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Holland America Line Veendam

Western Caribbean Cruise

November 30, 2010 – December 7, 2010

Sunday,   11/30/08

We left early in order to beat the rain.  We’d packed mostly last night and just had to place folded stuff in the suitcases…only two (!)…imagine…tuxedos and all.  We called for a cab at about 12:05.  They indicated they’d have a cab there in about 20 minutes.  Figuring I had time for a quick rinse-off, I’m standing in the shower waiting for the…water to get hot when I hear the taxi out front beeping.  Just what I need: a cold quick pick-me-up rinse and then a dash into my clothes.  Oh well, we get underway quickly enough with all our bags and carry-ons.  The trip to the pier was quick as we told the cabbie to go out to MLK then down to Tampa St then around the circle in Ybor to Channelside Dr to the port.  Poof:  on board at 12:50 and they’re serving lunch in the Lido Café…yeah…food!  After a distraught moment when Doug thought he’d dropped his keys at the security check-in, we wander about exploring, grabbing a light lunch along the way in the Lido.  After a brief interruption as there was an ill crew member who had to be taken off the ship in a Tampa Fire Rescue ambulance (with a fire truck escort?), we cast off at 5:05.  Sailing out of the channel standing on the promenade deck, the rain drove us in, we go to the Crow’s Nest to watch as we pass out of the channel into Tampa Bay.  Hooray, we are underway!!!

We eventually made it back to the room to clean up and dress for dinner.  From what we observed in the dining room, dressing for dinner may be going the way of other quaint ideas.  It was the first night; and people’s bags may not have made it to their cabins yet.  We went to the Crow’s Nest bar.  Doug had his usual, a rusty nail with Johnny Walker Red; and I had a Negroni Nuevo.  That was really good:  gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, and orange juice and couple of slices of orange and a cherry as a garnish.  It was like an actually enjoyable Manhattan cocktail.  I don’t care for sweet vermouth at all.  This was a nice aperitif.  We met the bar waitress Vanessa.  They brought hot appetizers:  stuffed veal meatballs and deep fried salmon nuggets.  Both were quite good, even if I did manage to drop both my meatball off the skewer…that I got to eat, and  ended up with salmon bouncing off my slacks all over the floor.  As Mary Alice, Barbara Sinnott’s mother used to say:  How elegant!

Dinner was quite lovely.  We’d traipsed down earlier in the day to find our table so we’d know where we were going.  We are up on the second level right next to the open area looking down on the main dining room.  We are in a mezzanine, if you will.   They have wild caught Coho salmon available anytime; so I had that.  Doug had a nicely grilled pork chop.  They offered a cold curried peach soup as a starter that Doug enjoyed.  Surprise, surprise, the main cellar master is someone we used to know from our trip on the Ryndam.  As he passed by he pointed out a couple of things on the wine list and mentioned that really good, or at least authentic, Chateuneuf du Pape has the papal coat of arms molded on the bottle in relief:  who knew!  The boat was moving quite a bit as we were in the midst of gale force winds.  Dinner was great fun, and attempting to sleep was like being on a roller coaster…although not altogether unpleasant as neither of us seems to be bothered by motion.  A tiring day and a bottle of wine later.

