April 27, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 113

Day 113 – At sea in the North Atlantic. Temperatures remain a balmy 75 with humidity of 77%. Winds have subsided to a very light breeze, the seas are calm except for a 3 or 4 foot swell from the North. The skies are cloudy and we are expected to have rain showers this evening and tonight.

I didn't make it to the ball last night, the clocks are being moved back faster than this mature body can adapt. I was sound asleep long before it even started.

This morning I listened to a lecture on various telescopes being used to view the galaxies. Mike Raick had some spectacular images, courtesy of NASA.

This afternoon the Filipino crew members are putting on their "crew show" that was postponed several days ago, and tonight is the last performance of the singers and dancers.

The ship has definitely become more quiet as we approach our final two days. No walkers, few people by the pool, and the Crow's Nest almost empty during the day. I suspect many passengers are busy packing. It probably takes several days if you came with 5, 10, or 12 suitcases. I'm planning to do most of my packing Thursday, hopefully leaving Friday with nothing to do. Our luggage tags and customs forms are delivered to our stateroom this afternoon. As usual the customs form asks what countries I have visited prior to arriving in the US. I wonder how I list them all in the little space provided?

About 6 weeks ago I noticed we had a number of new crew members cooking in the Lido Restaurant, and also at the Dive Inn by the pool. I didn't pay a lot of attention but did think it was strange they were having to show one crew member how to crack eggs, and to another they were explaining that the waffle iron didn't need to be watched while the waffles were cooking, it would beep when they were done. Today I was able to confirm the rest of the story. About 50 crew members quit and walked off the ship when we docked in Hong Kong. Obviously HAL wasn't too particular about the qualifications of the quickly hired replacement workers.

There was a private party in the Crow's Nest tonight. It was a 30th (wedding?) anniversary party for Russel and Steven. I didn't know many of the attendees, but both the "dog" lady and the "doll" lady were in attendance.

After dinner I saw a clue as to why the ship is kind of quite today. Many passengers were walking around with partial bottles of wine. They bought wine packages on the ship, bought wine in foreign ports, and may have "won" some playing games. They need to finish them before they board their planes for home, so they sat in their rooms working on them. Just a guess, and not a problem I have.

The show tonight with the HAL Singers and Dancers was poorly attended. Those that didn't attend were smart, it was the worst vocal performance of this group since they joined the ship. The vocalists in the guest show were better.

Just before the show I had the opportunity to talk with Judy Carmichael and learned that she is doing a series of performances in the central Florida area starting in January. I'm not sure if I will be home, but will attend if I can.

World Cruise 2016 In Review

As I am nearing the completion of this adventure I want to share a few final thoughts about my World Cruise. First, thoughts on the ship.

The MS Amsterdam was launched in 2000 and is showing her age in some areas but otherwise still a very serviceable ship. The ship is way behind the industry with technology. The internet service is a joke, the TV's in the cabins are old and display fuzzy images, there is no ability to order a shore excursion or check your room account. Though they try to broadcast movies, they are not viewable. Viewing choices are very limited. The same commercial for the Koningsdam has been showing continuously for four months. The HVAC system works very poorly in most of the public spaces. It is often way too cold, or way too hot. Some cabin area have the same problem.

For the most part the carpets and furnishings are in good shape. Personally I find access to the pools very poor with no handrails or steps. All other parts of the ship are very accessible and she is easy to get around. There is ample public space so there is no feeling of being crowded. Equipment breakdowns are frequent, and eventually they fix them, often after several attempts. The ship is kept immaculately clean. Definitely one of the cleanest ships I have ever been on.

I give the staff mixed reviews. Housekeeping, which includes the room stewards, does an excellent job. Beverage service is also excellent, sometimes even stretching the rules to accommodate the customer. Food service is a different story. The presentation of food is excellent, but the service staff and food quality is not as good as other lines. (Seafood not included in my opinions.)

Overall entertainment on the cruise was very good. The variety of show room entertainment was excellent, and the quality of individual performances mostly good to excellent.

Debby in the piano bar is a very talented musician but spends a lot of time talking about composers and artists. Personally I prefer a more energetic piano bar environment without 20 percent of each hour being a history lesson.

The three piece group in the Ocean Bar often plays for a couple of the dance hosts and a dozen guests, seldom more. In the Explorer lounge a piano player and violinist play "Sophisticated Classical Music" to a very small handful of guests, often guests that only stay for a few minutes as they await the dining room to open. The "Oasis Band" plays popular music in the Crow's nest to crowds that range from a dozen listeners at the bar and a couple of the dance hosts to a room packed with 150 guests.

Holland America as a cruise line brand faces some challenges. They recognize they need to make changes to their product to attract new younger customers. They are trying in some areas, but in denial with others like internet access. They also are meeting great resistance from a small but very vocal number of "old timers" that want no change period.

Most of the passengers were very nice, and I met many wonderful people. There is a certain amount of "snobbishness", but those became the passengers I didn't associate with. The demographics on this cruise were substantially different than previous World Cruises. For the first time in years they had a program for children. Every age group was represented from a one year old to passengers in their upper 90s. The average age was much lower than previous years. However I never in my wildest dreams anticipated the amount of disgusting and disrespectful behavior that I encountered, behavior I have never seen on any other ship, and no this bad behavior wasn't from the "younger" passengers.

Overall most passengers have been happy with the cruise. Probably the two most disappointed groups are those that had taken a similar cruise three or four years ago and were hit with all the cutbacks and deterioration in service and quality that have occurred, and a few passengers that have learned they just don't like cruising, or being away from home for four months.

Our itinerary covered four continents, 24 countries, and 41 ports. I visited the two smallest countries in the world, some of the largest, several of the wealthiest, and some of the poorest. All the ports except two I had never visited before, truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The tours HAL offered covered the best of what was available in each port. I found HAL's descriptions to sometimes be misleading by omission. I booked all my tours before leaving Florida. That was a mistake on my part. A better approach would have been to research and select which tour I might like to do in each port and then wait to hear more about other options and previous travelers opinions before booking.

Holland America did a great job in contracting for the best transportation in every port. Personally I was extremely lucky in having a window seat on every bus. I can't say I always chose the right side of the bus, but I chose the better more often than not, not by exhibiting any skill, but just by luck.

Several of my most heartwarming moments were the reception by the honor guard at the port of Semarang, Java, Indonesia, and the overall reception at our unexpected stop in Townsville, Australia. The tour guide I met in Oman that is fighting her family, friends, and country for woman's rights and equality is certainly on my list of most admired individuals that I met.

The most thrilling episode was the bus ride with police escorts to "The Temple of Borobudur" in Indonesia. Definitely a story line for a thriller theme park ride.

My most nervous moment was being approached by armed military personnel in Florence, Italy when it was unclear whether I should have my passport with me and I didn't.

The most unexpected moment, the grounding of one of our tenders on a reef.

Will I take another World Cruise? Definitely not in 2017 as I don't have the time. Any future year is too far away. I have reserved space on the Prinsendam for Antarctica, the Amazon, and South America in January 2017. I will make a final decision by September this year.

My advice to others. Exactly the same as the advice that was given to me by Pat and her husband Fred. "If you can afford it and have the time, yes do it". It is an adventure unlike any other.