ms Prinsendam 26 Day Amazon Explorer Cruise 11-22-08 to 12-19-08 "Our Search for a Pet Piranha Float"
SHIP STATS: 37,848GT, 26 Ft. Draft, 669 Ft. Length, 106 Ft. Beam (Width), 1988 Launch, Max. Speed: 21 Knots, 793 Passengers, 428 Crew, Distance Covered: 8,374 NM, Fuel Consumption: Approx. 55 Gal / NM (26,420 Gal / Day), Potable Water Production: 198,150 Gal / Day.
SHIP STAFF: Master: Captain Christopher Turner, Hotel Manager: Francois Birarda, Dining Rm. Manager: Ferdinand Noya, Executive Chef: Pedro Lontoc, Cruise Director: JT Watters
PERSONAL STAFF: DW (Darling wife) of 37+ years, Judy
PERSONAL "DOSSIERS": both of us are 58 years of age, full time professionals (engaged in medical & science pursuits), both have New Jersey origins (our current residence is in northern Arizona) and are military veterans ('69-'73). We consider ourselves fun loving, non-demanding and pragmatic. Cruising is one of our favorite diversions. The two of us cherish certain personal freedoms and abhor contemporary 'political correctness'. A cruise on a larger vessel such as the Prinsendam for us embraces these personal ideologies, i.e., the ability to engage in activities or 'not' and to remove ourselves from those individuals we may find distasteful with adequate 'space' for everyone. Now on with the review!
PRE-EMBARKATION TRAVEL / PORT ACCOMMODATIONS: Oddly enough, security screening went rather quickly @ "Sky King" (aka Sky Harbor airport) which gave us time for a traditional, over priced, pre-cruise Bloody Mary. The flight on the USAIR "winged phallus" was unremarkable and we arrived in Fort La-De-Da by 2000. Following a shuttle to the Sleep Inn (Dania location), we made it across the street to pick up wine and such at the Publix & a take out pizza from "Danny & Vito's". This would be our third stay with the Sleep Inn folks and I've always been pleased with their accommodations & location to several eateries, a shopping center and a Walgreens nearby. It's certainly wouldn't be considered to be plush resort by any means but surely meets our needs. I usually request a ground floor room (close to the breakfast room) with a spectacular view of the parking lot & dumpster.
EMBARKATION DAY: Following breakfast, and a stop down to Walgreen's for light shopping, we boarded the "freebie" shuttle down to the cruise terminal at 1200. We arrived at the terminal at 1245 and found that embarkation was delayed for at least two hours due to a Coast Guard inspection, immigration problems with some folks that were debarking (the ship had just completed a TA crossing) and the HAL computer system not functioning. We boarded at 1515 and made our way to the Lido for a light lunch and much needed margarita. We dropped our carry-on luggage off in the cabin @1600 and attended the uneventful life boat muster @1615. We "sailed away" and commenced the voyage @1742 due to the aforementioned delays. Naturally, we parked ourselves in the Crow's Nest for the departure and continued our hydration therapy.
CRUISE COMMENTS & OBSERVATIONS (Alphabetical)
ACTIVITIES (DAILY): There appeared to be a diversity of activities available during the seas days which included, but not limited to, fitness classes and walks, puzzles, quizzes and trivia team games, bridge lessons, art lectures and sales, bingos, ports of call lectures, "Explorations" speaker series lectures, cooking demos & classes, spa seminars and the most recently released movies available in the Wajang theatre (and the following day on the cabin "boob tube"). As far a we were concerned, there were more than enough activities available to keep everyone happy. My favorite, of course, besides the "Explorations" series of lectures was the 'make your own Bloody Mary' "seminar" commencing around 1000 or so by the Lido Pool.
CABIN (Dolphin Deck, Outside, Amidships, Port Side): Everything looked great. As usual, we noted no dust bunnies or any soiled skivvies in the closet or dirty glassware. Since our last visit on the ms Prinsendam the staterooms have been tastefully upgraded with new tiling and fixtures in the head and a reconfiguration of the walk-in closet. My only suggestions would be to raise the top hanger bars for placement of more full length garb and elevating the safe up on a higher shelve for those of us that are not vertically challenged (which I believe would be a majority of folks). Otherwise, everything was clean & fresh. Following introductions with our cabin steward (a pleasant young man who was in charge of "freshening" #16 cabins on this cruise), we requested the usual amenities (box of Kleenex for each nightstand, #2 buckets of ice checked 2-3 times/day, #2 extra towels, an extra blanket and #2 ash trays). Wine arrived by 1730 (no breakage / placed in cardboard boxes only) and luggage arrived late @1930 I assume due to the embarkation delays. No problem since the dress code was "sassy casual" for the first evenings dining experience. 2230: Unpacked and sent our all blouses, shirts, slacks and formal wear utilizing the unlimited pressing services for $40 for the length of the cruise. We would be using the "bag" laundry services offered throughout the cruise which at the time of this writing was $12/bag. Total laundry bill for the 26 day cruise: $88 (#4 bags + unlimited pressing). Everything sent out by as late as 2200 would be returned the following day by 1600. The air conditioning worked just fine (talking 68F here) although I did speak spoke with some folks located in "other neighborhoods" during the cruise that mentioned that their air conditioning was not functioning as well.
CAPTAIN'S TABLE DINNER: We were invited to have dinner with Captain Turner, and the Chief Purser, Erin Reid, on one of the formal nights (Day 13) of the voyage along with two other couples aboard. We attended a cocktail reception @1945 in the Explorer's Lounge and all made our way to the DR by 2015. Elegant tableware, wonderful food and great company and conversation made it a memorable dining experience. Captain Chris will be departing the "Explorer" the first week of Jan. for a well deserved break and will take the helm of the Zuiderdam sometime in early April. Captain Albert will be filling his position as the alternating Master of the Prinsendam. The dinner ended by 2230. DW is getting to be quite a 'Captain Chris' "groupie" these days. I just don't know what to do with her other than to "worship the ground she walks on".
