Tag Archives: Shore Excursions

Many South America cities, like Buenos Aires, come alive at night.
Many South America cities, like Buenos Aires, come alive at night.

A cruise to South America is full of culture, history and exotic flavors. It’s the ideal adventure for travelers who like new experiences, beautiful scenery, varying climates, bustling cities and quaint villages.

On longer cruises such as the upcoming 2016 67-day Grand South America & Antarctica Voyage, guests have even more opportunities to experience the ports with five overnight calls in Lima, Peru; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Panama City, Panama; Rio de Janeiro and Manaus, Brazil. By day, these cities are interesting and vibrant, but at night the energy rises to a whole new level and the streets come alive with music, dance and excitement.

If you’re looking to make the most of your evenings ashore, take a look at these five tours and head out for a night on the town.

FountainLima by Night & Magic Fountains
Lima is the capital of Peru, and it’s not only one of the country’s largest cities but also one of the largest cities in South America. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features grand old buildings, attesting to its longtime role as one of the queen cities of the Spanish empire. This popular place is also one of the gastronomic capitals of the Americas, thanks to Spanish, Andean and Asian influences.

With the Lima by Night & Magic Fountains tour you can get a different view of this vibrant city. You’ll drive through downtown Lima, featuring the Main Square and Plaza San Martin. Then, you’ll take in the Magic Water Circuit of Lima — one of the city’s most visited attractions. The circuit consists of 13 impressive fountains that combine movement, light, sound and images. Here, you’ll be treated to a stand-up show.

NatalieInAK gave the tour five stars on the Holland America Line website and said Lima is worth an evening visit!

“This was a fun excursion for all ages. The fountain park was big and beautiful and it felt very safe. It was great to see so many Lima families there enjoying the fountains. There were plenty of fountain-light shows and interactive fountains that you could run through if you didn’t mind getting a little wet. It was also lovely getting a chance to see Lima and its beautiful architecture all lit up at night. Overall, it was a fun and safe nighttime excursion well worth the money.”

Tango: A Night of Passion & Desire
Buenos Aires, Argentina, is one of South America’s cultural and commercial capitals. You’ll quickly fall in love with this romantic city that magically becomes even more lively at night.

Watch professional dancers take the stage for a captivating Tango performance.

Watch professional dancers take the stage for a captivating Tango performance.

The Tango: A Night of Passion & Desire tour features a marvelously entertaining tango show arranged exclusively for Holland America Line guests. You’ll head to one of the most iconic tango theaters in Buenos Aires for a spectacular presentation of the popular dance. The professional performers will leave you breathless with their skills, timing, passion and stamina. You can also combine this tour with dinner: a three-course meal in opulent surroundings while the dancers get ready for the show.

Diane gave the tour five stars on the Holland America Line website.

“This was one of the most memorable tours of the entire trip. The Tango show was very well done and included a history of Tango told through out the dances. There was drama, comedy, passion and fantastic music.”

Night Out In Rio: Samba Show

Rio de Janeiro is one of South America’s most colorful cities in more ways than one.

Rio de Janeiro is one of South America’s most colorful cities in more ways than one.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a stunning city with beautiful people who have a contagious lust for life, and there’s no question why it’s nicknamed the “cidade maravilhosa,” or “marvelous city.” By day you can enjoy the breathtaking city views from the top of Corcovado Mountain or Sugar Loaf, and by night you can get a whole different feel for the culture.

The Night Out In Rio: Samba Show shore excursion is a Medallion Collection tour offering a firsthand glimpse of Rio’s fabulous nightlife. You’ll visit a local show house and enjoy a 90-minute live presentation featuring dazzling color, costumes, song and dance of Afro-Brazilian culture. You’ll quickly fall in love with the samba beat and enjoy the most important dance of the world-famous Carnival festival.

An Evening Exploration in the Amazon
Manaus, Brazil, one of the world’s greatest boomtowns, rose to glory as the rubber trade exploded in the late 19th century. Today, the boom-time landmarks still stand. At night, you can enjoy a visit to the world-famous pink-and-white Teatro Amazonas Opera House, a copy of the Grand Opera de Paris.

Guest UKTourist wrote:

This turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Listening to talented young people perform in such a magnificent venue is something I will always remember. The choice of music was “inspired.”

Enjoy the stunning theater or watch your guide dive into the water to catch alligators at Manaus.

Enjoy the stunning theater or watch your guide dive into the water to catch alligators at Manaus.

But if it’s adventure you seek, the Alligators by Night tour is just what you’re looking for. Cross the Rio Negro by riverboat into Lake January to board a covered canoe with an outboard motor. You’ll cruise through the dark and exciting jungle as you closely watch the shadows and listen to mysterious sounds. Your guide will watch for caimans and when he spots one he’ll jump into the water to catch it! You’ll get an incredible up-close look before it is released back into the water.

Fast trip across the lake to caiman areas, with spotter shining light to find caiman. Ours about 3 years old, but still had sharp teeth. Second canoe with naturalist came along side, good descriptions of how caimans lived. Naturalist spoke excellent English, main guide more difficult to understand. Good trip, different experience at night crossing large rivers. Lights of Manaus beautiful at night. — Guest “ecmcd”

Miraflores Locks by Night
Fuerte Amador, or Fort Amador, in Panama was one of the U.S. installations, along with Fort Grant, that guarded the southern end of the Panama Canal. Today, it is a suburb of Panama City and a travel destination.

The lock of the Panama Canal are an interesting sight at night.

The lock of the Panama Canal are an interesting sight at night.

The Miraflores Locks by Night tour is an exciting opportunity to watch the huge ships that make their way through the Miraflores Locks’ chambers and see the locks up close. You’ll also enjoy the Miraflores Visitor Center, with four different halls depicting the background of the Canal and how it operates. Afterwards, you’ll pass through the former Panama Canal Zone, very much intact and resembling a still life image of the days of the American Administration. You’ll head back to the ship with a whole new appreciation of your recent transit.

GrayGrammy wrote on the Holland America Line website:

This tour, taken the evening before our Eastbound transit, made our adventure through the Panama Canal – especially through the Miraflores Locks – even more interesting and fun. Although we had done a good deal of research before taking our cruise, we learned much more at the Miraflores Visitors Center…

The Miraflores Visitor Center features four halls depicting the history of the Canal and how it operates.

The Miraflores Visitor Center features four halls depicting the history of the Canal and how it operates.

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The full 67-day Grand South America & Antarctica Voyage departs Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jan. 4, 2016. The cruise also can be split into two segments: 36 days from Fort Lauderdale to Buenos Aires, or 31-days from Buenos Aires to Fort Lauderdale, departing Feb. 9.

Remember, you can pre-book your shore excursions online to save time onboard and ensure that you don’t miss your tour of choice! If you want to read or write a review of the tours, click HERE and then click “review.”

