Tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM or thereabouts we will be leaving the Prinsendam for the last time (at least on this cruise). We haven’t seen any additional ports in the two days since leaving St. Maarten but Mary thought it would be a good idea to have one last posting about life on board Prinsendam. This isn’t everything there is to know but it is everything of which we have pictures. The idea is that this will be something for us to look back on even if there is nothing here of interest for you.
We can start with our stateroom, number 266 on the Lower Promenade Deck (deck 7). This deck is the only one that is surrounded by a full walking deck; it is a quarter of a mile all the way around & many people use it for exercise (starting very early in the morning). We liked being only a few steps from an outer deck, from which you can see everything around the ship. We have no balcony but we do have a nice large window. People walk by our window a lot (and crew often work out there) but it has a reflective coating so they can’t see in during the day. Nighttime would be a little more interesting but we generally keep our curtains closed then.
Our stateroom is not, to say the least, large, but we don’t spend a lot of time there when we are not dressing or in bed. There is a large walk-in closet so we had no trouble stowing both our winter & summer clothes for a 2 month cruise. Of course on a 68 day cruise our clothes had to be laundered, which we did in one of the ship’s two self-serve laundries. They are free except for the time spent, which sometimes was considerable because the driers often were less than adequate. There is a laundry service on the ship as well but it is expensive (unless you are a 4 star Mariner, which means you have spent at least 200 days on Holland America ships, for whom it is free).
Our door is distinguished by a 3D paper balloon that our travel agent, Cruise Specialists, attached to the doors of the 85 or so passengers whose cruises they booked. Cruise Specialists also have two “hosts” on board, Henk & Lucia, to help resolve any issues we might have. They also lead shore excursions set up by Cruise Specialists & host cocktail parties & chat sessions on sea days.
Next we can talk about food which is, of course, a central feature of life at sea on a cruise ship. Holland America does a very good job on restaurant meals, almost always quite good & a good variety as well (always about 6 entrees to choose from at dinner). Their best product on this cruise was their soups, but there are always rich entrees (rack of lamb, steaks, all kinds of fish, ethnic specialties) and desserts (ice cream & sundaes, pies & cakes, chocolate & grand marnier soufle). There are two assigned seatings on Grand Voyages like this one: 5:30 & 8:00. We are on the late shift, which gives more time in port. We sit at a table for 8 (you can choose fewer if you want), & we have sat at this table and made some good friends from our tablemates, who we see almost every night on this lengthy cruise. We feel very fortunate that our tablemates & our wait staff have been people we like; not everyone has been that lucky and two months is a long time to spend with people you don’t like very much. For the first half of the cruise there were only six of us at the table (Bing & Barb; Steve & Kathy; Rick & Mary), but halfway through another couple (Malcolm & Jean) transferred to our table. Malcolm & Jean used to live in the Panama Canal Zone where Malcolm worked as a Canal Pilot.
Our excellent wait staff included our head waiter Dewa, assistant waiter Eddy & wine steward Ben. All three were excellent at their work & fun to be around for two months. Dewa & Eddie are from Indonesia & Ben is from the Philippines.
A few days ago we took a tour of the ship’s galley which appears to be an extremely efficient operation; it would have to be, since they serve about 4000 meals every day. The galley runs 24 hours a day producing bread & pastries as well as meat & vegetables. Food that is more than 4 hours old has to be discarded. Wretched excess, and I imagine quite a lot of food goes to waste.
There were nine “formal” nights at dinner throughout the cruise where suits & ties were expected, although many folks really wore formal attire such as tuxedoes & cocktail dresses (you won’t be surprised that I wore a sports jacket & tie instead). Throughout the voyage there have been special days at dinner, which usually meant that there were special decorations in the restaurant & the waiters were dressed in special costumes. I have below a picture of Dewa, our waiter, in his costume for “Escape from Devil’s Island” night. We had a number of barbecues on deck & special ethnic buffets in the dining room at lunchtime throughout the cruise, and recently there were two “extravaganzas”: a “gala” at lunch one day, with ice sculptures, and a “chocolate extravaganza” one night after dinner. While we took pictures of both to share with you we didn’t eat at them (or at least didn’t eat much). The ship was striving for decadence & achieved it. Then on the next-to-last night the dinner was followed by a waiters’ Baked Alaska Parade (a tradition on cruise ships), in which they carried Baked Alaskas with lights around a darkened dining room to great applause & waving of napkins, before serving them for dessert.
