March 31, 2022

Days 9 & 10 - Sea Days

As we progress north the seas build as  the winds have increased to 30 to 35 knots out of the East. Due to the long distances covered between most ports on this itinerary, we spend most of our time cruising at 19 or 20 knots. As our speed varies slightly, different areas of the ship vibrate because of harmonics from the engines and propulsion systems. Sometimes the vibration is significant in the dining room, aft on deck 2, other times the vibration is apparent in the Crow's Nest bar on deck 11 forward. Change the speed a fraction of a knot and the harmonics move to a new location. At times the vibrations are so intense I would question whether we have a damaged propeller blade.

Overall this ship is in excellent shape. Without question there is more comfortable seating here than any other ship I have ever been on. The theater seating is especially comfortable. Seating in all the dining areas is spread out and not crowded as on many of the larger ships.

Temperature control is a different story. It is a problem in many areas. The cabin system works fine, but most of the public areas are way too cold. Probably 65 or 67 at most. Complaints by many guests have fallen on deaf ears.

Of course service has been excellent with 85% of full staff and only 30% of passenger capacity.

It was a surprise for me to learn that tips for cabin stewards are pooled amongst all ships and divided between all cabin stewards equally. Just as surprising most workers have little input on which ship they will be assigned to when they start a new contract, but due to the pooling system, they will not suffer financially if assigned to a ship with less generous passengers.

This ship is expected to return to full staff levels in a few weeks, in time for the Alaskan season. I probably can safely conclude that this is my last cruise with such a low passenger count.

The entire ship is spotlessly clean and shows little sign of her age. Well except for clocks. There are no two clocks on the ship that show the same time, and none show the correct time. I hope not an indication of the maintenance of more critical ship systems.

We dine at Tamarind, one of the other specialty restaurants for dinner. The decor, the food, and the service is excellent. Only my beverage is wrong, actually for the third time in less than an hour. Unusual, but mistakes do happen. More often when you drink gin and club soda instead of the much more popular gin and tonic.

Many of the mixers come in 7 1/2 ounce cans instead of from a bulk dispenser as many ships use. A choice that should reduce errors.

The pool areas remain crowded during the last two days. The sun is bright and many people want their last sunburn.

Leaving the ship is a little different than most other lines. Passengers gather their own numbered luggage tags. Only 3 to choose from, which implies luggage will be divided into 3 piles in the terminal. Luggage does not need to be out until midnight. Easily the last chore of the evening.

As we near the west end of Cuba the seas begin to calm and it is smooth sailing the rest of the way to Port Everglades. We pass several cargo ships, a Princess cruise ship and a Carnival cruise ship enroute.

We dock on time. Being a Wednesday, the only other ship in port is the Queen Mary 2. A rare sighting in Florida as she often cruises out of New York.

Our group is called 15 minutes early. We walk off the ship directly to level 2 of the terminal. Once in the luggage hall, our bags are easily spotted and we continue our walk towards customs. Facial recognition works flawlessly, and there is no more than a 10 second pause in our walk out of the terminal. We are soon on the shuttle to the parking lot. About 30 minutes from cabin to entering the entrance ramp of the expressway.

Traffic is easy, and by 12:45 I am starting the first load of laundry in preparation for the next cruise in about 6 weeks to Alaska, also on Holland America's Eurodam.

March 29, 2022

Day 8 - Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

The alarm is set for 6:00 as our excursion is scheduled to leave at 7:15, as soon as the ship is cleared. Awakening before the alarm, and finding the ship still heading northerly at 19 knots I soon realize I missed the message that clocks were to be set back another hour during the night. Attempt at another hour sleep is useless.

Buffet breakfast and head to the theater. Bus number one, one of three headed for the excursion train, eco canal boat ride and bus tour of the countryside. Eight other buses are headed in other directions.

As we leave the pier, vaccination cards are checked, not passports. A sign of the times with covid still a worldwide threat.

I had taken this same tour many years ago. The train track was in such poor condition that the train could only move about 2 miles over the course of an hour. I'm not sure what to expect today.

