Well, it is now Thursday afternoon and this 35-day sailing is slowly winding down. Very soon we will be faced with the sad prospect of having to disembark the Statendam this Saturday morning. So I figured I would take this time to write my last articles and blog entries. I am getting these loose ends tied up so that I can return this wireless card to Jackie in the Explorations Café tomorrow afternoon and pack up this computer for the return trip home.
Tonight is our last formal night onboard, and Trisha and I have both decided to go to the dining room for one last time. There is also a cast show this evening, something that Trisha and I usually don’t like to miss. This one, “On Track,” I’ve already seen since I boarded the Statendam in Vancouver, while Trisha and her husband didn’t board until San Francisco. But it was a good one that I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing again.
There will also be a Farewell Gala held up in the Crow’s Nest this evening at 10:00 o’clock. Hanna, the Guest Relations Manager, would like Trisha and I to attend because she wants to have one last drink with us before we disembark on Saturday. All of the Officers and staff will be attending, but she assures me that dancing is certainly not mandatory (I have two left feet and two bum knees to go along with them).
It’s so hard to believe that this cruise is just about over. It seems like just yesterday that I gratefully stepped onboard the Statendam in Vancouver. I remember humming “on the good ship Statendam, it’s a great change from ‘dam’ Carnival, dum de dum … dee dee dum” all the way up the gangway. For once you’ve sailed on Holland America, Carnival – especially an older Carnival ship like the Paradise – just will never do. I spent four days on the Paradise just before this cruise, and while it wasn’t a bad cruise (is any cruise ever truly bad?), it certainly wasn’t up to Holland America standards.
I remember my first night onboard and how relaxing it was. I remember as though it were yesterday getting acquainted with the servers and bartenders in the Ocean Bar (my favorite watering hole onboard), as I “christened” my first Signature Cocktail Card and enjoyed the first taste of my favorite Holland America cocktail, the “tropical cable car.”
I remember that first breakfast in the Lido. To me, breakfast is the best meal. It’s the one that starts off a great day, and it’s wonderful to enjoy it without being too rushed, like one often is at home. I remember it being a light one because we were at our first of many exciting ports, Victoria, British Columbia. But it certainly was a good breakfast, that’s for sure. Kellog’s Frosted Flakes somehow taste a whole lot better at sea. I had never visited this part of the world before and I was really looking forward to seeing the gardens. I learned to use my new digital camera that day, snapping off photo after photo of all the beautiful blooms in that wonderful place.
And then our return to the ship. Our tour guide apologized because we were running late getting back. No worries, I’m thinking. This is a Holland America tour, so the ship will wait. Turns out there was a bicycle race taking place, and the traffic was detoured all over the place. The Royal Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds were also in town, putting on an air show and that was further snarling the traffic. Turns out Captain Jack kept us in port for an extra hour or so anyway – to give passengers a chance to view the air show right from the open decks. It was awesome! Aerial aerobatics at their finest! I just love that stuff!
Then onward to San Francisco. Another wonderful sail away party with music by Darlene and the HALCats. My good friends Virgil and Trisha got on the ship in San Francisco, and it was a wonderful, though tearful reunion. We hadn’t seen each other since January of 2006, though we had kept in touch constantly by telephone and email.
San Diego was next, and I can still taste that wonderful bowl of clam chowder we enjoyed at Anthony’s, right near the dock. The good times were just beginning and we all just knew it.
After four days at sea, we were in Hawaii to enjoy six more days of never-ending adventures. City tours, helicopter flightseeing extravaganzas, and even a visit to the “Dog’s house” (Dog the Bounty Hunter’s tee-shirt and souvenir shop) made those six days in Hawaii memorable. I was thrilled to get pictures with one of Dog’s sons, Travis, and see the remote control helicopter he was building to aid in the show’s filming next season. I also posed for photographs next to a lifesized cardboard cut-out of the “Dog” himself. I was thrilled.
Also, one can’t discount the strong emotions felt on a visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial, as well as a host of military installations that played a role in those terrible events of 1941. It was with a true sense of sadness that we left Hawaii and all the memories we had of that paradise.
More days at sea, more fun. The Crossing the Equator ceremony was a particular highlight. Watching people “kiss the fish” and laughing at the expressions of revolt on their faces. The fights over the limited number of “crossing the equator” tee-shirts that were available. Yes, the three of us managed to each snag one.
