I have been on land too long, and now I long for the sea!

There is something about the sea that stands out from all the other wonders of nature.  The vastness of waters that stretch out without end, the sound of swaying waters that softly roars and echoes off into forever; its humbling, its greatness is overwhelming and seductive.

Warm Caribbean waters
await cruise fans.

Like all other sea voyages before me, I hear the call, and I’m off to give my answer, via Holland America, known for its attention to detail and style; known for its ability to create the experience (an art form all its own); known for anticipating passenger desires; and known for making you happy, and on this particular cruise that would be me.

If you don’t care for happiness and pleasure, or having your every whim anticipated, you need to sail with someone else.  I have no problem with devotion. It's everything I look for in a relationship, so I made the date, and brought my assistant, Nick along for adventure and fun on the high seas.

We sail out of Fort Lauderdale on the Vista Class Zuiderdam, named for the western point of the compass. Holland America has been sailing the seas for 131 years, so I have high expectations that their history lends them enough experience to meet the challenge of even the hardest to please, that would be me.

Vista Class ships are known for offering greater space, ambiance, and intimacy. The majority of the staterooms have verandahs; rooms are larger, offering not only more space, but some additional features, and 85% of all rooms have ocean views.

The Lido Deck Pool.

Other features of Vista Class include modern spas, new Cabaret-style show lounge, Internet café, coffee corner, exterior glass elevators that transverse 10 decks, and a large Lido pool beneath a retractable megadome. It's simply a more pampered cruise!

Our ship sails us to Half Moon Cay, a small island owned by Holland America, then on to St Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau.

Most people remember their experiences by how they start, and how they end.  Upon boarding the great Zuiderdam we notice the friendly attention of the crew, greetings came in accents from all around the world.

Our room is generous, lots of space with all the comforts.  The lighted vanity mirror is over a desk; a stocked fridge adds a special touch for someone like me.  I linger over a drink while I do my hair, a necessity,  (and after a few drinks all looks better).

A Few Details About The Cruise.

The verandah offers chairs for two.  We sit out there often surveying ‘our sea’ from ‘our ship’. We end every day and start every morning getting a blast of fresh air while viewing the vista; an artist's brush could not capture the changing colors of the sea, surging blues and greens . . . and flying fish everywhere.

It is only the beginning of our cruise, and we are quick studies in assuming our roles of self importance. Amazing how comfortable we are in our roles.

Ten decks of food and fun.

Fresh fruit baskets appear at night, to go with the fruity strawberry daiquiris to be sipped late at night in the fresh sea air over ‘our lamenting seas’, from our verandah.

I’m not sure how many times a day my cabin is freshened, but every time I drop a towel on the floor and left my room, it was gone on my return.  My cabin man, Eka, is always in the hall, flashing me smiles every time I walk by.  Soon, I start looking for him, he becomes part of the day. I actually meet a man who picks up a towel, and he is happy to do it,  I half expect him to thank me. While this may sound trivial, when else in life would this magic occur? 

The ship itself is a creature of comforts . . . winding stairs, colors shine everywhere  We can go to a show, watch a movie, go dancing, or simply swim your day away.  Everything from art auctions to hot tubbing.

Two nights during the week it's dress up for dinner.  Suits and silk everywhere; eating on the finest china, and our violinist stringing off notes in the background.

Our Restaurant Manager, Joe,  walks his rounds nightly conversing his way around the dining room, which is a work of elegance.  We linger over our meals and drinks just soaking in the ambiance and enjoying the pampering.

We tango on the dance floor, sometimes on the decks as well,  gamble at the Casino, loll in the pool, and search out the ship from one end to the other.  At the end of every day, we wind up, or wind down, on the verandah bringing an end to the day.

The Good Crew

The author with the youngest
Captain in the Holland American fleet.

