Fort Lauderdale, December 16-19, 2015


Yesterday was the usual panic, just before you go, It’s always the same, no matter how hard I try. When the world doesn’t’ do it to me. I do it to myself. I had a doctor’s appointment in St.Helena to remove a stitch and took Elvon to Exertec for his last swim. While he swam, I had a walk and a nice call to Robert Lemire, a friend for a good sixty years. Then I opened my computer in Exertec and got so involved with emails, and Tripits for clients, that I missed my physical therapy, that I sorely need for my neck. Meanwhile in LA, Susan’s movers were late and she got out of town at five, rather than noon. I called Napa Airporter. I wasn’t having her drive again at 5:30am. She did arrive at midnight, and by then, I had actually finished packing.


We were up again 4am, after 2.5 hrs sleep. Our driver, Manny, was great, and we jumped through all the hoops, and got to the Hilton Marina in Fort Lauderdale in time for dinner and bed. The Hilton is next door to our friends, Linda McMillan and Bob Eckert, who picked us up for lunch on Thursday. I got a little work done that afternoon, finished the Tripits and emails, and went back to the Eckerts for wine and heavy hors d’oeuvres, and to sort out the boxes I had had sent there. Shipping about 30 pounds of literature makes a difference when you’re traveling with someone who cannot schlep. We never travel with more than one suitcase each, plus Roffice, my mobile office, and a boat tote, which starts out almost empty.


We finished off with some calamari, around the hotel pool and went to bed. We were tired enough not to be having any trouble adjusting to time differences.


On Friday, I was touched when Linda gave up her regular Bridge game to come to WalMart with me. The Fort Lauderdale WalMart is a kick and truly not optional. I spent over $250 on candy and toiletries for four months, and one dancing penguin for Elvon’s walker. Linda and I, Irish girls that we are, named him Paddy O’Penguin and expected him to be the hit of the ship.


We had dinner at The Boatyard, and it was scrumptious. Hog fish was new to us, but is now a favorite. It’s in the snapper family. The Boatyard did it up very well, and served it with Bimini Bread, which is bread baked with butter and honey inside. It’s almost dessert. We took a second loaf back to the room for breakfast. And we had it, too, with a couple of Atkins shakes from Walmart. They were a smart buy, because on the morning of the 19th, I found I had a cruise to book for clients, before boarding our Caribbean cruise on the Prinsendam.


Boarding was easy, and I found the events manager was Annette Montanez, who had been the culinary host on the Amsterdam for a couple of sailings we had done. She introduced me to Calin and we sorted out our cocktail party and a couple of special happy hours, just for us. Holland America eliminated seven to eight happy hours last year, because the bars are profitable enough at that time. They want to force us to start drinking at 4pm. God knows, I like a glass of wine before dinner, but if I start drinking at four, I’ll never get anything done, not to mention the shape we’d be in by dinner at eight. Seven to eight suits, because you can attract guests from both seatings. Calin heard me and offered me two nights, where he would offer happy hour pricing just for our group. I picked Boxing Day and January 3, the last day on board. See welcome letter, etc, which follows this.


Irene Gruenwald and her husband Leslie run Shore Excursions here. I have sailed with them many times on the Amsterdam. They had a different list for our shore excursion than I have, 37 people when I have 41 or more. One of my lists has 44. I asked Leslie to hold off on printing tickets, until I could sort it out. And I did, about five days later.


It took me a few hours to sort the list out as best I could and get the welcome packet out. I ended up delivering it after dinner.


December 20, found us at sea. We should have been at Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s very own island, but the weather was nasty and it’s a tender port. Captain Dag deemed we would be happier beating around the storm and going straight for St. John. So, I made a bunch of phone calls in the morning and went to my desk at 11:00am, as I had promised for sea days. On this ship, I share it with Robbie, the “Port Shopping Ambassador”. He was happy to let me have it over the lunch hour.


People came, and I took their pictures for my screen saver. It’s how I teach myself names. I sorted out a few glitches but nothing major.


Our dinner companions are still great and everyone comes. There are some wonderful large tables in the world. This is one of them. We went to the show, Mark Pitta, a comedian and vocal impressionist. OK, but not outstanding.

We were still at sea on December 21. We get room service breakfasts on sea days. I answered some email and went to the desk at eleven. A steady stream of people came by. Robbie, the Port Shopping Ambassador, stopped to chat me up and drum up business from our group. He explained the ship would stand behind purchases made at certain stores, etc. I wasn’t very familiar with a lot of what he was talking about, having little interest in shopping for jewelry in these overpriced islands, when I have access to Hong Kong and India. He observed that “obviously, you don’t travel much.” Guess not. We only have about 700 days at sea. I’ll have to work on that.


Our cocktail party was at 4:30pm, so there wasn’t much afternoon to speak of. We got a little promenade deck time, and I did my walk there. The temperature is perfect, so it was a pleasure. Then I sat down and cleared emails for a bit, before getting up at 3:30pm to go pour us both into formal attire.

