Archive for June, 2022

Caribbean Journey — Boarding Nieuw Statendam in Ft Lauderdale (2022)

     We arrived in Ft Lauderdale on March 15 and had a fun dinner at an Irish Pub near the port.  On March 16 we boarded the Nieuw Statendam for a three week cruise they called the “Southern Caribbean Wayfarer."  Here is the itinerary (don’t forget that if you hover your mouse over a picture the caption will appear):

image

Day

Date

Itinerary

Arrival

Departure

WED

16MAR22

Sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US

4:00pm

THU

17MAR22

Sea Day

FRI

18MAR22

Sea Day

SAT

19MAR22

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

8:00am

4:00pm

SUN

20MAR22

Castries, Saint Lucia

8:00am

4:00pm

SUN

20MAR22

Scenic Cruising Soufriere Bay

MON

21MAR22

Bridgetown, Barbados

8:00am

5:00pm

TUE

22MAR22

Roseau, Dominica

8:00am

5:00pm

WED

23MAR22

Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis

9:00am

6:00pm

THU

24MAR22

St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.

8:00am

5:00pm

FRI

25MAR22

Sea Day

SAT

26MAR22

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

8:00am

3:00pm

SUN

27MAR22

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US

7:00am

4:00pm

MON

28MAR22

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

8:00am

3:00pm

TUE

29MAR22

Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

10:00am

5:00pm

WED

30MAR22

Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

8:00am

5:00pm

THU

31MAR22

Sea Day

FRI

01APR22

Kralendijk, Bonaire

8:00am

11:00pm

SAT

02APR22

Willemstad, Curacao

8:00am

11:00pm

SUN

03APR22

Oranjestad, Aruba

8:00am

7:00pm

MON

04APR22

Sea Day

TUE

05APR22

Sea Day

WED

06APR22

Debark Ship Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US

7:00am

     Commissioned in 2019, Nieuw Statendam is about three years old.  But most of that time the entire cruise industry was shut down so its actual time at sea when we boarded was probably closer to a year and a half.   This is by far the youngest and the largest ship we have sailed on with Holland America.  In passenger capacity it is, at almost 2700, about twice the size of the Amsterdam and three times the size of the Prinsendam (both of which were, sadly, sold during the pandemic).  During the post-pandemic return to sea, however, cruise ships are not sailing at capacity and Nieuw Statendam  was at only about half capacity while we were onboard, about the same as Amsterdam.  It still felt like a lot of people though, and it’s hard to imagine what it must be like when this ship is full.  Even with fewer people the distance from the main dining room in the aft section to our cabin in the forward section of deck 5 (“Gershwin Deck”) seemed almost long enough to walk off all the calories!

     Many of the spaces on this ship are similar to other HAL ships we have been on, only bigger.  The atrium is lighted in purple and has no multistory central sculpture.  The crow’s nest has the usual shipwide array of front facing windows, but it also houses the shore excursion folks and a couple of interactive displays about the ports and sea routes.  There is also a section with some books (nothing like the old libraries HAL used to have), puzzles and games.  The lido pool area has two floors of seating and some casual restaurants with a huge video screen at one end of the pool.  We spent a lot of time in this area reading, with our mp3 players plugged into our ears to blot out the ship’s continual soundtrack.

46a. 2022, 03-26  Half Moon Cay, Bahamas_stitch15. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam Stitch4. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam9. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam Stitch

     We ate most of our dinners, and breakfasts on sea days, in the Main Dining Room, which had unusual curved pillars holding up the second floor.  During the first leg of our back-to-back we had a table upstairs by the rail, but there were several hundred fewer passengers on the second leg so they closed the upstairs and everyone had to be seated downstairs.  Presty, who many of you may know from world cruises, was the dining room manager.  He recognized our faces right away and was very solicitous, arranging a table by the windows for us when we were moved downstairs.  We had arranged to share a table with our world cruise tablemates Bob & Judy, and were most disappointed when a non-Covid medical issue made them miss our cruise at almost the last minute. 

24. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam Stitch19a. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam_stitch

     The ship had plentiful alternative dining options, most for no additional cost.  Although it normally costs extra, we had a dinner at the Pinnacle and one at Tamarind gratis because we are 5 star mariners.  Both were excellent, but Tamarind is more exotic and interesting.  Our go-to place for lunch was the Grand Dutch Café, where we enjoyed the Dutch pea soup (not quite as good as when served on deck while visiting icy places) and superb ham and cheese sandwiches.  They also had humongous desserts, including one similar to an éclair and a chocolate chip cookie that fills a dessert plate.  On the second floor of the LIdo area we enjoyed pizza & sandwiches from the New York Deli & Pizza on one end and Dive-In hamburgers on the other.  The hamburgers are thick & juicy at the Dive-in, but we don’t like their fries or special sauce nearly as much as others do.   We have enjoyed their huge hot dogs on other ships, but this one had no sauerkraut or brown mustard so what was the point.  Near the Dive-in was a gelato bar, which was not free.  We love gelato, but theirs was good rather than great, and once you have had great gelato (which we have in Italy, Spain and New Zealand) good is kind of disappointing. We had lunch in the Lido buffet a few times as well, where they were carving rare strip loins that can be put between two pieces of bread to make a wonderful sandwich.

49a. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands_stitch42. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands44. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands39. 2022, 03-26  Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

     Music venues also were plentiful on board the ship.  The Main Stage had shows most nights, usually featuring the ship’s dance company or its four man singing quartet.  The main stage here is surrounded by huge video screens stretching back along either side of the audience and it rather overwhelmed the unfortunate performers on stage.  There was no live music in these programs; instead the music was recorded along with large displays on the screens moving with the music.  We found this all very distracting and much preferred the performances we have seen on other HAL ships focused on live musicians and performers on stage.

     HAL’s music walk, on all of the larger ships, consists of performing groups in four different genres.  Lincoln Center Stage features a classical piano quartet and alternates in the same venue with the BB King Blues Club.  It was a lovely venue with a glass fronted balcony where we usually sat.  Billboard Onboard was a lounge with two pianists playing and singing together (not “dueling,” as is sometimes said) and the Rolling Stone Rock Room across the hall housed a really good young band with a very fine lead guitar.  We visited all of these venues except the BB King (a matter of timing rather than taste), but the Lincoln Center Stage received most of our attention because their classical performances were really outstanding.  We were told that these musicians auditioned separately for the gig and were formed into a group after being hired by HAL’s music contractor.  Their repertoire was determined by the contractor who employed them.  We had different quartets on the two legs of our cruise, but both played exactly the same shows with almost exactly the same pieces.  We don’t see how that could work on a Grand Voyage, since a week’s worth of repertoire wouldn’t go very far on a three or four month cruise.

18. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam109.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia66. 2022, 03-23  Basseterre, St Kitts

     As on other HAL ships, there is a lot of art scattered around the Nieuw Statendam.  But while other ships we have been on have antique or classic looking artworks from around the world, this ship’s collection leans heavily toward the pop art genre.  The ship has something of a musical theme, though it is not overdone.  For example, some of the hallway carpets have images of musical instruments woven in along one wall. Among the musically themed art were a portrait of Jimi Hendrix, a reflective infinity piano hanging in an elevator bay, a melting guitar sculpture by the elevators on another floor, a sculpture made of cymbals in the front of the Main Dining room, and two huge violin hangings covered in what looked like Delft ware on the wall behind the front desk.

1. 2022, 03-30  Amer Cove (Playa Plata), Dominican Republic78. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands3. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam5. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam7. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam77. 2022, 03-30  Amer Cove (Playa Plata), Dominican Republic

      There were some artworks on walls composed of unusual media.  A copy of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night on a stairway landing turns out, when viewed up close, to be made of small plastic toys and other items, and a portrait of Van Gogh was similarly made.  Some soft stripey  portraits of women turn out on closer inspection to be painted on feathers.  There was also an elaborate painting in a classical style on a surf board.

1. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam79. 2022, 03-30  Amer Cove (Playa Plata), Dominican Republic81. 2022, 03-30  Amer Cove (Playa Plata), Dominican Republic26. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam27. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam13. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam29. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten

     Elevator bays on several decks had displays of ordinary items wrapped in what appears to be needlepoint.

31. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten75. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands

      A very interesting photo was on a wall near the Lincoln Center Stage.  If you look only at the center section it looks like a large wood paneled room lit by skylights.  But viewing the picture as a whole makes clear that it is something entirely different.