Have you spent the night in any of these cities before? What did you enjoy most? Tell us in the comments below.

Holland America Line's new tablet app brings Alaska to your fingertips.
Holland America Line's new tablet app brings Alaska to your fingertips.

Now it’s easier and more convenient for travelers to tap and swipe their way through Holland America Line’s Alaska cruises and Land+Sea Journeys with the launch of a new application for tablets. Those using an Apple, Android or Windows tablet can search key words such as “Holland America Alaska” in their respective app store and download the application for free.

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“Today’s consumer wants to have a thorough understanding of the travel experience before they book, and technology is essential in helping vacationers choose the right fit,” said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line. “Our new app makes it easy for anyone to get an inside look into Holland America Line’s Alaska options anytime, anywhere.”

The app is optimized for tablets and offers the best of Holland America Line’s Alaska brochure, web site and other collateral in an easy-to-navigate mobile tool. Users can explore both cruises and Land+Sea Journeys with a new level of detail, including an interactive map with destination details and excursion options, as well as a sampling of the line’s Glacier Bay podcasts.

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Users can post, share or print information. For those without a tablet, there is also a “desktop viewer” that offers the same rich content with mouse-click navigation.

Through the app, Holland America Line Alaska cruises and Land+Sea Journeys itineraries are available “on the go.” The app can be used to electronically view different itinerary options and route maps and to personalize travel plans. Once a day-by-day itinerary is finalized, a pdf flyer to email can be created with the swipe of a finger.

Anniversary Sale Features Alaska Adventures
If you’re looking to cruise Alaska this summer, now is the time to plan using the new app. Cruisers who book an Alaska cruise or Land+Sea Journey by June 1, 2015, will gain a valuable shore excursion credit, complimentary stateroom upgrades, dining package and more.

WHY TAKE AN ALASKA CRUISE?

As the experts in Alaska cruising and overland travel, here are some reasons why we think an Alaska cruise should be at the top of your list.

Bucket-list Shore Excursions

A cruise to Alaska is an adventure in itself, and certain tours make it even more memorable. The Dog Sled Adventure by Helicopter tour is a truly Alaskan adventure offering the rare opportunity to mush your own dog sled team across a snow-covered glacier, while the Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest tour is a memorable option to maximize time viewing Alaska’s marine wildlife.

Enjoy Alaska's locals surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

Enjoy Alaska’s locals surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

The Denali Glacier Landing by Helicopter tour is another once-in-a-lifetime experience. Explore the beautiful Yanert Glacier at the base of Mt. Deborah and head to the breathtaking Ice Falls in Yanert Valley. This video describes your soaring adventure better than we ever could!

Land + Sea Journeys let you explore Alaska from all angles!

Holland America Line’s Land + Sea Journeys combine an interior exploration with an Alaskan cruise, giving guests truly the best of both worlds. The Yukon Double Denali Land + Sea Journey option is the perfect way to experience all that Alaska has to offer with time in some of Alaska’s most exciting cities and two nights at Denali.

Take in the beautiful scenery at Denali National Park.

Take in the beautiful scenery at Denali National Park.

Serene scenic cruising lets you reach otherwise unreachable places.

Scenic cruising is one of the best facets of visiting Alaska on a cruise, because it is the only way to access these beautiful locations. Enjoy a scenic cruise along Glacier Bay, the Inside Passage and Tracy Arm, where the ship will be surrounded by Alaska’s natural beauty and you’ll be in awe as you take it all in.

Cruise along stunning natural beauty at Glacier Bay.

Cruise along stunning natural beauty at Glacier Bay.

Unique Cultures

There is plenty of culture to discover in Alaska and you’ll be delighted by the state’s many interesting traditions. At Ketchikan the Saxman Native Village and Lumberjack Show provides exclusive access to the Beaver Clan House — a working native carving center — and a chance to watch traditional dancers perform. At Haines, you can also learn of the Tlingit culture with a visit to Klukwan, the mother village of the Tlingit nation.

Watch a lumberjack show and visit a totem park.

Watch a lumberjack show and visit a totem park.

Are you convinced? From May through September 2015 seven ships in the Holland America Line fleet will sail a total of 124 Alaska voyages that stretch from the Inside Passage to Glacier Bay and beyond. See you in the Last Frontier!

The Edinburgh Tattoo is an exciting way to experience Scottish culture.
The Edinburgh Tattoo is an exciting way to experience Scottish culture.

When you cruise, what type of shore excursions attract you the most? Relaxing city tours, historically rich explorations or exhilarating adventures that get your adrenaline pumping? If you’re looking for once-in-a-lifetime experiences that combine a little bit of everything, Holland America Line has an incredible collection of shore excursions in Europe that feature some of the most exclusive events and exciting opportunities that allow you to explore the ports in a variety of ways.

Are you a golf fan, Formula One junkie or do you like to see the world from a different view? Read on and see why these six tours top the list of European shore excursions not to miss.

British Open Championship at St. Andrews
Rosyth, Scotland

Visit St. Andrews and witness the British open on a tour.

Visit St. Andrews and witness the British open on a tour.

For those who appreciate the game of golf’s rich history, the British Open Championship at St. Andrews tour is the ultimate tournament experience. Be there as the 144th British Open is played out on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Follow the best players in the world as they navigate the pot bunkers and gusty winds that are the hallmarks of this Scottish legend. This is the rare opportunity to witness golf’s oldest Major Championship return to the game’s most cherished links.

Prinsendam’s July 15, 2015, Irish & Scottish Explorer departure calls at Rosyth during the British Open.

Grand Prix Trials
Monte Carlo, Monaco

Amazingly the call at Monte Carlo on Nieuw Amsterdam’s April 22 departure coincides with the trials for the world-famous Formula One Grand Prix. Guests can attend the first day of the F1 trials, held on one of the most fascinating and talked-about racetracks in the world. From the port of Fontvieille a local escort will lead you on a 30-minute walk (approximately) toward the grandstand section, located in a central position. Local Grand Prix personnel will direct you toward the section where you are to be seated. It is then up to you to decide which trials you wish to attend as your ticket gives you grandstand access for the whole day with in-out privileges. Come and go as you please. Your escort will give you a map of Monaco for orientation and then you’re on your own for a most enjoyable day.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Rosyth, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle is the beautiful backdrop for the annual Tattoo.

Edinburgh Castle is the beautiful backdrop for the annual Tattoo.

Traditionally, the ‘tattoo’ was the signal given by drumbeat that warned British soldiers to return to their quarters for the night. Innkeepers promptly turned off their liquor taps and the drums continued to beat for a half hour — the period of grace during which the soldiers were allowed to return home before being AWOL. The custom eventually developed into a ceremonial performance of military music by massed bands, held a few hours after sunset.

