This was a rather unusual cruise for my wife and me. For one thing, this was our first cruise as four star members. We had just earned this rating with 202 points after our last cruise. Also, while we had spent many years in Central America and Europe this cruise offered us the opportunity to visit four additional countries that we had never been in. Lastly, I made a record number of faux pas during this cruise which might have ruined it for a normal person, but as my wife always claimed, no one has ever accused me of being normal. I would also like to explain the format I used for this report. When I was in the Army, I had to write an After Action report on almost everything I was told to do. The time to do this report sometimes took longer than the “action” I did. However with the passage of time this made my military career go very fast even though I spent most of my time typing on my Royal typewriter (no computers or word processors in those days). In order to do an accurate report, I had to make a daily log of my actions. On this trip I did just that. So sit down and read. This is an order!
After Action Report
Panama Canal Cruise on the Veendam
30 Mar (Sun). Awoke at 2 am in my house in Arizona and began packing. Karin (my wife) had already packed a month ago. I was finished packing within 30 minutes but then I only had one half of one suitcase to put my clothing in. Karin took the remaining half, as well as three other suitcases and two “carry ons.” But I also had a folder to keep our passports and all related travel documents. After a small breakfast we departed in our car for the 90 minute drive to the Tucson airport. We arrived within the required two hour window of waiting time for the aircraft’s departure. We checked all four suitcases and I began my log. The SW Airline flight was fairly empty with 30 vacant seats. The air trip lasted only 65 minutes. Our baggage was quickly found and we got a taxi to take us to the Pier where the Veendam awaited us. We had previously noted that the taxi fare was about the same as a shuttle. The processing to board the ship was surprising fast since we were treated as VIP’s with our four star rating. Rank does indeed have its privileges! We were also surprised that we had a nice upgrade from lower deck cabin to a nice veranda suite on the aft end of deck 10. This has a very deep veranda and once at sea gives very little or no wind when on the veranda. Only three of our suitcases arrive. I was worried about the fourth suitcase because I had hidden a bottle of brandy in it. I put this in Karin’s suitcase because I felt if they found it, she would get the blame…and the punishment. Our suitcase finally arrived after the muster formation at the life boats. I found my bottle of wine missing and note inside with a receipt for the bottle saying the bottle was in violation of the Holland American policy and it would be returned to me at the end of the voyage. But no one came to arrest Karin! As the ship departed the pier, we went to the ocean bar and celebrated the start of the journey. Note: if you purchase drinks while still within the area of the port you will be charged port tax. We knew this but we both needed some excuse to sit down and relax after the somewhat strenuous and potentially disastrous journey of not making the ship on time due to flight delays or vehicle breakdown. After a brief dinner in the dining hall, I decided to go to bed to recuperate. At 2300 hours, I was awoken due the sudden quietness in the cabin. The two propeller pods below our veranda were not functioning. I got out of bed, still half asleep and found we were back in the San Diego harbor. I yelled at Karin saying we were back in port! I told her it was the quickest 15 day cruise I ever had. In my half sleep, I was recalling the frequent Mexican and Hawaiian cruises we had taken going from and returning to San Diego. Karin merely said, “Dummkopf, if you had stayed awake you would have heard the Caption reporting that we were returning to San Diego to drop off a passenger that needed medical care.” More on this later.
31 Mar (Mon). The next morning I got up at 0400 hours, showered and began unpacking my clothing. I only had a dark suit and a couple pair of shirts and socks and underwear. Karin had her 24 pair of shoes, 18 cocktail dresses and a lot of other stuff she had unpacked the previous day. She took three and three quarters of the four closets and I took the entire one quarter of the one closet. I also prepared the laundry since I was out of clean clothing. I had to do this every day on the cruise. Later that morning a cabin steward knocked on the door with a plate of complimentary chocolate covered strawberries. This was nice but it was for the person that had been scheduled for our cabin but had been upgraded. At this point I realized the bottle of sparkling wine on our dresser was also a gift for this same person. I arranged to have both picked up and delivered to the lucky lady that they belonged to. When the casino opened I found the same Russian blackjack dealer I had met on a previous cruise was still working at the same table. She remembered me. I am sure this was because I had proposed to her during that cruise. Yes, you ask, “Why do you do that when you are married?” The reason was that I had wanted to practice my Russian which I had learned back in 1956 and I could only remember phrases like, “I love you” “You are so pretty” etc. Ok I also remembered a LOT of other vulgar phrases. But, back to my story. Apparently I had also asked, “Will you marry me? I remembered she had answered that she was already married. This time I spoke to her only in English and asked how her husband was doing. She replied she was never married and only said she was because she did not want to hurt my feelings. Anyway, I played often at her table and we had a good normal player/blackjack dealer relationship during the cruise. Later that evening, we found we still could not get the larger six or eight person table we requested. However we were assigned to a table for four that we shared with a very nice old Swedish couple who were also unable to get a large table. This couple was close to our age (maybe 30 years younger) and we found them to be delightful to be with. We dined with them for the rest of the cruise and had interesting talks about Swedish, German and American culture.
