Tag Archives: Grand World Voyage

A hot air balloon ride over the temples of Bagan was a highlight of the visit to Myanmar for Jeff, John and Diane.
A hot air balloon ride over the temples of Bagan was a highlight of the visit to Myanmar for Jeff, John and Diane.

On the 2015 Grand World Voyage, Amsterdam is taking a northerly route up to the Far East following an Australia exploration. Full of mysteries, wonders, ancient traditions and grand beauty, the ports in this part of the world offer an exceptional amount of magical experiences for our guests. From visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites to seeing some of the most impressive architecture, Asia certainly is a feast for the eyes.

As previously showcased on the Holland America Blog, two of our regular guest contributors are on the Grand World Voyage traveling around the globe and sending in updates: Jeff Farschman, President’s Club member and “World Adventure” blogger, and Mariners Gary and Jeanne Frink. Cruise Critic members John and Diane are along for the cruise, and the ship’s Captain Mercer also is taking us on the journey through his own blog.

Here is a look into their Asian adventures. Perhaps they will entice you to book the 2016 Grand World Voyage or a Far East itinerary on one of our ships!

BENOA, BALI
The first call following Australia was Benoa, Bali, in Indonesia, and it was an overnight visit. Known as a lush, beautiful island, and many call it paradise on Earth. Jeff, who has been to Bali before, said:

“It simply was the best single day I have spent in Bali…”

Through his photos, you can see why is was so spectacular. Jeff toured the island and visited Gitgit Falls, the Monkey Forest, Jitiluwih (where the largest rice terraces in Bali are located), and several temples including Pura Ulun Danu on Beratan Lake, Pura Taman Ayun temple complex, Pura Batuan and Pura Dalem Agung.

Sights of Bali from Jeff Farschman.

Sights of Bali from Jeff Farschman.

Captain Mercer also enjoyed time ashore, spending a quiet beach day in Sanur, a town a few miles south of Benoa.

Captain Mercer and his wife Karen enjoyed a beautiful day at the beach.

Captain Mercer and his wife Karen enjoyed a beautiful day at the beach.

It has lovely beaches, shopping and hotels. It was the Puri Santrian hotel that we stayed at for the day. — Captain Mercer

SEMARANG, JAVA:

From Semarang, the most popular activity for guests is to make the trek to UNESCO World Heritage Site Borobudur. The world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. Built in the 9th century, it remains a mystery to this day as to how it was created without modern technology. Jeff explored Borobudur and captured it beautifully in his photos.

Borobudur stands tall and majestic among the trees. Photo by Jeff.

Borobudur stands tall and majestic among the trees. Photo by Jeff.

Scenes around Borobudur by Jeff.

Scenes around Borobudur by Jeff.

Guests John and Diane also are onboard, and posted this about Borobudur on Cruise Critic:

Since we’re fans of UNESCO World Heritage, this was our chance to add another to our list that we’ve wanted to see for some time. … The view from the top kept us up there for quite some time, as it is surrounded by several volcanoes and lush green agricultural fields. Our other activity at the top, in addition to gawking at the beautiful natural surroundings, was walking around the Great Stupa three times, silently, and then at the end making a wish. Of course I can’t tell you what I wished, or it wouldn’t come true.

SINGAPORE:

Singapore is such a robust city that an overnight call is a must. From the famous Raffles hotel to the impressive and unique night safari, there’s so much to see and do. Everyone got out and about on different adventures, from visiting the famed gardens to China Town. Enjoy two days in Singapore with our guest bloggers!

We decided to take the MRT to the Singapore Flyer, the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel, and take it for an early morning spin. The views were fabulous! Next we went off and did some shopping before heading off to our next stop, the Gardens by the Bay, next to the Marina Bay Sands. We walked through the Gardens by the Bay and decided to go to the Cloud Forest first, leaving the Flower Dome for later in the day. — Jeff

Singapore from the top of the ferris wheel and the gorgeous gardens.

Singapore from the top of the ferris wheel and the gorgeous gardens. All by Jeff.

Captain Mercer captured the famed laser light show that happens twice a night.

Here is the famous Singapore ‘Merlion’ and the surrounding area of the Bay is a mass of colour. — Captain Mercer

Captain Mercer captured the light show in the harbor.

Captain Mercer captured the light show in the harbor.

SINGAPORE DAY 2:

Jeff and his group visited China Town on the second day of Singapore.

Singapore boasts a wealth of colorful attractions. Photos by Jeff.

Singapore boasts a wealth of colorful attractions. Photos by Jeff.

The Frinks toured around Singapore on a hop-on, hop-off bus, also visiting China Town.

The iconic Raffles Hotel (Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore) was the only the only landmark I recognized from my solo foray into a much simpler Singapore in the 1990s; now the city is a booming, growing Asian financial center, squeezing out funky old neighborhoods. Jeanne and I disembarked from the top of the double-decker HOHO in Chinatown; there, drinks awaited in Chinatown Food Street.

