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Assigned to cabin 1029 on the Main Level of the Holland America Line (HAL) ms Zuiderdam, I had only a single flight of stairs from the boarding level (A) to climb. Picking the port side, I found myself walking past even-numbered rooms as I walked to the bow. A short young man popped out of an inside room to ask if I needed assistance, and I replied I was doing a tour, as I was on the wrong side. He asked my room number, and surprised me to address me by name: Joe would be one of the two staff assigned to keeping my room up. After dropping some of my stuff from my backpack (toiletries, change of clothes, electronics), I climbed the stairs to the Lido deck (9) to get lunch. Deciding that a salad might be a good way to start the trip, I queued up, only to have them completely run out of lettuce with the person in front of me. After waiting 15 minutes, it was announced that the lettuce was then being brought on board, and would be unloaded during the afternoon. So I had a lettuce-free salad, taking my bowl out on the deck with a glass of water. Well, it was the wrong side, as the aft deck port side was the sole smoking area for the ship. I headed back inside and found a free seat, and had my salad. Skipping dessert, I walked to the bow and up to the observation deck (10) and made an inquiry regarding the specifics of the Panama City tour, and whether I might be able to skip lunch to spend more time at the cathedral. Then, since I’d purchased dinner upgrades, I took my reservations to the Pinnacle Dining Room (2) to book late meals for 5 of my 10 evenings. While I’d only bought 4, apparently getting the 6-bottle wine bundle earned me another. Then it was time to muster to the emergency stations (3). Unlike RCCL, HAL has you out on deck under the lifeboats. We were instructed to queue up rather than be in random groups, and then told to remain silent. The very short Pilipino responsible for our station was very strict and humorless, but I’d rather that we all did what was necessary should conditions require it. Once dismissed, I returned to my cabin to find my suitcase still hadn’t arrived. No cork puller in the room, although a HAL bottle of wine sat alongside the wine card. Another climb to the shops level (3) and I met the Catholic priest, Fr. Desmond, who would be saying Mass daily; I agreed to meet him at 5 that evening. Up to the spa (9) to see what was offered, and then a trip to check out the gym, on the same level. Time for Mass, so back to 3 and a full room. Fr. Desmond, of Metuchen, gave a short sermon, seemed to get a little lost during the order of prayer; the ship’s staff attending him provided him with a white chasuble, which I questioned. Meanwhile, the ship left port. Returning to my room, the suitcase had arrived. After unpacking into the shelves (ships don’t seem to have drawers, although I later found two drawers under the beds, filled with ship’s stuff I didn’t need.) I headed to the Gallery Bar (3) for a pre-diner beer and bought tickets for the two wine tastings I didn’t already have. At 7:45pm I headed to the main dining room for dinner. Assigned to table 234, there were 4 couples and me. A starter of spicy bean soup, scallops and a green salad, we seemed to be doing well. Mahi mahi for my main, however, lacked an umphf, needing more grill spices, as well as not being particularly tender. I opted for the cheese plate for dessert – four cheeses all too cold, and the bread had been removed. I got the first of my six bottles of wine, which we all had about 2/3rds of, with the remained left for the following evening. I headed back to the Gallery Bar for a cognac night cap. The lead bartender there is a Pilipina, a mother of a 4-month old whose husband became my favorite mixologist later in the trip at the Billboard Bar. Initially, as we got underway, my stomach felt a little queasy, so I put the elastic bands on my wrists to deter motion sickness. A bit of chocolate seemed to help, and I did find the that ship was pretty steady. I slept with the bands. I also had to get Joe to help with getting my room a bit warmer – it felt like an ice box with the low air conditioning setting. 26 November: Cruise Day 2 – Half Moon Cay, Bahamas Due to arrive at 8am, I looked out my window to see us approaching Half Moon Cay at 7:30. After cleaning up, I headed to sit-down breakfast, and was seated with a Dutch couple and 3 single women. Over steel-cut oatmeal and decaf coffee, we discussed plans and options for the day before heading to the tender for a ride to shore. With no plans, I began to stroll, walking as far as the stables on a road, and then walking along the beach until a sign prohibited further progress. Returning, I turned off the beach at the horse path “up the mountain”, looking for the purported ruins. There’s a picture of a stone which might have been used as a mortar. Back to the more populous area, I found the Lobster Shack and got my lobster roll and conch chowder which I’d ordered at dinner the night before. A couple sitting next to me turned out to be from Ft. Lauderdale, and were planning a cruise including Havana. I related my experiences and put them on to ViaHero for personalized concierge service. With little else to do on the island, I caught the launch back and took a nap. I’d removed my seasickness bands before my shower, and didn’t put them back on for the duration of the trip. While I still felt the rolling motion, I was stable enough with the occasional bite of chocolate. After my nap, I climbed to the foredeck (10), an enclosed space with a coffee bar, and found a seat to read until we got underway, taking a break to listen to the EXC guide give a talk on sea life. I continued to meet and talk with folks from all over. At dinner we had our first fallout – Stewart and Nora had rescheduled their dining to the early seating, as they found they couldn’t wait until nearly 8. My main was osso buco, which was fabulous. After dinner, back to the bar for a Napoleon cognac. (There is a promotion at the bar from 9:30 to 10:30, where your second round is $2. I just got doubles.) Photo link: Half Moon Cay 27 November: Cruise Day 3 – At Sea While underway, there was a time change, with clocks being set forward to accommodate eastern Caribbean time. Rousing a bit earlier, I made it to sit-down breakfast of corn beef hash and eggs. Interesting, they topped the hash patty with salsa. Next on my calendar was a meet-up with the CruiseCritic.com members. SueAnn had alerted me to this website, telling me that it was a great resource for anyone who might cruise. I signed up, found my particular cruise, and was helped by others who answered my newbie questions. A “meet and greet” was scheduled in the Billboard Lounge (3), near where evenings two young men entertained playing dual and dueling pianos. I shared one of my Shutterfly books because I’d raised a question regarding the cathedrals we’d see. From the meeting forward, I was known to about half the ship as “Cathedral Ken”. Having pre-purchased a “bottles of wine” plan, I was invited to a wine tasting in the afternoon. Figuring that I might not get enough dense food to eat sitting down, I climbed up to the Lido deck and stood in line for the pasta toss. Three young men worked skillets while singing just about everything – at least the choruses to pop songs. I got sun dried tomatoes, chicken, turkey, broccoli, zucchini, onion and garlic, with the meat sauce and some extra marinara on my pasta. That did the trick preparing for the wine tasting; I was full. Four wines: Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, Simi Chardonnay, R. Mondavi Pinot Noir and Boom Boom Shiraz. Jude, the head wine steward, walked the novice group through the tasting over about 30 minutes, doing a decent job. I did note that he does not have syrah in his vocabulary – all variations are the Australian version. A discovery I’d made the night before drew