Panama Canal 2006
Revised 05/12/06 to add Disposable Camera Photos, Labeled 'UW pics'
We found an interesting looking 21 day cruise through the Panama Canal offered by Holland America. We liked the itinerary which, for us, only duplicated Fort Lauderdale, Aruba, and San Diego on the ports list, so we signed on.
Day 1 (Friday, 04/14/06)
We had experienced a nightmarish start to a trip to Key West back in 2000 which also involved an early morning flight on USAir from Philadelphia on Good Friday. We figured that we'd never begin a trip like this again, but we were wrong. Our trip was to begin on USAirways flight 866, scheduled to leave Philadelphia at 7:40 AM. We had stayed overnight at Alex and Phil's home in Glen Mills and awoke at 4:20 AM, heading for the Winner valet parking lot. We made good time with curbside check-in of our 4 bags and going through security with our carry-ons and personal bags. We found a place to get bagels and coffee and then waited for our flight to load. We loaded on the plane and pushed back from the gate in a timely manner. We seemed to be in a fairly short queue for take-off and were almost ready to celebrate when the female captain announced that there was a discrepancy with the luggage count and that we might have to return to the gate. Cathy was ready to call the cruise line, but, after another 30 minutes, the problem was solved. We finally took off about an hour late. Somehow we landed in Fort Lauderdale only about 15 minutes late. It was sunny and warm in southern Florida and we were about to start the trip. We managed to board the ship, the ms Zaandam, a little before 1:00 PM. We immediately went to the Lido Deck for a buffet lunch. After lunch we settled into our cabin and then went about exploring the ship. We followed our rule of never using the elevators as we investigated the features, most of which involved ways of spending more money while aboard. We could see the bridge that we had walked on back in March. The ship sailed out of the Port Everglades Inlet at 5:00 PM; we could see great views of the area from Fort Lauderdale to Miami as we headed east toward the Bahamas during the sail-away party. We went to an early show and then showed up at 8:00 PM at our table for 2, number 45, in the Rotterdam Dining Room. There was a couple, Lila and Per, at another table for 2 very close to us. Cathy decided that they needed to be involved in our conversation, so we almost had a table for 4, except for the food service. Our meals were excellent and our waiter was friendly. We returned to our cabin after dinner and got some badly needed showers before retiring for the night.
Day 2 (Saturday, 04/15/06)
After a restful night of some rolling by the ship, we arose at 6:30 AM to receive our room service breakfast that we had ordered the previous night. The ship was just arriving at Half Moon Cay, a private island owned by Holland America, which Cathy likened to Jurassic Park. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful setting. We packed a bag for the day and headed to a meeting of the 8:00 AM excursions, where we discovered that we were the only ones signed up for kayaking and we could see why because 50% of the people seemed to be on a nursing home outing. We rode a tender to shore (UW pic:1), got the ubiquitous photo, and joined our guide Nicky for a private kayak tour of a lagoon (UW pics:1,2,3,4). The geology and the plant life were similar to Key West. We found a couple of conchs to look at, sea cucumbers, sponges, starfish, and lots of coral. After the tour we took a walk along the beautiful beach (UW pic:1). Then Bill snorkeled while Cathy sunbathed. We ate at a barbeque and then headed back to the ship because Bill's back was hurting. Bill soaked for a long while in the hotter of the two spas on the Lido Deck and then we both relaxed (hard to believe, but true) for a while. As the ship prepared to weigh anchor, we began a 2 hour walk on the Lower Promenade deck, weaving in and out of people with walkers. Afterward, Bill worked on the computer and Cathy enjoyed Happy Hour and read in the Explorers Cafe. We enjoyed dinner in the dining room with our 80 year old table neighbors. Then we went to the Crows Nest Lounge to dance to a Bulgarian group called Mix (with a very hot blonde lead singer). Afterward we attended the show for the evening featuring a British singer who did a great job doing Broadway songs.
Day 3 (Easter, 04/16/06)
This was our first "at sea" day, so we were a bit nervous about how we would handle it. After a bit of a sleep-in, we began with breakfast at the Lido buffet. Then Bill worked on computer stuff in the Explorations Cafe, featuring a big picture of the ship's honorary godmothers from its 2000 christening by the Olsen twins, Ashley and Mary-Kate, while Cathy worked on a crossword puzzle. We took a very interesting galley tour (pics:1,2). We walked for 3 miles before lunch and saw many flying fish. After lunch in the dining room, Bill power-walked for 3 miles while Cathy attended a lecture on Puerto Rico. Then we both went to the gym for a weights workout and then walked for 3 miles. At that point we went poolside where Bill soaked in the hot tub and then we both chilled out on lounge chairs. This was a "formal night" at dinner and also there was a Captain's Champagne Reception before the meal. We dressed in our finest and headed toward the reception. We found a long queue of mostly tux and gown clad seniors waiting for the mandatory couples photos shoot with the captain before entering the reception room. This scenario is exactly the kind of thing that kept Bill from cruises for many years. We headed for the piano bar and enjoyed the entertainment before we went to dinner where we enjoyed an excellent meal. After dinner we listened to classical music by a piano and string trio at the Explorers Lounge. Then we sat in the center of the front row for a Broadway montage production show by the singers and dancers. The show was very enjoyable. We had a great day at sea. Our cabin steward left us an imaginative surprise.