CASINO: I no longer gamble in a casino. I prefer to lose money on the NYSE. However, my DW donated five to ten clams daily to the HAL coffers via the one armed bandits. Every time I passed the casino (small by most cruise ship standards) during the evening, it appeared that gambling was brisk and the tables were crowded. I did not notice any particular non-smoking night(s) but even so the air seemed breathable to both smokers and non smokers alike. CRUISE DIRECTOR: Mr. JT Watters was the CD on this cruise and for such a young man (received his degree in Mass Media in 6/06: it's all relative, no?) he did a fabulous job, along with his staff, with all the daily activities, introductions for the shows & lectures and other various "master of ceremonies" duties too numerous to enumerate. He was accommodating, bright, polite and seemed to be "everywhere". He is a solid staffing "asset" for HAL.
CRUISE CRITIC ASSEMBLAGES: The first sea day (Day 1) of the cruise, I attended the CC "Meet and Greet" in the Crow's Nest @1000 (DW was having a coiffure "session" in the salon). What a wonderful group of seasoned cruisers who had brought along various delicacies from their locales to taste during the initial "Meet". The ship provided coffee and juices, flatware, etc. for the initial meeting. The following sea day some members of the group engaged in a "Cabin Cavalcade" (touring a variety of the cabins available aboard from deluxe suites to inside categories. Towards the end of the cruise, we had a CC luncheon in the La Fontaine DR. And on the last sea day we had a farewell get together in the Crow's Nest in the afternoon. The ship provided champagne, wine & hors d'oeuvres for the farewell. Cellar Master, Andrew, did an outstanding job as he had done throughout the cruise overseeing the wine steward staff in the DR. The CC "Amazon Floaters" were a very nice group of folks from all walks of life. These folks embarked as faceless internet strangers that would quickly become real life cruise mates & friends. I will not mention any specific names as to those organizers of the events and the 'young' man who called to remind us of upcoming CC events for privacy purposes. However, if you're reading this now you know who you are and my DW and I thank you for the opportunity to partake in the group activities, the opportunity to meet you and your unabashed kindness shown. We can only hope 'our' paths will again cross someday.
DEMOGRAPHICS: A typical seasoned HAL crowd with no one under the age of twenty-one noted on this cruise (but then again I might have missed someone in my travels). There were plenty of cruisers from the European continent (Germany and Great Britain primarily) and, of course, our brethren from the north (Canada). Most folks we encountered were cordial and, in some cases, quite pleasant. And naturally, some "sour pusses" and "whiners" were allowed to board. The cruise crowd included the typical cross section of gad fly's and grumps, the contentious and the pretentious, noise bags and pseudo-snobs but the overall mix was predominately a pleasant and passionate cruiser throng.
DRESS CODE: It appeared by my limited methodical observations that at least 50% of the those carrying both X & Y chromosomes wore tuxes on formal evenings (#7 on this voyage altogether), 45% garbed themselves in a dark suit and the remaining 5% attired themselves in sports coats or remained clueless. Sassy casual nights provided a gamut of eclectic wear but all worn with the greatest of taste. Besides which, "WE'RE ON VACATION"!
ENTERTAINMENT: Not really a strong suit of HAL but I never really never expect a Las Vegas Revue or Broadway Musical on any cruise ship. Thankfully, on this cruise the 2000 & 2200 show times have been retained. The only exceptions were two nights (1830 & 2030 show times) when the Indonesian and Filipino crew shows were presented at 2300 and 2230 respectively.
Crow's Nest: "Terrance" at the piano. Unlike other HAL ships there is no DJ to "spin records" after hours (to date).
Explorer's Lounge: "The Champagne Strings"
Lido Poolside (noon time): the stage band, jazz, quite good.
Ocean Bar: "The Basul Trio"
Production Show Cast: #7 total; #4 dancers, #3 singers/leads Stage Band: #6 total; if I recall, a very talented group of musicians.
"Rotating / Visiting" Entertainment:
Rikki Jay, comedian Phil Hughes, ventriloquist George Solomon, comedian/vocalist Amy Abler, pianist Duggie Brown, comedian (British) Gerardo Dominguez, harpist Beverly Davidson, violinist/humorist Eric Buss, comedian Al Katz, comedian Simeon Wood, Irish flutist Doug Mattock, banjo review Mark Klein, comedian Preston Coe, vocalist Kaitlyn Carr, vocalist
We did attend a majority of the shows offered this trip since the dining room schedule was back to 'normal'. The "recap" variety shows, the "Captain's Toast", the "Black & White Ball", feature length movies and the crew shows were interspersed amongst the various fixed and "rotating" performances in the Queen's Lounge. The Prinsendam's stage is somewhat small, comparable to a "cabaret stage on steroids" that has limited staging area, a set scenery backdrop for the individual shows and minimal lighting capabilities. However, the quality of the production numbers, costuming and stage band accompaniments has certainly improved over prior HAL sailings. In so far as rating the entertainment on an individual basis, I will only say it ran the gamut of mediocre to excellent IMO. Overall, the production show performers did a wonderful job as did the musicians, and stage manager.
EXPLORER'S CAFÉ: The new Café has plenty of shelving packed with a variety of novels and reference materials, has well lit reading areas and several island computer stations are available (the old internet café is now a card room). The 'Café' is a definite improvement over the old library and internet spaces that were made following the "Explorer's" last upgrade. Needless to say, I checked out a couple of mindless tomes filled with murder, mystery and raw sex as usual. Since I refuse to no longer use the internet services aboard any ship (or any internet service available when I'm on any sort of land vacation for that matter) so I cannot address connection speeds, costs and that sort of thing. However, I did stop by an internet café to check my email in Parintins, Brazil. I did so to see if any of the private excursions I had booked for the ending Caribbean portion of the cruise had cancelled in the interim of not "staying in touch" and, of course, to make sure our Arizona 'casa' was still in one piece. The cost for an hour of internet service in Parintins was $1USD. Furthermore, we also do not look at the CNN channel aboard ship nor do we read the articles in the daily NY Times summary delivered to the cabin daily (we do the crossword puzzle though). Hey, we're on VACATION! Ignorance is eternal bliss and what are you going to do about it all anyhow, no?