1 Apr (Tues) This was a day at sea with very pleasant seas. I spent the day enjoying our cabin and smoking my first cigar on the veranda. I also began reviewing some books for Amazon.com. This was a pastime I began about a year ago. I got no pay for it but sometimes got to review unpublished books as well as published books.
2 Apr (Wed) We docked at Puerto Vallarta this morning and went with a Chinese couple to Wal-Mart which was an easy walk from the ship. We had met them during breakfast and they were a joy to be with. Because we had been to Puerto Vallarta often and also because of the heat, we decided to return to the ship instead of visiting the downtown area. Even by this early part of the cruise my wife, who unlike me is a very gregarious person, had gotten to know most of officer’s on the ship as well as approximately 748 (give or take 700 hundred or so) of the dining room stewards, cabin attendants and workers in the Ocean Bar. Being a German, and not only a German but a German from the Prussian area of Germany, she liked men in uniforms. I suspect this was the only reason she married me! But then again, she was a very beautiful Fräulein when I met her over 50 years ago and I was quickly trapped into marriage without complaints. I mention this because it was no surprise to me that after dinner the maître de informed me that my wife and I were invited to dine with the ship’s Hotel Director sometime later in the cruise.
3 Apr (Thur) We had received an invitation for cocktails with the Captain and some of his officers this day. This was the main event for us since this was also a day at sea. It turned out half the passengers on the ship seemed to be there. The event was held in the Crow’s Nest and it was almost shoulder to shoulder people. I was practicing my German with the Dutch ship’s officers. I think all the Dutch speak German and English as well as their native language. I might add here that I had learned many languages while in the Army but was fluent in only three of them. German was no problem since I was married to a German dictionary. My other fluencies were in Profanity and Vulgarity but I refrained from using them in this sophisticated event. When I noticed that the Captain was finally alone I approached him explaining in German that he had scared the hell out of me that first night. I then proceeded to go into a long story about my confusion about thinking the cruise was over that first night. He interrupted me in English saying he would have to get a translator because he did not know what I was saying. I quickly finished my story in English and prepared to leave him to hide within the crowd. However, apparently to alleviate some of my embarrassment he explained the preparations and planning they had to do to accomplish this medevac. The Captain was really a nice guy!
4 Apr (Fri) I briefly left the ship after it docked in Huatulco, Mexico. This was my first time in this small town. I quickly regretted not taking a camera because my first sighting was to see an old VW cut in half behind the front seats and a Harley Davidson motorcycle bolted behind it. A neat idea but it did give the motorcycle driver a limited view of the front area, especially if he had two passengers in the front seats. Even the VW steering wheel was left in place. When I returned Karin, who remained on the ship, said she had won a free coupon for a clam shell shelter at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.
5 Apr (Sat) We docked at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. I went into town briefly but spent the morning aft of the Lido buffet (Port Side) while smoking a cigar and outlining some reviews I was doing for Amazon eBooks. For all you smokers who are planning a first cruise, this is one of the few places where smoking is allowed The other places are: a veranda, if you have one; the Casino but only on smoking days; and maybe on the upper deck, but you may not have much shelter there from the wind and the sun.
6 Apr (Sun) I got off the ship while docked at Corinto, Nicaragua to check out cigar prices at the vender stands just a few meters away from the ship. I was aware that Nicaragua does have some very good cigars that can legally be brought back to the U.S. I found one vender that wanted only $20 (US) for a bundle of 20 long filler Robusto, Maduro cigars. These cigars would cost four times or more as much in the States. I was concerned that they were probably dried out since he had them unprotected in the hot sun. As I walked away, the vender quickly lowered the price to $16 and then to $14. I almost bought them at this price, but if they were dried out, I was afraid I might not be able to refresh them, even with months in a humidor.
7 Apr (Mon) Docked at Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. I did not go into town as it did not look that inviting from the ship. Yes, I could have gone on an excursion, but my wife both agreed that these excursions would probably be boring and of no interest to us. We had lived in Central American for six years and were already familiar with much of that area. We almost had the ship to ourselves…at least it appeared that way to us. One significant thing did happen. While I was in our cabin, I heard a thump on the Veranda door and found a sea gull had hit it. This is rather common as the doors and windows reflect a mirror image back to the birds and they often fly into it. In this case I bird was badly hurt because he (she?) sat there on the veranda deck for an hour. When I went out he crawled under one of the chairs. I reported it and later when I returned to my cabin he had been removed. This reminds me of previous cruises where small birds would often get trapped on the ship as it departed the port. They were usually trapped in the covered Lido Deck, when the ship began its voyage. I mentioned this to the Environmental Officer on one cruise and he said they can do nothing about this. The birds survive the trip and they fly off when the ship arrives at the next port. In this case it was San Diego birds disembarking the ship in Hawaii. I had wondered aloud if this would affect environmental issues or would confuse bird watchers. I never did get an answer from the Environmental Officer and decided it was a delicate question I should not have asked.