While we meander around the ship, we chat it up with our fellow pampered shippers, and we soon realize most people are not maiden voyagers, but seasoned shippers, (our own term we came up with for our fellow travelers, if we can have our ship and sea, we can certainly have our own words).  We hear a few stories about the Captain who is held in high regard by those who meet him. It seems our Captain has a reputation (not to be confused with those of us with more colorful reputations). The Captain does not simply master the  ship through the seas, he is the man that all else on the ship is measured. I receive an invitation to a private party with Captain Olaf, so we dress ourselves up, and beaming with excitement to meet our Captain of our great ship Zuiderdam.

With the violinist pealing off notes to song, champagne in hand, we feel honored to be among the guests, most of who have sailed Holland America many times.

I talk with the Captain, who is the youngest Captain in the line's ranks, and find him to be a match for his reputation.  He is a warm and easy person to speak with; I could have talked with him all night.  However, being a Captain requires only a bit of his time and focus.

I interrupt my assistant who is busy rubbing elbows and sharing stories over champagne and have him take a few pictures before the Captain takes off.

A Bit About The Ship Manager

I then meet Mark, the ship manager, a man full of passion for the ship, and his role in managing the ‘Hotel’ end of it. Mark is quick and decisive when I ask him what set Holland America apart from other cruise lines. Quick as a heart beat he lays it out for me:

It's how we care for everyone traveling with us and the value of the total experience, providing the best possible service with attention to every detail, down to the smallest one, to create the most extraordinary experience for each and every person.  Every crew member on the ship is driven to excel and exceed expectations."

Throughout the cruise, we notice his actions meet his words. I often find him following up with us, asking if we are getting our needs met (all men take notes now, please). He is always the consummate professional with a genuine and warm demeanor.  We started to look forward to seeing him.

Maggie Expert In Guest Relations

Then there is Maggie, our expert in relationships.  Maggie is attentive and personable and always takes the time to talk about the Zuiderdam and her crew.  Maggie is just one of those people who everyone likes.  I would like to have her as my own personal relationship manager. I am confident she would ensure smooth sailing in my life.  Maggie is rare, she is the person that if you don’t like her, you just don’t like anybody.  Every time I have a situation that needs special handling there is a voice somewhere inside my head calling out for Maggie.

Half Moon Cay

Aerial parasailing views.

We pulled into Half Moon Cay after a day at Sea, a cozy little private island owned by Holland America, sporting a few colorful shops, a tropical bar with island musicians, and a private beach.

You can sip champagne in the surf or try one of the many excursions. Where else can you have a handsome man (hottie) dressed in tux, champagne in hand in the sea? 

My shipmate flies away up in the skies, and floats off across the sea surveying all below.  You should try parasailing if you are up for adventure.

St. Thomas And Tortola

St. Thomas is a haven for
duty free shoppers

This is where you duty shop for jewels, fine Cuban cigars, or go on any number of excursions; I prefer to shop in the sun.  Everyone that visits must buy ‘Mother of Pearl’ for your Mom, favorite sister, son’s girlfriend, and so on. 

Tortola has a charm all its own with colored shacks and tents lining the streets; sit at a charming bar, or catch a drink on the go.  I spend the day exploring and then for my adventure go dolphin swimming. I didn’t actually swim with the dolphins as I had envisioned myself sailing across the water with my swim buddy, ‘Calypso’.  It is a series of swim bys with a photographer and videographic positioned to capture the Kodak moments.

I did get a quick ride on Calypso’s belly as he zipped me across the water.  The ride is incredibly fast and smooth which surprised me.  I might have been a feather as he sailed through the water effortlessly.  I weigh about 2 feathers….maybe 3.  but still, I can’t describe the power….amazing.

We were all guided into a room to view our video, in a matter of minutes the tracks are laid down — music, sound, credits…a neat little video package to take home (for a price).

On our way to Nassau/ Paradise Island, and the famous Atlantis resort; the shops and coastline are a pretty blast of pinks and soft blues.  It's actually quite nice to just sit back on the deck and take in the views.

