Written by Jack and Gloria Meerman, AAA cruise tour hosts.
Embarkation day for the 2013 Grand World Voyage (Postcards from Paradise) began with a Champagne brunch at Fort Lauderdale’s Westin Diplomat, where all full-world passengers were treated to a pre-night stay. The Grand World Voyage is a 115-day cruise that includes stops in places like Peru, New Zealand and Singapore.
It was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to become acquainted and see who their fellow AAA travelers would be. Anticipation ran high for those looking forward to their first world cruise (and even one guest on her first cruise ever) and for those eager to renew old friendships and rejoin their Holland America family.
On the first day at sea, all AAA/CAA guests are invited to a mid-morning coffee. After a short introductory briefing, there were plenty of opportunities for guests, especially those not at the hotel, to meet each other and us, their hosts, as well as ask any questions they may have.
We were impressed by the cleanliness and friendliness we found at all our South American ports. Though poor by U.S. standards, the people overall appeared to be healthy and happy.
Even though hopeful vendors were everywhere, as usual, we were pleased to see that for the most part they were polite and not pushy or intimidating. The medieval old town of Cartagena was particularly charming behind ancient walls, in contrast to the high rises of the new city. Horse carriages are available for sightseeing.
The Panama Canal never ceases to be a fascinating experience. Each lock holds 26 million gallons of water, and as we moved through three locks, we were elevated 80 feet to
Lake Gatun, where there was scenic cruising before we were lowered via three more locks to the Pacific.
After 100 years of operation, the new wider, deeper canal being constructed adjacent should be completed sometime in 2014. It will be 427 meters long and 55 meters wide, the size of four football fields.
Manta, Ecuador, is the center of the world’s tuna fishing. The tuna boats are large and well kept and bring in tons of tuna at a time. This year they were bringing in their usual catch in one month as opposed to two or three months. The boats were docked at the same pier as we were, and one of the captains was so happy with his bountiful catch that he supplied our ship with enough tuna for dinner that night.
In return, we fed the crew hamburgers and cheeseburgers. Panama hats were the popular target for shoppers, as they’re actually made in this country—not Panama. Some passengers took a three-night side tour to the Galapagos.
The Humboldt Current is a phenomenon of the sea that runs all along the South American coast to Chile. Even though it runs across the equator, it keeps the water and air temperatures cool (70’s during the day). It supplies some of the most productive fisheries in the world. Peru’s Indian markets with quality arts and crafts are easy to find in Callao (Lima’s port), Lima and the suburb of Miraflores. The ship provided free bus transfers to Miraflores where a beautiful outdoor mall runs along the ocean.
General San Martin is barren by contrast to the lush beauty of the Lima area as it is the western tip of the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. Several passengers took an overland trip to the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, for a two-night stay.
The first AAA/CAA cocktail party was the most successful one ever, with only five guests out of the 79 currently on board not putting in an appearance. We were happy to get a photo of the Glendinning clan (unfortunately minus 18-month-old baby boy and his mom) who are celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary with this cruise.
Holland America always goes overboard with delicious hors d’oeuvres of jumbo shrimp, smoked salmon, herring, hot bitter ballen (a special Dutch treat), Jalapeno pepper poppers and cheese puffs.
Everyone loved it when several of the ship’s officers and VIP’s (Captain Jonathan Mercer, the hotel manager and his wife who is the guest relations manager, the staff captain, and the cruise director).
We had calm seas cutting across the Pacific for four days to Easter Island though running the tenders ashore (no docking is possible) was typically challenging and had to be curtailed for safety reasons before all those who wanted to go ashore to see the famous Moai statues could do so. Still, nearly 800 passengers were accommodated before the crew had to concentrate on getting everyone back aboard before the seas became impossibly rough.
It was a perfect day for a scenic circumnavigation of tiny (a little over two kilometers long) Pitcairn Island, where the mutineers from the HMAV Bounty and their Tahitian companions went ashore and then burned the Bounty in 1790.
Holland America’s plan was for all 56 islanders to come aboard, but unfortunately some were suffering from a flu bug, so here again for safety reasons, they were not permitted to do so. The ship sent many supplies ashore for them.
At one end of the island we spotted a sailing ship from Nova Scotia that had been at sea for eight months. It seemed as though we had gone back in time.Everyone loved all their AAA/CAA gifts, particularly the logo jackets. Holland America also gives what they call “pillow” gifts to all passengers every formal night.
As always there is a wide range of exploration speakers who come aboard for a few days to enlighten us on a variety of subjects. On this segment we had Dan Ostler who presented his “Earth, Wind, Fire and Water” series about the world of nature and the cascading effect of these interactions on the course of history.
His wife Donna is known as “The Star Lady” and gave lectures on stargazing targets and techniques. Jon Bailey is well-known as a conductor, composer and teacher in the field of music and was entertaining in his talks on various musicals and the Broadway stage.
David Pasta is an energy geoscientist and talked about volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Sandra Millikin spoke about various aspects of architecture.
The celebrity guest entertainer was veteran actor John Amos, best known for his roles in the mini-series “Roots” as well as his roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “West Wing.” Some of the other entertainment was a four handed piano show, championship ballroom dancers, a cross-over violinist, two comedians, a talented guitarist, and singing impressionist Scott Record and international entertainer Bettine Clemen starring in “Flutasia.”
The local shows are always popular, and this segment featured the culture, colors and sounds of Peru, particularly dances of the coastal, mountain and jungle regions of this beautiful country. All musical presentations are accompanied by the very talented and versatile Amsterdam Orchestra.
We are looking forward to French Polynesia, Tonga and New Zealand.