Since this was such a long sailing, I will not attempt to give a day-by-day account of everything I did. Rather, I will hit on the high and low points of the cruise and try to provide the information most requested on the CC boards. I will also note the various ports we visited and how I spent my time there.
This particular cruise is only done by Holland America once per year, usually in the month of January. While many of their cruises visit the Islands of Hawaii, this one takes the voyage a step further and goes onto the South Pacific Islands as well, including a stop at Christmas Island in Kirbiti and also a visit to Nuku Hiva in Tahiti. Our itinerary was as follows:
January 6 Embarkation, San Diego January 7-10 At sea January 11 Kona, Hawaii January 12 Hilo, Hawaii January 13-14 Honolulu, Oahu January 15 Nawiliwili, Kauai January 16 Lahaina, Maui January 17-21 At sea (crossing the equator on the 20th) January 22 Raiatea, Tahiti January 23-24 Bora Bora, Tahiti January 25 Papeete, Society Islands January 26 Moorea, Society Islands January 27-28 At Sea January 29 Nuku Hiva, Tahiti January 30-February 4 At Sea February 5 Return to San Diego, California
We had five formal nights, seven informal nights, one Hawaiian night, and 17 casual nights on this cruise.
This was an absolute snap. But maybe thats because unlike most people, I prefer to board after the crowds have cleared out. I waited at my hotel across the street until about 1:00 before even making my way to the Pier of San Diego and the beautiful m.s. Amsterdam that awaited me. It took me less than 15 minutes to dump my bags with the porters, enter the building, make my way to each check-in station, through the security screeners and onto the ship. Even the normal backlog caused by the ships photographers was not evident and I waited but a minute for the obligatory boarding photo.
I was directed to the Lido deck since the cabins were not quite ready. There I found a lavish buffet and plenty of tables at which to enjoy it. Bypassing the food, though, I made my way to a seat in the Lido Bar area where I could make some last minute telephone calls while I still had cell service. I didnt even get through the first call when the announcement came that we could proceed to our cabins. I stayed on the Lido deck for an additional half hour or so, completed my business, and then made my way to the Main Deck and cabin 2531. Stewards were in plentiful supply in the hallway to assist anyone needing help in finding their way.
I quickly located my cabin, a standard inside, and found not only everything in readiness, but also that my two pieces of luggage had already arrived and were sitting on the bed. Shortly after, my cabin steward, Mohammad, appeared to see if everything was satisfactory. I asked for a couple of ashtrays, which he promptly delivered, and set about unpacking. That unpleasant chore was out of the way well before lifeboat drill & always a great way to get a cruise started.
The Usual List of Suspects:
The major players of the ships staff and officers included Commander Captain Edward G. van Zaane Chief Officer Robert-Jan Kan Hotel Manager Willem Cruijsberg Food and Beverage Manager Bert Van Mackelbergh Maitre d Hotel Kiki Basuki Cruise Director John F. Challenger, III Executive Chef Pedro Lontoc
What can one say about a beautiful ship such as this? Ive been on other HAL ships, including the Rotterdam which is designated as the Atlantic Flagship of the Fleet, but at least for me nothing beats the Amsterdam. She is the co-flagship, designated for the Pacific, and is filled with beautiful works of art, including a stunning astrolobe tower clock that spans the three decks of the atrium. One could busy themselves for days just trying to view all the treasures that this ship holds. In fact, Apollonia, the social hostess, actually gave a couple of tours in order to familiarize passengers with a sampling of these pieces and a bit about their history.
The ship seems to be in great shape, and I really didnt notice any major signs of wear anywhere. The Signature of Excellence enhancements probably updated any areas of this ship that may have been suffering from wear, and the new Explorations Cafe very quickly became my absolute favorite area on the ship. With a very extensive inventory of books, not to mention a wide variety of magazines and other periodicals, one could stay busy in this room throughout the day. If reading materials are not enough, there are 13 internet terminals, as well as several music listening stations. When I first saw these funny looking mini computer terminals, I had no idea what they were. Another CCer had to educate me to the fact that these were actually sort of like iPods & you could program a playlist of your favorite music and then put the headphones on and listen away. Browsing the playlists, I found music to suit almost any conceivable taste. Usually I would never expect to find my preferred praise and worship music in a venue such as this, but there was actually a pretty good selection of it & certainly enough to keep me happily engaged for several hours.
In addition, the Explorations Cafe has a bar that is open for most of the day and into the evening. Items for sale included specialty coffees, lattes, hot chocolate, etc. A selection of cold drinks is also offered, such as Smoothies. The staff there got to know me and whenever they would see me coming, with a smile on my face, they knew I wanted my white hot chocolate with loads of whipped cream. Dont ask me why I can consume white chocolate with no problems, while regular chocolate brings on terrible migraine headaches.