Our tour guide is excellent and shares a lot of information about his country. All wildlife in Costa Rica is protected. Even areas where squatters have settled are clean. Roads appear in good condition, and there is construction activity. Employment taxes support health care and a retirement pension system.

The new shipping port is busy with ships loading containers. Prmiarily bananas and pineapple but also general cargo that is trucked across the country and then reload on ships. a small competitor to the panama canal.

On the eco boat tour we spot numerous wildlife including iguanas,  birds, monkeys and sloth.

Back at the dock and a free snack of ice cold water, a fresh banana, and chips  made from yucca are delicous.

Another half hour or so on the bus to the train. We board from the bus on the road directly onto the waiting train. No station platforms here. It is quickly obvious that the track has been replaced with new rail and concrete ties. A much needed multimillion dollar improvement.

The cars  have lost the old charm by being recovered on the inside with white plastic sheeting and new plywood floors. The original seats have been recovered, the worn out seat back flip hinge mechanisms remain.

We travel for about 20 miles past plantations and scenic coastline. Children are frequently seen standing by the tracks waiting for the train and waving at the tourists.

Back on the bus and in another 30 minutes we are at the pier.

In all, one of the best tours and tour guides. I have heard more about banana growing than I ever wanted.

Returning to the ship, about half a dozen crew members are painting  the scratches that resulted from the locks in the Panama canal.

Time for a shower and a late lunch, but first a stop at the spa. I know that those of you that know me are probably wondering what has happened to my mind that would take me to the spa.

My hand became covered with black spots. Paint spots from the gangway railing caused by drips from the painting crew.

An immediate attempt to clean off  with an alcohol wipe was fruitless as was a vigorous attempt with soap and water.

Next a stop at the spa and asking for a cotton swab soaked in nail polish remover.  The staff was a little perplexed at my request, but shortly returned with several cotton swabs and a container of what was basically acetone.

Within seconds I had removed the black paint. The spa technician was impressed and now had a story to share with her coworkers about her strangest customer of the day.

Safely on the ship, rain storms can be seen over the mountains several miles inland. We leave port and head north on a course that will take us past the  Grand Caymen Islands, west of Cuba, and along theh south edge of Florida towards Ft. Lauderdale for an expected arrival in two days.

Another average dinner in the dining room followed by a production show with the dancers in the theater.

One set of piano music and it is time to call it a night. Tonight I don't miss the fact that I need to turn my clock ahead one hour.

The seas are slight as we leave port, but are expected to build durning the night.

The next two days will be sea days.

March 28, 2022

Day 7, Panama Canal & Panama City

The alarm is set for 5:30 AM, dress quickly and walk out on the balcony. We are passing  under the new highway bridge. Way ahead of schedule. No time for breakfast, the first stop is the helipad just down the hall from our cabin. Already occupied by many passengers, we find a good viewing spot as we approach the entrance to the first lock.

The locks work as smoothly today as they did over 100 years ago when the canal first opened. I don't see any ships heading west in front of us, but there is a steady stream of vessels heading east. Considering they are exiting to the caribbean at 6 or 7 in the morning, they must have made the transit in darkness.

The new locks have been open for several years, Much more efficient from both a labor and water conservation viewpoint, able to handle much larger ships, but only able to transit 15 ships a day. Some of the largest container ships pay over a million dollars to transit. A lot of money, but still a great savings over sailing around South America. Just helps to give perspective to the cost of ships waiting for days to unload at many ports.

The old locks can handle just over 40 ships per day. Conversations have already begun on adding another set of even larger locks.

We complete our transit over an hour ahead of schedule and move to a holding area in Gantun lake to await our return to Colon later in the day.

Our shore excursion to Panama city is about an hour late in departing despite our early arrival.

As is customary on Holland America, all excursions first gather in the theater to get number stickers, and then each group leaves the theater together to either go to the gangway or board a tender.

Today we tender to shore, board a bus, and are driven over one of the gates of the new locks. A very large container ship is in the lock as we pass by.  Probably the scheduling of gate closure for the lock is what determined our excursion departure time.