Day 4 (Monday, 04/17/06)
We arrived in Puerto Rico as we enjoyed our room service breakfast. Bill went up to the promenade for some incoming photos (pics:1,2,3). Because we were re-entering the U.S., we had to go through a pro forma immigration process which involved another intolerably long queue. We waited outside in the sultry air until most of the passengers had gone through the meaningless routine. The guy checking passports didn't even look at our faces; we guessed it was because old white people all look the same. We disembarked on the dock and did a self-guided walking tour of old town San Juan (pics:1,2,3,4), including Fort Morro (pics:1,2,3) and Fort San Cristobal (pics:1,2,3,4,5). The streets of the old town are paved with blue bricks from the ballast of Spanish Galleons. Then, after frappacinos at the refreshingly air-conditioned Starbucks, we shopped at some of the "approved" shops and picked up some complimentary trinkets. We returned to the ship for a late lunch with views (pics:1,2) and got dressed for our excursion. Sixteen hardy souls (UW pic:1) boarded a bus for a 1.5 hour drive to Fajardo on the east coast. We loaded into double kayaks and paddled from a bay through a channel in the mangroves to a big lagoon (Laguna Grande) (UW pic:1), near a lighthouse and below the El Conquistador resort. The water was amazingly warm and the air was balmy. We paddled around for a while looking at iguanas, egrets, frigate birds, and jumping sting rays. When it became dark, we were ready to enjoy the bioluminescence of the lagoon. Our guide asked for hands of those who were going to swim. Bill thought that he was kidding, but when he found out that the guide was serious, Bill slid into the water and swam with a bright glow surrounding every moving part of his body. He wondered what it would look like if he took a leak, but he held his decorum. After a nice long swim, the two tourists and the guide remounted their kayaks and we paddled back in the dark. The channel was really awesome where each paddle stroke lit up the water. Cathy had to do some nifty navigating from the front of our kayak as our guide had no light on the back of his vessel. A couple of other groups of kayakers passed us on the way into the lagoon. One of the groups was very unruly, and in the pitch blackness, someone t-boned our leader and dumped him. We returned to the beach after 3 hours in the kayaks. Bill was soaked, but the air was warm, so the hour's trip back to the ship was no problem. Bill has had a lot of kayaking adventures, but this was his best ever. After long showers, we enjoyed a late supper in our cabin.
Day 5 (Tuesday, 04/18/06)
This was another "at sea" day. We began with a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, so Bill celebrated by consuming blueberry pancakes. Bill spent a good bit of the morning on his laptop while Cathy worked on crossword puzzles. It was warm and humid when we broke for lunch up on the Lido deck. Then Bill did an hour of power walking while Cathy pampered herself with a facial in the spa. Bill saw some Common Dolphins, lots of diving Gannets, and a couple of flying fish. Afterward, we walked together for an hour. Then, we lifted weights in the gym and walked for another hour. We spent some down time before heading to the dining room for dinner at eight. After dinner we went to a couple of bars for some dancing and caught the tail end of a trivia contest in the Crows Nest.
Day 6 (Wednesday, 04/19/06)
We arrived in Aruba at around 7:00 AM. We were in no hurry, so we lingered over breakfast on the Lido deck. It was already hot by the time that we left the ship near 9:00 AM. Right near the dock we saw the infamous Carlos' and Charlie's that figured in the disappearance of Natalie Holloway last Spring. We spent the morning shopping at many jewelry stores and a supermarket. We saw lots of Iguanas near the water, reminding us of our last trip to Aruba, back in 2001. We returned to the ship for an early lunch and dressed for our kayaking excursion. Nine of us loaded an old bus for the short ride to Spanish Lagoon, near the desalinization plant. We met our 3 guides, who were hilarious, sometimes talking in unison like a Greek Chorus (UW pic:1). The wind was blowing about 20 mph, which is typical in Aruba. The air and water were warm and it was sunny. We paddled against the wind for about 1.5 miles and landed on a small beach in the Mangroves (UW pics:1,2,3). After some down time wading in the warm water, most of us donned swim fins and snorkeling masks and swam out to the reef for some snorkeling (UW pics:1,2). The water was cooler and much deeper over the reef. The snorkeling was good. We paddled back with the wind, loaded the bus and made it back to the ship with about 20 minutes to spare before the gangplank went in. The ship left the dock before 6:00 PM and headed toward the Panama Canal. Bill enjoyed a cappuccino at his favorite place on the ship, the Explorers Cafe. We took long showers. We listened to classical music at the Explorers Lounge for a while. Then we bellied up to the bar at the Piano Bar Lounge. The bartender told us that we were the first people that climbed up on bar stools on the whole trip so far. After a drink, we headed in to dinner. After dinner we decided to turn in early.
Day 7 (Thursday, 04/20/06)
This was another "sea day". The ship was sailing toward the Panama Canal, so we had another day free to exercise and get caught up on our computer stuff. Cathy did the laundry while Bill worked (Hah!) on write up and photos. We were a two person team for the morning trivia contest and came in around the middle of the field. We walked for 2-3 hours and did weights in the gym. We did the nighttime trivia in a team of six and did worse than we had in the morning.
Day 8 (Friday, 04/21/06)
This was the big day, the Transit of the Panama Canal! Bill started the day on the bow of the ship at 5:20 AM with a handful of other crazies. It was dark, but very dramatic to see the queue of ships ready for the transit, as we cleared the breakwater. This day would see 44 ships go through the canal, up from the daily average of 40. This is a 24 hour operation, in two 12 hour shifts. In the first shift, ships go into the canal from each end for six hours, some anchoring for a while in Gatun Lake. Then, for the next six hours the ships go out of the canal. The engineering design and the precision operation (pics:1,2,3,4,5,6,7) (video:1) were amazing to see. We were lucky to have a slightly smaller ship, the Ryndam, ahead of us so that we could see what our ship must look like. Cathy came out to the bow at 6:00 AM. We enjoyed Panama Rolls (dough wrapped around Mandarin Orange slices, drenched in icing) and coffee before moving on to breakfast. We saw a few crocodiles near the shore line and lots of birds (Cara-Caras, Frigate Birds, Brown Pelicans, and other species unidentified) during the transit. There were pilot boats, tugboats, and tour boats all over the water, keeping us company. We passed through the Continental Divide and under two bridges, the Centennial Bridge, and the Bridge of the Americas. It rained really hard while we were in the last lock and we watched the people on the Ryndam scrambling for cover. Bill took a lot of photos (pics:1,2,3) while perched high atop the front of the Sky Deck and found proof that there were some statistical outliers to our exceedingly high median age on board. It was incredibly hot and humid. We passed a prison along the way. It must be hard for the inmates to watch all of the ships sailing in freedom all over the world. There are many lighthouses and range lights along the canal, reminders of the old-fashioned way of navigating. The entire canal near the locks is illuminated for night transits. Bill walked for 3 hours on the Promenade Deck and found that point of view interesting also, especially when the deck fell below the lock walls. We could see the skyline of the 1.2 million resident Panama City as we exited the canal at around 7:00 PM and anchored in the Pacific Ocean. After dinner, we danced under the stars on deck 10.
