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Old September 26th, 2008, 08:54 AM
kryos kryos is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Philadelphia, PA
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This whopping 35-day cruise is actually two cruises strung together. It’s a 5 day coastal going from Vancouver, B.C. to San Diego, and then a 30-day cruise round-trip San Diego heading to Hawaii, and then onward to the South Pacific, before returning to San Diego on October 25. We have now embarked on the “real cruise,” as we sailed from San Diego last evening after embarking some 700 or so new passengers.

Before leaving Vancouver, of course we all had to participate in the “wonderful and exciting” boat drill exercise. Orange is definitely my color and I so love putting on that fashionable life jacket. Standing on deck in the freezing cold, or baking in the hot sun while wearing it, is a joy like none other I have experienced. So imagine my joy when I found out that after doing one at embarkation, I now had to participate in a second one a mere five days later. The reason, as I was told, is that this is technically a new cruise, so all passengers, regardless of embarkation point, have to do a new boat drill. Imagine my further joy when I found out that some of the other passengers who got on in either Vancouver or San Francisco were told a second boat drill wasn’t necessary and thus got out of it. Guess I just talked to the wrong people.

I know boat drill is important, but can’t I just watch a video? It’s sort of like those safety briefings on the airlines that I generally sleep through. After all, I know the seat cushions float – as if we’re going over water to begin with – and I certainly know how to fasten a seatbelt.

Luckily, though, the drill was relatively painless and was over in a mercifully short time. Then it was time to start enjoying this cruise starting with a beautiful sailaway out of San Diego. The weather was nice and warm, Darlene and the HALCats were playing some wonderful tunes, and the excitement level was high as we all anticipated the next four days at sea, in route to our first port, Hilo.

We spent a full day in San Diego yesterday, as many passengers disembarked there, while others got on. That’s the interesting thing about this cruise. There is no one embarkation point. The five-day coastal voyage embarked some passengers in Vancouver (such as myself) and others in either San Francisco or San Diego. Some of the passengers were only onboard for the coastal, or maybe tacked it onto the last Alaska sailing that ended in Vancouver before the coastal started. But now that we’ve left San Diego, everyone onboard is now on for the entire 30-day Hawaii/South Pacific sailing, so we can now begin to bond as one big happy family!

In San Diego, several of us Cruise Critics and CruiseMates decided to head over to Anthony’s (located right at the pier) for some good eatin’. They have the best pesto butter I have ever tasted and served with warm bread makes it a heavenly taste treat. I had a bread bowl of New England clam chowder, another specialty they are well known for and combined with generous helpings of the warm bread, I left there literally rolling down the street. To show what a child I am, I happened to glance toward the rear of the restaurant and saw some beautiful white and purple balloons. Presumably they give these to children. Well, guess what? I’m a child at heart, and in minutes I had a beautiful purple helium balloon tied to my chair. It is now in my cabin here on the Statendam, and amazingly it hasn’t begun to lose its helium yet.

We had a group of five of us at the restaurant – my good friends Virgil and Trish (Kakalina) and Joe and Michael. We are all avid participants in the cruise boards and it was great to be able to sit down face-to-face and talk. Computer screens and telephones are nice, but face-to-face is so much better.

Two days ago, we spent in day in San Francisco, where my much-anticipated reunion with Virgil and Trish took place. We initially made each other’s acquaintance on that “other” cruise board several years ago. Then in January of 2006, we did this same cruise, minus the coastal portion, on the Amsterdam. During that cruise, we all really bonded and became fast friends. We swore we would do another sailing together soon, but mainly because of my work commitments, it just never worked out. Finally, after two years, and hundreds of hours of telephone calls, we finally made arrangements to do this one together, so the anticipation of meeting up again after so long was running high. I was so excited that I refused to get off the ship in San Francisco, preferring instead to park myself on the Navigation Deck awaiting their arrival onboard.

Finally, as new passengers began to get onboard, I finally spotted them and we’ve been practically attached at the hip ever since. It’s been a wonderful reunion that is made better by the knowledge that it will go on for another glorious 30 days.

We enjoyed a wonderful sailaway from San Francisco as well, sipping drinks and listening to the HALCats perform those wonderful rock and roll standards. The only problem is that it was cold out there on the Navigation Deck, and being the idiot that I am, I didn’t go back to the cabin to put on something warmer. Now I’ve got a nice cold to get rid of in these four days at sea before Hawaii.

