We stayed at the Days Inn the night before, after our 10 day drive from home, and took a shuttle to the ship the next morning. It seems that this is a common thing to do in Ft. Lauderdale, because they’re very organized. We waited in the “Noordam” line with everyone else. I did meet some people who were heading out for a 103 day round-the-world trip. I was green with envy!
Our chariot was the Noordam, one of the Holland American “Dam” ships. They are all laid out the same, and we have travelled on two of the others, so we knew our way around immediately. We went up to the Lido deck for the sendoff and to watch us head out to sea. A sister ship was ahead of us.
We woke the next morning at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. This is a small island that Holland America has leased from the government for their exclusive use. It has a wonderful beach, very accessible, a bar in the shape of a pirate ship, and they offered a free barbecue for lunch.
We took a short bicycle ride with a group to see more of the island. We were excited to stop at an enclosure in the lagoon where 7 stingrays were swimming around. We didn’t go swimming with them, although we understood that others had done so. We saw lots of hermit crabs and chameleons on our hike. We’re starting to see the colours of the Caribbean in the buildings.
We had our first formal night after we got back on board, and that’s when we discovered another group on the ship: a Scottish clan family reunion. From then on, we tried to spot the kilts and pipers…..
We had the morning for our welcome meeting, opening concert, introductions, etc. We had met most of our group the night before, after leaving Half Moon Cay, at our group’s cocktail party. We have a great group – quite a few repeat cruisers plus some newbies for us. We’ll have three days of classes on this cruise, and Daphne, Susan and I are ready! We have designed the patterns, made kits and instructions, and brought them all with us in our suitcases. This is so that, once we get rid of all these kits, we’ll be able to fill our suitcases with other purchases we’ll acquire as we go! All our cruisers had do to was bring a basic sewing kit – we even provided the thread for the pieces.
We arrived at Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos at noon. John and I had signed up for a kayak and hike shore excursion ahead of time, and we donned our swimsuits and headed out by bus along rickety roads to the lagoon on the north end of the island, passing lots of wild donkeys and horses on the way. This is a small island as well, with not many people living there – but lots more than on Half Moon Cay. Hurricanes in the Caribbean have stripped the tall trees on this island, so we didn’t see many palms there. We were, however, VERY surprised to see Canadian banks in evidence! I remember that several years ago there was a move by T&C Islands for Canada to take charge of them. Everybody I know thought it was an EXCELLENT idea, because we don’t have anywhere in Canada to go to in the winter to warm up. I don’t know what happened to this proposal, but T&C is NOT currently a part of Canada (*sigh*).
The other thing Turks and Caicos is famous for is that John Glenn splashed down very near these islands in 1962 – becoming an American legend in the process.
We arrived at the lagoon and hopped into our glass bottom kayaks for a leisurely paddle. We saw lots of mangroves, checked out some spiny sea creatures and even tried some raw conch! It was the consistency of calamari, but with a creamier flavour – yummy!
We had arrived at Samana, Dominican Republic by morning and were greeted by dancers and a small band as we disembarked.
Of course, DR is the other 2/3 of the island where Haiti is – the island is called Hispaniola. It’s still a poor country, but it’s in a much better state than its neighbour. The earthquake did not affect Dominicans, and they have a government that believes in schooling for its children. We took a bus tour to get an overview of the place – Samana is a peninsula on the northeast side, and is very oriented to tourism. We learned of Mamajuana, a drink comprised of two fingers of honey, two fingers of red wine, and two splayed fingers (thumb and pinky) of rum! It was very good……
They grow coffee, cocoa, tobacco, bananas, papayas and sugar cane on the island. I think you could live off the land very well there. Everyone seems to have a handful of chickens, a pig, and a goat. The houses are in various stages of completion – people get them started, then leave the cinder block walls until they have raised more money to do another stage. We saw horses that the inhabitants ride to get to rough areas, or to see the huge waterfall that is tough to get to by road. There were motorized scooters everywhere. It was laundry day in DR, and everyone had their washing hung out over everything, including the metal guard rails on the side of the road!
The top side of the Samana peninsula is where the luxury tourist condos and white beaches are. We stopped for lunch and ate fish cooked in coconut milk, then we wandered around for a bit on the beach, watching the fishermen selling their wares and just enjoying our day off.
I bought a little carved sea turtle at a shop we stopped at, as well as a chunk of natural chocolate. The coffee was yummy too.
What we didn’t do in Samana was go on a whale-watching tour. Samana Bay is the nursery for humpback whales, and they come from a long way away to have their babies here in the warm waters. Next time…..