me back to Lincoln Center Onstage. Five young classical musicians were giving 3 performances daily, with the earliest repeated again in the later evening. That afternoon was a program of dance music, which this piano with string quartet played arrangements from the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake as well as Saint-Saëns’ Dying Swan. Attendance whenever I was on board became a regular item for me. Jude had invited the wine tasters to his 5pm wine pairing. Set on the Main level outside Guest Services, we bellied up to a bar or sat at small tables along the wall to enjoy an amuse bouche with one of two wines he had selected. The pumpkin crème with cilantro and sprouts was paired with a Beaujolais Village. With nearly 2 hours before my first upgraded dinner at Pinnacle, I walked down the hall to the cabin and had a half hour snooze. Freshening up, I grabbed a sports jacket and long pants before heading to the promenade deck to walk three laps (a mile) after I climbed to 10 and back. The members of quintet were playing again, this time music written by women, which included the expected Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann and Amy Beach, as well as Alicia Keys. Pinnacle does not seat to fill up a table – so I was seated by myself. After ordering my meal and wine, I slipped downstairs to get my ereader so that I would have something to slow down my dining. I started with Steak Tartare, followed by the rack of lamb with Brussel sprouts and grilled asparagus. I also asked for a small side of the pumpkin risotto, as I was curious as to how it tasted. (Bland.) The cheese plate was the same as in the main dining room. My wine was a nice cabernet sauvignon/sangiovese blend, served in a Riedel glass. After dinner I headed to the main stage for the singer/dancer presentation. A forty-minute show, there were 3 singers (soprano, tenor, baritone), 3 male dancers and 5 female dancers. I found the lighting effects pretty good, but I didn’t recognize about half the songs. Typical of US audiences, they were talkative throughout the entire show. 28 November: Day 4 – Oranjestad, Aruba The Zuiderdam was due in Aruba after lunch. I was up and presentable for sit-down breakfast and had regular oatmeal (still not hot enough) and a banana while dining with 5 others, including a couple from England. A mile walk around the promenade deck and then up to 10 to speak with Joann, the future cruise specialist. The prior evening a flyer with some of the more exotic longer cruises was left on the bed. I was intrigued enough to see what the single supplement rate was: 50, 80 or 100%, depending on cruise and cabin. For the trip I’d been curious about, a 77-day voyage around South America in a cabin similar to the one I was in would run about $25K! As I hadn’t signed up for the Internet package, I wasn’t able to look at the itinerary in detail vis a vis ports-of—call and cathedral locations. Besides, I really don’t think I could take two and a half months in a small room, and I really don’t feel any need to visit Antarctica. Sit-down lunch was limited to fish and chips and shortened hours. Joining me as we exited from the ship were a couple Olga and Fernando, who became fast friends and joined our dinner table as more attrition occurred. We split at the pier, and I used Google Maps to guide me to the cathedral. From the outside, the taupe with teal and coral highlights on the single tower church were appealing. I feared that the school bus out front might make my picture taking difficult, but it was soon away. The interior was having work done – air conditioning was being added under the balconies. Simple, there is no bishop’s throne as this is a pro-cathedral (the diocese is ruled from Willemstad in Curaçao.) After being inside, I was able to speak with a couple of teachers at the church school, both non-native. Leaving the church, I did a bit of a wander, as it felt very safe in town. I didn’t book a tour, as most seemed to be related to visiting beaches or circumnavigating the small island. I saw some interesting black&white graffiti on a building with a parking lot. I’d heard at a talk that much of the building construction was natural rock, covered with stucco. Down near the port was the larger Dutch Protestant church with a very tall tower. Along many of the walkways were the blue fiberglass horses, a symbol for Aruba. I wandered the market, and wound up picking up a diamond stud – a bit bigger than the canary I’d collected in 1995 in Antwerp. After boarding the ship, I went to the Ocean Bar and ran into a woman passenger named Mary. She is 82, and doing this trip three times back-to-back. My second glass of wine (the $2 one) she had before she headed up to dinner. After her departure, I caught a brief nap while I tried to get my phone to Bluetooth to my tablet. (No go.) Cell coverage wasn’t terrific in the room, as I faced away from the port. At dinner, Karen and Howard suggest I join them for the next days’ martini tasting once we returned to the ship in Curaçao. We also went to the B.B. King All Stars show and stayed for two sets. Great music! Photo link: Aruba 29 November: Day 5 – Willemstad, Curaçao We would have a short stay in Curaçao: arriving at 8am and leaving at 4pm. Getting a cheese omelet at buffet dining on the Lido deck, I was out on the pier awaiting my EXC tour promptly. We boarded a bus and after passing a cemetery, headed to the Museum of Curaçao, a nice classic old building with examples of Colónial furniture and a polka dot kitchen (to confuse the flies.) I found the carillon of interest, and strolled the yard. Next off to the salt flats where we saw a good number of flamingos, having passed the up-thrust lime cliffs. After passing the Hato airfield, we arrived at Kuebe di Hato, a cave complex which we had to climb up to enter. Photography is restricted to specific chambers to avoid startling the bats. We returned to town, passing the oil refineries to stop at the “Genuine Curaçao Distillery”, where we were able to try the local version of triple sec. This orange-flavored liqueur comes in clear and 4 colors (red, blue, green, yellow) and there are chocolate and coffee flavored versions as well. These latter make a great Mudslide. Returning to the port, I got a few shots of the high bridge before walking the pontoon bridge to the taxi stand. Highway robbery is the way there, as I had to pay $50 for a 45-minute trip to the Landhuis Bloemhof gallery. An illuminated labyrinth with walls made from the local thorn plant, the Cathedral of Thorns, sits on a concrete base. I met Herman Van Bergen, who conceived of the structure, using the native thorns which grew after the mahogany had been harvested. The artist is including religious and cultural images in the thorn panels as he strives towards completion next year. My Jamaican woman taxi driver returned me to the taxi stand, instead of the cathedral as I’d requested, so I used Google Maps again to guide me along the water to the cathedral. Feeling doomed, a pink trolley car was parked out front, but that turned out to be a blessing. The tour guide had a key to the front doors, so I was able to enter and get my inside photos, and then outside photos after they left. Next on my agenda was the synagogue. Mikve Israel-Emanuel is the oldest Jewish temple in the western hemisphere. The floor is sand (to remind one of the 40-years in the Sinai desert), and there is an organ in the “loft”, indicating a reformed congregation (and reminding me of the synagogue I visited in Budapest last year.) There is a lovely two-floor museum (no photography) and some tombstones in the foyer. Returning to the pontoon bridge, I crossed and headed to the St. Ann’s Basilica, a co-cathedral. Per the web, this is one of the world’s smallest basilicas. The street gates at both sides were closed and locked, so I was unable to enter. My walk took me deeper into the non-tourist part of Willemstad, as far as