Day 9 (Saturday, 04/22/06)
We were anchored, amidst the ships waiting to enter the Panama Canal, off of Amador, Panama, an enclave of yachts and upscale shopping near Panama City. We all had to use the ship's tenders to get to shore and back. We had an early excursion to El Valle de Anton so we had an early ride which provided an interesting look back at the ship. We boarded a bus among a group of about 20 people. An early highlight of the trip was our crossing of the Bridge of the Americas (pics:1,2). Our guide, Luis Carlos, was extremely informative and quite entertaining. He told us about history and culture in addition to pointing out and describing the sights on our 1.5 hour bus ride to the extinct volcano crater which is El Valle, the second largest inhabited crater in the world. Our driver, Victor, stopped to pick a few Cashew Nuts from a tree. To our surprise, the nut sits on top of a fruit. Rain seemed always lurking around the mountains, but we didn't get any until the return trip. Our first official stop, after a couple of emergency bathroom stops, was the Nispero Zoo. We saw some interesting plants and animals (pics:1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) including a couple of Golden Frogs (La Rana Dorada) that are special to the valley. Our guide took us to a special vantage point for viewing the legendary "Sleeping Woman". Next, we took a nature walk at the Canopy Adventure. The walk was supposed to take 35 minutes, but Bill and Cathy were finished in 5. While waiting for the rest of the old people, Bill saw two different species of hummingbirds. The rainforest views were very interesting. Our next stop was lunch at the Hotel Campestre, where Bill followed his rule of no tap water and no raw vegetables. After lunch, we went to the thermal springs at Pozos Termales where various kinds of mud were available. We finished our visit to the valley with 30 minutes of shopping. At one point, Bill got in a sales conversation in Spanish with a 10 year old boy who took Bill behind the store to show off his Toucan, Parrot, and Parrokeet. The ride back was pretty wild because unless the driver drove insanely fast, we would be late for the ship's departure. Madness prevailed and we were safely on board when the ship departed at 5:00 PM. Shortly thereafter, we made a very satisfying phone call to Stacey and Bill's home outside of Atlanta so that we could wish our Granddaughter Sarah a happy birthday and talk with Alex, Bill, and Katie. We went to the Piano Bar for a bit of dancing before dinner. After dinner, we wandered around on the top decks and then headed to bed.
Day 10 (Sunday, 04/23/06)
We spent this day at sea on our way to Costa Rica. Bill got up early and spent an hour power walking on the Promenade Deck. The big reward was the sight of over 100 dolphins jumping around in the ocean near the ship. Also, there were some Boobies (a couple of them were birds) and Shearwaters flying close by. Bill spent a long morning on the computer sorting through photos and writing about some of our doings. We rediscovered a quiet corner on Deck 9 with a couple of tables with a great view. We had eaten breakfast there and we also ate lunch there. After lunch, Bill had a brief encounter with the ship's captain who made him get off of his favorite perch up on the rail on Deck 10. Bill got down and we went to the Crows Nest Lounge for a cha-cha lesson. Then we began our exercise program for the day: 2 hours walking and lifting weights in the gym. Meanwhile, the ship was doing a scenic cruise of the Golfo Dulce (pics:1,2,3,4), a lovely area of Costa Rica which has beaches and cottages at the edge of the rainforest. The afternoon was punctuated by tropical thunderstorms. Bill enjoyed a late afternoon cappuccino and then we showered, dressed (informally), and went to dinner. After dinner, we danced at the Crows Nest and took part in a contest called "Majority Rules". Our team included Peter and Laurie from Canada who also were on our team a few night's past.
Day 11 (Monday, 04/24/06)
The ship docked at Puntarenas, Costa Rica between 4:00 and 5:00 AM. We had set the clocks back an hour, for the second time on the cruise, before retiring the night before, so we awoke before 6:00 AM. Bill went up to the Promenade Deck to take some photos (pics:1,2,3,4) before we went to breakfast. We had another early excursion, so we boarded a small bus at around 7:45 AM and headed for the hills for the Skywalk Adventure. We rode for around an hour while we listened to our guide, Fila, talk about Costa Rica and their concerns with preserving the ecological treasures that they enjoy. The diversity of plant and animal species in this small country is amazing. On the way to our destination, we crossed a tidal river filled with crocodiles. After a quick bathroom stop near our "Skywalk", we proceeded to its trailhead. Our route was a downhill path through the rainforest, with many swinging bridges about halfway up to the forest canopy. We saw and heard many birds;, including a Scarlet Breasted Macaw and a small bird that got our guide all excited and made his life list; lots of interesting trees, vines, and other scenery (pics:1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8); a big lizard; and a "Poison Dart" frog. We also spotted a sleeping mammal nestled in a tree. Bill spotted something he thought was a bat, but the guide said it was a giant moth. Although we were walking downhill at a rather slow pace, the heat, high humidity, and burning sun had us all sweating. After the walk, we went back to the area that provided us with restrooms earlier and had a chance to visit the sacred gift shops. Also we were able to enjoy delicious pineapples and papayas. On the way back to the ship, we saw a group of school kids in their uniforms. Also we could see from the dwellings along the road that this was an area of poverty. After lunch, we walked into the small town (pics:1,2,3). It reminded us of some of the small towns in Mexico that we have visited in the past. The people in the small shops didn't speak English, so we had a welcome chance to practice our long-dormant Spanish skills. We bought a few items in a mini-mercado, browsed the tourist kiosks, and walked our sweaty bodies back to the ship. Bill headed to the Explorer Cafe for a cappuccino and some computer time, while Cathy took a nap. The ship left port at about 6:00 PM. We went to an early show of the ship's singers and dancers before a quick cocktail and dancing at the Piano Bar. After dinner we went topside and watched the rain for a while and then, since we had to set our clocks forward (!) an hour, we turned in for the night.
