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Day #5, Curaçao

We arrived early in Curaçao having docked sometime before 7am. First impression: as Caribbean islands go, Curaçao appeared well developed with a high standard of infrastructure. Our berth was at the “mega pier,” which is located just outside of downtown and connected by a pleasant stroll through the redeveloped Rif Fort (which is now a mall and hotel complex operated under Marriott’s Renaissance brand).

View of Willemstad…

Given that this was a long day in port and that we didn’t have any particular plans, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before disembarking the ship. We then spent the morning hours wandering around Willemstad. Being a Sunday, many of the shops, restaurants, and museums were closed and the town generally felt sleepy, but it was nonetheless charming with its brightly-colored, Dutch-Caribbean architecture.

Iconic view of Willemstad…

Highlights included the Queen Emma pontoon bridge (jokingly referred to as the “Swinging Old Lady”), the floating market (which has been somewhat curtailed due to the troubles in nearby Venezuela of late), and the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue (which is the oldest continuously operating temple in the Western Hemisphere).

We returned to the ship for lunch, and I took Emerson for a swim in the ship’s pool. In the early afternoon, Libby and I walked a little over 3 miles around the deck while Emerson went to Club HAL.

Dinner was in the main dining room. Once again, Emerson especially enjoyed her meal — Caribbean jerk chicken and a white chocolate and lime pop (which was a firm lime mouse coated in a thin layer of white chocolate shaped to look like a popsicle, complete with a wooden stick). After dinner, we attended another performance by the quintet at Lincoln Center Stage and had a lengthier conversation with the viola player’s mother.

Just before bed, I noticed a large ship coming into port behind us, which I thought odd for a passenger ship at that time of day. It turned out to be the Norwegian Sun returning to port, as it had departed from Curaçao about 5 hours prior. From what I could see, they were met by an ambulance. It seemed clear that they disembarked a passenger who had taken ill, as well as their family (based on the amount of wheeled luggage that accompanied them off of the ship). The ship actually released its lines and sailed back to sea before the ambulance or police vehicle left the pier. Based on what I could see of the pace of the emergency personnel’s movement, my **guess** is that the passenger needed urgent care in the relatively near-term. It just didn’t look like a “critical, fighting desperately to save them” kind of situation. But, I could be wrong — I’m hopeful someone will be mentioned on one the cruising message boards.

Obviously, I’m hopeful for the best for the passenger and their family. My thoughts are clearly with them. At best, I’m sure this has proven to be a scary and stressful circumstance. It also reminds me of why we travel now when we can, as you never know when fortune may preclude future plans.

Today’s box score: +1 country (Curaçao)

Day #4, Aruba

As I’ve said about cruises before, I typically find that we work our way into some kind of established pattern of activity. Arise at a certain time. Eat breakfast in common place. Participate in certain activities. And, so on… the particulars vary from cruise to cruise, ship to ship, but the pattern of establishing a pattern is constant.

On this cruise, we’re starting to find that pattern. Breakfast in the Lido (usually an egg white omelette, fruit, and some pistachios for me). Walking around the deck (about 3 miles each day). Watching the ATK demonstration (“New Italian Favorites” today). Enjoying the talented LCS quintet perform (“Women in Music” today).

View sailing into Aruba…

Today, we did much of that in the morning as our ship wasn’t scheduled to dock in Aruba until after 1pm. Given that folks had been on the ship for nearly two days and likely itching to get ashore, we opted to wait until after 2pm to disembark ourselves. Plus, we didn’t have a lot more planned than simply wandering around Oranjestad (Libby and I had been here previously), which we recalled as one of the nicer ports in the Caribbean.

Libby and Emerson in Aruba

The port was largely as we remembered it; although, I thought it was a bit more upscale than it appeared on this day. It’s not that it was especially run down — just a more vacant shops and a higher concentration of touristy-tacky merchandise then I’d remembered. We did a little shopping and picked up some tennis shoes for Libby, which we’d in hindsight not-so-strategically opted to leave at home. It was a pleasant enough way the spend an afternoon, though I wasn’t “feeling Aruba” today.

Indeed, it was one of those days of travel in which I just felt “off” for no particular reason. It’s not an unknown feeling to me. The first time I really recall feeling that way was on our second visit to Vienna, though I’m sure it wasn’t novel to me then either; it’s just that I don’t was more keenly aware of it that day. I’m at a loss to explain its genesis. It’s not that anything “bad” in particular happens to me on those days. I just inexplicably find myself feeling restive and/or filled with ennui on occasion when traveling.

Oh well. Enough with the psychoanalysis.

For dinner, we returned to the ship and enjoyed a surprisingly good meal in the dining room. Emerson, who’s forsaken the kid’s menu altogether, particularly enjoyed it having discovered carne asada and consuming a delightful strawberry crisp. This was followed by the aforementioned LCS concert. After the show, Emerson had a chance to meet some of the musicians, as well as the viola player’s very kind mother (who was herself a musician and violin teacher for 38 years).

