Cruise to the Panama Canal, February and March 2017
By Roger W.
February: 22 | 23
| 24 | 25 | 26
| 27 | 28
March: 1 | 2 | 3
| 4 | 5 | 6
| 7 | 8 | 9
| 10 | 11
This is the
story of my cruise to the Panama Canal, with stops in the
Netherlands Antilles, Colombia and Costa Rica, in February
and March 2017. It is also the story of my travel by train
to the cruise departure point of Port Everglades in Fort
This was it: today was the start of my vacation. Well ,it would
be once the afternoon arrived and I was done with work. That
happened a little sooner than expected; late n the day, there
was a brief power outage at the office. Shades of the 2003
blackout? Fortunately, no, but servers were largely
inaccessible. I had to login to my mail account via my iPad to
be able to turn on my out-of-office response. Then I went for my
chiropractor appointment, where I received a pre-trip
For a while, I’d been thinking about possibilities for
future cruises. Some cruises would be spectacular but
would cost too much or take too much time. A cruise
through the Panama Canal was feasible, though. But most
cruises that went all the way through the canal had stops
in Mexico, and that could have meant problems for me, the
reasons for which I would prefer not to disclose online
(nothing criminal, more like paperwork irregularities).
Then a co-worker told me of a cruise he and his wife took,
one that went into the canal but not all the way through;
it didn’t stop in Mexico. Their cruise was on Princess; I
found a similar cruise on Holland America (a sister line
of Princess) and put down my deposit in July, with final
payment made in December. Next came the selection of shore
excursions, which I booked at the end of December.
A few weeks before the cruise, I received an upgrade offer
from Holland America, offering to upgrade my inside cabin
to an ocean view or a verandah cabin. The prices looked
appealing, but according to the fin print, I would have
had to pay double those prices, as I was a single
occupant. Suddenly those prices were much less appealing,
and I passed. Two weeks before the cruise, another upgrade
offer came my way with slightly lower prices. Was it
enough to tempt me? No, I didn’t bite. One week before the
cruise, I checked my reservation and found that my
stateroom had been assigned: 7109, aft on the 7th deck. I
also started to pack.
Once I got home, I took a shower, paid some more bills and
finished my packing. It wasn't easy. For supper, I ate light,
choosing to have one of those Hillshire small plates that are,
in effect, the adult version of Lunchables. That was all I was
hungry for at the time. I chatted with a cousin on Facebook for
a time, and then it was time to leave. Everything was off that
needed to be off; everything was locked that needed to be
locked. And so, around 7:50 at night, I left the house and set
off for the Dearborn train station.
I arrived at the train station around 8:15, which proved to be
almost too early. For the longest time, I and the agent were the
only people there. Eventually, another couple arrived; he was
dropping her off. Two people came by to drop off some
newspapers. The Amtrak Thruway bus arrived just before 9, having
traveled from East Lansing, Jackson and Ann Arbor. After we
boarded, the bus then went to the Detroit station to pick up
around 5 more passengers, including an Arab Muslim family
(father, mother and adult daughter, presumably; the women were
wearing hijab). The bus went to Toledo by way of I-94 and I-275
to get to I-75; that was due to the closure of southbound I-75
for major bridge reconstruction. It was no big deal; we arrived
at the Toledo station in plenty of time.
One inside, I checked my large suitcase through to Fort
Lauderdale and then visited the restroom. Then I started feeling
hungry. I didn't have change for the vending machines (no dollar
bills), but there was a Subway restaurant in the station, and it
was open. So I had a Cold Cut Combo meal, which was better than
anything coming from a vending machine. Then I sat and waited
for the Capitol Limited to arrive from Chicago. It arrived about
10 minutes late. I had a roomette in sleeper car 3000; it was
all laid out and ready for me to go to sleep.
My sleep was not the best, though I know that I did sleep some.
I kept my clothes on in case I had to get up and use the
restroom down the hall or on the lower level (which I did, a
couple times) By 7, I was up and ready to start the day. The
dining car had been open since 6 or 6:30. It wasn't crowded at
all when I went there. I ended up sitting with a retired man
heading to Baltimore who had done his share of train traveling.
We had a good talk about our travels, at least until our meals
arrived. We both ordered omelets with tomatoes, onions and
spinach. Unfortunately, my order was somewhat messed up; instead
of the grits and croissant I had ordered, I got roasted potatoes
and a whole wheat biscuit. I didn't complain, though, for what I
had received was still good.
My room had been cleaned up and restored to its daytime
configuration of facing seats in my absence. My phone had no
service as we went through the southern Pennsylvania
countryside, heading towards Cumberland, Maryland. My iPhone had
no service for much of that time, so e-mail checking was
impossible. But I could charge it, which I did. I could
also do some work on the travelogue and take a movie clip, which
I also did. And when I did have service, such as in Cumberland,
I checked my e-mail and Facebook. I started to read Sinclair
Lewis's novel It Can't Happen Here, which although set in the
1930s may have some resonance today.
We pulled into DC's Union Station right on time at 1 PM. A short
walk and an escalator ride up, and I was in the station. One of
my shoelaces had become untied, not a good thing to have happen
on an escalator; I tucked the loose end away and retied my shoe
once inside the station. I walked around for a bit, seeing what
there was to see. First, though, I had lunch (we didn't get
lunch on the train). I had a Big Mac meal at McDonald's, which
was OK but pricy compared to back home. I visited one of the
newsstands in the station but didn't get anything. I saw but did
not go into a store called America!, which seemed to be devoted
to Trump memorabilia (t-shirts saying "Make America Great
Again,", etc.). Eventually, I figured out that Club Acela was
not only the lounge for those traveling on that high-speed
Northeast Corridor train but also the lounge for sleeping car
passengers.. I went inside and checked in. There were several
seats, a room for storing your luggage, snacks, TV's tuned to
CNN and to NFL Network, etc. I didn't see any charging stations,
unfortunately, so I used my battery pack to recharge my phone.
Once my phone’s charge was topped off, I decided what I would
do. It was sunny outside, with temperatures in the 70's; I would
go on a sightseeing trip. My suitcase went into the storage
room, and so did my jacket. It was around 2:30 when I stepped
outside the station. The dome of the Capitol was visible in the
distance, suggesting many photo opportunities. I walked closer
to the building, then made my way towards the reflecting pool on
the west side. As I walked, I was going uphill and then
downhill; Capitol Hill really was a hill!
Most of the West Front area of the Capitol was closed off;
grounds crews were getting it back. Into shape after the
inauguration. It was supposed to reopen March 1, I overheard a
guard say. Lots of people were out enjoying the day, and why
not! I walked over to the National Garden and checked how far I
was from the National Museum of the American Indian. I wasn't
far at all, so I walked that short distance and went inside for
a tour. It was a very nice museum on four levels, with exhibits
on how Natives perceived their world and the various treaties
between Native nations and European nations and then the US. I
went through the most seem fairly quickly, perhaps too quickly,
for I knew I didn't have much time before I had to catch my next
train. It's worth a return visit.
On my way back to the train station, I passed what was known as
the Japanese-American Memorial. This commemorated the forced
relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War
II. This had extra resonance for me because that past Sunday, I
had watched the film of the Broadway production of "Allegiance"
for the second time. That was the musical starring George Takei
and inspired by his experiences as a child in the camps.
Back at the station and in the Lounge, I drank some Diet Pepsi
and water and snacked on Goldfish while resting from my walk and
waiting for the train. At times the lounge was full, mostly with
passengers taking the Acela to the north. I could hear the
occasional business call from waiting passengers. As the time of
our departure neared, I thought I heard a call for boarding. But
it was just for passengers using Red Cap service, so I went back
to the Lounge. Just as I got there, though, the call for other
passengers came. I made my way to sleeping car 9710, room 4.
The sleeping cars in use on the East Coast (for anything going
north of DC) were single level. The size of the roomette was
about the same as the Superliner roomette, but with a big
difference: these rooms had built-in toilet and sink facilities.
The sink folded up when not in use and did not have a drain at
the bottom; instead, it drained whenever the sink was tipped
back up for storage. The toilet had a heavy cover on top, as it
served as a step for the upper bunk tenant. Bob, the sleeping
car attendant, came by to introduce himself, showed me the
features of the room, and advised me that I had reservations for
8 in the dining car.
The dining car had high ceilings, which made it seem far more
spacious than the Superliner dining car. This car had likely
been converted from a sleeper car into a dining car, I would
learn later. My table mates this evening were Dennis and Beth
from Chicago, although Dennis didn't stay long as he was
supporting from an upset stomach. Whether it was due to motion
sickness or some other bug was unclear. I had the steak dinner
tonight, which came with a baked potato, green and yellow beans,
a dinner salad and a dinner roll. I went back to my room; around
10, I asked to have it prepared for sleeping, and then I went to
bed shortly thereafter.
It was enjoyable not having to put on shoes or
slippers to go out to use the restroom. I did have to make
sure the curtains In the room were fully closed and secured,
though. It did seem a bit more difficult to get out of bed in
this configuration. As for sleep, it was better than the
previous night. On a couple of occasions, I noticed that we
were not moving and that the ventilation would go in and out.
I would later learn that our train gave one of its engines to
another train ahead of us, perhaps the Auto Train, that had
one of theirs go out.
When I went for breakfast this morning, my table mates were a
couple from New Jersey who, as it turned out, were going on
the same cruise as I was (I am sure I did not encounter them
on the ship). He was a scientist, while she worked for a
publisher. I had the scrambled egg plate, and when I ordered
the grits and croissant, this time, that's what I got. And
they were good.
As the train rolled (rocked and rolled would be more
accurate), it became clear that the stops of last night had
put us way behind schedule. By the time we reached the first
stop south of Charleston, we were four hours late. This
wouldn't affect my cruise departure tomorrow, but it would put
the kibosh on any plans for tonight, if I had any plans for
tonight. I got a cinnamon bun from the cafe car as a snack and
to get some small bills. It was sticky, so it was nice to have
the sink in the room to wash up afterwards. I just wished that
you didn't have to hold the faucet control down and that the
water didn't blast out so hard and go all over the place.
Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Hilton inviting me to
check in for my hotel stay tonight.Today, I did so in the app.
I told the hotel to expect me around 9, and I'll be in room
613. I also received an e-mail from Holland America offering a
final chance to upgrade my cabin. The verandah upgrades were
gone, leaving only ocean view cabins available. It would now
cost me $98 for an obstructed view cabin or $118 for one
with unobstructed view. But I decided to stick with my inside
cabin. I didn't feel like reprinting my boarding pass or
Lunch was served at noon and 1; I chose the 1 o'clock seating.
Many had chosen the noon seating and had not yet finished, so
I had to wait for a seat. I sat with a couple who were going
to Orlando and a man whose destination I can't recall. I had
the Angus burgers with chips, along with a Diet Pepsi to drink
and a chocolate mousse for dessert. The others had date
pudding for their desserts, so I was the oddball. At the end
of lunch, the train stopped in Jacksonville, and I got off for
a short stretch.
The train bounced around a lot for the rest of the journey. If
I had my arms against my body, whatever I was holding would
shake so much, I would have trouble reading it. I managed,
though. Around 5:30, there was a call for a special dinner.