EXPLORER'S SERIES LECTURES: This is one of the highlights of HAL cruises we always look forward to. Lisa Didier & Bob Hodge were the lecturers aboard throughout this cruise. The both gave excellent lectures on "Pirates", Caribbean history, the Amazon River basin and the history & politics of Brazil. The lectures were informative, well organized and well presented. Thank you both Lisa and Bob from Bob and Judy.
FOOD, DINING ROOM: We had fixed dining, seating @ 2000, forward DR, table for two by the center bulkhead as requested. The menus were unique and varied for each day of the day cruise. Some of the menu items were repeated on an individual basis every now and then but the daily menus were unique among themselves in so far as variety of offerings. Unlike some of the other R-class ships, that will remain nameless, the cold items were indeed served cold and the hot items were served hot. There were some rare exceptions to my hot/cold obsession number one but overall Chef Pedro did a magnificent job in preparation, presentation and timely service of the items offered. Cruise ships, such as HAL, do tend to go overboard with arrowroot and cornstarch thickeners in their soups but for so-called "institutional" cooking they do a wonderful job. I will not evaluate individual dishes since tastes vary so much but I will say I was not disappointed with any entrée ordered. The steaks were cooked as ordered and the fish dishes were not overcooked (obsession number two) and both items described were accompanied with the appropriate sauces (obsession number three). Our table service was, once again, outstanding. In fact, after a few days after which our waiter knew my likes and dislikes I went ahead and let him do the ordering for me on several nights without even opening the menu. I was quite pleased with the results. Likewise, our table wine steward was attentive and knowledgeable. We had purchased the seven bottles Navigator package the first night of the cruise and interspersed the package wine selections with wine we had brought aboard and other wine we had purchased at various ports along the way. In so far as the corkage fees, let me just say that things turned out quite well in that regard. Cellar master, Andrew, and "J", our table wine steward provided excellent service.
FRONT DESK: The staff was quite pleasant and accommodating. We encountered minor plumbing problems (tub drain and a broken sink drain lever) which were fixed on a timely basis. My only real interaction with the staff consisted of cashing some traveler checks, stamps for post cards, requesting more comment cards and getting a print out of my onboard account every 5-6 days to compare with the daily receipts that I keep to check for any questionable charges (no problems noted this cruise).
LIFE BOAT MUSTER: Well organized and completed in approximately 30 minutes or less. In your face photographers was not an issue.
LAUNDRY: As noted in the Cabin Section of the review, we utilized the bag laundry and unlimited pressing services. Turn around time was always less then 24 hours for just regular service. DW used some liquid soap for "sink washing" her unmentionables. I used the pressing services almost daily to "touch up" formal wear and slacks worn the previous evening. We did wash some T-shirts we used for excursions while on the "Amazon" since Captain Turner had requested that everyone cut back on potable water usage since the ship would be unable to process fresh water due to river sediment clogging the evaporators.
LIDO BUFFET / DINING: Since we dined in the DR every night (other than the Manaus barbeque evening) we used the Lido for breakfasts and lunches only. The selections were varied and tasty. The outside deli & terrace grill had wonderful burgers, kielbasa and Italian sausages, roll-ups and daily specials.
MARINER BRUNCH: Since 'we' had quite a few Mariners on-board (can you say, practically the whole ship?) there were two brunch seating times (1000 and 1130; we attended the 1130) on one of the sea days following our visit to the Amazon River. Captain Turner awarded medals in the Explorer's Lounge at the later seating & joined everyone for brunch. The menu items offered were a salmon fillet, chicken something or other and a quiche. Plenty of wine and champagne was available to avoid dehydration. It was quite a nice function.
PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICES: I found the photography staff to be polite and unobtrusive. We very rarely purchase cruise ship pictures these days but, of course, this cruise would be the exception. My DW desired the Captain's table group shot 8 X 10 (which used to be a courtesy photo of the occasion if memory serves me correctly) but now needs to be purchased. At the onset of the voyage, the deal was buy 3 (@$24.99) / get one "free", which later "dropped" to buy 3 (@$19.99) / get one "free". Someone told me they had the "Shutterbug Staff" transfer their camera memory stick images to a CD-R. Apparently, the going rate was 'ten clams' / CD-R.
PINNACLE GRILL: We enjoyed one lunch and one dinner aboard plus we attended the Sommelier dinner (#32 folks attended @ $75/pp) offered on the 9th day of the cruise. Chef Scott did a marvelous job with preparation and presentation. It didn't matter what we ordered really since any items ordered at the PG were delightfully platted and delicious to consume. We tend to share bites of each other's food (that's why we always order differently) and various items available for each course we're wonderful. The beef and lamb dishes for dinner and a burger "to die for" were some of our favorites (and lest we not forget the "Volcano cake", of course). We dined in the PG on the last night that the "old PG menu" would be available aboard the Prinsendam. We will try the "new PG menu" on our next "float" with HAL.
ROOM SERVICE: We tend to "vegetate" by mid-afternoon on sea days in our cabin. I generally order two cheese platters and two salmon platters to munch on while sipping wine and viewing a DVD of some sort (I had brought along a couple dozen favorites in a small clamshell case). On port call days with early tours scheduled, we'd go for the 'door card' breakfast. The items were always hot and delivered on a timely basis. No problems were noted throughout the cruise, and, in fact, the coffee always seemed better than the coffee served at the Lido buffet in the mornings. Great job room service staff!
SERVICE, BEVERAGE & FOOD: Overall, outstanding as usual (including the housekeeping service). This is truly the backbone and reason for so many Mariner's and 'repeaters' on HAL. We encountered a number of staff that we had met on prior cruises aboard the Prinsendam, Ryndam, Statendam, and Volendam. It was indeed like returning home. I really can't express how important the comment cards are to the staff. As per our habit, we wrote cards (available at the front desk) practically on a daily basis letting them know how pleased we were with one individual or another. The individuals in question receive these comments daily from their supervisors and you can tell by their smiles and thank you comments that they appreciate the praise probably more so then any sort of extra tip whether small or large (although we do tip generously the second to the last night of any cruise).