During every day at sea on this cruise we’ll be teaching quilting. It’s a full day to get to the former Dutch Antilles islands, now known as the ABC Islands – Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. My class was called “Parrots of the Caribbean”, and 10 students made a huge mess (on purpose), to construct the bright parrots with fusible applique. Most of them completed the piece, which I was thrilled about.
Of course, a cruise would not be complete without towel animals! We had one on our bed every night, and they were all very friendly and fun, even if they were a bit cross-eyed.
DAY SIX – BONAIRE
We had been told that the best diving and snorkelling would be found in Bonaire, so we booked a “2-site” snorkel trip for the afternoon. In the morning we wandered around the port. For the only stop on the cruise, the cruise ship dock area was not owned by the cruise companies, and that meant there were no diamond stores or tacky tourist stuff. We were greeted with an open-air arts and crafts market and the vendors were usually the makers of the goods they were selling. It was refreshing.
We found some locals cleaning fish by the bay, throwing the leftovers up to the circling frigatebirds overhead. I must say that it was exciting to see so many frigatebirds and brown pelicans around. Great for birdwatching.
Our afternoon snorkel adventure set off from the dock beside the ship. We were delighted to see the “Seacow” waiting for us, with three young, knowledgeable and helpful crew.
Our friends (and my teaching associate) Susan and Henry came along as well, and we spent a lovely afternoon in two separate diving spots on Klein Bonaire (“Little Bonaire”), where all the coral reefs are. We have snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef and it was a much shorter boat ride, but not quite as many fish or coral. I’m afraid we’ve been spoiled forever….. But we did see some green sea turtles swimming by at a distance, as well as a blowfish called a porcupine fish. When it’s in danger, it puffs itself up and the little tines stick out in all directions. It would be terrifying to see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porcupinefish or see a picture of it puffed out here: http://fishschooled.blogspot.com/2011/02/porcupine-fish.html
We also saw pink flamingos on the shore – first time I’ve ever seen them in the wild. Boy are they ever PINK!!!
DAY SEVEN – Willemstad Curacao
Our next stop was Curacao. This was a very touristy port with a distinctive Dutch influence, especially architecturally – with a tropical flair.
They celebrate their architecture on their licence plates too.
That’s their flag in the upper corner of the licence plate – blue above for the sky, blue below for the sea, and a line of yellow sand for the island. I was interested to find out that the name Curacao is not from the drink of the same name! The origins of the name are probably Portuguese for “becoming cured” – the sailors on the earliest Portuguese ship that landed there were suffering from scurvy. They were cured on the island, probably by eating fruit with vitamin C. The drink Curacao is made from fermented oranges – obviously a much more fun cure for scurvy. And of course, one needs to keep imbibing, as a preventative!
We took a tour in the morning to see a bit of the island. We hopped on a bus to look at the limestone caves near the airport. There are caves all over the island – these ones in particular were where the early slaves would go to hide from the slave owners. There were small fruit bats inside, flying about, which was neat to see. Three or four large caverns with lots of stalactites and stalagmites, and pools of fresh water. There were still signs of carbon on the ceilings from the torches of the slaves.
We drove down to the main part of town from there and continued on foot. Our guide taught us a few words of Papiamentu, the local dialect which is a combination of African languages, Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch. “Bon bini” is “welcome”; “bon dia” is “good day”; “danki” is “thank you” (obviously the Dutch influence there). We walked by the floating market – Venezuelan boats come over every few weeks with their fresh produce.
The shelves are built on dry land, but the boats are behind.
Then we were left on our own. There were lots of shops to look in. We found a couple of fabric stores, which all the quilters visited throughout the day. There were dressmaking fabrics, home decor stuff, and some African and Madras cotton prints, but I couldn’t find any blue and white Dutch fabric. If you’re visiting, make sure you visit Ackerman’s, right on the front row of shops by the water.
Dinner dress that night was supposed to be a tropical theme, so I bought a beautiful strapless smocked dress in a deep teal and wore it. When I took it off, I was blue!!! So now, it’s in a plastic bag in my luggage, awaiting a close encounter with Retayne when I get home….
DAY EIGHT – Oranjestad, Aruba
We arrived before dawn – in fact, I think we were there by midnight. It’s not far between the ABC islands. Aruba is our last port of call, and we decided to take it easy. No shore excursions. Sleep in, have a relaxing breakfast aboard the ship, then wander around for a while. Daphne told us about the historical museum in the old fort, so we headed off there.
These islands, despite being surrounded by water, are generally dry and desert like. We saw lots of cacti on each of them, and in Aruba we saw lots of lizards.
