Around the world in 112 days
“Pinch me!” I said to my husband Humberto as we boarded Holland America’s Amsterdam with her white-gloved staff smiling and warmly welcoming us onboard for a 112-day World Cruise. We had been dreaming of this moment for more than 10 years but could not go due to Humberto’s work commitments.
The day after his retirement in December of 2010 we started planning: selecting the ship and itinerary (we wanted a mid-size vessel like the 62,735-ton Amsterdam with a passenger capacity of 1,038 guests, and a true circumnavigation of the planet, which the Amsterdam offered in 2012, and will offer again in 2013, roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale). Once we had decided on the ship and itinerary, and picked a stateroom (we selected an ocean-view cabin amidships for stability and to save steps to public areas of the ship), we started preparing for the adventure: everything from having our mail forwarded to our daughter and setting up automatic payments for bills, to getting an on/off switch for our car battery, asking someone to watch over our house and packing for various climate zones.
Packing was a breeze once we decided we wanted to bring what was necessary without going overboard (once we met a World Cruise couple on a segment of the voyage who had brought 23 suitcases and needed an extra, adjoining cabin to store all their things). We brought four suitcases, two carry-on-size bags on wheels and two backpacks, settling on a seven-day daytime wardrobe and accessories for temperate climates for each of us, and a seven-day wardrobe including sun-protecting hats for tropical climates. We added layers for cold climates (parkas, warm vests, sweatshirts, jackets, sweaters, gloves and caps for each of us). And we brought four formal outfits and accessories and four informal dinner outfits. We packed enough underwear, socks, pajamas/night gowns and bathing suits for a week. And we bought the unlimited laundry package (those who prefer to do their own laundry have self-service launderettes).
To avoid homesickness, experts recommend bringing something from home to decorate the stateroom. We brought our Duffy, the Disney bear, and it served a dual purpose: make the cabin more homey and familiar, and Duffy accompanied us on some shore adventures – we took photos of us and Duffy at iconic places of the world like the Opera House in Sydney, Australia, and penguins in the Falklands and will create a homemade picture book as a gift to our as-yet-unborn great-grandchild (our grandchildren are still pre-teens), to be presented to the child years from now along with the bear that went around the world.
Throughout the preparation period we researched each port and perused the line’s shore excursions offerings (we booked the “wow,” must-have tours that often sell out: overland program to the Taj Mahal in India, elephant trek in Thailand, and camel caravan in Egypt). And on ports where the ship was staying overnight we booked hotel rooms independently to have a base from which to explore conveniently and enjoy nightlife comfortably in those cities. These included the Four Seasons Buenos Aires, the Intercontinental Tahiti in Papeete and the Majestic Hotel & Spa in Barcelona, all centrally located.
To do justice to a World Cruise and its many adventures, one would have to write a book, so in the meantime, in the interest of brevity, here are some “postcards” with highlights from our grand voyage:
Postcard #1 – Fort Lauderdale To Buenos Aires
The first segment of our World Cruise was a great time to get acquainted with the ship, her gracious flower- and art-filled public rooms, and our fellow passengers who were for the most part well-traveled couples in their 60s and 70s –many of whom were World Cruise repeaters so we had input from them on adventures ashore as well as life onboard. “Pace yourself,” a veteran World Cruiser advised and we figured that included not only touring but also activities on board and culinary delights in the dining room. On the latter front, since we did not wish to disembark as cargo, we kept breakfast and lunch to back-home portions and enjoyed four-course dinners (to counteract the extra calories we took stairs always and used the walking track and ship’s gym frequently).
This first segment was an introductory taste of the adventures we’d be enjoying: we visited the green monkey reserve in Barbados enjoying the sight of these cute, frolicking creatures and toured the rainforest with its parrots and other exotic birds in seldom-visited Dominica. We climbed to the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio with spectacular views of its harbor framed by green-clad mountains that seem to be doing a samba around the city, and enjoyed walks to July 9 Avenue, one of the world’s widest, in Buenos Aires, steps from our room at the Four Seasons Buenos Aires. We also walked to other top sights like Teatro Colón, one of South America’s most beautiful theaters, and the Casa Rosada (Argentine White House) from whose balcony Juan and Evita Peron addressed their followers. And we enjoyed a night of tango at the Café Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo 825.
Postcard #2 – Buenos Aires to Sydney
A warm camaraderie was developing among fellow passengers – derived from the many days and adventures we had been sharing together in a mid-size vessel where we often met in public areas. And talk about adventures, at one point, we were grabbing parkas for our Antarctica Experience, sailing past glaciers in the Antarctic Sound and conducting whale watches out on deck, then we were bracing for crossing the often-stormy Drake Passage – we did not encounter too rough seas, thank goodness! – and afterwards we were donning shorts and t-shirts as we sailed across the South Pacific. Memorable moments during this segment included visiting a King Penguin colony at Volunteer Point in the Falklands, posing for pictures with the moais (mysterious Polynesian sculptures) on Easter Island, and spending a day at the Intercontinental Tahiti, a short taxi ride from the cruise pier in Papeete.
