Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tuesday, December 18 – Eat, Drink and Be Merry


Sea days are positively sinful.  With nowhere to go and nothing special to do, it is easy to accomplish the day’s goals.  We slept in this morning and didn’t get to the MDR for breakfast until after 9:00.  The cabin stewards had not made up the room by the time we returned, so we took our books and some sodas to the OB where we read and worked on the NYT crossword puzzle until the Trivia team started to arrive.  Trivia began at 11:30, so we were in the lounge for quite a while.


Our streak continued today when we took first place with 13/17.  People have stopped clapping when we are announced as the winners despite Carlos’s enthusiasm.  If we were playing a cumulative form of Team Trivia, as is played on other cruises/ships, Carlos said we would have won already.  We now have nine wins in eighteen contests.  Carlos still has not figured out what to give us for prizes but we don’t care.


We had lunch in the MDR today and then read and napped during the afternoon.  We won’t be able to maintain this pace once the cruise is over, but it’s wonderful now. 


We were in the OB early for pre-dinner drinks and had another nice chat with Ferdie.  Jim and Pam from Scotland [and Cruise Critic] came by on their way to dinner and they sat with us for a while.  We have enjoyed their company during the cruise and on several of our private excursions.  They, in turn, have been very complimentary about the shore excursions.  As travelers do, we exchanged stories about cruises and side trips, both good and bad.


Ferdie, who had left to attend to other duties, returned and offered us all drinks.  MA had another vodka and D even consented to a glass of rose; Pam had a small rose but Jim declined.  It was a nice gesture by Ferdie and completely unexpected.  Jim was amazed that we were getting drinks on the house.


We talked with Peter and Manoot throughout dinner.  As we were getting our deserts, Fermin came and sat at their table.  He had worked through supper in his office and came to get a [big] bowl of soup.  By the time he arrived in the MDR, the kitchen had theoretically closed, but he had no trouble getting the soup and bread.  When the head chef came by, as he does most evenings, Fermin joked about having to eat leftovers.  He ordered a bottle of red wine and asked if we would like to share it, but we declined and he asked for three glasses for himself, Manoot and Peter.  We left them to their conversation, mostly in Dutch, and came home.


Tomorrow – Oranjestad, Aruba


Wednesday, December 19 – Last Call!


We are in Oranjestad, Aruba, today.  Aruba is alphabetically the first of the ABC islands, the others being Bonaire and Curacao.  All are part of the Netherlands Antilles, so they all have gabled houses and a strong Dutch background.  When we signed up for this cruise, we had expected to dock in Bonaire today and only discovered the change in the itinerary after boarding.  Fermin said that the change was made to facilitate getting to Ft. Lauderdale on schedule because Aruba is closer than Bonaire.  Fair enough – we wouldn’t wish a late-arrival nightmare like ours on anyone.


While the ship was in dry dock prior to our departure, all of the verandahs were replaced. Additionally, the two propellers which drive the ship were also replaced.  The new screws are more efficient so the Prinsendam can now go faster if need be, but, of course, at an increased cost for the extra fuel burned.  Now that the cruise is almost over, the powers-that-be have decided that it is time to test them.  Captain Gundersen [“It’s me again!”] announced last night that there would be attest at 7:00 this morning and that passengers might feel some vibration as the ship went from full ahead to full reverse.


Precisely at 7:00 o’clock, nothing happened.  By 7:30 it was obvious that nothing was going to happen.  Later in the day, the Captain announced the obvious – the test will take place somewhere in the Caribbean or the Florida Strait before we reach Port Everglades.  However, he did not say when this would occur.  For all we know, he will do it at 3:00 a.m. just to toy with us.


After breakfast in the MDR, we returned to the room and read a bit before venturing off the ship.  We have been to Orajestad several times and had no plans to tour or to stay out long.  The ship was cleared for people to go ashore around 8:15, but we avoided the crowd and disembarked around 10:30.  The Prinsendam was like the little elephant at the end of the line at the circus.  We were the farthest from the port entrance parked behind the HAL Ryndam and the Caribbean Princess.  The Ryndam appears to hold about 1250 passengers because it has 12 lifeboats compared to our 800 passengers and 8 lifeboats.  The Caribbean Princess has 24 lifeboats.  You can do the math. 


We first walked to the shopping area in front of the Princess ship.  There wasn’t much to recommend it, but MA was able to find a little box for the collection.  We backtracked toward our home-away-from-home and continued into town.


