As we post this we are back in the USA after the world cruise. As promised, this is the first port of the 2018 world cruise (it seems so long ago!). If you need a reminder about the start of the voyage & the original itinerary, you can take a look at the initial episode from January 4, 2018:
There have been a few summary updates as the voyage went along, but now we are going back to the beginning to post the chronological episodes that we have been preparing, but not posting, as we went along. This will take about a couple of months to complete.
We arrived at our first port, George Town, Grand Cayman Island, on January 6. There was some doubt about our being able to tender in to the island because of sea turbulence but in the end the tender ride was rough but doable. But before getting to our day on Grand Cayman we should talk about getting there.
You may well remember that the beginning of January was unusually cold, so we were glad to leave the Arlington chill behind to drive south to sunny Florida on the morning of January 1. Well, we stopped in South Carolina that night & it was no warmer. We felt a little cheated of the Southern warmth we had been anticipating. On January 2 we drove to Daytona Beach, Florida. It was slightly warmer but not much. Good thing we had brought along long sleeved shirts! We were a little peeved that the cold couldn’t have waited a few days as we drove to Ft Lauderdale on January 3. But later that day we heard about all the snow falling in South Carolina, Georgia & northern Florida. So we had just missed the heavy snow, which was even more unwelcoming than the cold had been, and also might have prevented us from arriving in Ft Lauderdale on schedule. A narrow escape, & we felt a whole lot better about our driving weather.
We sailed at 8:00 PM on January 4, as scheduled, but we were told that some 100 passengers weren’t able to make it to Ft Lauderdale in time for the sailing. They would have to meet the ship at Grand Cayman or later. If, as feared for a while, we had been unable to tender into the island there, I guess they would have had to proceed on to Costa Rica or Panama, a whole lot of hassle & expense. What a way to start a world cruise!
We posted lots of pictures of the Amsterdam in two episodes of our 2016 World Cruise on this blog. It hasn’t changed all that much so if you want to see what the ship is like look here:
Here are just a few new pictures, of the library, the espresso bar & the entrance to the main dining room showing some of the new carpeting installed throughout the ship during a “wet dock” last summer (“wet dock” means some refurbishment was done while on the water). Amsterdam is scheduled for a 10 day dry dock after our cruise, which will result in much more extensive changes.
We were very happy to see David & Attila, the same violin & piano duo as last time, back in the Explorer’s Lounge. They are really first rate musicians & add a lot to the cruise. Sadly, Debby Bacon, who played & sang in the piano bar, was not employed by HAL for this cruise. She has been a fixture on HAL’s world cruises for 7 or 8 years, but apparently they decided she was too expensive this time. We (and many others) would gladly have given up some other amenities to save money to bring her back, but apparently the decision makers at HAL have other ideas. The new entertainer in the piano bar (which has been reconfigured with an actual bar surrounding the piano, undermining the classier lounge ambience of before) is an English fellow called Jamm. We haven’t attended any of his shows so far. There is also a good new jazz trio playing for dancing in the Ocean Bar.
On our first morning at sea there was a get-together in the Crow’s Nest of the people who had participated in the Roll Call (a sort of bulletin board) for this cruise on the Cruise Critic web site. There were about 200 people there having a good time. Which they should since HAL provides the refreshments. To our surprise, Captain Mercer arrived about halfway through & said a few words of welcome. A few years ago there were always several ship’s officers at these events, but recently they have stayed completely away. As to why, there are several rumors but who knows. Anyway it was very nice to see him there, greeting people & posing for pictures.
Sadly, our itinerary takes us first to Grand Cayman instead of Havana, Cuba. Havana would have been a much more interesting stop, but Grand Cayman it was & we only saw Cuba from a distance as we sailed by it (pictures taken through dirty windows).
One thing that hasn’t changed is that Eddy & Calista, Amsterdam’s great florists, are still filling the ship with their beautiful arrangements. Here are a few (much more breathtaking in person).
It was overcast & drizzly as we stepped onto the tender (after too long a wait) to Grand Cayman. Our main objectives were the library & the museum, & the museum was right in front of the boat when we docked. It is a small museum but pretty nice, recounting the natural & cultural history of the island. Originally named Tortuga by Christopher Columbus because of the large population of sea turtles, the island has a long history of turtle hunting (they eat them here). It is also a scuba diving mecca. After the museum, we walked down the street tracking the harbor front to the church, which is supposed to have an interesting interior, but we didn’t see it because the church was locked up. George Town is pretty small, but it has been built up quite a bit since we were last here, with many foreign businesses like the Hard Rock Café & Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Just a few blocks away from the harbor is the public library. Originally built in 1939, there is a much larger recent addition in the back. The original library building has a beautiful wood ceiling, reputedly the inverted hull of a boat. But that building was locked when we were there so, while I was able to photograph the room through a door with a glass window I was unable to shoot the ceiling because of window reflections. We headed on to the post office. There is no home mail delivery in the Caymans, so everyone living on all three islands has to pick up their mail from a box at the post office. There are some 3000 boxes. On the way, we passed a sculpture of a Cayman Blue Iguana, a pretty rock garden & a funky truck of the Tortuga Rum Company, which we were told was the originator of the (delicious) Caribbean Rum Cake.