Monday 12/01  Key West

It is December Fool’s Day!  As I was up just before 6:00 I lay in bed and eventually was up to put a hot compress on my eye.  Coffee arrived at 6:55 but neither of us was up for anything then.  Doug took a half a Valium then took the other half and just dozed.  I read, drank some coffee having showered already and went out for breakfast in the Lido by 9-ish.  The sun tried to come out.  It was a cloudy and rainy morning.  We’ll see what Key West will have to offer today.  Doug spent a good part of the morning decompressing.  This seems to happen when we go away.  These trips appear to allow the IBS1 to de-stress.  Doug finally was up at 10:30 and was in the shower by 11:00.  I tore up to the Lido that had just closed to grab something for him to down…a couple of sticky buns.  We got off the ship at approximately 12:30 and had to take a trolley (actually the conch train requisitioned into duty) as we had docked at the US Navy pier as Carnival Freedom was at the Mallory Pier.  We ended up at the conch train terminal right on Front Street and found our way to the Bagatelle for lunch.  Doug had soba noodles with cashews and a mixed green salad with Roquefort and avocados.  I had a bowl of seafood bisque and a couple of crab cakes; and that was good, too. I called the Gingerbread Gallery to see if they were open and got a message that they were serving other customers; so I assumed they were open. Then we wandered over to the Kino factory to get Kurt sandals.  We then traipsed up Duval Street and set out for the gallery.  Along the way we stopped in to Fastbuck Freddies, picked up some cards and cocktail napkins and walked and walked.  Of course, the gallery was closed.  What was I thinking?  It is high season; they are one of the older galleries; the represent a number of local artists; and they were still closed.  I called the number only to be told they were assisting other patrons:  no John Kiraly this trip…and there was a sale underway, too.  We consoled ourselves with a piece of key lime pie from the Blonde Giraffe on the way back.  As we passed FBF’s, Doug mentioned the bookstore around the corner.  Of course we had to go in.  I picked up a couple of cookbooks and a small paperback of toasts.  We made it back to the station just about 4:30, easily in time to make it back to the ship OK.

We did go topside to see the sunset (not…clouds) and watched the crescent moon appear with two stars right next to it…probably Venus and Jupiter.  It was getting cool as it got dark.  As we were wandering, two of our on-line friends Suzanne and Terry Sullivan called out to us.  They recognized us from our pics on the CruiseCritic website.  We introduced ourselves and chatted for a bit.

I guess prepping for dinner was uneventful. I do know I was cold and exhausted and took a nap while Doug was in the shower.  We dressed and made it up to the Crow’s Nest then to dinner.  Lamb shank for me and Doug had a Korean short rib entrée that was really aromatic…not that the lamb shank wasn’t.  We had a Cote’s du Rhone that went really nicely.   On exiting, we hit the casino just to watch and bumped into Suzanne whose husband was playing poker.  She’d just left a table.  We stood and talked for the better part of two hours.  We’ll look forward to seeing them tomorrow at the little soiree they’re hosting in their suite.

Tuesday 12/02   Sea Day

Up and lazily out to eat then to the theatre to hear about the ports we’d be visiting.   Then to the Wajang Theater for a cooking demonstration – very well done!  Mostly we spent the day wandering around, setting up the on-board internet account and reading.  Doug spent a good part of the early afternoon napping as we ran around Key West yesterday.  Today was down time.  Tonight was the first formal night.  Our new online friends Suzanne and Terry hosted a party in their suite, so there were a bunch of us at their place.  There were Kim and Debbie from North Carolina who are hot air balloon enthusiasts.  They work and crew balloon meets.  There was Dennis and his wife Suzanne from Orange, California.  Dennis works in the water authority and she is a stay at home mom of two who used to work in the oil fields on the North Slope in Alaska.  They are a very interesting couple.  There was Shirley and Ed, Suzanne and Terry, Kim and Debbie, Dennis and Suzanne and Doug and me.  This was a really nice group; and Suzanne, our gracious hostess, is the most effervescent person we’ve met in a long time.  We finally saw a sun set as for once it was clear.  As we were having such a good time, we didn’t get back to the room until quite late.  We missed pre-dinner cocktails in the Crow’s Nest and had drinks at the table in the Pinnacle Grille.  Dinner was very nice.  I started with a salmon and scallop duo, the Pinnacle Ocean Platter - carpaccio of lightly smoked salmon, hot smoked salmon, sea scallops and wasabi cream then had one of the best veal rib chops I’ve had in a long time. For a starch they offer lemon scented basmati rice with cooked wheat berries.  I also had grilled asparagus:  always good.

Doug started with lobster bisque then he had the Filet Steak Diane, creamed spinach and roasted potatoes.  His looked really good, too.  For dessert they have a vanilla or chocolate velvet soufflé that needs about 20 minutes lead time.  We opted for the vanilla.  It was excellent.  It was accompanied by vanilla custard sauce that was perfect.  We drank a really good red.  It was a really nice dinner.   They serve lavosh on the bread tray, really thin pan-baked bread covered with seeds that is quite good….anything to save the embarrassment of eating sweet butter straight out of the butter dish off your knife.