The countryside is what one would expect. Hilly with lots of vegetation, and very sparsely populated.

We arrive in Panama City and drive through several sections of both the new and the old cities. View ruins of the oldest bridge and remnants of ancient buildings.

Panama City is nothing like what I anticipated. Yes there are modern skyscrapers, all built since the US returned the canal zone to Panama just over 20 years ago, and a lite rail system still under construction. What I did not expect was the dirtiest city I have ever visited. Garbage and trash everywhere. In the streets, the alley ways, in the few open spaces, and even on the balconies of apartment buildings. Trash and garbage is just strewn everywhere. The filthiest cities of medevil times, when there was no sanitation may have been cleaner.

Just to disappoint me a little more, Holland described part of the tour as "a leisure 45 minute, half mile walk" thru the old city, a UNESCO site. Well the half mile was more like a mile and a half, and the 45 minutes wasn't even close. The guide kept changing his mind about where we were going. Oh well you win some and you loose some.  For sure though, I have zero desire to ever return to Panama City, Panama,

The tour ends in Colon at the pier of our awaiting ship.

In a process that makes no sense, after the customary walking past all the shops, Panama customs makes a copy of our passport and photographs evey passenger as we prepare to leave the county. It appears they are more concerned about who leaves Panama than they are who comes into the country. There was no check at all as we entered the country. Strange, but thier country thier rules.

With returning so late, we skip the dining room and head to the buffet. Many other passengers have the same idea.  We finish in time to catch a new comedy act. Good, but not as good as the previous comedian.

At the beginning of the cruise we were given notice that there was a film crew from London on board. A young group of of about eight with at least three cameras. The first time I spotted them was as we were going thru the locks, yes, I avoided them, never had any desire to be on TV or film.

Our next port is Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. Our arrival time is scheduled for 7:00  AM with a shore excursion leaving at 7:15. The alarm is set  for 6:00. The seas are very slight as we leave Colon and head North after a long day.

March 27, 2022

Day 6 - At Sea

With the easterly winds remaining strong at 25 to 35 knots the seas remain choppy, but since the waves are following, the ship remains pretty smooth. There are certain areas on the ship where vibrations are a constant reminder of the large engines and massive equipment that propels us across the ocean. Fortunately my forward cabin is not one of those areas.

It is now very apparent to me why the balcony latch was corroded to an inoperable state. The deck 5 balcony is constantly covered with salt spray kicked up by the choppy seas.

The buffet is nearly empty this morning. Last night we turned our clocks back one hour to switch to Panamanian time, probably the hunger clocks of the guests didn't change and they are in and out of the buffet before I arrive. 

The staff captain answers questions for the passengers during an interview or "chat" with the cruise director. Only one rather stupid question. This is immediately followed by another cooking demonstration presented by the executive chef.

After a few minute pause, a presentation about the history of the Panama canal. Probably attended by 70% of the passengers. Currently the "reservation" fee is $35,000.00 per ship. Basic passenger fees for cruise ships, $375.00 per passenger, of course passed on to the passenger under "port fees and taxes"

For the first time on the cruise there is a few minute wait for an elevator as everyone leaves the theater at the same time.

It is going to be hot and humid in Panama tomorrow. I have a 7 hour shore excursion to visit the jungle and Panama City, and try to find out if there will be water available on the bus.  After several attempts, the apparent answer is no. I will bring some.

The helipad on the ship's bow is going to be open while we transit the canal. Other good viewing spots are scouted out on deck 11, deck 9, deck 3, and of course from the stateroom balcony. Maybe a combination will be best.

After some piano music, dinner tonight will be in the Pinnacle Grille, Holland's equal to Royal's Chop's Grille. So equal, the menu is almost identical.

The food is as good as I have ever had on Royal, and the service is much better. The downside is that the restaurant is about 65 or 67 degrees, even cold for me. The manager says there is nothing she can do about the room temperature. This had been a common thread of complaint among the majority of the guests. We have some control over individual cabins, but the common public spaces are way too cold. Many guests wear jackets all the time. Rather silly in the subtropics, and fookish from a business  viewpoint considering customer dissatisfaction and wasted fuel.