The Frinks passed by Raffles and stopped at Chinatown.

The Frinks passed by Raffles and stopped at Chinatown.

Cruise Critic posters John and Diane visited Sentosa Island:

This morning we decided to do something different: travel to Sentosa Island, just across the bay from our ship. The entire island is a huge amusement park, but like the rest of Singapore, there isn’t a bit of trash – not a gum wrapper (gum is illegal in Singapore), not a bit of anything – I’m amazed that the trees have the nerve to drop leaves on the ground! Sentosa Island contains all kinds of attractions: the only Universal Studios in Asia, a large casino, three pristine beaches, a couple of hotels, all kinds of eateries, from McDonalds to Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon (each with two Michelin stars), a massive aquarium, a maritime museum, and tropical landscaping that is out of this world. We loved our visit.

PORT KLANG (KUALA LUMPUR), MALAYSIA:

Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital and the main attraction from the port of Port Klang. Despite it’s locale about 1/5 hours from the port, most guests make their way in to explore its many attractions. It’s a city of juxtaposition, with mosques and temples living harmoniously alongside the steel-clad skyscrapers. The most famous of these are the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world at 1,483 feet and 88 stories.

Beneath the Petronas Towers by Jeff.

Beneath the Petronas Towers by Jeff.

The Batu Caves were an amazing place, aside from the 272 steps that you have to climb to get into the caves. There are giant statues of Hindu deities. Just amazing! We spent a lot of time there checking out all the temples, the ceremonies and yes, even the monkeys. It was simply magnificent! This was the highlight of the day for me. — Jeff

The impressive Batu Caves by Jeff.

The impressive Batu Caves by Jeff.

Jeff also went to the Royal Palace, and it is a most impressive structure.

The Royal Palace, photographed by Jeff.

The Royal Palace, photographed by Jeff.

RANGOON, MYANMAR:

Following calls at Penang, Malaysia, and Phuket, Thailand, the ship called at Rangoon, Myanmar, for two nights. Jeff, John and Diane, went overland to explore Myanmar and India. Here is a glimpse into their time in Myanmar.

It was time for the highlight of the day, the Shwedagon Pagoda, the #1 attraction in Yangon and a 2,600-year-old series of structures that just take your breath away. The enormous stupa in the middle is covered with gold leaf and is crowned by a 76-carat diamond at the top. It’s surrounded by dozens and dozens of intricately decorated buildings, smaller pagodas, and statues. The shrine covers over 35 acres, and it was crowded with people from all over the world as well as many people from Myanmar. There were also dozens of Buddhist monks and nuns, some as young as 5, since every good Buddhist is supposed to serve at least a short period in this service. Moe, our guide, spent 2-1/2 months as a monk in his early 20’s, and his 7-year-old son has already done a three-day stint – which he loved. The Pagoda area itself was just amazing – it was almost like a Buddhist Disneyland, with all kinds of buildings, lots of gold, people-worshipping and/or sightseeing, and it just blew me away. I think it’s on my top 10 list of places I’ve ever visited. — John and Dianne

The Shwedagon Pagoda was like a Buddhist Disneyland, said John and Diane. Photos by Jeff.

The Shwedagon Pagoda was like a Buddhist Disneyland, said John and Diane. Photos by Jeff.

Captain Mercer also had time ashore to enjoy the sites.

First, off to the Sule Pagoda and then a walk around the Bogyoke Market and surrounding streets, then, after lunch, to Karaweik, a beautiful lake area with tended plants and shrubs and then finally, to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the grandest of them all. — Captain Mercer

Photos at the Shwegadon Pagoda by Captain Mercer.

Photos at the Shwedagon Pagoda by Captain Mercer.

After Yangon, Jeff and his group traveled to Bagan where they planned a hot air balloon ride over the temples on day two of their visit. However, day one came with some surprises.

Bagan has 1000’s of temples and I did my darndest to photograph them all. Our first formal visit was to Shwezigan Temple, considered the prototype for all later Myanmar temples. We climbed to the top and my trip was complete right then. The panoramic view of temples across the landscape was unbelievable. If we never got to take our balloon flight on the second day, I still would have been fulfilled on my visit to Bagan. — Jeff

The incredible view of the temples, by Jeff.

The incredible view of the temples, by Jeff.

The next day, they set off on their hot air balloon ride. The breathtaking photos speak for themselves.

Photos by Jeff.

Photos by Jeff.

Photos by Jeff.

Photos by Jeff.

The ship heads to India and then through the Suez Canal before traveling around the Mediterranean. Before too long, the Grand World Voyage will come to an end. But until then, stay tuned to the blog for an update on the adventures of our world cruisers.