George Town is full of free range chickens & roosters. You can hear the roosters crowing loudly all the time. We were told there is one that often walks back & forth in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken, apparently ignorant of what is going on inside. We saw a lot of them.
We walked back along the harbor & down the road on the other side of town. We saw a Manta Ray fountain in town, then shortly beyond the congested area we stopped for lunch at the Paradise Restaurant, situated right on the water. We had delicious Mahi Mahi sandwiches with red beans & rice & Mary had the local beer, called White Tip (after the shark of the same name). From our table in the patio we looked out over the craggy coast line with a blow hole right next to the restaurant, where the tide comes in under the rock & shoots in the air through the hole with some force. Off the coast (Cayman has no cruise ship dock) stood the four cruise ships that had disembarked thousands of visitors to this tiny town. We learned later that Amsterdam was not actually anchored there because with the wind & water turbulence this might have damaged the coral. Instead it hovered there, with an officer using a joystick (like in a computer game) to constantly adjust its position so that it stayed in place.
We returned to the Amsterdam & enjoyed a violin/piano concert before a delicious dinner (the food has been very good so far). Then we went to bed & turned our watches & clocks back an hour for the first of some 24 times on this voyage (yay for an extra hour of sleep). And we were greeted in our room by our first towel animal. I guess that means we are really under way.
As I write this, we have left the fascinating continent of Africa and have just 2 ports left before disembarking in Ft. Lauderdale. We should be home by May 3 and by then (if not sooner) we will begin uploading the regular episodes of this voyage, most of which have already been written. They will probably appear every other day or so until finished. So if you have been wondering what all we have seen & done, you will start seeing it soon. If you were on the voyage with us, or have been following along on one of the many other passenger blogs or the Captain’s blog, then this will be your chance to live it all over again through our eyes.
When we left you last we were on our way to Maputo, Mozambique, our first stop in Africa proper. We only drove through Maputo on the way to Kruger National Park in South Africa, where we spent 4 days & 3 nights on a safari. Camp Shawu (wood & canvas huts with wooden verandas) was on the edge of a small lake filled with hippos, crocodiles & all varieties of birds, while other animals (elephants, rhinos, wildebeast) came there to bathe and drink. Each day we went on two game drives to see other animals & birds in the park, one leaving before daybreak and the other returning after sundown. This was easily the highlight of the whole voyage & an unforgettable experience. We took many hundreds of pictures, so here are just a few.
We had two days in Capetown after returning from the safari. A very interesting, beautiful and cosmopolitan city with much too much to see in just 2 days. Then a day in Namibia viewing flamingoes & exploring the sand dunes & rocky interior they call the moonscape (sometimes used in Sci Fi movies as moon settings).
After that we visited three cities in western Africa: Luanda, Angola; Banjul, The Gambia; and Dakar, Senegal. Very colorful & interesting ports that aren’t often visited. While there was some tension involved in visiting this area & we received numerous reminders about safety precautions, it turned out that negative incidents were few and there was a great deal to learn and enjoy in these places.
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At this point I want to note something that has really overhung most of this voyage. You may recall in our first post about this cruise, back on January 4, we mentioned that this was a reunion of sorts for the seven people who sat at our table in 2016. We were all back at the same table for the 2018 cruise, picking up where we left off as a happy & compatible group of travelling friends. None of us were more enthusiastic about that prospect than Lee Wolfle, who had tee shirts made for all of us showing the itinerary and titled “Around The World Together Again . . . Table 65.”
Like the first world circumnavigator, Ferdinand Magellan, Lee didn’t make it back from the trip. He began feeling poorly probably in New Zealand, was never able to get his strength back & had to leave the ship in Singapore. He was diagnosed with Leukemia in Singapore and was flown as far as Los Angeles, where he entered Cedars Sinai hospital for treatment. But that didn’t work out & he died there three days ago as I write this, when we were approaching Banjul.
All of Lee’s friends on the ship, particularly Robert, Bill, Bob, Judy, Peggy, Karen, Kathy, Corinne, Kay, Rick & Mary, have been shocked at the speed of his demise. Many of us were walking on the beach with him in the South Pacific just six weeks before he went into the hospital and at that time he seemed hale & hearty. Lee was a very big man, about 6’7”, and very active (he took an expedition to Antarctica last year) so it was hard to picture him as being so seriously ill. Needless to say, his ordeal has cast a pall over the remainder of the voyage for all of us.
We only knew Lee for about two years. But he was a good friend & the nicest guy you will ever meet. We all miss you, big guy, and still can’t believe you are really gone.