It is clear that the Amsterdams crew takes great pride in her. Every day as I would walk through the various areas of the ship, I would always see crew members polishing, shining, cleaning, repairing, and doing whatever else necessary to keep her in impeccable condition.
This voyage, billed as a South Pacific Explorer Cruise, covered a total of 9,367 nautical miles. Over half of this 30-day voyage was spent at sea. In fact, we had a total of 17 sea days. As a result, having enough to do during all that time could become a problem. Luckily, the potential for boredom was kept to a minimum by the efforts of a proactive cruise director and his staff who kept our plates as full as possible with a host of activities.
We had a full Explorations Speakers Series program, with lectures ranging from star gazing with Donna Giesler to topics such as navigation with David Levesque. Jim Butler enlightened us about the life under the sea, while his wife, Elaine Butler, spoke on subjects covering the arts. On just about every sea day there was at least one lecture, usually two, presented for those who wanted to expand their horizons while on this voyage. Donna Giesler also hosted daily Meet the Star Lady sessions in the Explorers Lounge, as well as actual star gazing in the late evening hours up on the sports deck. Also on sea days, Social Hostess Apollonia (Captain Edward G. van Zanes wife) hosted a coffee chat in the Explorers Lounge with a variety of the ships staff and onboard entertainers. These venues gave passengers a chance to ask questions and get to know the many people who were making this voyage so special.
Additionally, special events were hosted throughout the cruise for the many single and solo passengers aboard. These included special meals, afternoon tea socials, games, sports events, and the like & all designed to help single and solo passengers to get to know one another and make new friends while onboard. Of course, there were the staples of cruising, such as daily trivia, Bingo, deck games and jewelry seminars. The Greenhouse Spa also hosted daily lectures and events, many of them focusing on fitness and health topics, and most of them free.
We also had four gentleman hosts on this cruise whose sole purpose was to keep the single ladies company and provide them with dance partners each evening. Before dinner each night, the Ocean Bar was packed and the dance hosts busy getting everyone out on the dance floor. In fact, even if you didnt want to dance, they tried to encourage you. It took about four days before the hosts got it through their heads that I didnt like to dance. I had to turn them down several times before they finally stopped asking me.
John Challenger also hosted a special get-together for the Cruise Critics onboard, and this took place on the second day out at sea. It was nice getting the chance to put faces to the many names of people we had been communicating with on a weekly basis online over the eight or so months preceding this cruise.
A nice touch that I really appreciate on Holland America is that we had a Catholic priest, a protestant minister and a Jewish rabbi onboard, and services were conducted just about daily.
A variety of special events were also held. These included a gala Welcome Aboard party, deck barbecues, the famous Holland America Dessert Extravaganza, and of course, the obligatory ceremony that takes place whenever a voyage crosses the equator. This ceremony made one glad to be a passenger (rather than crew) and thus avoid having to kiss a stinking fish that had been roasting out in the sun for several hours, as well as being slimed by all manner of leftover kitchen garbage before being tossed into the pool to clean off.
While many found all these days at sea relaxing, others found them tedious, especially towards the end of the cruise when the novelty of sailing had worn off for some. Unfortunately, with a voyage such as this, there is no way to avoid clusters of sea days and the best way to deal with them is to simply sit back and relax. Staying busy is not always necessary. Relaxing and enjoying the moment is sometimes fun too, and I cant even count the number of times I would sit and watch the sea go by, saying to myself it doesnt get much better than this.
I found that I slipped into a very comfortable routine on sea days, and thus enjoyed them tremendously. I would generally get up at around 8:30, and attend services at 9:00. After services, I would run up to the Lido and grab a bite to eat before the breakfast buffet closed. Then I would often attend a lecture, and then just relax for a couple of hours, reading up on the Lido deck, or perhaps in the Explorations Cafe, since I rarely ate lunch. Usually there would be an afternoon activity I would want to do, maybe attend another lecture or whatever. On some days, I would go to afternoon tea, and then indulge in afternoon nap. Around 7:30 or so, it would be time to get up and get ready for dinner, followed by a show. The day would usually pass by so quickly in this manner that I was always at a loss to figure out where it went.
Some of us participated in the Amsterdam Survivor competition, which was loads of fun. Of course, anyone who knows me can see that I am not very gifted in sporting-type activities, so needless to say, I did not survive Survivor. But we all got a nice certificate for our efforts, as well as Dam Dollars for each event we participated in.
