Note: As this is posted our Grand Africa voyage has been over for several weeks. For some unknown reason we were unable to connect to our blog from Rick’s laptop to post these episodes during the cruise, but his home desktop seems to be doing this OK. So in the spirit of “better late than never” the postings from the Grand Africa cruise will roll out over the next several weeks (schedule uncertain because not all of them have been written yet & at home other obligations get in the way).
On October 10, 2022 we set sail from Ft Lauderdale on Holland America’s Zaandam for a 71 day voyage to circumnavigate the continent of Africa. We originally booked this cruise more than three years ago for a sailing in October of 2020, but you know what happened. The pandemic shut down all cruise ships in the Spring of 2020 and this cruise was postponed to 2021, then again to 2022. The ship was also changed twice, first from Amsterdam to Rotterdam for 2021 then, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam were sold, to Zaandam for 2022. All three of these ships were built at about the same time and are of virtually identical construction and layout, although internal furnishings and decoration are different. So we ended up still in the same cabin on the Starboard (right) side of the Lower Promenade Deck that we booked in 2019 but on a different ship. This is the Zaandam:
Our cabin was between the last two lifeboats in the picture. This gave us a nice ocean view and enabled us to walk through the exit doors next to our cabin onto the walking deck under the lifeboats on either side of the ship.
So finally, after three years of preparing and waiting and packing, it felt great to be on board. Like everybody else on the ship we were vaccinated against Covid and for the first week (at least) everybody had to wear a mask inside when not eating. We were rather nervous right up until we left home for the two day drive to Florida because we had to pass a monitored Covid test on Oct 7, within 3 days of boarding. We had visions of receiving a positive result from our tests after driving a couple hundred miles south and having to turn around and spend the next 10 weeks at home after all. But at 4:30 AM Saturday, about 5 hours before we left, we both received our negative test results and we were good to go.
We don’t know whether any other potential passengers tested positive & had to abandon at the last minute (HAL generally doesn’t tell you things like that) but we were told there are a little over 1100 passengers on board the ship, which has a capacity of about 1400, so some of that difference might be folks who tested positive. It would have been quite a kick in the teeth to be left behind after waiting three years! We know of at least one couple who had to cancel during the last week after being booked for a long time because of health reasons; not Covid but that probably doesn’t make it feel any better.
Here is our itinerary, in map form (half moon means late departure & a black half sun means a two day overnight stay) and then a list of the ports with arrival and departure times:
DATE DAY PORT ARRIVE & DEPART
Oct 10 Monday Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Embark 4:00 PM
Oct 18 Tuesday Funchal, Madeira, Portugal 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Oct 19 Wednesday Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain 11:00 AM 6:00 PM
Oct 20 Thursday Agadir, Morocco 7:00 AM 1:00 PM
Oct 21 Friday Casablanca, Morocco 7:00 AM 9:00 PM
Oct 24 Sunday Tunis (La Goulette), Tunisia 8:00 AM 5:30 PM
Oct 26 Wednesday Soúda, Chania, Crete, Greece 11:00 AM 10:00 PM
Oct 28 Friday Transit Suez Canal- Cruise Only
Oct 29 Saturday Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt 7:00 AM 5:00 PM
Oct 30 Sunday Aqaba (for Petra), Jordan *7:00 AM —
Oct 31 Monday Aqaba (for Petra), Jordan — 5:00 PM*
Nov 1 Tuesday Safaga (Luxor), Egypt 8:00 AM 12 Midnight
Nov 10 Thursday Dar es Salaam, Tanzania *10:00 AM —
Nov 11 Friday Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — 8:00 PM*
Nov 12 Saturday Zanzibar, Tanzania *8:00 AM —
Nov 13 Sunday Zanzibar, Tanzania — 5:00 PM*
Nov 15 Tuesday Andoany, Nosy-Be, Madagascar *11:00 AM —
Nov 16 Wednesday Andoany, Nosy-Be, Madagascar — 3:00 PM*
Nov 19 Saturday Maputo, Mozambique 8:00 AM 3:00 PM
Nov 20 Sunday Durban, South Africa 11:00 AM 11:00 PM
Nov 23 Wednesday Cape Town, South Africa *8:00 AM —
Nov 24 Thursday Cape Town, South Africa — 11:00 PM*
Nov 26 Friday Luderitz, Namibia 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Nov 27 Saturday Walvis Bay, Namibia 10:00 AM 11:00 PM
Nov 30 Tuesday Luanda, Angola 7:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 4 Sunday Takoradi, Ghana 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 5 Monday Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 8 Thursday Banjul, The Gambia 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 10 Saturday Praia, Ilha de Santiago, Cape Verde 7:00 AM 6:00 PM
Dec 11 Sunday Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 17 Saturday San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA 8:00 AM 11:00 PM
Dec 20 Tuesday Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA 7:00 AM Disembark
*overnight stay in this port
We were hoping to make it to all these ports, of course, but we have had last minute itinerary changes in the past because of disease or political unrest or weather. You may have read about unrest in some of these places recently and there was no telling how Covid or weather could disrupt things. We had already had some itinerary changes about a month before departure, so who could tell? Stay tuned.
Crossing the Atlantic takes seven consecutive sea days, so everyone would be happy to set foot on land in Madeira. Among other things, on Wednesday we had the Captain’s toast to introduce the main officers and wish luck for the journey (free champagne for all) and on Friday we all had to take a self test for Covid, the results of which were reviewed by crew members. Even though every person on the ship had tested negative within 3 days of boarding, just 3 days after boarding some (we heard 15 and 25, but no official numbers were released) tested positive and were quarantined for seven days. A couple of them are friends of ours and they would miss at least the first two ports. It was a chilling reminder that this insidious virus can take a hunk out of your voyage at any time. I guess if you have to be quarantined, crossing the ocean is a better time for it than when we stop at new and exotic ports. We tried to be careful and kept our fingers crossed.
As I mentioned earlier, Zaandam is laid out just like Amsterdam, but with different furnishings and art works. In the Atrium in the center of the ship is a three story pipe organ. It was played one day in the first week but we were disappointed that it was just a recording (similar to a player piano we guess) with no one sitting at the keyboard. Among a lot of other eclectic art around the ship are a couple of paintings overflowing their frames outside the main dining room, a floor to ceiling sized painting in the hall near the Explorations Café, and a sculpture of a couple of seahorses near the entrance from the deck just outside our cabin. Several large MC Escher pictures were displayed on the walls of stairwell landings. And almost qualifying as a work of art, we received a box of Grand Africa themed chocolates after the first “dressy night.” (These are nights when men are expected to wear a tie & jacket to dinner, formerly called “formal nights,” then “gala nights”; no explanation for the name changes.) Other shipboard pictures may show up in later episodes.
In the Explorer’s Lounge a young classical pianist named Luca presented concerts twice every afternoon. This was supposed to be a cello-piano duo but at the last minute the cellist was unable to sail with us, so Luca performed solo piano pieces, and quite excellently. He assured us that the cellist would join us soon. As on all the older HAL ships, the Explorer’s Lounge features a naval painting (or a reproduction) about 15 feet long.
So that is enough introduction and the next episode will be the first of our ports. Until then, we will leave you with the first of what we hope will be many beautiful sunsets on this voyage.