In addition to the La Fontaine restaurant where we ate dinners there is the Lido, which is a buffet style restaurant where we ate lunches & most breakfasts (breakfast & lunch could also be had in the La Fontaine, but the times were more restricted). For lunches the Lido always has several entrees plus three Asian selections. They always have something that is freshly carved as you wait (beef loin, leg of lamb, pork loin, turkey, etc.), which I usually used to make a sandwich with their fresh baked bread. There was also a sandwich bar, made to order, pizzas by the slice, a hamburger grill out on the deck, and an ice cream station, which is open all day. The Lido also had for most of this trip the slowest coffee machine in creation (making coffee that really wasn’t worth the wait, unless you were after some caffeine), but they fixed it a few days before the end so that now at least it pours its poor excuse for coffee quickly. We liked sitting in the outdoor section on the aft of the ship where you could usually overlook the city if in port or watch the birds & the waves if at sea. Unfortunately in bad weather (such as in Antarctica or when there were storms) this area was closed making the Lido very crowded, so in November Holland America plans to enclose this lovely area. It will still have sliding glass doors on the sides, so it will be semi-open, but I don’t think it will be the same.
Among the public rooms where we spent the most time were the Explorations Lounge (see the pictures in the first post about Prinsendam back in January) where we went almost every day for a pre-dinner concert by the Rosario Strings. The Rosarios are a trio consisting of violin, piano & bass, who play a wide-ranging repertoire from classical to musicals to rock to country (they do a dynamite version of Orange Blossom Special). They are quite good, particularly the eclectic pianist who seems to know all of the world’s music by heart & plays it all with superb technique & panache. We will miss the concerts before dinner when we get home.
In addition, we spent a great deal of time in the Showroom At Sea, the largest room in the ship where all the entertainment, lectures & sundry other events occurred. This is also where you often wait for your turn on the tenders into ports . . . sometimes for what seems an unreasonably long time. This room will be getting a much needed makeover when the ship is in drydock in November.
A third room where we spent some time, at cocktail parties plus a whole afternoon in the Antarctic taking pictures of animals on icebergs, is the Crow’s Nest. This is basically a large cocktail lounge and dancing venue located at the top of the ship in the front, with a panoramic view of everything in front and on the sides of the ship. It was completely redone in one day, the day we left Ft. Lauderdale.
Then a few more random things. Not very interesting, perhaps, but important to us was our assigned lifeboat (No. 4 of 8). The central atrium, while small in comparison with most more modern ships (Prinsendam, built in 1988, is one of the older cruise ships around), has a beautiful two story etched glass tube sculpture. And across from that, on the floor above ours, is the main desk, staffed by personnel who will answer any question you may have, whether they know the real answer or not. And our two lovely librarians, Jessica and . . . Jessika. Not a bad gig for a librarian!
Finally, here is a glimpse of some of the artwork that you can see all over the ship. It is quite varied & much of it is quite beautiful, often even whimsical, as well as valuable. It certainly adds a lot to the ship’s elegant ambiance.
And finally, here is a look at our Captain, Tim Roberts. He’s an Englishman who dropped out of school at age 16 to go to sea & has worked his way up to this position over the years. He has a droll sense of humor and a fascination with all things nautical, both of which he shares with us at least once a day during his ship-wide announcements (which also tell us our position & course & speed & the weather, etc.). Here is also a look at our Travel Guide, Frank Buckingham, a 77 year old Englishman (big cricket fan), whose encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything on our route & entertaining delivery of voluminous information about each port greatly enhanced the experience. He is retiring after this cruise (the scuttlebutt says it is not entirely his idea, which would be a stupid move by Holland America), so we are glad to have had him along.
So, that’s it for this cruise. We will disembark tomorrow morning & be home day after tomorrow, & hope to see many of you soon. As our Cruise Director Linda always says, “Toodle-loo for now.”