Several of us also participated in the Great Pretenders Show, a lip synching show that Holland America offers on most of its sailings. While Ive watched this show several times in the past, both on Holland America and other lines, it was the first time I let myself be talked into participating. While I was leery at first, I have to admit it was great fun. The Queens Lounge was packed the night of our performance, and afterwards we had a sock hop & bringing most audience members up on stage to dance and sing to the tunes from the '50s and '60s. The party then moved up to the Crows Nest for dancing late into the night. The cruise staff provided liberal drinks for us cast members before the show (I guess to get us loosened up for getting on stage), and then provided a small buffet afterwards. All in all, it was a great time & far more fun than I would have expected & and I dont think I finally crawled into bed until about 2:00 a.m. that morning. Needless to say, I missed services the next day.
Other Cruise Critics enjoyed daily trivia challenges, as well as visits to the spa. The sun worshipers among us also had plenty of opportunity for their passion, especially as we got closer to the Islands, and then crossed the equator. Ports:
Of course, no voyage is all sea days, and ours included some absolutely spectacular ports. Of course, there were the Islands of Hawaii, and we spent six days exploring them. A full menu of shore excursions was offered, and of course, passengers also had the option of designing their own custom tours.
As a solo traveler, I opted for Holland Americas tours on most days, simply for the convenience and safety of being in a group. At our first port, Kona, I took a half-day Kona Highlights tour. This tour was by air conditioned vehicle, and took us to such places as the Painted Church and Konas Place of Refuge, the National Historic Park. A stop was also made at the Royal Kona Coffee Store where we could partake of samples. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy any of the varieties of Kona coffee, and thus was glad to have sampled it before parting with good money to buy some.
In Hilo I tried a tour which is relatively new to Holland America. It is called Secrets of Puna, and it is a family-run tour which takes participants to the natural areas of the island, and thus the ones least likely to be crowded with tourists. We headed out in luxury SUVs with large springy tires to explore the lava fields. These fields are comprised of miles of jagged rock that most vehicles cant traverse. Thus, we had the whole region to ourselves. We saw the dormant volcano, and the many places in the rocks where native Hawaiians place offerings to the Goddess Pele, to appease her and keep their island home safe from her ire. We stopped at a park area and were given a natural lunch & fruit, sandwich wraps, and bottled water. Unfortunately, since a greasy cheeseburger is more to my liking, I did not find this lunch very appetizing, but the others on the tour sure did. Finally, we ended the half-day tour by visiting a volcanic lake where we could spend an hour or so snorkeling or swimming. This lake was as warm as bath water, and was in use by very, very few people. Obviously, it is a little known treasure, and since it also requires the traversing of some fields of jagged volcanic rock, it is inaccessible to most people in standard vehicles.
In Honolulu, we had two full days and I made the most of them. Of course, the standard Holland America tour I chose was one that would let me see as much of Oahu as possible, and this was a full-day circle island tour. Encompassing 120 miles around the entire island, we traveled on all three of Oahus main interstates and visited such sites as the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, the Dole Pineapple Pavilion, the Polynesian Cultural Center (for a catered barbecue lunch), the Halona Blow Hole and the Byodo-In Temple, among others. We also rode past the various surfing beaches and drove the windward coastline to view the beaches nestled there. An eight-hour tour, it was kept interesting by our guide, a retired policeman who was now spending his days showing the jewels of his island home to visitors. While a tour of this length can often become boring, I have to admit that I hated to see it end. I could hardly believe we had been on the road for so many hours.
While the Grand Circle Island tour was a joy, it was nothing compared to how I spent my first day in Oahu. On this day, I decided to do a self-arranged excursion & self-arranged because there is no way in hell Holland America would touch this one with a ten-foot pole. I opted to go skydiving over the North Shore. Skydive Hawaii, one of three skydiving outfits on Oahu, picked us up right at Pier 19 where the Amsterdam was docked. While I thought I would be the only idiot spending my day in such a manner, it turned out that I was gonna have plenty of company. Several members of the Amsterdam cast, the sound engineer, the chef at the Pinnacle Grill, and Reme, the Amsterdams DJ, all were apparently as nuts as I was. We filled Skydive Hawaiis van & some people even sitting on the floor, and made the journey of an hour or so to Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore. We were all going to do what are called tandem skydives. Securely attached to an experienced skydiving instructor, each of us would take a flying leap from Skydive Hawaiis Cessna Caravan 15,000 feet above the beautiful North Shore. Three tandem pairs were generally on each flight, and it took three flights to get us all up. Some of us also opted to get video and photo stills of our jumps. I was the only one in our group who had been a skydiver in a past life & having had to give up the sport after a landing accident in 1999. It was wonderful to get back into the air again, even if I had to have an instructor along for the ride. The view from freefall was breathtaking & clouds mixed with the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, which we exit the plane directly over. In freefall, many of us had a professional videoflyer & also called a vidiot, who wears a special helmet affixed with both still and video cameras. A special flying suit, equipped with large wings, enabled him to orbit around his subject, zooming in and out at will. This provided often humorous footage of the facial expressions that are a natural part of ones first experience with skydiving. After a freefall of approximately one minute, we waved goodbye to the videoflyer (we would meet up with him again on the ground) and opened a huge multi-colored parachute, gently floating under it back to the skydiving facilitys huge landing area. Once back on terra firma, our videoflyer would be there to greet us and conduct a short interview for the camera. The material made great viewing and a wonderful memento of a truly amazing experience. After our jumps, we spent an hour or so waiting for our DVDs to be edited, complete with special effects and a music track, and then we all crowded around the huge TV set in their lounge to watch the results and laugh at each others facial expressions. This was, without a doubt, the highlight of the entire cruise for me, and something I definitely plan to do again when I get back to Hawaii. In fact, many of the folks from the Amsterdams staff were already planning another excursion to Skydive Hawaii on the ships next call at that port, which would take place on the cruise after ours. I was only sorry that I wouldnt be with them on that return trip.
