3-5 April - Boarding and at sea I
At the start of a 138-day trip, having packed my roller and “carry-on” on Sunday, I was up ahead of the alarm on Monday morning and began shutting down my home - no sense leaving the wifi, range, refrigerator, hot water heater and microwave plugged or on for 4-plus months. First off was the hot water heater, as the water would still be hot as I showered and washed the last dishes in the sink. Once the coffee was made, the frig was empty, so the circuits were thrown in the box in the garage. Shower taken, I went outside to turn off the water into the house.
Closing up the baggage, I rolled it out into the driveway, and my roofmates Alan and Sue Ann had their garage open - the bags went into the rear and soon we were off heading to the McDonald’s out by the interstate. Two more couples were waiting for the Cruise Connection, so Sue Ann and Alan took off to get coffee and donuts, and I chilled until the coach arrived. Aboard were Jeanie and Janis, who I’d “met” through the rollcall on CruiseCritic.com or on the crossing’s FaceBook page. Also were Bob and his wife, and we 5 chatted as the driver got us back on the Interstate heading to the next pickup.
Once the Suncoast 18 or so were on board, the bus turned eastward on Alligator Alley towards Ft Lauderdale. First stop in the port was the Holland America Lines (HAL) dock, arriving about 11. Boarding commenced about 15 minutes later, so we all were assigned boarding groups (I got #13) and soon I was wheeling the carry-on to my cabin on the “Main level”, the lowest passenger level. After unpacking the smaller bag and putting it under the king-sized bed, watching the obligatory safety video, I checked in at my muster station and headed to the main dining room for the crispy roasted cauliflower starter and veal kroket, seated with couples from Dallas and Ft Myers.
Prior to departure, there had been a Zoom call with about 20 CruiseCritic participants, and we were to meet up on Seaview deck. After getting some photos of the port and the ship, I hung out with a few CC folk. Then down to the theater for a crossing preview, back to the room to meet my room steward Bambang and to unpack the roller.
With Celia (solo, CC), I headed to Billboard to join the solo/single meet-up, where about 10 had collected. Team trivia began (with Tomas) and we shifted across the ship and I had scotch (Aberfeldy, and then Glenmorangie). Carole joined us at the talk about excursions. Fixed late dining back on the third level at table 243 had me meet up with Hank and Rowena, and Judy, who would be my regular dinner companions as well as a team for many activities. With a glass of the Cotes du Rhone (Chateau du Trignon), dinner was chicken empanada, jerk lamb shank and hazelnut Paris Brest. We headed to the World Stage for a concert by Cantare, a foursome of tenors who harmonized music of the 50’s through 80’s. After the 45-minute show, I headed to bed. It had been a long day.
Tuesday morning, after a poor night of sleep (dehydration) I was heading aft down the hallway and overheard fellow passenger Tammy asking Bambang for a second canvas bag - HAL had dropped 150th anniversary commemorative bags in each room, and she wanted a second for her craft work. As I didn’t need mine, I offered it, and we got to talking. Originally from near Dover, our third stop, she was able to give me the time schedules for the train to Faversham, location of one of the three English cathedrals I hadn’t yet visited.
Continuing on to breakfast in the MDR, I was seated at a “shared” table and ordered what would become a standard: oatmeal with bananas, berries, nuts and brown sugar. I was seated with a Dutch couple who now live on a sailboat (currently docked in SE Florida), and a western Virginia couple. After eating, I met Barbara and Mary Lee - they were continuing on to Amiens (as I was) and we agreed to meet for lunch on Wednesday to share ideas and options. I popped into a jewelry sales talk and won a lovely scarf, and hung out a bit looking at watches and men’s jewelry.
The luncheon menu in the main dining room was fairly set - there were a few daily special items, but for the most part, the choices were fixed. No notes or pictures from my first lunch. However, I noted that a wine tasting was being set up, and I decided to go. As it turned out, the James Sackling Northwest wine tasting was an event for 4- and 5-star mariners (I was a lowly 1-star), but I crashed nonetheless (although I was charged.) Khay, the Phillipina cellar master led the talk with an assist from Mark Fine, the wine and beverage director from headquarters. Chateau St Michelle sauvignon blanc (Horse Heaven) and chardonnay (Eva’s Reserve ‘15) were the whites, served with small portions of havarti and provolone, respectively. For reds, the Sokol Blosser Evolution ‘21 (pinot noir) with a nicely ripe brie, and the Luke syrah ‘20 with edam. Khay performed well, despite comments chiming in from others and me. We became buds for the voyage.
Happy hour, from 4 to 5, included half-price drinks and throwback prices for several gin drinks and Heineken draft. Seeing 2 single malt scotch whiskeys on the upper shelf, I had ounce pours of each. As the hour ended, a double of Glenmorangie. And then, I added two more pours from Notes, the premium whiskey/whisky bar nearby.
Weaving my way from the bow to the MDR aft, I joined the trio, and Murray and Tyler, solo frequent cruisers (Murray is 4-star, Tyler has 156-nights aboard HAL) who had sailed together before. My notes (scribbles) indicate I had the duck starter and the lamb shank main, as well as 2 glasses of the Cotes du Rhone red. Judy and I stayed behind as the fivesome headed foreward to the theatre. Retiring to our rooms, my last note for the day was that I was sloshed, and hoped that I had hydrated enough.
Wednesday morning at sea, and I arose mildly hungover, after a rough night sleeping. Breakfast in the MDR with a couple from Orange County, CA and his sister-in-law from DC. Oatmeal was great, but the banana was a rock-hard green that defied attempts to even peel!
At 10am, the first of several lectures given by retired Hoboken middle school history teacher Bill Miller took place in the theatre. Mr Miller has authored 100+ books on cruise ships, lines, travels; he was also involved with the efforts to digitize the ship records of immigrants into New York harbor. He is a magnificent raconteur, filling the screen with photos ranging over 150 years, telling anecdotes and entertaining the packed house.
CariLyn, the ship’s cruise director, then followed with Origins, a audio video presentation of the history of the founding on Holland America Lines.
For lunch I met up with the couples from St Louis to talk about their pending visit to Amiens. Barbara and Mary Lee were taking a break from cruising with a jaunt into France, and wanted to hear about my visit in 1999, as well as my plans (developed by my ViaHero concierge in 2020.) I brought my photobooks (Cathedrals to the Glory of God) but we found there really wasn’t enough room to really look at them. I had the roasted cauliflower and the mac & cheese, both of which were very flavorful.
A screw in my reading glasses had become loose, and I asked the watch jeweler to tighten it - I’d tried the guest services desk without success. Grabbing my reader from my cabin, I climbed the 12 levels to the Crow’s Nest and found a comfortable chair in which to read, occasionally noticing that the fog was rolling in.
I skipped happy hour, and headed to dinner at 7:30. Caesar salad with anchovies, red snapper and the cheese plate for dinner. We headed to the performance of The Step One Dance Company. Five dancers (the sixth was out with an injury) entertained modern contemporary moves to loud music. The effects showcased the capabilities of the theatre.