As we cruise into the western caribbean the seas begin to slowly subside. The skies are partly cloudy and a passing shower  is a remote possibility, less than 10%.

A couple hours of entertainment and early retirement is in order.

We  are expected to arrive at the canal entrance holding area about 5:00 AM and enter the locks about 7:00.

March 25, 2022

Day 5 Curacao

Curacao, the port I would say is my most favorite in the Caribbean. We arrive on time, not a hard task as it is only a few hours from Aurba.

No room service for breakfast, the buffet instead. Freshly made mini waffles with fruit.  The waffles are excellent, and the fruit topping is served hot. An excellent start to the day. As expected all food is served, the days of self service hopefully a thing of the past. Napkins, silverware, and beverages are brought to the table. The staff is plentiful and attentive.

I deliberately wait for others to depart the ship first. A step that was probably not necessary as there are so few passengers.

Yesterday I found the walk in Aruba uncomfortable.  A byproduct of maturity I am sure. More likely the result of too little activity caused by the pandemic. Today I prepare with a few Tylenol before starting. Along with a slow pace and  frequent pauses, it works.

Construction projects that were underway when I was here a few months ago have progressed substantially. Some of the colorful buildings are getting a new coat of paint. A task that is frequently required.

My kids often will pick up a 30 pound round of Gouda cheese here. I look, but common sense says that I don't want to carry it home. Maybe if I were still 30.

Most of the shops are now thriving. A Pause for a beverage and to watch the movable bridge for a spell. Within about a 40 minute time span it opens three times to allow boats to pass. Many  pedestrians ignore the warnings not to start across. They become trapped untill the bridge closes and the gates are opened.

In an unexpected move two days ago the Panamanian government told the ship they wanted to inspect all passports before we would be allowed into the canal and the port of Colon. All passports were collected. Now they have changed thier minds. Passports will be randomly inspected as we go ashore. Passports are returned to everyone, we will see what happens in Panama.

We head west towards Panama, leaving Curacao about 4:00 PM. Two passengers are missing. Whether left behind or getting on board without having thier cards scanned I will never know.

The seas have built to 6 to 6 1/2 meters. About 18 to 20 feet.  Running at nearly 20 knots with stabilizers extended and a following sea, motion on the ship is minimal. No one is complaining.

The production show is good. The dancers talented, and the digital grapic sets impressive. Of course I have my ear plugs, but they may not have been required. Most of the entertainment is played at a reasonable level.

Tomorrow is a sea day as we travel towards the Panama Canal. A few showers can be seen in the distance, and the cloud cover builds as we move west.

March 24, 2022

Day 4 - Aruba

The seas have calmed as we move into the southern waters of the Caribbean. Breakfast in the cabin more or less arrived on time, but the order was not accurate.

Holland is struggling with many of the details that we as passengers always take for granted. Numerous guests are talking about how room keys don't work most of the time. Actually a problem I encountered on Holland the last time I cruised them 5 or 6 years ago.

There are a number of public space clocks about the ship. Not only are they displaying the wrong time, they are all different.

The control for the TV is impossible to work. sometimes it does, other times no response. The balcony door latch doesn't work. Frozen by salt and resultant corrosion. The APP is just like Royal, unpredictable and unreliable. Reservations get lost, and all activities are not listed. Basic information like hours of operation are lacking. On board account billing is undecipherable. But I digress. These are just minor inconveniences.

We arrive in Aruba on time. My first task is a visual check of my tree growing on the sandbar. It looks stressed, but still survives. Maybe a reflection of the observer. I have been watching this tree for over 10 years. When I first saw it I was sure it would be gone in a few months. Wrong.

The Explorer Of The Seas is docked in front of us, probably the ship we could see in the distance last night.

Our mission of mailing some post cards is accomplished by a friendly staff member in one of the jewelery stores who offers to mail them for us. Just one example of why I like Aruba and Curacao, the friendly people.