Amsterdam anchored in the gorgeous harbor of Nuku Hiva. Photo courtesy of Jeff Farschman.
Amsterdam anchored in the gorgeous harbor of Nuku Hiva. Photo courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

The South Pacific is paradise on earth. Images of lush landscapes, crystalline waters and beautiful skies come to mind when thinking of the island jewels that make up this part of the world. For many, it’s the dream of a lifetime to journey to the South Pacific on a Holland America Line ship. Some travelers take a cruise that is solely bound for the South Pacific, while others take it as part of a longer itinerary such as the Grand World Voyage.

Currently, three of our regular Holland America Blog guest contributors on are the Grand World Voyage traveling westbound around the globe on Amsterdam: Jeff Farschman, President’s Club member and “World Adventure” blogger; Mariners Jan and Dick Yetke; and Mariners Gary and Jeanne Frink. In fact, Jan, Dick, Gary and Jeanne are dinner companions!

The ship recently spent 10 days island-hopping to some of the most beautiful ports around the South Pacific. All of the bloggers chose to explore in their own way, and there’s a unique way to get to know each destination for every type of traveler.

Come along and see why a trip to the South Pacific is a dream come true for so many.

Taoihae, Nuku Hiva
The first call was at Nuku Hiva, the second-largest island in French Polynesia. Jeff found the sail into anchorage to be so beautiful, he shared more photos of this sail-in than any other port!

Photos courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Photos courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Nuka Hive is lush, green and magnificent … just beautiful. We spent 5 or 6 hours ashore before heading back to the ship, We covered, I believe, all the highlights of the city including all the carved stone structures which originated a long time ago in Easter Island. So today, I offer up a lot of photos of one very beautiful island. — Jeff

Photos courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Photos courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Papeete, Tahiti
The next port to explore in the South Pacific was Papeete, Tahiti, and this was an overnight call. Despite the gloomy weather, our bloggers got out and about, and Jeff even said “It was best day I have ever had on Tahiti and I have been here many times.”

For the Yetkes, today was a day for exploring on two wheels. Jan’s bike even has some extra assistance for those tough hills!

Rode along the waterfront thru the park as far as we could and then you go out onto the main road, but there is a designated bike lane which is nice … I have to report that my bike was awesome! I did use it normally for the huge majority of the trip since it has about 10 different gear levels. But when getting to a hill, I could push the button for the battery and get a boost while pedaling. Really did not need much so then turned it off again. Amazing how nice it was! — Jan

Jan and Dick getting ready to go out and about on their bikes.

Jan and Dick getting ready to go out and about on their bikes.

As for Jeff, he and his friends went on tour to get the most out of their day.

Brad, Cathy, Ann & I had no real plans, just were going to walk around but did a major course correction and decided to take a Tahiti Paradise Tour for a half day into the Papeno’o Valley. Before leaving on our tour we did a quick tour of the Marche, you know how I love markets. Once back we were off and running. What a perfect day it turned out to be, all the rain and thunderstorms forecast held off so we could see some really dramatic, beautiful scenery. Our guide, Fara, described it as her own Jurassic Park and I can see why. The mountains, valleys and countless waterfalls certainly had a Jurassic Park feel to it. — Gary

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Bora Bora

Often called the most romantic island in the world, Bora Bora is also known as one of the most beautiful. From the emerald and sapphire hues of the sparkling water to the lush tropical slopes and valleys that blossom with hibiscus, Bora Bora is a shutterbug’s dream.

The Frinks decided to take the local shuttle to explore the island, and even saw the Yetkes along the way!

While sipping a late-morning beer and Diet Coke in a small, open air, faux-French cafe on the main drag of Bora Bora, dinner companions Jan and Dick rode by on their bicycles; I shouted out to Jan, peddling behind her husband … We settled on a shuttle “bus” (an old Mercedes Benz truck pulling what appeared to be a one-of-a-kind wooden carriage, with padded seats on the sides and a wooden bench in the middle.) The first stop was the “famous” Bloody Mary’s, a thatched-roof restaurant and saloon. One extravagance we could not resist was a $25 T-shirt proclaiming front and back: “Bloody Mary’s, Bora Bora.” As we rode the tender back to the Amsterdam, Jeanne said: “I’ll be the only girl in my neighborhood to have a Bloody Mary’s, Bora Bora T shirt.” — Gary

Jeanne making a local purchase, and the shuttle that took the Frinks around the island.

Jeanne making a local purchase, and the shuttle that took the Frinks around the island.

As for Jeff, he spent the day exploring the pristine waters or Bora Bora. The photos speak for themselves.

The vibrant underworld, photographed by Jeff Farschman.

The vibrant underworld, photographed by Jeff Farschman.

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Nuku’alofa, Tonga
Amsterdam then made way to Tonga where it would spend two nights, arriving on Saturday evening and departing Monday afternoon. On Sundays, the island mostly shuts down for religious observance. Both the Frinks and Yetkes found themselves at a church where the king and queen of Tonga were worshiping.

