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Judy Purcell

Age: 49

Occupation:Office Manager

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zuiderdam

Sailing Date: February 21st, 2004

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

 


Hi. It's Dan and Judy again (Judy writing). We went on our second cruise recently on the Holland America Lines ms Zuiderdam to the Eastern Caribbean on February 21 through 28, 2004. This time we traveled with another couple, my sister Cathy and her husband of 30 years, Joe. This was their fifth cruise. Our ages range from 39 to 54. We're all from the San Fernando Valley area, north of Los Angeles.

All in all, we had a wonderful time and the scenery was beautiful!

Getting There
We booked our own airline reservations on line, not with HAL. We departed LAX for Ft. Lauderdale on Song Air (a subsidiary of Delta) on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. Yes, the good old red-eye! Song Air doesn't have pillows to hand out to their passengers, but you can pay $5 for a blow-up one! We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 6:00 a.m., loaded up our luggage onto two carts ($2 each), and waited till Holland America representatives appeared at about 10:30 to transfer us to the ship. The 4-½ hour wait in the airport was excruciating. We discovered a Chili's restaurant in Terminal 2, so we had breakfast to pass the time and pump us up. They have seating at the front of the restaurant, on a "patio", so we were able to park our luggage carts right next to us. By the way, the airport was freezing! Keep a sweater or jacket with you.

At about 11:00, the transfer to the ship went very smoothly. It's a 5- or 10-minute ride to the port. Inside was not too crowded and boarding the ship went quickly and smoothly. Once on board (yeah!), we had a great welcome from a line-up of uniformed staff personnel. I thought that was a nice touch to make everyone feel welcome.

The Ship
My first reaction to the interior of the ship was "Wow!" I loved the bright colors and contemporary design. The carpets are beautiful (if you like wild). The elevator doors are glamorous. There are also more "classic" areas, but most of the ship is quite bright and colorful with modern art displayed in the hallways.

Once aboard, we started unpacking. Before you even leave port, the muster (showing you where to go and what to do in an emergency) is conducted. It got WAY too hot standing out there with everyone piled into a small area at the lifeboats at 4:00 in the
strong sun! At this point, we had been awake for 34 hours (except for maybe a couple of hours of restless napping on the airplane) and our hearts just weren’t in it!

The ship was very large (935 feet, with 1,824 passengers and 800 crew). I had trouble getting around, feeling like a rat in a maze. It seems it was just too easy to get lost. It's a good thing they had nice signs at the elevators, one listing the areas located on that particular floor, and one with a map showing all of the area locations. The only thing that seemed to confuse me was what elevator I took. Was it the aft, mid-ship, or the stern? Sounds simple enough, but it baffled me several times. The hallways are SO long, you lose track of where you are. I'm sure I'm not the only one that thought my key card wasn't working when I tried to get into the wrong stateroom!

Speaking of which. . .my cruise/key card did stop working. It wouldn't unlock my cabin door. I went to the front desk and they told me to keep it away from magnets. I couldn't imagine what magnets I had been near, but they fixed it and I put it back into my purse and left. Just a few minutes later I tried to use it and it didn't work again. Hello! My

purse had a magnetic snap! So just passing it by the snap on its way into the purse was enough to erase it. I had to either keep it in my pocket, or tuck it into my sock. Wearing a holder around your neck might be a good idea.

At mid ship, on both sides, are glass elevators that go up and down the outside. I loved them. The view was spectacular! And they also helped me navigate the ship, knowing that if I saw them, I was at the mid point.

>From what I've seen on websites, it seems that staterooms are typically orange and gold. I want different colors! When I saw the public areas of the ship with bright colors, I was hoping the cabin would be also. But guess what? Orange and gold! Oh well. We had type B Deluxe Veranda Rooms on the 5th floor, next door to each other. They were a nice size with a sitting area and twin beds configured as a queen. Our friendly room steward, Freddy, took down the divider between our verandas for us so that we had one long veranda. It was quite private otherwise. No one from above could see us, nor from below, and obviously, the folks on the sides could only see us if they peeked around their walls.