This morning, Friday March 9, we docked in Philipsburg, the capital of Sint Maarten. Saint Martin is a small island that is divided into two jurisdictions. The northern part (a little over half) is French while the southern part is Dutch. Since October of 2010 Sint Maarten (the Dutch side, where we are docked) has been a “country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands,” which generally means they have control over most internal affairs while the Netherlands is responsible for defense and foreign relations. Philipsburg is a beautiful spot with great beaches, a nice harbor & lots of duty free shopping. As a result, it attracts cruise ships in great numbers: there were only two today, but there are often 5 or 6 ships each day. This is our third time in Philipsburg.
Philipsburg is crowded with stores selling everything from diamonds and watches to cheap keepsakes. Two of the more unusual stores are “The Yoda Guy,” operated by a fellow involved in the animation of Yoda in the Star Wars movies, and the Guavaberry Emporium. Guavaberry is a local product that we are led to believe grows only on this island and they make it into a liqueur. The Guavaberry Emporium was once the Philipsburg synagogue. The statue of the old man in the top hat represents their logo.
We also found the Philipsburg Jubilee Library, a nice open building full of students whose bookmobiles had a Caribbean flair.
Philipsburg has a beautiful wide white sand beach along the town’s entire length, with clear blue-green water. There are restaurants all along the edge of the beach & they rent out chairs & umbrellas (sometimes with a couple of beers included in the price). There are also vendors walking along the beach, who will offer their wares (usually hats or shirts) while you sit in the outside cafe drinking your beer & eating your lunch. We even found a restaurant on the beach apparently run by Ohio State expatriates. This part of town really fulfills the stereotype of an idyllic Caribbean paradise.
St. Martin was a pirate haven in the 16th century & there is a lot of pirate stuff around (particularly tee shirts), including the guy below who sits in front of one tourist shop. Philipsburg’s courthouse was originally built in 1793 but has been restored several times & used for other governmental units since, before being restored to courthouse status. Lucy’s guesthouse is mostly of family interest, and we were taken with the Pelican engaged in its toilette on a local boat.
In the last couple of years Philipsburg has built a very nice new dock facility (with, of course, a large shopping area). It is only about a 15 minute walk into town and there is a very nice curving stone bridge at the end of the walk where these pictures were taken.
Thus ends our final stop on this lengthy voyage and it was an enjoyable port and a beautiful day. As you can see, we have put on a little weight (it’s a cruise, after all) but we can still fit into all of our clothes. And to top it off we had a glorious sunset over the Caribbean (to me, the second one looks like a western painting, perhaps northern Arizona, but in fact its only clouds).
On Thursday, March 8, we pulled into Castries, the main city on the island of St. Lucia. St. Lucia once had a history of rapid changes of European owners but today it is a member of the British Commonwealth. So of course they drive on the wrong side of the street (dangerous for Americans used to looking left before crossing the street).
We don’t know how many people live here but it is a pretty small town. There were three other cruise ships in this small harbor and they were big ones, so the population here today was probably only about 75% local citizens.
After breakfast we walked into town, a pleasant stroll around the bay that took about half an hour. Among other things there was a fellow selling these bird bowl carvings (many of which we saw later all around Castries), which were hanging from a tree.
We visited the local market, which mostly sold clothes, and came upon an unusual statue.
The best things we saw were around Derek Walcott Square. Derek Walcott is a poet born on St. Lucia (though he has lived mostly on Trinidad) who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. Actually St. Lucia has had two Nobel Laureates; Sir William Arthur Lewis won for Economics in 1979. That’s quite a lot for such a small island & they are quite proud of that; busts of both Nobel Laureates are displayed in the center of Derek Walcott Square.
In the park was a painted fountain & a huge tree said to be 400 years old. Most of the gates to the park are topped by cherubim, who have green grass strategically painted over their private parts.
On one side of the square is the cathedral. It looks like drab grey stone on the outside but the inside is full of color and rich in character. It was prefabricated in France and shipped here & assembled in the 1890’s; the interior ceiling buttresses & the background construction on the stage are made of cast iron, in the fashion (and perhaps by) Gustave Eiffel. Altogether one of the more delightful churches we have seen, though far from the most elaborate.
