rate the restaurants we ate in from great to “just fine.” Also below each restaurant are the photos with captions from that restaurant when I can remember where and what they are. You know how that works—you can either be a photographer or a diner…choose one. I guess I could never be a food critic—too busy eating the food. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and since I took these with my iPhone, feel free to view them on yours.

  • Rudi’s Sel de Mer. This is HAL’s seafood restaurant created for them by Master Chef Rudi Sodamin. It is the most expensive extra charge on the ship. The voyage we sailed it was $50 per person. I have to say, it was worth just about every single penny. Photos are below but suffice it to say it was a dining experience I would not want to miss. Be aware that it is only available every night on HAL’s three Pinnacle Class ships but is available as a pop-up restaurant for one night on others…sometimes. They also have the coolest plates and you can buy them. WOW! More in the photos (loved them so much we brought one home). Oh and my brother would want me to mention the best side dish on the ship—Rudi’s ratatouille. I agree. Loved it so much we begged for the recipe and they printed it up for us. There is a Rudi’s cookbook that you can buy (but everyone in Sail with Seth got one as a gift from Seth) but the ratatouille recipe isn’t in it. If you want it, you either ask them or e-mail me.
  • Tamarind and Nami Sushi. Choosing between this Asian specialty restaurant and Club Orange as the next best option was really tough but this one wins by a lobster roll. We got to eat in Tamarind twice. Once because it was part of our Have It All package and once because my brother Steve won a drawing to have dinner with Seth from our Sail with Seth cruise. We went the first time with Seth himself and since he had eaten in Tamarind many times on previous trips we followed his recommendations. One thing about Tamarind is that it sits in the same room as Nami Sushi and you can order off either menu. The difference is that you pay one price for your entire meal in Tamarind but Nami Sushi charges à la carte. But you can order from both menus. My brother and I love sushi (as does Seth) but our brides not so much so this worked perfect. The sushi was amazing (my brother and I will agree that the lobster roll from Nami was the best bite on the ship), the dinner divine and the service incredible. Cocktails were not too shabby either. Here’s a great dessert tip: get the sorbet trio but tell them to skip the lychee and give you two scoops of the lemon-basil sorbet—you won’t be sorry. One last thing—this Asian restaurant, sitting above the wake of the ship may be the most visually beautiful restaurants we have seen on the high seas.
  • Club Orange Dining Room. This one was close. Really close. But Tamarind one by a hair (or a lobster roll). Otherwise the 5 nights we ate in Club Orange were AMAZING! Every night superb food, superb service and a pretty unforgettable dining experience. The team in Club Orange led by the amazing Wayan Suadnyana took care of our every need and made us love being in the restaurant. Imagine going to your favorite place to eat every night and they treated you like a local, like a regular. When this happens, it’s one of my favorite parts of cruising.
  • Pinnacle Grille. This is HAL’s signature steakhouse. It is on all their ships. Our dinner there was one of our two included dinners with our Have It All promotion. We (Kathleen and I) have eaten in the Pinnacle Grille on two other HAL cruises but I should state up front that we are not big steak people. We like ethnic food better than steaks but we have always enjoyed the food at Pinnacle. And it is in fourth place not because we didn’t love it this time, just that the other options were so much better. Pinnacle gives you some great steaks (my ribeye was a little fatty) and lots of super sides (don’t forget to order the clothesline of bacon when you first order or you will be adding it as you see others get theirs). One reason this fell to fourth in my rating was the service was really sporadic. We would have five servers all over us for five minutes and then they would disappear and we wouldn’t see anyone for another 10 minutes. A couple of times after they brought an entrée, we didn’t have something we needed that went with it (like a glass of wine or a steak knife) and there was no one to help. The manager of the restaurant was five feet away from us much of the time but with eyes glued to his phone and NEVER even glanced at anyone in the entire place. Lastly, leave room for the key lime pie. Delicious. Sorry only one photo from Pinnacle. My ribeye with onion rings.
  • Canaletto. This Italian restaurant is carved out of the buffet every night. This means they use a part of the buffet table area, put table cloths on those tables and do Italian food that is served to you (not a buffet). Kathleen and I had eaten in Canaletto on another HAL cruise in 2018 and loved it but the food was just not up to par this time. Now, by up to par, I don’t mean it was bad…it was just not as good as every place else we had to choose from onboard. Service was fine. The food was fine. Everything was just “fine,” if you know what I mean.

