2012 CARIBBEAN CRUISE

Road Scholar 15591


Day 1, Friday, March 9 Embark on Cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Out again after only 9 full days at home from the toxic India/Nepal trip. Taking this cruise in March hopefully gives me decent (not too hot) weather. I have an early flight even though it means an early pickup (heavy rain forecast but only light to medium here and in Ft Lauderdale) at 4:20 AM by the StuporShuttle. I was able to check in early and get an exit row seat rather than a "middle" seat. There was a temporary hitch - our plane came in from Seattle with a windshield that broke during the flight. It was therefore grounded for repairs and another plane had to be found and prepped.

United UA1244Houston - Ft Lauderdale (FLL)7:15 A - 10:40 A2:25

On arrival take a taxi to the wharf which is only 2-3 miles away. The taxis are numerous and cheaper (about $20) and run all the time to the Cruiseport. Tell the taxi driver you are going to Port Everglades and getting the Zuiderdam ship. There, board the the Horrible Awful Lines (Holland America Lines) SS Madhouse (Zuiderdam, see below). My "Shipping Container" is number D1101 on the lowest deck (#1 Main Deck), category D which is the "cheapest" of the "single" rooms and I booked the last one available from Road Scholar. All Road Scholar cabins have sold out for this departure. The early flight MAY give me a chance (but doubtful) to get lunch onboard (see below).

Supposedly we may board as early at 11:30 am, but no later than 3PM - 90 minutes prior to sailing time at 4:30. Check-in at the Front Desk. I hope to be in time for the Embarkation Buffet Lunch at Lido Deck opening at noon. However it was slow and tedious and not at all fair to those who arrive early.

Embarkation Nightmare: It was a quick passage through the airport - arrival there at 10:40. Then I arrived at Port Everglades at 11:20 but did not board the ship until after 1:15! After checking in and getting a room key and a security photo, the herd has to sit in one of the cattle holding pens (waiting rooms) until their number is called (everyone is given a numbered boarding card when they arrive). It became apparent that they are only boarding in groups of 15 or 20 at a time. I was in group number 14 even though I arrived at 11:20! There is a long wait between boarding groups and I could not figure out why. As we leave the holding pen to board the ship, we are "high-pressured" to have our picture(s) taken - at some high cost, of course.

Cabins are actually ready by 1:00 pm, and amazingly it is as pictured though it is much narrower than the picture implies. The noon Welcome buffet was quite nice with several selections possible. There are multiple serving lines with action stations for fresh made sandwiches, carved meats, and an Italian station with fresh pasta and pizza. The Lido Cafe also has an ice cream bar with hand-dipped or soft-serve ice cream. There the ice cream is complimentary! The Terrace Grill serves burgers, hot dogs and fries. There is a self-serve taco and fajita bar nearby.

Our Road Scholar Welcome dis-Orientation to the "Madhouse" meeting is at 3; there are 17 of us plus our Group Leader, Marylin. After that we must participate in the ship's Safety Drill at 4 before dinner in order to prepare us for abandoning the ship in the middle of the ocean later in the cruise. People who don't show up or refuse to participate are NOT allowed to continue on the cruise.

Dinner is onboard each evening. We (Road Scholar) have three tables for us - and I ate in the Vista Dining Room tonight. I probably won't eat there any other nights since with all the cattle to feed, it takes a VERY long time. Also, three or four nights (at sea days) are designated as "formal" and I'm banned from them because I don't have a dark suit or tux. Instead I'll go up to the buffet on deck 9. Ship: M/S Zuiderdam

Note: the propaganda says that "The Erasmus Library offers a wide selection of books to be checked out. There are several tables and comfortable chairs in the library that can be occupied for reading or game-playing." However HAL hid it so well that I never managed to find it.

The cruise line offers many excursions at each port, but we (Road Scholar) have our own schedule of things to do. From what we are told at our Dis-Orientation meeting, it seems to be a fairly good, and extensive, collection of activities. Since we don't know the times for the RS excursions, its impossible to sign up for any other HAL options.