The weather is perfect. Temperatures in the mid 80's, an occasional cloud with about  25 knot winds.

Iguana Joe's has reopened from the pandemic. The drinks, food and service are good, as it has been for years. You would never know they were shut down for nearly two years. Even the menu's are the same.

All aboard isn't until 10:30 PM giving passengers plenty of time to enjoy the evening in Aruba. The casinos call many, I elect to spend the evening of the ship.

After dinner, an hour of comedy by Lamont Ferguson. The second and last show he is doing on this cruise, he flies  home tomorrow. Playing to a full house in BB Kings lounge he is unquestionably the best comedian I have ever heard.

Eaarly dining at 5:15 allows for attending all evening activities.

The passenger mix is pretty much as I expected. A more mature crowd than Royal or Celebrity, but still some younger passengers and a dozen or so kids under 16. Interestigly I have only seen one motorized scooter, and just a couple of passengers with walkers. Yes I am approaching the more mature segment of the passenger manifest. 

It will be the buffet for breakfast tomorrow. We arrive in Curacao about 7:00 and should be cleared by 8:00. The skies are vey clear. I am sound asleep when we leave Aruba about 11:00 PM

Tuesday March 22 - Day 3 at Sea.

Breakfast was ordered for 7:00 AM delivery. Promptly at 7:00 there is a knock on the door. Everything was as requested.

The first entertainment for the day is a Q&A with the piano players. A complicated story of covid and another entertainer that backed out of a contract the day he was to board a ship, and a new piano duo is formed. I have found thier music enjoyable. Varied, energetic, and not a request Gabe and Manda wouldn't play. She is on her 12th or 13th contract, Gabe not only his first, but  his second week on a ship ever.

Part way through the program and the ship comes to an emergency stop. The captain tells us that two people in a small boat were flagging us down by waving thier life jackets, an international signal of distress. A small boat is launched, but as they approach the signaling vessel it turns and speeds away.

A practical joke? A poor attempt to hijack a cruise ship? Someone trying to escape Hatii? We will never know. An hour lost and we continue on our way.

Other entertainment today includes a cooking class, flower arrangement tips, and a presentation on sea life.

Several hours after the signaling vessel incident, rumors are passing among the passengers that pirates tried to board and take over the ship. Good thing the captain announced to the whole ship exactly what was going on or the rumors may have had us heading into battle with Russia. 

I am familiar with cruise lines subcontracting the spa, casino, and art sales to outside companies. Holland America has gone further. All entertainment is contracted to outside companies, not only creation, but scheduling and management. Furthermore the same production shows are on multiple ships at the same time. Not exactly an incentive to book a different ship for another cruise. Local management on the ship is having less and less control.

With only about 700 guests, the dining room along with all other venues are sparsely occupied. At most 250 people in the 800 seat main theater, most often only 25 or 50.

Another change Holland america has made is with thier guest lecture speakers. They are not present. Instead the have produced lecture programs professionally produced with excellent graphics and story line, and the presentation is done by the cruise director reading from a teleprompter.  Much better than most of the guest lectures I have everencountered. Personally I think a great improvement.

Another acceptable dinner, not exceptional. The seas have increased as a result of 25 to 30 knot winds. The stabilizers keep the ship fairly stable but occasionally there is a shudder throughout the ship as she hits a larger swell. All passengers are taking it in stride.

Tonights show in the theater is followed by a couple of sets of piano music. Tomorow we dock In Aruba about 1:00 PM. I think the captain is making up for the hour that was lost earlier in the day. I will know when the ship is cleared in Aruba.

March 22, 2022

Day 2 - Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay is the private island for Carnival and Holland America. We share the sands with the the MS Rotterdam. Seas are very calm, making the tendering process very easy. A quick pass by all the shops, and it is back to the  ship. Beaches are not for me.

The temperatures are in the mid 70's very sunny in the morning, but by afternoon some clouds begin to roll in.

Several hours after departing for Aruba there are a few showers. The seas have increased to a few feet. There is a little roll to the ship. Yeh!