the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Still, the houses were painted in brilliant colors. On board with enough time, I freshened up after turning over my boxes of Curaçao liqueur samplers to security and headed to the wine pairing, where shrimp with corn flake coating was featured. Off to the Billboard bar for martini tasting – lemon drop, guava and blue Curaçao flavorings. My dinner was again at Pinnacles, where I started with a mushroom amuse bouche that was superb. Deciding to stick to fish, the crab cake appetizers were fair, but the cioppino was wonderful. I had a vanilla souffle to wrap up the meal. My wine was a white blend from Franciscan. My nightcap was Drambuie on the rocks. Photo link: Curaçao 30 November: Day 6 – At Sea Overnight we recovered the hour as we moved back to Eastern Standard Time. Trying something different for sit-down breakfast, I asked for the banana bread French toast. No great flavors, but very filling. After a climb to 10, I returned to the main stage for an EXC talk on the Panama Canal in preparation for the next day. Climbing again to 10, I shared the Cathedral of Thorns information with the EXC guides, as they had not heard of it, and it would give them something to share for someone who was returning to Curaçao. The ship invited the frequent cruisers to an early lunch in the main dining room, so my dates with Mary and her friend Janice were squashed. While I tried to find them at our rendezvous, I was left alone, so I climbed again to the Lido to get the pasta toss, as there would be a 10-wine tasting walkaround at the Billboard Lounge at 2. At lunch I spoke with Olga and Fernando and we set up a date to meet after our respective tours in Panama to cab to the cathedral in Colón. The hour-long wine tasting showcased a red and a white from the countries of France, Spain, Australia, Canada and Italy. The French white (George Dubouf Macon Village) was my favorite of the bunch, with the blush from Canada being my dog. There were probably about 40 participants. I headed to the cabin for a nap, and then joined the wine pairing, which featured a salmon tartare. While there I met a landscaper from Maine who labored under the misinformation that one needed to be age 55 to buy a home in my hometown of Venice! Couldn’t convince him anyhow. Then off to the martini bar where I met up with Howard and Karen for a ginger lemon drop, followed by two more froufrou samplings. Dining in the main dining room required men to wear long pants, so I went and changed, and grabbed the Powell Hill Pinot Noir, the bottle of wine which I had brought on board to share at dinner. 1 December: Day 7 – Panama, Panama City and Colón Because we would be approaching the breakwater before the entry into the Panama Canal at 6:30am, I was up at 6 and on Deck 4 shortly thereafter. Fortunately, we’d gained an hour overnight as we sailed into Central Standard Time. Coffee and rolls were served under a tent, and all the chairs had been snagged much earlier. Slowly the ship approached the almost completed twin-tower suspension bridge. Off the port side was Colón, with the cathedral barely visible in the haze. Gradually we cruised between the bridge supports while easily passing underneath. As we approached the first of the Gatun locks, we watched the Turandot, a container ship, maneuver into the lock alongside. A large cruise ship was ahead of her in the third lock. As the gates to our lock opened, a frenzied crowd angled for shots with their cameras. Alongside the “mules”, small trains, came to guide the Zuiderdam on its passage. Once the Panamanian pilot began to position us in the lock, I descended to the promenade deck to get a better shot of our close fit and the mules. Down into my cabin, I took a shot out the window of the lock walls. Once forward motion was halted, the ship slowly began rising in the lock. This was repeated twice more, and I scrambled up to the Lido deck for a shot back to the Caribbean, and then to the Observation deck for a view into Gatun Lake. The dam which formed the lake was off to starboard. Once we were in the lake, the tenders were launched and tour groups were called to offboard. Once at the pier, we were loaded into a bus and then we took off for the “new” locks – considerably longer and wider, with baffles that allow them to recycle 70% of the water. After a rest stop, we crossed the continental divide and began a descent towards the Pacific Ocean. High rise towers came into sight, even as we approached the ruins of Vieja Panamá. Our guide seemed to find it important to point out every occurrence of an American multinational, repeatedly calling every McDonalds the US Embassy. A break for a buffet lunch with chicken stew, rice, salad and a plantain, we soon continued to the historic center city. Here we got out and began our 2-hour stroll of that part of this huge city. Of particular interest to me was the Metropolitan Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop Primate for Panama. The cathedral was closed. It had been open for one day the week earlier after an extensive cleanup and restoration had been completed. Now the rest of us will have to wait until February to enter, once Pope Francis visits in January. Our walk took us by both well kept and rundown building facades, shops, plazas and a waterfront promenade. Off across a coral flat were high rise towers, and opposite in the haze was the TransAmerican Highway bridge. A monument to the French, the initial builders of the canal is topped with a cock. After some shopping and personal exploring, we returned to our bus and began the 90-kilometer trip to the port in Colón. As we arrived at 6pm, the ship was just tying up, having been held up exiting from the canal. So with about 8 tour buses full of guests wanting to get back on the ship, and another 200 who had stayed on the ship wanting to explore a port, there was a bitt of confusion and rather long lines. I was looking for Olga and Fernando so we could cab to the cathedral. After about an hour, I opted to go myself, arriving after dark. Mass was underway, so I limited my picture taking to outside and that one telephoto shot of the celebrant and altar boy with the cathedra behind. When I returned to the ship, the lines were gone and I was quickly back on board. My impression of Colón was very unfavorable – most of what I saw was warehouse and industrial space, with roads in a very poor state and filthy. Having seen it, I understood why the guides I’d corresponded with advised against walking to the cathedral or even leaving the immediate port area. After cleaning up, I headed to the Ocean Bar outside the dining room for a glass of wine. Bringing the fourth of my Shutterfly books to share with my tablemates, I looked forward to my last night in the dining room. I had upgrade dinners planned for my last 3 nights. While seated at the bar, several of the older women I had assisted while touring Panama came up and thanked me for my help – made me feel great. Dinner started with just Karen, Howard and me. I went to see if Olga and Fernando had sat at their regular table, but it was empty. A full table near us, on inquiring what I was looking for, suggested I ask another couple sitting alone a big table to join us, so I did. They were Ken and Barbara. Shortly thereafter, Olga and Fernando joined us, so we were 7. They had been held up by their tour, as they “lost” a guest. It turned out the guest had returned on a different bus, and the ship didn’t know until the 90-minute return had dropped him off. They arrived about the time the ship was to leave! Onion soup to start, since almost everyone had tried it and approved of it. I found it needing seasoning. Beef for my main, but an order of the squab for the table, which was dry and tough. Best part of the chocolate mousse was the dark chocolate shell it was served in, but the rhubarb tart was yummy. To finish, a Rusty Nail to enjoy with the show in the