Ordinarily, the train would be nearing Fort Lauderdale around
that time, but we were running 5 hours late, so we were able
to eat what was on hand. I had a chicken dinner with mashed
potatoes, beans and carrots, a dinner roll, and bottled water.
It was all right. And then the train continued onward. I read
some more and worried about how to get from the station to the
Around 10:55, the train finally arrived in Fort Lauderdale.
Hurray! My rear been getting a bit sore, even in the Viewliner
roomette seats. I got off, retrieved my checked bag, and then
pondered what to do. There weren't that many cabs there. I
tried calling the hotel for its courtesy van, but their driver
would be delayed. Just then, a taxi stopped for me, and I took
it to the Hampton Inn Las Olas. There, I checked in to room
613 and made a reservation for a shuttle ride to the port for
I had a fairly decent night of sleep without the
rocking, rolling and bumping of the last two nights. When I
awoke, I made my standard e-mail and web checks, although I
was doing them on the iPad rather than my laptop, which was
sitting on its desk at home. I have taken laptops on cruises
before, but not last time and not this time.
Later, I took a shower, but I had to be careful because the
tub was somewhat slippery. I guess I'm reaching that age where
I have to be more concerned about slips and falls. I did slip
in my tub at home over a year ago, but my arms reached out to
break my fall. When I was dry, I put on a Hawaiian shirt
instead of the long-sleeved shirt I'd had to wear since
Wednesday night. I put on some socks, but the right sock had
snagged my little toenail and had had started to crack it. A
round with the the toenail clippers solved that problem.
I went downstairs to the lobby for the breakfast bar, but I
couldn't see it. I could hear it, though; it turned out that
it was one floor up, and so I went up. It was fairly busy, but
I found a seat and had my breakfast. The food was similar to
that at other Hampton Inn breakfast bars. Afterwards, I took a
short walk outside and took some pictures. There wasn't a
whole lot around the hotel; City Hall was across the street,
Back in my room, I put the ship's luggage tag on my large bag,
the one that would be checked. I did not put one on my small
bag, for that would be staying with me. I charged my phone,
and while I was doing so, I checked the weather back home. It
was a more February-like 34 degrees, a big change from the
mid-60's earlier in the week.
It was 11:45. I had to be checked out by noon, and so I went
down to the lobby to check out, and then I took a seat and
waited for the 12:30 port shuttle. I paid my $8 fee a little
bit later. When12:30 rolled around, nothing happened;
the shuttle driver was late. When he did arrive, four others
got on the shuttle with me. The port was a few miles south of
the hotel, and it was a big facility. It wasn't"t just a
cruise port; it was a cargo port as well, located right on the
Intracoastal Waterway. There were several other cruise ships
at the port, and the shuttle stopped first at one of the Royal
Caribbean ships. Next, the driver took us to terminal 21,
where the Zuiderdam was berthed. I got out and received my
bags, proceeded to check one them, and then I went inside.
The security screening line was long, as could be expected,
but I came through it all right. Next came the public health
questionnaire: was I suffering from any cold or flu symptoms,
etc. I could say no to all three questions, and that's how I
replied. Then it was up the escalator to the second floor.
After a pit stop, I got into another line for checking in.
When my time came, I presented my passport and my boarding
pass, along with the questionnaire. I then received my key
card; I didn't need to have my picture retaken for the card,
for my picture was already on file from my previous cruise.
Now it was time to board the ship. I went down the hallway
that led me to the gangway, but not before encountering a
ship's photographer.. I had my picture taken, camera bag on my
shoulder and handle for my rolling bag in my hand. Then it was
up the gangway and over to the ship. I showed my card and was
scanned in, and I was officially aboard. It was after 2
PM, meaning I could go to my stateroom right away. I took an
elevator up to deck 7, but I got turned around and went
forward when I should have went aft. I was quickly set aright,
though, and soon I found myself at stardom 7109, my home for
the next 11 days.
I soon met Riyo, one of the stateroom attendants for this
section of the ship. When I asked where I could plug in my
CPAP machine, he said that the only plugs in the room were up
at the desk, which was too far away for the power supply. So
he went and got an extension cord, which worked just fine. He
advised me that if I wanted lunch, I should go up and get it
right away as the restaurant would be closing soon. I took his
advice and soon I was up on deck 9 in the Lido Restaurant
having some basil chicken and jasmine rice, some salami and
cheese, and what was described as a vanilla custard puff,
although it looked more like a cupcake. It was busy up there,
but I did find a table by one of the entrances. I would go
back to that table frequently on this cruise.
After lunch, I went back to my cabin to unpack my bags and to
get ready for the mandatory lifeboat drill. When the final
alarm sounded, I went down to deck 3 and to lifeboat station
15, the one assigned to my cabin that drill went well, and
soon we were dismissed, whereupon I went back to my cabin and
finished unpacking. We would soon be setting sail, so I went
out with my camera to the upper decks to see what could be
seen. There were at least three or four other cruise ships in
port; the Port Everglades cruise guide said there were six,
including the Eurodam, another one of Holland America's "dam"
ships. They do have some "dam" good ships, or should that be
good "dam"ships? 4 o'clock passed, but we were not yet under
way. Perhaps it was the heavy traffic in front of us that way
delaying our voyage. We eventually got under way close to 5
PM; I noticed when the dock appeared to be moving away; it
was. I could see two other ships heading out in front of us.
Nearby, a tugboat was sending out a stream of water with its
hose, at times creating a rainbow. No natural rainbows would
be appearing today, though; the weather was too nice for that.
As we exited the port, we had an escort from the Coast Guard.
No suicide boaters would get us today!
An aside: if I were not on the cruise today, I would have been
back in Detroit attending a performance of Let It Be, a
tribute to the Beatles that was making a tour of North
America. I'd be at the Macomb Center with my aunt, uncle and
cousin. I'd received the ticket as a Christmas present and was
very happy, until I saw the date. There was no way I could do
both! Well, if Star Trek transporters existed, I could have
done it. The ticket was able to be used by another relative,
and I received cash in lieu of the ticket. I would still like
to see that show, if/when it returns to North America.
At some point during these first two hours, I lost a pair of
reading glasses. They were store-bought, nothing fancy, but I
did like the hinged features in the frames. I had brought a
spare pair wth me, thank goodness, but I preferred the ones I
had lost. I went down to Guest Services to report their loss.
Next, I went over to a desk that was signing up information
sessions for a new program called the Holland America
Privileges program. I would learn more about it tomorrow at my
appointment in the afternoon; in the meantime, I could use my
new selfie stick that I received for making the appointment. I
brought it back to the room and lay down for a bit. It had
been a busy day!
Later on, I visit d the shops on deck 3. Several shops were
devoted to luxury goods like jewelry, watches, liquor,
perfumes, etc. One shop had basic necessities and snacks,
which were priced like luxury items, such as a can of Pringles
potato chips for more than four times the standard US
supermarket price, or a bottle of shampoo that was over $11.
Sunglasses were available, but not reading glasses. Then
walked around the Promenade deck for a while, keeping an eye
out for my lost reading glasses ; I did not find them. I went
back to the stateroom for a bit, and then I paid my first
visit to the Explorations Cafe, but I don't think it was open.
There was a wall separating it from the Crow's Nest Lounge
that I did not remember from the Alaska cruise. Was this new?
No, as I would learn later.
It was 7:45, time for dinner in the main dining room. I had a
seat at table 85, a table for 6, but there were only five
sitting there. Besides me, there were Paul and Terri, from
Virginia (between Richmond and Williamsburg) and the other
couple (Pam and Tim from Rhode Island between Boston and
Providence) were from Rhode Island. Our servers were Tony and
either Lenna or Leonard (I didn't see his name tag that
clearly). The table was perhaps two to the right from where we
had sat on the Alaska cruise. For dinner, I had French onion
soup and Caesar salad (I remembered the soup from Alaska),
grilled salmon (also remembered from Alaska), with a sundae
for dessert. It was all very good.
Back in the room, I download some more pictures from my camera
to the iPad for ease in reviewing them. I wished that I could
begin to identify them, but Photos for iOS doesn't have that
capability. Here was one area where having my laptop would
have been better. The pictures were turning out pretty good.
Then t was time to turn in for the night.
About the cabin: room 7109 was an interior cabin on the
starboard side, not far from the aft set of elevators. The two
twin beds were combined into one queen bed. There was a
curtain along the back that concealed the bare wall that would
otherwise be there. The room had a safe, two bathrobes, two
life jackets, and a restroom with a shower. The toilet used a
pressurized flush similar to that used on trains. The cabin
was oriented such that, as I lay in bed, I would face
starboard. The roll of the ship would be perceived as a
head-to-toe action, while pitch would by a sideways motion.
There was a small TV in the corner. It carried a similar set
of channels as on the Alaska trip: ESPN and ESPN 2, CNBC,
MSNBC, Fox News, BBC News, several movie channels, ship's
position, bow camera, stern camera, ship's information,
shopping information -- that was about it.
There was no natural light in my cabin. I could
not rely on the sun to wake me up. And navigating to the
toilet safely in the middle of the night required me to turn
on the reading light by the bed. I did not want have a mishap,
especially when the room was moving.
I woke up around 5:30, but then I didn't really want to get
up, so I didn't. I went back to sleep and got up for good at
7. I got changed and went up to the Lido Restaurant on deck 9,
two decks up. They had many choices available; today, I chose
to get an omelet, along with some Special K, some yogurt, some
orange juice and water. Everything was pretty good. I finished
my cereal but still had a lot of milk left, so I went up for
another box and a glass of V8. I was not gone for more than 2
to 3 minutes. When I returned to my table, though, it had been
cleared. Everything was gone, and it had been set up for the
next customer. I was not finished with my omelet, nor with
anything else except the cereal. I complained to the waiter on
duty in that area, who was very apologetic and offered to get
me replacement food. And he did. The omelet wasn't quite the
same because I couldn't remember everything I had in the first
one, but it was still good.
When I was done with my meal (for real this time), I found a
copy of the Times Digest, an 8-page printout of top stories
from the New York Times and took out by the Lido pool area to
read. After that, I went back to my cabin, which had yet to be
made up for the day. I put away the Kindle and got out my
iPad. I made my way down to the Promenade deck and grabbed a
seat. The ship was anchored just off of Half Moon Cay, Holland
America's private island in the Bahamas. I did not feel like
going ashore today, though; I stayed on board, and right now I
was looking out at another Holland America ship, the Eurodam,
that was also at anchor. Tenders from both ships were ferrying
passengers to and from the island. I had my headphones plugged
in while using the Pianist Pro app, figuring out the chords to
the chorus of "Soak Up the Sun" by Sheryl Crow, which, after
not hearing it for some time, I had heard twice during my time
on board, which so far had been less than 24 hours. I had hunk
I also played "The Night Before" by the Beatles.
Now did I want to spring for a shipboard Internet access
package? I did have my phone that I could use as a hotspot at
the various ports, but there would be days when we weren't at
any port. So I decided I should get one. Now which one to get?
There was a 500 minute plan (8 hours, 20 minutes) for $175 and
a 1000 minute plan for "only" $75 more. There were also
shorter plans that cost less. I went for broke and ordered the
1000 minute plan -- 16 hours and 40 minutes. That would make
for a lot of Facebook posts.