The South Pacific and the incredible beauty of those islands. Raiteria, Papeete, Bora Bora, and Moorea – each one more beautiful than the last. There was lots of snorkeling here, as water sports would seem to be the primary draw in this part of the world. A whole ‘nother world under the water, with a multitude of colorful fish to photograph and admire. Friendly stingrays who have no hesitation swimming around humans, running between your legs and up your back – and even right in your face, seeming to want a kiss or at least a friendly stroke. It was absolutely amazing getting up close and personal with these beautiful creatures of the deep.
Of course, I should have heeded the advice of my friends – use a high SPF sunscreen – that South Pacific sun could be a killer. But, no, I had to learn the hard way with a nasty sunburn on my back that I honestly thought for a day or so was gonna require medical attention at the ship’s infirmary. But thankfully it began healing on its own and just left me with a gross amount of skin peeling from my back for a few days.
Even the arduous hike that I mistakenly took in Moorea with a group of people in far better shape than me. Before I realized it was more than I could handle, I was too far into it. Our guide on that photography excursion really provided me with a lot of help. I couldn’t have been more grateful. He kept encouraging and helping me, assuring me that the view from Belevedere Lookout would be well worth the effort. It was. He even helped me get some great photographs, because I certainly couldn’t even think about taking photos. It was all I could do to keep my balance amongst all the natural stepping stones and snaking pathways littered with tree roots. The sail afterwards, on a large and luxurious catamaran, wound up our visit to Moorea, the last of our South Pacific paradise islands. That was absolutely heavenly as we rode the waves under the power of fully unfurled sails above our heads. A short period of snorkeling, followed by mai tais onboard the boat afterwards, and a snack of fresh fruits. Life doesn’t get much better than this.
A couple of more days at sea, and then it was the rugged peaks of Nuku Hiva that appeared on the horizon. This island is truly as close to a deserted paradise that we are going to see on this cruise. Inhibited by only around 1,600 people it is truly French Polynesia at its finest – truly untouched and unspoiled by modern tourism. We took a private tour here since Holland America offers nothing. We got to see the better part of the island, driving far into its interior in a caravan of 4-wheel drive type vehicles. From the ship, one can see a tiny antenna perched precariously at the very top of the highest peak at the top of the mountain that makes up this island. We drove right past that antenna, and found that it was actually a complex of several antennas and satellite dishes mounted on one tower at the highest point on the island.
On Nuku Hiva we saw flowers of the most amazing colors, growing everywhere – along the side of roads, at the waterfront, in people’s modest gardens – just everywhere. We saw the amazing stone carvings left by the ancient Polynesians who inhabited these islands long ago. Each carving representing something. There were also entire communities that left behind their stone structures for every conceivable purpose. Some were communal living areas for the natives, while others were designed to be used by the high priests and religious officials – for them to live in and worship the ancient gods. These ruins were pretty much untouched since modern tourism hasn’t yet invaded this island.
I remember chuckling as I think about our “swimming stop.” Nuku Hiva’s beaches are not ringed by pristine blue waters such as could be found at our other South Pacific ports, so I guess they didn’t appeal as much for swimming. While others on our tour just walked the beach line, I was the only one to opt for a swim. What can I say? I guess I was the only one who had an urgent need to answer nature’s call that afternoon. But the water, while not clear and blue, was certainly warm and inviting.
Then the frantic rush at the dock area. We hadn’t had much of a chance to explore the shops before embarking on our tour. Nuku Hiva is not a place one gets to visit very often, so we all wanted something to remember the experience by. I rushed in one store to try and get a tee-shirt. Upon leaving with my bounty – albeit a somewhat expensive one at $28 USD – I saw the security officer at the tender dock frantically waving to me. It was close to 4:00 p.m. and the Statendam was ready to sail. The last tender was getting ready to leave and he didn’t want anyone left behind. Needless to say, I hopped to it and was onboard that tender in record time.
I must have really cut it short, because as soon as I got to my cabin and into the shower, I could feel the ship moving as clearly as I could feel the comfortable spray of the warm water soothing my now peeling sunburnt skin. By the time I got out of the shower, and looked out my cabin window, the peaks of Nuku Hiva were rapidly receding in the distance.