Billiards Lounge. Photo link: Panama and Colón 2 December: Day 8 – Puerto Limón, Costa Rica For some strange reason, I not only didn’t journal about this Sunday, but I didn’t even make some notes on the following day. It was a short distance from Colón to Limón, so we were in port by 8am. I had booked a tour of the Tortuguero Canals, so I go off the ship and went to the gathering location. Once again, the Dutch were fairly strict about single-person lines, but we were soon on a bus. I had boarded with the initial group, and found a clean window to sit at; when a late arriving couple joined us as we were ready to leave, I was asked to move to an inside seat and said no. The guide chose to yield his seat in front. [Why a couple needs to be constantly joined at the hip still amazes me!] In any case, we got to the open air boats and took seats. The guide and navigator spotted various wildlife as we cruised north towards Guatemala, and we all scrambled to get a picture. While I can’t remember the names of all that I’ve included in the pictures, the first hairy animal in the tree is a three-toed female sloth, which is followed by a picture of howler monkeys and then another 3-toed sloth. The green lizard is a “Jesus Christ” lizard, as it cups air in its hands which allows it to run across the surface of the water. That’s a two-toed sloth in the picture before the railroad bridge. Photo link: Tortuguero Canals On our way back we paused at the entry to a banana plantation. Our guide explained how cultivation has changed, and that bananas are now fertilized by man and manipulated to yield bigger harvests. Once fertilized and trimmed, the fruit grows in the blue plastic bags. As we approached the port, I spotted the dome and tower of the cathedral in the city. Once we left the bus, I crossed through the large air-conditioned (tourist) selling area and headed outside. Despite warnings that I’d need a guide (from the group of guides standing idly by), Google Maps was right on getting through the rectilinear street layout to the church about 8 blocks away. Open air and somewhat dark inside, the nave is breezy and the high ceilings slope to focus the attention to the altar. When I got back to the ship and stood on the Lido deck at the stern, I was able to get an aerial shot of the tower. As we left the harbor, out to sea was the island Columbus had anchored at on his fourth trip, as he never quite made it to land although his crew did. Being both Sunday and the anniversary of my mother’s birth, I again attended Mass on board. Father Desmond wore green (which would have been appropriate the week before) and not purple for the first Sunday of Advent. I had changed to a purple polo, so gave him a bit of razing. He said, “God is colorblind!” Then on to the Martini tasting, and following that to Lincoln Center Stage for music “From Piaf to Peanuts.” My dining arrangements took me to the Pinnacle, but for an even more upgraded experience at Rudi’s, a seafood grill. Again, they seated me by myself, so my ereader provided companionship. Wine steward Jude came and heard what I would order, and headed off to find me an appropriate wine. Two appetizers, foie gras and bouillabaisse were both wonderful, and went nicely with the Austrian Gruner Vertliner. I had thought to have two mains, but the duck cassoulet was enormous and so filling I cancelled the red snapper. Dessert of profiteroles was overkill – five puff pastry and a boule of vanilla ice cream, doused with dark melted chocolate. Sated, I waddled down to the main stage to watch the illusionist entertain. Photo link: Limón 3 December: Day 9 – At Sea Overnight we again gave back the extra hour as we moved clocks to match the time in Florida. Breakfast was with three women from the Northwest – one a Canadienne from Vancouver. I’d talked with them all prior to breakfast, but still we had a lot to discuss, particularly Panama and Limón. I had come into the dining room in slip-ons, so I returned to get closed shoes as I wanted to join the kitchen tour. While we were shepherded past various cooking and prep stations, we heard about how they prepare meals for up to 2000 people. At the end we were offered a small vegetarian appetizer. Only a few steps away was the America’s Test Kitchen space (shared with B.B. King’s All Stars in the dark hours) where we learned about making gnocchi and then creamy polenta. No samples here, as it wasn’t a certified kitchen! No notes about lunch, but I had another wine tasting after that – this time the premium tasting. Sit down, with Riedel glasses and appropriate foods, we started with a sparkling wine (Valmar) to clear the palate. This was followed with Veuve Clicquot champagne (Brut) and a Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay (’16 RRV.) The chardonnay was initially poured into a standard dining wine glass, and then we transferred it to the appropriate Riedel glass. All appreciated the improved taste in the Riedel glass. Similarly, the Labouro-Roi Pommard and the David Lake Doyenne 2013 Aix red blend went through tasting in different glasses. Because we were close by, I caught the end of the Lincoln Center Stage recital, a program I’d heard earlier on the cruise which ended with the finale to Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. Off to the cabin for a nap until the wine pairing, followed by the martini mixology fun. Brahms was to be featured at the recital before I went to Pinnacle, so I was I a truly mellow mindset when I joined Karen and Howard. The shrimp cocktail was standard, but the 10-ounce filet mignon was perfection. We shared my last bottle from my package, leaving some for my last dinner. We strolled down to mainstage, but I only stayed a short while before retiring to my cabin to read. 4 December: Day 10 – At Sea The American breakfast started my day. Then I climbed the stairs to the Observation deck to share the Iberian trip Shutterfly book with the guides. After checking the lunch menu at the dining room, I decided I’d rather replay the pasta toss for lunch. Another nap until an encore presentation by the Island Magic Steel Band on the main stage. Brilliant musicians, their last numbers were Amazing Grace bleeding into The Saints Go Marching In, and closed with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Not a dry eye in the house. Needing to check attire requirements at Canaletto’s’, I climbed t the Lido deck and was advised that long pants are required. Back down to the Promenade deck for a pair of laps, spotting flying fish off the starboard bow. Then to Lincoln Center Stage, at which point I stopped journaling. Since I had a pattern, I know that after the concert I’d head to the wine pairing, then to martini time. Dinner Italian style involved veal and sage polpettine (meatballs), ravioli al gamberi (garlic shrimp ravioli, shellfish brandy cream sauce), beef short ribs brasato barolo and a delicious torte caprese al limone. I grabbed my dessert and brought it down to the dining room so I could say goodbye to my table mates. Ken and Bonnie had returned (original tablemates, they’d disappeared Day 3 or 4), Ken and Barbara were back, as were Olga and Fernando to join with the anchor couple, Karen and Howard. Photo link: Cruise Food 5 December: Debarking and return home As I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be early, I chose a late departure, which gave me a chance to have one last breakfast onboard. Since I’d enjoyed the oatmeal, albeit cooler than I’d like, I opted for it once again. I’d packed my bag and put it outside the room the night before, so all I needed to do was gather up the incidentals into my backpack. I knew that I probably shouldn’t do too much screen time as I needed to drive once I recovered my car, so I just relaxed until it was time to go to the lounge to wait to be called. Probably 10 minutes later, I was heading down a gangplank, waving my passport at Immigration and finding my big blue roller.