Day #3, At Sea

Not a tremendous amount to report on today. This was our first (of four!) full days at sea on this trip. After dropping Emerson off at Club HAL (which she loves despite the ship having few playmates aboard), Libby and I did almost 3 miles worth of laps around the Promenade Deck, which has become our daily ritual aboard this ship.

View of the western tip of Haiti as we sailed past…

Between the usual grazing morning, noon, and night, we did the following:

    11am America’s Test Kitchen — All About Chiles cooking show featuring recipes and tips from ATK (which replaced Food & Wine Magazine as their culinary enrichment brand partner since our prior HAL cruises)
    2pm EXC Guide — semi-informative talk about Aruba and Curaçao (our next two ports of call); not as good as having a proper guest lecturer IMHO.
    3pm Classical Favorites — a quintet of excellent musicians took to the Lincoln Center Stage (another brand partner) and played a variety of classic favorites from chamber music to classic rock.

Emerson joined us for the ATK cooking show and the musical performance.

For lunch, we ate at the al fresco Dive-In for some of the best hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries at sea (along with Emerson’s beloved HAL taco bar). It was as good as usual — a fan favorite with this fam.

Tonight, we had dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, which was as good as always. Stand-outs included the chef’s escargot amuse bouche, Libby’s crab cakes, my lobster bisque, and our truffle fries. The ladies all went with filet mignon steaks (very tender), and I opted for the pork chops (to be different). Although the ladies’ raspberry cheesecake “tower things” (forgot what they were actually called) and chocolate lava cakes were good, I think my lemon brûlée tart was the winner for best dessert.

Day #2, Half Moon Cay

Today, we anchored (well, ok, technically we didn’t “anchor” — we just held our position with azipods) off the coast of Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, which is HAL’s private island destination. We’d stopped here before. It’s a pretty nice facility with white sand beaches and plenty of amenities ashore. Given that it was the first day of the cruise, we were only scheduled to be here into the early afternoon, and our fellow guests are fairly advanced in age, only a modicum of guests seemed to visit the island and even fewer made their way to frolic in the surf on the beach itself.

View of Zuiderdam from Half Moon Cay

For our part, we had a delightful time. I even rented a floating map ($10 for the day), which was from Frontgate and something I might invest in for when the pool is finished at home. We did have some rain showers pass through intermittently, but it wasn’t really an issue for us as they weren’t accompanied by lightning or thunder. Plus, it was both novel and fun to swim in the rain.

The ladies ate the included lunch at the Island BBQ (decent enough). I opted for the path less frequently taken to visit the “Lobster Shack” for Caribbean lobster roll ($13).

Lobster Shack vs. Island Barbeque

We’d planned on having dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, but the swells started to kick up as we sailed south. This caught us off guard, making Emerson motion sick before we could get Dramamine into her. So, we rebooked our fancy dinner for the following night and opted for the main dining room again in case we needed to leave early (which we did).

Day #1, Fort Lauderdale

We departed for Fort Lauderdale today to our 11-day cruise to partially transit the Panama Canal. Libby and I have considered this itinerary a number of times over the years only to opt for some other travel option. Why? The dates have typically been less than ideal for Libby’s schedule, the cruise tends to be pricey relative to others, and we’ve never been especially jazzed about the large number of days at sea. But, this year we’re doing it — I liked the idea of not flying and not being especially busy. Plus, it’ll add four new countries for us, which is a difficult to achieve haul for us these days.

Last night, I received an email saying that our boarding would be delayed due to “technical difficulties.” Holland America instructed us to arrive mid-afternoon. Fine. We still left early, but we went to he Sawgrass Mills mall to shop and have lunch @ Matchbox in Sunrise before driving to the port.

The port–on a random Wednesday–was very quite compared to the bustle that’s more typical of a Thanksgiving cruise weekend departure. Our fellow guests–mostly retirees–seemed to have ignored the instructions from HAL re: boarding. I have to imagine that there were delays earlier in the day when boarding was denied, but we waltzed at our appointed time from the parking lot, thru the terminal, and onto to the ship without any delays.

We have an aft balcony cabin (#7145) on Zuiderdam. Our cabin is typical of this class of ship (we’d sailed on a sister ship, Westerdam, with the entire family a few years back), although the balcony is extra deep. Mom and Emerson have an inside cabin opposite us, though their door is around the corner.

Zuiderdam, Cabin 7145

View of balcony, Zuiderdam Cabin 7145

The rest of the first day was typical. We did the requisite muster drill. We made speciality dining reservations (limited on this ship). We ate dinner in the main dining room (generally decent or better with fairly good service for a first night aboard).

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