Day 2, Saturday, March 10 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas (8AM - 3PM)
Based on what I saw on the Black Sea cruise, Road Scholar travellers will have not only the ship's Cruise Director, but also someone sent along by Road Scholar (our Group Leader, Marylin) to give us some "extras." Breakfast is onboard each morning. After a fairly comfortable night with very little pitch-and-roll, the ship arrived at Half Moon Cay at 8AM for a half-day visit which is at least a half-day too long. We have to take a (120 pax) tender from the ship to the marina. There is another HAL ship there, the larger (2200 pax) Nieuw Amsterdam so there are many long lines to suffer through. The extra tenders also makes for a major "traffic jam" in the marina.

Disembark and head for the beach. At 8:30, we are supposed to board a glass bottom boat to view marine life and listen to a lecture about the Marine life of the Islands and the Caribbean. Explore the undersea world without getting wet on a glass-bottom boat. The crystal-clear waters provide great visibility, and ideal opportunity to appreciate the unique coral formations and colorful tropical fish that abound in this unspoiled environment. Due to both the late arrival of the ship and delay in getting customs clearance, we miss that time and have to wait for the 9:30 cruise. To use the hour, Marylin gives us a walk-around orientation and we visit a local chapel and learn about some of the vegetation. After the boat cruise (very plain, basic boat with limited viewing - very poor deal) Marylin gives us an informative and moderately paced 1½-mile walk on a sandy path through this tropical paradise, viewing tropical palms, sea grape trees, curly-tailed lizards and bananaquit birds. She tells tales of Bahamian history, beginning with the island's first visitors, piracy, slavery and the present-day. We also visit the "Sting-Ray Adventure" where swimmers can go into a "fenced-off" area where sting rays are penned to see and pet them.

We have time to waste wandering around Half Moon Cay then have a nice BBQ very poor hamburger lunch served on the island at about 11:30. It was so poor that I threw most of it in the trash and went back to the ship for lunch. This allowed me to escape the Fleece-the-Tourist area by returning to the ship well before the last tender at 2:30. It we didn't make that, they will leave us behind (they probably wouldn't care) and head for Aruba. We were supposed to depart at 3, but one of the passengers (maybe one of the "mini-blimps") fell and had to be medi-vaced to another island. Our departure was delayed until we had definite word that they were safe.

Evaluation - Half Moon Cay: The cruise line owns the entire island (lock, stock, and cash-register) so it is a 100% Fleece-the-Tourist exercise. This was originally an uninhabited sand spit that the company leased (99 years) and built a totally artificial environment with the sole purpose of taking more money from their cruise passengers. There are only 45 permanent "residents" here who are confined in a long barracks/dormitory. When a ship is due, they get up, turn on the lights and spruce up the place. The souvenir stands are opened, usually by Bahamans from other islands who also cook up some slop to feed the "visitors". When the ship leaves, every thing closes down and all but the permanent prisoners go home until the next ship day. There are no hotels or provisions for housing visitors. This is NOT the Bahamas. We never got to see the Bahamas!

Day 3, Sunday, March 11 Day at Sea (1 of 4)
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME CHANGE I chose to wait for the "full breakfast" (on the Lido deck, not the dining room) and had "waffles." This turned out to be two (no more) slightly larger than silver-dollar sized waffle-ettes. (The servings in the buffet are all small.) We then have lots of time at leisure (aka extreme boredom) to enjoy (? HA!) ship-board activities (eating too much). We can see Cuba in the middle-distance this morning, and get closer to Haiti this afternoon - closer than to Cuba but still off in the distance. Sometimes their fishing boats come very near the ship but not today - probably because of fairly rough weather.. Lunch is onboard - or maybe, as a special treat, they serve it in a lifeboat towed behind the ship (more abandon ship practice)! Afternoon a nice RS meeting: Lecture: The European Influence in the Caribbean. A light-hearted look at some lingering traditions inherited from bygone days.

Day 4, Monday, March 12 Oranjestad, Aruba, Dutch West Indies (1PM - 11PM)
More time at boredom for ship activities. Aruba is now an independent nation, but under Dutch protection. We finally dock (yes, dock, not tender in) for another half-day visit, and an Orientation tour of Oranjestad, the capital city of the Island. It's mostly a desert / sand / beach island.

We depart on the tour at 1:45 (2:15) and get back about 5:40) Disembarkation is a nightmare - even docked rather than tendered, it takes a massive amount of time to herd 2000 head of cattle off the ship. Our disembarkation at Half Moon was quicker since we had our boat ride scheduled early - we got an early departure time.