Since we had been to Papeete a couple of years ago, we thought we’d just relax swimming and snorkeling in the hotel’s lagoon, enjoying meals and snacks and sipping tropical drinks on our terrace and drinking in the spectacular scenery in big gulps.
We made sure we were on deck as we approached Sydney to watch our arrival into this gorgeous port with its Opera House, like giant shells strewn by the sea, and its iconic bridge. During this segment we were also able to revel in Australian wildlife – everything from koalas and kangaroos to Tasmanian devils and crocodiles, and, of course, in the magnificent marine life of the Great Barrier Reef during tours arranged through the ship.
Postcard #3 – Sydney to Singapore
By now the Amsterdam definitely felt like home and we had developed great rapport with staff, particularly our dining room and cabin stewards who were completely in tune with our likes and dislikes, including our preference in beverages, salad dressings and so on, and the times we wanted our stateroom serviced.
Highlights ashore included touring Hong Kong – from the moment of arrival in Hong Kong, with its spectacular harbor filled with exotic craft and lined with mountains and skyscrapers, till departure we were wowed – it was the epitome of exotica and breathtaking. We shopped in fabulous markets and spent one of our two days here at Hong Kong Disneyland – a fun and great way to stave off homesickness giving a hug to Mickey Mouse – and we took in the sights in Singapore. Another special highlight was visiting a village and school in Komodo – a community project excursion from Holland America, with a portion of the tour cost benefiting the school and village. We were so blessed in being able to take this grand voyage, we wanted to give a little something back and as it’s often the case when we set out to give we wound up receiving: our time with the giggling children was precious!
Postcard #4 – Singapore to Mumbai, India
What a fabulous segment this was! Imagine riding an elephant in Thailand – we did, on an elephant trek excursion out of Phuket, an amazing adventure, and a few days later taking an overland tour to the Pink City of Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Leaving the ship for three nights was a bittersweet moment: we did not wish to leave our “home” and all its comforts, but the Taj Mahal awaited. One of the most iconic spots in the planet and arguably the world’s most beautiful marble monument, the Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in honor of his beloved wife in the 17th century. It is unbelievable shimmering in the sunlight, and so are the pink palaces, forts and temples of 18th century Jaipur. The tour was as memorable as the warm welcome back to the ship given to us by smiling staff at the gangway.
After our overland program we settled back into our wonderful “routine” on the ship: mornings in the spa and gym, a lecture on the ports, and a trivia contest in the afternoon, then a sumptuous dinner in the restaurant followed by a show in the Queen’s Lounge and music and handmade chocolates in the Explorer’s Lounge. What a life!
Postcard #5 – Mumbai to Athens, Greece
During this segment we caught the sunrise and sunset on the same day at sea. Adventures ashore continued to be amazing: we took in the Temples of Karnak and Luxor in Egypt and signed up for a camel caravan to a Bedouin camp where we enjoyed breakfast – exotic to say the least. (If you ever want to ride a camel, bear in mind that getting on and off the camel is tricky as the animal lurches backwards and forwards to stand up and sit back down after the ride). Another memorable tour took us to the acropolis in Athens – we loaded the “Gianni at the Acropolis” concert to our devices and listened with the view of the Parthenon.
Postcard #6 – Athens to Fort Lauderdale
We immersed ourselves in Greek culture at Magna Grecia Farm, near Katakolon, Greece, visiting its olive grove, tasting local specialties and learning steps to local dances. Arriving in Italy, we gazed upon the slopes of Mt. Etna from the vineyards of the village of Zafferana on a tour out of Messina and feasted on pizza margherita in Naples. We took an overnight room at the Majestic Hotel & Spa in Barcelona from where we walked to Las Ramblas, a pedestrian street filled with cafes and shops and to several Gaudi sites, including his Sagrada Familia Basilica. Also took in the medieval district at Cadiz, Spain, one of the ports Columbus set sail from on his voyages of discovery. During the days spent crossing the Atlantic for our return to Fort Lauderdale, we got ready to say goodbye to the ship that had been our home for 112 days, to the staff who had served us so well and to our fellow passengers who had added to our journey in lively conversations. Most important of all: we started dreaming of another World Cruise!
For information on Holland America Line’s World Cruises, visit www.hollandamerica.com.
By Georgina Cruz
For Al Día Today