A little about life onboard … there has been some talk on the boards about HAL cutting down on activities. Well, yes, they have apparently cut out most of the games that take place in the lounges on sea days – stuff like Scattergories, and the like. They still have plenty of games available in the Explorations Café that passengers can play in groups on their own. There is also daily team trivia, as well as a full slate of Dam Dollars sports competitions. In fact, they are running something this cruise called the “Big Kahuna,” which actually means big wave or top competitor in Hawaii. This is a fun series of sports competitions that will apparently end up with someone being “crowned” the “Big Kahuna.” I’ll sit back and watch, drink in hand. I’m not one for “physical” pursuits and the only time you’ll see me running is when a meal is being served.

There is also an Explorations Speakers series being run on this cruise, and right now we have Joe Daly onboard. He is a former Navy man who is enlightening us on subjects related to the sea, such as famous sea captains and how the Polynesian explorers came to the Hawaiian Islands and settled there. Today, he will be talking about the Old Days of Hawaii, but I will miss that for a more important event, our Cruise Critics and Cruise Mates Meet and Greet in the Crow’s Nest at 2:30. And that’s another thing. There’s been lots of mention on the boards lately about HAL cutting out a lot of former amenities. I just don’t see much of that on this cruise so far. Trisha and I went to finalize the arrangements for the Meet and Greet yesterday, and Peter – the Beverage Manager – was very forthcoming in agreeing to supply appetizers for the event. He also left open the possibility that we could even have a second event perhaps mid-way into the cruise. We also hopefully will have some of the staff joining us for the festivities.

Another thing that’s received a lot of mention on cruise message boards lately is the fact that Holland America was switching around the show times, making the show for late seating passengers before dinner. That hasn’t been the case so far on this cruise. The shows have run at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m., unless there is only one show that evening. Then the one show is sort of sandwiched in between those times.

The Statendam is fully equipped for wireless internet now. In years past, the ships only had wireless “hot spots” in certain areas, such as the Explorations Café. So, if you wanted to get onto the internet via your laptop, you had to trudge down there, even if that meant in robe and pajamas to make a connection. Well, right now as I write this, it is about 2:30 a.m. I am sitting in my cabin, way down on the Main deck. My computer shows that I have a “very good” signal, so when I finish I can just connect to the internet and transmit this entry – all from the comfort of my cabin. Can’t beat that.

Another topic of interest on the boards has been the new “As You Wish” dining. I had major objections to this format, until I figured out how to make it work for me. Technically, you are not supposed to be able to switch around between fixed and open seating, but we figured out a way to do it. Since Trisha has a much-coveted spot in early seating traditional, along with her husband who almost never ventures into the dining room, when we want to eat there, she just brings me to fill his chair. When we want flexible, I either bring her to As You Wish, or we just eat in the Lido. And that’s another point. Lido full dinner service hours have been extended to 8:00 p.m., which now makes that a very viable alternative for those nights when we don’t care to bother with the dining room. In my case that means most formal nights. Service in the Lido is very brisk and eating there is a great option for those nights when there is something you want to do, and are afraid you won’t finish in time if you eat in the dining room. If I’m eating alone on one particular night, I can always dine in the flexible dining room if I don’t care to go to the Lido. So, I’ve truly made “As you wish” “as I wish!”

I should also say that service in the Lido at dinnertime is definitely still available. You go through the buffet line only for your sides and whatnot. You then come to a podium where you give your entrée order to a staff member. You are then shown to your table and when your entrée is ready, it is brought to you. There is also tableside beverage service available, and a steward will even come around to refill your iced tea, water or coffee.

Our table in the traditional dining room is a table for ten, but at least the one night that we ate there, there were only about seven people assigned there. So, we had two of the “social hosts” join us for the meal. Apparently, this is a “hosted” table on formal nights, which means we’ll have an officer joining us, and presumably springing for the wine.

And, a word about dress codes since that too has been a subject of much discussion on cruising message boards. In a brochure included with everyone’s embarkation documents, called “The Voyage Begins,” the subject is covered quite thoroughly. Yes, there are both formal and “Smart Casual” dress codes. It provides SUGGESTED dress codes for each type of night, and then notes “This dress is required for access to the Rotterdam Dining Room, and the Pinnacle Grill. Shorts, tank tops, swimwear and workout attire are not permitted in the dining room or the Pinnacle Grill at any time, or in the Van Gogh show lounge after 6:00 p.m. On formal evenings, jackets are always required for men IN THESE VENUES (emphasis mine).” No mention whatsoever of formal dress being required for enjoying other areas of the ship on formal nights, which puts to rest the argument that if one wishes to remain on public decks on a formal night, they must remain dressed in their formal wear. While that was certainly the rule at one time, apparently HAL has changed it.