And now, these days at sea back to San Diego. Can it really be drawing to an end, this wonderful adventure of mine? Seems I’ve looked forward to this cruise for so long, and it’s so hard to believe it is now almost over. Where did the time go?
I met so many wonderful people, had dinner with Theo Haanen (our Hotel Manager) and his wife, Helen – and Martin (the Culinary Manager) and his wife, Maggie. I so love the Pinnacle and that dinner was one of the finest I’ve had there. Then getting to sit in on one of Helen’s English classes that she conducts for crew members. That was a wonderful experience, as was getting to read the first chapter of Helen’s book, and meet all of the characters in it – Tedwie and Tedday, and the entire “Cuddle Clan.” Her books are gonna make great children’s adventures that are told in such a wonderful, fun style. I can’t wait to read them myself one day.
Then there was the Mariner reception, and getting my 100 day medal among good friends (Trisha and Virgil – who were receiving their own 300 day pins). So many wonderful dinners, lunches and breakfasts – each a memorable occasion on its own.
Then there were the myriad of interviews, getting to meet so many people whose work goes into making a ship like the Statendam function like a smooth-running city metropolis. The matre’D, the hotel manager, the guest relations manager, one of the navigators, a dance host, and even one of the “toilet ladies” (restroom attendants) – a sweet girl from Indonesia who is part of a new program undertaken by Holland America to use female Indonesians to clean the public restrooms onboard their ships. I got to meet all of these people by interviewing them for this CruiseMates blog. I also met Osagie, a dancer with the Statendam cast, as well as Darlene, of Darlene and the HALCats. Such great people to talk to. So many wonderful stories to tell.
There were many other people too – behind the scenes – like Jackie in the Internet Center. I recall like it was yesterday – one of my first nights onboard when I discovered to my horror that my wireless card didn’t work. I went to Jackie for some assistance, as I couldn’t imagine what the problem was. It had worked fine on the Veendam last year. Turns out I’ve got an outdated card that isn’t compatible with HAL’s systems any longer. Jackie was good enough to loan me one of hers for the rest of the cruise.
And then one of the highlights of this cruise – a private tour of the Statendam’s bridge. I couldn’t believe we were actually getting this, but it seems Hanna of Guest Relations can do anything, and here we were, on the bridge, viewing the open sea from the sweeping windows that looked out right over the ship’s bow. The tour was educational as much as it was just plain fun – especially as Trisha and I both posed at the wheel for Virgil’s camera – pretending to actually be “driving” the ship. I was so appreciative of getting to view this rarely seen part of the Statendam.
This cruise went too fast, no question. While I heard other passengers complaining toward the end that there were too many sea days with not enough to do, I never for one minute was bored. In fact, I couldn’t help myself. I had to shake my head in wonder whenever I would hear that comment. Too many sea days? Not enough to do? Why is it then that I can’t seem to find enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do? And I’m not taking advantage of even a smidgen of the events and activities listed in the Daily Program anymore. I’m just reading and writing and talking to people, and somehow the days are flying by.
Was this cruise perfect? Certainly not. There is no such thing as the perfect cruise. But it was as close to perfection as it could be, and right now is not the time for a comprehensive review, though I can assure you that the one I write when I get home will be a positive one – for there really isn’t too much of a negative nature that I can honestly report.
It’s now almost time to get ready for dinner. It’s Thursday night and a certain sense of doom is finally beginning to permeate the ship. People know the cruise is almost over, and while some of them say they will be happy to get off the ship – they are ready to go home – everyone I talked to agrees that they will miss being here. There are now only two more dinners to enjoy, two more breakfasts and one more full day. And, even that one day will be tinged with sadness as we all attend to end of cruise packing chores – that proverbial trying to stuff ten pounds of, ahhhhhh, stuff into a five pound suitcase.
It’s been a great sailing and one that will be hard to top. Of course, when end of cruise depression sets in, the only way I’ve found to combat it is to immediately head to the future cruise consultant’s desk and book another. Then you have something to look forward to on the trip home, even if that something is far into the distant future.
This will be my last entry to this blog until I get home on Saturday night. I’m just about out of internet time and don’t want to buy another package that I won’t be able to fully use before disembarkation.
So, until we meet again on another Holland America ship, I say blue skies, smooth seas, and wonderful adventures in whatever part of the world you choose to sail!