My trip report to my armchair travelling friends

Zuiderdam Cruise Review by casaoro

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Trip Details
Assigned to cabin 1029 on the Main Level of the Holland America Line (HAL) ms Zuiderdam, I had only a single flight of stairs from the boarding level (A) to climb. Picking the port side, I found myself walking past even-numbered rooms as I walked to the bow. A short young man popped out of an inside room to ask if I needed assistance, and I replied I was doing a tour, as I was on the wrong side. He asked my room number, and surprised me to address me by name: Joe would be one of the two staff assigned to keeping my room up. After dropping some of my stuff from my backpack (toiletries, change of clothes, electronics), I climbed the stairs to the Lido deck (9) to get lunch. Deciding that a salad might be a good way to start the trip, I queued up, only to have them completely run out of lettuce with the person in front of me. After waiting 15 minutes, it was announced that the lettuce was then being brought on board, and would be unloaded during the afternoon. So I had a lettuce-free salad, taking my bowl out on the deck with a glass of water.

Well, it was the wrong side, as the aft deck port side was the sole smoking area for the ship. I headed back inside and found a free seat, and had my salad. Skipping dessert, I walked to the bow and up to the observation deck (10) and made an inquiry regarding the specifics of the Panama City tour, and whether I might be able to skip lunch to spend more time at the cathedral. Then, since I’d purchased dinner upgrades, I took my reservations to the Pinnacle Dining Room (2) to book late meals for 5 of my 10 evenings. While I’d only bought 4, apparently getting the 6-bottle wine bundle earned me another.

Then it was time to muster to the emergency stations (3). Unlike RCCL, HAL has you out on deck under the lifeboats. We were instructed to queue up rather than be in random groups, and then told to remain silent. The very short Pilipino responsible for our station was very strict and humorless, but I’d rather that we all did what was necessary should conditions require it. Once dismissed, I returned to my cabin to find my suitcase still hadn’t arrived. No cork puller in the room, although a HAL bottle of wine sat alongside the wine card. Another climb to the shops level (3) and I met the Catholic priest, Fr. Desmond, who would be saying Mass daily; I agreed to meet him at 5 that evening. Up to the spa (9) to see what was offered, and then a trip to check out the gym, on the same level. Time for Mass, so back to 3 and a full room. Fr. Desmond, of Metuchen, gave a short sermon, seemed to get a little lost during the order of prayer; the ship’s staff attending him provided him with a white chasuble, which I questioned. Meanwhile, the ship left port.

Returning to my room, the suitcase had arrived. After unpacking into the shelves (ships don’t seem to have drawers, although I later found two drawers under the beds, filled with ship’s stuff I didn’t need.) I headed to the Gallery Bar (3) for a pre-diner beer and bought tickets for the two wine tastings I didn’t already have. At 7:45pm I headed to the main dining room for dinner. Assigned to table 234, there were 4 couples and me. A starter of spicy bean soup, scallops and a green salad, we seemed to be doing well. Mahi mahi for my main, however, lacked an umphf, needing more grill spices, as well as not being particularly tender. I opted for the cheese plate for dessert – four cheeses all too cold, and the bread had been removed. I got the first of my six bottles of wine, which we all had about 2/3rds of, with the remained left for the following evening. I headed back to the Gallery Bar for a cognac night cap. The lead bartender there is a Pilipina, a mother of a 4-month old whose husband became my favorite mixologist later in the trip at the Billboard Bar.

Initially, as we got underway, my stomach felt a little queasy, so I put the elastic bands on my wrists to deter motion sickness. A bit of chocolate seemed to help, and I did find the that ship was pretty steady. I slept with the bands. I also had to get Joe to help with getting my room a bit warmer – it felt like an ice box with the low air conditioning setting.

26 November: Cruise Day 2 – Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Due to arrive at 8am, I looked out my window to see us approaching Half Moon Cay at 7:30. After cleaning up, I headed to sit-down breakfast, and was seated with a Dutch couple and 3 single women. Over steel-cut oatmeal and decaf coffee, we discussed plans and options for the day before heading to the tender for a ride to shore. With no plans, I began to stroll, walking as far as the stables on a road, and then walking along the beach until a sign prohibited further progress. Returning, I turned off the beach at the horse path “up the mountain”, looking for the purported ruins. There’s a picture of a stone which might have been used as a mortar. Back to the more populous area, I found the Lobster Shack and got my lobster roll and conch chowder which I’d ordered at dinner the night before. A couple sitting next to me turned out to be from Ft. Lauderdale, and were planning a cruise including Havana. I related my experiences and put them on to ViaHero for personalized concierge service.

With little else to do on the island, I caught the launch back and took a nap. I’d removed my seasickness bands before my shower, and didn’t put them back on for the duration of the trip. While I still felt the rolling motion, I was stable enough with the occasional bite of chocolate. After my nap, I climbed to the foredeck (10), an enclosed space with a coffee bar, and found a seat to read until we got underway, taking a break to listen to the EXC guide give a talk on sea life. I continued to meet and talk with folks from all over.

At dinner we had our first fallout – Stewart and Nora had rescheduled their dining to the early seating, as they found they couldn’t wait until nearly 8. My main was osso buco, which was fabulous. After dinner, back to the bar for a Napoleon cognac. (There is a promotion at the bar from 9:30 to 10:30, where your second round is $2. I just got doubles.)

Photo link: Half Moon Cay

27 November: Cruise Day 3 – At Sea

While underway, there was a time change, with clocks being set forward to accommodate eastern Caribbean time. Rousing a bit earlier, I made it to sit-down breakfast of corn beef hash and eggs. Interesting, they topped the hash patty with salsa. Next on my calendar was a meet-up with the CruiseCritic.com members. SueAnn had alerted me to this website, telling me that it was a great resource for anyone who might cruise. I signed up, found my particular cruise, and was helped by others who answered my newbie questions. A “meet and greet” was scheduled in the Billboard Lounge (3), near where evenings two young men entertained playing dual and dueling pianos. I shared one of my Shutterfly books because I’d raised a question regarding the cathedrals we’d see. From the meeting forward, I was known to about half the ship as “Cathedral Ken”.

Having pre-purchased a “bottles of wine” plan, I was invited to a wine tasting in the afternoon. Figuring that I might not get enough dense food to eat sitting down, I climbed up to the Lido deck and stood in line for the pasta toss. Three young men worked skillets while singing just about everything – at least the choruses to pop songs. I got sun dried tomatoes, chicken, turkey, broccoli, zucchini, onion and garlic, with the meat sauce and some extra marinara on my pasta. That did the trick preparing for the wine tasting; I was full.

Four wines: Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, Simi Chardonnay, R. Mondavi Pinot Noir and Boom Boom Shiraz. Jude, the head wine steward, walked the novice group through the tasting over about 30 minutes, doing a decent job. I did note that he does not have syrah in his vocabulary – all variations are the Australian version.