Gary notes:

As we walked uphill, the simple, unadorned white Methodist Church caught our attention. When we reached the church portico, an usher met us: “Oh, you just missed the choir,” he said. (Tongan church choirs are renowned.) “But the King is here. Would like to see him?” “Yes, of course,” I answered. “Follow me,” and we proceeded at an athlete’s pace up concrete back stairs that ended in a very high balcony. The King and Queen of Tonga sat alone in a theater-like box to the left side of the alter. I took photos with my iphone which, because of the height and distance, produced poorly-focused and ephemeral images; nonetheless, I possess self-taken snapshots of the King and Queen of Tonga. Later, Jeanne and I watched as the Royal “limousine” (a small Toyota SUV) passed by, followed by a security detail in a nondescript, green military vehicle; a royal flag fluttered from each front fender.

When Jeanne and I returned to the church portico, I met Bill who, in answer to my question, explained the meaning of the Tongan Taovala, worn by men and women over normal garments. “I’m a surgeon,” he told me. It was clear that Bill was leaving church early. “I have a patient in the hospital. I have to look in on her,” he said as we walked toward his car. Jeanne and I enjoyed Tonga so much, I joked about moving there, “and I already have my doctor,” I added. — Gary

Inside the Methodist Church, Gary and Jeanne with Dr. Bill, and the King and Queen leaving church. Courtesy of Jan Yetke.

Inside the Methodist Church, Gary and Jeanne with Dr. Bill, and the King and Queen leaving church. Courtesy of Jan Yetke.

Jeff also happened by the church, and many locals on their way.

Photos courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Photos courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

With two nights in port, there was plenty of time to go out and see the island and all that it has to offer.

Courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

Are you ready to travel to the South Pacific? Which island do you want to visit?

Captain Mercer is back on the Grand World Voyage, he just took the ship through the Panama Canal.
Captain Mercer is back on the Grand World Voyage, he just took the ship through the Panama Canal.

Captain Mercer is back onboard the Grand World Voyage and he’s blogging about his cruising adventures. The ship set sail from Fort Lauderdale in early January and made its way through the Panama Canal. After a call at Ecuador this week, it’s eight days at sea before landfall in the South Pacific. Catch up with Captain Mercer and witness the Grand World Voyage through the eyes of the master of the ship.

Jan. 6 – Fort Lauderdale:

Dear readers, after a hectic 24-hours I am back in the ‘Driving’ seat again. We left Port Everglades last night (5th) at 10 p.m. having embarked over 1,000 guests (and their luggage ;-) ), stores and fuel and heaven knows what else. Quite windy too, I probably woke up some of the guests, the bow-thrusts were working quite hard.

The Grand World Voyage logo painted on ms Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

The Grand World Voyage logo painted on ms Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of Jeff Farschman.

As I write, we are in the Old Bahama Channel, this lies between Cuba to the south and the Bahama Banks to the north, eventually we will round the eastern tip of Cuba, thence the western end of Haiti and into the Caribbean, our destination being Santa Marta, Columbia for Friday morning.

My leave was hectic, some time in Europe for training courses, visiting my daughters and grandchildren, then a hernia op (heavy suitcases up steep gangways) and some R&R of course. Suitcases are strewn around the cabin and today will involve packing it all away into its rightful place.

Emily and Violet are walking now, Olly is shooting up, all too quickly.

Jan. 7 – At Sea

After weeks of a leisurely coffee, a read of the morning news on the internet, still wearing PJs :-) shipboard routine comes as something of a culture shock. If someone could explain to me why, when one awakes in darkness, the luminous hands of my watch are in exact alignment more often than not, I would be grateful…

During one of my previous posts I mentioned my attendance at another ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display Information System) course. The big change is that now, as we are ECDIS compliant, we are now using this as our principal Navigation system. After 40+ years at sea, all of them using paper charts, the change, although expected, seems odd. My morning routine has always included a visit to the Bridge, a chat with the watch-keeping officers and, amongst others, a perusal of the chart on the chart-table. Old habits die hard and the now bare chart-table seems alien to me. Instead I consult the ECDIS, an electronic chart on a screen. I’m sure that my predecessors would be turning in their graves, no sextants and celestial navigation and now, no paper charts; the inevitable march of progress…

‘Introductions’ this evening; I go on stage and introduce not only myself, but 16 other officers, our ‘key’ personnel. I do my ‘Intros’ off-the-cuff, far preferring it this way than reading from a script; it has its challenges, however it is less formal and one can adjust, depending on the audience’s reaction. I know most of my officers and crew, so knowing their ‘bios’, helps to make our guests feel more knowledgeable about them. I have to admit that, over the years, I have had some moments though, having a brief complete memory loss of a name, even though I’ve sailed with the individual for years; not an auspicious moment!

Captain Mercer presenting the officers, courtesy of Jeff Farschman,

Captain Mercer presenting the officers, courtesy of Jeff Farschman,

Captain Mercer toasts to a wonderful Grand World Voyage.