At the Edinburgh Military Tattoo that takes place every August against the majestic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the world-renowned Massed Pipes & Drums together with the impressive Massed Military Bands and the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland are among those who will gather for Scotland’s sensational Edinburgh Tattoo. The Tattoo concludes with that most moving of all Scotland’s performances — the lone piper, floodlit on the battlements, haunting tones reaching out across the darkened arena to echo in your heart long after the music stops. (This excursion is only available on select sailings in August and is not available on Sundays.)

Exclusive Mt. Vesuvius
Naples, Italy

Take an exclusive tour of Mt. Vesuvius on a 4x4 bus.

Take an exclusive tour of Mt. Vesuvius on a 4×4 bus.

Travel by coach along the Bay of Naples on the Exclusive Mt. Vesuvius tour, stopping en route at a local cameo factory before reaching the foot of awesome Mount Vesuvius — the only volcano on the mainland continent of Europe. From the village of Boscotrecase, you will board a special ecological 4×4 bus for a 25-minute drive through Mount Vesuvius National Park, through pine forests and broom to an elevation of 3,400 feet. Leave the bus and walk to the upper part of the crater, where you will enjoy a walking tour around the crater under the expert supervision of an alpine guide.

Mount Vesuvius creates a beautiful landscape with the bay and Naples tucked below. Vesuvius is best known for its eruption in AD 79, destroying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and killing up to 25,000 people. It has erupted many times since and is today regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the population of three million people living nearby. The mountain has a tendency for explosive (Plinian) eruptions.

We had a wonderful sunny day, and you want good weather. The drive in the 4 wheel vehicle part way up Mt. Vesuvius was great. There is quite a climb but rails to hand on to when needed. You get right to the mouth of the volcano which is amazing. This trip was my husband’s choice and I am so glad we took it. — Guest Chrisdo

Kickin’ Corfu! A 4-Wheel-Drive Adventure
Kérkira (Corfu), Greece

Drive your own Jeep around Corfu and kick back like a local.

Drive your own Jeep around Corfu and kick back like a local.

Get behind the wheel of a four-wheel-drive vehicle on the Kickin’ Corfu tour and drive yourself and your fellow guests along the main coastal route, and up a country road, through olive groves and the village of Ano Korakiana. The road up Pantokrator Mountain features 27 zigzag turns and leads to the old village of Sokraki. Stretch your legs on a walk through the narrow winding streets of the village and enjoy a meze (traditional light snack) with a glass of local wine. Set off again along a country (dirt) lane to admire the beautiful panoramic view of the island as well as the magnificent view of the old town of Corfu. Returning to the narrow asphalt road, pass through Troubeta, Arkadades, Makrades and Lakones.

Without doubt this tour was the best tour of the whole cruise.My wife drove the little four wheel drive ,without any problems,while I ran the Gopro. The best views. The stop at Sokraki was more of a full lunch than a light snack, with local produce and meats, wine and ouzo.The narrow roads through picturesque towns were a treat. And one breathtaking view after another. I would highly suggest this tour. — Guests Steve and Linda

Sensational Rooftop Walk & Stockholm’s Old Town
Stockholm, Sweden

Get a bird's-eye view of Stockholm on the rooftop tour.

Get a bird’s-eye view of Stockholm on the rooftop tour.

It’s been featured on the blog in the past, but it’s too special to leave off this list. Try something sensational and unique — a guided walk conducted along a historic rooftop in Stockholm. Drive to Riddarholmen, the small island in the Old Town of Sweden’s capital. During the 13th century, Franciscan monks built a monastery here, parts of which still remains in the cellar vaults of the many impressive buildings that stand here today. Riddarholmen Church is the final resting place of most Swedish Kings. Next to the church is the Old Parliament Building which you’ll enter and take the elevator up to the top floor and, via the attic, step out into the open. Buckle up with your safety harness and take your first steps along the narrow rooftop path offering fantastic views and fascinating stories that your guide will share en route.

Even though the height (up to 130 feet) may be a challenge to some, this is the perfect starting point to learn of the history of Stockholm and take in some breathtaking views. With your feet back on the ground, continue to the Old Town for a ground-level walking tour through Gamla Stan — a living historical monument of international renown. On the way back to the ship, relax for a panoramic sightseeing drive through Stockholm, passing the Parliament Building, the Royal Opera, the city center with Sergels Torg and the Concert Hall.

My husband and I had a great time – what a unique opportunity to walk on the rooftop of a centuries old buildling in the middle of Stockholm. We had a view of the city from every angle, and learned a lot about the history of Stockholm. It was the perfect mix of sightseeing and adrenaline! — Guest TravelGal

Which one of these tours would you like to take? Many of the exclusive shore excursions fill up quickly, so remember to pre-book the shore excursion of your choice to save time onboard and ensure you have a seat!

One-year-old Isabelle waves goodbye to her Uncle Vincent who is staff captain on Prinsendam.
One-year-old Isabelle waves goodbye to her Uncle Vincent who is staff captain on Prinsendam.

Taking a cruise vacation is a social event full of memory-making moments both onboard and ashore. From mingling with guests around the ship to taking a fabulous shore excursion and visiting all of the fantastic destinations around the world, there are plenty of opportunities to capture the special moments and share them with friends, family and fellow fans of Holland America Line.

If you want to be social before you cruise, check out “Roll Call” on Facebook, Holland America Line’s way of connecting fellow cruisers before departure. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the Holland America Blog are other outlets that provide a great way for guests to get cruise tips from fellow guests or share vacation stories and photos.

If you want to be part of the sharing, submit your fun photos and stories through social media channels, by clicking “Share Your Story” on the blog or emailing info@hollandamericablog.com. And if you’re out there cruising and tweeting while you sail, hashtag us at #HALcruises or #HollandAmerica, or tag us at @HALcruises. You can even hashtag your ship, like #Eurodam!

The photos and notes in this blog post are just some wonderful examples that show the dedication, fondness and love that our guests and crew have for Holland America Line.

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Well Wishes from Shore to Ship

The beautiful photo above came through email with this sweet note:

My uncle Vincent works as a staff captain on the ms Prinsendam. Every time when the beautiful ms Prinsendam visits the Netherlands (Amsterdam or IJmuiden), I go by bike, together with my mom and dad to the beach/pier to wave my Uncle Vincent goodbye. We always wish him and all of the crew and passengers a safe and secure journey. My mom took a picture of us the last time. — Isabelle Engel (1 year)

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Noordam Carries Historic Tote Bag on Transatlantic Crossing

From left: Captain Jeroen van Donselaar, Nancy and Francis Stiles, and Hotel Director Simon Tanner display the historic tote bag.

From left: Captain Jeroen van Donselaar, Nancy and Francis Stiles, and Hotel Director Simon Tanner display the historic tote bag.