Our bus excursion (mostly drive-by-shootings) includes a first stop at Archeological Museum and the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum. We have lectures (very good) during the visit to highlight the history of the island. Then explore Aruba from the bus, that travels to the California Lighthouse, the ruins of the landmark natural bridge, and with stops at Casibari Rock Formations, the old (250 year old though refurbished) Alto Vista chapel, the first chapel on Aruba, then it's about a 30-minute drive to California Lighthouse on Aruba's windward coast.

En route we cross the island's arid terrain-perfect habitat for cacti, Divi-divi trees, iguanas and wild goats. This arrangement gives plenty of food for thought and endless speculation. We end with a tour of the luxury hotels, condos, etc. Overall, a nice tour. Unfortunately there is not enough time to visit the Butterfly Farm or the very nice Gardens (nursery) - two highlights I would have liked to see but they are on HAL excursions, not on ours.

We come back to the ship for Din-Din anyone, then have more time to waste maybe exploring the city on our own; i.e. giving the locals more time to try to get all our money. It was a nice excursion today (except for all the tremendous number of luxury hotels). The people live in poverty, but the hotels are raking in huge amounts of money from the gullible tourists. Unfortunately I have to come back here next spring on my second (cruise) tour of the year and probably won't bother to go ashore then. For now, just stay on the ship the rest of the day/night - or else.

Evaluation - Aruba: This was once a prosperous island with two oil refineries. After they closed, there was virtually nothing to support the local people so they turned to tourism. The locals have turned it into even more of a "Fleece-the-Tourist Trap" than Half-Moon Cay. There are two parts of the island. One part - a seemingly endless row of luxury hotels, condos, etc (along with endless shops) along the beach front reminds me of Wacki-Ki in Hawai'i - just more so. Then there is the original part of the island which has fallen into disrepair. There is almost nothing to see/do here except spend money in Aruba's version of Wacki-Ki. So why come here at all since there is a very nice island of Curaçao so nearby.

Day 5. Tuesday, March 13 Willemstad, Curaçao, Dutch West Indies (8AM - 4:30PM)
Arrive in Curaçao, for a full-day visit this time. Again, we can dock and not have to be tendered into town. The tour starts at 8:45. Unlike the hot (over 90) temperatures and high humidity in Horruba yesterday, today is lightly overcast and very breezy. That makes for a very nice visit. Unfortunately there is another, even larger, cruise ship in port (Crown Princess - 3100 passengers) which made for large crowds and long lines. Discover two great highlights of Curaçao, the Hato Caves and the famous Dutch colonial City Center-a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We start off with a fairly long walking tour. We get a good impression of life here in Willemstad which looks very much like some of the rowhouses I've seen in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. These houses are perfect models for great Curaçao vacation pictures. The first part of our walk is crossing the floating drawbridge that connects both sides of the city. If the bridge were open due to ship traffic, we would make use of the (free) ferries. On the way to Fort Amsterdam, pass the beautifully colored merchant houses on the quay of the harbor entrance. Fort Amsterdam is home to the governor of the Netherlands Antilles. We pass the floating fruit and vegetable market that began aboard Venezuelan schooners and has subsequently expanded. Crews still sell their products from their boats which they live on until all their goods are sold then return to Venezuela for more. After that we get on our bus and have an extended tour of the town and the surrounding countryside.

We have a very nice lunch at La Primas Restaurant in town.

Later a short drive brings us to the impressive (also very hot and humid) highly over-rated Hato Caves which were used by the Amerind Arawaks 1,500 years ago and in later years were used as a refuge for escaped slaves. We can see beautiful limestone formations, the famous Madonna statue and also a colony of long nose fruit bats. Inside the caves the variety of stalagmites and stalactites are quite impressive. Have fun recognizing animals or figures in the various stone formations. A small path (the Indian Trail outside the caves) leads us past pre-historic wall paintings.

After this excellent tour, but still with no souvenirs (the main options being t-shirts or junk), return to the ship (about 3:45) before it goes off about 4:30 and leaves us. This has been by far the best stop of the three islands. Anyway, now we start our cruise on westward towards Panama. It's another "watch the water go by" day tomorrow.

Evaluation: Curaçao. This is definitely the best of the islands and a very enjoyable visit. For one, although it does have it's collection of luxury hotels, the economy doesn't revolve around only tourism. In fact, tourism is only #3 on the list (oil is #1; dry docks for shipbuilding and maintenance is #2). It's a much more developed, clean, modern island with lots to see and do besides spend money lying around on some patch of sand. I can't see why people prefer Horruba to beautiful Curaçao - unless it's the lack of vacation advertising by the National Tourist Bureau. At least HAL got it right - short visits (only a few hours) on the first two stops and an almost full day here.