Captain Mercer toasts to a wonderful Grand World Voyage.

Jan. 10 – San Blas Islands, Colombia

The San Blas Islands lie on the northern coast of Colombia, 80 miles to the east of the Panama Canal. On a hot and muggy morning, we weaved our way through the (visible) islands and the (invisible) reefs. As we made our first turn we were greeted with a sight seldom seen nowadays, a 3-masted schooner, the Tor Heyerdahl. She is a sail-training ship for teenagers and young adults.

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The native canoes did not take long to assume their usual position, as close as they could, the occupants begging for any ‘gift’ that might be donated. We continually move them away, however they always try to return, their favourite spot being near the stern, uncomfortably close to our azipod prop-wash.

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Jan. 11 – Panama Canal

We were scheduled to depart the San Blas Islands at 6 p.m. on Saturday, however, to arrive at the Panama Canal at 5 a.m. on Sunday, we required a speed of 7 kts. Herein lay a challenge; our stabilisers are not very effective at that speed and so, as a consequence, we remained at anchor until 8:30 p.m. and this gave a speed required of 10 knots, at which speed the stabilisers work effectively.

We weaved our way back through the reefs and islands to the open sea and I was pleased that I had made the ‘delay’ decision, the Caribbean was still rough and had I not done so, the night would have been ‘uncomfortable’ ;-)

The Canal authorities had asked us to be at Cristobal breakwaters for 5 a.m. There are always a vast number of ships in the approaches, those leaving or entering and others at anchor; one has to be diligent in such circumstances and so, at 3:15 a.m. my call from the Bridge awoke me. Coffee, (of course), in hand, I arrived on the Bridge. Radars humming, the glow of instrument lighting and, outside the windows, the lights of scores of vessels, not to mention Cristobal’s.

Our first report point to Cristobal signal station was at 12 miles off the entrance; they accepted our transmission and that was it. At 8 miles off they called us, “please time your arrival for 5:40″, damn, I could have had more time in bed :-)

The delay was because ‘northbound’ ships, having been transiting during the night, were delayed and as a consequence, the ‘southbound’ ships, (including us) were delayed. We took a 180° turn and headed north-east for a while, killing time until we could turn again and make our ETA.

Like ducks in a row, 20 minutes apart, southbound ships made their way towards the breakwaters and the pilot station. Here we slowly made our way down the well-buoyed channel, the lights of which looked more akin to an airport runway. Ahead of us, at the southern end of the channel, 2 green leading-lights assisted us; both on towers, 1 higher and behind the other, if they are in-line then one knows we are on the correct track.

Pilots and authorities board, one of whom is an ‘inspector’; he ensures that all is in order, that the vessel has no discrepancies and that she is capable of transit. All in order, we receive the ‘Zulu 14′ call sign; (ahead of us is Z12 and astern Z16 and so forth. We won’t use our “Amsterdam” name at all, always the Canal call-sign).

We follow Z12, a product carrier and Z10, the “Wind Spirit”, previously owned by HAL’s Windstar group. The itinerary I published on my blog had, of course, gone to out of the window, the 40-minute delay on arrival being the cause.

Gatun is our first lock; it is in fact a ‘flight’ of locks, entering the first, pumped up and then into the next. It’s a ‘tricky’ maneuver; getting the ship alongside the approach wall, so the locomotives can get their wires attached. On the long, centre approach wall, one can attach 3 locos, (named ‘centre’ 1, 2 and 3, believe it or not). As one progress into the lock, one can attach ‘side’ 1, 2 and 3. This is when I relax a little, up until this time I have been maneuvering, once the locos are attached, the pilot controls them and all I have to do is manage the speed.

Looking aft, the “Silver Spirit” entering the first flight.

Looking aft, the “Silver Spirit” entering the first flight.

Having departed Gatun locks, we enter Gatun Lake, the ‘powerhouse’ of the Canal lock system. As there was a further delay further south, we ‘pottle’ across the lake at a sedate 5 knots. We weave through the buoyed channel, passing northbound vessels, their proximity, by necessity, being close. As we do so, jungle on either side, there is little sign of human habitation.

Gatun Lake, islands and jungle.

Gatun Lake, islands and jungle.

From Gatun Lake, we pass Gamboa, the hub of the Canal’s dredge and work operation. With the construction of 3 new, massive locks there is a need to widen the canal to take the juggernauts which will use it in 2017. Because the dredgers take up some of the channel, there is a one-way system in place. The Culebra Cut has always been one-way, (at least in the time I have transited), as a result there are constant changes of speed while we arrange suitable passing areas for northbound ships we pass.

Clockwise from top: A bucket dredger, bulldozers moving the dried dredge mud and approaching Gamboa.

Clockwise from top: A bucket dredger, bulldozers moving the dried dredge mud and approaching Gamboa.