I took some pictures on the port side of the ship, and then,
after going inside for a bathroom break, I went over to the
starboard side and took some more. After seeing all of the
people walking around the deck, I decided to join them, doing
2 laps, 2/3 of a mile before going back to my cabin for a bit.
By this time, t was lunchtime. I went up to the Lido
Restaurant and had a pasta dish prepared to my liking (penne
pasta with basil pesto sauce), along with two slices of pizza.
Remembering my problems this morning, I had made up a sign
saying that I was coming back to the table. I also wore my
Alaska vest (the sleeves had been removed). But they were
ineffective, for after I left to get a drink and returned, my
pasta dish had been cleared, even though I still was working
on it. I complained to a supervisor this time, and he promised
to mention it in his next meeting with the wait staff. Here
was a case of their being too efficient.
After lunch, I went up to the Explorations Cafe, which was now
fully open with the Crow's Nest. It was at this cafe on the
Oosterdam in Alaska that I first had Vitaminwater Zero, and I
looked to see if they had any today. I did not see any, but it
could have been hidden. So I found a seat and relaxed . I
heard a team trivia contest get started; I would have done
pretty well in that contest, though I wouldn't have won. Then
I went all of the way down to deck 1 to the Guest Services
area to pick up copies of the news digests intended for
Canadian and British readers, while leaving behind the ones
for Dutch and/or German readers. I went back to my cabin for a
bathroom break and to read or at least scan the digests
At 4, I went back down to Guest Services, where I met with
Carolina about the new Privileges program. She explained that
purchases made through the program would lead to credits that
could be applied to future cruises, either on Holland America
or any of its sister cruise lines. There was a fee to join. I
said I would have to think about it for a couple days, so we
scheduled another appointment for Wednesday at 4.
Now I had forgotten to bring a swimsuit on board. Then again,
the swimsuit I had forgotten was a few years old, and it was
very loose on me. So I was in the market for a new suit, even
though I wasn't sure I would be swimming on board. The onboard
shops were open (we had left port by then), so I looked at
what they had. The selections were Tommy Bahama and Nautica; I
ended up getting a Nautica swimsuit I wasn't positive that it
would fit, but I tried it on in my cabin; it fit.
Now it was 5 PM. The onboard schedule indicated that there was
a Mass being cel grated at that time, as well as an
interdenominational service. This inspired me to hold my own
private Bahá'í devotional, reciting various prayers as well as
some passages from The Tabernacle of Unity. Afterwards, I read
from the ebook on photographing the solar eclipse I had bought
on the way down to Florida. It would be very useful for
Later on, I went out to listen to some of the musical
offerings on board. First, I went to the Explorers Lounge to
hear a husband-and-wife violin-piano duo billed as Adagio
perform. They were quite good; I would take in several more of
their performances during Teheran cruise, in fact. Then I went
to the Ocean Bar to hear the jazzy stylings of a band billed
as The Band. I still had problems with their being called The
Band, although you would never confuse this group with the
After a return to my cabin to change my shoes, I went down to
the dining room. Only Pam and Tim were present tonight, as
Terri and Paul were having dinner at Canaletto, one of the
specialty restaurants on board. That would end up being a
fairly common event during the cruise, with either or both of
the couples dining at a specialty restaurant. But I didn't
make any reservations for a specialty restaurant. I didn't
think the experience would have been as good for a solo
traveler. And what did I have tonight? I had baba ghanoush
with pita bread, French onion soup, prime rib with baked
potato (very tender meat), and for dessert, mango blueberry
crisp and chocolate mousse. To drink, I had Diet Coke
and a glass of water. Yum!
Back in the cabin, the information packet for the next day was
waiting for me. It contained the printed copy of Where and
When, the daily listing of ship's activities; a card
indicating that Riyo and Febian were our room stewards (I
would have spelled Riyo as "Rio" otherwise); two after-dinner
chocolates, usually dark chocolate but sometimes milk
chocolate; and reminders of any time changes. We would
experience a time change tomorrow, moving our clocks forward
one hour. There was also the daily towel animal; tonight, it
would be a stingray.
I decided to catch the 10 PM performance of comedian Derrick
Cameron in the Vista Lounge. He didn't work blue; he was a
clean comedian with some good insights into the human
condition. Then it was back to the cabin and into bed.
I had cause to question the proper operation of
the toilet in my stateroom; there is no need to be more
specific. When I awoke for good this morning, the ship was
really moving around. Fortunately, I wasn't particularly prone
to seasickness. I did my e-mail and Web checks, and that was
when I learned about the big fiasco at the Academy Awards,
when the wrong envelope was given to a presenter and the wrong
movie announced as Best Picture. The ceremony wasn't showing
on any of the standard TV channels, but there was a viewing
party in the Queen's Lounge (I didn’t attend).
Today was a sea day; we were on our way to Aruba for tomorrow.
When I went to breakfast in the Lido Restaurant, I did not
experience any of the issues with prematurely cleared plates.
It looked like the message got through at the staff meeting,
although my not leaving the table until I was really done may
have had an effect (I got all of my food and drink before
starting to eat). And what did I have today? How about smoked
salmon, cereal, yogurt, some cheese, some meats, a donut, some
V8, and some orange juice? I then went poolside to read that
morning's Times Digest; on my way out there, I think I
encountered the captain making his rounds. He greeted me, and
the voice sounded very familiar.
This was only day 3 of the cruise, but when I returned to my
cabin, I found some forms with disembarkation options waiting
for me. They asked what time I wanted to leave the ship,
whether I wanted to include any shore excursions in Fort
Lauderdale at the end of the cruise or if I wanted my luggage
sent straight to the airport, etc. the excursions were
interesting, especially the Everglades airboat tour, but they
include airport transfers that I didn't need. All I needed was
a taxi ride from the port to the hotel and a ride from the
hotel to the train station.
Up on the Lido deck in the Sea View Pool area, lessons in
playing the steel drums were being given. I went up to see and
eventually participate in the lesson. The drummer instructor
had set up 5 or 7 drums, each labeled with the notes of the
scale and with the song we would play, in this I had
difficulty with where the notes were located on the pan, for
this was an instrument that I'd never played before. The notes
were not placed consecutively like they were on a keyboard or
fretboard. I could get that down with practice, though, and I
was eventually getting the hang of it. Our instructor,
Matthew, who had been playing since the age of 7, attempted to
get us to play in tune and in time, but it wasn't easy. He did
have me play the song through solo and later complimented me
on my sense of rhythm, which makes sense since I am primarily
a rhythm guitarist and have had piano training. The made me
think about getting a steel drum of my own.
After the steel drum lesson, I went up to deck 10 and got my
first bottle of Vitaminwater Zero of the cruise. I sat down
and, as I drank it, I overheard some of the coffee talk with
the kitchen management. Tons, literally tons of food, are
brought on board each cruise (I wasn't sure if that was
English tons or metric tonnes, not that it really mattered),
20 tons at a minimum.
The time had changed overnight; we were now one hour ahead,
now on Atlantic Time. Yet neither my iPad nor iPhone
recognized it, nor would they for some time. Now they hadn't
been on any cellular networks since our departure on Saturday,
but they did have GPS sensors. For whatever reason, they were
one hour off -- not a big deal, just a potential nuisance.
I'd noticed in the list of onboard activities (whether printed
or online, I can't recall) a lunch meeting for singles and
solo travelers in the lower level of the Vista Dining Room
starting at noon. I decided to go to that. There were perhaps
15 people there for the event, spread across two tables
(regular lunch service was continuing elsewhere in the dining
room); there were 4 or 5 men there at most. The attendees I
recall meeting include Ron from the Buffalo area; Gail, from
someplace I can't remember; and Jackie from central Florida.
For my meal, I had a chicken soup that looked somewhat like
Benihana's onion soup, a burger, and a pastry puff filled with
either ice cream or other filling. Champagne had also been
served, but I declined the glass. Afterwards, I went for a
walk around the ship, stopping at the Sports Bar to get a Diet
Coke and making my way through the shops. Later on, I went to
the Vista Lounge for a presentation on things to see and do in
Aruba and Curaçao. I suppose it would have been most useful to
those who had yet to book their shore excursions; for me, it
was a preview of what was to come.
After a bathroom break, I went out on the Promenade deck and
did three laps, or one mile. I had my iPad with me, so I took
two movie clips of the sea as our ship passed through it. I
had to take my hat off and hold onto it as I walked through
some particularly windy sections of the deck. Afterwards, I
went up to the Crow's Nest on deck 10 to listen to the most
recent podcast edition of the Thomas Jefferson Hour, a program
I'd discovered while traveling through Amarillo in 2013. I
stopped halfway through, leaving the rest from r another time,
for I had to get back to the Vista Lounge for a presentation
on the real pirates of the Caribbean. The only name I
recognized was Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard.
It was Gala Night on board tonight. It used to be called
Formal Night, but that title implied back tie, which was not
the intent, so it was changed. After lying down for a while to
rest up, I got changed into my dark pants, good shirt, tie and
jacket. A half-hour before dinner, I went up on the
Observation deck to take some pictures of a fading sunset.
While the pictures came out all right, it may not have been
the best time to go out on the top deck. The apparent wind
speed of 38 miles an hour was really making it difficult to
move around. I was stopped in my tracks a few times, and my
jacket cuff got damp from holding onto the railing. I was able
to dry that off in the bathroom, though. As I made my way to
the dining room, I encountered one of the dining room stewards
walking the deck, playing the dinner chimes to summon everyone
to the dining room. I also recalled how dinner chimes started
inspired the creation of the NBC chimes.
Terri and Paul were back at the table after their visit to
Canaletto last night, which they thoroughly enjoyed. They had
seen me at the steel drum lesson this morning and complimented
me on my playing. For tonight’s dinner, I had shrimp cocktail,
chicken soup with soba noodles, tenderloin, and lemon meringue
cheesecake, all of which were very good. The cheesecake was
very light for a cheesecake; I had no problem with that. Now
during the meal, it sounded like one of the servers sounded
like he was calling me “Sir Roger”, although I think he was
actually saying “Mister Roger”. Either way, it was
complimentary; one makes me sound like a knight, the other
like Mister Rogers.
After dinner, I walked around for a bit. I went out on the
Promenade Deck for a while to see if I could see any stars; I
could not. I went back inside to listen to some music.
Unfortunately, both the Explorers Lounge (classical duo) and
BB King’s Blues Club (guess) were both full, so it was back to
the room for the night. Greeting me this evening was a towel
I woke up just before 7. It was hard to be sure,
given the lack of natural sunlight in an interior cabin, my
watch’s inability to be visible in the dark, and devices that
were one hour off. But I managed. I got changed and took out
the ticket for the shore excursion that I would be taking
later in the day once we arrived in Aruba. That was still
several hours away, though. Now it was time for breakfast.
Breakfast was once again at the Lido restaurant. Today, I had
scrambled eggs and sausage, cereal, yogurt, slices of cheese,
slices of meat, some juices of various kinds, and at least one
small cinnamon bun. As I ate, I read the latest news,
including a story about Ford and other auto manufacturers
being sued for their use of Takata airbags, which were
involved in a huge industry recall. I also received e-mails
from home, which were more pleasant to read.