Just outside the port area is the main shopping street in Oranjestad.  All of the usual shops are here such as Diamonds International, Colombian Emeralds and Little Switzerland.  There is a Hard Rock Café practically on top of a Starbucks.  We also saw a complex which took up almost an entire block; Siva had Indian-inspired architecture and was painted neon pink.  Of course, there were other chains as well as local merchants all selling the same jewelry, watches and/or duty-free goods.


We walked past the high-end stores but browsed at the block of stalls with “crafts.”  We have decided that there is one warehouse on each island where the locals all buy their tchotchkes.  They all sell the same stuff for the same price.  There was also another pseudo-market with stalls which we didn’t even look at.


We continued past the stalls until we came to The Paddock.  We have no idea where the name came from since there are no horses or no racing oval and The Paddock is on the water.  We were here with Emily a few years ago and had a lovely lunch right by the breakwater.  Although we did not walk down to it this time, we saw the Christmas tree decorated with Heineken beer cans that we saw in 2010.


We almost died in the sun when we ate here before, so this time we sat under cover.  We had plenty of shade and enjoyed a pleasant breeze while we ate.  It was only 11:30 and we did not want a big meal.  Let’s face it: nothing says local Caribbean cooking like nachos.  We shared a generous plate of spicy nachos and each had a soda before returning to the ship.  We were not able to escape the lure of the local merchants on the way back.  We were on the ship around 12:45.


After we deposited our hats and bag in the room, we went to the coffee bar where MA got an iced chai.  D, in the meanwhile, was searching for Debbie to arrange prizes for the bridge group.  Mark, from the Trivia team, volunteered to organize the bridge players and supervise their duplicate play every day.  On some cruises, there is a staff member or paid outsider who does this, but not on our cruise.  As a thank-you to Mark, Debbie sent him a free dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, the shipboard steak house.  However, he wanted to award prizes to the bridge players and Debbie agreed that was usually done.  Mark had trouble getting himself organized, so D agreed to run interference for him.  Thus, with only two days left, D was trying to get the prizes for Mark. 


Debbie must have been at lunch because she was not in her office.  No problem.  We returned to our room to read and rest before Trivia and at 3:00 we set out for the OB.  Just as we were heading for the door, the Captain gave his afternoon announcements and was followed by Carlos who proclaimed that Trivia today would be the Battle of the Sexes.


We knew what that meant because he has been threatening to do this for several days.  Since we have won nine of the eighteen games we have played, and incurred the anger and admiration of the other teams, he wanted to split us up.  He had not counted on the other teams protesting, too.  None of the teams wanted to be broken up after almost three weeks of playing together, so gender-based teams were forgotten.  And we won again in triple overtime, defeating our arch nemeses after we tied with 14 points; ironically, we had each graded the others’ paper.


Carlos offered to buy us drinks as a prize since he has nothing to offer which we haven’t already taken home.  We told him to postpone the drinks until later because we, and he, had a meeting to attend at 4:00.  Fermin and other senior staff [Carlos as CD; the Guest Relations manager; and the Shore Excursion manager] met with selected Mariners and group leaders for a feedback session on the cruise.  We were invited, we assume, because we are the face of Cruise Critic on this voyage, but we could have been included simply on the basis of our 4-Star status.


Most people were positive in their comments despite all of the problems which have befallen the Prinsendam.  Most were complimentary in their remarks about the way staff members from waiters and cabin stewards to the senior staff had responded to their concerns and complaints.  There was one person who did nothing but carp, but we decided that some people who have traveled a lot are still not good travelers.  In fact, this particular grouch said that he would have canceled his next HAL cruise if he had not already paid for it.


Fermin remained calm and apologetic; no one is more upset about the problems than he is [Do you remember the falling ceiling?].  He assured the group that their concerns as well as the ones garnered from the end-of-cruise surveys will be forwarded to the Seattle office.  He also said that they were negotiating with Seattle about some sort of compensation for the passengers.  While we won’t turn it down, we certainly don’t think compensation is necessary.


Following the meeting, D went in search of the elusive Debbie while MA went for another iced chai.  Debbie was in her office and was most cooperative especially after D gave her another dozen Cruise Critic pens.  He left with a box filled with travel mugs, golf balls and Prinsendam pins.  Carlos wasn’t kidding – the cupboard is bare.  D did manage to snag the last two HAL neckties, leftovers from a Grand Cruise.  He kept one and left the other in the box for Mark.  After meeting MA in the Explorers’ Lounge, he delivered the box to Mary.  We read and wrote until it was time for dinner.