Kauai was a short port of call, and it was the only one where I did not have a formal excursion planned. I had originally made plans to take an aerobatics airplane ride with a former jump buddys nephew who runs such a service out there, but due to work constraints he had to cancel out on me at the last minute. This gentleman, Jim Reed, is also Kauais fire captain and due to my short time window, he had warned me that just such a thing could happen. So, instead of trying to run around and set something else up, I spent the few hours we had on this island with Kakalina and her husband, visiting Hilo Hatties & a place I had not had a chance to visit on any of my prior visits to Hawaii. Of course, I dropped too much money, but the day was well spent as I acquired several new Aloha shirts to add to my already growing collection. We also visited the Wal-Mart since we all needed things that we didnt want to pay top dollar for on the ship. Also, Wal-Mart had a McDonalds inside, and we were all suffering BigMac attacks after all that good food that was being shoved down our throats on the Amsterdam.
Maui was our last port of call in the Hawaiian islands, and this day was special for me. It was my 50th birthday and I wanted to spend it doing something fun, yet relaxing. I opted for the Wild Dolphin Snorkel excursion offered by the Pacific Whale Foundation. While the title of the tour sounds like you will be snorkeling with dolphins, that description is not entirely accurate. The snorkeling takes place in their general area of habitat, but not necessarily with the dolphins. Unfortunately, we actually saw very few dolphins on this excursion, but we did have several whale sightings, with one of them breaching not 40-feet from the boat! The experience was absolutely breathtaking as the beauty of these huge creatures is truly a sight to behold. The staff on the boat are all naturalists and they took great pleasure in educating us about the whales and how important it was for us to protect their environment. After the whale watch tour was over, we had an opportunity to spend an hour or so snorkeling and all equipment was provided for us by the staff of the boat. They also entered the water with us, helping us to spot green sea turtles and other sea life resident to the area. After our snorkeling, a barbecued lunch was served on the boat, complete with open bar. I made the mistake of mentioning to another passenger over lunch that it was my birthday. She must have told the Pacific Whale Foundation people, because before I knew it, the captain was making an announcement to that effect and everyone then sang Happy Birthday to me. An absolutely memorable touch to a perfect day. I cant imagine a better way to spend any birthday and this is certainly one I will never forget as long as I live. After we had docked back at the pier, most of us took a walk over to the Pacific Whale Foundations store, which was only about a block away. Everything they sell in the store goes to support their work and the various projects they run to protect the sea life in Hawaiis waters. Of course, most of us were all too willing to drop a few bucks in support of their efforts, and I picked up a beautiful tee-shirt with an embroidered logo of the Foundation on the breast pocket.
After our six days spent in the Hawaiian Islands, most of us were exhausted and were actually thrilled with the prospect of the five sea days looming ahead. We were originally only supposed to have two & with a stop at Christmas Island before heading to the South Pacific, but due to shifting sandbars we were informed at embarkation that Christmas Island had been cancelled. Apparently this happens quite often, so no one was overly surprised at the news. Since theres not much to do there anyway, it wasnt any great loss. After our five days at sea had passed, we arrived in Tahiti. Most people were chomping at the bit by this point to get the hell off the ship, but I for one was almost sorry to find myself once again on dry land. Days at sea are so peaceful, so relaxing. In some respects, I think I would actually enjoy taking a cruise one day that contained nothing but days at sea.