Day 6, Wednesday, March 14 Day at Sea (2 of 4)
Mostly lots of boring time for ship-board activities (stuffing ourselves). Lunch is onboard. The only interesting part is our Lecture: The Concept of a Canal from Dreams to Reality and our disorientation presentation on what is to come in Panama and Costa Rica.

Day 7, Thursday, March 15 Panama - Colonial Panama, Craft Market, Miraflores Locks (9AM - 10AM; 3PM - 7PM)
Time change - turn the clocks BACK one hour. So far - one hour forward to Eastern time in Florida; one hour forward for DST (matched in Houston), and now one hour back to CDT in Panama and Costa Rica, so I'm now back on Houston time. In a few days, we'll be going one hour forward to get back to Florida time, then one hour back to get back to Houston time. That's 5 time changes during the trip. We had a rougher ride overnight with major waves causing quite a bit of rolling and some pitching of the ship.

The ship is scheduled to arrive at the Locks at 5:00 AM and we are "invited on deck" by 5:30 to begin viewing the Canal. We do a partial transit through the Panama Canal - Gatun Locks. It takes about two hours just to get through the locks (3 chambers) themselves. Arrive at Lake Gatun at 9:00 AM and tender 2000 head of cattle ashore (THAT hassle again!) at the Lake Gatun Locks Pier between 9AM and 10AM. No one is allowed off the ship "on their own;" they have to be signed up for a paid excursion and show the ticket or tour sticker. The ship exits Cristobal Canal at 1PM and arrives in Colon at 3PM, departing at 6:30PM so we have to be back onboard before then.

As for our transit of the Gatun locks, the ship barely makes it. The lock is 1000' feet long and the ship is 936'. It's even closer on width: the lock is 110' wide and the ship is 106' so there is only a 2-foot clearance on each side of the ship.

Unlike the previous days when Road Scholar set the excursion itinerary, company, and local guide, this time HAL MANDATED exactly what to do, see, use, etc. The results were not nearly as good as what RS had set up other places; in fact, it was VERY disappointing. The local guide, Jeronimo, was the poorest we had on the trip.

Once we are off the barge, our bus drives by back roads to see the other locks and to view the gargantuan ships that make their way through the Miraflores Locks' chambers and visit exhibitions which include historical objects of Canal operations, interactive modules, video presentations, and models of the Panama Canal. Four exhibition halls constitute the heart of the Miraflores Visitors Center. Hall One portrays the background, technological innovations, and sanitary initiatives that went hand in hand with the construction of the Canal. Hall Two emphasizes the importance of water, conservation of the environment, protection of the Canal watershed, the diversity of fauna and flora and sustainable management. Hall Three depicts how the Canal operates and offers a navigation simulator through one of the lock culverts. Hall Four provides information on the importance of the Canal to world trade and identifies the main commodities and types of vessels that transit the waterway.

We did get to see some of the ships along the way, but at the Museum & Miraflores locks, things started going bad. They have a very nice 10-minute film about the canal, but we had to sit in the theatre for about 20 minutes just waiting for it. Then there was barely time (in fact we took more than allocated) to see a ship enter the locks. There was NO time at all to see any of the great museum there - something I had been looking forward to seeing. By the time I get back in 2015, the expansion of the Canal will be completed (August 2014) and the 100th Anniversary of the opening (1914-2014) will have happened.

Then we drive on to Panama City for a HAL lunch at el Dente Restaurant; remember the name, Horrible Awful Lines which also describes the very poor lunch. Our tour leader had sorta warned us about it yesterday at our meeting. The food was poor; they supplied "one" glass of water but even iced tea costs extra (bar prices even), and they wanted an exhorbinant amount of money for the dessert. I don't think anyone wasted their money. HAL probably got a big "kick-back" from the local tour company they made us use, as well as from the restaurant.