A discovery I’d made the night before drew me back to Lincoln Center Onstage. Five young classical musicians were giving 3 performances daily, with the earliest repeated again in the later evening. That afternoon was a program of dance music, which this piano with string quartet played arrangements from the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake as well as Saint-Saëns’ Dying Swan. Attendance whenever I was on board became a regular item for me.

Jude had invited the wine tasters to his 5pm wine pairing. Set on the Main level outside Guest Services, we bellied up to a bar or sat at small tables along the wall to enjoy an amuse bouche with one of two wines he had selected. The pumpkin crème with cilantro and sprouts was paired with a Beaujolais Village.

With nearly 2 hours before my first upgraded dinner at Pinnacle, I walked down the hall to the cabin and had a half hour snooze. Freshening up, I grabbed a sports jacket and long pants before heading to the promenade deck to walk three laps (a mile) after I climbed to 10 and back. The members of quintet were playing again, this time music written by women, which included the expected Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann and Amy Beach, as well as Alicia Keys. Pinnacle does not seat to fill up a table – so I was seated by myself. After ordering my meal and wine, I slipped downstairs to get my ereader so that I would have something to slow down my dining. I started with Steak Tartare, followed by the rack of lamb with Brussel sprouts and grilled asparagus. I also asked for a small side of the pumpkin risotto, as I was curious as to how it tasted. (Bland.) The cheese plate was the same as in the main dining room. My wine was a nice cabernet sauvignon/sangiovese blend, served in a Riedel glass.

After dinner I headed to the main stage for the singer/dancer presentation. A forty-minute show, there were 3 singers (soprano, tenor, baritone), 3 male dancers and 5 female dancers. I found the lighting effects pretty good, but I didn’t recognize about half the songs. Typical of US audiences, they were talkative throughout the entire show.

28 November: Day 4 – Oranjestad, Aruba

The Zuiderdam was due in Aruba after lunch. I was up and presentable for sit-down breakfast and had regular oatmeal (still not hot enough) and a banana while dining with 5 others, including a couple from England. A mile walk around the promenade deck and then up to 10 to speak with Joann, the future cruise specialist. The prior evening a flyer with some of the more exotic longer cruises was left on the bed. I was intrigued enough to see what the single supplement rate was: 50, 80 or 100%, depending on cruise and cabin. For the trip I’d been curious about, a 77-day voyage around South America in a cabin similar to the one I was in would run about $25K! As I hadn’t signed up for the Internet package, I wasn’t able to look at the itinerary in detail vis a vis ports-of—call and cathedral locations. Besides, I really don’t think I could take two and a half months in a small room, and I really don’t feel any need to visit Antarctica.

Sit-down lunch was limited to fish and chips and shortened hours. Joining me as we exited from the ship were a couple Olga and Fernando, who became fast friends and joined our dinner table as more attrition occurred. We split at the pier, and I used Google Maps to guide me to the cathedral. From the outside, the taupe with teal and coral highlights on the single tower church were appealing. I feared that the school bus out front might make my picture taking difficult, but it was soon away. The interior was having work done – air conditioning was being added under the balconies. Simple, there is no bishop’s throne as this is a pro-cathedral (the diocese is ruled from Willemstad in Curaçao.) After being inside, I was able to speak with a couple of teachers at the church school, both non-native.

Leaving the church, I did a bit of a wander, as it felt very safe in town. I didn’t book a tour, as most seemed to be related to visiting beaches or circumnavigating the small island. I saw some interesting black&white graffiti on a building with a parking lot. I’d heard at a talk that much of the building construction was natural rock, covered with stucco. Down near the port was the larger Dutch Protestant church with a very tall tower. Along many of the walkways were the blue fiberglass horses, a symbol for Aruba. I wandered the market, and wound up picking up a diamond stud – a bit bigger than the canary I’d collected in 1995 in Antwerp.

After boarding the ship, I went to the Ocean Bar and ran into a woman passenger named Mary. She is 82, and doing this trip three times back-to-back. My second glass of wine (the $2 one) she had before she headed up to dinner. After her departure, I caught a brief nap while I tried to get my phone to Bluetooth to my tablet. (No go.) Cell coverage wasn’t terrific in the room, as I faced away from the port. At dinner, Karen and Howard suggest I join them for the next days’ martini tasting once we returned to the ship in Curaçao. We also went to the B.B. King All Stars show and stayed for two sets. Great music!

Photo link: Aruba

29 November: Day 5 – Willemstad, Curaçao

We would have a short stay in Curaçao: arriving at 8am and leaving at 4pm. Getting a cheese omelet at buffet dining on the Lido deck, I was out on the pier awaiting my EXC tour promptly. We boarded a bus and after passing a cemetery, headed to the Museum of Curaçao, a nice classic old building with examples of Colónial furniture and a polka dot kitchen (to confuse the flies.) I found the carillon of interest, and strolled the yard. Next off to the salt flats where we saw a good number of flamingos, having passed the up-thrust lime cliffs. After passing the Hato airfield, we arrived at Kuebe di Hato, a cave complex which we had to climb up to enter. Photography is restricted to specific chambers to avoid startling the bats. We returned to town, passing the oil refineries to stop at the “Genuine Curaçao Distillery”, where we were able to try the local version of triple sec. This orange-flavored liqueur comes in clear and 4 colors (red, blue, green, yellow) and there are chocolate and coffee flavored versions as well. These latter make a great Mudslide.

Returning to the port, I got a few shots of the high bridge before walking the pontoon bridge to the taxi stand. Highway robbery is the way there, as I had to pay $50 for a 45-minute trip to the Landhuis Bloemhof gallery. An illuminated labyrinth with walls made from the local thorn plant, the Cathedral of Thorns, sits on a concrete base. I met Herman Van Bergen, who conceived of the structure, using the native thorns which grew after the mahogany had been harvested. The artist is including religious and cultural images in the thorn panels as he strives towards completion next year.

My Jamaican woman taxi driver returned me to the taxi stand, instead of the cathedral as I’d requested, so I used Google Maps again to guide me along the water to the cathedral. Feeling doomed, a pink trolley car was parked out front, but that turned out to be a blessing. The tour guide had a key to the front doors, so I was able to enter and get my inside photos, and then outside photos after they left.

Next on my agenda was the synagogue. Mikve Israel-Emanuel is the oldest Jewish temple in the western hemisphere. The floor is sand (to remind one of the 40-years in the Sinai desert), and there is an organ in the “loft”, indicating a reformed congregation (and reminding me of the synagogue I visited in Budapest last year.) There is a lovely two-floor museum (no photography) and some tombstones in the foyer.

Returning to the pontoon bridge, I crossed and headed to the St. Ann’s Basilica, a co-cathedral. Per the web, this is one of the world’s smallest basilicas. The street gates at both sides were closed and locked, so I was unable to enter. My walk took me deeper into the non-tourist part of Willemstad, as far as the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Still, the houses were painted in brilliant colors.