SHIP'S APPEARANCE & MAINTENANCE: Although the ship itself is showing a bit of normal wear & tear, some exterior rusting of the underside railings/ porthole window casings and some negligible worn furnishings in some of the public areas the "Explorer" still retains her "Elegance". The art displays, the dark wood veneers, the floral arrangements and the subdued lighting gives the ship that more "intimate" / "old style cruising" feel. For a ship that I would guess travels somewhere between 100,000 to 120,000 nautical miles per year on the "high seas", the ship is well maintained. The ship's staff does a superb job of maintaining the vessel, the public rooms and the staterooms overall.
SMOKING: Smoking is always a big 'bugaboo' during these PC times. Since we smoke, we spent all our pool and sunning time on the port side of the Lido Pool, also known as "smoker's Alley". Unlike the other larger HAL ships, the Lido pool on the Prinsendam does not have a retractable "mega dome" covering. Therefore, smoking is permitted along the portside area. Smoking is limited in the Crow's Nest to two tables on the starboard side and at the bar, in the Ocean Bar only at the bar now (starting with this cruise), the casino, along the outside deck areas and also inside the cabin's and, if applicable, verandas. Although at least 95% of the public areas are now deemed non-smoking areas, it appears as if the "me" and "it's all about me" generations are pushing for 100% of the "litter box" under the banner of health concerns. Needless to say, if further restrictions are imposed our "cruise ship dollars" will either be spent elsewhere or not at all. Enough said.
SPA / SALON: As usual, DW signed up on embarkation day for a coiffure and manicure session for the following sea day. Following some sort "hair voodoo" that included the use of a roll of tin foil, toxic chemicals and 'must buy' conditioners a 'new woman' emerged at the end of the day. The salon folks did a great job at a reasonable cost according to "she who must be obeyed".
WAJANG THEATRE / CULINARY ARTS CENTER: Although the area is comparatively small as compared to other HAL ships, the smaller theatre & kitchen gives it a more "intimate" feel. Chef Scott, the PG chef, gave most of the cooking demos (we attended several) and 'taught' the fee-based cooking classes (we did not attend any). Other sous chefs and baker Mandy also gave marvelous demonstrations.
WEATHER: It couldn't be more perfect. The seas were described as moderate to slight during most of the voyage. We had a couple of days during the cruise of "rough seas" (7.5-12' waves) during the start of the trip but otherwise the seas were fairly calm. The temperatures ranged from the mid 70's to mid 80's with an expected increase in humidity as we approached the equator.
DAY 0 : EMBARKATION (FLL) DAY 1 : AT SEA DAY DAY 2 : AT SEA DAY DAY 3 : SANTA MARTA, COLUMBIA (0800-1500) DAY 4 : ORANJESTAD, ARUBA (0800-2300) DAY 5 : KRALENDIJK, BONAIRE (0800-1800) DAY 6 : AT SEA DAY DAY 7 : ST. GEORGE'S, GRENADA (0700-1600) DAY 8 : AT SEA DAY DAY 9 : DEVIL'S ISLAND, FR.G. (1100-1700) DAY10: AT SEA DAY DAY11: MACAPA, BRAZIL (0400-1600) DAY12: SANTAREM, BRAZIL (1200-2000) DAY13: BOCA DA VALERIA, BRAZIL (0800-1400) DAY 14: MANAUS, BRAZIL (1000- DAY 15: MANAUS, BRAZIL -1600) DAY 16: PARINTINS, BRAZIL (0800-1700) DAY 17: ALTER DO CHAO (0800-1500) DAY 18: CRUISING THE AMAZON DAY 19: AT SEA DAY DAY 20: AT SEA DAY DAY 21: BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS (0800-1700) DAY 22: ROSEAU, DOMINICA (0800-1600) DAY 23: ST. THOMAS, USVI (0800-1700) DAY 24: AT SEA DAY 25: HMC, BAHAMAS (0800-1500) DAY 26: DEBARK (FLL)
PORTS OF CALL / EXCURSIONS GENERAL COMMENTS: I will be has brief as possible since there were #15 ports of call on this particular itinerary. I will provide some comments / observations as to the ports visited, oddities, excursions that we took and, perhaps, *a comment as to the accessibility of some of the ports for folks that may require a walker / wheelchair for ambulatory / transport purposes. In depth descriptions of the ports are certainly available on various internet sites and lots of great tour information can be found on the CC Roll Call boards, Ports of Call boards and utilizing the search engine that CC provides. Private tour information for ports along the Amazon River (via internet) and communication is somewhat limited in this region thus far so doing your "homework" is a must for prearranged tours. Tours in some of the larger ports are certainly available dockside as are the HAL excursion tours either on the internet or aboard the ship. We personally prefer to arrange our own tours when possible. We enjoy small groups (or just ourselves for that matter) versus the "chest sticker / big bus" style tours. I will also provide an overall rating of the port stop, i.e., attractions / cleanliness / 'facilities availability' (rated A to F and quite subjective). However, my 'overall ratings', DOES NOT reflect some of the excellent excursions we enjoyed at the ports of call themselves.