We wandered around the promenade deck and went up to the casino where we ran into Suzanne.  We spent some time talking about this and that.  Terry, her husband was playing poker of some sort.  He is a retired professional golfer, and is quite lucky when he gambles.  As we had to be up early, we excused ourselves and headed to bed.

Wednesday 12/03, Belize

(Private tour with Major Tom – http://www.cave-tubing.net – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)

We had to be up at 5:30 for breakfast in the Lido so we could be in the Wajang Theatre in order to receive tender tickets to leave the ship early on a private tour.  We actually made it to the theatre shortly after 7:00 and waited for about 45 minutes to leave the ship.  We are anchored WAY out offshore and the tender ride is easily 20 minutes in.  It is also rainy and decidedly cool.  I thought this was the tropics…it is however December.  We met some of our compatriots from Suzanne and Terry’s last night and got to our van OK.  Our group was Suzanne, Terry, Kim, Debbie, Shirley, Ed, Eric and Doug.  Our tour was led by Major Tom’s son, Minor Tom.  After a bit of a mix-up, one of our tour members had a travelers check issue and we got to take the nickel tour of the city to find a bank to get that straightened out….then off to the country-side.  It took about 45 minutes to get up to the archeological park where we saw the river and the mouth of the cave.  Some of the tour guides rode up in our van with us.  We were given truck inner tubes, a life jacket, and a strap-on head lantern.  We had at that point to get into the river.  Did I mention that it was cloudy and maybe 72?  The water was cold at first, but you did “get used” to it (Doug: think Lake Michigan in April – I sang soprano for about 2 hours afterwards!).  Then we walked for about another 45 minutes through the forest with guides pointing out interesting things here and there, including the bats that live in the roof of the cave. Cool! (Keep your MOUTH closed when looking up!)…it may have been longer, who cared…to the river entrance to the cave.  The cave was eroded stone surrounded by palms, tall trees and vines. You know those weathered and aged impossibly shaped stones full of holes in Chinese formal gardens?  This could be a quarry.  The water was again cold, but we did get used to it as we’d already been in it.  The guides all wore surfer’s wet suits.  The trip into the cave past an underground waterfall…that water was colder(!)…then down the channel deep inside the caves was really interesting.  We saw stalactites and stalagmites, and columns, and rock formations, and cavities filled with bats trying to sleep while we were aiming our headlights up into their little grottos.  The caves did drip.  The rock formations were made more impressive by the shadows our lights provided, and a lot of them sparkled with what appeared to be mica flecks.  At one point we passed an opening where the roof had caved in ages ago.  The daylight was reassuring.  It would have been really interesting to turn off all the lights for a minute further in.  The total darkness might have been instructive…intriguing at least.  We floated on for a while.  The caves could have been filled with more water.  The river was low and we often scraped bottom (when the guides say ‘bottoms up!’ they mean it!).  Eventually we got to a brightening that became the opening to the cave and we floated out.  Along the way we saw eroded river banks and at one point an allspice tree.  The leaves do smell just like the spice.  They are used to make a tea.  We floated along some more and the sun came out.  It was good as it was still somewhat cool.   We turned a bend to end up at the place where we began our trip when we got in the water before the hike up to the cave opening (If you view the photos for this trip, you will see my ‘Belize temporary tattoo’ from NOT doing a ‘bottoms up’).  I was freezing cold.  The main tour guide, Major Tom, had started a fire.  It was nice to sit near it and attempt to get warm.  We then hiked back to the cars to dry off and change and set off for lunch.  Some people had arranged for a lunch to be provided.  The rest of us decided just to go ahead and eat there as well (same food, same price as pre-booking so just go ahead and do it!), too.  We ate red beans in rice cooked with coconut, Cole slaw, and barbecued chicken.  I went up to the bar and had a shot of straight rum and lime juice.  By then I was warming up, and continued to do so.

We headed back into town to stop at a shopping place then went to the pier where there was an even bigger (cheaper) shopping place.  I got some gifts, coffee, and a couple bottles of rum.  We then tendered back to the ship at about 4:15 or so.  We checked on the posted dinner menu and wandered about.