On board with enough time, I freshened up after turning over my boxes of Curaçao liqueur samplers to security and headed to the wine pairing, where shrimp with corn flake coating was featured. Off to the Billboard bar for martini tasting – lemon drop, guava and blue Curaçao flavorings. My dinner was again at Pinnacles, where I started with a mushroom amuse bouche that was superb. Deciding to stick to fish, the crab cake appetizers were fair, but the cioppino was wonderful. I had a vanilla souffle to wrap up the meal. My wine was a white blend from Franciscan. My nightcap was Drambuie on the rocks.

Photo link: Curaçao

30 November: Day 6 – At Sea

Overnight we recovered the hour as we moved back to Eastern Standard Time. Trying something different for sit-down breakfast, I asked for the banana bread French toast. No great flavors, but very filling. After a climb to 10, I returned to the main stage for an EXC talk on the Panama Canal in preparation for the next day. Climbing again to 10, I shared the Cathedral of Thorns information with the EXC guides, as they had not heard of it, and it would give them something to share for someone who was returning to Curaçao.

The ship invited the frequent cruisers to an early lunch in the main dining room, so my dates with Mary and her friend Janice were squashed. While I tried to find them at our rendezvous, I was left alone, so I climbed again to the Lido to get the pasta toss, as there would be a 10-wine tasting walkaround at the Billboard Lounge at 2. At lunch I spoke with Olga and Fernando and we set up a date to meet after our respective tours in Panama to cab to the cathedral in Colón.

The hour-long wine tasting showcased a red and a white from the countries of France, Spain, Australia, Canada and Italy. The French white (George Dubouf Macon Village) was my favorite of the bunch, with the blush from Canada being my dog. There were probably about 40 participants. I headed to the cabin for a nap, and then joined the wine pairing, which featured a salmon tartare. While there I met a landscaper from Maine who labored under the misinformation that one needed to be age 55 to buy a home in my hometown of Venice! Couldn’t convince him anyhow. Then off to the martini bar where I met up with Howard and Karen for a ginger lemon drop, followed by two more froufrou samplings.

Dining in the main dining room required men to wear long pants, so I went and changed, and grabbed the Powell Hill Pinot Noir, the bottle of wine which I had brought on board to share at dinner.

1 December: Day 7 – Panama, Panama City and Colón

Because we would be approaching the breakwater before the entry into the Panama Canal at 6:30am, I was up at 6 and on Deck 4 shortly thereafter. Fortunately, we’d gained an hour overnight as we sailed into Central Standard Time. Coffee and rolls were served under a tent, and all the chairs had been snagged much earlier. Slowly the ship approached the almost completed twin-tower suspension bridge. Off the port side was Colón, with the cathedral barely visible in the haze. Gradually we cruised between the bridge supports while easily passing underneath. As we approached the first of the Gatun locks, we watched the Turandot, a container ship, maneuver into the lock alongside. A large cruise ship was ahead of her in the third lock. As the gates to our lock opened, a frenzied crowd angled for shots with their cameras. Alongside the “mules”, small trains, came to guide the Zuiderdam on its passage. Once the Panamanian pilot began to position us in the lock, I descended to the promenade deck to get a better shot of our close fit and the mules. Down into my cabin, I took a shot out the window of the lock walls. Once forward motion was halted, the ship slowly began rising in the lock. This was repeated twice more, and I scrambled up to the Lido deck for a shot back to the Caribbean, and then to the Observation deck for a view into Gatun Lake. The dam which formed the lake was off to starboard.

Once we were in the lake, the tenders were launched and tour groups were called to offboard. Once at the pier, we were loaded into a bus and then we took off for the “new” locks – considerably longer and wider, with baffles that allow them to recycle 70% of the water. After a rest stop, we crossed the continental divide and began a descent towards the Pacific Ocean. High rise towers came into sight, even as we approached the ruins of Vieja Panamá. Our guide seemed to find it important to point out every occurrence of an American multinational, repeatedly calling every McDonalds the US Embassy. A break for a buffet lunch with chicken stew, rice, salad and a plantain, we soon continued to the historic center city. Here we got out and began our 2-hour stroll of that part of this huge city. Of particular interest to me was the Metropolitan Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop Primate for Panama. The cathedral was closed. It had been open for one day the week earlier after an extensive cleanup and restoration had been completed. Now the rest of us will have to wait until February to enter, once Pope Francis visits in January.

Our walk took us by both well kept and rundown building facades, shops, plazas and a waterfront promenade. Off across a coral flat were high rise towers, and opposite in the haze was the TransAmerican Highway bridge. A monument to the French, the initial builders of the canal is topped with a cock. After some shopping and personal exploring, we returned to our bus and began the 90-kilometer trip to the port in Colón. As we arrived at 6pm, the ship was just tying up, having been held up exiting from the canal. So with about 8 tour buses full of guests wanting to get back on the ship, and another 200 who had stayed on the ship wanting to explore a port, there was a bitt of confusion and rather long lines.

I was looking for Olga and Fernando so we could cab to the cathedral. After about an hour, I opted to go myself, arriving after dark. Mass was underway, so I limited my picture taking to outside and that one telephoto shot of the celebrant and altar boy with the cathedra behind. When I returned to the ship, the lines were gone and I was quickly back on board. My impression of Colón was very unfavorable – most of what I saw was warehouse and industrial space, with roads in a very poor state and filthy. Having seen it, I understood why the guides I’d corresponded with advised against walking to the cathedral or even leaving the immediate port area.

After cleaning up, I headed to the Ocean Bar outside the dining room for a glass of wine. Bringing the fourth of my Shutterfly books to share with my tablemates, I looked forward to my last night in the dining room. I had upgrade dinners planned for my last 3 nights. While seated at the bar, several of the older women I had assisted while touring Panama came up and thanked me for my help – made me feel great. Dinner started with just Karen, Howard and me. I went to see if Olga and Fernando had sat at their regular table, but it was empty. A full table near us, on inquiring what I was looking for, suggested I ask another couple sitting alone a big table to join us, so I did. They were Ken and Barbara. Shortly thereafter, Olga and Fernando joined us, so we were 7. They had been held up by their tour, as they “lost” a guest. It turned out the guest had returned on a different bus, and the ship didn’t know until the 90-minute return had dropped him off. They arrived about the time the ship was to leave!

Onion soup to start, since almost everyone had tried it and approved of it. I found it needing seasoning. Beef for my main, but an order of the squab for the table, which was dry and tough. Best part of the chocolate mousse was the dark chocolate shell it was served in, but the rhubarb tart was yummy. To finish, a Rusty Nail to enjoy with the show in the Billiards Lounge.