Day 12 (Tuesday, 04/25/06)
This was another "at sea" day filled with exercise and other shipboard activities. After breakfast we took part in the "On Deck for the Cure", which was a 5K walk on the Promenade Deck for the Susan Komen Cancer Fund. After the walk, we posed for a group photo with the other participants which numbered about 50. After lunch we attended the second ballroom dancing class and learned the Merengue.Then, we walked for an hour and did weights in the gym. Bill finished up with another hour of walking. We went to an early show, did some dancing at the Piano Bar, and went to our third formal dinner. Afterward, we walked around topside before heading to the cabin for the night.
Day 13 (Wednesday, 04/26/06)
We slept-in until 7:00 AM. After breakfast, Bill walked for 2 hours and Cathy walked for 1.5 hours. The ship arrived (pics:1,2,3) at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, a planned tourist attraction and resort, shortly before noon. This is a newly developed area with 9 bays and many beaches. There a lots of condos and houses to attract foreign ownership. We saw the big mountains in the background and were reminded of our driving over those mountains, pulling a pop-up camper, back in 2004. We docked next to our sister ship, Amsterdam, which had been visiting during the morning. We didn't have time to eat lunch because of our excursion, a bird walk. We joined our group of 32 passengers and 4 guides and climbed onto an open air bus and headed to the birding area (pics:1,2,3,4,5). The temperature was in the 90s, but there were still lots of birds to see. Our guide, Anna, did a good job of spotting and identifying birds during the walk (pics:1,2,3,4,5). At one point, we passed an excavation of a precolumbian site. After the ride back to the waterfront, we did a bit of shopping and then reboarded the ship and ate a snack up on the Lido Deck to make up for missing lunch. We think that this is an area worth visiting again. The ship sailed at 6:00 PM and headed toward Acapulco. We went to the Explorers Lounge to enjoy classical music before dinner, and then enjoyed dinner. We went up to the Crows Nest, where we danced a bit and attended a short game modeled after the "Millionaire" game show. Bill tried to be a contestant, but lost the lottery (of course). We went to the late show which featured a very funny comedian/magician/eccentric who had us howling. We set out our room service breakfast menu and went to bed.
Day 14 (Thursday, 04/27/06)
We had scheduled our breakfast to arrive at the cabin between 6:30 AM and 7:00 AM. Bill awoke shortly after 6:00 AM which was a good thing because breakfast arrived early at 6:15 AM and the poor room service guy almost had to deal with Bill in his underwear, which could have ruined his day. The ship entered Bahia Santa Lucia and approached Acapulco (pics:1,2,3,4,5) as dawn was breaking. We had a city tour excursion scheduled for the morning, which began with the famous Acapulco Cliff Divers. Bill remembers the early years of ABCs "Wide World of Sports" which featured cliff diving from Acapulco and arm wrestling from Petaluma (which we still haven't visited), so it was a thrill to get a chance to see (pics:1,2,3) the divers get their "thrill of victory." After the divers, we were able to (read: forced to) shop at a jewelry store. Cathy succumbed to the high pressure sales and bought a very nice bracelet with complementary earrings and pendant, escaping after spending only $71. Then, the tour began to really move around the watery borders of this city of 2 million residents, all involved in tourism. We learned the historic development of Acapulco through the years from our guides Javier and Juanita. The day was beautiful and showed the city (pics:1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11) in its best form. After we got back to the ship, we ate lunch on the Lido Deck as we watched Dolphins chasing a school of fish with several Frigate Birds and Gulls getting caught up in the action. We also noticed that we had a ring of security with armed soldiers on the dock, a Coast Guard vessel sitting about 200 yards off the beam, and a perimeter drawn with a buoy and a rope. After lunch, we decided to walk in the heat of the day (mid 90s), so we walked along the beaches and high-rise hotels for about 3 miles (pics:1,2,3,4,5,6,7). At one point, amidst the tropical splendor, we saw a fake Palm Tree and were homesick for Wildwood. We enjoyed cold bottles of water near a bungee jump tower, which reminded us of Bill's bungee jump in Australia in 1991, and then we walked back to the ship. The local fishermen get their catch overnight and sell some of the fish on the beach; we were reminded of the market in Athens, where meat sat out in the heat for hours, and we hoped that we wouldn't be eating any of the fish we saw for dinner. Once we came in from the heat, Bill went to the Explorers Cafe for a cappuccino and to do computer work. Cathy opted for a nap in the cabin. When we were touring the west coast of Mexico last winter, Bill had originally wanted to go as far as Acapulco, but we only went as far a Puerto Vallarta. Finally, Bill has seen Acapulco; we enjoyed our day very much, but don't feel as if we will choose to return again. The ship sailed toward Cabo San Lucas at 5:00 PM. We enjoyed some music and dancing before dinner, and then, after dinner, we did some dancing in the Crow's Nest. We entered the evening team trivia contest as a team of 2 and came in second to last. Cathy decided that we should stay "up late" and dance at the "Mexican Fiesta" and later at the disco. We left shortly after midnight, but hey, that's late for us.
