Days 108, 109, 110, April 23, 24, 25: At Sea
If you have been reading this blog, you know that Humberto, Duffy (our bear that went around the world) and I enjoyed a number of superlatives during the first half of our 112-day Grand World Voyage. Today, as we cross the Atlantic back on our way back to Fort Lauderdale, we bring you our ‘Top 10 All-Time Favorites’ and one ‘Honorable Mention’ for the second half:
Best Port: Hong Kong, China. We found it to be fascinating not only because of its wonderful sights and points of interest including the harbor with its junks and sampans, the view from Victoria Peak, exotic temples and markets, and even a Disney Park (Hong Kong Disneyland), but also because it is very passenger-friendly: U.S. citizens do not have to get visas, steps away from the cruise ship pier there is a fabulous mall (with free Wi-Fi) and passengers can walk to such attractions as the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, the terrace to view the nightly Sound & Light Show, the colonial-style Clock Tower and Cultural Center.
Best Over-All Experience: Our three-night overland excursion from Mangalore, India with flights to Delhi, Agra (for the Taj Mahal) and the Pink City of Jaipur, re-joining the ship after a flight and panoramic tour of Mumbai. Not only did everything ran like clockwork and the sights of monuments and palaces were outstanding, but in addition we were lodged for two of the nights at a royal palace, the Rambagh Palace Hotel.
Most Exotic Adventure: We have a tie here, with both our Siam Elephant Safari in Phuket, Thailand, and our Camel Caravan In The Sinai Desert vying for first place. In the former, we rode an elephant for 30-minutes on a jungle trail; the latter was a camel ride to a Bedouin tent in the Sinai Desert for breakfast and a folkloric show including a whirling dervish!
Best Show in the Amsterdam’s Queen’s Lounge: We have another tie, since Humberto and I found it impossible to decide between two truly exceptional shows. The first one was an evening with Dale Kristien, who sang Christine to Michael Crawford’s Phantom at the Broadway production of “The Phantom of the Opera” for five years. She was simply superb. In addition to Phantom standards, Kristien sang several of our favorite songs, including “Over The Rainbow” and “When You Wish Upon A Star,’’ ably accompanied at the piano by Amsterdam music director Irving Brown. Sadly, we missed a second appearance by Kristien during our overland excursion to the Taj Mahal. Tied with Kristien for Best Show was “Black Tie,” an exceptional vocal-instrumental foursome from Australia (two brother singers and their wives, one playing the piano and the other, the cello). A favorite of Amsterdam passengers in previous cruises (they signed a petition to have the group brought back), Black Tie wowed us with two wonderful shows blending humor with gorgeous music of different countries and genres, including a stirring rendition of Puccini’s “Nessum Dorma” that would have made Pavarotti proud.
Best Folkloric Show: The Amsterdam put on several excellent folkloric companies at various ports of call to bring the culture of the places we visited onboard. Our favorites were the Cultural Arts Show in Hong Kong featuring traditional music and the ribbon dance, and the Kala Bhaiwari Dance Show we saw while in Mumbai, India, with excellent costumes, music and dances.
Best Meals: The Le Cirque evening at the Pinnacle Grill was delectable, from the Lobster Salad Le Cirque to the Butternut Squash Soup With Huckleberries to the Blackened Alaskan Cod to the Chocolate Souffle and Crème Brulee! Yum, yum! Another superlative was the Murder Mystery Dinner at the Pinnacle Grill as well, with great food plus a “side” of a hilarious who-done-it spoof with eight characters played by members of the cruise staff and the audience selecting the murderer by majority vote. The all-inclusive menu featured Greek Salad paired with a Caliterra Chardonnay from Chile, Corn Soup with Basil Oil paired with a Clos du Bois from California, Shrimp & Lobster in Puff Pastry with Saffron Sauce, paired with a Castle Rock Pinot Noir from California, Sliced Tenderloin on Mushroom Risotto with Vegetables paired with a Blackstone Merlot from California, and a Chocolate & Raspberry Cake with Caramel Sauce paired with a Porto Warre Warrior from Portugal.
Best Themed Night: The Paella Night while the Amsterdam was cruising off the coast of Spain was our favorite as it brought memories of Humberto’s and my family as they hailed from Spain.
Moment That Gave Us Pause: When we left India and were sailing on the Indian Ocean en route to the Red Sea, in waters that have had piracy incidents Captain John Mercer came on the loudspeaker to let us know that cruise ships such as ours are unlikely targets of pirates and that we were nevertheless well prepared with a series of measures in the not likely event of an encounter with pirates. But there were no pirates in sight, and we celebrated our pirate-free passage with a complimentary glass of wine for all passengers during dinner the evening before arriving in Safaga, Egypt.
Most Rewarding Moment: When the girls from the Balika Niwasa orphanage in Sri Lanka came onboard to entertain us with songs and dances of Sri Lanka and Cruise Director Bruce presented them with a check for $5,000. Guests of the Amsterdam had raised nearly $2,500 through three fundraisers onboard and Holland America donated the rest.
Best Holiday Celebration: The Easter Grand Show Buffet Brunch – such a lavish spread and with such events as the Easter Bunny meet-and-greet, an Easter Bonnet Contest and religious services – this was our favorite holiday festivity of the second half of the cruise; though the St. Patrick’s Day Party was a close second!
Honorable Mention: The flower arrangements on the Amsterdam, adding so much to the ship’s gracious interiors were a superlative we enjoyed during the first half of the cruise and continued to do so during the second half: especially, the arrangements incorporating the typical cone-line Vietnamese hats soon after our visit there. Unforgettable!
Freelance travel writer Georgina Cruz and her husband Humberto are currently sailing on Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage and will be sending in cruise diaries throughout their time on board. She has logged 174 voyages to all seven continents and visited more than 100 countries.