Our room was exactly in line with the forward bank of elevators. Handy, but we did hear the constant dinging of the elevators, and of course, the voices and laughter of any happy passengers.

The bathroom was nice, with an almost full-size tub and a nice shower head that was fully adjustable. It was quite dark in the shower when you drew the curtain closed. I started not closing it all the way and being careful not to flood the floor. Not that you have to see too much in the shower, but I'm pretty blind without my contacts to begin with, so any light helps.

The closet space was great, plenty of room for hanging up clothes and a lot of shelf space. But not enough hangers. I always bring some with me since I tend to over-pack ever so slightly! A full length mirror was attached to the inside of one of the closet doors. And I loved having the safe in the closet.

The coffee table in front of our couch was totally movable and height-adjustable, which we didn't realize till the last day!

I was surprised that the window door to the veranda is not a slider, but a regular glass door with a full-length window next to it. And there's a sign that asks you to keep it closed at all times. I like to leave it open and let the breeze blow through, so that bothered me a tad.

The lighting in the room was a little on the dim side for me. We found the bed to be quite comfy, and the pillows were great; fluffy and soft. We took a travel alarm. I can't believe they don't have clocks in the rooms. Wake-up calls don't do me much good without a snooze button to bang on a few times!

I like having the hair dryer at the desk in the sitting area; inside the bathroom would get a little claustrophobic, but it is kind of a drag for the person that's into a movie on the TV while you dry your hair. As always, we took an extension cord with extra plug-ins so that I could have my fan, hair blower/curler, and curling iron going at the same time. Seems there's never enough plugs for my daily regimen. And don't forget the cell phone charger (which I don't think ever worked anyway) and the battery charger for the digital camera.

We had a fully-stocked refrigerator, which was great at night when you didn't feel like leaving the room to get a soda. Yes, we were charged for any items used, but it was very convenient and re-stocked magically every day. We didn't realize that our ice bucket was full of ice until the last night. A couple of times I wondered where the ice machines were. I guess they took care of it.

I enjoyed filling out the breakfast card at night and having them deliver my food at my requested time in the morning. Everything was good except the scrambled eggs - weird consistency and not too tasty. Someone else complained about the eggs too.

The buffet area on the Lido Deck was very pretty. Again, I loved the colors. There was a large variety of food from which to choose, and it seemed there was always pizza available. There was a very large beverage station, which had tea, coffee, juices, water, but no sodas. I got tired of having to go out to the bar to get a Coke. Just a small inconvenience. In the mornings, the bars were not open, so no Coke was available. Yes, I'm a frustrated Coke-aholic!

The casino was very nice and quite large. We had pretty good luck at the black jack tables ($5 minimum tables), and the dealers were all quite friendly and helpful. We're not much for slots, so I can't comment on that action. The people at the craps tables seemed to be having lots of fun.

One thing that I missed was having an ATM in the casino. The other ship we were on had one, so we were counting on it. I was surprised they didn't have one, if they want people to keep spending money! I believe we could have had gone to the front desk and gotten cash if we added it to our room charge. We found an ATM on Tortola, which, to our surprise it gave us $100's, $50's, and $10 bills, not the usual $20's we get locally. Fifties can be a little inconvenient for cab fare and tips. On the last night of the cruise we realized that we didn't have enough appropriate change for tipping everyone, so Dan went to the money cage at the casino and they gave him change for the large bills.

The thermal suite was very pretty. We never actually used it. Dan and I walked in one day and asked about it, but when we found out that the pool in there is 98.6 degrees, Dan wanted to sit out in the Jacuzzi instead. We sat out in the Jacuzzi in the late afternoon under some shade. It was wonderful. He thought that the Jacuzzi wasn't hot enough, but I liked it. I thought that the regular pool wasn't hot enough.

After we sat in the Jacuzzi, we decided to play ping pong on one of the three tables next to the pool. We had a great time! Neither of us had played in years.