I walked another three laps around the promenade deck to burn
off some of that breakfast. Afterwards, I went up to the
Crow’s Nest for some relaxation and cool-down time. There was
another Team Trivia game taking place up there, but I didn’t
participate. I took some pictures up there as well as in the
Lido restaurant. Then it was back to the room to
download the pictures onto my iPad. Later on, I took some more
pictures from the top observation deck as we pulled into the
port at Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. It was very windy up
there, and on one occasion, my hat blew off; and in trying to
recover it, all of the contents of my camera bag fell out onto
the deck. Fortunately, nothing was damaged or lost, thanks to
people who helped hold onto things as I put them back where
For lunch, I went on the light side, sticking to a sandwich
and some Vietnamese noodles (the restaurant had a section
devoted to Asian food, just like it had one devoted to pasta
every day). It was pretty good. And now, it was time to leave
the ship. I went to the forward gangway on deck A. So did many
other people, and it was packed! There was a delay in opening
the doors and letting folks leave the ship. I bought a bottle
of water for my day’s adventure, then went down the gangway. I
was in Aruba!
After passing through the terminal, I made my way to the bus
for the shore excursion Aruba Town and Countryside. When we
pulled out, I could see there was another ship in port besides
ours. It had a stylized Union Jack painted on its bow. This, I
would learn later, was the Britannia of the P&O line. As
the bus made its way out into the city, I noticed a Ford
dealership, probably the only one on the island. It was
actually a combination Mercedes-Benz/Ford/Lincoln/Mitsubishi
Our first stop was at the Casibari Rock Formations. Here, one
could climb up to the top using a natural pathway which was
slightly treacherous. But the view from the top was great; our
guide said you could see 18% of the island from there. I could
definitely see the ships in port. It was windy there, so I
didn’t stay up there too long. I came down via a different
stairwellll that had been carved out of the rocks’ some of the
steps were big ones, so it paid to hold onto the railing.
There were a few cacti on the grounds; Aruba is actually a
fairly dry island. Our guide said that some call it Arizona on
the ocean, and I could see why.
Our next stop was at the Natural Bridge, on the north shore of
the island. The waves pounded the north shore; no peaceful
beaches here. When we reached the site of the Natural Bridge,
what we saw was actually the ‘baby” natural bridge. The
original natural bridge had collapsed in 2005, and its
remnants were still there. Both of them made for great photo
We then drove to our next stop, the Alto Vista Chapel,
originally built in 1750. It was the oldest Catholic church on
Aruba. The chapel was open, and we could go inside. There were
some pews inside; there were many more outside. Next, we went
to the California Lighthouse, named for the ship California
that wrecked and sank nearby. It could have used that
lighthouse, for sure. I’m not sure if the lighthouse interior
was open or not; it didn’t really matter, for there wasn’t
time to go up in it.
The bus drove back to the port via the resort area, home to
fancy resorts and fancy shopping and eating. I noticed the
Texas de Brazil churrascuria; I have been to one in
Schaumburg, Illinois, though not to the one in downtown
Detroit and certainly not to this one. Soon, we were back at
the cruise terminal. Our driver and guide had given us a good
tour. Inside the terminal, I briefly looked for souvenirs but
didn’t see anything. After a bathroom stop, I reboarded the
ship. Once through security, I went to my cabin to download my
pictures and write down (or, I should say, type on my iPad)
some notes and impressions from the tour.
I was getting a bit hungry, but dinner was still a few hours
away. So it was time to go to the Explorations Cafe for a
cookie and a bottle of Vitaminwater Zero. That did the trick.
Later, I went down to the Explorers Lounge on deck 2 to hear
another performance by the duo Adagio, a husband-and-wife
violin and piano duo (he played the violin, she played piano).
It was an interesting mix of classical works, popular songs
(older ones), possibly some show tunes — and it was all
performed expertly.. The audience in the lounge, and those
outside of it, were very appreciative.
Once again, we were one couple down at dinnertime. Last night,
Pam and Tim were dining at one of the signature dining
experiences (I think it was Canaletto). Tonight, they were
back, but Paul and Terri were away; they were on shore with
the Kukoo Kunuku bus for a dining and pub crawl experience.
For my meal, I had a spring roll and baked potato soup,
grilled fluke with corn salsa, rice and broccoli, and peach
crisp and hot fudge sundae. All were great!
Afterwards, I went to the observation deck. The sun had set,
and stars were out. The deck was well lit, which made for some
difficulty in stargazing, but I was able to see three bright
stars fairly clearly: Procyon, Sirius and Canopus. I was
hoping to see the Large Magellanic Cloud (a galaxy, really),
but I was unable to do so. It would have been low to the
When I went back to my cabin, I took care of some important
things. First, I filled out my disembarkation request form. I
passed on the opportunity to do an official shore excursion in
Fort Lauderdale, since both of them involved airport transfers
that I didn’t need and didn’t want. I also asked to be in the
later groups leaving the ship. Second, I filled out a card for
room service tomorrow morning. With an early shore excursion,
I didn’t think there would be time to go to the restaurant for
breakfast. I ordered V8, skim milk, and a classic plate of
eggs, sausage, bacon, toast. Third, I turned on the TV and
watched the president’s address to Congress (not an official
State of the Union address).
A note: today was the first day of the
month-long Baha'i fast (a 19-day month, according to
the.Baha'i calendar). Travelers are exempted from the fast,
though, which was a good thing, for being on a cruise ship,
surrounded by all of that food and drink would likely prove
too tempting. Well, the alcohol would be easy to resist, since
Baha'is don't drink.
I had set an alarm on my iPhone for 6; I woke up before the
alarm went off. I wanted to be up and dressed before room
service arrived between 6:30 and 7. As it turned out, the room
service came before 6:30, but I was already dressed. My meal
was exactly as I had requested last night, and it was good. I
was watching the BBC News while I ate.
There weren’t as many people leaving the ship this morning as
there had been yesterday afternoon. While I waited for the
tour bus to arrive, I was able to update the e-mail on my
iPhone by connecting to the port’s WiFi (I had been monitoring
e-mail via the iPad and had kept the iPhone from using the
paid Net access on the ship). Before long, we walked to our
Today’s tour was Discover Curaçao, our tour guide was Anja,
and our driver was “Boyer-san” (no, he was not Japanese). We
drove through town, seeing many historic houses, on our way to
the national Curaçao Museum, which had a good collection of
mahogany furniture. There was also a carillon, which our guide
demonstrated for us. Out on the grounds, we saw a
representation of Anansi, the spider from African folktales.
With its round eyes and blue color, it looked more like
“Cookie Spider” to me. In other building on the grounds, I saw
the cabin and cockpit of the KLM plane Snip, which made KLM’s
first trans-Atlantic crossing from the Netherlands to Curaçao
and Aruba in 1934 (this was all that remained of the plane).
We got back on our bus to travel to our next destination, the
Hato Caves. As we drove there, I thought that Curaçao seemed
greener than Aruba. The caves were on the north coast of the
island, not far from the international airport. The entrance
of the caves was atop a hill that required 50 fairly large
steps to reach the top. And once you were in the cave, there
were several steps down again. There were many interesting
features in the caves; unfortunately, I could not get pictures
of most of them, for photography was forbidden except in the
one chamber that received natural light. Now you might think
that the cave was cool, but not so. This cave was WARM! i
think it was much warmer inside the cave than outside. At one
point, I saw a bat from afar (a fruit bat, I was told).
Outside the caves, I also saw a cat wandering around.
Our next stop was Chobolobo, the place where Curaçao liqueurs
are made. On the way there, we crossed the high Queen Juliana
Bridge, which connects the two parts of Willemstad. This gave
us a great view of the Zuiderdam in port, and I got some good
pictures of it. Free samples of the product were offered at
Chobolobo, but I did not partake. Maybe I should have paid
more attention when selecting the shore excursion and chosen
one that didn’t involve a trip to the liqueur factory. But
then I would have had a different tour guide than Anja, who
did a great job.
It was raining slightly when we returned to the dock. I
decided not to go around the town some more and instead went
back on the ship. For lunch, I had a small sandwich and some
more pasta, along with two desserts (ooh, living dangerously).
Afterwards, I went up to the observation deck and took some
pictures from up there of the city that I didn’t visit,
including views of the Queen Emma Bridge, a drawbridge that
swings away to allow ships to enter and leave the port.
Two documentaries about the Panama Canal were showing on
board. One of them was an episode of American Experience. It
was supposed to show in the Queen’s Lounge at 2 PM; however,
it did not start on time. One of the audience members
contacted Guest Services, which contacted the cruise director.
It turned out that the crew’s schedule said the program would
start at 3, not 2. However, the program did start at 2:20. It
was an interesting program about the building of the canal,
starting with the failed French attempt to build a sea-level
canal (like the Suez Canal) and proceeding through the US
At 4, I had a second appointment with Carolina of the Holland
America Privileges program, where I told her I had decided to
join. We took care of the necessary business, and at the end
of it, I was a member. I hoped it would pay off for me.
Later on, I went up on deck with my camera to see our
departure from Willemstad. The port had a turning basin on the
other side of the Queen Juliana Bridge, but the ship couldn’t
use it because it wouldn’t clear that bridge, so it had to
back out to sea. The Queen Emma Bridge swung open for
us, and we left port. There was another ship in port, Royal
Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas; it wasn’t going anywhere,
not yet. As we set off for our next port, steel drum music
filled the Sea View Pool area of the deck; I recall hearing
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and the theme to “The Love Boat.” I
went to the Explorations Cafe for a cookie and a Vitaminwater
Back in my cabin, I took a shower and noticed that the water
heated up very quickly, much more quickly than at home. I
needed it. Later, I downloaded today’s pictures to the iPad
and watched some BBC News. I sent an e-mail home, and I saw
that I’d received compliments on a picture I’d posted to
Facebook earlier in the day, a picture of the houses on the
other side of the channel from the ship in Willemstad.
And I’d taken it with an iPad Pro!
At dinner tonight, we had a full contingent at our table for
the first time since the first night. I had French onion
soup, meat tortellini with sautéed spinach, pineapple crisp,
and vanilla ice cream. Another good dinner! Afterwards, I went
out on deck to do some more stargazing. Orion and Canis Major
were more clearly visible tonight, each with more stars
visible than I normally can see from my light-polluted
suburban Detroit skies. I might have seen the Milky Way; then
again, it could have been high clouds. I did not definitely
see the Large Magellanic Cloud.
I saw two shows in the Vista Lounge this evening. The first
was a performance by the Island Magic Steel Band, a group of
three steel drummers and a regular drummer. The performance
tonight was not a typical steel drum performance, though; the
group played show tunes and classical works. They did a
fantastic job! I was quite impressed, and so were many others
in the audience. Their CD was on sale after the performance,
and I went out to the lobby and bought it, charging it to my
room account. The second show was the Indonesian Crew Show,
which was exactly that: a show put on by members of the crew,
who were mostly from Indonesia. There was singing and dancing
and a humorous retelling of a myth. This must be a feature of
every Holland America cruise, for there was a similar show on
the Alaskan cruis
Today was another day at sea as we steamed
(dieseled? electric’d?) from Willemstad, Curaçao to Cartagena,
Colombia, a distance of 461 nautical miles or 530.5 regular
miles. I thought the time would have changed overnight, but it
didn’t (it would happen tomorrow). I took my time getting up
this morning, and I suspect many others were doing the same.