We made it to the Crow’s Nest by a little after 7:00 and had a couple of drinks before dinner.  In wandering towards the dining room we bumped into Suzanne and Terry buying Terry a bracelet with blue and white spinels.  It seems blue and white are the colors of one of the Kentucky universities…who knew?  Dinner was the chef’s extravaganza.  At least we were spared the dancing baked Alaskas.   I had duckling and a lovely clear oxtail soup served en croute.  Doug had a surprisingly nondescript baked brie and shrimps Provençal.  Dessert was several chocolate mousses in a white chocolate chef’s toque…very tasty.   We wandered into the casino.  I’d bought a roll of quarters to dry our wet clothes from earlier.  I figured we’d use them in that machine with the metal hoes that push quarters to an impossibly precarious edge that never cascades into the bin below…hope springs eternal…   We bumped into Suzanne and Terry who was playing blackjack.  We talked for a while then came up to bed.

Thursday 12/04, Santo Tomas de Castilla

Today were the Mayan ruins at Quirigua in an archaeological park in the country.  There are a series of stelae that date remarkably accurately from about 739 A.D. to 805 A.D.   They reflect a dynastic intrigue between the king of the nearby city of Copan and his handpicked viceroy in Quirigua.  Long and short of it:  the Copan king raises several stelae to celebrate his accession.  Subsequently, his viceroy does likewise.  Then the viceroy invites the Copan king to Quirigua to collect the substantial annual tax revenue.  En route back to Copan, he is captured and eventually sacrificed to guarantee the succession of the new king, who rules for many more years.  He is succeeded by his son and a grandson.  Because of what is surmised to be very poor land management, the surrounding countryside becomes unable to support a metropolis.  The last date on any monument is 810 A.D.  The city is subsequently abandoned and the jungle reclaims it.  There is much irony there, especially regarding man’s desire to overcome nature.   The are on the country’s coinage.

This morning we only had to be up at 6:30.  We ate and had coffee and made it to the Reuben’s Theater to meet our tour (this was ships tour – the only one this trip we did through the ship).  That went uneventfully.  The trip out was pleasant except for a very demanding older tour member (Doug: read ‘hag’) who was traveling with her husband.  She complained about the air conditioning in the bus.  It was way too cold.  The she started in on the time to the ruins: 90 minutes.  It seems she missed that little detail…bitch, bitch, moan, moan.  The trip through the countryside was pleasant enough.  We saw plenty and got the lowdown on the countryside.  It was all pretty interesting.  Along the way, we got the lowdown on some of the local Maya history from our tour guide Maria Carolina who was very professional, thorough and entertaining to boot!  (See above) The site was kind of neat as it was previously agricultural land given to the Guatemalan government.  There were almond trees on the site.  I got a picture of almonds and almond fruits in which the nuts are pits!  The fruits look like little apple colored pears with a white flesh.

There was a Jade Museum gift shop.  There were interesting things to buy, not the least of which were talismans for your date of birth.  It seems I am a “Kan”.  The Mayan calendar has lots of detail!  One fascinating exhibit was a big chunk of rough jade.  It looked like the piece of stone next to it.  However, when hit with a metal mallet, it actually rang like a bell!  The stone just thudded as you would expect a stone to do.

Interesting aside:  there were these tiny black flies that not only bit painfully but drew droplets of blood.  Yours truly in shorts got bitten on ankles and lower legs.  They don’t itch yet.  They look like little mosquito bites.  I should have either worn jeans of brought insect repellant:  who knew?

There were maybe 10 stelae beneath tall thatch roofed canopies.  From the introduction on the bus, we were shown the particulars of the dates, the stylistic devices used, and the notable change as time progressed and the economy of the area began to decline.  There was a steep stairway…actually a stepped wall on the other side of which was a courtyard.  The courtyard was surrounded by four pyramidal structures with wide plazas in front of them.  It was evidently a compound for the use of city notables.  The stelae figure prominently on the reverse side of the coinage of the country.  We finally left there for the long trip back to the dock and the ship.  Any more, I always bring something to read so when we end up traveling long distances I have something to do.