SANTA MARTA, COLUMBIA (0800-1500): We planned no tour in Santa Marta. We simply walked into town @0930 and visited the Simon Bolivar Cathedral and walked around the markets, various parks and plazas of the colonial city. Plenty of security folks (local police and military) we're abundant throughout the city. We felt quite secure and purchased some coffee beans and postcards. We had in mind initially to take a cab to Taganga (fishing village / beach) but it was one of those overcast / threatening rain / high humidity kind of days. Know what I mean? So we made our way back to the ship by 1330 for a much needed libation by the Lido pool. Overall Impression: Not really set up for tourism quite yet but it looks like they're working on it especially down by the dockside area with construction underway. Rating: C-
ARUBA (0800-2300): We had contracted Heather & David (email@example.com / $250 for just the two of us) prior to the sailing for a private jeep tour of the island. We had done a De Palma catamaran sail, snorkel and suds type tour in March '08 and we were interested in seeing some of the land sites on this visit. David, our driver and guide, is a native Aruban / Arawak Indian, who met us promptly @0900 pier side and took us to the following sites (not in any particular order): the Natural Bridge Ruins, Black Rock beach, the Pet Cemetery, the California Lighthouse,, the Alto Vista Chapel, Ayo Park & Indian cave, the Natural Pool, Baby Beach for a swim and snorkel, a lunch at Ukra (local beer and burgers), a tour of the "red light district" downtown, Casibari rock formations, the eastern and western shorelines and, of course, the donkey ranch. Whew! What a great tour. We returned to the ship @1630 for a bath & a libation. I had Heather cancel my reservations at "Passions", a restaurant on the beach, for 1930 hours since the weather was again overcast and rainy. Instead, after cleaning up on the ship we walked into town and had a fish dinner at the "Old Fisherman" (a few blocks north of the pier, close to the bus terminal). We had snapper in garlic sauce (quite good) and grouper in mango sauce (very good). We made it back to the ship by 2130. Rating: B BONAIRE, ANTILLES (0800-1800): We had booked a four hour sail & snorkel with the Woodwind catamaran folks (firstname.lastname@example.org /$50 pp). We met Dee, co-owner & captain for the day, @0930 and were aboard and out of the waters a bit after 1000. The tour included snorkeling #2 reefs areas with both Dee & Nina, the photographer. We were organized into two small groups of 5-6 so that the group leaders Dee and Nina could identify and point out the various tropical fish, invertebrates and coral formations of interest. Lunch was provided as were beers, liquors and sodas as part of the tour. The catamaran was well maintained, the snorkeling equipment was first rate and Dee was an excellent guide & host. Following the excursion, we wandered around the plaza by the pier where vendors had their souvenirs & wares on display. The port itself, Kralendijk (pronounce Kralen-dike), and nearby beaches appeared clean & "tourist friendly". Rating: B+
ST. GEORGE'S, GRENADA (0800-1600): I had contacted Bentley Skeete (email@example.com / $25/hr. for just the two of us again) prior to the voyage for a private tour of the island in an air conditioned van. We were met by Danny, our guide and driver, promptly @ 0900 and we 'did' the entire island, or so it seemed. The activities, sites and views of interest included the following: Fort Fredrick, Grand Anse Bay, No-Name Falls, Anadale Falls, and a stop with a local herbalist that detailed the various spices grown on the island. We also enjoyed a drive through the Grand Etand Reserve (rain forest), and further stops at Sauter's Bay, Leapers Hill & the nearby cemetery. We then had a wonderful lunch (fresh swordfish sandwiches and local brews) by La Sagesse Bay (a small, private resort and botanical gardens). Danny was quite knowledgeable as to the fauna, flora, history and politics of the island (and spoke excellent English). Although Danny gave us a 6+ hour tour, he charged us for 5 hours. Needless to say, a very pleasant day was had by the 'three' of us. Rating: A DEVIL'S ISLAND (1100-1700): This was a short port stop but interesting one with no tour booked for the day (or available for that matter). Port: Ile Royal (one of the three islands that are collectively called "Devil's Island Penal Colony") and the only one with a pier for tendering. The colony is made up of Ile Royal, Ile du Diable (the "true" Devil's Island) and nearby Ile Saint-Joseph. *This port is not "handicapped friendly" at this point in time with either a steep, cobbled walk up to the buildings and ruins atop the island or a winding dirt path in the other direction from the tender pier. Some of the sites to be seen include the administrative buildings / living quarters, barracks, prison quarters, confinement cells, etc. The island is lush and humid with a small gift shop (the only air conditioning on the island, or so it seemed) located in the former guard's mess building (that has been developed into a restaurant, hotel, bar and aforementioned gift shop). A small museum is also located in the Commandant's House. Rating: B
MACAPA, BRAZIL (0700-1600): The ship actually docked in the port of Santana which is approximately 20 miles or so from the city of Macapa. The ship offered a "last minute" $15 roundtrip bus shuttle passes/pp for those not taking the #2 HAL sponsored tours. Miscommunication and disorganization in the shuttle service prevailed initially but things seemed to sort themselves out on the return shuttles. Regardless, we passed the monument (and line running through a portion of the city marking zero degrees latitude. After being dropped in town, we walked to the Fort (Fortaleza de Sao Jose de Capa), the church (Praca Veiga Cabral), the theatre (Teatro das Bacabeiras) and pretty much wandered around the bustling city. We made it to the "last shuttle" (that departed late @1515) and made it up the gangway by 1540 for 1600 departure. There really aren't a lot of "wow" sites to see for the cruise ship tourist in Macapa. Nonetheless, it's always interesting see our other folks live regardless of region. Cokes cost $.75USD and beers cost $1USD (exchange rate at the time was 2.4 reals to the dollar). Fluid 'therapy' of any sort is certainly required to survive a visit to steamy Macapa. Rating: D
