Archive for March 22, 2013

Crossing the Atlantic on Prinsendam

Leaving Ft. Lauderdale, as seen from our cabin window

     Goodbye Ft Lauderdale!  We left Ft Lauderdale at about 5:30 PM on March 14.  As I write this we are in mid-Atlantic and there is nothing around but water.  It has only been a few days, but I can see why Columbus’s men got spooked after a month or more of nothing but water and no reason beyond their weird Captain’s theories to think they would ever reach land.  But we know we will reach land this Friday, so all is well.    

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    Before going any further, I want to welcome those of you who don’t know us but are following this blog at the invitation of friends or relatives who are fellow passengers.  These are the voyages of Rick & Mary Bader, whose continuing mission is to boldly go where no one . . . no, wait a minute, that’s not right.  But it is true that this blog is about our experiences and interests and things we think our friends and relatives might find interesting.  Although all of us on the Prinsendam are traveling on the same ship to the same ports, your friend’s or relative’s experiences on board and in the ports may be very different from ours.  So while this blog will give you a general idea about the voyage and some of the ports we visit, don’t assume that everything you see here was part of your friend’s personal experience or that the blog covers everything that your friend saw or did.  With that caveat, welcome aboard.

     I also want to remind everybody of two things about reading this blog.  First, the most recent blog post will always be at the top, so the chronology is from bottom to top.  This means that when (like today, if all goes well) there are multiple postings on a single day you should scroll down to the earliest one if you want to read them in order.  Second, if you scroll your mouse over a picture a caption will pop up.  Sometimes it will just identify the picture, but often it will contain explanatory text.  So if you don’t take advantage of that feature you will be missing some brilliant writing that might be illuminating.

     As I have mentioned before, the Prinsendam is a very small ship by cruise industry standards.  It has a capacity of 835 passengers (along with about 450 crew), but on this cruise we are told there are only between 450 and 550 passengers (estimates vary).  Of course, this makes the ship even less crowded than usual, and there is generally no problem finding a table in the Lido (the buffet restaurant) or a seat in the library.  I expect it also will make it easier to get off the ship in tender ports (where the ship anchors offshore and ferries passengers into port with the lifeboats, called tenders).  There are many empty seats in the main dining room and they have closed the small extra dining room.  So this will be a more intimate cruise than the last one, and maybe that will minimize some of the sharp elbows and frayed nerves we sometimes saw on our last cruise.  So here is the Prinsendam (we didn’t take these).

Prinsendam at sunset 1Prinsendam cabin cropped

In the second picture look at the deck just below the orange lifeboats, the first deck painted white, which has an outside deck on which you can walk all the way around the ship (a quarter mile).  Counting from the left, the second window is our cabin (if you count 7 more windows you get to the cabin we had last year on the South America cruise). From this angle the window looks tiny, but it is actually about 5 feet wide and provides a very nice unobstructed view (mostly just water so far, of course, but we expect more later).  This cabin is about 2 feet longer than the one we had last year, which makes a significant difference in using the room.  It has a bathtub as well, which I think is pretty rare at sea (last year we had just a shower).  It is a pretty big step up into the tub, though, and I can’t imagine how some of the older people who are plentiful on this ship are able to handle it.  We actually have 2 kids on the ship this year, a 7 year old & a 3 year old.  I expect them to get very bored!

Mary in our cabin_ShiftN

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The Prinsendam was in drydock for a couple of weeks in November & we were interested to see all the changes.  Most are not really visible, such as a new propeller that is supposed to be quieter & more fuel efficient and upgraded air conditioning & plumbing, which had been troublesome.  I am told they replaced all the verandas, but we don’t have access to those.  There was a lot of talk about the Showroom at Sea being completely redone, but it looks exactly the same to us as it did last year.  The primary visible change is that the open eating deck on the back of the Lido restaurant, where we spent many enjoyable hours outside looking at the ports during breakfast & lunch, has been completely enclosed.  They did a nice job of it:  it is surrounded by large windows, about half of which can be opened (although Gildas, the restaurant manager, told us that the engineers go nuts if they open the windows because the space is air conditioned) and large skylights that let in the sun in the afternoon.  This space now  becomes the new Canaletto restaurant at night, serving Italian food by reservation (happily, it is free on this cruise).  This is still a nice place to sit and eat, out of the way from the often crowded buffet, with a different variety of orchid on each table.  We understand why this was done (it makes the space usable in bad weather), but we still miss the outside space.  The first picture below shows how this looked last year, and after that its new look.

