Posts Tagged ‘Holland America’

Next Quilting Cruise!

June 12, 2012

We are 15 months away from another cruising adventure.  On September 22, 2013 Susan Purney Mark and I will be heading up a quilting cruise to see how many red maple leaves we can find between Quebec City and New York!! This will be my fifth quilting cruise – 4th one with Holland America.

The stops are filled with wonderful things to do – history, craft, nature, culture.  And in between, we’ll be quilting aboard the ship.

In Charlottetown, you can hang out with Anne Shirley at Green Gables.  In Sydney NS, find out about coal mining, 1800s Louisbourg, Alexander Graham Bell, or have tea with Rita MacNeil.  Halifax offers visits to Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg – but we also have a very special optional off-boat class and presentation with two famous quilters.

Then it’s off to the charming Bar Harbor Maine, Boston and Newport Rhode Island.  We finish in The Big Smoke – and will be offering a post-cruise tour of New York (including stops in the garment district for fabric, etc).

Details are still being confirmed.  I have started another blog where all the up-to-date information will be available.  If you sign up for email notifications, you’ll know as soon as possible what’s going on.

I have already posted the exact itinerary, with a few ideas of what you can do in each port.

I hope you can join us on this wonderful trip!


Caribbean Cruise 2012

January 24, 2012
We have just returned from a marvellous 10-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean.  Rather than take up time from the working vacation (it was a quilting cruise, and we were singing and teaching quilting aboard), I thought I’d make my report to you all at once.  So…. this will be long. I promise lots of pictures!

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!

Waiting for the shuttle

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.

The entrance/exit to Ft. Lauderdale.


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.

Mostly what people did was lie on the beach!

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…..

Where's the haggis, then?


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.

The Welcome band at Samana

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!

On the table there are containers of gasoline which they sell to the scooters.

Laundry day in Samana

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.

The beach at Las Terrenas - a classic Caribbean scene!

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.

 After all those little, little pieces of fabric we threw around the room, it was pretty messy by the end! A good day was had.

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.


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.

Frigatebirds and brown pelicans waiting for fish scraps.

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.

Seacow, our snorkelship

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. or see a picture of it puffed out here:

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.

Bright buildings with a typical Dutch roof outline.

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.

Floating Market in Curacao

The shelves are built on dry land, but the boats are behind.

The floating part of the floating market

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.

This is what it looks like - Ackerman fabric shop

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.

Iguana in Aruba

And a very bright one!

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!



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.

Shane with the gals from Jacksonville FL

Shane with the Victoria (and ex-Victoria) contingent

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).

Just a small sample of the three-floor Extravaganza

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.

Janet's Pirate quilt

Here’s one of the Caribbean cottages – what vibrant, tropical colours!

Carol's Caribbean cottages

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.

Don's Parrot

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.

Baked Alaska, anyone?

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 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!

Alaska Cruise

September 21, 2010

We’re home from our week long cruise to Alaska with 35 quilters on Holland America’s Zuiderdam.  What a great week! 

Our home away from home.

We’ve met cruisers here in Victoria who have told us the only sunshine they saw for their cruise was the two hours’ approach to Victoria, so we were prepared for rain and cold.  John and I had booked a bicycle trip down from White Pass in Skagway, and so I even brought my rain pants!!  Did not need them at all.   The weather was amazing throughout.  We left Vancouver in rain, and returned to rain, but Alaska pulled out the most spectacular sun and warm temps. I was wishing I had brought my shorts!

My friends Susan Purney-Mark and Daphne Greig were the other two teachers aboard.  This is the third time we’ve cruised with them and we all did quite a bit of preparation for the classes and to help make the cruise as enjoyable as we could for our quilters. This time, we brought 18 sewing machines along with us so that we could run concurrent machine and hand classes. Thanks to Sawyers Sewing Centre here in Victoria for their generousity in letting us use their Janome Gems.  A couple of our gals walked away with new ones, they liked them so much! Our cruise director was Sharon Sher, and she travels with us to ensure everyone’s shipboard questions are answered.

The first day aboard is always about orientation.  The Zuiderdam is a sister ship to the Oosterdam, which we were on a few years ago, so it wasn’t difficult to find our way.  We met with Ken, the crew member designated to help us set up the teaching rooms, and sorted out how we would manage to run 18 sewing machines and 3 irons on 4 plugs! We organized all the door prizes and sales bags for our cruisers, and hit the hay early.

The next day we were at sea on the Inside Passage.  That means a sewing day!  We started with our opening welcome and concert.  Gave away a bunch of door prizes, introduced ourselves.  We had quite a few new cruisers on this trip, which was wonderful. I had figured out by that point when and where my “secret place” on board would be to gather the non-quilters to write a song together, so I handed out the invitations to that.  Then, in the afternoon I taught my Mock Mola class, featuring two new patterns based on Alaskan petroglyphs.  Lindy was the first to get it completed. All she has to do is to bind it when she gets home!

Lindy won the prize for getting hers finished first!

It was a busy day, but that was it for me until Wednesday (songwriting). On Monday we visited Tracy Arm, which was wonderful, then arrived in Juneau for the afternoon and evening.

Celebrity Infinity cruise ship in Tracy Arm

We had been in Juneau several years ago, in February, thanks to our friend Joanne, so we didn’t book any shore excursions there.  Joanne and her friend Vickie came on the Mexican cruise with us too.  Vickie met us at the dock and showed us the house she and her husband are building with a perfect view of the Mendenhall glacier.  It’s going to be beautiful. We arrived at the Glacier after most of the buses had left, so it was relatively quiet there.  (Timing is everything, when you’re trying to avoid the crowds when 5 huge cruise ships land in your town at the same time!!!) Last time we’d seen the glacier, the lake had been frozen and we walked across it to get close.  This time, there were lots of “bergy bits” from the glacier floating in the lake, with the sun making them gleam.