Next we drive to Casco Viejo or the Old City. Here we discover Panama's rich history and culture on foot and by bus. Casco Viejo was established in 1673 by Spanish Conquistadors; it was the second city settled in Panama. Explore the old French Plaza on foot (walk-by-shooting) and visit the famous golden alter in the St. Joseph Cathedral. We were rushed through by the HAL guide and spent VERY LITTLE time on the walk and got to see almost nothing. Continue exploring the city and then stop (fast walk-through) at a craft market to view local handicrafts including molas, embroidery, jewelry, leather, wood and much more to buy to enrich the locals...but there was no time for that since the HAL guide rushed us on through.

We then drove a bit and wasted quite a bit of time to see where the Pacific Ocean was supposed to be; instead we saw an endless mud flat since the tide was out. The return route takes us past (more drive-my-shootings) the former Panama Canal Zone where the military installations of the American administration are a gentle reminder of the strategic importance of the area. Today the PCZ is very much intact and is like a photographic image of what the days of the American Administration once were. Head back to the ship, with little new knowledge to make our canal transit more interesting. This excursion departs from Gatun Lake and ends in Colon, where we reboard the ship around 5:15 if it's still there. At least it's docked; we don't have to get tendered out to it.

Evaluation - Panama: An extremely disappointing day in which I (personally) blame HAL for sticking us with a poor (make that a bad) schedule, a so-so guide, and a very poor lunch. We did get to see some of the Canal, but IMO, the Panama City part was an almost complete fiasco. To me, HAL "ruined" the day. Hopefully I'll get to see more of it and the Canal when I take the Road Scholar trip in 2015 - which won't be mandated/ruined by HAL.

Day 8, Friday, March 16 Puerto Limon, Costa Rica (6:30AM - 3:30PM)
I've been to Costa Rica before but on the west coast and some of the central area around the Arenal Volcano, but not the east side. So this is a totally new area. There was heavy rain overnight but it stopped (temporarily) about 4AM. We had occasional very heavy rain during the day but "lucked out" and there were brief gaps in the rain while we were out on one of our walks.

We are on ship time rather than local time so our clocks are an hour ahead of the locals. Thus when we pull in and dock at 6:30 ship time, it's still full dark. For our earliest departure (at least we are docked and don't have to be tendered in) on the cruise, disembark at 7:45AM but which is still fairly dark, and enjoy a lecture (we can't see much) while riding (over an hour) from the coast to the rich agricultural farm lands to examine the operations of a typical pineapple plantation.

We get an extensive tour of the Ojo de Agua pineapple plantation and are shown the plants at various ages, then go to the packing plant to see how they are processed, both to fresh pineapples, fresh slices, and dried chips. For me, it wasn't all that interesting and could have been shorter to save time for our next stop.

Travel on for another 30 minutes to a local Heliconia and tropical plant farm (Heliconia Caribe) for a site lecture on some of the most beautiful tropical plants of Costa Rica and we get to see many of them. This turns out to be the highlight of the visit - the flowers are beautiful. We also see how the bouquets are made up and packed for air shipping.

After an hour of riding the bus back towards Limon while being tortured by overloud Calypso music, we get to a local restaurant for a (cafeteria service) typical Costa Rican lunch at Buffalo Costa Rican Restaurant. It was fairly nice. We have to return to the pier before 3:30PM, stagger onboard the ship (dodging through a medium rain shower on the long walk back) and start that seemingly "endless" cruise to Ft. Lauderdale.

Essentially the trip is over when I get back aboard at 3PM, but it's still 3 days (77-78 hours) until I get home. This is too much like the 2 days it took to get home from India and Nepal. What a waste!

As I wrote earlier, Road Scholar had set our tour/excursion itinerary (with modifications set by HAL). Here's the one HAL offers that I wish they had included - and I almost decided to sign up for anyway - I wish that I had. The only problem would have been all the rain that we had almost all day today. However the rain would probably have ruined the excursion.

Caribbean Train, Eco Cruise & Countryside (5 hrs) Board a historic but newly restored car of an open-air train that gives us an exclusive opportunity to enjoy Costa Rica's storied Caribbean region. This train has facilitated Costa Rica's banana industry and passes through incredible landscapes. Stops are frequent to enjoy the dense wildlife such as sloths, monkeys and other creatures that live along the tracks. The next part of the tour takes us by boat into the Tortuguero Canals where waterfowl, whiteface and spider monkeys and many other animals are easily spotted. Fresh fruit, ice cold water and beer are served at the take-out point. On returning to Moin's private station, our journey continues by bus to visit a banana plantation and packing plant to get an up-close look at the processing of this tropical fruit. Then we return to the ship.