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One thing that seems to be much better this year is the coffee.  Last year it was pretty dreadful, particularly in the Lido, and it was a constant source of complaint, but so far this year it seems to be pretty decent.  Passenger complaints about coffee served on ship are as old as cruising, as Mark Twain memorably explained:

I am reminded, now, of one of these complaints of the cookery made by a passenger. The coffee had been steadily growing more and more execrable for the space of three weeks, till at last it had ceased to be coffee altogether and had assumed the nature of mere discolored water—so this person said. He said it was so weak that it was transparent an inch in depth around the edge of the cup. As he approached the table one morning he saw the transparent edge—by means of his extraordinary vision long before he got to his seat. He went back and complained in a high-handed way to Capt. Duncan. He said the coffee was disgraceful. The Captain showed his. It seemed tolerably good. The incipient mutineer was more outraged than ever, then, at what he denounced as the partiality shown the captain’s table over the other tables in the ship. He flourished back and got his cup and set it down triumphantly, and said:  "Just try that mixture once, Captain Duncan."  He smelt it—tasted it—smiled benignantly—then said: "It is inferior—for coffee—but it is pretty fair tea."  The humbled mutineer smelt it, tasted it, and returned to his seat. He had made an egregious ass of himself before the whole ship. He did it no more. After that he took things as they came. That was me.

     One thing we really enjoyed last year was the nightly concert by the Rosario Strings in the elegant Explorer’s Lounge before dinner.  We were disappointed when boarding to see that the Rosario Strings were not listed among the entertainers & that instead there was a group called Adagio.  But we went to see them before dinner our first night anyway, and were overjoyed to discover that it was the same musicians with a new name.  They are now a violin/piano duo instead of a trio, but little if anything seems to have been lost in the transition.  They are still playing an eclectic repertoire including popular tunes, broadway overtures, challenging classical works and a version of Orange Blossom Special that always brings down the house.  We were surprised that the pianist recognized us & welcomed us back after more than a year (as did Gildas & Widi in the restaurant and Annette the Hostess, among the very few familiar faces we have seen among the crew).  These people have an amazing memory for names & faces; they have seen quite a few passengers in the year since they last saw us.  Here is the Explorers Lounge & Adagio/Rosario in action

DSC00153.DSC00138Adagio playing in the Explorers' Lounge


     When we left Ft. Lauderdale the ocean was quite rough, and the Captain decided to detour south through the Bahamas to avoid some of the bad weather.  We were seated in the main dining room at the same table as last year, but on the Starboard (right) side of the ship instead of the Port (left).  Our table for eight included 4 Australians and an American couple who had emigrated from Germany about 50 years ago.  We took a particular liking to the woman seated next to me, an Australian with bright blue hair in front of her head who was travelling with her father, who was not at dinner because he was feeling ill.  In the middle of the night the Captain woke us all up with the announcement that one of the passengers was about to be evacuated by Coast Guard helicopter, and requested that people not take flash pictures.  We heard later it was quite a moment; since there was no place on the ship for a helicopter to land they hovered over the ship and removed the passengers by rope lift (we didn’t see it from our room).  As we feared when we heard the announcement, the evacuees were the woman at our table with the blue hair and her father.  We have since heard that he is still in a hospital in Nassau with a bleeding ulcer.  Pretty lousy to fly all the way from Australia for a 2 month cruise, only to be evacuated with a serious health problem just a few hours after sailing!  I hope they had trip insurance; it would be a lot of money to lose.

     Our second day at sea was Mary’s birthday, so I took her out to dinner at the Pinnacle, the gourmet restaurant on board (for which they charge an additional fee).  The food was first class; Mary had the large filet & I had the 22 oz. Porterhouse steak (oink!).  We had terrific crab cakes for an appetizer, Mary had chocolate soufle for dessert & I had a Volcano cake (which is made in a covered bowl).  Since it was only the second day at sea, there were no other passengers in the Pinnacle while we were eating; only two other tables were occupied, one by the Captain & his party and the other by Firmin the Hotel Manager (who was supposed to be retiring when we left the Prinsendam last year, but is somehow still here).  The staff had too little to do, so someone would come up to the table about every two minutes to inquire how our dinner was.