There is live entertainment available in the Crow’s Nest each night. This entertainment runs until the wee hours of the morning, and for those who say HAL ships are dead, I just don’t understand it. The night we left San Francisco, they had karaoke up there, followed by a dee jay spinning tunes. I left at around 11:30 or so, and the party was still going strong. I would imagine it probably ran until about 1:00 or so, by which time most people would have left anyway.

There is also a full slate of daytime activities, especially on the sea days. Aside from the aforementioned Big Kahuna and Explorations Speakers Series events, there is bridge instruction, dance classes, casino events, spa events, shore excursion and shopping talks, the art auctions (I’ve discovered that some people clearly have more money than brains), cooking demonstrations and classes, mixology and gemstone classes, and even daily “church” services. Lemonade and iced tea are served on the outside decks each afternoon as well. If someone chooses to stay busy while onboard, there is no reason they can’t. There’s plenty going on. For example, my plans for today are to attend an interdenominational worship service and bible study at 9:00, then head over to the Culinary Arts Center to find out what events are upcoming for this cruise. Then I may attend a cooking demonstration at 11:00, followed by lunch. On tap for this afternoon is our Cruise Critic and Cruise Mates Meet and Greet. Some people will also play trivia before that. Then I may attend an “Art of Flower Arranging” seminar at 4:00. By then it will be close to dinnertime and tonight is a formal night. I should also note that most of the activities are free of charge, with the exception of some of the private classes, such as a mixology one being offered today that incurs a $15 surcharge.

For the evening entertainment, there is music and dancing in most of the lounges. For the single ladies, there are four “social hosts” onboard (they don’t call them dance hosts anymore) who are great not just for dancing, but also for some good conversation. There is also a show each night, and sometimes this will be a production show with the Statendam Cast, and on other nights a guest entertainer. There is also a piano bar with singalongs hosted each evening. Late nights most of the activity moves up to the Crow’s Nest. There are also some “game show” style events hosted in the show lounge, as was one last evening where couples were being solicited at sailaway to participate.

The only downside so far of this cruise has been a Godawful sewage smell that we had to deal with for several days. Supposedly it was due to a broken sewage line that was undergoing repairs, but others said it was the result of mixing two chemicals that were used to break down some of the waste, and not any sort of “leak” at all. Regardless of what caused it, thankfully it is gone now. But for a couple of days it was really bad, especially at the aft elevator area – as luck would have it right in the area where my cabin is located.

I had an interesting experience yesterday. Apparently, I had agreed several months ago to participate in a “banner wave” via another cruise board. Several other online cruisers had agreed to participate as well. Well, sadly, we all forgot about it, though I had apparently given the woman who coordinates them my cell phone number. As I was heading back to my cabin for a nap yesterday afternoon, my cell phone rings. “Where is everyone for the wave?” Oops! Lisa (LafinVegas) from Cruise Critic then talked me through getting out onto the bow of the ship (you go through a “restricted access” door in the show lounge) and getting positioned where the web cam mounted on a nearby building could pick me up. She then zoomed in on me and took some freeze frames of me waving to all of the online cruisers who weren’t lucky enough to be on this cruise.

I will be honest. So far this cruise I have been extraordinarily lazy. I’ve passed most of my days at sea just lounging around, parked with friends in the Ocean Bar’s smoking area or up in the Crow’s Nest. Before this sailing, I was on a four-day Carnival Paradise cruise to attend and cover a Battlestar Galactica 30th Anniversary Fan’s Convention. I was running almost non-stop there, so have become very lazy and laid back here. But that’s the nice thing about a cruise. You can do as much or as little as you want. Works great for me!

Today (our first sea day enroute to Hawaii) will probably be busy, but that’s only because there are a lot of activities I wish to participate in. Tonight we have the “Captain’s Champagne Toast” in the Van Gogh Lounge prior to each of the shows, so I will probably put myself through the ordeal of “playing dress up” so that I can attend. We have Captain Jack at the helm on this cruise (more formally known as Jack van Coevorden) and I’ve heard he’s really fun to sail with. Our Hotel Manager is Theo Haanen, and Guest Relations Manager is Hanna Kielczewska, who is extraordinarily helpful as I’ve discovered after having some dealings with her over the past couple of days. I’ll provide the names of additional onboard staff over the next couple of days. We’re making our rounds and getting to know most of them anyway.

Well, while the captain steams this ship toward Hawaii, I’m gonna get back into this extraordinarily comfortable bed and get some more shuteye. Beats getting all sweaty with an early morning workout at the gym any day!
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