Paddy O’Penguin, of course, came in a tuxedo. He looks very elegant, dancing to “We wish you a Merry Christmas”. Then he cracks everyone up when he breaks into “The Chicken Dance”. He is an enormous hit. He entertains in elevators, in the dining room, and all around the ship. There’s a little kid in every one of us. The Pilipinos and Indonesians, who make up most of the crew, have a higher dose than most, which is what makes them so lovable.

Thirty-three people came to our Cocktail Reception. It was a good one. The hors d’oeuvres were fabulous and the Explorer’s lounge was well laid out for the purposes. The people did get to interact nicely. Having them introduce themselves and sing out their home towns is always a good ice-breaker. Once again, we found people who lived very near each other and were delighted t o meet. By the time it was over I had 36 sign-ups for our shore excursion.

Anna, the acupuncturist, joined our table for dinner and paid for the wine, which is a very merry thing to do. There was an all-singing, all-dancing production show to cap the evening off. We like those. So does Paddy O’Penguin.

151221-010 Elvon Harris & Paddy O'Penguin

We were still at sea on December 22. I had to put a sign on the desk changing my hours, because there was a Mariners’ Presentation and lunch at 10:30am, and we were becoming 500-day gold medal holders. Thanks, vcom. These are 500 actual sea days. This you get for doing three Grand Worlds, a Grand Asia and a bunch of shorter cruises. Most of my people were there anyway, so no one complained about the change of hours.

Our table was hosted by Bart Groeneveld, the Hotel Director. He trained on the Amsterdam, under Henk Mensink, and married the Guest Relations Manager on the Prinsendam. He learned a lot from Henk, it seems. Anyway, he was delightful and gave me a long list of people on the Amsterdam to commend him to, Dolly not the least of them, and I will.

I have been taking Elvon up to the gym to ride a stationary bike every day and to do my own cat stretch and special neck exercises. I finally had time to negotiate a series of 12 15-min massages for said portion of my anatomy. Last June’s broken pelvis has healed good as new, but left me with all my old whiplash injuries severely aggravated. I am almost back to my old normal, and I have decided I want even better. This will be my indulgence this trip.

The entertainment was Chris Michaels, who plays everything from the banjo to the turkey baster. He’s funny too. Good show.

Landfall on December 23, at St. John, US Virgin Islands: It was a tender port and the seas were rough. Elvon would be going no place. While we were getting dressed we heard the stretcher team called to the tender platform. I later heard the rumor that people heard the bone break. At the time we were told nothing, but my guess was correct. Elvon is very right to be wary of tenders.


Finally, we got Eggs Benedict in the Lido, and they are every bit as good as on the Amsterdam. Then we went up to the Gym to exercise. That done, I left Elvon in a deck chair on the promenade deck, and went out to see the town.

It wasn’t much, but I got my walk in and paid $2.50 for a bottle of water. Those cotton tops I get in Asia are going for $159. The $2.50 was all I spent. When I got back to the tender dock, we were herded into a holding area and asked to wait. There was the tender and there was the nurse, with her manila envelope. Our patient was obviously on the tender. Presently, on island time, the ambulance arrived. The paramedics talked to the nurse and the next thing we know, our tender pulled away from the dock to let the next one pick us up.

I rejoined Elvon mid-afternoon and spent some time on emails and cruise related work. It’s not so much like work, when it’s on a deck chair on a cruise ship. We went to Sailaway, where Al was playing the steel pan to electronic accompaniment. Very “Islands.” I have loved the steel drums and/or pans, ever since IBM sent me to teach in Kingston, Jamaica, for three weeks in 1970. I had every dinner by the hotel pool to steel pan reggae.151223-022 StJohnSailaway

I did my exercises, had a mini-massage and we dressed for dinner. As usual, our table was very entertaining, but the singer is to be avoided in the future. Her name is Tricia Kelly, FYI.

On Christmas Eve, we were in Gustavia, St. Barthelemy, French Virgin Islands. Affectionately known as St. Bart’s. this island is still French. Like most of the Caribbean Islands, it has changed hands a number of times. Even the Swedish were in here, hence, “Gustavia”. The Swedes actually sold it to the French in the late 19th century. This selling off of islands was prime with the abolition of slavery. No slaves, no profits from the sugar cane business. The islands had a hard time of it until tourism came to the rescue in the last fifty years or so. They seem to be making up for lost time, with the prices they charge. More power to them, but I often don’t even get off. Taking care of Elvon, and my job, and correspondence, take up most of my time. (I was using the singular “takes” here because I only had one action word, “taking”, but Word didn’t like it. So much for Word, back to care-taking.) I can relax and take care of Elvon at the same time, not so true for running around on shore, so it has to be worth it. The islands are beautiful, and they are beautiful from the ship, too.


Today, from my deck chair, I worked on our Christmas Card and figured out how to send it out through WordPress. When I have more time and good free Internet, I’ll have to explore that more. At least, for now, I am getting something out.