SANTAREM, BRAZIL (1200-2000): Unfortunately, the tour guide for an "Eco Tour" in Santarem (#6 folks only) that we had prearranged had cancelled out just prior to the cruise. So we took the one and only HAL tour offerings on this cruise ("Maica Lake & Piranha Fishing" / 5 hours / $72 pp). Regardless, the HAL tour didn't depart until 1330 so we had plenty of time for souvenir shopping at dockside where plenty of vendors were set up. DW, of course, picked up a T-shirt, baby piranha earrings & a post card or two (prices I might add are much more reasonable in Santarem then other ports, such as Manaus, that we would visit later in the cruise). In any event, the "cattle boats" filled with tourists for the various river "floats" (e.g. meeting of the water tours, piranha fishing, jungle walks, etc.). Some of the activities and sites included in the tour were the following: a swim in the Amazon near a 'secluded beach', continued cruising of the river, viewing of another "meeting of the waters", traversing various canal ways and small tributaries for wildlife viewing, an eventually spending 20 minutes fishing for piranhas (DW caught her first piranha). We then motored along Santarem waterfront prior to being dropped back off at the pier. The ship was actually docked a few miles from the city itself and HAL did offer free shuttle service into town for other fellow cruisers & staff who did not take tours. In so far as our tour, it was one of those 'okay' tours but I wouldn't describe it as 'outstanding'. For us though, any sort of motoring around on any body of water is enjoyable regardless. However, there were no sodas, beers or 'munchies' available for purchase on the tour boat (they could have made a "killing" had they been offered). Rating: C
BOCA DA VALERIA, BRAZIL (0800-1400): The Portuguese word boca means "mouth of" and the small village is located at the exit of the Valeria River into the Amazon River channel. We tendered into the hamlet by 0915 and simply wandered around the village and strolled by the vendor stands, took pictures of some of the natives dressed in tribal regalia and dropped off some "goodies" at the school house. Others folks in our CC group brought along some school supplies to donate. I donated a couple dozen "Groucho" glasses, three bags of balloons and a large zip lock filled with various wine corks from the ship for arts & crafts activities. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy, no? I would later learn that several of the children and "natives" in Boca were actually Santarem residents who had "come down to visit" Boca on cruise ship days. We also walked into the jungle (aka, "rain forest" these days) for a 3/4 of a mile or so but didn't really see much in the way of exotic birds / butterflies. After our "strenuous excursion" we stopped at the local "jungle juice" station for a beer and Coke. *BTW, not a handicapped friendly port with only a muddy path running through the village. Rating: C
MANAUS, BRAZIL #2 DAYS (1000-1600 THE FOLLOWING DAY): DAY #1: Manaus is a large, urban vibrant city containing approximately two million souls. The city, Manaus, is named after the Manus tribe (pronounced ma-nowsh) in 1669. Inland roads to the city are virtually non-existent (like most of the Amazon River ports) so the city depends on the river for the majority of commerce and trade. Manaus though does have a large airport that 'fills in the blanks'. Needless to say, the port landscape is filled with container ships, cranes, stacked containers and a plethora of various river craft. The city itself was built at the vital meeting point of the Rio Negro and Rio Somimoes Rivers that forms the geographically named, Amazon River. The muddy, brownish-yellow Rio Solimoes meets the incoming black Rio Negro (the color differences are due to the density, chemical composition and differing suspended particle content of the various flows draining specific areas). The "meetings" or "marriages" are called the "Encontro das Aquas". There are several other "meetings" along the Amazon as other tributaries feed into the central river but this "meeting" east of Manaus is considered to be the beginning of the Amazon River by most cartographers and geographers. In any event, DW, I and a group of 10 other wonderful souls (CC folks, of course, via 'our' roll call board / thank you "Lady L" for the arrangements/ we made up the "Amazon floaters") for a ten hour (normally 12 hour) tour. The abbreviated private tour was provided by the Amazon Rider's folks (amazonriders.com / $80 pp) and the tour included lunch, beer and bottled water. Although a bit of confusion occurred initially (our English speaking tour guide, Antonio, was at the wrong pier unfortunately. The Costa Romantica & Oceana Regatta were also in port and he was waiting by the Romantica. However, the tour turned out to be just great although the 'twelve seat' motor boat ran out of petrol a couple of times but this caused minimal delays really. Such occurrences make traveling an "adventure, no? Some of the highlights of the tour included a "fast ride" to the convergence of the "Meeting of the Waters", a trip down to a residential area of floating homes along one of the canals, meeting outboard powered canoes that allowed one to hold various jungle / river creatures for photo opportunities (for a $1USD / creature), a buffet lunch at a floating restaurant that included a variety of Brazilian cuisine. The buffet included various fried fish (including piranha), beef, candied and fried fruit, vegetables, rice, etc.) We then walked up from the restaurant to the Lake January Ecological Park to see the large water lilies (Victoria regia) and resident caimans (referred to as alligators). Following the visit to the lake, we" further motored up the canal a ways until we reached a small dock for a 45 minute jungle trek in which Antonio described all the local fauna and flora. The path ended near another pier/ a smaller floating café & home where our boat had re-docked. Following viewing, a large tank of huge river fish (primarily those in the carp & catfish families) we fished off the dock for piranhas for about an hour (DW caught #5; I caught some sort of catfish named something or other in Brazil). Following our fishing adventure, we motored downstream to a secluded tranquil pond in the reserve area (Lake January) for further picture taking and wildlife viewing. As sunset neared, it began to rain so we decided to motor to the nearby floating restaurant for a 'pit stop and leg stretch' prior to the scheduled after-dark "caiman spotting and capturing" portion of the tour. Later, in the darkness, following twenty minutes of quietly motoring along the shoreline, Antonio, using a flashlight, leapt out of the boat and captured a small caiman. He described the caiman's natural history along with opportunities for everyone to take plenty of pictures. Following the "capture", we motored back to the main river for a high speed ride (approximately 30 minutes) back to the Prinsendam pier. During the ride back, we had the fortunate opportunity to observe the billowing clouds building into a magnificent lightning storm over the city of Manaus. It really turned out to be a wonderful day and a great tour.