Nassau A Bustle Of Island Shopping.

You can sit back in a horse drawn carriage, or hoof it on your own through the streets of Nassaul

Nassau's Straw Market was rebuilt
after a fire several years ago,
with more room for big bargains.

This is where you really get serious about shopping; it’s a marketplace of endless shops; you can find tablecloths that are literally table art that you won’t find in the States. These are large open markets of clothes in rows of color and all amidst a hustle of people, natives calling out to sell you the goods. What a good time hitting the island streets.

We take an excursion to Sting Ray City where we snorkel about the waters teaming with brightly colored fish.  Lean and dark-skinned i sland lads dive in the waters and gently guide the stingrays to the surface where we feed them.

Angel is one of only two known white stingrays, she was found on the other side of the island awhile back. She has black eyes, and black freckles and all else is white as milk. She seems happy to be hand fed, and suctions the squid out of my hand with such power I am left with proof of her kiss.

I chat a bit with Andres, one of the diving lads who grew up on the island.  He used to dive for fish for a living, his diving skills landed him his job at Sting Ray City .  I envy him the natural simplicity of his life. 

The Last Night . . . A Night Of Magic.

We receive an invitation on our last night to dine in the Odyssey.

For those of you that want the ultimate in dining, you must try the Odyssey Room  When we first realized that shippers must pay $20 to dine, we immediately thought this was all wrong.

We were so wrong.

The room itself is impressive. Nick and I can not get over the unusual chairs, and later that night, when faithful Mark checks on us, he promises if I manage to get one off the ship, it is mine!  I should have tried harder.

The chairs were works of art, molded and braided iron arms, and yes I mean arms . . . with hands.  The feet are paws.  They could have been on the Titanic.

Fine dining at the
Odyssey on exquisite china.

The china is exquisite and from the minute our dining master (no one should dare call these great people waiters) appears we knew we are in for the dining experience of a lifetime.

He anticipates our every need and guides us through our evening with the lightest hand.  He is grace in action and we are ruined for any future dining experience now that we know better.

When we first see the food portions laid out for us, we think they certainly have no idea how we can eat.

We were so wrong.  Again.  We had no idea how the tastings throughout the night would keep coming until we could eat no more, but we did.

The food keeps appearing at just the right moments.  Our dining master knew exactly when to appear as if by magic; we sit at our table mesmerized by the view of the sea, the artistry of our environment, and our violinist stringing notes in the background.

A Taste Of The Good Life

Nick takes his first sip of soup and his eyes roll up to the heavens in tribute, it was truly a moment.

"O my God. This is the best soup I have ever had in my life!" We both moaned our approval through the meal. The way to our hearts is through the finest of grand dining.

Rated #1 for Cruises Click me.
The crowing moment is the Chocolate Cake.  Not to be confused with all other Chocolate Cakes in the world. Anything this good is sensation overload. It came served in a bowl, the only way to have it, smoldering chocolate so soft and warm in the middle and simply melting onto your tongue. 

Someone needs to inform the Great Chef of the Odyssey (known to us as the God of Food) that I have titled my Chocolate Cake hereafter as  "better than sex chocolate craving". This is how the stars and famous people live, and for this night, we are the stars.

Pay the $20, pay the $20  Just do it.  Trust us, you’ll thank us later.

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Cruising the Caribbean: A Passenger's Guide to the Ports of Call

Cruising the Caribbean: A Passenger's Guide to the Ports of Call

As pursers on a major cruise line, the authors of this book were constantly bombarded with the same questions from cruise ship passengers: Where? s the nearest beach? Do I have to get a cab there? Do I have time to go shopping? Where are the best shops, anyway? Tired of repeating the same answers time after time, Laura & Diane Rapp, a mother-and-daughter team, came up with the unique idea of providing the passengers with a book answering every question they might have.

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