Once again, we shared our table in the OB with CC friends who had gone on tour with us.  Tonight, Ron and Walt sat with us when they came from dinner.  As we talked, Jim and Pam from Scotland walked in but could not stop to chat as they were late to dinner; when they are not late, they sit with us, too.  We have enjoyed the company of both couples and they have been instrumental in making this a successful cruise. 


We passed up the opportunity to witness the chocolate extravaganza tonight.  It was almost 10 o’clock when we left the MDR after talking with Peter and Manoot.  To go see a room full of chocolate, much less eat any of it, was unthinkable.  Besides, we have to be up early tomorrow.


Tomorrow – A sea day


Thursday, December 20 – Final Formalities


It was a bumpy night on the high seas but by morning things were calmer and by 10 o’clock, the seas were once again smooth.  This was especially important today because we had the second [and last] Cruise Critic meeting scheduled.  The seas had been quite rough when we held the first one.


Things were much smoother this time.  The crew has had almost three weeks to pull things together, so the coffee and tea were set up early as were the cookies, fruit skewers and veggies.  Although we got to the Crow’s Nest at 9, we were not the first to arrive.  Slowly but surely our half of the room began to fill.  By the time we started, the area was full; we had more people today than three weeks ago.  There were several couples who were not CC members but we welcomed them so they could learn what it is about.  There also members who came to this meeting who missed the first one.


D began the meeting but turned it over to Captain Gundersen after about 15 seconds.  The captain was very gracious [and brave] to join us.  Like Fermin several weeks ago, he knew he was entering the lion’s den, but he was as cool and affable as always.  The group applauded the efforts by the entire Prinsendam staff but lambasted the folks in the Seattle head office for some of the problems.  Questions, comments and complaints ranged from the condition of the ship at sailaway to the lack of communication about the late embarkation to the mechanical problems with the air handling and plumbing.  The captain was again applauded when he left.


There was little formal business today – the idea was for the attendees to chat and compare experiences after three weeks of cruising.  D did announce that Debbie had been kind enough to donate HAL travel mugs and Prinsendam pins.  However, he added, there were only enough mugs for those members who had attended both meetings.  There was some grumbling from people who had not attended the first meeting, but it was their fault for not coming.  Nonetheless, one did go to the Front Office to complain about not getting the mug.  There’s always one.


Generally, though, the meeting went well and people seemed happy with the cruise overall, despite the bad start.  When asked to show hands if they had had a good time, everyone raised a hand and many applauded.  Even better, many of the people who attended today made a point of stopping by and telling D how well the meetings had gone and to thank him; quite a few commented that this was the biggest CC meeting they had ever attended.


From the CC meeting, we hustled to Trivia.  D stopped on the way to leave a mug outside the door of the lady who later complained and to leave the empty box which had held the mugs in the cabin.  The whole team was present today but our minds wandered a bit.  Barry, as pencil man, opted out of two right answers which would have put us in a four-way tie for first, but we had no idea of the answer on the tie-breaker, so it made no difference.


After everyone else left the OB, Carlos made good on his promise to buy us drinks in lieu of cheap prizes.  MA had her usual vodka but the rest of us got fruity drinks.  Even D drank a pina colada!  Lunch at the “American BBQ” in the MDR was quite unsatisfactory.  Buffets are occasionally good [see the curry and Indonesian buffets earlier], but this one was not.  Where we expected burgers, hot dogs, sausage and chicken, we got chicken, chili, dry ribs and baked potatoes.  And those were the good dishes.  Oh, well, tomorrow we will have lunch in the Pinnacle Grill for our anniversary.


Tonight was the last formal night, a good thing since we have to pack tomorrow.  With the ship already decorated for Christmas, D felt the color of the season was appropriate and wore his red bow tie and cummerbund with his penguin suit.  Alas, MA had nothing in red or green but looked lovely just the same.


Even better, tonight’s dinner featured escargot again and surf-and-turf.  Last time they served surf-and-turf, the seafood was shrimp, but tonight we dined on lobster.  We asked Endang to just get two lobster tails and leave off the steak.  Since tonight was envelope night, it was no problem.


Envelope night is a tradition on cruise ships.  Even though we pay a daily “hotel charge” which goes directly to the staff, we always add a little something for those who have gone over and above what the job calls for.  This year, we have envelopes for Gildus, Ferdie, Marlon [the wine steward], Endang, Banto and our cabin stewards who have been among the best we have ever had.  Shortly after receiving his envelope, Marlon brought MA a glass of white wine and D a ginger ale “from the Beverage Department.”


With all of the traditions and obligations attended to, tomorrow should be almost relaxed.


Tomorrow – The last [sea] day


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