Before I went up to breakfast, I took a look at the Privileges
material that had arrived last night. I received a second
selfie stick (the first was on Sunday).
When I went up to breakfast, I had some scrambled eggs,
sausage patties some home fries, some Special K and some
yogurt. This whole week had been quite a change from my normal
breakfast during the week of two Pop Tarts of varying flavors
and a bottle of pop (usually caffeine-free Diet Coke).
Afterwards, I went down to the Promenade deck to sit, relax
and read the news on my iPad Pro. The New York Times was one
of the few websites available without paying for an Internet
package (the others were Holland America sites and the
Cellular@Sea site). That was convenient for me, being a
digital subscriber to the Times. Of course, I could call other
other news sites via my Internet package, and I did
occasionally. It was easier and more preferable for me to read
the Times on the iPad than relying on the printed Times Digest
available on board (you can expand the text on the iPad if
necessary). At one point, I took a screenshot of the
ship’s position using the Maps.Me offline mapping app.
I went back to my cabin to brush my teeth; my bed hadn’t been
made yet. But I did see Riyo and Febian there, working on
other rooms. I asked if they had been in the crew show last
night; no, neither of them had been, but they were pleased to
hear that I had seen the show. I let them get back to their
work and went back to the Promenade deck.
At 10, the Screening Room would show A Man, A Plan, A Canal:
Panama. I tried to go to that screening, but the theater was
already full. It wasn’t a particularly large theater, so it
tended to fill up quickly. There would be additional
screenings that day, both in the Screening Room and in other
places, so I hadn’t missed out completely. I went to a
presentation on Panama Canal activities in the Vista Lounge.
Here, I learned that the tour I was to go on was one of the
shorter ones. It was short enough that it was scheduled to end
and drop us off in port before the Zuiderdam arrived after
exiting the canal. That was slightly disconcerting; how would
I occupy my time? On another note, my tour would be one of the
last to visit the original Gatun Locks visitor center. It
would be closing in April. In fact, it was already closed for
general tours; only cruise passengers could visit them now. I
had unknowingly made a good choice in selecting that tour.
At 11, the Island Magic Steel Band would be giving a coffee
talk in the Crow’s Nest. I went up there early and got — no,
not a coffee, a Vitaminwater Zero before finding a seat. The
talk was packed; the band had impressed a lot of people last
night! I learned that the group had been together for 24
years. The newest member, Opal, had joined about a year ago
after the death of a previous band member; she was the only
member of the group who had received formal musical training,
and that in piano. Steel drum players learn by ear, generally.
It’s common for schools in Trinidad to have steel drum bands
that are very large; this four-piece group would be considered
very small. Their CD’s were once again on sale, including a
second CD of more traditional steel drum music; I bought that
second one after talk. And this news received tremendous
acclaim: the band would give a special performance on the last
afternoon of the cruise, playing the more traditional music
featured on that second CD. I knew one thing I’d be doing that
The next screening of A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama would
take place in the Queen’s Lounge on deck 2 at 12:30. I made
sure to get down there early to be assured of a seat. The
program itself turned out to be an old NOVA show from the
80’s. It showed footage of a Soviet freighter and mentioned
that the Canal would be turned over to Panama on the last day
of 1999, which happened 17 years ago. However, the history of
the building of the canal wouldn’t change in 30 years, so it
was a useful and informative presentation, although it was
slightly duplicative of the other program on the canal (itself
an American Experience show).
Now it was time for lunch. I went to the taco bar that was out
by the Lido pool. I knew the food would be good, based on my
experience on the Alaska cruise. Unfortunately, I had a hard
time finding a table on deck. I found an empty chair pulled up
next to the glass, so I ate while gazing out to sea and
listening to steel drum music playing. I remember the drummer
playing some Motown and Drifters, along with “Kokomo” by the
Beach Boys. I went to the main restaurant to get a peanut
butter cupcake for dessert, then went out to the Sea View pool
are before returning to my cabin.
I was feeling a bit weary and sleepy this afternoon, so I
decided to lie down for a bit. I think I actually fell asleep
for a while. But I woke up in time to attend a presentation on
shore excursions in Colombia and Costa Rica. Then it was back
to the cabin, where I lay down once again. I must have needed
At dinner, all of us (the two couples and I) were there. For
tonight’s meal, I had shrimp and crab Louis, ginger chicken
with carrots, and warm chocolate cake with a scoop of ice
cream. I’m not sure how warm the warm chocolate cake was.
Afterwards, I went back up to the Observation deck to see if I
could see the Large Magellanic Cloud; unfortunately, I could
not. It would have been fairly low to the horizon, probably
not the best opportunity to see it.
The time change I had expected yesterday took
place this morning. Our clocks moved back an hour, meaning we
were now on Eastern time again. When I woke up at 4:40 in the
morning, I took advantage by going up to the observation deck
after doing other morning activities. In addition to my
wanting to see the Large Magellanic Cloud, I wanted to see
Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross again. I’d seen them
before in 2009 when I’d gone to Uganda, and I knew I would be
able to see them on this cruise, weather permitting, of
course. Well, I wasn’t able to see the Southern Cross, but I
think I did see Alpha Centauri. It might have been Jupiter,
but I didn’t think so; I’m sure I saw the closest bright star
to our solar system. I’m also sure that I saw some of the
outskirts of Cartagena, for we were approaching the port.
I went to breakfast around 6:15 in the morning and had cereal.
yogurt, a croissant, some smoked salmon, and 4 slices of
cheese. The sun seemed to rise rather quickly down in Colombia
compared to Michigan, I thought. While getting my food, I ran
into Paul, one of my nightly dining partners; we were both
going for glasses of the mango passion fruit juice. I went
back to the cabin to take care of some last minute stuff, and
then I left the ship around 7:40. I didn’t see any sales of
bottled water at the gangway today, unlike at our previous two
port calls. And now I had stepped onto my fifth continent:
North America in 1963, Europe in 1996, Asia in 2007, Africa in
2009, and now South America in 2017. Only two and more
continents to go.
The buses for the Cartagena City Highlights tours were lined
up right at the dock; there was no need to go to the cruise
terminal. I got onto bus number 6; Marcos was our tour guide.
The bus left the port and headed out into Cartagena traffic,
which seemed rather heavy. Well, it was early in the morning,
and that time would be considered rush hour in the US. It was
probably Cartagena’s rush hour. We made our way to San Felipe
de Barajas, the conquistador-era fortress towering over the
city — well, the old city, anyway; many skyscrapers in the
newer parts of town towered over the fortress. We got out of
the bus and started our climb up the hills and ramps to reach
the old fortress. Soon, we encountered street vendors —
aggressive, in-your-face street vendors. I got to practice
some of my Spanish on them: "Gracias, no", "no, señor", etc.
It was a good hike up the ramps to the fortress, which had a
good, commanding view of the area. One wall had some cannons
in place, and some of those cannons had dogs sleeping by or
under them. I took pictures of those dogs, but as soon as I
did, they got up and walked away. I told them they didn't have
to go, but they went anyway. They must not have understood
English, ha ha. One cannon looked out over a row of car
dealerships, one of which were Ford. Before we left, I
used the restroom; it was a good idea to do so.
Our next stop was Las Bovedas in the old city, originally
built as dungeons, but now they served as shops and boutiques.
We stopped here for a half-hour, and I found two small cat
carvings, which I got for my sister and aunt. I also bought a
bottle of water here. The aggressive street vendors were here,
too; I recall one trying to sell a tablecloth. Next, we drove
to another spot in the Old City, where we got out and started
on a walking tour. The streets were narrow, and the
construction of the buildings with their second-floor
balconies reminded me of New Orleans, especially the French
Quarter. At one point, we stopped in an art gallery to see
some paintings of the rainforest by local artist César Bertel,
which I thought were very vibrant and went beyond
photorealistic. At the end, we got to meet the artist briefly;
he even gave me his card.
We stopped at another store that focused on emeralds; I didn't
get any. Instead, I wandered around for a bit, taking some
pictures of the area. I wasn't quite sure where we were to
meet, so I went back to the shop. It turned out that was where
we supposed to meet after all. We went to our next destination
of the cathedral, but it was undergoing renovations so we
couldn't go in. However, we could and did. Go into the Church
of San Pedro Claver, named for t he patron saint of slaves.
Father Claver dedicated his life to ministering to slaves,
illustrated near the church y a statute of Father Claver and a
slave. We got back onto the bus and drove through the new
city, the high-rent high-rise part of town, on our way back to
It seemed like all of the tour buses were arriving at the same
time. Only one bus could discharge its passengers at a time;
the rest had to wait. There were three buses in front of us,
and there were six or seven behind us when we were were able
to get off. Of course, there was a long line to get back onto
the ship. I had wanted to visit the cruise terminal, it
I never got the chance.
The Lido restaurant was very busy today; I had a hard time
finding a table. I had an Asian bowl of rice, noodles, and
steak cooked Tagalog style. It wasn't much, but it was good. I
went up the the Explorations Cafe and Crow's Nest for a cookie
and a Vitaminwater Zero. While I was up there, the ship
started to pull away from the dock. It was only 1 PM, but
that's when we were leaving. When I'd finished my cookie and
drink, I went outside to take some pictures of the city as we
departed. The new city sure reminded me of Miami or Miami
Beach. Then it was time to download everything onto the iPad.
One of the the things I like to do on my iPad is to download
and read magazines. I downloaded the latest issue of New
Scientist magazine for later reading on the Promenade deck. I
could have downloaded issues of CQ (for amateur radio) and
Doctor Who Magazine (for fans of, well, you know Who), but
those were larger and would have taken too long. Those would
have to wait for another time. Later on in the afternoon, I
came to the realization that I missed the Fiber One bars I
would eat at home and that I would need a replacement.
I e-mailed some of the pictures from today to my aunt and
uncle and to my sister. The first attempt encountered
problems, though; it turned out I was sending full-size
pictures, which they didn't need. After I figured out how to
send reduced-size pictures via the iPad, I tried again, and
this time, the message went out.
For dinner tonight, I had mushroom and wild rice chowder,
prime rib, and mixed berry crisp, all of which were good. I
also learned that my table mates would not be with me
tomorrow; they would each be dining at Pinnacle Grill, so I
would have the table to myself. It was cloudy tonight, so
there was no opportunity to stargaze.
One more thing: I wish that the ship's stores carried combs.
They carried hair brushes but not combs. I had lost my comb
today, probably at the security station.
This was it; today was the day. This was the point of the entire
cruise: to enter and partially transit the Panama Canal. I made
sure I was up in plenty of time by getting up at 4:40 in the
morning, well before sunrise. I made my normal e-mail and Web
checks. In fact, I decided I needed to increase my usage of my
Internet time, since I had used less than half of my 1000
minutes, and it was not possible to receive a refund for unused
Breakfast began at 6, and I was there as soon as the Lido
restaurant opened, getting a box of Special K and a box of All
Bran Wheat Flakes, along with smoked salmon, V8, and mango
passing fruit juice. It was still dark outside, but dawn was
breaking, and I could see lights from land. We were in Panama!