I will close this entry (finally!) with some random views around the ship, and then the first of the bread animals & towel animals produced by the artisans among the ship’s crew.  Hopefully the next dispatch will be filled with pictures of Madeira.





Prelude: The First American Cruise to the Mediterranean

   We usually think of cruising as a relatively recent phenomenon, but in fact the first American pleasure cruise to the Mediterranean came right after the Civil War, in 1867.  Of course, ships were not as fast as they are now & the cruise lasted months longer than ours.  The ship was called the Quaker City and there were 65 passengers who paid $1200 apiece to make the trip (a whole lot of money in those days).  Here is the Quaker City at sea on a not very nice day:


The trip was something of a sensation in the United States.  A big crowd turned out for its departure and people followed the cruisers’ exploits in the newspapers.  As well they might, since the dispatches were being written by a very young Samuel Clemens writing under his byline of Mark Twain.  After the trip ended Twain compiled and extended his newspaper reports into a book called “The Innocents Abroad,” which was his first best-seller.  Like most of Twain’s works, it makes highly entertaining reading, both funny & enlightening.  Anyone interested in Mediterranean travel, and in how much has (and hasn’t) changed in 150 years, would likely enjoy it.  If you have an ereader, you can download it for free at:  (A more contemporary, though in my view much less companionable, account of a trip around the Mediterranean – but mostly not by cruise ship – is “The Pillars of Hercules” by Paul Theroux, which is also available as an ebook, but not for free unless you can borrow it from your library.)


     As Twain explains, this cruise was widely viewed as an exciting new kind of adventure (he makes it sound even more exciting than ours, which seems pretty exciting to us):

     For months the great pleasure excursion to Europe and the Holy Land was chatted about in the newspapers everywhere in America and discussed at countless firesides. It was a novelty in the way of excursions—its like had not been thought of before, and it compelled that interest which attractive novelties always command. It was to be a picnic on a gigantic scale. The participants in it, instead of freighting an ungainly steam ferry-boat with youth and beauty and pies and doughnuts, and paddling up some obscure creek to disembark upon a grassy lawn and wear themselves out with a long summer day’s laborious frolicking under the impression that it was fun, were to sail away in a great steamship with flags flying and cannon pealing, and take a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history! They were to sail for months over the breezy Atlantic and the sunny Mediterranean; they were to scamper about the decks by day, filling the ship with shouts and laughter—or read novels and poetry in the shade of the smokestacks, or watch for the jelly-fish and the nautilus over the side, and the shark, the whale, and other strange monsters of the deep; and at night they were to dance in the open air, on the upper deck, in the midst of a ballroom that stretched from horizon to horizon, and was domed by the bending heavens and lighted by no meaner lamps than the stars and the magnificent moon—dance, and promenade, and smoke, and sing, and make love, and search the skies for constellations that never associate with the "Big Dipper" they were so tired of; and they were to see the ships of twenty navies—the customs and costumes of twenty curious peoples—the great cities of half a world—they were to hob-nob with nobility and hold friendly converse with kings and princes, grand moguls, and the anointed lords of mighty empires! It was a brave conception; it was the offspring of a most ingenious brain. It was well advertised, but it hardly needed it: the bold originality, the extraordinary character, the seductive nature, and the vastness of the enterprise provoked comment everywhere and advertised it in every household in the land.

In the conclusion of the book, Twain looks back on the experience and eloquently expresses some of the same reasons that many people today  favor this mode of travel:

      And I will say, here, that I would rather travel with an excursion party of Methuselahs than have to be changing ships and comrades constantly, as people do who travel in the ordinary way. Those latter . . .  have . . . that other misery of packing and unpacking trunks—of running the distressing gauntlet of custom-houses—of the anxieties attendant upon getting a mass of baggage from point to point on land in safety. I had rather sail with a whole brigade of patriarchs than suffer so. We never packed our trunks but twice—when we sailed from New York, and when we returned to it. Whenever we made a land journey, we estimated how many days we should be gone and what amount of clothing we should need, figured it down to a mathematical nicety, packed a valise or two accordingly, and left the trunks on board. We chose our comrades from among our old, tried friends, and started. We were never dependent upon strangers for companionship. We often had occasion to pity Americans whom we found traveling drearily among strangers with no friends to exchange pains and pleasures with. Whenever we were coming back from a land journey, our eyes sought one thing in the distance first—the ship—and when we saw it riding at anchor with the flag apeak, we felt as a returning wanderer feels when he sees his home. When we stepped on board, our cares vanished, our troubles were at an end—for the ship was home to us. We always had the same familiar old state-room to go to, and feel safe and at peace and comfortable again.