Our first port in the South Pacific was beautiful Raiatea. We could readily see when approaching this port that it was unlike any of the others we had thus far visited in the Hawaiian Island chain. This port was clearly not developed. They hadnt had much experience with the tourist trade. In fact, we later found out that they dont get too many cruise ships there, and thus when one did dock, it was a big event for the entire community. Stepping off the ship was like stepping into a different time. Dogs lazily sleeping in the sun, while their owners sold handmade wares under canopies shielding them from the worst of a blazing sun. The tour I took in this port was Raiatea: The Sacred Island. I figured this would give me a good overview of the islands religious underpinnings. Our primary destination was to the Marae Taputapuatea, which is the islands most famous landmark. But, to get there, we had to traverse miles of narrow roads, all bordering the Bay of Faaroa. Along the way, we saw all manner of tropical plants growing freely along the road, though we didnt get much chance to stop to admire it more closely. The ride would have been pleasant except for the fact that we were crammed into an open air bus, with hard wooden bench seats. The buses were actually the communities school buses, and since this was a Sunday they could be used for the purpose of this tour.
We rode to the Marae in a caravan, with three of these such buses. For the trip to the Marae, the regular tour guide couldnt make it, so she sent her young son to escort the group on our bus. The boy spoke very little English and thus could not answer questions very well nor provide much narrative as to what we were seeing. The bus was hot, crowded and very uncomfortable, and the murmurings heard repeatedly ran along the lines of I paid $79 for this?
Once at the Marae, though, things improved somewhat. Momma took over and gave us a very thorough tour of the site, along with explanations as to the customs and traditions surrounding the Marae. We were provided with bottled water and some sliced fruit at the Marae, and some of us couldnt help but remark that this was all we would be getting for $79 bucks? To make up for her young sons inexperience, momma accompanied our tour group on the journey back to the ship, and she freely shared information about her island, the Marae and the customs of her people. She also led us in some of the traditional songs and her presence clearly made the ride back far more pleasant than the one out. All in all, it was a good tour, though certainly not worth the price Holland America charged us for it. Back on the ship, we noticed quite a line at the Shore Excursions Desk & people complaining about the value they got for their money on this particular tour.
As we pulled out of our dock space at Raiatea that evening, we noticed that many of the townspeople had made the journey specifically to see us off on our travels. Cars and pick-up trucks were pulling into the dirt parking lot of the pier and entire families were coming to wave to us. It seemed almost as if our presence was the high point of their week, and parents wanted their children to see what a big cruise ship full of rich tourists looked like. Of all the islands we visited in the South Pacific, Raiatea will hold a special place (along with Moorea) as my favorite.
Our next stop was Bora Bora, and we had the pleasure of an overnight stay on this island, and with it the opportunity to do far more than just a one-day stop would allow. As I did in Oahu, I decided to set up an independent excursion on one day, and a more traditional Holland America tour on the second. Since I got certified for SCUBA the January prior to this, but had not yet made a dive with that new certification, I decided before leaving home to set up a day of diving. Based on recommendations on some SCUBA message boards, I contacted TopDive and explained my sorry state of experience to them. They assured me that they were used to inexperienced divers and could accommodate me, so I booked a two-tank dive with them. I was to meet them on the pier at 8:00 a.m., which was gonna be tight since we didnt anchor until 7:00, and tendering would take time. Since this was not a Holland America excursion, I would also not be guaranteed to be on one of the first tenders since HAL tours got priority. Thankfully, the shore excursion folks got me a priority tender ticket before the HAL tours had to leave, and John Challengers staff at the tender station made sure I was on the first tender off & one of only three people aboard! I was at the pier, introducing myself to the TopDive representative long before 8:00 a.m.
The TopDive people took me back to their dive shop where all the necessary paperwork was completed, and then it was directly onto their boat. Unlike many operators, TopDives boat was not packed with divers. There were only about six of us, plus the two divemasters. One divemaster took me and another relatively inexperienced diver, and the other took the four more experienced folks who would not require as much supervision. We dived two spots, each selected for the variety of sea life we could view there. As we explored the underwater terrain, we saw sea turtles and all manner of brightly colored fish. On our first dive, we were even greeted by an array of black-tipped sharks which made for some great photos. The coral formations at the second location were breathtaking, and I only wish I had a better camera than my puny underwater disposable. Under 65 feet of water you really do need a flash in order to get decent pictures.
I had such a great time on these two dives that I was almost tempted to cancel my Holland America tour for the next day, which was a shark and ray feeding excursion, and just do another dive with the TopDive People. Alas, though, my practical side won out. I had already paid for the HAL excursion, and it was too late to cancel it and still get my money back.