My sister and I had scalp and foot massages at the spa. We agreed that the scalp massages weren't that great. Too much attention to pressure points and squeezing our heads like melons. Not enough scratching and rubbing! The foot massages were heavenly. Especially after a long day of heavy-duty shopping in St. Thomas the day before! If you go to get a massage, make sure you take cash with you for a tip. It cannot be added to your room charge. And for you larger folks, keep in mind that the robes only come in that great "one size fits all." You may want to bring your own if that may be of concern to you.

The covered pool on the Lido deck was nice, but I think that the large polar bear statues at one end are rather hokey. Somehow I kept thinking they should be on a ship that cruises Alaska, not the Caribbean. The pool on the top deck was nice, but again, it had a rather juvenile throne thing at one end.

There were very few children on our ship, but the few that were there wore ankle i.d. bracelets. Apparently the ship requires it for anyone under 12 year of age.

Next to the pool was a taco bar, which I heard someone say wasn't too bad. I never tried
it. There is also a grille that serves hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries.

The outside bar next to the pool had beautiful brass stools that were inverted fish and you actually sat on their tails. They were beautiful, but there was about 12 inches between each stool, making it nearly impossible for anyone but super-models to get between the seats! The bartender was not too friendly. I think he had a personal vendetta against non-tipping Coke-card carriers.

Coke cards are a great invention. Sort of. I thought they were a little expensive on this ship, $27. We went to the first bar we found and asked for three of them. They gave us a separate card to carry around, which was an odd-sized piece of paper. I preferred the sticker that was affixed to your cruise card on our other cruise. Much more convenient. And this card limits you to only a glass of Coke. (They use cans of Coke on this cruise, but you can't have one, except with dinner.)

The main dining room was very nice. We had late seating on the lower level, a table for the four of us each night. I had read some complaints about the vibration near the back of the dining room, so we requested a table near the front. It wasn't too bad. For late seating, the upper level seats at 8:15 and the lower level seats at 8:30. I believe the early seating is at 6:15 and 6:30. The service was wonderful. Our head server, Rachman, was very friendly and brought us whatever, or however much we wanted. The assistant, Abu, was very nice and attentive also. Our Cokes were waiting at the table when we arrived every night. And Rachman always remembered our favorite dessert (fan cookies/wafers) and would bring us a plate of them without our asking. Cathy loves Caesar salad and wanted it every night. They were happy to accommodate her, even though it wasn't on the menu every night. And if you wanted more than one serving of something, just speak up! It was great. If three appetizers or entrees sounded good, you didn't have to choose only one! Have 'em all! The food was very good. I especially loved the flourless chocolate cake. I really didn't know what to expect, but it was amazing! Very dark, creamy chocolate. Great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The "final" dinner, the night before the last night of the cruise, was great. The staff sang a song and all the servers marched through the dining rooms with Baked Alaskas lighting up the room with sparklers. It was a lot of fun. On our last cruise we chose personal choice dining, which was very handy, but not as fancy and certainly you weren't spoiled as you are with traditional dining.

We ate one night at The Odyssey. There's a $20 charge per person. Worth it. We all had filet mignon, which was excellent. Dan was disappointed that they didn't have lobster on the menu. Our service was pretty good. The décor was very nice, except for the large lighted fruit/cheese pictures on the walls, which kind of reminded us of Denny's. But I think I actually preferred being spoiled in the main dining room.

There were many different bars with many different types of music. One bar next to the casino had sports on several t.v.'s and allowed smoking. There was a nice piano bar (non-smoking) right next to the casino that I enjoyed going into and singing along to the music while Dan gambled. Northern Lights (the disco) was on the other side of the casino, featuring different types of music (70's, 80's, etc.) on different nights. The Crow's Nest had a trio playing most of the time. I only went into the Queen's Lounge once to see some line dancing and listen to country music.

There is a semi-covered seating area outside on the Lido Deck for smoking cigars after dinner.