Evaluation - Costa Rica. I had enjoyed my visit (mostly cruise) to Costa Rica back in 2004 and this was nice also. The pineapple plantation stop was overdone and the flower farm tour could have been quite a bit longer. However the rain forest was interesting to watch from the bus windows, even in the heavy rain. This turned out to be my second favorite stop (after Curaçao) on the trip.

Day 9, Saturday, March 17 Day at Sea (3 of 4)
The first of two full, long days with nothing to do but watch the water go by! Breakfast onboard. Time at leisure (extreme boredom) to "enjoy" ship-board activities. Lunch onboard. At 2PM (usual time) we have a Lecture: A Political and Economic Overview of Central America. It is too bad that these "at sea" days are at the end of the trip - we have the boring days to look forward to rather than "get them over with" at the beginning. We have the "usual" (formal so I'm banned) Farewell Din-Din onboard will probably be "leftovers" but since I'm banned from it, who cares.

Day 10, Sunday, March 18 Day at Sea (4 of 4)
Time at leisure (more total boredom) for ship-board activities (does boredom count as an activity?) and repacking our suitcase. We have a brief glimpse of Cuba again about 9:30 - 10:30 but from fairly far out. The land there is very flat and no hills. There might have been buildings visible, but we were too far out to determine that.

A disembarkation presentation is planned but Marylin says that it is mostly nonsense entertainment so I skipped it. The information in our disembarkation packet (printed info) if very good so no questions. Our RS meeting is a bit earlier: 1:30 for disembarkation information and a Lecture: Conservation and Wildlife Projects in Central America. Dinner is onboard - or maybe back in that lifeboat. But if they put us there, we might be dinner for some big sea monsters. The crew might appreciate it if the sea monsters got a 100 or so passengers - it would make less cattle to herd off the ship. We have to have our (checked) luggage outside our room by 1AM tomorrow morning.

Day 11, Monday, March 19 Disembark in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (7AM)
The ship docks about 7AM (was to have been 6). I had to get up about 5 (4AM Houston time). We have our last breakfast (more "leftovers") onboard. Disembark at the completion of the program. I.E: we are kicked/rushed/thrown off the ship so the crew can get it ready for the next herd of cattle. We are issued colored luggage tags depending on our transportation and colored stickers to indicate our disembarkation time then asked to wait in the public areas until our color sticker is called.

We docked late so the disembarkation is delayed. Although it is supposed to be much simpler than embarkation … but this is HAL, so … but it IS a bit better than I had dreaded. Luggage is unloaded from the ship in large 3-sided bins. I watched part of it and about half the time one or more pieces of luggage fell out of the bins while they were being carried by fork-lifts. At least they fell on the dock, not into the water. Everyone HAS to be off the ship by 10AM … or else!

Since I would have a very long wait for my flight, I booked a local Ft Lauderdale tour which, considering the taxi cost to get to the Cruise-Port from the Airport, the tour was only about $30 extra. It's pretty much of a pre-peat of what I'll see here in June, but it gives me something to do. I am supposed to disembark the ship at 8:15 and the excursion departs at 9. We are to get to the airport about 1 or 1:30. They also offer a (short) Everglades ride, but I'll do a longer one on my Florida trip in about 3 months.

Land & Sea & Transfer: Experience the highlights of Fort Lauderdale, including the Arts & Sciences District, the Riverwalk, and Las Olas Boulevard. A double-decker yacht or paddlewheel style boat will take us for a journey past the historic Stranahan House, other luxury homes and mega-yachts, and the Burt Reynolds restaurant. See why the city is known as the "Venice of America." After the tour, rejoin the bus and continue our transfer to the airport. The tour started out with a 1-hour bus trip around town, then 45 minutes on the "Riverwalk" followed by the 90-minute water cruise. We had an absolutely fabulous local guide - super personality.

I still have a 4- or 5-hour wait after that for a very late flight - but better to be safe - and the early afternoon flight cost over $100 more. At least I'll be "home" in the US so no money worries and with plenty of time to get some junk-food to eat.