Guests Francis and Nancy Stiles of Pennsylvania brought an unusual piece of history on board a Noordam transatlantic cruise: a tote bag that has been in the Stiles family since 1890 and carried on many sailings. The tote bag traveled on Holland America Line ships including the Rijndam and Statendam in 1929 and made its first transatlantic crossing in 1930 aboard White Star Line’s R.M.S. Homeric.

On this transatlantic cruise 84 years later, Captain Jeroen van Donselaar and Hotel Director Simon Tanner held a commemoration ceremony on the bridge, inscribing the ship’s itinerary on the bag.

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Getting Creative with Tiles

While some guests create tables and kitchen backsplashes with their Holland America Line Delft tiles, guest Ton Rijppaert has found another way to get creative with these favorite give-aways. A former HAL cabin steward from 1964 to 1972, Ton now cruises regularly so he’s amassed quite a collection of tiles and pins.

Ton Rijppaert from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, displays his tiles and pins in a photobook.

Ton Rijppaert from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, displays his tiles and pins in a photobook.

I collect HAL tiles (not plates) and pins … At this moment my collection consists of 290 tiles and 80 pins. I have them processed in a photobook. It is a loose-leaf album, so I can effortlessly handle additions. The tiles are shown at actual size. I always take the album with me on our cruises. That is the way I am “creative” with my tiles. During our voyage with the ms Rotterdam from our hometown Rotterdam to Singapore last January I had the opportunity to exhibit my tiles on board the ship (2 times). — Ton Rijppaert

Ton at home with his collection and the wonderful display onboard.

Ton at home with his collection, a new tile and the wonderful display onboard.

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Friends for Life

Crew members who work onboard become like family. Cruising is a 24/7 operation, and there’s a lot of time spent together. Special bonds are formed and lifelong friendships develop. Former Cruise Director Lizabeth Knight can attest to this in her story:

Teresa, left, and Liz onboard Nieuw Amsterdam.

Teresa, left, and Liz onboard Nieuw Amsterdam.

I’m a former HAL Cruise Director and Teresa Papp is a former HAL Event Manager. We were partnered together on the Statendam from 2009 through 2010. It was a tremendous partnership, and we were fortunate to work with a fabulous “family” on the Statendam. Even though we’ve both been officially gone from the company since 2010 we’ve remained close friends, and decided to take a “Family Reunion” cruise this year.

Since the Statendam does voyages that are longer than we can manage in our current lives, we chose a Caribbean cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam. We were thrilled to find many of our Statendam family members onboard, making it truly a family reunion to remember! Thank you, Holland America Line, for the magical memories – from both the Statendam and the Nieuw Amsterdam! — Lizabeth Knight

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Warm Feelings in Cold Weather

The Shore Excursion department on Zaandam recently received new uniforms for their South America explorations. They were very appreciative of the cold-weather wear.

Judy from Zaandam's Shore Excursion team shows off the new uniforms.

Judy from Zaandam’s Shore Excursion team shows off the new uniforms.

Just a little appreciation for our new uniform! — Judy

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Is that an Original Holland America Line Design?

Chuck and Deborah Humbert.

Chuck and Deborah Humbert.

Chuck Humbert and his wife Deborah were wondering what to do with all of the vintage, complimentary tote bags that Holland America Line gives out. They got creative, and we think the result is fabulous!

Because of the superb quality of the design and fabric, they were recycled by my wife Deborah and her mother into a jacket and vest to be worn at the Mariners Luncheons. Needless to say they do attract attention. Careful attention was paid to the patterns when piecing together the final project lending to a memorable taste of our past cruises.

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A Presidential Dinner

President’s Club Mariners Mark Goldberg and Christopher Smith have made the ms Zaandam their winter home sailing around South America for nearly 100 days.

To honor them and their loyalty to Holland America Line Hotel Director Simon Tanner orchestrated a remarkable dinner in the Neptune Lounge just a few steps from their suite. This was most definitely a memorable evening for these VIP guests!

Left to Right: Christopher Smith, presidents club member; Clarissa Zwart, guest relations manager;  Marc Spijkerboer, culinary operations manager; Mark Goldberg, presidents club member; Anita Szilagyi, shore excursions; Simon Tanner, hotel director, pose with HAL crew members.

Clockwise around the table from bottom left: guest Christopher Smith; Clarissa Zwart, guest relations manager; Marc Spijkerboer, culinary operations manager; guest Mark Goldberg; Anita Szilagyi, shore excursions; and Simon Tanner, hotel director, pose with HAL crew members.

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A Golden Anniversary

Even regular blog contributors and current Grand World Voyage cruisers Jan and Dick Yetke got in on the fun.

We celebrated our 50th Anniversary onboard. Started out with a wake up call in the morning from Guest Relations Manager Christel and her whole front office staff, including Neptune staff, singing a Happy Anniversary song to us!!!! What a wonderful surprise and great way to start the day!!!

A little while later we were out of the cabin attending the Good Morning Amsterdam show and when we returned our door had been decorated with 3 gold balloons and a sign saying Happy 50th Anniversary, Jan and Dick!! It was from the Neptune staff and our cabin stewards. Wow, that was really nice!

Cards arrived all day long from friends on board!!! We received our first large flower bouquet from Captain Jonathan Mercer; Henk and Christel Mensink, hotel manager and guest relations manager; ship officers, staff, and crew!! So beautiful and so much appreciated by us! We felt very special.

Celebrations continued throughout the day with flower deliveries, a cocktail party, fabulous dinner and dessert.

When it was time for dessert, all the dining room staff gathered around the table and they brought the cake and they all sang their Indonesian song which means Happy Life to us!! Another, Wow, for us – so many singers.

The Yetke's 50th Anniversary celebration included balloons, cake and Captain Mercer.

The Yetke’s 50th Anniversary celebration included balloons, cake and Captain Mercer.

Content is king and social media is the new water cooler. We want to hear what you’re doing! If you have fun photos or a great story that you’d like to share with Holland America Line’s social media team, send to info@hollandamericablog.com or hit the icon on the home page that says “Share Your Story.”

Happy cruising — we hope to hear from you soon!

The beautiful Tayutic Hacienda is located in the misty hills of Turrialba.
The beautiful Tayutic Hacienda is located in the misty hills of Turrialba.

Spring has sprung and it’s an inspiring time! Today is the first official day of spring – and that means that flowers will begin to bloom in colder regions that have been covered in a blanket of snow and ice for many months.

As people across the northern hemisphere are looking forward to the return of the sun, Holland America Line’s signature tulip is beginning to bloom in the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands, one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. In celebration of spring flowers, here are more gorgeous gardens — in no particular order — that you can visit on a Holland America Line shore excursion. Take a tour and take home some inspiration for your own backyard masterpiece!