The main showroom was very nice. Dan and I saw two big production shows. The first one was o.k. We felt that the two male lead singers didn't have strong enough voices, and on the whole the cast wasn't exactly full of "Hollywood lookers." The leading lady was very cute and had a great voice. The costumes were rather lack-luster. It was entertaining, but not great. The second show that they did had costumes done by Bob Mackie. Much better! Lots of glamour and glitz. We were much happier with that show. Joe and Cathy went and saw a magician and a comedian one night and enjoyed that show. Joe liked the magician so much, he went and saw him again the next morning in the Queen's Lounge in a more "up-close and personal" setting. They also saw a singer from Canada one night and enjoyed his show as well.

The photo department was a little out of the way. I always enjoy looking at all the photos. Keep in mind that if there's one you want to buy, do it when you first see it. At the end of the cruise there are too many photos for them to display all at once, so if you don't pick it up right away, you may end up sifting through many stacks of photos to find yours. And there are lots of people doing just that on the last night.

The atrium was nothing to write home about. It’s not a bustling hot bed of excitement. There’s a Waterford crystal seahorse hanging from the ceiling, and as much as I love crystal, it just wasn’t too impressive. There were no grand lights or impressive stair cases.

The on-board shops were very nice. Everything you could need or want. There was a nice selection of beautiful jewelry (real and fake), crystal, t-shirts, fancy clothes, the usual touristy stuff, booze, cigarettes, and sundries. It was nice that they were open till 10:30 p.m., but even nicer that on the final night they were open till 11:00, at which time they wouldn't accept cash, only a room charge. (No cash??? What’s this world coming to?)

Dan noticed that cigs were only $18 a carton, half the price of here at home. We heard that the limit you could take home was 5 cartons per person, but when Dan went to purchase them the next day, he was told that you could take home five cartons only from St. Thomas, not Tortola! I don't understand all the duty-free/immigration rules, but if you want to buy booze or smokes, make sure you get the facts before you start cruising. The ship passed out declaration forms before the end of the cruise that needed to be filled out by everyone (or one per family), and they were collected by INS upon your departure from the port building after you found your luggage. On the form you declare what you bought and how much money you spent. When the agent saw that we each had a carton of cigs listed, he asked us if we had any cigars. I said no and he let us pass. I had heard that Cuban cigars are legal, but I thought they were illegal - maybe they're just legal on the ship or in a different country, i.e. the Bahamas or British Virgin Islands? Obviously, I don't know the details. What if INS didn't believe you or wanted to check your luggage? Or if you had five cartons, how do they know where you purchased them? I guess they would have pulled you over right there and checked your luggage? Carrying home heavy bottles of booze seemed rather inconvenient, so we never inquired about it. I think that the limit you could spend was $1,800 without having to pay a duty for your purchases. Cathy had spent a little over that amount on jewelry, etc., and declared it all, but didn't have one of her receipts. The agent begrudgingly told her he'd give her the benefit of the doubt and let her go through.

Speaking of immigration and different countries, one day when we got back to our room, there was a form to fill out and a notice that ALL passengers had to be ready for an INS inspection at 6:45 the next morning! Every person had to have their passport or i.d. ready to show an INS agent in the Queen's Lounge. If you didn't show up, you would be fined. I have no idea if that's a common practice on cruise ships since I've never left the country on a ship before, but I didn't enjoy having to wake up at the crack of dawn on a day off of work. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

The drinking age on the ship was 18 since it was on international waters - a topic hotly debated for a while on the AOL cruise boards.

During your shore excursions it's a very good idea to carry lots of $1's and $5's for cab fares and tips. The drivers will often tell you that they don't have any change. And everybody from the taxi drivers to tour guides to waiters to bathroom attendants, etc., remind you that it's nice to tip - they're not shy about it! So make sure you have the right change to tip if you feel it's warranted.

The Weather
The weather during our cruise was very warm (too hot for Cathy and me!) and very humid. We're not used to all the humidity, so it was a real drag. I can't imagine being there in the summer! Just opening the veranda door (most of the time) was like walking into a very windy steam room.

On the last day, at Nassau, it was beautiful. A little cooler and less humid, but the wind was so intense that the ship cancelled all snorkeling and helicopter rides. It was very windy (we saw Auntie Em fly by), but very nice otherwise.