The shopping area at this port was nondescript.  We were at a very large industrial dock where they were loading truck trailers directly on to a big container ship.  The taxi drivers and shop owners at the pier put on a show as the ship is about to leave with lots of dancing and music.  The ship blows it’s whistle and shines its spot light (it’s getting dark!) on the dancers.  The cabbies all blow their horns and have their lights flashing.  Very festive. We left at about 6:00-ish and headed out to sea towards Costa Maya in Mexico.

Friday 12/05,  Costa Maya

(Private tour booked through http://thenativechoice.com – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)

This was nice.  The ship didn’t arrive until 8:15 A.M.  We got to sleep in and eat a leisurely breakfast.  We did make it down to the gangway at 8:45 to meet the tour by 9:00 outside the new port area.  Suzanne and Terry were there as were Debbie and Kim.  It was just the six of us off to the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben.  The trip went by very quickly as the six of us had done tours together and there was an easy banter.  Our tour guide, David, he of green eyes and curly brown hair spent a good bit of time explaining the Mayan culture along with the important aspects of their religion (Doug:  I felt sorry for David – he had a cold and was kind of hoarse and trying to narrate a tour!).  It is a very complicated cosmology.  It seems there were three successive creation myths.  The first one ended in a flood (imagine that…), the second also ended badly, and the third attempt produced mankind as we know it with the maize plant figuring prominently. There appears to have been a certain ying and yang to their cosmos: balance was an important aspect and mankind existed between the underworld and the celestial deities that had human stomachs and had to be fed.  (Joseph Campbell was so on-the-money.)

We made it to the park and used the facilities and took off.  No shopping opportunity first off like in Guatemala yesterday.  The excavated area was the city center and the pyramids all were visible from the high points.  In one dramatic turn, as we walked along a wall and turned a corner, we looked up to see an impressive pyramid in a break in the canopy behind a wall.  Way cool.  We got to walk to it and up the “stairs” to the base of the pyramid.  There were a total of three right there, although we were unable to climb any of them.  At one point while I was walking ahead I asked what David thought of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.  He said the hunter scenes were true to history.  The rest it he described as “Dante-esque”.  I think he was searching for an English word, but was able to suggest the society as portrayed was way too dark.  Perhaps it was a bit of Hollywood overkill. (Pun intended).  OK: I asked; I got an answer.  I thought the portrayal of the Mayan society as effective in showing a VERY foreign culture.  Gibson had historical script coaches, but evidently he may have ignored them.

We left to go to a Kayak Lagoon (Laguna Azul) experience that Kim and Debbie had paid for.  We were going to wait in the bar nearby and entertain ourselves over beers and margaritas.  As I mentioned, this group has bonded remarkably well, and we had no trouble carrying on for the duration.    The little bar was part of a very small “hotel” (read: cabins) operation at the lagoon by an ex-pat German.  Picture a back wall where the bar is located, tables around, a low wall around the perimeter with screen walls up to the roof.  It was very rustic and smelled just like “camp” is supposed to if you’ve ever spent time at a camp site…a combination of pine pitch and maybe disinfectant and lots of fresh air.  It was really comfortable – very well kept and quaint.  At the lagoon, there are several cenote/sinkholes that have a curious water flow as the tide changes.  They are evidently part of an underground freshwater river that wells up through them into the lagoon. We did such a good job telling stories, we got off to a late start on the return to the ship: oops!  (Doug:  they do make killer Margaritas – very tasty but potent – I had 2 and was done in, Suzanne had 3 and was into her cups – are those C’s or D’s? – the max anyone ever drank was 4!)  We made it back with time to spare and along the way learned about our guide David’s history and how he came to the tour guide business.  All in all, a lovely day!   On the way back Terry asked if any of us played cards.  It seems we all did or had.  Terry and Suzanne asked us back to their suite the following afternoon for cards, drinks (more pink wine), and hors d’oeuvres – you have to love booking a suite!  They or one of our company was to find Dennis and his wife, Suzanne also, to join us.