Once past Gamboa, into the ‘Cut’, this section was constantly under the risk of landslides and consequently the sides have been ‘stepped’, with massive bolts drilled into the faces.

The ‘Centennial’ Bridge spans the Cut. ‘Stepped’ sides are visible.

The ‘Centennial’ Bridge spans the Cut. ‘Stepped’ sides are visible.

At the end of the Cut lies the final 2 sets of locks; having been ‘lifted’ in Gatun, we now ‘drop’ in Pedro Miguel and finally, Miraflores locks.

A crowded visitor center, left, and Miraflores locks.

A crowded visitor center, left, and Miraflores locks.

Finally, (almost 14 hours), we’re into the Pacific. We pass Balboa port; here Container ships discharge their boxes. Rather than go through the Canal, some of them stop here and the boxes are rail-shipped to Cristobal (and vice versa), where they are loaded onto another ship. Under the Bridge of the Americas as we disembark our pilots, we’re on our way to Manta, Ecuador, and the vista of Panama City is on our port side as we glide down the channel to the open sea.

Bridge of the Americas and Panama City.

Bridge of the Americas and Panama City.

As I write, we are southbound in the Pacific under leaden skies, however the winds are following and the seas are calm. We are scheduled to arrive in Manta, Ecuador at 5 a.m. tomorrow (13th) morning. We cross the equator, thus entering southerly latitudes, at 1 a.m.

Jan. 13 – Manta, Ecuador:

Manta, Ecuador; we’ve called here before of course, almost exactly a year ago. It’s a fishing port in the main, although there’s a cargo ship next to us, the majority of the boats in here are Tuna boats. The area thrives on the sea and the restaurants along the beach-front are renowned for their seafood.

Another early call, 3 a.m.; on the Bridge for 3:30 and time to become accustomed to the darkness (and have a coffee), the 2nd Officer, Ineke has the watch, she is assisted by Anthony, one our 3rd Officers. As is the norm, we supplement the Bridge team for arrivals, both the Staff Captain Gerd and I have to be there too; the Engine Control Room is similarly supplemented; the Chief Engineer, 1st Engineer and Chief Electrician in addition to the normal watch-keepers all have to be there…

We exercised the Officers and Crew in a drill this morning. Starting with a Fire drill we progressed through our Stage 2 and 3 scenarios which is ‘abandon ship’. We exercise continually during the course of the voyage; it involves ringing of alarm bells and announcements, however our guests are very understanding as to the reason.

While all this was going on, Karen was ashore, my camera in her bag. I have deleted the blurred trees and sides of cars, (she took some out of the taxi window!), however she managed, as always, to get some nice ones. I will leave you with a selection. We depart at 9 p.m., 8 days at sea as we cross the Pacific to French Polynesia!

Karen and a very large tuna, the seafood market, a boat building and Amsterdam from town.

Karen and a very large tuna, the seafood market, a boat building and Amsterdam from town.

Captain Mercer will continue to write on his own blog, CaptainJonathan.com, and check back on the Holland America Blog for regular updates from him during the 114-day Grand World Voyage. You can follow the voyage on our Pinterest page as well!

(When not indicated, all photos were taken by Captain Mercer – or Karen!)

Guests have time to see more of ports around the world with overnight calls on the 114-Day Grand World Voyage.
Guests have time to see more of ports around the world with overnight calls on the 114-Day Grand World Voyage.

Today, Jan. 5, 2015, ms Amsterdam departs on the Grand World Voyage — the experience of a lifetime! The cruise goes around the world in 114 days, transiting the Panama Canal, making its way to the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, India, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan. From Jordan it’s a comfortable journey through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. Guests then spend a full two weeks in the Mediterranean before a transatlantic crossing that ultimately disembarks where it all began, at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Along the way there are 11 overnight calls that offer guests extended time to explore some of the most exciting destinations in the world. Whether you’re already onboard, joining the cruise later, or an armchair traveler, take a look at these outstanding overnight ports — and get an idea of what to do ashore on the 2015 Grand World Voyage!

For those looking to take a last-minute adventure, there’s still space on segments of the 2015 Grand World Voyage like from Auckland, New Zealand, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, via the Far East. Guests can get a taste of some of these overnights on the remaining segments.

And if a Grand Voyage is on your bucket list for next year, the 2016 Grands — that also feature several overnights — are open for booking. Check out the 115-day Grand World Voyage, the 67-day Grand South America and Antarctica Voyage and the 55-day Grand Mediterranean Voyage.

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OVERNIGHT CALLS ON THE 2015 GRAND WORLD VOYAGE:

Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Relax and sail by catamaran at Tahiti.

Relax and sail by catamaran at Tahiti.