United UA1146Ft Lauderdale -Houston5:50 P - 7:48 P2:58

After a long wait for luggage, then more time waiting for the StuporShuttle, I finally got home about 9:15. It's only 13 days until the next trip - Williamsburg.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

Half Moon Cay
Aruba
Aruba
Curacao
Panama
Panama
Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Florida


MILEAGE TRAVELLED
Fort Lauderdale - Half Moon Cay, Bahamas: 269 NM / 309 miles
Half Moon Cay - Oranjestad, Aruba: 841 NM / 957 miles
Oranjestad - Willemstad, Curacao: 110 NM / 127 miles
Willemstad - Colon, Panama: 687 NM / 790 miles
Colon - Puerto Limon, Costa Rica: 188 NM / 216 miles
Puerto Limon - Ft Lauderdale, Florida: 1194 NM / 1373 miles
Total distance travelled: 3321 NM / 3819 miles

TRIP COMMENTS

1. Our Road Scholar Tour Leader was very good with excellent presentations. Also RS gave us (included) quite a bit to see and do though I could have changed a couple of the activities to something else that HAL offered.
2. The narrow cabin (not a "stateroom") had all the ammenities shown but the picture was misleading as to the width - much more narrow and cramped than I expected.
3. The food onboard was very good with the best place to eat all meals being the Lido Buffet up on Deck 9. Never mind the fancy Dining Room. Thank heavens for elevators.
4. As expected, the long times between shore excursions were extremely boring. I wish the two back-to-back At-Sea days had been on the first part of the trip. We just had too much time to "watch the water go by".
5. At least almost every bit of the trip was new except that I had seen a small part of the Panama Canal before on a Cruise West cruise.The expanded visit makes me look forward to my longer visit here in a couple of years.
6. The stop at Half-Moon Cay could easily be deleted with absolutely no loss and Horruba was only slightly better. Curaçao was very nice and recommended to others as a nice place to visit.
7. Panama Canal - half good/half bad excursion but very poor lunch. I'm looking forward to coming back here in 2015 (3 years should be a nice time gap).
8. Costa Rica - mixed reaction to the excursion. I almost told Marylin to forget me; I was going to take the HAL excursion.
9. Would I recommend the trip? Yes - except for the cruise part.
10 Our Tour Leader, Marylin, was very good.

SHIP COMMENTS

The ship is very nice as would be expected considering what we had to pay for the cruise. However this isn't enough for HAL Almost all the onboard activities are geared to take more money from the passengers. The onboard activities/entertainment are mostly designed as a) sales pitches for overpriced merchandise in the many shops - even a package of Pringles was priced $6.95; b) sales pitches for the shore excursions; c) sales pitches for upcoming (future) cruises; d) sales pitches for various health/spa treatments; e) sales pitches to encourage us to visit the casino; f) sales pitches for "special auctions"; and g) even the technology/computer sessions which might have been of interest, required the purchase of computer time on the ship's computers. There numerous bars (often several on a given deck) and lounges selling (not complimentary) drinks for inflated prices. There was some "entertainment" available, but nothing of interest to me.

The cabins (large closets) are well furnished but quite narrow. At least 6-8" more space is needed on each side of the bed; we have to squeeze in sideways. Meals are very good with a wide selection and was changed daily. The Buffet meals on the Lido deck (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) are the preferred way to go rather than have to sit a long time in the Vista Restaurant. Service from the crew, mostly from the Philippine stewards and dining room personnel, was very good and service from higher level staff was also courteous.

Onboard, one thing was a bit of a surprise - the number of mobility-impaired (wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, etc.) passengers. There were also a surprisingly large number of public school students of all ages.

A mandatory $12/day charge for "tips" is automatically added to your onboard bill. It's NOT optional - and is over and above the listed cruise price. I might even consider another HAL cruise but they want a full 100% supplement on an already expensive fare so scratch that idea.



M/S Zuiderdam - Holland America



LARGE SHIPS COMPARISON

Descriptor2011-13
Aegean Odyssey
- Multi
2012
Zuiderdam
Caribbean Cruise
2014
Veendam
Panama Canal
2014
Eurodam
Vikings Passage
2014
Queen Mary 2
America
& D-Day
Cattle capacity
378
1916
1350
2044
2620
Crew
180
817
580
929
1253
Length
461'
936'
720'
935'
1132'
Beam
67'
106'
122'
125'
135'
Speed
18 knots
24 knots
22 knots
22 knots
30 knots
Cattle decks
5
11
10
11
13


The 85,000 ton, 1916 passenger Vista class MS Zuiderdam was launched in December 2002 and became the largest ship in HAL's fleet.