On day two, we boarded a motorized outrigger canoe to transfer across the lagoon to an expansive coral reef teeming with a wide variety of marine life. We actually snorkeled two separate locations. After snorkeling at the reef, we then got back on the boat and made the short trip to what they called a coral garden, where we got to snorkel amongst some of the most beautiful coral formations I had ever seen. The people running the excursion, Shark Boy, got into the water with us and attracted the reef sharks and stingrays with bait. Since we were in reasonably shallow water, the photos obtained even with a cheap underwater camera were stunning. Schools of brightly colored rainbow fish & yellows, oranges, black & swarmed around us & until you could barely see the humans for the fish. At the coral gardens we were told to be careful about stepping on the coral, as it was protected and any careless moves could jeopardize it. Luckily the water here was generally a bit deeper and thus there was no danger of a wayward foot trampling the delicate balance of the sea life in this area.
My only regret on this excursion was that I didnt buy an additional underwater camera. One was hardly enough for all these amazing photo opportunities.
Papeete was our next step, and this was probably my least favorite of the South Pacific islands. Basically, its a big city. Nothing more than you would find anywhere else in the world. By large bus we traversed the isthmus of Taravao, the strip of land that connects Tahiti Nui (big) with Tahiti Iti (small). We made a stop at the Arahoho Blowhole and got to spend some time there, watching the sea compress itself into an old lava tube that extended under the rocks across the street. We would then hear the roaring coming from under these rock formations, as the sea was forced back out into the sea in an exploding noisy spray. We also visited the Paul Gauguin Museum and got to spend some time there viewing exhibits about his life. We also had lunch at the Gauguin Restaurant before continuing on our tour of the natural treasures of this island. Finally, we made a stop at the Museum of Tahiti and her Islands, where we were treated to a guided tour of the many archeological finds, including the large pots and utensils the cannibals inhibiting the island once used. This museum forbade visitors from taking photos or video recordings of the exhibits inside, though there was an area outside set up with many noteworthy treasures, such as the early outrigger canoes used by the natives, and many of their artifacts, that visitors could photograph freely. There was also a wide variety of flowering plants and trees that always make for wonderful photographs.
Our final stop in the South Pacific was at Moorea, right across the bay from Papeete. On this island several of us Cruise Critics decided to take the Motu Beach Picnic and Ray Feeding excursion, and this proved to be a wise choice. A motu is basically a small island set off from the main one. It is underdeveloped; i.e., generally no electricity or water service, and it is a great place to spend a day imaging oneself marooned on a lush deserted island. We were ferried over to the motu by a group of motorized catamarans. Along the way, we were treated to songs by the crew, as we proceeded from Cooks Bay to Opunohu Bay, cruising along the colorful lagoons of water of the most amazing shades of blue and green imaginable. The crew told us about the history and the legends of their island and what life there was like. Once we arrived at the motu, we found a virtual island paradise, with ample trees provided natural shade. Dozens of tables and chairs provided ample seating for everyone. Trish (Kakalina) and her husband, Virgil, had gotten there before us and had already staked out a table for the four of us (JudyAl and myself). A barbecue was already in the making and the tasty aromas wafted throughout the atoll, making us hungry and impatient to partake. Since it would be awhile before the food was ready, though, most of us took to the water. Snorkeling gear was provided and exploring the reef was almost like a drift dive in SCUBA parlance. As you snorkel, you will drift in a certain direction. So, you just start out at the far end of the island, enter the water there, and then let the water take you back to the area where the tables and the food is located. As we snorkeled, we could see loads of stingrays as well as the most amazingly colored tropical fish. Again, I was only sorry that I was down to one disposable underwater camera. I could have easily used five. After snorkeling, we were treated to lunch consisting of delectable slices of fresh fruit, rice dishes, salads, barbecued sausage and fish. A cash bar was available and island jewelry at reasonable prices was available for purchase.
Roosters were running around freely, and a small group was singing and playing for our entertainment. The environment was so peaceful and the water so inviting that it was obvious no one wanted to leave. So the staff came around asking if anyone had another excursion on their schedule for that afternoon. The few who did were transported back to the ship, while the rest of us were told that we would get to spend an extra hour or so enjoying the motu. Most people immediately took off for another dip in the water, while others sat back to relax and enjoy all this island paradise had to offer. This motu experience was a great way to cap off our South Pacific experience. Most of us probably wished we could never leave.