It seems to be a common thread among all cruise lines. Technology just does not work as it is supposed to. In addition to losing all reservations, there are dozens of credits and charges appearing on my account that just don't make sense. The TV remote does not function. A call to the front desk and nothing is fixed. Fortunately the one thing that is correct is the ending balance on my on board account. How they got there would be anyon'e guess. 

We had dining reservations for 5:30. After the first night we were told just come at 5:15 and go to the same table. Don't bother to stop at the desk. Fine with me.

The food is OK but nothing special. The waiter is getting to know us which helps. He already knows I don't want an appetizer, and may order desert, but only after finishing dinner, not before.

The Island Magic Steel Band is great. I have seen them before, but couldn't remember where. I ask them what ships they have played on. It was on The MS Amsterdam during my world cruise that our paths crossed.

We pass through some rain, nothing severe.

Tomorrow is a sea day.

March 20, 2022 Day 1, The MS Eurodam

Covid is at a lull, you will note that I did not say gone. I was fortunate and the only symptoms from my contracting covid was a minor cough, no different than what can result from allergies. After a week of isolation at home, I tested negative and resumed normal life.

Allergies have been particularly troublesome this year. Partially because of the weather and the fact that global warming is increasing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere which in turn increases plant production of pollen.

The Holland America Eurodam is headed to my favorite part of the Caribbean, Aruba, Curacao and Panama Canal, a 10 day cruise.

It has been many years since I have sailed Holland America, I am not sure what to expect.

Packing is easy as I have been home only three weeks. My 30 year old suitcase is showing the signs of many hundreds of trips and thousands of miles of travel. I make the decision that it needs to be replaced when I return home.

The drive to Ft. Lauderdale is easy and non eventful. Holland assigns a boarding time. Ours was at 1:40 PM. allowing a departure from Clermont after 8:30.

Just a few days before departure, Holland introduced an optional process that promises faster check in. Called Verifly, it is a website where we can upload all boarding information so at the port we can skip many of the usual lines and save time.

Initial setup took more than an hour. We will see how many minutes we save.

As always I park at Park-N-Go just outside Port Everglades entrance. We are early and are the only two passengers on the shuttle for the MS Eurodam. We don masks to enter the terminal, still a federal requirement, and the process begins.

There is no signage for "Verifly" but we are soon directed to that line. Only a few passengers in front of us. After checking the Verifly information, the agent also wants to see our boarding passes, both electronic and paper, explaning that often the verify system doesn't work. 

It seems to work fine, needing to just show the cleared for boarding screen on verifly at one more check point. When working 100%, no need to show anything except the first screen on "Verifly". No juggling passport, boarding pass, vaccination records, and negative covid test paperwork.

Within minutes we are on the ship at our cabin door. I say at the door, not in the cabin as neither key works. A cabin steward comes by and we gain access to the cabin. Adequate but tight. The big surprise is that the shower is in the tub, contrary to what pictures of the cabin showed. There is also a 4 or 5 inch stepup into the bathroom.  Not a passenger friendly design. I will manage, carefully, very carefully.

The muster drill instructions are on the TV, and all we need to do is check in on the deck where our life boat station is located.

Holland has an "App" like other cruise lines. I was very dilligent and made dining reservations before leaving home. No surprise, by the time we got to the ship all the reservation were lost.

Soon learning that the ship was less than one third full, with about 700 passengers, there was no problem making reservations when we wanted.

Food was good, service adequate, nothing exceptional.

Classical music on The Lincoln Center Stage. Two piano players, Gabe and Mandy, at the piano bar across from the casino, and an exceptional comedian in BB Kings  provided most of our entertainment for the evening.

The cruise director joined the ship today. An employee of Holland for many years, he and his wife just escaped from Kiev, Ukraine a few days ago. Several weeks after the savage invasion by Russia.

A surprise feature in the main theater was a presentation about the history of Holland America from its earliest beginnings transporting europeans to America back in the late 1800's. Many interesting facts that are probably only useful for a game of Holland America trivia.

The weather is perfect, the skies clear as we head to our first stop at Half Moon Cay.