111.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia110a.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia_stitch

   Near the atrium was a sculpture of a lady’s head with a very elaborate hairdo topped by a sailing ship apparently under attack by a giant squid.  And near some elevators was large copy of Michelangelo’s David made of glass (or possibly plastic).  If you look closely in his lowered hand is an iphone with which he is taking a selfie. Quite unusual.

11. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam2. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam51. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten53. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten48. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten28. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam

     We have no pictures of it, but we can’t end a discussion of the ship without some mention of the Casino.  It seems that a few weeks before we sailed HAL decided to make the first leg of our back-to-back a gambler’s cruise, without informing the other passengers.  This means that they invited casino mavens from previous cruises to sail on this one at a big discount or even for free, as we understand it.  Presumably this is a money maker for HAL since all those rooms would have been empty and not generating revenue anyway because the ship’s passenger complement was so limited during the post-pandemic restart.  This meant there were about 300 more passengers on the first leg of the cruise than on the second.  To make matters worse, at the same time HAL ended the prohibition on smoking in the casino that has been in place since the return of cruising.  The result was that the casino was very crowded most of the time with many people smoking.

     The unpleasant smell from all of this smoking floated down the open stairway to the  music walk, where it was often impossible to enjoy the music.  Worse, there was an increase in folks being quarantined for COVID near the end of the first leg of the cruise (they don’t tell you how many), and it seemed to us that a casino jam packed with people sitting cheek to jowl without masks and blowing smoke around was probably a Covid superspreader.  Some passengers we talked to were forced to move to new staterooms just a day or two before we reached Ft Lauderdale so that HAL could establish a separate quarantine area on a couple of decks (since passengers had been quarantined on earlier cruises and there were so many empty cabins on the ship, why couldn’t they plan for this possibility by setting aside a quarantine section before the cruise?).  We found HAL’s handling of all this to be very disappointing, reflecting either a failure to think it through or a reaching for every last dollar regardless of the safety and enjoyment of the other passengers.

    So that’s enough about the ship.  We set sail heading south to the islands that are the main point of the trip.

Nieuw Statendam


Caribbean Journey In The Time Of Covid — Prelude: Texas, Louisiana & Florida (2022)

      Well, as everyone knows, the Covid pandemic has really inhibited travelling for the last two years.  Our last seagoing adventure was a voyage to South America and Antarctica in the first part of 2019.  Our voyage planned for the Fall of 2020 was cancelled and sea voyages pretty much disappeared, along with our favorite ships, Prinsendam and Amsterdam, both of which were sold as cruise companies fought to survive without income.  Since we are in a particularly vulnerable demographic (over 65), we followed Shakespeare’s advice that discretion is the better part of valor by mostly staying home and wearing masks when venturing out. 

     But by the Fall of 2021 things started looking a little better.  The spread of Covid seemed to be diminishing, cruise ships began returning to the seas, and we had both been fully vaccinated and boosted.  We had family business to take care of in Texas so we decided to extend that trip to include a Caribbean cruise departing from Ft Lauderdale in mid-March that would be restricted mostly to vaccinated passengers and crew.  We had second thoughts as the spread of Covid rose again in January and we read about many cruise passengers ending up in isolation cabins or disembarked mid-cruise.  But the incidence of Covid began to drop rapidly during February which made us more confidant about our plans.

   Texas 

    Before embarking on the ship we spent a couple of weeks on the road, leaving on March 2.  Stopping in Memphis on March 4 on our way to Texas to visit Mary’s brother Joe we wanted to have dinner at our favorite BBQ restaurant, Corky’s, but discovered that it was closed for repairs after a fire.  We ate at one of their other locations instead where the food was good but the ambience not nearly as much fun.  On March 5 we came across a rural library in Maud, Texas, near Joe’s house, then on March 6in Ft Worth we all dined at Cattlemen’s steakhouse, which was still as good as when we had our pre-wedding dinner there almost 50 years ago.  We continued to San Antonio, where we spent the afternoon of March 7 shopping among the myriad Mexican vendors at the Market Square emporium, and also enjoyed delicious Mexican food at a restaurant on the River Walk.  We walked around the River Walk for a while, then back on the street we encountered horse drawn carriages lit up like they were part of the Disney electric light parade.