8 Apr (Tues) This was another whole day at sea. It rained a lot and we had some “rolling” thunder. In the evening we had cocktails and dinner with the Hotel Director and five other guests. During meal, the Sommelier presented two bottles of wine and poured a glass of each for everyone that wanted one. One wine was decent Chardonnay that I was not familiar with, but the second was an old favorite of mine, a Francis Coppola Claret. I had a glass of each. We all later had copies of the menu delivered to our cabin. It was signed by the Hotel Director; the Chef (who had personally prepared the meal); the Sommelier; and the Maître de. During the dinner, I mentioned the faux pas I had with the Captain. The Hotel Director then told me the Captain was an Englishman! My wife looked at me and said again, “Dummkopf!”
9 Apr (Wed) What a day! I think the whole ship was up early. By 0500 hours the top deck was full of people as we approached the entrance to the Panama Canal. Karin and I became separated due to the crowd on deck. I took dozens of photos as we entered the canal and tried to get a photo of one of the residences we lived in that was located within several hundred meters of the canal. I am still not certain I got it because we last left the Canal Zone in 1979 and lived at this residence in 1966.
10 Apr (Thur) I accidently encountered Charles McClellan early this morning near the Front Desk. He was the ship’s guest lecturer. I had earlier talked to him on the ship’s telephone and mentioned I had lived in the Canal Zone while he was there. At that time we agreed to get together later during the cruise but upon meeting him now, we both agreed that this would be a good time since he had a few moments spare time prior to breakfast. We spend 15 to 20 minutes discussing what was to us some of the best times in our lives.
11 Apr (Fri) We had VERY rough seas the prior evening that lasted until mid-morning. They were, in fact, the worse seas I have ever encountered since my three troop ship “cruises” in the North Atlantic back in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s. I was forced to lay flat on my back in my twin bed with my hands stretched out to the sides gripping the mattress. I did very bravely once get out of bed to turn the TV on to the ship’s info channel (Channel 40) to find we had NE wind of 78 mph and Beaufort reading of 11! We were in the midst of a gale! The wind settled down somewhat by 0700 hours but very few passengers could be found. No, they were not washed overboard by I felt they still be in their beds being very sick. During one his lectures, Charles McClellan made reference to that night and stated it was worse he had also seen.
12 Apr (Sat) Another day at sea but with much calmer weather. I spent the time on the aft end of the Lido Deck smoking my third cigar and editing my book reviews.
13 Apr (Sun) I got up early to be the first one on the tenders to get to the beach at Half Moon Cay. Karin did not want to go because she had a bad experience with tenders on earlier cruises. She should have gone. The seas were fairly calm, but the tenders were not the ship’s tenders. HAL had special much larger tenders come to the ship for the passengers. These tenders had ramps for boarding and boarding was very easy. I found, that by being one of the first on the beach, I had one of the best located clam shells to myself. They offered shade from the sun and two lounge deck chairs to sit in. There were several periods of drizzle, but I got my first chance in many years to walk in the waves as they came on the beach. Later that night, after a few hours of playing blackjack in the casino, I returned to the cabin to pack my half suitcase of clothing. Karin had been packed for the past few days so total packing time took me only three and a half minutes.
14 Apr (Mon) We asked to be in the last group to disembark because we were forced to stay in a hotel at Fort Lauderdale that day. The flights back to Tucson were too early to risk taking and all the later flights were VERY expensive and required a change of planes. The flight back the next morning was bad. The plane had every seat filled going to Nashville, Tn and then again to Chicago and finally back to Tucson.
END OF REPORT but beginning to my comments…..if you are still reading this.
CHANGES TO SHIP EMINITIES. We noticed the following changes during our last two cruises with HAL.
1. No longer daily fresh fruit in the cabins, unless you ask for it. (We both agree with this)
2. No port info flyers given out prior to dockings. Instead, there is a booklet placed on your dresser that gives all the ports for that voyage.
3. Smaller round chocolates on the bed each night instead of the larger “gold brick” chocolates. (we have no problem with this)
4. No longer any free cappuccino no or espresso coffee after dinner. It’s on the dessert menu but you have to pay for it. I think it is $1.50.