After our visit on Moorea, we had two days at sea before arrived at Nuku Hiva. This island is basically an undeveloped retreat where there are really no formal activities to participate in. The Shore Excursions desk doesnt even run excursions in this port, and from what I understand, there are few people available there to give tours or take cruise ship passengers on excursions. A small vendors stand was set up at the tender port where people could buy wood carvings and other items, and a few people were on hand to give tours in their private vehicles. But, all in all, there wasnt much there, and most people were returning to the ship within an hour or so of tendering over. This was the one port where I did not get off the ship as I was not feeling too well this day. But that didnt stop me from sitting out on the back deck of the Lido, admiring the rugged mountain vistas presented by this slice of pacific paradise. Since this is the only island we visited that is not of volcanic origin, the mountains were full of lush vegetation and one could see where roads were carved into the sides to accommodate the limited vehicular traffic. Apparently, many people still used horses to traverse the island, and for this reason the roadways did not extend through all areas of it. The beach area was also not of the caliber we had become accustomed in our previous island travels, and folks said that it was mostly rocky, with little or none of the soft powdery sand we had enjoyed at our other island stops. Most people were back onboard before noontime and I couldnt understand why such a long stop was planned at a place with very little to see or do. Wouldnt it have made more sense to spend more time at Moorea or one of the other islands, and then have only a half-day stay at this one?
There were a lot of sorry-eyed passengers onboard the Amsterdam as we lifted anchor and sailed away from Nuku Hiva, for we knew now that our voyage was almost over. We had a mere six days at sea before we would be arriving back in San Diego, and disembarking this beautiful ship. Food:
Food is such a subjective item that I really even hate to write about it. I personally found all the food delicious. Whether I took a meal in the dining room or the Lido (I dont generally order room service), I always found something tasty to eat. The Pinnacle Grill & thats in a class by itself & and the folks at our dining table (JudyAl, myself, and Betsy (not a CC member) ate there four times. One of those times was as part of a special singles and solos dinner that the cruise directors staff arranged.
Service in the dining room was always excellent, and it didnt take my waiters very long to learn my preferences. A glass of iced tea was always waiting for me when I sat down, and there was always plenty of butter for the couple of slices of bread I always enjoyed having. They also quickly became accustomed to my ordering two desserts on those nights when there was something else on the menu (besides sorbet) that appealed to me. Unfortunately, I cant eat chocolate and therefore most of the dessert items were off-limits to me. But there were some nights where there was a non-chocolate item on the menu that appealed to me. But I still had to have my sorbet. Our waiter would just put a helping of sorbet on the same plate with my dessert of choice on those occasions.
The dining room staff put on several special events during the cruise. These were often just silly goings on, but they were truly fun. One evening, several of the head waiters and the maitre d set up a funny little event at the top of the staircase leading from the upper to the lower dining rooms. They put on a sound track of the Love Boat theme song and led all of us diners in a rousing sing along. It was great fun and most diners really got into it, including myself. Another night was the Master Chefs dinner, and we arrived in the dining room to be greeted with chefs hats at all of the place settings. Most passengers gladly donned the hats and wore them throughout dinner. Another event, of course, was the Parade of the Baked Alaska, which is always fun. King Neptune and his mermaids also paid us a visit at dinnertime on the day we crossed the equator, gladly offering to pose for pictures with diners. In addition, throughout the cruise, we received the dining room newsletter, which was replete with tales of the various goings on that made our evening mealtimes special.
Of course, not necessarily everyone was happy with the food. Some folks said it had slipped quite a bit. But the one fact about which no one at our table disagreed was the excellent service our two waiters provided all month long. If someone at the table wasnt happy with their dining selection on any given night, an offer was always made to bring them something else. Our waiters couldnt do enough to please. They were also flexible on certain nights when we dined at another table, or brought others to dine at ours & as we did for dessert on the night of my birthday. JudyAl had so thoughtfully arranged for a cake, and for several other CC folks (Kakalina and Bert & Tigger) to join our table for dessert. Our waiters organized a group to sing to me and a special (non-chocolate) cake was provided so that I too could partake.
We had a couple of deck barbecues during the cruise, but these were so packed with people and the serving lines moved so slow, that it was hardly worth the wait. I decided to pass. A barbecue, after all, is a barbecue. Nothing special. Nothing worth investing the better part of an hour to get through, especially when there are so many other good food choices to pick from.
Food in the Lido was available almost 24/7. I took breakfast there most everyday, though I rarely bothered with lunch. I like how the serving stations were laid out & separate areas for waffles, an omelet station, pastry and rolls section, etc. This way, you didnt have to wait in one long line if all you maybe wanted was some cold cereal. You just went over to that section of the serving line and picked it up. No waiting. I like that.
Every night they had a late night buffet with a different theme; Oriental, Italian, Mexican, etc. I cant much address those because I never attended these feasts since I would barely be done with dinner by 10:00. I couldnt imagine eating again at 11:30. The ice cream bar had liberal hours, and it was always nice to head up there in the afternoon for a dish of sherbet or a scoop in a sugar cone. Tea and coffee was always available, and just about every night I would stop up at the Lido for a cup of java and a cigarette before retiring to my cabin for the night.