Shore Excursions

Half Moon Cay

Our first stop was at Holland America’s private island, Half Moon Cay (pronounced key). Dan had signed up to go deep-sea fishing ($120). They took him out on a small boat for two hours, and not one bite! He was hoping for a big one. When he got back, we all took at tender (a small boat) to the island for a glass-bottom boat tour ($29 per person). There isn’t a dock, so the ship has to anchor out in the ocean, hence the tender to get you to shore. It was so hot that day. Sitting in the enclosed tender waiting for it to take off was killer. If you don’t do well in the heat, you might want to carry a little battery-operated fan with you. Wish I had. The scenery was beautiful. The island was small with a pretty beach and turquoise water. When we got to the island, there was a small “shopping” area with an outdoor bar and some small outdoor shopping stands. There was one building with a post office and an indoor shop, but it was not air-conditioned. They serve lunch on the island till 2:00, but our tour was getting back at 2:00. If they have tours that run till 2:00, I think they should serve some kind of food later. The “village” area was very cute, with brightly painted buildings, a bar, and a nice bathroom. Just beyond the buildings was the beach. We could see some parasailing going on in the sky. Very pretty but we didn’t have time to enjoy it. Our Eco Lagoon Tour started at 12:30. It was great. The boat was covered on the top and open on the sides, with a glass bottom, and of course there was a nice breeze once we got going. The lagoon was very shallow and we saw lots of different coral and fish. The two tour guides were very friendly and knowledgeable. One of them would jump out and pick up different animals (a star fish and a sea urchin) to show them to you up close. We all enjoyed the tour.

We stopped at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday. We docked this time, parallel parked. We took a tour called Island Tour and Mountain Top ($24 each). The “bus” was a pick-up truck that had the bed converted with bench seats, a top, and open sides. The end seat would be best for taking photos, but it also left you in the sun. Again, it was hot. As we drove out of the pier area the roads got worse and steep. We were a little nervous. The tour guide was nice and friendly, and he took us to some higher spots on the island to see the beautiful vistas.

Again, there were outdoor swap-meet-like shopping areas selling lots polyester “Caribbean” clothes. I don’t know how people could survive the humidity in polyester clothes!

Then we drove up to the highest point of the island and over-looked Megan’s Bay. It was absolutely gorgeous. But I’m not sure if anyone actually gets to go there or not. We just saw it from afar. Made for some spectacular photos!

There was a nice air-conditioned indoor shopping/snacking area there and we were stopped for about a ½ hour. It was nice to cool off. On the way back down the hill we saw a 5’ iguana just moseying along. He was quite cool. Apparently there are quite a few of them. That’s about the only wildlife we saw on land, except for some pelicans at the beach.

The tour bus took us back down to the downtown area and dropped us off if we wanted to shop, or would take us back to the ship. We wanted to shop. The streets were very narrow and congested. Lots of carbon monoxide! And lots of horns honking. Every two minutes someone was asking you if you needed a taxi. Every store I went into was hard sell. These islands have one industry – tourism. And they need to make their money for the year during the tourist season. Even though the main street was run down, most of the shops were very nice on the interiors. There were many fancy jewelry stores, plus a lot of stores you’d find in Beverly Hills, i.e., Lalique, Swarovski, Coach, Ralph Lauren, etc.

After shopping for a couple of hours, we found a hamburger place to eat. No great shakes. There didn’t seem to be too many restaurants. A few of the locals told us to go up this one street and over a block off the main drag, but we didn’t really trust them. They looked rather seedy. So we kept looking on our own.