The alternative Corky's3. 2022, 03-5&6 Ft Worth, Texas1. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas2. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas3. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas4. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas8. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas5. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas

     New Orleans, Louisiana

          We spent two nights in New Orleans, where we had not been for some time.  We stayed in a hotel a block off Canal Street, a main thoroughfare running along the edge of the French Quarter.  We spent our full day in New Orleans walking around the French Quarter, an area rife with atmosphere,  It has rows of old houses, most now stores, with wrought iron balconies.  Its crowded streets are always fun to explore, as are the boutique shops selling many kinds of local wares.

33. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana29. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana31. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana18. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana19. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

     We stopped for café au lait and beignets at the Café du Monde in the French Market.  In operation since 1862, this awning covered patio is a favored tourist attraction these days.  When we have been here before waitresses served the tables with coffee and beignets on ceramic plates and cups, but that is now gone.  We sat down expecting the usual waitress but none materialized, then we noticed the line of people waiting to ;purchase their food at the back of the patio.  Joining the line, we obtained coffee in paper cups and beignets in a paper bag and sat down at a table.  For those who don’t know, the coffee here is laced with chicory which alters the flavor noticeably.  Beignets are hole-free donuts covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar, most of which we brushed off before removing them from the bag.  They are really tasty.

14. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana20220310_13394913. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

      New Orleans is a city filled with music.  While we were at the Café du Monde a local jazz band was performing on the sidewalk outside, occasionally passing the hat (actually a bucket) for tips between songs.  They were a good bit better than you might expect from street musicians.  Also hanging around outside was a character you would probably never see anywhere but in New Orleans (she didn’t perform).

DSC06428-0011. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana 5. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana6. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana15. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

     Leaving the Café du Monde we walked down the block to Evans’ Candy Factory, which has been making New Orleans pralines here since 1900.  Pralines look like flat cookies but are made mostly of brown sugar melted with butter or cream and nuts (usually pecans) on top.  In Texas this is pronounced “pray-leen,” but in New Orleans it is “praw-leen.”  We also walked by a small square with a gilded statue of Joan of Arc, a native of the city’s namesake in France.

16. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana17. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

     After visiting the waterfront and some art galleries we began walking back toward our hotel.  In Jackson Square (named for an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, the winning general in the 1814 Battle of New Orleans)  we came across a larger brass band, complete with Sousaphone (tuba).  Very colorful and very engaging music.

21. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana25. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is justly famous for its fine restaurants.  That evening we dined at Broussard’s, a century old award winning Creole restaurant in the French Quarter.  The food and the service were outstanding, a memorable dining experience. 

     St Petersburg, Florida

     We drove for two days to reach St Petersburg on the evening of March 13 for a visit with Michael and Irene, Mary’s uncle & aunt and their dog, Zoe.  Since we would be on the road again for Mary’s birthday on March 15, we had an early celebration there at dinner on March 14 with a small cake.  Longtime readers of this blog know that we are always on the lookout for interesting libraries to visit (Mary was a librarian).  Here we visited the Mirror Lake Community Library, the original public library in St Petersburg which opened in 1915.  It was a Carnegie library built in Beaux Arts style and is still very attractive after renovations in the 1990’s.

6. 2022, 03-114  St Petersburg, FloridaStitch20220312_1912192. 2022, 03-114  St Petersburg, Florida4. 2022, 03-114  St Petersburg, Florida3. 2022, 03-114  St Petersburg, Florida

     To board the ship everyone had to present a negative Covid test taken within two days of boarding, a tight schedule for folks travelling to Ft Lauderdale.  We had purchased a couple of rapid home tests that were monitored over the internet (a HAL requirement) and we used them on the morning of March 15 before leaving to drive to Ft Lauderdale.  We had been very careful about mask wearing and social distancing during our road trip, but there was still a lot of anxiety about successfully using the tests (the instructions seemed complicated) as well as the result.  After all, with so much planning and two weeks on the road to get there it would have been hard to be refused boarding because of a positive test.  But once online with a monitor we found the tests much easier to use than it had seemed and both of us tested negative (yay!).  It only took about half an hour to complete both tests and then we were away  to Ft Lauderdale to embark the next day on Nieuw Statendam.

.