I have no fault to find with the manner in which our excursion was conducted. Its programme was faithfully carried out—a thing which surprised me, for great enterprises usually promise vastly more than they perform. It would be well if such an excursion could be gotten up every year and the system regularly inaugurated. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Twain also addresses the closest 19th century equivalent to this blogging enterprise — passengers keeping journals of the trip:

     Behind the long dining tables on either side of the saloon, and scattered from one end to the other of the latter, some twenty or thirty gentlemen and ladies sat them down under the swaying lamps and for two or three hours wrote diligently in their journals. Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did! I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can show a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the first twenty days’ voyaging in the Quaker City, and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging! At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and invincible determination may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.

One of our favorite youths, Jack, a splendid young fellow with a head full of good sense, and a pair of legs that were a wonder to look upon in the way of length and straightness and slimness, used to report progress every morning in the most glowing and spirited way, and say: "Oh, I’m coming along bully!" (he was a little given to slang in his happier moods.) "I wrote ten pages in my journal last night—and you know I wrote nine the night before and twelve the night before that. Why, it’s only fun!"   "What do you find to put in it, Jack?"   "Oh, everything. Latitude and longitude, noon every day; and how many miles we made last twenty-four hours; and all the domino games I beat and horse billiards; and whales and sharks and porpoises; and the text of the sermon Sundays (because that’ll tell at home, you know); and the ships we saluted and what nation they were; and which way the wind was, and whether there was a heavy sea, and what sail we carried, though we don’t ever carry any, principally, going against a head wind always—wonder what is the reason of that?—and how many lies Moult has told—Oh, every thing! I’ve got everything down. My father told me to keep that journal. Father wouldn’t take a thousand dollars for it when I get it done."    "No, Jack; it will be worth more than a thousand dollars—when you get it done."  "Do you?—no, but do you think it will, though?  "Yes, it will be worth at least as much as a thousand dollars—when you get it done. May be more."  "Well, I about half think so, myself. It ain’t no slouch of a journal."

But it shortly became a most lamentable "slouch of a journal." One night in Paris, after a hard day’s toil in sightseeing, I said:  "Now I’ll go and stroll around the cafes awhile, Jack, and give you a chance to write up your journal, old fellow."  His countenance lost its fire. He said:  "Well, no, you needn’t mind. I think I won’t run that journal anymore. It is awful tedious. Do you know—I reckon I’m as much as four thousand pages behind hand. I haven’t got any France in it at all. First I thought I’d leave France out and start fresh. But that wouldn’t do, would it? The governor would say, ‘Hello, here—didn’t see anything in France? That cat wouldn’t fight, you know. First I thought I’d copy France out of the guide-book, like old Badger in the for’rard cabin, who’s writing a book, but there’s more than three hundred pages of it. Oh, I don’t think a journal’s any use—do you? They’re only a bother, ain’t they?"

"Yes, a journal that is incomplete isn’t of much use, but a journal properly kept is worth a thousand dollars—when you’ve got it done."  "A thousand!—well, I should think so. I wouldn’t finish it for a million."  His experience was only the experience of the majority of that industrious night school in the cabin. If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.

     So Twain was apparently the only one to complete his journal of the cruise, not only because he was a professional writer but because he was financing the trip at least partly through his newspaper accounts of the journey.  Unlike Twain we have no financial incentive to complete this blog, but we expect to do so anyway.  Many entries will be delayed, sometimes substantially (I had hoped to post this entry earlier, but had technical difficulties), because this is a time consuming effort & our port schedule is crowded (sea days are really the only ones in which there is enough time to organize photographs & write blog posts).  There is likely to be a flurry of overdue posts at the end of the trip.  But stay with us; we will complete it, even if we do not finish until after we get home, and the timing really doesn’t affect how much you enjoy the blog postings, does it?  Meanwhile, get a copy of The Innocents Abroad to keep you entertained and on message until our pictures of these places begin to arrive (I am pretty certain that this is the only post that will have so many words & so few pictures).