Holland America Line's white Signature Tulip with its delicate fringe is a stand-out in the tulip fields.

Holland America Line’s white Signature Tulip with its delicate fringe is a stand-out in the tulip fields.

The Tayutic Hacienda
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known for its lush setting and extraordinary biodiversity. At Puerto Limon head to the hills for a picturesque experience at Tayutic Hacienda. The gardens surrounding there were built by the wealthy Ortuño family, who made their money in the sugar cane business. Learn about ancient methods of sugar cane cultivation and walk the impressive gardens, buzzing with hummingbirds and butterflies, then dine in a covered hall surrounded by the exotic flora with beautiful mountain views.

One family visited all the way from the Jersey Shore and said,

“This was one of our favorite excursions. The bus ride though the countryside of Costa Rica was just beautiful — but wait — the best is yet to come! High on a hill the Tayutic Hacienda has the most magnificent views in the valley … We loved this excursion which was well organized and allowed us to feel “living the life” on the estate.”

The Jardim Botânico
Funchal, Portugal

Funchal, Portugal, is known for more than just great wine. The “Jardim Botânico” (Botanical Gardens) of Madeira are world-renowned for their beauty. Developed in 1960 on the coastline, the garden displays over 2,000 exotic plants both endemic and from all over the world such as orchids, magnolias, azaleas, palms, ferns and cacti.

Throughout the garden, visitors will find plants that are identified by their scientific and common names, family and place of origin, for a delightful and educational experience. The garden’s location, high on the hillside overlooking the ocean, adds another element of natural beauty to an already gorgeous setting.

JR from Seattle visited on Holland America Line’s Botanical Beauty Shore Excursion and said,

“We boarded the coach to climb up the hills of Funchal to the most glorious botanical gardens! Magnificent views of the city and water from the gardens. Beautifully organized areas of different landscapes…stunningly gorgeous. Don’t forget to see the exotic birds at the bottom of the gardens.”

The “Jardim Botânico” is a fabulous sensory experience.

The “Jardim Botânico” is a fabulous sensory experience.

Butchart Gardens
Victoria, British Columbia

At beautiful Butchart Gardens, see how the Butchart family has transformed a barren rock quarry into what is now one of the world’s best-known horticultural attractions, covering more than 55 acres. The gardens are a lush paradise of flowers, rare trees and winding paths and were created more than 100 years ago. Enjoy the cascading fountains and footbridges connecting the many themed gardens, including the beautiful Sunken Garden, the Japanese Garden and the Rose Garden.

Katharine from Oregon visited on Holland America Line’s Butchart Gardens & Short Drive tour and called Butchart Gardens “the loveliest place on earth.”

“I’ve been a half dozen times and have never been disappointed.” – Katarine, Oregon

The Buchart Gardens offer more than 50 acres of beauty.

The Buchart Gardens offer more than 50 acres of beauty.

Inverary Castle
Glasgow, Scotland

Inverary Castle appears out of a fairytale. The castle is England’s earliest example of Gothic Revival — built in the 1700s — and could not be more beautiful if it were a painting. No matter the time of year the gardens are well worth a visit. In early spring daffodils bloom with various shades of yellow, replaced by the vibrant reds, pinks and whites of the rhododendrons and azaleas that the West Highlands are famous for. Other highlights are the heathers, roses and varied trees that are spectacular later in the summer and autumn. The garden covers 16 acres, of which, around two acres are formal lawns and flowerbeds, the remainder being park and woodland. Extending over 400 acres they from one of the most important designed landscapes in Scotland. You can check them out on cruises to Glasgow on Holland America Line’s Inverary Castle & Loch Lomond tour.

Inverary Castle and its grounds look like something out of a fairytale.

Inverary Castle and its grounds look like something out of a fairytale.

Romney Manor Gardens
Basseterre, St. Kitts

At St. Kitts hop in a jeep for the Safari Island Drive to take in the beauty of this most scenic of the smaller Caribbean islands. After driving through the town of Basseterre, you will proceed westward to the renowned Caribelle Batik Studio and Romney Manor Gardens — beautifully maintained gardens and a batik factory. Here you will have some time to enjoy this spectacular 12-acre location and see batik-making in progress. Then you will continue the scenic ride around the island as your entertaining and knowledgeable guide points out places of historical and cultural interest. Hear about Old Road Village, where the British first landed on Middle Island, and the world-famous Brimstone Hill Fortress as you drive by. Your next stop will be at Gibbon’s Hill, from where you can see the Atlantic Waters meeting with the Caribbean Sea in a splash of waves that never ceases to fascinate.

Get to know the gardens with a guide at St. Kitts

Get to know the gardens with a guide at St. Kitts

Adelaide Botanic Garden
Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide’s Garden & Museum takes you to the Bicentennial Conservatory at the Adelaide Botanic Garden. The conservatory is located in the tropical rain forest section of the garden and is awash with waterfalls and rock pools. It was built to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary (1988) and is the largest single-span conservatory in the Southern Hemisphere. The Bicentennial Conservatory houses a display of lowland tropical rain forest plants from Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the nearby Pacific Islands. Many of these plants are at risk or are endangered in their natural habitats. You will have the chance to visit the Palm House, established in 1875 — the pre-cursor to the Conservatory. It was fully restored in 1992 and is believed to be the only one still in existence today.

Take in the beauty at Adelaide, Australia's 125-acre Botanic Garden.

Take in the beauty at Adelaide, Australia’s 125-acre Botanic Garden.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden
Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China, is a city where old meets new. Scenic Suzhou, founded in the 5th century B.C., maintains tradition. A famous Chinese proverb says, “In heaven there is paradise; on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou.” At Suzhou, the Humble Administrator’s Garden is 10 acres of pure beauty, with a variety of lakes and gardens dotted throughout. The name, “Humble Administrator” comes from another Chinese proverb that says,

“To cultivate a garden for a living is really the politics of a humble man.” — Chinese Proverb

Dotted with lakes and ponds, the Humble Administrator's Garden is one of the most famous in all of China.

Dotted with lakes and ponds, the Humble Administrator’s Garden is one of the most famous in all of China.

Also at Shanghai, visit the Yuyuan Garden. The Pan family, wealthy Ming Dynasty officials, had the garden built for them. The endeavor took 18 years between A.D. 1559 and 1577. Small bridges of different shapes and sizes, beautiful rockeries, clear water ponds, elegant pavilions and zig-zagging, covered corridors are nicely designed and built in this small but very delicate and pretty garden.

Mendenhall Glacier Gardens
Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier Gardens is unique — it’s where beautifully designed landscapes meet rustic forest and cascading waterfalls. The bright greens, purples and pinks of the garden contrast the region’s greatest attraction nearby, the Mendenhall Glacier. See them both on Holland America Line’s Mendenhall Glacier & Gardens tour. You will be amazed at the diversity of the rain forest as you wind along pathways carved into the mountainside, heading toward the upper regions of the forest. Visit a one-of-a-kind Alaska garden featuring towering ‘upside-down trees’ covered with planted flowers. From the viewing platform at the 580-foot level, capture images of the Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island and the Chilkat Mountains.