Day 15 (Friday, 04/28/06)
We had another "at sea" day of exercise and other activities. We walked our usual number of hours (3 for Bill, 2 for Cathy) and went to the gym for weights. At one point in our walk, there were scores of Dolphins on the starboard side of the ship, and leaping Marlins on the port side. During the afternoon, the Indonesian half of the crew (the other half are from the Philippines) put on a show. Our head waiter, Nyoman, and his assistant, Komang, were both in the show (here is a video of a skit in which Komang plays a bad king and is the one in costume). Nyoman was the Master of Ceremonies (here is a video of a band playing traditional bamboo instruments; Nyoman is at the far right edge and is only briefly in frame). It was a very enjoyable hour of singing and dancing. Our fourth formal dinner was a special farewell meal because half of the passengers are leaving the ship in San Diego. For dessert, the lights went out and all of the many waiters did a quick step parade around the upper and lower levels of the dining room and up and down the staircase, while carrying Baked Alaskas with lit sparklers on them. It was quite an impressive show and the dessert was tasty as well. By the time we were finished with dinner, it was 10:00 PM, so we headed back to the cabin.
Day 16 (Saturday, 04/29/06)
The ship neared Cabo San Lucas around 6:15 AM (pics:1,2,3,4) and picked up its gunboat protection. Cathy slept-in while Bill took some photos and walked around the deck for a while and watched the tenders being deployed for transportation to the pier. We had a late morning excursion, so we had a leisurely breakfast and finally headed ashore at 8:30 AM. The sky was a clear blue in the dry desert air and the sun was bright and burning. The air temperature quickly shot up into the high 80s, but the low humidity kept it comfortable. We walked around the town for a while and browsed through some shops (UW pics:1,2). There is a huge fleet of sport fishing boats here because the fishing is extraordinarily good. Around 10:15 AM we showed up for our kayaking/snorkeling excursion (UW pics:1,2). We had a group of 16 passengers in 8 kayaks, a guide, Oscar, in a single kayak, and a support boat with two more guides (UW pics:1,2). The support boat was necessary because of the traffic in the bay of parasailing, jet skis, water taxis, glass bottomed tour boats, catamarans, dive boats, and snorkeling boats. The bay water was choppy and confused, so Cathy was afraid that we would capsize. Bill knew that there was no problem, but was unconvincing in his moral boosting comments. We paddled along the northern promontory of the bay, and into the rocks at Land's End, the point at which the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean (UW pics:1,2,3,4). We were very near the famous arch, El Arco, and then we paddled around the end rock and back to Lovers Beach, where we landed (UW pics:1,2). We walked to the Pacific side and watched some local skim boarders doing flips in the waves (UW pics:1,2). Then, Bill went in for some snorkeling. The water was about 82 degrees, so it felt good. The water was a bit rough, but visibility was pretty good in some spots and there were lots of fish around the rocks. Our guide was out with us in his kayak. He led Bill and another snorkeler out and around a couple of rocks over to an area with no other snorkelers (because of the fast current, rough water, and the distance from the beach). He showed Bill where the best spot was and Bill saw some big groupers and a huge shoal of medium sized fish about 2 feet off of the bottom. When the snorkelers had returned to the beach, we launched our kayaks and waited near the support boat. For no apparent reason, one of the kayaks capsized and the paddlers become swimmers had to right the kayak and climb aboard. They didn't charge us for this bit of entertainment. The group paddled back across the bay, dodging jet skis, and landed back at the outfitters palapa. This was a very good excursion, but a bit too scary for Cathy. Afterward, we did some more walking around town, and a bit of shopping where Bill got a chance to do some Mexican bargaining, a skill that he perfected at Playa del Carmen a couple of years ago. We headed back to the ship at 2:30 PM and wished Mexico a "hasta luego". We liked Cabo and might even drive here if gas prices don't get too high. We ate a late lunch and then walked the deck for an hour until the ship sailed toward San Diego at 5:00 PM. We went to the Piano Bar before dinner, and to the Crows Nest after dinner. When we got back to the cabin and turned our clocks back, it was 9:30 PM.
Day 17 (Sunday, 04/30/06)
This was another "at sea" day as we made our way up the Baja towards San Diego. Bill started the day in the Explorers Cafe for computer and cappuccino. It was windy and chilly on the outside decks because, well, it was windy, and we were in water with temperature in the 50s due to the cold current that flows down the Pacific coast. Cathy did her 2 hours of walking with a minimum of complaining about the wind and the cold. Bill did his 3 hours of walking, dressed in very summery garb because he hadn't brought any warm clothing. After we did our weights workout in the gym, Bill bought a "Dam" sweatshirt (Vaandam, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, ...) and went out on deck for an hour of whale watching, which could have as well been unicorn watching. Bill did see a Princess Lines ship pass us going south, and a bird with very narrow wings swooping over the water. This could have been an Albatross, but Bill wasn't certain (later he saw a picture of a Black Footed Albatross and verified it). We also did our usual amount of eating during the day. Many of our fellow passengers were planning to disembark in San Diego, so they spent a large part of the day packing their luggage. We went to an early show with writer/comedian Marty Brill, who was very funny. We had several goodbyes to make at dinner to departing guests. We tried to partake of the evening Team Trivia contest, but we had some confusion about where and when it was taking place. We headed off to bed fairly early.
