Cruise to Panama Canal, 2017

Great Britain

Great Britain
and Finland



Travelogue: Cruise to the Panama Canal, February and March 2017

By Roger W. Reini

By day:
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 Lauderdale.

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.

February 22

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 adjustment.

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.


February 23

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.


February 24

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 luggage tags.

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 hotel.

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 12:30 tomorrow.


February 25

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, though.

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.


February 26

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 August.

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 Robertson/Helm/Danko/Manuel/Hudson group.

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.


February 27

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 dragonfly.


February 28

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 they belonged.

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 dealership

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 opportunities.

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 horizon.

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).


March 1

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 tour bus.

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 work.

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 Zero.

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


March 2

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 day!

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 the rest.

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.


March 3

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 the port.

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.


March 4

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 time.

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 sale.

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 back out.

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.


March 5

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.


March 6

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 seconds.

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 2-star status.

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.


March 7

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 rolling.

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.


March 8

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 cruises.

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 street vendors.

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.


March 9

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.


March 10

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.


March 11

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 Reini
RevisedApril 4, 2017