Bits of Mendenhall Glacier

We met Joanne for dinner – far away from the downtown – and had a great time catching up.  Maybe we can some day entice them back on another cruise!

The next day we were in Skagway. In 2006, we took an Alaskan State Ferry from Juneau, which took all day to get there, jumped off in Skagway in February – when everything is closed – and met Judy Munns, the curator of the Skagway Museum.  We were on the quest for the Duck Neck Quilt, which I was interested in writing a song about (and, subsequently, did). It was made around 1905 by a Swedish missionary, Jenny Rasmuson, who was living a subsistence lifestyle in Yakutat. She may have shot the ducks herself, although it is said her husband did. She learned how to tan the duck skins (feathers included) from the local Tlingit tribe, and then sewed them together to create an amazing piece.  I haven’t seen it since 2006, and had forgotten how beautiful it is in person.  No photograph will show the luminousity of the feathers, especially those of the mallards, nor the deep dimensionality of the feathers. If it wasn’t behind glass, one would be VERY tempted to immerse one’s fingers in the soft feathers!

Skagway Museum, where the duck neck quilt lives

There is so much gold rush history in Skagway that I was very interested in seeing in tourist season.  John had booked us to take the White Pass and Yukon Route railway up to the top, then bicycle down.  We sure didn’t need our rain gear that day!

White Pass and Yukon Route railway

John on the bike at the top!

We bicycled through the US border, which was a first for me, and had 14 miles of downhill.  It was a great slow way to appreciate the scenery. I’m sure the fellows toting up their year’s worth of supplies in the 1890s would have loved to have had bicycles.

 We left Skagway and overnight made it to our day in Glacier Bay.  It’s not far, as the crow flies, but we had to go quite a bit south  along the Lynn Canal to get around to the entrance. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is an incredible area that is only accessible by boat and plane.  You can see it if you’re on a cruise ship, or if you have a boat (with permit). We saw only one other cruise ship that day.  I wasn’t teaching, so my job was to tell the quilters when the photo ops were.  It kept me running most of the day!  Our first stop was Reid Glacier.  Nice introduction to glaciers coming right down to the shore.  Then we got to Johns Hopkins Glacier and stayed there for a long time, listening to the thunder as bits fell off into the sea. 

Johns Hopkins Glacier

There were lots of harbour seals on ice chunks at the foot of the glacier. There are benefits to late-season visits to the area: ships are not allowed near when the seals are still birthing and mating.  When we were there, there were only a “few” around (a few hundred, perhaps) and we were able to get very close.

The next glaciers were equally fascinating – one was black, as a result of the soil that had blown over it from the nearby mountain. We were able to get very close to the Margerie Glacier as well. 

Margerie Glacier

On the maps of the area there are lines where the glaciers once were.  In 1794 our ship would have had to stop over 60 miles from where we ended up, because the entire bay was full of ice.  In 1860, the ice had receded 30 miles. In 1880, another 20 miles of glacier were gone.  It’s amazing how quickly it all changed.  Tarr Inlet now ends just before the Canadian border. Perhaps we’ll be able to cruise into Canada the next time we take this trip?

What an exhausting day.  Running around to get the best pictures, dealing with all that sun and warm temperatures, standing on the bow feeling that we could almost touch the glaciers, being dwarfed by the size and magnificence. 

Ketchikan was next, and we decided to have a quiet day.  We visited the quilt shop, of course, and said hello to the folks at the Silver Thimble whom we’d met last time we were there. We went for a walk up the creek and found out that it was spawning time for the king salmon.  I have never seen so many fish at once!

Hundreds of king salmon

It looked like you could walk on their backs across the stream, there were so many! I’ve seen a couple of salmon spawning streams, but never like this.  It was so humbling, to see what kind of effort it took them to get up the stream that we could walk in a half an hour, and they weren’t there yet.  I’d be ready to cash it in at the end of such an endeavour, too.

Our last day at sea was a busy one.  All three of us were teaching in the morning (Daphne and I co-taught an Alaskan Redwork class) and taking care of packing up the sewing machines. In the afternoon we had our final concert as well as a little presentation about the Caribbean cruise in January of 2012. I learned a pirate song, Susan found eyepatches, and I found hoop earrings. It was great fun!  Holland America has a wonderful offer on board – it costs only $100 for a downpayment on another Holland America cruise. We had already decided on the next one (details on, and it made it very easy for our quilters to book).  We’ve already signed up 30 for the next one!!!

At the final concert, we also premiered the new song written aboard by the non-quilters of our group.  It’s called “NQS” — Non Quilters’ Society — and was very well received! The NQS had meetings at every port, generally at the cafes next door to the quilt shops!!!  It sounds like they had fun too.

It was a sad last night on the boat, knowing it was almost over. One last wonder: a large school of white-sided dolphins graced our presence just after dinner, and we watched them racing the boat. John and I had a similar experience several years ago on a BC ferry to Bella Coola, and it was lovely to see them again.

The next morning, through barely opened eyes, I saw the Lion’s Gate bridge go by overhead at about 6am, and the rain was back.  Both John and I had come down with a nasty flu bug, which made it okay that the cruise was over.  We picked up the car, loaded our stuff into it, and headed for the ferry.  It’s always a bit of a downer after a cruise to get on BC Ferries.  We think it’s the best ferry system in the world, and usually love the food and amenities, but we’d just been royally wined and dined, and there’s no comparison. We got home, unpacked, and went to bed.

But we could have wakened again to the ever-changing views, the soft rocking feeling, the sunshine, and the sense of adventure that we had had for the previous week.  It was a great trip.

The view from our stateroom. Ahhhh.

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