The bow would be open this morning as the ship made its way
through the canal, and I made my way there after breakfast. I
was hoping to beat the crowd there, but I was too late. The
railings were already packed with people wanting to see our
passage. On higher decks, occupants of forward-facing cabins or
suites were out on their verandahs, waiting to see the same
thing. At least I had height and a long zoom lens in my favor.
Unlike the Alaska cruise, warm bean soup was not being offered
to the passengers; however, mimosas and bottled water were for
The sun had risen, and we made our way towards the first of the
Gatun Locks. We passed a highway bridge being built to span the
canal; it would be a very high span, naturally. Off to our
starboard, a waterway veered off diagonally; that was the
channel for the original French attempt to dig a sea-level
crossing of Panama, an attempt that ended in failure. Ahead were
the original 1914 locks as well as two sips making the transit
ahead of us. They were going all of th way through, while we
would only go as far as Gatun Lake, then turn around and com
We reached the lock channel. Two locomotives called “mules” cast
lines over so that they could keep the ship in the center of the
channel and not the sides or the gates. I believe there were two
locomotives in the stern that did the same. We approached the
first gate ahead of us and stopped. Behind us, another set of
gates closed. Then water flowed in to bring us to the level of
the second lock. Over the course of several minutes, you could
see that the ship had risen. Then the gates ahead of us opened,
and we moved into the second lock chamber, which seemed to
provide the greatest vertical rise or fall. The process repeated
itself, and we were now in the third lock. I'd stayed on the bow
during this time, while others had started to leave. It was warm
out here, so I got a bottle of water and drank it rather
quickly. I saw a Singaporean freighter begin to pass through the
locks in the other direction (that freighter, the Atlantic
Tulum, would be in the Mississippi River on March 12). By this
time, I'd moved down to the Promenade deck for a different
perspective. I could see one of the shipboard
photographers on shore taking pictures of us on deck.
By this time, our transit of the locks was nearly complete, so I
went back to my cabin to download the pictures I had taken this
morning, well over 100. And that didn't include the ones I had
taken with my iPhone, mostly selfies at points along the locks.
I needed to get ready for my shore excursion. Rain gear and
bottled water were suggested, so I used my tote bag to carry my
umbrella. After a visit to the Explorations Cafe, they carried
two bottles of Vitaminwater Zero, along wth my camera bag. Then
it was time to head to the Vista Lounge. There, I would wait
until my excursion was called. When it was called, I and the
others on that excursion would walk out of the Lounge, down one
of the corridors of deck 1, then go down to deck A, then take
another flight of steps to deck B, and then we would board the
tender that would take us ashore. I sat near the front of the
tender, and that gave me a chance to take some pictures of the
ship as we left. It also let me hear the comments of those in
front saying that water was coming in at certain seams whenever
the waves broke there. That was a little disconcerting. But we
didn't sink in the lake. No, we made it to shore safe and
sound, and then we left the tender and boarded our bus.
Our tour guide was Archie; our bus driver was not Jughead (or
Reggie or Moose, for that matter, to say nothing of Betty or
Veronica). We didn't drive very far before we were at our first
stop, the old Gatun Locks visitor center. Here was where we
would see the original lock system in action. The main
attraction was the high viewing platform, accessible after
climbing 78 steps (not as bad as it sounded; it was 50 steps up
to the main level and 28 to the platform). It was very windy
going up those stairs; I took off my hat and stuffed it in my
pocket as best I could. The platform reminded me of the one at
the Soo Locks, allowing you to be very close to the ships as
they passed through. There were two ships making the passage
while I was there, both freighters, but going in opposite
directions. I was wondering if we would get to see the Zuiderdam
pass back through the locks; it was just beginning its passage
by the time we had to leave and move to our next stop. I did get
some pictures of it beginning it's passage. Was it leaving us
behind? No, we would reboard the ship in Colón.
Our next stop was the new visitor center at Agua Clara, which
highlighted the new Locks that had opened last year, in 2016.
The locks operated differently from the old ones; instead of
gates that opened in the center, these gates rolled from the
side. In addition, most of the water used for operating the
locks is captured in basins and recycled, vastly reducing the
amount of fresh water lost from the lake by the old locks. And,
of course, these locks were larger than the old ones, allowing
larger ships to pass through. One of those larger ships was
beginning its transit. And in the distance, ships going through
the old locks were visible. I could see the Zuiderdam in the
locks, and I took some pictures with the long zoom lens. Before
we left, we saw a short film about the construction of the new
locks. Then re got back on the bus for the trip to Colón.
We were driving through the old Canal Zone, which was returned
to Panama at the end of 1999. As we rode, Archie was telling us
about former leader Manuel Noriega, who was still alive. When we
reached Colón, we encountered a traffic jam. It turned out that
there was a parade and celebration of the city's anniversary.
Eventually, the bus took some back roads to reach the port. The
ship was there; we had been told that we would reach port before
the ship did, but that was not the case. The traffic jam
certainly delayed us, but perhaps the ship was early, too.
We could not get back onto the ship right away, onshore staff
were saying come back in 30 minutes. Now there was a small
shopping mall across the street. There were two casinos there,
along with a Panafoto store selling consumer electronics and
some appliances. In back, I saw a Super 99 store, which was
probably the Panamanian version of a dollar store.. Now I hadn't
had any lunch, so I was looking for a restaurant. I found two in
front, both of which served -- Middle Eastern food! Marine that,
going to Panama and eating Middle Eastern food! I went to the
place called Chez Lebanese or something similar. It was a small
place, with only a couple of other people inside. The waiter
(probably from Lebanon) spoke excellent English. I ordered a
hummus and meat plate and a bottle of water. The meat was beef,
but it wasn't shawarma. But it was good, especially since my
last food had been several hours earlier. They took American
money at even exchange (that happens to be official exchange
rate for Panamanian money). After I left, I saw a black and
white cat outside; it was a stray, presumably, a bit small but
didn't appear to be in poor health. I went to a souvenir place
but didn't get anything. Then it was back onto the ship, where I
download axed the pictures not my iPad.
Dinner tonight was a bit strange. I was the only person at my
table that evening. The others had reservations at Pinnacle
Grill. I had cheddar and beer soup (did not taste any beer or
perceive any alcohol), Caesar salad (with anchovy), rosemary
chicken with stuffing, green beans and carrots (I encountered
two bones in the chicken), and bananas foster sundae. The check
dash was not my favorite, it the rest of the meal was all
right. Later, I went to B. B. King's Blues Club and caught the
tail end of the first set, which was pretty good. Then it was
back to the cabin for the night. Before I went to bed, I set my
watch back one hour.
Once again, I got up around 5. You'r supposed to sleep in while
on vacation, but that's hard to do when your shore excursions
depart at very early hours. The time moved back an hour ov
night, though, making it somewhat easier. I was up in time for
dining when the restaurant opened at 6. So were a lot of other
people. It was difficult to find a table, but I eventually did.
My breakfast was similar to yesterday's, although I goofed and
got the wrong kind of All Bran cereal (I wanted the flakes but
got the original). I tried it, den't care for it, went
back for the kind I wanted (the wheat flakes version), then
finished my meal. As I ate, could see land outside; we
were approaching Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.
I had to hurry if I wanted to brush my teeth and put on sunblock
and insect repellent before the shore excursion. As I reached
Deck 7, though, the signal for a shipwide announced sounded. It
was the captain, and he told us that the port call for today had
been cancelled. Seas were rough in the port area, making it
unsafe to moor or to put out the gangway. Several other ships
were at anchor outside the port for the same reason. I would not
be going on any shore excursion today, nor would anyone
else. I would have gone on the Caribbean Train, Countryside, and
Tortuguero Canals trip, where I might have have seen monkeys and
other wildlife. Naturally, I would be receiving a refund (and it
was credited to my shipboard account). Later, the captain came
on with another announcement: we would not be able to stop at
another port in place of Puerto Limon, so we were starting to
make our way back to Fort Lauderdale, albeit more slowly since
we now had three days to cover what was planned for two.
Before we left Puerto Limón, I got my camera and went up to the
Observation Deck, wanting to take pictures of what was so close
and yet so far. I encountered Paul and Terri, two of my dining
companions, up there; their plans to go kayaking had been
thwarted by the cancellation. Later, I went down to the
Promenade Deck to sit and some reading or typing. .However, the
doors on the starboard side were all secured and unable to be
opened. Was the deck closed due to rough seas? No, for I did see
people on that side. Port side doors were open ,though, so I
went out there and sat for a while with my iPad. Then it was up
to the Crow's Nest for a Vitaminwater Zero. It was relaxing
there, but it was also chilly, much chillier than the hallways.
I went back to my cabin, where I had an invitation waiting for
me. It was for the Mariner Society brunch tomorrow in the lower
main dining room. I made plans to attend that. Now my room had
yet to be made up, but I felt rather sleepy that that moment, so
I lay down for a while, at least until I heard the housekeeping
staff outside. I then went to the Lido pool area, where it was
rather crowded. I did find a chair that was turned away from a
table and wasn't in use, so I sat there for a bit. Someone
grabbed a chair from the table next to me, ignoring the warnings
from the occupants that the chair was in use (the occupant
returned and made him give it back). I was waiting for the
restaurants to open for lunch, especially the Dive In burger
place. Unfortunately, with the pool area being so crowded, I
would lose my seat as soon as placed my order. I would likely
have to go to the Lido restaurant.
In fact, that is exactly what I did. I had a spaghetti meal
prepared for me with meat sauce, mushrooms, shrimp and parsley,
two slices of cheese pizza, a garlic roll, and a small glass of
water. I found a table near port forward and had my meal. At one
point, I heard someone comment on the spaghetti as she walked
in. It was good. I then went back out on the Promenade deck for
a while, sitting somewhat forward of where I had sat earlier.
Time for more reading (especially New York Times editorials and
columns). When my iPad charge began to run low, I went back up
to my cabin and started to recharge the iPad. There was a letter
waiting for me from the captain telling us what we already knew,
that today's port call was cancelled and that our shore
excursions would be refunded to our onboard account. I had
confirmed earlier that mine had been.
With the cancellation of the port call, the cruise staff had to
put together a full day's worth of activities for what was now
an at-sea day. One of those activities was a talk about the
fish, crustacean, and bird life of the Caribbean. There weren't
that many people who attended the talk, but I was one of them.
The talk was fairly basic, but it was informative. Afterwards, I
went back to the shops where, before the talk, I had seen a
Nautica long-sleeve shirt on sale. It was still there in my
size, and so I bought it. Back in my cabin, I tried it on; it
fit. Out came the nail clippers, and off came the tag, and now I
could wear it. But first, I wanted to take a shower, which I
did. I used one of the bathrobes that were in the cabin, and it
was comfortable. I turned on the TV and ended up watching two
episodes of the series “Rise of the Continents” covering Africa
and the Americas.