After a trip to and through South America then a Panama Canal transit, the ship heads to the South Pacific where guests can go out and about on an overnight call at Papeete, Tahiti, the capital of French Polynesia. The colors that Paul Gauguin brought to canvas could have been lifted from the markets, beaches and buildings of today’s Papeete. Shop for black pearls, visit tropical gardens or check out Tahiti Sail by Catamaran, then walk the park along the waterfront.

Meanwhile, the rest of the island is waiting. Stop by the romantic Vaipahi Garden and the fern-lined sea caves of the Mara’a Grotto, then do anything on, beside, or under the island’s elysian lagoon. With two days at port there’s time to stroll and enjoy! The overnight makes it possible to take the Dinner & Show, a Night Out at Papeete tour. In addition to a colorful and delicious buffet at the Intercontinental Hotel, guests enjoy an evening show that is a stunning dance show that highlights Tahiti and its way of life — La Soirée Merveilleuse in the colors of Gauguin.

Auckland, New Zealand

Take in the views at Auckland, New Zealand.

Take in the views at Auckland, New Zealand.

Auckland has been called one of the loveliest and most livable cities in the world. Just imagine: a short drive from the cosmopolitan city and you can find the mountains, the countryside or at an isolated beach. The diverse landscape is truly incredible. Two days means you could experience America’s Cup and take in the landscape that inspired Lord of the Rings. A Stroll through Tamaki Hikoi is a fabulous experience if you want to experience Maori culture. Guides from the Ngati Whatua tribe re-tell ancient stories on a tour through Auckland. Along the way guests learn about the history of Auckland and visit the summit of Mount Eden for panoramic views.

Sydney, Australia

From the iconic opera house to the Blue Mountains -- see it all at Sydney!

From the iconic opera house to the Blue Mountains — see it all at Sydney!

Sydney, Australia, was recently rated the number one “bucket list” port by Holland America Line Facebook fans. And there’s no wonder why! Culture, adventure, beach and beauty come together at this coveted city. Visit iconic sights like Bondi Beach, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Or Discover the Blue Mountains — an UNESCO World Heritage site that features an awesome Grand Canyon-like rock formation among deep valleys and cascading waterfalls.

The overnight call allows guests to visit the iconic Sydney Opera House for an evening performance, an experience that can only happen with more time in port.

Adelaide, South Australia

Australia produces some of the world's finest wines, which can be enjoyed on tour.

Australia produces some of the world’s finest wines, which can be enjoyed on tour.

Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, is a cosmopolitan city of wide boulevards, fertile gardens and diverse architecture. Discover the Anglican Holy Trinity Church and the Parliament House. Explore the collection of Aboriginal, colonial, and Melanesian art at the South Australian Museum. Stroll the historic Adelaide Central Market, or simply relax beneath a fig tree canopy in the Botanic Gardens.

With extra time, a longer tour is possible. Australia is known to produce some of the finest wines in the world, and the Wine Tasting in the Barossa Valley tour shows just why they are so excellent. A scenic 90-minute drive through the rugged Adelaide Hills will bring guests to the Barossa Valley — Australia’s foremost wine-producing region. With more than 150 years of viticultural involvement, the Barossa Valley is home to around 50 wineries. Tours, tastings and an opportunity to purchase the wines you have enjoyed are the highlights of the day.

Fremantle (Perth), Australia

Kangaroos and Namburg Park too! Don't miss a beat at Perth!

Kangaroos and Namburg Park too! Don’t miss a beat at Perth!

Perth’s climate is Mediterranean and its beaches are abundant and uncrowded. History here starts 40,000 years ago when the first Aboriginal people arrived. Modern history starts 39,800 years after that with the arrival of the first Europeans. The natural history is timeless and enduring. Cruise visitors would do well to spend some time at Scarborough or Cottlesloe beaches. Take a trip out to the Swan Valley wine region, then catch the koalas and kangaroos at the Perth Zoo or at Caversham Wildlife Park & River Cruise.

With the overnight call, guests can enjoy the City of Lights Dinner Cruise and Perth’s city skyline after sunset. Guests admire the waterfront and city views from the dinner table while cruising along the Swan River under the stars.

Benoa, Bali, Indonesia

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The small village of Benoa is located on the southeastern coast of Bali, and while the town has developed over the past 20 years into a popular cruise destination for visitors, it retains its charming identity as a local fishing village. The calm waters and the beautiful white-sand beaches have made Benoa one of Bali’s most appealing water-sport destinations. For a great all-in-one view check out the East Bali Heritage tour. Guest Vito enjoyed it immensely saying,

“… the sites the history and views were truly wonderful. It’s a beautiful country. The final stop was at Besakih, the Mother Temple of Bali, a sprawling complex of some 20+ individual temples. Worth the trip!”

Singapore

Catch the sunset at Singapore.

Catch the sunset at Singapore.