We walked out onto the street and took up one of the taxi drivers and went back to the ship to drop off our purchases. Then Cathy and I went back out to the Havensight Mall (right next to the ship). We spent another three hours shopping there. Cathy found a jewelry store that had too much good stuff. And I finally found some nice T-shirts in XXL for Dan. (Larger sizes are not easy to find!) We also enjoyed the air-conditioned stores and the fact that they were only a five-minute walk back to the ship.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands
On Wednesday we stopped at Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Again, we docked at a ship parking lot, with another ship right next to us. We headed off the ship on our own, determined to find a beach to hang out on for the day. At the end of the pier was a man asking where you wanted to go and directing people to the appropriate taxis. We got on a taxi that was 98% full of people, but the taxis don’t leave till they are completely full, with four people to a seat (can you say “cramped?”) The people who were already there had been waiting twenty minutes cramped together in the heat and were getting very antsy. They started telling the cab driver to get going, but he didn’t care. Not too friendly, to say the least. There was a big sign in the front of the back section that was rather rude about not putting your feet on the window, that’s what the floor is for. And informing us all that tipping is not illegal. After another ten minutes he finally got another couple to ride up front with him and we were off. As he started driving on the nightmare roads, all of us passengers started looking at each other in disbelief, hoping we’d make it to our destination, which turned out to be Cane Garden Bay Beach. It’s a very poor island and you see lots of trash in yards, roosters, and goats wandering on the roads, and hurricane-ravaged houses. The roads were full of potholes, were very narrow and steep, with no guardrails along some of the cliffs. Pretty scary, folks. When we arrived at the beach, we all got out of the cab and had to pay our $6 each. The first person handed the driver a $20 bill, and was told by the driver rather indignantly that he didn’t have any change. We gave him the required $12 and left. No tip for that bozo. When we walked out to the beach it was very pretty. Chaise lounges lined up everywhere. We picked a chair, sat down, and were immediately approached by a local telling us that a chair would cost us $5 each. O.k. There were palm trees and lots of greenery along the back side of the beach. The water was very blue, with puffy clouds in the sky, and a few sail boats in the bay. Very picturesque. We had a great time watching the pelicans dive-bombing for fish. We sat for a while enjoying the breeze and slight overcast. From out of nowhere, Joe (my brother-in-law) walked up. What were the odds of that happening? Cathy slept in and he got off the ship and took a long island tour. (Not to be confused with a tour of Long Island). He agreed that the roads were rather treacherous, and said that he had been to the highest point on the mountain, and had seen some incredibly gorgeous mansions. A little different from what we saw. After he left with his tour bus, we ventured into the water. It was a little too cold for us. Yes, warmer than Malibu, but still too cold. We decided to stroll along the beach instead. There were many outdoor vendors with clothes hanging for sale. We were quite thirsty, so we continued to the end of the bay where we saw an “outdoor” café.

Along the way, Dan spotted something we had never seen before. Topless sunbathers! Made his day! I guess it’s the norm in a lot of places, but not to us. After we quit staring, pointing, and taking pictures for the scrap book (just kidding!), we managed to make our way to the café. There was a stairway, or what used to be a stairway. The wooden steps had been ravaged. Where there used to be a railing, now was only a rope. I wasn’t too crazy about it. Dan went first and assured me I’d make it without incident. I did. Whew. The place was pretty thrashed. We waited at the bar for several minutes before anyone showed up to help us. We bought a couple of cans of Coke and sat for a while. The more I looked around, the more I realized that the Los Angeles County Department of Health would have a field day with this place! Yuck. And yuck. I didn’t see any way that the patio area could be closed up at night or during inclement weather. There was an area in the center that had apparently been a little garden at one time, but was now only growing rusty debris. I took a few photos of the pelicans from the edge of the balcony, and we left and made our way back to our $5 chair. On the way, we saw a man on the beach pushing a dirty old wheelbarrow containing coconuts, a hammer, and an open bottle of rum. Things are a little different there. To our surprise, we actually saw people drinking out of the coconuts. Wonder what they cost. I didn’t care enough to find out. A couple that we had met on the ship saw us and came over to chat. They asked us how we liked the ride over there. Oh yeah. We picked up our towels and went to find a bathroom. Something told me that once I found one, I wasn’t going to want to use it. But to my surprise, the main bathroom in the middle of the beach was actually quite decent. What a relief. A taxi pulled up and dropped off some passengers. We asked him if he could take us back to the ship. He looked at us, and very non-enthusiastically said, “I suppose. But you’ll have to wait for more people or it will cost you an arm and a leg.” Great. At least he was honest - I guess. So we sat down and waited. Dan had a smoke, then another, then another. Seemed nobody was in a hurry to leave – not even the cab driver. He was just sitting on a lounge chair a little ways over from us, basking in the sunshine. Hey – did he pay the required five bucks? After what seemed an eternity, another driver walked up to us and asked if we wanted a ride right then. He said that it would cost us $18 to go by ourselves, but he’d take us if we wanted. We jumped on it. His van had no shocks, no seatbelts, and I honestly didn’t think it was going the make it up to the tops of the steep hills, and was praying it would have brakes on the way back down. It was exciting if nothing else. As we got back over the mountain I asked if there was a downtown shopping area. He said there was only a flea-market type place. He dropped us off there; just a 10-minute walk from the ship. There were ten or twelve small, brightly painted separate shops surrounding a pretty, well-kept, little courtyard. Now this was cute and I was happy. Finally - some nice local atmosphere to enjoy. Each building we went into had someone working in it that was less friendly or responsive than the last. Well, at least they weren’t the hard-sell bunch like St. Thomas! From one extreme to the other. We purchased nothing and walked back to the ship. We saw a building under construction, and noticed that there was very little mortar between the cinder blocks, and very sparse re-bar throughout. I guess they have very loose building codes, if any? We walked back to the ship, enjoyed the heck out of our fabulous dinner, and sorry folks, but we decided that we could do without Tortola again in our lifetimes.