On the other side of the square is the nicest looking building in the city (from the outside), the Carnegie Central Library. We were surprised to find a Carnegie library this far from the United States. And in the children’s room was the ubiquitous cartoon character that some of you know & love.
And on a third side of the square was a block of nice older wood and lattice buildings, one of which is the Ministry of Justice.
That’s pretty much all there was of interest. I don’t have a picture, but on our walk we came across a group of kids about 10 years old playing cricket with plastic bats, ball & wickets in a small school yard. Great enthusiasm but very little skill. Cricket is pretty much a mystery to us but we’re pretty sure you aren’t supposed to pitch the ball two feet behind the batter and you aren’t supposed to throw your bat 10 feet when you swing. The rest of the island is quite lush rainforest, with a volcanic mountain in the interior and lots of nice beaches, but we didn’t see any of that (except from the ship as we pulled out). We ended the day with a nice but muted sunset.
On Tuesday, March 6 we anchored at this three island archipelago about 8 miles off the coast of French Guyana. French Guiana (“Guyane Francaise”) is not a colony, but actually a department of France with representation in the French legislature.
The three islands are popularly referred to as Devil’s Island, although their proper name is Iles de Salut (“Salvation Islands”). One of the island is actually Devil’s Island (Ile du Diable) and the other two are Ile Ste-Joseph & Ile Royale. All three islands in this group were part of the infamous French penal colony of Devil’s Island, but the only one that can be visited by ships is Ile Royale, the biggest of the three and the location of the prison administration.
We had to wait some time to go ashore because there was a sudden squall that made boat traffic treacherous, and then after the squall it took some time to get the ship repositioned and the tenders running smoothly again. But we did finally come ashore and from the dock area you could see that Ile Ste-Joseph was quite close (only 650 feet separates Ile Royale from the other two islands).
Walking along the path around the island, it was quite a lush tropical rainforest particularly thick with palm trees. We were told, however, that when it was a prison the French kept the forest cleared so they would have a clear shot at anyone trying to escape.
In the forest we saw spider monkeys & agoutis, which look like giant guinea pigs with longer legs. The agoutis eat coconuts, which are abundant here, among other things.
We also saw several kinds of palm trees, including coconut palms aplenty and some with red fruit that we were told were Christmas Palms.
The remains, mostly ruins, of the penal colony cover a good bit of the island. It looked pretty depressing, with tiny cells, a reservoir now full of water lilies (reportedly with an alligator in residence), a hotel (converted from the old warders’ mess hall) and a cemetery for children of the warders (not a healthy place to raise children). The prisoners who died were buried unceremoniously at sea, which helped keep the sharks around to deter escape attempts. About 50,000 of the 80,000 prisoners sent here during its 85+ years of operation died here. Those surviving prisoners sentenced to less than 8 years had to spend another 8 years in French Guiana before they could return to France (and then only if they could pay their own fare back), while those sentenced to 8 years or more had to spend the rest of their lives in Guiana. The French government did not stop transporting prisoners here until sometime between 1938 and 1946 (accounts we have heard differ) and did not close the facility until 1953. The movie Papillon is set on Devil’s Island and reportedly gives a decent portrait of life there, although its author, Henri Charriere, was never actually there, even though he framed his book as an autobiography.
We found the idea of a hotel here a little strange, especially since there are no beaches. If your fiancee proposes spending your honeymoon at Devil’s Island it’s probably not a great omen for your marriage. Near the hotel we saw parrots & peacocks and we also saw a number of colorful roosters.
There was interesting flora as well, including the water lilies in the reservoir and some red and blue flowers near the hotel.
Finally we walked down around the back of Ile Royale, where we encountered a telephone booth in the rainforest (!) & some beautiful views of the surf through the palm trees.
From this side of the island you can also see the actual Ile du Diable, which is where political prisoners were kept. Captain Alfred Dreyfuss lived in a hut on this side of Devil’s Island for 5 years before the French finally admitted he was innocent of the espionage charges against him. For those who may not know, this was one of the most notorious cases of anti-semitism in the 19th century, since it is now accepted that Dreyfuss (who went on to serve with distinction in World War I) was picked by the French military to be a scapegoat in the case because he was Jewish. Today, Devil’s Island is inaccessible because of the strong currents & crashing surf.