The sights and sounds of Singapore make it an incredible stop on the Grand World Voyage. Learn about Feng Shui, the ancient art of balance and harmony during the Mysteries of the Orient Tour, or visit the Exotic Jurong Bird Paradise. Set in 50 beautiful acres of landscaped ground, Jurong Bird Park has amassed more than 8,000 exotic birds and 600 species from all over the world. Even as you enter, talkative and brilliantly colored macaws chatter and fuss. There’s opportunity to take in the natural beauty, the cosmopolitan side and the ancient roots of Singapore on a two-day stay.

With the overnight, a trip to the the world-famous Night Safari is a must. It’s the world’s first wildlife park purpose-built to be viewed at night. Set in 98 acres of dense secondary forest, the Night Safari offers visitors the unique experience of observing wildlife in a tropical jungle at night. Through the use of subtle lighting techniques, guests are able to view the 1,000 nocturnal animals of 100 different species in vast natural habitats.

Thilawa, Rangoon, Myanmar

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After more several calls, including the lovely Phuket, Thailand, the ship goes on to spend three days at the port of Thilawa, the gateway to Yangon. There you’ll find stunning pagodas, sunset cruises, traditional Myanmar dances and countless other forms of entertainment and enrichment.

Guests can take take advantage of the extra time and take the Best of Bagan Temples Overnight Tour. After the flight to Bagan, guests visit the Shwezigon Pagoda, the amazing Ananda Temple and Gubyaukgyi Temple (Wetkyi-Inn). Bagan is not only famous for the profusion of pagodas but also for its artistic handicrafts, where the process of making each piece can be seen at a local lacquerware workshop.

Mumbai, India

The Taj Mahal is on many a bucket list!

The Taj Mahal is on many a bucket list!

Another city of contradictions, Mumbai presents itself in two parts. Discover a bustling modern commerce center and bask in the ancient religious iconography. The prolonged stay affords the opportunity to visit the astounding Taj Mahal on a Taj Mahal Overland Adventure that explores the region over four days. Don’t forget to check this one off your bucket list!

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is unforgettable.

Dubai is unforgettable.

Dubai is an iconic modern marvel to explore. The architecture of the city is like no other. Explore the palm shaped islands, luxurious mansions and astounding skyscrapers and more of Dubai’s Architectural Marvels. Guests Mike and Pat from New Jersey visited and said,

“These folks know how to build a city. You hit all the biggies. The trip to the top of the tallest building is not to be missed. Truly architectural marvels. Some of the most beautiful buildings you will ever see. As cosmopolitan as it gets.”

With the overnight call, guests can take the Arabian Nights: An Evening Safari & Camel Ride tour. Cross the desert of Dubai with photo stops during an exciting dune drive en route to a camel farm. Continue across the desert, stopping to watch the beautiful sunset before reaching a desert campsite. Make the most of this opportunity to ride a camel and try sand boarding. Guests may also want to try out a henna design on their hands or feet. After working up an appetite, enjoy a delicious barbecue dinner and a sheesha (Arabian water pipe). Before returning to the port, watch a belly dancer performing around the campfire by starlight.

Piraeus (Athens), Greece

Athens is the last - certainly not the least - overnight call on the 2015 Grand World Voyage.

Athens is the last – certainly not the least – overnight call on the 2015 Grand World Voyage.

Last but certainly not least of the overnight calls on the Grand World Voyage is the port of Piraeus – gateway to Athens. Milton wrote that Athens was “the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence.” Visit the Parthenon, walk the winding path towards the Acropolis, pass through the Propylaea, and see the Erechtheum temple and the Porch of the Caryatids in the distance. Reinforced by the hand of man, the natural fortress of the Acropolis stands 230 feet above the city. You cannot help but be in awe of the view below.

Venture away from Athens during the overnight on the Delphi & Greek Easter Overnight Tour. Visit the Shrine of Apollo at Delphi, located nearly 2,000 feet up the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Delphi was considered by the ancients to be the physical and spiritual center of the earth. In the Delphi Museum examine such treasures as the Omphalos, which marked the center of the world, and the magnificent bronze Charioteer—one of the finest pieces surviving from the fifth century B.C.

On Day 2, head to Antirio and the village of Ancient Olympia to join in the Greek Easter festivity at the Touris venue. See the preparation of the various roasts (lamb on spit, Kokoretsi & Kontosouvli) and participate in Greek dancing, celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Guests get to experience a traditional Greek Easter feast.

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Don’t forget that between these overnight calls the Grand World Voyage will visit plenty of other exciting destinations. This is a once in a lifetime experience. If you’re unable to join then follow along here on the blog where we’ll share updates from around the world!

Remember that once you book your cruise you can pre-book your shore excursions, dining reservations and make your spa appointments for the Greenhouse Spa & Salon. You can also call the shore excursion call center at 888-425-9376.

Guests on the 2015 Grand World Voyage will have an overnight call at Bali to explore the country's beautiful temples like Ulundanu.
Guests on the 2015 Grand World Voyage will have an overnight call at Bali to explore the country's beautiful temples like Ulundanu.

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