DAY #2: No planned tour on our second day in Manaus. Two of the local gemstone dealers were offering free cab rides to the Tropicana Hotel outside the terminal building. Since the Tropicana was on our agenda, we took advantage of the cab. Prior to arriving at the hotel, we had the driver stop at the opera house (Teatro Amazonas) for a visit and photo opportunity. At the hotel, we visited the small zoo, spent two hours or so by the hotel pool enjoying 'umbrella' drinks ($6 USD) and swimming in their lovely pool. Prior to departure we visited duty free store at the hotel to bring back some wine to the ship (#6 Chilean reds for $30 USD). We then took the free return cab back to the port area where we wandered around the plaza, went down to the old rubber exchange, and the central market area. The city of Manaus, like any large metropolitan areas found worldwide, is filled with the typical traffic congestion, blaring car horns, and the endless, ongoing construction projects. Needless to say, traversing in the market areas, one will find 'wall to wall' people clogging the sidewalks. However, we never felt our personal safety was an issue at any time (or any of the Brazilian ports for that matter). Rating: B
PARINTINS, BRAZIL (0800-1700): This would be another no scheduled tour day in Parintins. We tendered into the port and toured the wharf and attendant vendor's stands. We made our way into the town's central market area and hired a tricycle for $5 USD for both of us for a 45 minute tour that included Liberty Square, the cathedral (and unique cemetery behind it), the Bumbodromo and the Caprichoso Boi Club. The club is where they practice for the annual Boi Bumba folklore festival. The festival occurs towards the end of the rainy season. The three day festival enacts the kidnapping, death and resurrection of an ox, which is a metaphor for the local agricultural cycles. The HAL excursion was a bit pricey IMO ($99/pp) for a 75+ minute rehearsal so we purchased both the 2007 entire 3 day festival on DVD and a CD of the festivals music from a vendor for $10 USD. We would later view the DVD aboard ship and it is indeed quite the elaborate production with superb costuming, unique floats and audience energy unequal to anything I've seen. In any event, we walked around the town, visited a few shops and ended up at the Kasi outdoor bar for some local brews with some cruise ship friends. Naturally, DW needed to pickup some inexpensive Boi Bumba feathered head gear from a vendor to wear for the evening's dinner experience aboard the ship. Rating: B-
ALTER DO CHAO ("Altar of Heaven" / 0800-1500): The ship actually anchored off the town's resort area and tendered into a small dock. *This is not a handicapped friendly port since one needed to walk a ¼ mile along a beach to reach the resort areas cobble stone paved streets. The resort is used by the local Brazilians (Santarem is 20 miles away) as a vacation / weekend getaway destination that has clean sand beaches and shallow water for swimming. Since we had no planned tour lined up (thankfully; I was having a bout of "Montezuma's Revenge" overnight), we stuck around the resort village area that had a small plaza, shops and bars. However, public transportation was available to the central area of town several miles away. We simply walked around the resort area and side streets, stopped at some curio shops and planted ourselves about a ½ mile down along the eastside shoreline at a floating bar (chairs and tables with umbrellas in the water). We enjoyed a 'river' swim and I forced myself to quaff a liter or two of Skol beer ($1.50 USD) in an attempt to reverse my medical condition. It was a very nice, relaxing day and our final port stop on the Amazon River. Rating: B-
BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS (0800-1700): The Portuguese named Barbados ("bearded") as a reference to roots that hang from the island's native bearded fig tree. Apparently, some anthropologist's suggest that "os Barbados" may also have been a reference to the indigenous people who welcomed the 16th century Portuguese explorers. In any event, we had booked on-line another 'sail, snorkel and suds' tour @1000 with the Shasa (= "pleasing waters" in Swahili) Catamaran folks (shasacatamarancruises.com / $80 pp for a 5 hour lunch cruise). The tour included transportation to the catamaran (our driver Tony gave us an abbreviated tour of sites along the way, history and politics of the island, etc. along the way), snorkeling and swimming with the turtles. It also included another snorkel over a reef, a buffet lunch (fried chicken and fish, macaroni and cheese, potato and green salads, etc.), sailing along the coastline and endless pours of libations and rum punches. Jason is the owner & captain (his wife makes the lunch ashore) and he did a marvelous job considering the strong currents and winds we encountered that day. I believe everyone aboard (ourselves, two wonderful couples from the CC roll call board and a British couple vacationing on the island) were quite pleased with the tour. The tour did run a little late due to logistical problems but we were able to make it back to port by 1610. This, of course, enabled DW to do some shopping along the pier. What is a grown married man to do? (Answer=Nothing) Rating: A-
ROSEAU, DOMINICA (0800-1600): Dominica belongs to the Leeward Island group in the Lesser Antilles. Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the Americas in November of 1493, named the island to mark the day he found it (Sunday). We had booked a full day private Land Rover tour (just the two of us again) with Woody Lawrence ("Off the Beaten Trail" tour / firstname.lastname@example.org / $220/day/couple) that included libations (water, pop, champagne and a wonderful rum punch) plus snack foods. Woody is the owner and sole operator who is a native Dominican, educated in Switzerland and was a swimmer who competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Highlights of the tour included beautiful Spanny waterfalls (no other tourists due to inaccessibility), the Central Forest Reserve, Pagua Bay and a stop at Londonberry Bay (the location of the filming of one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies / again, no tourists). We motored along the coastline north and 'found' a small 'secret' uninhabited black sand beach where we opened the champagne, enjoyed a swim for an hour or so and took plenty of pictures. We then drove westward to visit the small community of Portsmouth where Ross University (medical school) is located. Following a pit stop, we continued south passing through a number of local hamlets, passing Batalie and Castaway beaches and eventually making it back to the dock area by 1515. Woody is quite the articulate and knowledgeable guide, is quite familiar with the history and politics of the island and never failed to answer a question that I posed. We enjoyed a wonderful tour and would like to visit again and spend more time on the beautiful island of Dominica. Rating: A