Another interesting thing here (but I don’t have a picture) is a rocket tracking station. The French have their version of Cape Canaveral on the coast of French Guiana, not far from Ile Royale, and they have built a small station here to track the ascending rockets. We were told that the islands are evacuated when a rocket is launched because of its closeness to the launch site (except for the monkeys, who are allowed to stay).
So, that’s it from Devil’s Island. As I write this, we are on our way into the Caribbean Sea toward St. Lucia, and the seas have been quite rough. The barf bags are out in their little dispenser boxes near the elevators but we haven’t seen anyone who needed them (they are probably ensconced in their cabins). But there are only two islands & 4 days left before we reach Florida and the cruise is over. It has been a really great trip, but we are looking forward to getting home.
On Saturday, March 3 we arrived at Parintins, a city of about 100,000 situated some 500 miles up the Amazon, about halfway between Manaus to the ocean.
The reason we stopped here was to see the Boi Bumba (“beat the bull”) show that is unique to this town (more on that later), but we went ashore a couple of hours before showtime to look around the town. We were told that there wasn’t much here and that was correct. We saw the usual fruit & vegetable stands and a few interesting houses (not many). It seems that the primary means of transportation here is by motorcycle or bicycle, and there were a number of bicycle powered rickshaw type vehicles, which seemed to be especially for tourists (we walked).
There were some unusual statues of animals (made of concrete, I think) and some phone booths shaped like the bulls that are at the center of the story of the Boi Bumba show (“oi” is what Brazilians say when they answer the phone; my grandmother would have been right at home).
There were also some interesting mosaic sidewalks, but utterly unlike the others we have seen.
Then there was the Boi Bumba show. Every June (at the end of rainy season) Parintins puts on a Boi Bumba Festival. It lasts for a week or 10 days and culminates in 3 days of performances of the Boi Bumba show. People come from all over Brazil for this festival and the population of the town about triples, with many people sleeping on hammocks in river boats crowded around the harbor.
Boi Bumba apparently grew out of a Portuguese settlers’ tradition of annually giving thanks for their new homeland, and the story (involving the killing & resurrection of a prize bull, and other stuff too complicated to follow) is based upon an old legend revived for this celebration in the 19th century. At some point prior to World War I the local Montagues & Capulets (actually named the Monteverds & the Cids) developed a rivalry in putting on this celebration and to this day the town is divided into two Boi Bumba teams, the red team and the blue team, who present competing versions of the story.
What we saw was a one hour fragment of the full show presented by the red team. It involves music and dance, a single one-hour performance with no breaks. A single singer sang for the entire hour without letup, accompanied by a percussion heavy band. The dancers were mostly young people, many appearing to be about high school age, and the show was filled with extremely colorful costumes, with lots of feathers, & floats & props. The dancing was very energetic, with lots of high stepping and arm waving. We thought the dancing had a bit of a hip-hop feel to it, but it was all highly coordinated like a Broadway musical. The whole effect was quite awesome, particularly when you remember that this is being done by the young people of a town of only 100,000. (Many beautiful young girls in this small town, which made me think of Lake Wobegon, since it appears that all the girls are prettier than average). There are a few pictures below which give you only a rough idea, since my camera didn’t do very well indoors with the lights out & the dancers moving, and it ran out of memory card about half way through. But I will start with a couple of pictures I took before the show of some costumes waiting to be worn.
After the show we returned to the ship, VERY hot & sweaty (from the dismal climate, not the show) and partook in a Brazilian Barbecue held out on deck. The town set off fireworks then, either as a farewell or as a celebration of our departure, I don’t know which. And we headed for the sea.
Before I close this off, however, on Sunday afternoon, March 4, we crossed the Equator heading out of the Amazon. This was our fourth crossing and the ship staged a pretty silly ceremony, in which crewmembers who had not crossed the Equator before this cruise were initiated before King Neptune (played by our travel guide, a proper Englishman), who required that they be covered with garbage (literally, old food) & dunked in the pool. This apparently is descended from a British naval tradition in which sailors were thrown overboard to initiate them the first time they crossed the Equator. Since I had to watch this, you do too.