MMouse from Vancouver, B.C. visited and said,

“The gardens were beautiful, especially the upside down trees & the flowers in the gift shop. The views from above were spectacular. The glacier & falls were also very impressive. Saw a bear by the salmon spawning streams, very close up! Once in a lifetime!”

The contrast in colors between  Mendenall Gardens and nearby Glacier is astounding.

The contrast in colors between Mendenall Gardens and nearby Mendenhall Glacier is astounding.

From tropical rainforests to temperate hillsides these are just a few of the many beautiful gardens Holland America Line visits around the world. Do you have a favorite that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!

Remember, you can pre-book the shore excursion of your choice to save time onboard!

HAL's shore excursion Collections feature world wonders and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like Borobudur.
HAL's shore excursion Collections feature world wonders and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like Borobudur.

When taking a Holland America Line cruise, you can expect incredible shore excursions, tailor-made to offer the best experience at every port. Holland America Line has grouped many of the tours into five distinct collections, so you’ll know exactly what to look for when booking your tours in advance or onboard.

Each collection is centered on a different type of experience and you can find them at nearly every destination around the world. From late-night museum tours only available to Holland America Line guests to helicopter tours and cuddling with koalas — here’s an explanation of all five collections, and some of the best tours you’ll find in each group.

Medallion Collection
The Medallion Collection is a series of exclusive experiences designed for the most discerning Holland America Line guest. You’ll enjoy first-class style and smaller groups. Perhaps one of the most popular Medallion Collection excursions is Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier by Helicopter at Juneau, Alaska. This unforgettable tour combines the thrill of a glacier helicopter tour, flying over lush rain forest and glacier-carved peaks, and a dogsledding adventure that will be like nothing you have ever experienced before.

You’ll head to the oldest operating dog sled tour company in Alaska by helicopter and either help the professional mushers drive the team or relax in the sled as you take in stunning scenery around you. Of course … you’ll also get plenty of time to play with the dogs!

A helicopter tour and dog-sledding adventure is about as exhilarating as it gets!

A helicopter tour and dog-sledding adventure is about as exhilarating as it gets!

Another exciting Medallion Collection shore excursion is the Pearl Harbor VIP Military Base Experience — the only tour of World War II Battlefields, including exclusive access to military bases and the Arizona Memorial. You’ll also stop at the largest Army Base outside the Continental U.S. and visit the Pineapple Pentagon — headquarters of the U.S. Army Pacific Command.

The Medallion Collection also features incredible overnight adventures, like the Milford Sound to Dunedin Overnight Tour. Highlights of the tour include passing through the magnificent Fiordland National Park, stopping for photos at the Chasm and Mirror Lakes, and heading to Queenstown for a gondola ride up to Bob’s Peak. The following day you’ll also enjoy a sightseeing tour at Dunedin, to see why some call it “the Edinburgh of the South.”

You'll be surrounded by natural beauty at Milford Sound.

You’ll be surrounded by natural beauty at Milford Sound.

And in addition to first-class tours and unforgettable experiences, these tours offer in-depth perspectives with access to events and sights not normally readily available, like the Exclusive Evening at the Hermitage tour at St. Petersburg, Russia. On this tour, the Hermitage Museum opens at night for an evening viewing exclusively for Holland America Line guests. The museum, a work of art in itself, ranks among the world’s best.

The Medallion Collection features VIP experiences at the Hermitage and Pearl Harbor.

The Medallion Collection features VIP experiences at the Hermitage and Pearl Harbor.

Encore Collection
The Encore Collection is perfect for cruisers visiting destinations they have been to before. These tours let you discover what lies beyond the well-known attractions of a place. The Landscapes & Sheep Dogs: A Scottish Experience tour at Greenock (Glasgow), Scotland, lets you take a deeper look into one of this country’s most important workers. You’ll first drive across the valley of the Lowland region and head to the small market town of Aberfoyle to the Scottish Wool Center. You’ll meet some adorable border collies, one of the smartest dog breeds, and members of the Scottish Sheepdog School — a center for excellence for the breeding and training of young sheepdogs. You’ll observe class while the dogs display their agility and ability. Then after lunch you’ll head to the ‘Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond’ — a stunning mountainous region and embark on a boat cruise on Loch Lomond.

One of Scotland's adorable border collies shows off his talents at Greenock.

One of Scotland’s adorable border collies shows off for guests, rounding up ducks!

The America’s Cup tour is also Encore Collection, letting you enjoy the thrill of sailing on the waters of Auckland, New Zealand — the legendary City of Sails. In the past, sailing an America’s Cup yacht was only available to the racing crews themselves. With this tour you’ll be part of the crew, encouraged to participate in sailing the powerful yachts. But if you’re just looking to sit back and relax, you can do that too, taking in the beautiful Waitemata Harbour.

You can sail with Pride of Auckland on the Waitemata Harbour.

You can sail Pride of Auckland on the Waitemata Harbour.

Other once-in-a-lifetime experiences on Encore Collection tours are getting a taste of castle life and high tea at Quebec, Canada’s, famous Château Frontenac; a flight and hike to the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal from Santo Thomas de Castilla, Guadeloupe, and a tour of one of the four Imperial Cities and the capital of Morocco, Rabat, during a call at Casablanca.

Find Encore Collection excursions during calls at Quebec City, Santo Thomas de Castilla and Casablanca.

Find Encore Collection excursions during calls at Quebec City, Santo Thomas de Castilla and Casablanca.

World Wonders Collection
The World Wonders Collection features natural treasures, architectural marvels and technical wonders. See the Seven Wonders of the World and some carefully selected additions including the ancient city of Pompeii at Naples, Italy, and one of southeast Asia’s most incredible sights, the temple of Borobudur, during a call at Semarang, Java, Indonesia.

What the World Wonders Collection tours have in common is the ability to awe guests. The Giza Pyramids, Sphinx & the Egyptian Museum of Antiguities tour at Alexandria (Cairo), Egypt, will do just that. You’ll head to Cairo, the capital of Egypt, and first visit the great pyramids of Giza. The largest of these, Cheops, is the only remaining one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. You’ll also see the Sphinx and then head to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities for a wander through time. Here, the world’s most important collection of Egyptian antiquities is housed, with thousands of statues, jewels and artifacts, including the amazing treasures of Tutankhamon.

The Sphinx is one of Egypt's most iconic sights.

The Sphinx is one of Egypt’s most iconic sights.