Day 18 (Monday, 05/01/06)
We had arranged for breakfast in our cabin at 6:00 AM because of an early excursion. When Bill went out on deck at around 6:30 AM, the ship was moving slowly in toward the port at San Diego (pics:1,2,3). There was a submarine standing guard at the beginning of the channel into the port, and two Coast Guard gunboats provided an escort for the ship. We hadn't been in San Diego since 1984, when we took our family on a 28 day trip West in our old Dodge Ram Van. Bill mainly remembered the good Margaritas and nice hot tubs at our motel in the city, and the day we walked the kids into Tijuana past some of the seediest characters that any of us have ever seen. Bill was also in San Diego as a kid on family vacations and remembered the big ocean waves and sailing in Mission Bay on a little rented sailboat with his father. Maybe the most memorable thing about this trip to San Diego was how long it took to get off of the ship. First we had to wait in a line of 700 people to get our passports checked by Immigration authorities. It would have been easier to swim across the border from Tijuana Then we had to wait in a theater in the ship until the Immigration authorities cleared the vessel for port. We don't know if some Canadians were seeking asylum from boredom or whether there was some mixup on the passenger list, but we didn't get on our tour bus until 10:00 AM, which is the middle of the day for we old folks on the cruise. Our bus driver/tour guide was a little too laid back and his humor a little too dry to make for a great tour, but he did manage to give us a fair sampling of San Diego. We drove over the beautiful Coronado Bay Bridge (pics:1,2) to drive by the expensive homes in Coronado and to visit the historic Hotel del Coronado (pics:1,2,3). Then we drove around downtown and the Victorian Gas Lamp Quarter. Then we had an hour's stop at Old Town (pics:1,2), where we had our first Mexican meal of the trip, sans Mexicans. It happened that the Mexicans, who make up 105% of San Diego, were on strike and protesting that it's unfair that illegal aliens haven't been arrested and kicked out of the country (at least Bill thinks that was what they were protesting) near the border, so the English speaking management of the restaurant were the waitstaff. Another effect of the protest was the lack of traffic anywhere in the city. We were the last two back on the bus because Bill had thought that we had another 10 minutes to try to break a $20 for the guide's tip. So, the guide beeped us back on board and unknowingly lost his tip. The tour then did a drive through Balboa Park (pics:1,2) and headed for La Jolla (pics:1,2,3), which seems like a suburb, but is actually a part of San Diego. Coronado, on the other hand, seems like part of the city, but is actually a suburb. We did a photo stop at the top of the towering Mt. Soledad (800' elevation) (pics:1,2,3) and then headed back to the port. It's very interesting that the airport and the port are right next to each other; even more interesting is that the flight path onto the sole runway skims down a hill filled with buildings. When we exited the tour, we walked for an hour along the waterfront (pics:1,2,3,4,5). We saw buff Navy Seals jogging along and otherwise noticed that the breast implants that are used in San Diego only come in the XXL size, which makes jogging difficult for the jogger, but interesting for the spectator. We boarded the ship at around 4:00 PM and went up to the Sports Deck for an hour of walking since the Promenade Deck was being used for a life boat drill for around 400 new passengers who were cruising up the coast with us. Bill referred to them as the "smoker-gamblers" because we were told that there is a Las Vegas/Coastal Cruise package that some are taking. In any event, it was good to see some young people in their blue jeans and baseball hats, picking their way amongst the walkers and wheelchairs. While the ship pulled out of the harbor, we left a cell phone message for Bill and Stacey, who had given us the news, that they are expecting a boy, on the phone earlier in the day, and we talked with Katie until our phone battery died before we could call Alex. The ship sailed past the Point Loma Lighthouse (which does a brief flash every 15 seconds, but note that Bill caught it flashing) and out into the cold Pacific. At dinner, we found that we had a new head waiter, Suparta, because Nyoman was reassigned to the lower level of the room. Bill also noticed a lot of blue jeans and sneakers in the dining room, but Cathy thought that was because he was being crotchety. After dinner, we joined Canadians Abe and Steve to come in tied for first place in the Team Trivia Contest. We danced for a while in the Crows Nest as the ship gently rocked before we turned in for the night.
Day 19 (Tuesday, 05/02/06)
The ship rocked and rolled all night as it passed through heavy seas along the coast. Our waiter Komang told us that we had picked up 300 honeymooners in San Diego which explained the motion of the ship. Whichever explanation was correct, we were constantly bounced awake during the night. Bill began this "sea day" with computer and cappuccino at Explorers Cafe. Bill took photos of our next table dining companions, Per and Lila, while they were reading in the cafe. We ate breakfast in the dining room so that we could stay on a lower deck to minimize the ship's motions. We managed to put in 2 hours of walking and our gym time during the day, but the wind and sea conditions steadily worsened until the ship was facing 45 knot headwinds and 18-27' waves. The ship moaned and groaned and bounced. We competed in the morning and evening Team Trivia. In the morning, Bill was the only one who knew the sum of the whole numbers from 1 to 100 within 3 minutes, but we didn't win. Cathy did some laundry in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Bill drank a cappuccino and took a nap in the Explorers Cafe. Back in the cabin, "Some Like it Hot" was on TV. Bill was able to take a photo showing the Hotel del Coronado in the background with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon in the foreground. This was the last formal night for the cruise. Rumor had it that many passengers were suffering from mal de mer and didn't make dinner. Bill took photos of our wine steward, Alex, and our "back" waiter, Komang. We went to the late show presentation by an Elton John impersonator who was great. We went to bed with our cabin in motion.
Day 20 (Wednesday, 05/03/06)
The bed was really jumping overnight as the gale continued outside. Bill managed to sleep by incorporating the ship's motions into his dreams; we could hear and feel the ship flexing and returning as the waves crashed into it. At 6:30 AM, Bill went to the Explorers Cafe for the usual beginning for a "sea day". On the way up, he saw a sign on the Promenade Deck closing the outside areas. Bill took a photo through the window of the big swells, but they looked much bigger live. The captain reported that overnight he had to slow the ship and "ride out the storm" to avoid structural damage. He sped up again in the morning, but when we were playing morning Team Trivia up in the Crows Nest Lounge, the waves were crashing into the bow and the ship was shuddering in a scary way. The captain slowed the ship again for a few hours until the swells subsided a bit and then sped up as he could. At one point we were in a "strong gale", Beaufort Force 9. Because we survived the episode, it was an exciting adventure. Meanwhile, we spent the day taking naps in various sheltered outside areas of the ship after doing an inside walk where we circled the inside of each deck. Although we didn't exercise much, we ate the usual huge amounts of food.