Later on, I went up to the Explorations Cafe again and got a
cookie, which didn’t cost me anything. Compensation for the
missed port call? Perhaps. I stayed to listen to the team trivia
contest that was taking place and played along with it; by my
reckoning, I scored 14 out a possible 17 points.
For dinner tonight, I had French onion soup, Caesar salad,
chicken scallopini, and cherry crisp. A glass of champagne was
given to every diner tonight, compliments of the captain,
for missing the port; I turned mine down because I don’t drink.
Back in my cabin, there was an announcement for a final time
change, to set clocks ahead one hour. There would be no more
time changes during this cruise; for me, the next time change
would occur on Sunday, after I had returned home.
I got up after 6 AM Eastern time and did my usual e-mail and Web
checks. In fact, I was doing more extended Web checks in recent
days, trying to use up the 1000 minutes of Internet access I’d
paid for. There were no refunds, so it was use it or lose it. I
turned on the BBC News; the daily program “GMT” was on, covering
the stories of the day. Lucy Hockings was anchoring the program;
I hadn’t seen her on the BBC World News Channel in some time,
but then again, I’m not normally watching it at 7 AM on
weekdays. I’m usually at work.
The Lido restaurant was definitely not as crowded for breakfast
as yesterday. Since this was a sea day, there was no pressure to
wake up early and eat breakfast early. For my breakfast, I had
pancakes, sausage, and some more All Bran wheat flakes. Later, I
went down to the Promenade deck and took a screenshot on my iPad
showing our position. We were heading northwest in the
Caribbean; it looked to me that we would be going around the
western tip of Cuba in order to reach Florida. Skies were cloudy
with a few patches of blue; seas were a bit rough.
When I went back to my cabin, I found my disembarkation package
waiting for me. Inside were three luggage tags, although I only
needed one, and instructions on when to go to breakfast and when
I could leave the ship. I was scheduled to leave between 9:15
and 9:30 on Wednesday morning. I put it aside for later, and
then I went up to the Crow’s Nest, where I heard some of the
morning’s trivia game. This one dealt with food, a subject that
I’m not up on. I would not have done well in that contest. I’m
not sure I would have been able to stay awake for the whole
contest, for I was falling asleep up there. I got up to use the
restroom; unfortunately, thanks to the rolling of the ship and
my leaning forward at the urinal, I hit my head on the wall, and
it hurt. It wasn’t serious, and the pain was gone within
Back down on the Promenade deck, I looked without success for an
empty deck chair. I ended up having to sit on one of the hard
benches that contain lifejackets. I had the iPad with me still,
so I worked on this travelogue. Eventually, I got tired of the
hard seat and went back to my cabin, where I put my iPad away.
By this time, it was nearly 11:30, and I was going to lunch at
the lower level of the Vista Dining Room. The occasion was a
brunch for members of the Mariner Society, consisting of those
passengers who had sailed at least one other time with Holland
America. I was a 1-star Mariner, meaning I’d sailed at least
once; by the end of this cruise, I knew that I would qualify for
I sat with seven others at my table: two couples from Georgia,
one couple from the Netherlands, and one woman from near Sault
Ste. Marie, Ontario. It was a champagne brunch, so glasses
filled with bubbly were at our tables. I did not touch mine. The
captain and the cruise director were there to welcome us. There
were around 1970 passengers on board (the cruise log I received
on the last day said 1961), and of those, 1300 were returning
passengers, members of the Mariner Society. Clearly, repeat
business is important to Holland America. Now there weren’t 1300
people in the dining room; the brunch was so large, it had to be
split into two sessions, with the second one being
tomorrow. We each received a gift for our loyalty: a
Delftware tile showing the Zuiderdam. It could also have shown
the Oosterdam or the other members of that class vessel. Now the
meal I had, like nearly all of the meals on board, was very
good. I had a crab appetizer and a fish main course.
Unfortunately, I did not record what kind of fish it was; it was
not a common name.
When the meal was over and everyone was dispersing, I got onto
one elevator heading up, but I had to get off because it was
overloaded. I had to wait for the next one. I went back to my
cabin for a while. Later, as I was heading to the Vista Lounge
for a presentation, I tried to take a picture of the rough seas
through the windows on deck 2. The roll of the ship caused me to
lose my balance and fall towards the window. I caught myself on
the wide window sill; no harm done, to me or to my iPhone. The
presentation in the lounge was on things to do in Fort
Lauderdale. It was interesting, but would I feel like doing any
of them? During the presentation, the ship “hopped”, for lack of
a better term. It rose up and then came down fairly hard, making
a loud noise. The Vista Lounge was near the bow, by the way.
After the presentation, I went back to the cabin, where I read
some web comics — or, newspaper comics on the web. I was a bit
behind, having missed a week while on the cruise. Later, I went
out on the Promenade deck and took some video of the rough seas
from the stern and from starboard aft.
Tonight was another gala night, so I changed into nice clothes
again, this time wearing a different shirt than last Monday. The
tie I’d brought still worked with it. I first welt to the
Explorers Lounge to hear the Adagio duo again. Once again, the
lounge was full, and once again, the duo performed exceptionally
well. Then it was off to dinner, where I had shrimp cocktail,
parsnip soup, surf and turf (lobster tail and filet mignon), and
flourless chocolate cake. The surf and turf was very popular
this evening; everyone at our table got it, and that had not
happened at any of our previous meals (everyone getting the same
meal, that is). When I went back to my cabin, I saw that
tonight’s towel animal was a monkey, hanging from a clothes
hanger that was hanging from my air vent.
Today was another sea day. Today was also the last full day of
the cruise; we would be returning to Port Everglades at Fort
Lauderdale tomorrow. I woke up around 5:30' turned on the BBC
News channel, and did my normal e-mail and web checks. The seas
had calmed down overnight; there was definitely less rocking and
I put on my new Nautica shirt again as I went to breakfast. What
I had today, I didn't record, but I'm sure it was similar to
other days. Back in my cabin, I filled out one of the luggage
tags and put it on my bag bag, the one that will be taken off
the ship for me.. I also filled out most of the Customs
declaration form, just in case; I was planning to use the Mobile
Passport app for my declaration, but I needed to be prepared in
case that didn't work. Then I started to pack the. G suitcase
with things I knew I wouldn't need; before long, it was mostly
filled, although there was still more to pack.
After all of that, I watched the BBC News for a while longer,
and then I went down to the Promenade deck, found a deck chair,
and sat down. Th cushion on the chair was slightly damp,
it so were all of the others. Seas were definitely calmer, but
there was a breeze that made it seem a bit chilly; I was glad I
had on long sleeves. Around 9:45, music started to play; most of
it was the hits of today, but I did hear "Walk Like an
Egyptian"). As soon learned, this was in preparation for
On Deck For a Cause, the charity 5K walk on the Promenade deck.
I didn't see any solicitations for that this cruise:
furthermore, I didn't feel like doing that today.
We had indeed gone around the western tip of Cuba last night and
were now near its north coast. We weren't THAT near to it,
though. We weren't so close that the Cuban Navy came out to
intercept us. On a different note, I checked the weather
forecasts for D.C. and for home; both were unfavorable. I
questioned whether I would feel like doing any sightseeing
during my layover.
For lunch, I had some sweet and sour chicken, some rice, and a
slice of pizza, a very multicultural meal. Then it was up to the
Explorations Cafe and Crow's Nest for some relaxing. I was able
to hear the trivia contest, perhaps the last trivia contest of
the cruise (or next-to-last, for sure). After that, I went down
to the Vista Lounge for Ask The Captain. He started with an
informative presentation on the ship, its engines and props, the
Bridge controls, etc., as well as some personal and professional
information about himself. Then it was time for questions, and
the first one dealt with our missed port call. There was very
little margin for making the decision; the ship could only stay
for 8 hours before having to return to Florida at top speed. He
mentioned that the Zuiderdam would soon be entering dry dock for
reconditioning and renovation. There would be an expanded piano
bar possibly replacing sports bar; the Northern Lights
nightclubs was being replaced with a gallery bar and whiskey
bar, and that might be taking out the casino; there would be
expanded classical offerings n conjunction with Lincoln Center;
and there would be Explorations Central on deck 10. That sounded
interesting. Someone asked how much it cost to transit the
Panama Canal; the toll to transit (enter and leave) the canal
was around $350K. That's not cheap!
Most of the crowd stayed after the talk for the performance by
the Island Magic Steel Band. This performance featured the group
playing popular hits; I recall "Let It Be," "Fernando," and
"Love is In the Air.". They were magnificent, just like the
first show. Then it was back to the cabin to do some more
packing and to charge the iPad. I watched some news for a while,
and then I went out to get another screenshot of the ship’s
position. That also allowed me to take a picture of the
near-sunset taking place between Key West and Havana.
For the final dinner on board, I had the potato soup with kale,
prime rib, and baked Alaska (and a piece of chocolate cake split
3 ways between Paul, Terri and me. Once again, everything was
good. And I got a bonus: I received a bottle of water from Tim
and Pam, a remnant of a beverage package; they could not take it
on the plane, while I could take it on the train. It was a 1 1/2
liter bottle, a not-very-common size. I knew I could fit it into
one of my suitcases. It would have gone to waste had I not been
able to take it. Back at my cabin, I finished packing the big
suitcase and left it outside my door for overnight pickup. Then
it was time for bed.
I woke up around 5:40 and did my normal web and e-mail checks.
After I’d gotten changed, I went up on deck to see if I could
get a signal on my iPhone. Yes, I could receive T-Mobile. I
started to fill out my online Customs declaration in the Mobile
Passport app, but I waited to submit it until we were in port. I
didn’t want to risk submitting it too early and having it expire
before I actually left the ship. With that done, I stayed out
and watched as we we arrived back at Port Everglades in Fort
Lauderdale, passing by locations that we’d passed going the
opposite way 11 days earlier. I took a few pictures, including
one of the sunrise over the ocean.
When I left the observation deck, I went to the restaurant for
breakfast. For my final meal of the cruise, I had a pancake,
sausage, yogurt, a croissant, and some cereal The cereal was
supposed to be All Bran wheat flakes, but I was dismayed to find
I’d chosen the regular All Bran (pun not intended). I went back
to get the correct kind, but they were all out.
When I returned to my room, I found that the bed had been
converted into two twin beds. It was no longer my cabin, not
really. I could stay there until I left the ship, of course.
Also waiting for my was my statement of account for the trip and
a reward. It was a pin for making 2-Star Mariner. I would
qualify for additional recognition and perks on subsequent
The TV had been set to channel 26 in preparation for the next
cruise. Right now, it was carrying disembarkation information. I
did turn it back to BBC News while I waited in my cabin, making
sure to put it back when I left. And I left my cabin for good
before 9 o’clock. That would let the stewards finish cleaning
the cabin. I went down the the Explorers Lounge to wait for my
departure call. It was pretty full, but there was a seat
available. While I waited for my departure group to be called, I
started to download the scores of iPhone and iPad software
updates that had come in over the last 11 days. Would I be able
to finish before I left the ship? No, for my departure group was
called. I walked down to and through the Queen’s Lounge before
being checked off the ship one last time. The cruise was over.