The Lake Myvatn tour at Akureyri, Iceland, features stops at Godafoss — one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls and, of course, the Lake Myvatn area. The Great Barrier Reef Cruise & Snorkel tour at Hamilton Island in Queensland, Australia, features one of the world’s best underwater wonders, and the Grand Canyon of the Pacific tour features one of Kauai, Hawaii’s, most popular attractions — Waimea Canyon.

From the Great Barrier Reef to Lake Myvatn and Waimea Canyon -- the World Wonders Collection is all about bringing awe to Holland America Line guests.

From the Great Barrier Reef to Lake Myvatn and Waimea Canyon — the World Wonders Collection is all about bringing awe to Holland America Line guests.

Cruise With Purpose Collection
The Cruise With Purpose Collection was carefully crafted for the thoughtful cruiser who wants to give back or pay it forward. These these activities are all about enriching your soul and improving the planet, one voyage at a time. The Iceland Tomorrow: Planting for the Future & the Ancient Ring of Fire is a predominantly green-focused tour that circles the active, 2,635-foot Hengill Volcano, at Reykjavik, Iceland. At the time of Iceland’s settlement, in the 9th century, an estimated one fourth of the country was covered by birch woodlands, but today just a little over 1% of Iceland is forest. So aside from scenic drives and visits to the Hellisheidi Geothermal Plant Visitor Center, the town of Hveragerdi, and the UNESCO World Heritage Suite of Thingvellir, you’ll get to plant a tree in your name!

Two Cruise with Purpose Collections are centered around planting trees in countries with much deforestation: Iceland and Australia.

Two Cruise with Purpose Collections are centered around planting trees in countries with much deforestation: Iceland and Australia.

The Koala Sanctuary & Tree Planting tour at Brisbane, Australia, lets guests leave their mark while getting up close to some of Australia’s most adorable animals. You’ll visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, and plant a gum tree in its eucalyptus garden. These trees provide a habitat for local wildlife and reduce carbon emissions, and most importantly, feed the koala’s, whose food resources have grown increasingly scarce due to wild fires and deforestations. Afterwards, you’ll get to hug an adorable koala, hand-feed a kangaroo, see the rare platypus and enjoy many other Australian natives.

Other Cruise With Purpose Collection tours let you interact with Nicaraguan children at Corinto, Nicaragua, produce a silk thread in the age-old, traditional manner at Dubrovnik, Croatia, and draw plankton samples, identify whale species and record their behaviors in Juneau, Alaska.

Cruise With Purpose Collection tours involve a variety of different activities including interacting with kids in Nicaragua, making a thread of silk in Dubrovnik and documenting whale behaviors in Juneau.

Cruise With Purpose Collection tours involve a variety of different activities including interacting with kids, making a silk thread and documenting whale behaviors.

Signature Collection
The Signature Collection is an exclusive touring option for independent-minded travelers. You can completely customize your time ashore by reserving private transportation (whether by car, van, boat, floatplane or limousine) and a guide, and head to the sights you most want to see at the pace of your choosing. Signature Collection tours are offered all over the world at Holland America Line destinations from Punta Arenas, Chile; and Fortaleza, Brazil; to Katakolon (Olympia), Greece; Hakodate, Japan; and Seoul, South Korea.

If you’re taking a cruise that visits these ports, the shore excursions can be pre-booked so you get the tour of your choice.

Have you taken any of these unique tours before? Which collection “label” do you look for first when you book shore excursions? Tell us in the comments below.

What would you do if you could spend three perfect days in paradise?
What would you do if you could spend three perfect days in paradise?

Complete with pink sand, blue waters and cobblestone streets lined with brightly-colored colonial buildings, some might say that Bermuda is the perfect cruise destination. In fact, Conde Nast Traveler readers have voted Bermuda “Best Island in the Caribbean/Atlantic” 18 times in the past 20 years! ms Veendam cruises to this island paradise roundtrip from Boston in spring and summer 2015 with leisurely three-night visits. Just picture it, three perfect days in Bermuda!

DAY 1:

After one sea day full of techsperts, culinary delights and fabulous shows, the ship arrives at Hamilton, Bermuda. Upon disembarking you can hit the beach! Leave your worries behind as you join the coastal sightseeing cruise Devil’s Isle Coastal Cruise & Beach Break. Get to know a bit about the land you’ll be exploring over the next few days and then have some fun in the sun — you’re on vacation, after all! Swim in the crystal waters, rent a kayak, snorkel and then head to Dark n’ Stormy Bar for a refreshing cocktail.

A perfect ending to a perfect first day is the Catamaran Champagne Sunset Cruise. Hop aboard the catamaran and sail along the shores of Hamilton Harbour, checking out the impressive homes along the coast known as Millionaire’s Row and Fairylands. Experience the warm Bermudian hospitality, a gorgeous glass of bubbly and the breathtaking colors of the sky as the sun dips down into the calm waters of the Great Sound. After the cruise, head back to the ship and enjoy some of the onboard nightlife or hit the sheets to wake up refreshed for another perfect day.

A sunset sailing is the perfect end to a perfect first day in Bermuda.

A sunset sailing is the perfect end to a perfect first day in Bermuda.

DAY 2:

Day two in Bermuda is all about exploration! Chances are you’ve heard of the Bermuda Triangle, so learn more on the Bermuda Triangle Shipwreck Snorkel tour. Bermuda boasts more than 200 square miles of the Atlantic’s northernmost fringe reef, and while the reef is beautiful, it’s infamous as a wrecksite. Gear up and head out to explore two of Bermuda’s most famous shipwrecks: the Constellation and the Montana. En route the captain will tell you all about the history of the notorious Bermuda triangle. You’ll have a nice amount of time to snorkel both reefs and head home with a refreshment in hand.

Head back to the ship to relax for a bit, then return to the action with a new perspective on the Bermuda Triangle Night-time Glass-Bottom Boat Cruise! This unique experience allows you to see the reefs in a new light — literally! Beams of light extend from the bottom of the boat illuminating the marine life below for an incredible view of the underwater party. The cheeky tour operator says, “This trip has so far enjoyed a 100% return rate, however, a money-back guarantee is offered in the event you disappear into the Bermuda Triangle.”

Explore the shipwrecks of the notorious Bermuda triangle!

Explore the shipwrecks of the notorious Bermuda triangle!

DAY 3:

By day three you might consider moving to Bermuda, so you should probably get to know the ins and outs of the island. See the island like a local with Bermuda: Off the Beaten Track. The tour takes you across the island into Bermuda’s one and only Tom Moore’s Jungle, filled with cave exploration, swimming adventures and lush land brimming with tropical trees and exotic birds. After a stop at David’s Lighthouse the tour heads to Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve, one of the island’s premier snorkeling locations, where you will have an opportunity to soak up the sun and sea.