The historical museum (where we saw most of the lizards) was small, but interesting. It detailed the development of the island through resources like finding gold and oil, the slave trade, and salt exports. Before the days of refrigeration, salt was vital for the preservation of food. All of these islands we’ve visited have exported salt over the years. In fact, in Grand Turk we saw the salt crystals on the lagoon edge – waiting to be harvested. Curacao has oil refineries keeping it going. Of course, the impact of tourism cannot be understated as well.
We spent another couple of hours in search of a Bunge family “comfort food”: a Dutch candy called Hopjes. We thought we might find some in the supermarket, but were disappointed. We did find a Belgian staple, though: Speculoos, which we were introduced to in September by our friend Brigitte. It’s a cinnamon flavoured biscuit and/or spread that is quite delicious. We gave up looking for Hopjes after a while, and went back to the ship for a nap and some sun. There’s only so much shopping we can take, and the shops were all starting to look alike. I did, however, buy a sun dress at the wharf. It was very tropical looking, and I’m sure I can wear it again (and it didn’t run like the last one!). One of our quilters, Deborah, from Texas was there, right behind me. She fell in love with the same dress, so we both wore them to dinner that night!
DAY NINE – At Sea
The ship has turned for home (Fort Lauderdale) and we have two days to quilt! All three rooms were busy today: Susan was teaching her Botanical Leaf Study, Daphne and her class were putting together their Caribbean Cottages, and I sat down with my students to work on hand Mola appliqué, à la the Kuna Indian tribe from Panama (San Blas Islands). I looked and looked to buy some Molas on our stops, but we are too far east for Panamanian souvenirs.
The joy of hand work on a cruise cannot be overstated – it’s calming, slow, repetitive, and conducive to great conversations. We talked about our journey and experiences during the day. Our illustrious Cruise Director of the ship stopped by to see what we were doing, too. Here he is – Shane – with the class.
That night was the obligatory Dessert Extravaganza. It started at 10:30pm (just when you want to chow down with a lot of sugar…..). On our first cruise to the Mexican Riviera on Holland America, it was called the Chocolate Extravaganza and started at midnight. I think this is better, marginally – at least, it’s earlier. The chefs pull out their most exciting presentations for this event, featuring carved watermelons, fancy breads and TWO chocolate fountains (white and dark).
DAY TEN – At Sea
Our last day on the cruise was jam-packed. There was still a song to write with the non-quilting partners, classes by Susan and Daphne, the final wrap-up (talking about our next adventure in the fall of 2013 from New York to Quebec City to see the fall colours), a concert, the debut of our new song, and the most important: Show and Tell!
We started writing the song at 10am, and finished by about 11:35. There were some old hands at this – Alan and Henry and John have participated ever since the first cruise – and some newbies. We ended up paying tribute to the ever-present Bread Pudding (which was always available on the Lido deck) – but the song was really about what we saw and did on the cruise. The last chorus read like this:
We saw it all, we did it all
We ate it all, we drank it all
We’re so glad we’re still afloat
Not like that other boat…….
It was very well received!
Show and tell included purchases from the ports, as well as quilts and products of the classes. Janet made a pirate quilt before the cruise and brought it for S&T.
Here’s one of the Caribbean cottages – what vibrant, tropical colours!
Most of my students got their parrots finished in class. They will go home to cut away the white base fabric behind the bird, appliqué it onto the green forest background and quilt it. Don showed his parrot to everyone.
I don’t have any pictures of us all singing our new song on stage from the final concert – everyone else took them! Maybe someone will send me a picture of that, so I can show you.
Then we got ready for our final dinner aboard the ship. Eating on a cruise ship is a sumptuous affair, not so good for dieters. It’s good to exercise restraint, but almost impossible. I certainly found it so, especially on the last night. It was a special dinner, and we could have up to 6 courses. Not wanting to miss a single taste experience, I ordered all 6!!! Our servers danced their way in to the dining room, waving napkins and generally being silly. It was their time to show off for us, and they enjoyed themselves. It finished with them all singing a song of farewell, followed by the big Baked Alaska presentation.
We really enjoyed sitting each night with Daphne, Alan and her mother Jean. Lots of fun, you guys!
The next morning we arrived in Fort Lauderdale and disembarked into the city. Most of our people were going right home – to Texas, Victoria, Alberta, Winnipeg, Jacksonville. John and I will take a bit longer. We are heading back to our reality – to lots of concerts and classes along the way. Check out my website at www.singingquilter.com for details of our tour.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about our adventures on this cruise. It really is a lovely way to travel, and we are very relaxed, tanned and well-fed. Now: back to work!