Now I made my way down the passageway to an escalator, where my
big suitcase was waiting for me. Then came Customs. There were
two lines, one for Mobile Passport users and one for everyone
else. I had submitted my declaration via the app earlier, and it
was accepted, so I went down the Mobile Passport line. There was
nobody in that line except one other person. When my turn came,
I used my phone to show the receipt that I received in the app.
After some initial difficulty in reading it, it was accepted,
and I was officially back in the US. Then it was time to head
out of the terminal and get a cab.
I didn’t have any plans for today. I had a hotel reservation for
the Renaissance Hotel very near to the port, but I didn’t
believe I would be able to check in until 4. It was 10 AM. Where
could I go? I had the cab driver take me to the hotel, where I
planned to sit in the lobby until I could check in. Then I
benefitted from some tremendous luck: there was a room available
and ready to be occupied right then. I jumped on the offer, and
soon, I was in room 523. One of the first things I did was to
get my jackets out of the big suitcase; I would be needing them
once I got to DC. The sleeves were still off, so I zipped them
back on, and then I put the jackets aside. I established a Wifi
connection with my devices, and then I finished downloading the
updates I couldn’t retrieve on board the ship. That took a while
— a long while! But eventually, they finished.
By this time, it was nearing lunchtime. I had seen on a map that
a Pei Wei restaurant was within walking distance, but that was
not true. However, there was a BurgerFi restaurant nearby; that
was supposed to have a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. So I went
there for lunch. They were on the order of Five Guys Burgers and
Fries, perhaps slightly upscale of them. The portions of fries
they served were definitely overflowing like Five Guys. My cup
runneth over, indeed! Then I walked over to a nearby Winn Dixie
grocery store, thinking they might carry reading glasses.
Sunglasses were there, but not reading glasses.
Later in the afternoon, I walked to a nearby Walgreen’s, and
there I found the reading glasses I was looking for. I also
picked up some Pop Tarts for snacks on the train trips to come.
Now I had my DSLR camera with me, so I walked to the waterway
connected to Port Everglades. Here, I could see cruise ships,
yachts, water taxis, and more. I could even see the Zuiderdam in
the distance, preparing to make its next voyage to the southern
Caribbean and the Panama Canal. That cruise would not go to
Colombia, though. A cruise that did go there alternated with one
that didn’t. Those passengers would miss out on the aggressive
Back at the hotel, I downloaded my most recently taken pictures
to my iPad. Soon, I’d get to download all of those pictures to
my laptop at home. I watched the last part of the Manchester
City vs. Stoke City game on NBC Sports in Premier League action
(or inaction; the score was a 0-0 draw). Now by this time, it
was nearing suppertime. I wanted to eat at the hotel restaurant,
but it was closed. A sign said that food was being served in the
R Lounge, but I couldn’t find it. There was a bar area, but I
didn’t think that was the R Lounge, so I went out again. Not far
from the BurgerFi was a place called I (Heart) Mac and Cheese,
where I had a chicken Parmesan mac and cheese dish. To be
honest, it was “meh.” I don’t think I would go back there. When
I left, the sun had set, and it was back to the hotel.
Later on that evening, I participated in a board meeting of the
Ford Amateur Radio League, where the officers of the club
discussed two issues needing attention before the monthly
meeting tomorrow night. I would miss that meeting, as I would be
on the train traveling to DC. After the meeting was over, I
flipped around the TV channels. Among them were NHK World and
RT, both of which I had access to at home via Apple TV. I would
watch NHK World occasionally, RT rarely I even turned on the Red
Wings-Bruins game for a while, but after Boston scored three
goals in quick succession, I turned it off. And that was it; I
was tired, and I went to bed.
Today, I would begin my trip home. My day started by getting up
around 5:40 and doing my normal e-mail and Web checks. I turned
on the TV and watched NHK Newsroom and (later) CBS This Morning
as I completed my packing. The big bottle of water in the ship
would go in the big suitcase, which I planned to check. I didn’t
have breakfast at the hotel; no, I checked out at 7:45 and
caught a cab at 8 for the train station. The cab driver took a
different route to get there than I expected, based on my
experience of two weeks ago, but eventually, I arrived at the
train station. I checked my bag through to Toledo and waited for
the train to arrive.
The train was right on time at 8:50 in the morning, and soon I
was in car 9812, room 2. Breakfast was being served in the
dining car, so I took advantage of that. The dining car was
three cars away, a longer walk than usual. And what did I have?
Scrambled eggs, grits, sausage patties, and a croissant that was
overgrown. In fact, it looked more like a bun than a croissant.
But it tasted like a croissant. Back in my room, I did some
reading, including the first edition of the Detroit Free Press
I’d read in two weeks. I also listened to last week’s podcast of
the Thomas Jefferson Hour, which I was finally able to download.
I also took some time to review the pictures I’d taken on my
iPhone, which I wasn’t able to transfer to the iPad.
Lunch was at 12:30. I had a chicken quesadilla with some potato
chips and a Diet Pepsi. My table mate was a man from western
Michigan (Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids, I’m not sure which) who had
been in Winter Haven on business. Back in my roomette, I got a
glass of ice for water from the sink in the room. I did some
more reading and did some work on this travelogue. At one point,
I had to close the curtains on my windows to keep the sun out.
I chose to have a later dinner this evening, for I didn’t think
I would be that hungry earlier. Once again, I sat with the man
from western Michigan again, and we were joined by a woman whom
may have been from overseas. We didn’t have much conversation at
the table. I had a steak dinner, which was good. Back in my
room, I called for the bed to be prepared around 9:45. Once that
was done, I read for a little while, and then I called it a
night. I took off my shoes and pants but kept my shirt on.
My sleep overnight was not the best. For some reason, I had kept
the overhead night light on, but I eventually turned it off. I
had to turn on the full lights to use the toilet, anyway. I was
halfway awake around 6 AM when the car attendant knocked on the
door; we were 45 minutes out of DC, he said. I got dressed, had
some Pop Tarts for breakfast (the dining car would open too late
for me to use it), and took some pictures of Alexandria and the
monuments as the train rolled into Union Station.
We were right on time in arriving in the District. After leaving
the train, I went up the escalator, into the main station, and
then I went right to Club Acela. It was too early to go
anywhere, so I spent the next few hours downloading updates for
my iOS devices and reading various newspapers via the Web or app
(New York Times, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News). I couldn’t
see what the weather was like (no windows in the lounge), but
according to my weather apps, it was cold and wet. This was not
good weather in which to be out and about, especially not with
my rather light jackets.
At one point, I got up to use the restroom. When I returned, I
saw something in the seat I did not expect. It was my phone
inside its case. It had come off of my belt, and I hadn’t
immediately noticed. That was not good, not good at all! I’m
glad it happened in the lounge. I’d have been lost without that
phone. Indeed, only with the phone (or with the phone serving as
a hotspot) could I receive e-mail; I couldn’t receive it at all
using the Amtrak Wifi service.
When lunch rolled around, I went out into the station to see
what there was. Did I want Sbarro pizza? No, I didn’t. Did I
want to go to Uno Chicago Grill? I considered it but decided not
to. I ended up going to Johnny Rocket’s in the food court on the
lower level, where I would have a patty melt, some fries, and a
milkshake (along with a glass of water). The fries came with
smiley face in ketchup in a bowl. As I ate at the counter, a
large group of students came in with meal vouchers, part of a
tour group, no doubt. The meal was good if a bit pricy. I walked
around the station and its stores but didn’t get anything.
I would stay in the lounge the rest of my time there, doing
occasional web and e-mail checks and working on the travelogue.
I discarded any plans to go to any museums; it was just too
miserable outside for how I was dressed. The new museum of
African-American history would have to wait for another time.
Around 3:30 came the boarding call for the Capitol Limited.
Those of us traveling on that train went out onto the platform
and had a nice hike to get there. I was in sleeping car 2901,
room number 2 upstairs. Back to the Superliner roomettes with
which I was familiar, the ones with no toilet facilities in the
rooms. We got under way right on time at 4:05. It was actually
sunny outside now, but it was still cold.
My dinner reservations were for 6. My seat mates this evening
were Bert from Cumberland, Bob from Philadelphia, and Charlotte
from Milwaukee or somewhere nearby. They all had the steak for
their meal, while I had the cod, having had the steak last
night. We talked of many things, including baseball. By
7:20, I was back in my room, reading from my devices and
starting to complain about the seat cushions getting a bit hard
for my liking. I eventually took one of the pillows and sat on
that. Around 9, my bed was made up, and I turned in shortly
thereafter. I would have a long day ahead.
My sleep was interrupted at least twice when we stopped; I think
they were at the stops in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, although I’m
not positive about that. I awoke again around 4:30, just before
the sleeping car attendant knocked on my door to warn me that it
was 30 minutes to Toledo. I’d slept in my clothes, so all I had
to do was put my shoes on and pack away my charger and battery,
and I was set. I may have been ready, but the train itself ended
up being late. I think we were 40 or 45 minutes late in
arriving. So that would reduce the amount of time I would have
to wait for the bus, correct? No, for the bus was also picking
up passengers from the Lake Shore Limited coming from Boston or
New York. That train was also running late.
As I sat in the lobby, I was doing some web and e-mail checks. I
could also hear the game show Catch 21 playing on the TV in the
lobby. I wasn’t yet hungry for breakfast; I had some Pop Tarts
that I could eat later on, or I could go somewhere once I got
home. As 7 o’clocked neared, the other train would be arriving
soon. Those of us who were taking the bus to the Michigan
stations could now board the bus and be situated before the
other passengers boarded. It would be another half-hour before
the other passengers were on and we were ready to leave.
The drive up I-75 was uneventful, although we did get caught in
some construction related to the big I-75 bridge revamping
project. Eventually, we arrived at the Detroit Amtrak station in
the New Center area, where several passengers got off. I chose
this time to use the restroom on the bus. Unfortunately, the bus
pulled out of the station around the same time, making it very
difficult to do what I had to do. Under those circumstances, the
laws of motion are not your friend. I made my way back to my
seat with some difficulty, and then we motored into Dearborn.
As we passed by Ford World Headquarters, I saw that the big Blue
Oval on the side facing Michigan Avenue was missing. Well, the
frame was there, but the covering was gone. It must have been
damaged in the recent windstorm, I figured (not quite true; it
had been damaged in a different windstorm a week earlier).
Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the train station. As we made
the turn to enter, I saw the building that would soon house a
Ford’s Garage, a restaurant chain based in Florida. Three of us
left the bus; I got my bags and went to my car.
Would the car start after sitting for 2 1/2 weeks? It would, and
it did! With everything in the trunk, it was time to hit the
road. Did the Sirius radio still work? Indeed it did. I listened
to Ko Melina on the Underground Garage as I drove home. The
heated seats and heated steering wheel were very beneficial this
morning with the temperature reading 19 degrees and my wearing
too fairly light jackets. By 9:40, I was home. I brought the
bags in, turned up the heat, brought the bags upstairs, and
started to unpack. Later in the day, I would upload to my
MacBook Pro all of the pictures I had taken, first from the
iPhone, and then from the iPad (which had all of my DSLR
pictures). Identifying them all would be a big chore. And that
was it: my vacation had ended.
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© 2017 R.
W. Reini. All rights reserved.
Written by Roger