That night the seas were a little rough, but none of us got sick. It was kind of interesting trying to sleep on your side when you keep getting flopped back and forth. What excitement!

On our last cruise day L, we stopped at Nassau, The Bahamas. Again, we pulled into a large parking lot, five ships parked in a row. The view was spectacular! Now this is what we were expecting! In the distance we could see a very grand hotel, the Atlantis. It put anything in Las Vegas to shame. Right off the ship, we could see a huge, pretty yellow building. There were palm trees planted on the dock. The air was much cooler (yeah!), but it was extremely windy. We were fortunate to not have scheduled any of the shore excursions that were cancelled due to high winds. We got off the ship and were approached by a nicely-dressed Bahamian cab driver. It seemed that they were all well-dressed. He was very friendly. Charlie. He asked us what we wanted to do, and offered to take us on a tour of the island and to the main downtown shopping area for about an hour and a half, for $30 per person. He would “treat us like royalty.” We agreed. He led us through some buildings and down a street to get to his cab. Several times along the way he put up his arms and announced in a booming voice, “Clear the way! Royalty coming through!” Every one would look and laugh. Rather embarrassing, but lots of fun. Luckily he had a nice Mercedes van with air-conditioning and seat belts. He did his darnedest to entertain us. Kept calling us all “your Highness.” He was a lot of fun. The streets were very narrow and FILLED with cars. Everyone drives very aggressively and everyone uses their horn at least five times per each block driven. What a mad house. He took us through the poor area of town, where they don’t even have running water. There is a community spigot where they load up their pails, and they have holes in their yards for waste. Makes me realize how fortunate I am. Then in complete contrast, he took us over to Paradise Island and the Atlantis Hotel. Money dripping. There’s a suite that spans the two main towers. Charlie told us that it goes for $25,000 per night, with a ten night minimum. Puh-lease!