We wandered about and frankly were tired.  Doug returned to the cabin as did I for a long soak in the tub (Doug:  We ‘escorted’ Suzanne to the ship – she was a wee bit tipsy! – and I wasn’t much better and immediately went to bed after sail away for a nap!).  The bug bites are ugly.  We ate dinner again at the Pinnacle.  As Doug wasn’t drinking at all (ie:  too many margaritas!), I had a glass of Mumm’s Cordon Rouge with crab cakes appetizer then a class of Veuve Clicquot with my veal chop (again) entrée (Doug:  Eric ordered the ‘lobster mac & cheese’ but the waiter suggested we avoid it as it ‘wan’t what you’re expecting!’).  Doug had the green salad then a chicken breast stuffed with spinach flavored with garlic and herbs – great crispy skin!.  It smelled really good…so good I didn’t get a taste.  I’d seen a mango crème brûlée on the dessert menu.  It was good but nothing stellar.

I’m sure we wandered around some but were both so tired we were soon in bed early.  This getting up from the table, walking about a bit and proceeding directly to bed can’t be a good idea, but it sure is nice.

Saturday 12/06,  Sea Day

We made it up late and had a late breakfast in the Lido.  We wandered about.  Doug looked at a titanium bracelet; but they were way expensive.  He’d purchased a ring earlier in the week.  I found Doug and we read / slept until lunch on the promenade then went to Suzanne’s and Terry’s where they had a card table set up on their balcony along with the other patio table.  There were 8 chairs.  I asked Terry to explain cribbage.  I think I know why they use the counter board.  Then we went to Euchre.  That was a little easier to explain, and we played for the rest of the afternoon switching partners, drinking and talking.  We finally had to leave by about 6:30 as we had to clean up and hadn’t started packing yet.  Off to the Crows Nest for a cocktail then dinner.  Doug had a very dried out pork tenderloin with a maple glaze (Doug:  this was the worst entrée the entire trip – the others are all very good to excellent – it was so dried out, it was truly like shoe leather!).  I had a nice piece of swordfish.  We left, passed the casino and ran into Suzanne, then Kim and Debbie (talked about an hour), then Suzanne and Denis.  We eventually had to leave at 10:30 to pack.

It wasn’t too bad, just sad as it was all coming to an end.  Had the bags out by just before midnight and collapsed into bed.

Sunday 12/07,  Tampa

Although I was up early; we were still en route.  We finally got up when the alarm went off at 7:00.  We were showered and packed by 8:15 (our scheduled disembarkation time was 8:45 to 9:00 AM – extremely laid back, no announcements, and easy!) and decided to leave the room for the Lido for a bite of breakfast.  We got through the line, and watched people disembark while we finished eating.  They closed the food lines at 8:30. We headed for the gangway (deck 5 this time) and off the ship.  By 9:15 we were home!  It was a nice way to return:  sans air travel!  Of course then we had to unload all the bears, unpack, start loads of wash, drink our own (better) coffee and generally start to return to a semblance of a routine.  I did mass at 11:00…never again.  Much too much pomp and ceremony accompanied by a welcoming of catechumens and two baptisms: puleeze!  Back home thence to the grocery store.

Summary

This was a great trip made only better by the friends we made via CruiseCritic.com!  Check it out, http://www.cruisecritic.com, and do join into a RollCall that for your scheduled cruise and ship or do like I did, start one!  You WILL meet interesting and entertaining people – we sure did!

This is the first trip we booked independent tours (not ship tours) and had great luck.  Do check out the Ports section on CruiseCritic.com for recommendations and suggestions for booking independent tours and tour companies.  It’s also great if some in the CC (CruiseCritic) group are also doing the same tours.

I (Doug) received my 50 day pin this trip – Eric gets his next time.  The Mariners’ brunch is a very nice affair in the dining room (past guest group recognition).  They did check our name on the computer before entering the dining room – you were asked to RSVP.

We think Holland America does a great job and so far is our favorite cruise line to travel with.  That said, if the price or schedule for another cruise worked better for us, we would consider booking with someone else (probably more a schedule issue than price – I know what I’m willing pay regardless!).

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