Day 21 (Thursday, 05/04/06)
The motion of the ship was much less overnight, so we slept well. Bill felt the waves change to a following sea around 5:45 AM and went out on deck to find that we had entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between the state of Washington and the province of British Columbia (pics:1,2,3,4,5). This began a few days of beautiful scenery: lots of water and snow-capped mountains in all directions. The dominant peak visible this day was Mt. Baker in the Cascades of Washington. We passed the ferry route from Victoria to Port Angeles on which a terrorist was caught by U.S. Customs. We arrived at Vancouver (pics:1,2,3,4) after passing under the Lions Gate Bridge (named for the Lions Peaks near the city) around 2:30 PM. Bill was in the bow standing next to natives of the area, Peter and Laurie, who pointed out various things as we came into the harbor. After Bill made a couple of phone calls, we finally got off the ship at about 3:30 PM after packing our suitcases for 1:00 AM pickup. We walked for a couple of hours along the waterfront and on the sea wall in Stanley Park (pics:1,2,3,4,5). We found Vancouver to be beautiful from the water and on land as well. We ate an early dinner and went up to the Crows Nest to dance and watch the views as the ship sailed toward Seattle around 8:30 PM. When the ship got just past the Lions Gate Bridge, the captain treated us to a wonderful scene as he spun the ship around four times. The lights of Vancouver and nearby cities reflected in the water were awesome, especially from the Crows Nest where there is a full semicircle of windows and a bit of a view toward the stern in addition. With the lights out in the lounge, the atmosphere for dancing was the best imaginable. We played our last Team Trivia at 10:00 PM and were near the bottom (but not AT the bottom) with the very hard set of questions.
Day 22 (Friday, 05/05/06)
Bill heard the ship slowing down at around 6:00 AM and went up to Deck 3 to check out our position. We were just coming in toward Seattle (pics:1,2). The air was crisp, the sun was just up, and everything was beautiful. Mt. Ranier loomed to the south and Mt. Baker loomed to the north. The Ryndam (that we followed through the Panama Canal) was leading us into Seattle. We ate a normal breakfast and then waited on the Promenade Deck until our group was called to exit the ship. We cleared customs in a blink of an eye and waited in a group for a shuttle to the Sheraton downtown. We were in our room on the 22nd floor shortly after 10:00 AM. It was a clear, sunny day, so we decided that we should do mostly outside activities. It surprised us to find that Seattle is a hilly city with some very steep streets. We walked downhill for a few blocks to the famous Pike Street Market where a small crowd was watching the antics of the guys working there. Then we headed for a Tully's Coffee shop where we enjoyed some caffeine and read the Seattle Times. We picked up a couple of ideas for lunch and dinner from the dining section (and ate in both later). Next we headed down the set of stairs called the "hill climb" to the waterfront. There was a lot of construction going on because the waterfront area has become quite rundown and now most of it needs renovation. Another problem, similar to what Boston solved in their infamous "Big Dig" is that an elevated highway parallels the waterfront; it is ugly and noisy. We decided that Seattle looks great from the water, but not up close. We started to walk through a huge waterfront market and decided to save it for a rainy day. We walked a few blocks to the restaurant 94 Stewart for lunch. We enjoyed dungeness crab in two different dishes, one of them a crabcake and the other an avocado cocktail. Both were excellent. Our waitress was very friendly and gave us some tips on what to do and where to eat. After lunch we headed back to the waterfront. We took a ferry to Bainbridge Island in order to get back on the water. The island looked like a nice spot to live and enjoy the rain. The views of Seattle and the surrounding mountains were fabulous. When we got back to Seattle, we walked along the waterfront and then up into the city to visit the Space Needle. The day remained beautiful and clear, so we enjoyed clear views in all directions (pics:1,2,3). Cathy spotted the Zaandam backing out of its slip, so we saw our ship sailing away to Alaska. We walked back to our hotel and relaxed for a while (Bill's relaxation was on the computer). A bit after 7:00 PM, we walked to Tulio's Restaurante. There was a long wait for a table, so we accepted the opportunity to sit at the counter in front of the open kitchen. We were mesmerized by the cooks frenetic activity as they cooked all of the items that we had read on the menu. Our waiter looked like Antonio Banderas and said that he had waited on the actor there. We decided to order the way we did on our trip to Venice by choosing an appetizer, a first course, and a second course to share. All of the food was terrific. The chef came over and chatted with us for a while, and we got to talk with the sous chef a bit as we watched the open kitchen in action. We walked back to the hotel around 9:00 PM in the deepening twilight.