If and when we sail a Pinnacle Class ship again, we would go back to Rudi’s and Tamarind in a minute, skip Pinnacle and Canaletto and put the cost of those into another night at Rudi’s. And we would hope to win another night with Seth Wayne in Tamarind for sushi.

And I want to make one final food comment that really set the Nieuw Statendam food apart from 90% of other meals we have had on ships—spice. The cooks on NS were not afraid to use it. Most cruise fare is geared to middle American tastes. Steaks, chops, bland sides, etc. As I mentioned we love different and adventurous food. We do get that sometimes when we sail.

One of our all-time favorite onboard restaurants was the old Qsine on Celebrity ships before they corrupted it with that damn “Le Petite Chef” or whatever they call it. Turned if from a culinary experience to a tiny little piece of tripe (sorry for the rant–I truly loved Qsine).

HAL chef’s put spice in their food. My eggplant side in Tamarind was ordered “spicy” (could have ordered mild or medium as well) and it was spicy. Not “burn your mouth” spicy but delicious. They tried new things. They gave us incredible meals with incredible service. For years in the cruising world of so-called “big ships” (over 2500 guests) Celebrity has been the standard for food. Not anymore. You want great food—HAL gets the nod, at least on this ship.

 There is no sincerer love than the love of food
—George Bernard Shaw

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

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

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

On Board the Nieuw Statendam…it’s AWESOME!

Yesterday (it’s Monday right now and will probably be Tuesday before I finish this), we sailed on Holland America’s (HAL) Nieuw Statendam from Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Florida. After two really great nights in our FLL AirBnB we got to board in the first group. We had heard that HAL was being really being a stickler about boarding times due to the pandemic and we were no exception. Our time said noon and at 11:15 I dropped Kathleen, Steve and Jamie off at the port and took our rental car back to the airport. A quick cab ride back and we were ready to board right on time.

BTW: Before we went I did an early morning photowalk around Fort Lauderdale’s Riverwalk and here’s some pics from that morning. 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 home for the next 10 days

Check-in took less than 15 minutes and would have been faster if you took out all the COVID stuff. As soon as we got on board our rooms were available so we went to drop off our carry on luggage and to unpack those. I am not sure if I mentioned this but originally we had a verandah stateroom on deck six. About two weeks before the cruise we got an e-mail asking if we wanted to upgrade to a Neptune Suite. Neptune Suites are the second highest level of suites on the ship and the cost to upgrade was amazingly reasonable so we grabbed it. The suite is AMAZING! More than 350 square feet (which is big for a cruise ship stateroom, with a monster bathroom and a huge living space. Here’s some pics to show you what we are living in for the next ten (now nine) days and…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…

You always hear folks say, “I don’t need big room or a verandah because I am never it in.” This is true until you get a stateroom/suite like this. Then you are in it because you have everything you need. And on this cruise (and others for awhile) this is the only place we can walk around without our masks on. And because it’s just awesome!

I will drop some photos in my next post of the rest of the ship. Here are some facts about this particular cruise. First, due to COVID there are fewer than 750 cruisers on board. This is on a ship built to hold 3,214 passengers when at full capacity so to say that things feel empty is an understatement. I will say that there are some events (the Blues Club we were in last night) that can get crowded but we are doing our best to stay in our little pod of four.

We were supposed to have six ports of call on this cruise but that got tossed out the window yesterday when we could not land at Half Moon Cay, (HAL’s private island). This was NOT due to COVID but to high winds. Half Moon Cay is a tender port (that means they drop life boats and ferry you in from the ship) and the winds and seas were just too high to put those in the water safely, so we skipped that port. I will give the activity staff high marks because they quickly adjusted and found lots of things for people to do. BTW: If you are a trivia buff, this cruise is for you. I think there is trivia scheduled about every three hours along with lots of other activities.

Still have five ports scheduled and as I type this we are tied up at the pier in Grand Turk. We (the four of us) are going off around noon to do a HAL shore excursion. We got two free with our cruise and this is one of those. Grand Turk will allow us to get off and just wander around.

Tomorrow we are in Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, then a sea day, then we hit Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba in that order, on successive days. Then it’s two sea days and we are back in Fort Lauderdale. So far, everything is going great. More on the ship, the activities and the food in my next post.

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.   —Dalai Lama