ST. THOMAS, USVI / CROWN BAY (0800-1700): Since we would be 'sharing' St. Thomas with several other cruise ships at this particular port of call (approximately 20,000 cruise passengers and cruise ship staff members), we had booked yet another sail and snorkel tour several months in advance via the internet. Also, since this would be our last 'major' Caribbean ports visit (although Half Moon Cay was yet to come), I wished to reserve a small, special tour to end our cruise. This was especially important since we would be returning to the 'real world' three days forthcoming. So after doing some research, we decided to book an all day tour with Kathleen Nelsona, owner (with husband) and captain of the "High Pockets", 42' racing sloop. (sailhighpockets.com / $125 pp +$45-50 cab fare/couple). The tour is limited to six passengers only that includes a 'gourmet' lunch, champagne & wine and, of course, free flowing rum punches (simply wonderful), beers, liquors and sodas. Kathleen is a retired R.N. who moved from California with her husband to St. Thomas over a decade ago. Her number one goal is making sure all her passengers have the best sailing experience possible. She definitely achieved that end. Following a 30-40 minute van ride across the island (with two other wonderful couples from our CC roll call board), we arrived at the marina and boarded. We sailed for 45 minutes or so while Kathleen gave us a narrative of the history of St. Thomas, of the various cays and islands nearby and current politics of the island. We made our way to a small area by a private island where we anchored and commenced snorkeling of the nearby reef for an hour or so. Meanwhile, Kathleen was busy preparing the marinated chicken, fettuccini, salad, bread with Danish butter and rum cake. Following a luscious lunch (and plenty of punch & champagne) we collectively decided to sail instead of hitting another snorkel site due to the high wind speeds that had developed. Nothing can be more fun then that "45 degree" high speed sailing in a racing sloop across Pillsbury Sound. Unfortunately, we needed to make our way back to the marina by 1515 to meet the van that the six of us (CC group) shared in order to get back to the port by 1600. It was truly an exhilarating and a memorable sail. Great sail, great company and great food. Does it get any better? (Answer=No) Rating: A
HALF MOON CAY, BAHAMAS (0800-1500): Sadly, this would be our final port of call prior to debarking in Fort Lauderdale the following day. And unfortunately, I had contracted some sort of head cold and hack cough overnight and wasn't in the mood to tender into HMC for the day. We'd just been there in March so I feel I didn't miss much. Plus, I needed to kill whatever germ(s) that had taken residence in my pulmonary tract with a number of rum 'umbrella' drinks. However, DW was given a prepaid excursion ticket from one of our shipmates' who was also feeling under the weather. Her tour, "Sting Ray Adventure" apparently was quite fun and she took a number of great photographs. She then played on the beach catching the last sun before reality set in with friends. Rating: A-
I will jot down some odd and ends that may be of interest to those contemplating a trip to the Amazon River and Caribbean Sea area and will finish (finally!) with a blurb ("The End") on the cruise.
Some Amazon River Basin Facts: 1.Source: Calilona, Peru in the Andes Mountain range.
2.Length: 4080 miles, second only to the Nile River.
3.Freshwater Production: 20% of all river waters discharging into the oceans.
4.Volume: contains more water than any other river in the world-more than the Mississippi, the Nile and the Yangtze combined.
5.Flow Rate: 55 million gallons / second. To put this in perspective, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida uses approximately 34 million gallons of water/day (average 183 gallon /pp X and approximate population of 186,000 = 34 MGD). Thus, a 'second' or less of flow would meet Fort Lauderdale's water consumption needs per day.
6.Naming History: The Amazon got its name from the Spanish explorers. Female warriors called "Icamiabas" ("women without husbands") attacked the explorer Francisco Orellana in 1541. Orellana named the river "Rio Amazonas" after these women were compared to the Amazons of Greek mythology.
1.The Amazon Basin / River is much larger then you can possibly imagine. The mere width (one mile to 35 miles during the rainy season) is overwhelming.
2.The diversity of the flora and fauna is well known.
3.The Seasons: Rainy- Jan. to May, Transitional- May to July, "Dry Season"- Aug. - Dec.
4.Vaccinations: Yellow Fever required for a visa unless you have some sort of physicians note exempting you from the requirement. You also might consider a Tetanus booster also.
5.Malarial Preventive Medicine: consult your physician and visit the CDC internet site for recommendations. We chose not to do so (I only saw one mosquito flying about the dining room window in Maracapa one morning only) and we were out on the river at night a couple of times. I guess it depends on where you go. We did taking along a small spray bottle of insecticide containing DEET and the ship provided packaged wipes at several ports at the gangway.
6.Tour Wear: We did not wear long sleeve shirts / pants. Basically we wore shorts, white T-shirts, sandals (we like the Keen waterproof models) and for jungle treks the Merrell brand slip-on, waterproof "Jungle Mocks". We each had a small day pack which contained some of the following items: ponchos, a travel umbrella, bandanas, a wash cloths from the ship (to be soaked with water for rubbing down sweaty faces, cleaning hands, etc. during tours and, yes, we did return them to the ship each night), a sun hat, sunscreen, the aforementioned DEET spray or wipes, bottled water, chewing gum, Tylenol, ship towels when required, a map of the area, a couple of extra large zip lock bags (for the cameras), the cameras and, of course money & identification.
7.Money: It a good idea to have some Brazilian Reals (currency) on hand when visiting the various ports along the river. Either acquire some prior to the trip or just use an ATM at the first major port (in our case, Marcapa). A hundred dollars of reals comes in fairly handy for small purchases such as souvenirs, food and beverages along the way. Many of the stores and vendors stands will have items cost signage displayed in both reals and dollars (your better off paying in reals). We encountered a number of "hydration" stands (cafes) that would advertise beers for $2USD but would actually have the advertized rate in reals for the same beer @1.5R$ (approximately $0.75USD.) Another words, beware of prices whether it be for a beer or T-shirt, do your homework and take a small calculator if necessary. The exchange rates are published in the New York Times summary paper you will receive in the cabin. "ENDING THOUGHTS"
Well enough is enough. The 26 day cruise aboard the Prinsendam was wonderful. Yes, there were minor problems here and there but aren't there always? The overall cruise can only be described as fantastic, interesting and filled with great memories. We would like to extend our kudos to Captain Turner and the incredible staff under his purview. Great job from everyone! Would I do another "Amazon Float"? No, it certainly isn't on our 'radar' for the foreseeable future. There are still too many other regions of the world we would like to visit prior to visiting the Amazon basin again. Of course the 68 day around South America and Antarctica would be an exception but time scheduling and that old bugaboo, money, enters the picture for us. Would I recommend this cruise? I certainly would without exception. Now we look forward to the 1/10, 33 days sailing, of the ms Rotterdam down to the South Pacific as our next "major float". Thank you Holland America once again for a great cruise.
Bon Voyage & Good Health! Bob & 'She'