He said that Michael Jackson stays there a lot, and of course, a ration of jokes ensued. He dropped us off in front of the hotel to take pictures in front of the beautiful fountain while he parked. Then he took us for a tour through the hotel and casino. Again, it was rather embarrassing when he announced that royalty was coming through. It wasn’t too far-fetched that royalty does go through there! It was gorgeous. Very grandiose. We put $20 in a slot machine and all took turns losing it as fast as we could. It never paid; not even once. There is a HUGE aquarium that you can walk through with incredible tropical fish, lobsters, sharks, manta rays, you name it. The grounds outside were spectacular. Charlie said that an average room runs about $500 a night. After the tour of the hotel, he asked us what we wanted to do. We asked where there was a nice place to have lunch on the beach, and he suggested the Sheraton right next door to the Atlantis. We parted ways with Charlie and headed for the beach and food. It was great sitting back off the beach on a patio and eating. Dan and Joe were brave and tried the Conch (as in those big Conch shells that you see) burgers. (Bahamians do everything possible with the meat of the conch.) It was fried and looked and tasted very similar to a Filet-of-Fish sandwich from Mickey-D’s. We walked around a bit on the beach and took in the scenery. It was beautiful. We walked back out to the main drag and caught a taxi back to town. Another very nice driver in a nice van. He stopped and picked up another couple along the way. He dropped us off downtown, close to the ship. We shopped for a while. Everyone was very kind and helpful. The town was quaint. I’d go back there again anytime. Too bad the ship is only there from 12:00 noon till 7:00 p.m. We started back to the ship just as it started raining. Good timing. Our waiter that night said that it always rains when they stop there. We were fortunate to have had such a nice day. Now we had to pack our bags. No more spoiling. Boo hoo.

The Everglades
Our flight to head back to Los Angeles didn’t leave Fort Lauderdale till 6:45 that evening, so we signed up for a land excursion tour to the Everglades to ride an airboat and see alligators up close and personal. We disembarked the ship, which went very smoothly, and got ourselves and our luggage on a HAL bus to head for the Everglades. Luckily, we remembered that the airport was freezing, so we packed our jackets right on top of our luggage so we wouldn’t get frost-bitten while waiting a few hours for our flight. When we claimed our luggage at the port, we realized that it was a little chilly outside, so we pulled out our jackets right then before leaving the port. Good thing! When we got to the Everglades it was overcast, windy, and pretty close to bone-chilling compared to the weather we just left behind.

I always pictured the Everglades in swamp land in the middle of nowhere. It’s right off the highway! We were all freezing cold. We got onto the air boat and met our tour guide for the ride. A nice guy in shorts and a T-shirt. And we thought we were cold! The ride was a bust because the alligators won’t come out of the water when it’s cold. Didn’t get to see one dang alligator in the Everglades! And the guide didn’t want to go too fast for fear that our appendages would turn blue, fall off, and become alligator bait. They passed out ear plugs to everyone when we boarded the boat. It was very loud! The wind actually blew my clip-on sunglasses off of my glasses. (Luckily they landed on the floor behind me and I was able to retrieve them.) When we got back to the dock, they took us on a tour of their little wildlife sanctuary, where we were able to see a couple of large alligators, and even hold a 20-month old one. He was about 3 or 4 feet long, and they taped his jaw shut. I was surprised when I felt his soft skin. It was a highlight of my trip! How many people get to hold an alligator? How many people want to? I do! O.k. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m weird! Then we moved on to the Florida panther exhibit. He was in a large caged area, with a woman sitting in there with him. At first he was lying in the corner, but then he got up and walked over to her and jumped up to where she was sitting on a bench. He snuggled up to her and went right for her thumb. He loves to suck her thumb. What a majestic animal, and so adorable! Then the lady said that for $10 anyone could go in and pet him. There were no takers. He was just a little too big for comfort, thank you! I never thought I’d choose to hold an alligator over a panther! We left the animals and went through the gift shop and bathrooms. Boarded our bus and headed for the airport.

Just a word of warning: My suitcase was overweight. The airlines allow for 50 lbs., and mine weighed 68! Oops. The lady was very nice and reported that it only weighed 62 lbs., so the charge was $20. She said that if she had reported that it weighed 68 lbs, the charge would have been $80! Next time I’ll take two bags instead of one heavy one. At least they let us check in our luggage four hours early so we didn’t have to lug it around the airport.

We had a nice flight home and paid the $5 for pillows. We were beat!

Our trip was wonderful. We loved the contemporary and colorful interiors of the Zuiderdam, the service, the relaxation, and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Eastern Caribbean. We’re looking forward to many more cruises in our future!

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