After that, head back to town and the Hamilton Trolley & Ocean Discovery Center, where you’ll get to know the city of Hamilton and visit the Ocean Discovery Center. Relax and check out the colorful capital of your — surely soon-to-be — island home. Watch for the Botanic Gardens and Camden House — the official residence of the Premier. Step inside the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute’s Ocean Discovery Center to see one of the finest shell collections in the world, unravel the intrigues of the Bermuda Triangle and marvel at artifacts on display collected by world-famous Bermudian shipwreck-hunter Teddy Tucker.

Explore the colorful architecture and charm of Hamilton, Bermuda.

Explore the colorful architecture and charm of Hamilton, Bermuda.

TIME TO SET SAIL:

On the fourth day of Bermuda you’ll still have a few hours ashore to stroll the beach, shop for souvenirs or take a morning tour. At 1 p.m. Veendam departs and begins the trek back to Boston, and you’ll have another day at sea to enjoy the ship and reflect on your three perfect days in Bermuda.

Want to make three perfect days even better? Join Holland America Line’s next Dancing With the Stars at Sea 7-day cruise to Bermuda, June 6, 2015! And remember, you can pre-book your shore excursions online to save time onboard and ensure that you don’t miss your tour of choice!

What do you think three perfect days in Bermuda look like? Let us know in the comments!

Shore excursions explore the history and culture of Canada.
Shore excursions explore the history and culture of Canada.

Each summer travelers cruise to Canada and New England to take in the picturesque lighthouses and rugged shorelines. In the fall guests visit to get a peek at the stunning scenery as the leaves change color and the mountains light up with red, orange and magenta hues. Beyond the beautiful backdrops, however, Canada boasts a rich history and combination of cultures that are a joy to discover.

GATEWAY TO A NEW WORLD: THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER

The name “Canada” originated from the Huron-Iroquoian word “Kanata,” meaning village. The Iroquois inhabited the region for about 10,000 years. Like the rest of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Huron Nation relied on an oral tradition to pass down their culture and history, and lived in familial villages in longhouses. The first Europeans to touch down in the area were Vikings in about 1000 A.D., who set up short-lived settlements before they were on their way. In the 16th and 17th centuries, as interest in “the new world” soared, Europeans began to settle along the North Atlantic shore, and to explore deeper. The explorer Jacques Cartier claimed Canada for France, called the region “The Country of Canadas” and began to make his way through the St. Lawrence River — which he also named — as he searched for a passage to Asia.

In the early days of North American exploration the St. Lawrence River became a gateway to Canada.

In the early days of North American exploration the St. Lawrence River became a gateway to Canada.

The St. Lawrence River became a highway for explorers, missionaries and fur traders. At the time fur was high fashion, and beavers were depleted in France and England. As a result, North American fur became all the rage in France and England. The fur trade boomed and for years this business provided a common goal for the French and natives that lasted for years before going sour as a result of land disputes. The Saguenay & the Heritage Route tour allows you to visit the first established fur trading post and learn about the historical importance of the Saguenay Fjord and St. Lawrence River. Today Holland America Line cruises the very same route visiting cities that were established along the way.

A MIX OF CULTURES: QUEBEC CITY

In 1608 Samuel D. Champlain arrived at the north shore of what the natives called “Kébec” and officially founded what is now called Quebec City. Years later Quebec was the site of the historic battle where the French surrendered to the British in 1759, and you can now tour National Battlefields Park — also known as the Plains of Abraham — a beautiful 250-acre park with hills, gardens, monuments and artillery artifacts, along with other UNESCO Historic Sites. From Cap Diamant there are spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River, Lower Town and surrounding countryside.

Shortly after the battle there at the end of the Seven-Years War, France ceded Canada to England in 1763. A fabulous way to see the city is to take the Historic Walk & Horse Carriage Ride. There you’ll have a chance to explore the cobblestone streets, ride the Quebec Funicular and check out Notre-Dame des Victoires, the oldest standing Catholic church in North America.

Quebec City maintains a colonial charm.

Quebec City maintains a colonial charm.

MONTREAL: CITY OF A HUNDRED STEEPLES

Also along the St. Lawrence, Montreal is both a city and an island. First named Ville Marie, the city was officially established by the French in 1642 and named for its mountain peak, “Mount Royal.” French missionaries moved into Montreal with hopes of converting the nearby Iroquois to Catholicism. You can see the strong religious influence in the surrounding architecture. Mark Twain once noted this on a visit to Montreal, famously remarking,

“This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window. Yet I was told you are going to build one more … ”

The French colonized the city for 117 years before the British took over in 1759. The French worked for the British Empire, who were later joined by colonists from Scotland, England and Ireland. In the 19th century English-speaking merchants arrived in Montreal and soon the main business language was English. The colonists intermarried and today most Montreal dwellers have British or French names. Old & New Montreal is a tour that offers a view of historic Montreal, along with a glimpse of the city’s bright future.

Montreal is famous for its churches and is nicknamed "The City of a Hundred Steeples."

Montreal is famous for its churches and is nicknamed “The City of a Hundred Steeples.”

HALIFAX: A MARINER’S STORY

Halifax, a laid-back yet cosmopolitan call on Canada and New England cruises, is known for its strong military tradition. Halifax was established as a naval base for the British to hold their claim in the new world. Over the years Halifax has served an important strategic position for Canada, even as powers changed hands. Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is the most-visited historic place in Canada. Experience Halifax, both historic and new, through its fascinating 250-year history with The Heart of Halifax tour. You’ll travel with a kilted guide on a deluxe motor coach tour and take a 250-year journey through the streets of Halifax past old buildings and National Historic Sites. Halifax was a progressive city, as the head of the first public library and the first newspaper in Canada.

Halifax also boasts a strong maritime tradition as a navy base and commercial center. Visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic for a glimpse at Halifax’s historic past, or check out Peggy’s Cove & Titanic Combination, where you’ll visit Fairview Lawn Cemetary and hear the tale of the great ship Titanic and its ill-fated maided voyage. Discover the true identities of the unknown child and J. Dawson, both recovered from the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Their stories are part of a legacy that continues to fascinate visitors more than a century later.

Halifax has a strong military tradition.

Halifax has a strong military tradition.

Whether you’re visiting Canada as a guest or traveling within the country as a citizen, these tours offer an interesting and in-depth look at the histories briefly outlined above. Looking to explore the beauty of your own backyard? From Wednesday, Feb. 18 – Sunday, April 5, 2015, Canada residents can take advantage of the Canada Super Sale featuring savings of up to $2,699 on select summer 2015 cruises, including itineraries that explore Canada & New England, Transatlantic, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, and more.

Remember, you can pre-book your shore excursions online to save time onboard and ensure that you don’t miss your tour of choice!

Do you like to research the history of a region before you travel? Let us know what fascinates you most in the comments!

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