And of course what would any Holland America cruise be without the traditional Dessert Extravaganza? We had ours on one of the nights heading back to San Diego toward the end of the cruise. Perhaps because this was such a long cruise, or maybe it was just because this was the Amsterdam & the Pacific flagship of the Holland America fleet & but for whatever reason it was, the chefs went all out for this one, including building a towering cake out of Styrofoam that was incredible. The chocolate and dessert items were set up on multiple tables, with a couple of the tables designated strictly for picture-taking during the early hours of the event. While I generally am unable to partake of this fantastic HAL tradition due to my food allergy to chocolate, I had a blast shooting off several rolls of film filled with the stunning creations of the Amsterdams master chefs.
No cruise is perfect, though this one came pretty close for me. However, there are a couple of minor nuisances that I feel compelled to mention.
First of all, why on earth did we have a second lifeboat drill mid-way through the cruise? Several folks who had been on other longer sailings said this was a first for them. The only explanation provided was that the First Officer had ordered it and apparently the second drill was a Coast Guard requirement. The folks who had been on longer cruises said this was bunk. While I personally didnt care one way or the other, the second drill caused all of the stores and the casinos to have to be closed down on a sea day, and also resulted in the cancellation of certain activities that people were looking forward to & such as afternoon trivia. A more honest explanation as to the reason for this drill would have smoothed some unnecessarily ruffled feathers.
Why doesnt the shore excursion desk have more information about the ports and what activities are available (outside of Holland America shore excursions)? The shore excursion staff seemed to be proactive in managing HALs shore excursion program. Someone generally went along on one of the shore excursions in each port to ensure a quality product was being offered. But when I asked for some information about Nuku Hiva, our last port of call, no one at the shore excursion desk seemed to have any information. Since Holland America was not offering any excursions in the port, I just wanted to know what there was available there to do. Surely there is something? The shore excursion girls just shrugged their heads in response to my question. I think a little bit of internet research, on their nickel, could have produced at least some general information about the stop. John Challenger had invited me to make a SCUBA dive there with a group he was organizing, so obviously that was one option. If John knew about the availability of a dive operator on the island, surely the shore excursion staff could have unearthed some options. I was only sorry I couldnt take John up on his offer, but I was having some problems at that point in the cruise with headaches and didnt want to take the chance of aggravated the situation.
I heard quite a lot of folks saying they would never do this itinerary again because of all the sea days. While the sea days were not a problem for me, I could readily see the validity of their complaints. They claimed that there was just not enough to keep them busy for such a length of time, and would have preferred an itinerary with more ports to explore. The only suggestion I can give to HAL to resolve this complaint would be to not only offer the Explorations Speakers Series on sea days, but also to offer various classes on itineraries with such large clusters of time at sea. For example, I would have liked to learn how to play bridge or this cruise, but after talking with the bridge instructor I was informed that it would be impossible to teach someone the game of bridge in a mere 30 days. The lectures he was doing were directed to people who already knew the game, and just were looking for ways to improve. Well, after having sailed this itinerary, I have to say I disagree with him. There is no reason some introductory classes couldnt have been provided on sea days to teach total novices the game. There were plenty of days at sea to accommodate this & four heading out to Hawaii, five more between Hawaii and the South Pacific, two between Moorea and Nuku Hiva, and finally a whopping six days between Nuku Hiva and arrival back in San Diego. Thats a total of a whopping 17 days at sea! Clearly more than enough to give someone at least a very good introduction to the game of bridge.
When people have so much time at sea, they often want to learn a new skill or explore a new area of interest. A series of classes could have been offered, even if some of them had a nominal fee associated, in areas such as computer software, photography workshops, and health related topics. HAL missed a great opportunity here that they should explore for future cruises.
Would I sail this itinerary again? You betcha. But, it wont be for quite a while as there are loads of other places I want to see first. But the South Pacific is a place I will return to someday for sure, and the Hawaiian Islands I will definitely return to again and again & probably next in a couple of years.
Was this cruise on the Amsterdam perfect? No. Is any cruise perfect? Sure there were little things that maybe didnt go right, or werent exactly to my liking. But the important thing was that when I had a problem, and politely brought it to the attention of the appropriate people, it was resolved. Thats all one can ask. In fact, my cabin steward put a flyer on my bed one night from the Hotel Manager. It basically asked is there anything that is not to your liking? If so, let us know now so that we can make it right. There was a card provided for the guest to indicate any problems and apparently the hotel manager would read those cards and take appropriate action.
I will say this, though, doing this itinerary taught me that there is a difference between a cruise and a voyage. A voyage is when the ship becomes your home away from home for an extended length of time. I love voyages and only wish I could take more of them. This trip almost makes me anxious to grow older and closer to retirement age so that I too can get used to the seafaring life. For I learned that on HAL, and most specifically on the Amsterdam, that life could be truly grand. Read Less