Day 23 (Saturday, 05/06/06)
Bill was up and on the computer before 6:00 AM while Cathy slept-in a bit. We went out for breakfast at Specialty Bakery at 7:45 AM. We made a quick pit stop back at the room after breakfast and then walked to the REI Flagship store about a mile from the Sheraton. We were pretty excited to be in the headquarters; Cathy almost bought a new backpacking tent before she regained her senses. We did buy some gloves because it was overcast and cold outdoors. Cathy also bought a pair of sandals and Bill bought a dry box for kayaking. We walked from REI to Pike Street Market and ate lunch at Place Pigalle. The dungeness crab and calamari were great. We watched a bunch of tugboats milling around before a scheduled race; this was the opening day of the boating season (but they were still skiing in the mountains). We walked around searching in vain for the flagship Starbucks store and ended up for coffee at a Tully's. Then we went to Borders to get a crossword puzzle book for the flight home. When we got back at the hotel, our new Cingular cell phones began to work, thanks to our son-in-law Phil. Bill had quite a difficult time getting our boarding passes to print on the Delta website. We called Holland America and our Travel Agency without any help. Finally, a support person for the Delta website told us what our confirmation number was so we could get the boarding passes printed. We still needed to get a ride to the airport on Sunday morning. On Friday, the Holland America rep disavowed any knowledge of us and pointed at Gray Line. We now knew that Holland America and the Travel Agency would supply no help, so it should be interesting. We made a reservation for dinner at Salty's in West Seattle for 7:45 PM. This required a water taxi ride. Unfortunately, Bill forgot his money, so he had to dig out his hidden $20 from his wallet. Since the taxi required exact change of $3 each, Bill had to go into a restaurant to get change. But we made the 7:30 water taxi and appeared at Salty's at the appointed time. We got a table with a fabulous view of downtown Seattle. Our waiter told the next table that he's from Bali, so Cathy started talking with him, named Oka Indra, and found out that he served on Holland America ships for 10 years, including 7 years with WindStar. We told him about our WindStar cruise of French Polynesia in 1991. He's done that cruise many times, but not that long ago. Oka gave us great suggestions for dinner, so we enjoyed dungeness crab dip, and king salmon and halibut entrees. We had a great dinner. The view got better and better as the lights came on in downtown Seattle. We took the 10:00 PM water taxi back and walked to the hotel in a light rain. We were in our room by 10:40 PM.
Day 24 (Sunday, 05/07/06)
(Return home: Delta 1685 to Cincinnati; Delta 1275 to Philadelphia; get XTerra from valet parking; drive home.) We rolled out of bed early and walked in a light rain to a Seattle's Best coffee shop about 2 blocks from the hotel. The temperature was in the high 40s and it was windy. We had already had enough of the lousy weather in Seattle. The night before, a native had told us that the summer weather starts on July 15 and lasts 2 months. We decided two things: 1) If Seattle had good weather, everyone would go to live there because of the beauty of the surroundings; 2) Only the coffee makes the place nearly tolerable. After breakfast, Bill had an interesting conversation with the Holland America representative at the hotel. Once again, she wanted nothing to do with us, but Bill showed her our itinerary and reiterated that our WHOLE trip was with Holland America: air travel, hotel, cruise, AND transfers. She finally got it when Bill refused to leave her kiosk and went over to the Gray Line desk (Holland America owns Gray Line of Seattle and Alaska). The two representatives lamented that the new computer system was making things confusing for them (how about us?). They finally wrote us a voucher for a Airporter bus to take us to the airport. We arrived at the airport and did curbside check-in, went through security, and were at our gate with a NY Times in hand by 10:40 AM. We read the paper until it was time to board for our 12:30 PM flight. We found ourselves in the furthest back seat of the Boeing 737 with no seatmate in the third seat in the row. We had an easy flight and worked on crossword puzzles the whole way. Our layover in Cincinnati was less than an hour. We were in the same furthest back seat on the flight to Philadelphia, joined by a young guy name Anh who had run in a marathon in the morning. Cathy probed him for details of his running life, but it wasn't until we were on the ground in Philadelphia that we found that he worked with Katie and Tom in the same department at Merck. (It's a small world, after all.) We picked up our luggage and called the valet parking company. The guy who answered hesitated to believe that we could have a claim check number so old, but he came anyway. We were soon on the road in a light rain (did we bring it from Seattle?) and were at our home sweet home at about 1:30 AM. Bill spent an hour or so watching high definition television and then we ended our trip by heading to bed.
- Food - mainly it was too good and we ate too much of it. The portion sizes were generally small so that one could enjoy several courses without getting stuffed. Besides the three meals of the day, pizza, burgers, and ice cream were available most of the afternoon, there was a late night buffet, and room service was 24 hours. Of special note were the soups, except for the Bisques, the Chateaubriand, Beef Wellington, grouper, prawns, dessert crepes, vegetarian entrees, the grilled sandwiches at lunch, pineapple, berries, papaya, mango, and oranges.
- Activities - we enjoyed Team Trivia when we found time for it. We did a lot of walking on the deck and used the gym about every other day. We took two ballroom dance lessons, did crossword puzzles, and played the Majority Rules game. We hung out in the Explorations Cafe while Bill caught up with his website and his incoming spams.
- Staff/Crew - in general, the staff and crew were friendly and helpful. There were some standouts: Nyoman, our waiter for most of the cruise; Komang, the assistant waiter for the whole cruise; Alex, the wine steward; Irene, a cocktail waitress in the Piano Bar and Lido Deck; Fuatik, our room steward; and all of the staff of the Cappuccino Bar at Explorers Cafe. The only obnoxious staff member was a twerp in the gym. The only worthless crew member was a know-nothing cruise consultant.
- Expenses - We think that some items on this cruise should be free: wireless internet access and free bottles of water.
- Excursions - the available excursions were good. We enjoyed (that is, most of us did) the 4 kayak trips the best, but all of our excursions were worthwhile.
- Fellow Guests - there were some of the usual pushy types, but Bill, with his New Jersey background, can beat anyone to the head of a line or administer subtle body checks. There were interesting characters to watch: the kissy couple who redefined "obnoxious showoffs"; the in-a-hurry lady on deck walks who didn't want to yield any space; the power walker woman who was built like Jerome "the Bus" Bettes and a loudmouth to boot; the out-of-it guy in the Piano Bar who never seemed to know where he was, but always applauded the kissy couple; and the out-of-it guy on the deck who walked for hours, but sometimes forgot to wear shoes. This was a cruise of old people; Bill had this vision of the dance floor in the Crows Nest, where 5 ladies in electric wheel chairs were doing the Princeton weave, while 10 gents in walkers were two-stepping a circle around them.
- Upside - we felt pampered. Except for the last couple of days, the weather was fabulous.
- Downside - no smoking should be allowed on a cruise ship. We didn't have many smokers, but you could smell them in the several places that they could smoke, including their cabins. There were a few long, long lines which could have been avoided by better planning and execution.
Bill and Cathy McArthur