Photo link: Panama and Colón

2 December: Day 8 – Puerto Limón, Costa Rica

For some strange reason, I not only didn’t journal about this Sunday, but I didn’t even make some notes on the following day. It was a short distance from Colón to Limón, so we were in port by 8am. I had booked a tour of the Tortuguero Canals, so I go off the ship and went to the gathering location. Once again, the Dutch were fairly strict about single-person lines, but we were soon on a bus. I had boarded with the initial group, and found a clean window to sit at; when a late arriving couple joined us as we were ready to leave, I was asked to move to an inside seat and said no. The guide chose to yield his seat in front. [Why a couple needs to be constantly joined at the hip still amazes me!] In any case, we got to the open air boats and took seats. The guide and navigator spotted various wildlife as we cruised north towards Guatemala, and we all scrambled to get a picture. While I can’t remember the names of all that I’ve included in the pictures, the first hairy animal in the tree is a three-toed female sloth, which is followed by a picture of howler monkeys and then another 3-toed sloth. The green lizard is a “Jesus Christ” lizard, as it cups air in its hands which allows it to run across the surface of the water. That’s a two-toed sloth in the picture before the railroad bridge.

Photo link: Tortuguero Canals

On our way back we paused at the entry to a banana plantation. Our guide explained how cultivation has changed, and that bananas are now fertilized by man and manipulated to yield bigger harvests. Once fertilized and trimmed, the fruit grows in the blue plastic bags.

As we approached the port, I spotted the dome and tower of the cathedral in the city. Once we left the bus, I crossed through the large air-conditioned (tourist) selling area and headed outside. Despite warnings that I’d need a guide (from the group of guides standing idly by), Google Maps was right on getting through the rectilinear street layout to the church about 8 blocks away. Open air and somewhat dark inside, the nave is breezy and the high ceilings slope to focus the attention to the altar. When I got back to the ship and stood on the Lido deck at the stern, I was able to get an aerial shot of the tower. As we left the harbor, out to sea was the island Columbus had anchored at on his fourth trip, as he never quite made it to land although his crew did.

Being both Sunday and the anniversary of my mother’s birth, I again attended Mass on board. Father Desmond wore green (which would have been appropriate the week before) and not purple for the first Sunday of Advent. I had changed to a purple polo, so gave him a bit of razing. He said, “God is colorblind!” Then on to the Martini tasting, and following that to Lincoln Center Stage for music “From Piaf to Peanuts.” My dining arrangements took me to the Pinnacle, but for an even more upgraded experience at Rudi’s, a seafood grill. Again, they seated me by myself, so my ereader provided companionship. Wine steward Jude came and heard what I would order, and headed off to find me an appropriate wine. Two appetizers, foie gras and bouillabaisse were both wonderful, and went nicely with the Austrian Gruner Vertliner. I had thought to have two mains, but the duck cassoulet was enormous and so filling I cancelled the red snapper. Dessert of profiteroles was overkill – five puff pastry and a boule of vanilla ice cream, doused with dark melted chocolate. Sated, I waddled down to the main stage to watch the illusionist entertain.

Photo link: Limón

3 December: Day 9 – At Sea

Overnight we again gave back the extra hour as we moved clocks to match the time in Florida. Breakfast was with three women from the Northwest – one a Canadienne from Vancouver. I’d talked with them all prior to breakfast, but still we had a lot to discuss, particularly Panama and Limón. I had come into the dining room in slip-ons, so I returned to get closed shoes as I wanted to join the kitchen tour. While we were shepherded past various cooking and prep stations, we heard about how they prepare meals for up to 2000 people. At the end we were offered a small vegetarian appetizer. Only a few steps away was the America’s Test Kitchen space (shared with B.B. King’s All Stars in the dark hours) where we learned about making gnocchi and then creamy polenta. No samples here, as it wasn’t a certified kitchen!

No notes about lunch, but I had another wine tasting after that – this time the premium tasting. Sit down, with Riedel glasses and appropriate foods, we started with a sparkling wine (Valmar) to clear the palate. This was followed with Veuve Clicquot champagne (Brut) and a Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay (’16 RRV.) The chardonnay was initially poured into a standard dining wine glass, and then we transferred it to the appropriate Riedel glass. All appreciated the improved taste in the Riedel glass. Similarly, the Labouro-Roi Pommard and the David Lake Doyenne 2013 Aix red blend went through tasting in different glasses.

Because we were close by, I caught the end of the Lincoln Center Stage recital, a program I’d heard earlier on the cruise which ended with the finale to Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. Off to the cabin for a nap until the wine pairing, followed by the martini mixology fun. Brahms was to be featured at the recital before I went to Pinnacle, so I was I a truly mellow mindset when I joined Karen and Howard. The shrimp cocktail was standard, but the 10-ounce filet mignon was perfection. We shared my last bottle from my package, leaving some for my last dinner. We strolled down to mainstage, but I only stayed a short while before retiring to my cabin to read.

4 December: Day 10 – At Sea

The American breakfast started my day. Then I climbed the stairs to the Observation deck to share the Iberian trip Shutterfly book with the guides. After checking the lunch menu at the dining room, I decided I’d rather replay the pasta toss for lunch. Another nap until an encore presentation by the Island Magic Steel Band on the main stage. Brilliant musicians, their last numbers were Amazing Grace bleeding into The Saints Go Marching In, and closed with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Not a dry eye in the house.

Needing to check attire requirements at Canaletto’s’, I climbed t the Lido deck and was advised that long pants are required. Back down to the Promenade deck for a pair of laps, spotting flying fish off the starboard bow. Then to Lincoln Center Stage, at which point I stopped journaling. Since I had a pattern, I know that after the concert I’d head to the wine pairing, then to martini time. Dinner Italian style involved veal and sage polpettine (meatballs), ravioli al gamberi (garlic shrimp ravioli, shellfish brandy cream sauce), beef short ribs brasato barolo and a delicious torte caprese al limone. I grabbed my dessert and brought it down to the dining room so I could say goodbye to my table mates. Ken and Bonnie had returned (original tablemates, they’d disappeared Day 3 or 4), Ken and Barbara were back, as were Olga and Fernando to join with the anchor couple, Karen and Howard.

Photo link: Cruise Food

5 December: Debarking and return home

As I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be early, I chose a late departure, which gave me a chance to have one last breakfast onboard. Since I’d enjoyed the oatmeal, albeit cooler than I’d like, I opted for it once again. I’d packed my bag and put it outside the room the night before, so all I needed to do was gather up the incidentals into my backpack. I knew that I probably shouldn’t do too much screen time as I needed to drive once I recovered my car, so I just relaxed until it was time to go to the lounge to wait to be called. Probably 10 minutes later, I was heading down a gangplank, waving my passport at Immigration and finding my big blue roller.
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Cabin Review

Cabin 1029
Bigger than my previous cruise, the couch was a nice feature. A bit of noise from the Billboard Lounge above at night, Main Level proved to be a great place to be. Being solo, I was never crowded or inconvenienced.
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