We all dressed up for dinner at our table. Then we went to the show, a Chinese comedian and juggler named, Thien Fu, who was pretty good. He was really the opening act for “The Sounds of Christmas”, a multi-cultural Christmas concert, put on by the crew, and the Prinsendam singers. Our crew comes from 34 countries, only three of which are represented by more than 20 people. The Dutch Choir was enthusiastic, but not so hot, as they pretty much had to use everyone, and a lot of them couldn’t sing. Not that I can talk. They looked nice, though. There were a lot of officers in dress whites in that group. With 201 Indonesians and 154 Pilipinos and Filipinas to chose from, those were the stars. The Philippine people have a special music gene.

Since we are using Charles Sutton, the Minister, and his wife, Lena Bruinsma, as bus monitors, we went to the Interdenominational Service at midnight and took communion. It was really Christmas on the Prinsendam.

Just after we landed at Basseterre – St. Kitts on Christmas Day, the captain came on the PA to tell us that an unidentified object had been spotted in the sky on the approach. Fifteen minutes later it was clear that it was Santa and his sleigh. The ship went all out for the kids, of whom there are probably a dozen on board. But, apparently, they were all on shore excursions. One little girl was there to partake of Santa’s generosity. This is hearsay, because we didn’t fancy egg nog at 10am. We were having Eggs Benedict. Why they didn’t do it at 7:00pm between dinners, on Christmas Eve, remains a mystery to me.


After breakfast in the Lido, exercises and massage, I went ashore briefly. There were plenty of tourists in the portside shops, but very few out them in town, so I didn’t go too far alone. I did explore the church, but my camera had died before I got in there, so no shots of the stained glass. It was nice, though.

We had had turkey on Christmas Eve, so I had roast beef and Elvon had the goose. Dan told me how to fix the camera. Paddy O’Penguin danced a lot but not in the production show, which was called “Dance” and was terrific.

On Boxing Day, December 26, we were in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, but I never even got off. I just relaxed and took care of business.

We went to dinner in the Pinnacle with Madeline Young and Carmine Abbio, who were delightful. I think it’s a free dinner for all of us, thanks to our five lovely stars.

We dined right through the show, which was fine as it was a variety show of three previous entertainers, two of whom were at the bottom of my list.

December 27, in Castries, St. Lucia, was the highlight of the trip, so far. It was the day of our free tour. We had two mini-buses, basic, but comfortable enough. On the way in to town, Daisy, our guide, pointed out the sights and gave us a few demographics. There are 180,000 people on the island, 60% of whom are German Catholics. I was raised by nuns in Montreal and I never heard of this sect. As far as I know German Catholics are Roman Catholics. Someone correct me if I am wrong. The rest are mostly Protestants of all denominations. There was another cruise ship in port, the Freewind. Daisy said that was no tourist ship, its passengers were all missionaries. She did not say which sect. I’m guessing Mormons or Adventists.

She taught us just enough Creole to be dangerous. “Sa ka fete?” means “What’s happening?” and “Doo Doo” means “darling”, which gave us permission to get silly with each other. We passed the Rodney Bay Marina, which is huge and full of fabulous yachts. I know one reader who will be pleased with that. Maybe Still Crazy XVIII needs to dock here.

Presently we were all dropped off at a pan yard. It belonged to a non-profit steel band called “PanTime”. The band was out competing, as they all do in the Caribbean. The facility is open to anyone who wants to come play around on the steel drums and pans. Some people use it as a babysitting service, and the kids actually learn something useful. Today, we were the kids and we learned how to play the chorus of “When the Saints go Marching In”. or GBCD, GBCD, GBCA, BG BG, DDDA etc..The pans and drums had the notes on them in black marker for us novices. It was harder than it looks, but a lot of fun. Google: PanTime + St. Lucia. There’s music on YouTube, too.

Back on the bus, Daisy discussed the flora and fauna of the island, on our ride to Stony Hill. Perched on the top of Stony Hill, it’s a pink plantation house, owned by a British civil servant, who decided to remain, when his tour of duty was up. It’s a pity he doesn’t rent rooms, because it would be a great place to stay, but, as an entertainment venue, it’s doing just fine. Our host has had all his garden paths paved and fitted with metal banisters, which are necessary because the paths are pretty steep and are doubtless hazardous when wet. I found them challenging enough dry. But the views were fantastic, and the weather was perfect. We ate on the sweeping verandah. The drinks were mango juice, tamarind juice and plain water. We needed nothing more. They were just delicious. The menu was limited but every single dish was fabulous. We had cabbage salad, corn fritters, sweet potatoes, Creole Chicken, steamed fish, and wonderful homemade sauces, one of which had a little heat in it. They served that one on the side, which was a good thing, as it took a little getting used to. It reminded me very much of Theresa’s jerk sauce and that’s probably what it was. Dessert was Bananas Foster, local bananas, of course.

151227-031 Castries StonyHill -  madeleine YoungEveryone was exceedingly happy. Many said it was the best tour of the whole cruise and everyone I asked agreed that if they saw the same tour on the list next year, they would take it again.   That’s the kind of thing that makes me sooo happy. I was able to relax for the rest of the evening and go to bed feeling fine.

Not before we went to the 10 o’clock show, mind you. It was called “Stage and Screen” and featured, (what else?) show tunes. I retired Paddy O’Penguin, but people are still asking for him.