On Saturday January 4, I was picked up at 4 a.m. by Airways Transit
for transfer to Terminal 2 at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
Horrendously long check-in lines awaited me upon arrival there at
5:10 a.m. Fortunately, however, I was directed to the new Express
check-in, where (despite some initial fumbling with the unfamiliar machine) the check-in process was completed in a few minutes.
After clearing both Airport Security and U.S. Customs & Immigration without any hitch, by 6:05 a.m. I found myself seated in the Gate Q lounge, waiting to board Air Canada flight 910 to Miami, which was scheduled to depart at 7:10 a.m. EST.
Although AC 910 boarded on time at 6:45 a.m., take-off itself was delayed until 8:10 a.m. by loading problems and the need to de-ice. Departing an hour late, we still reached Miami by 11:10 a.m., and
promptly were transferred by bus (minus our luggage, which was conveyed separately) to Port Everglades Dock 19, where the Holland America MS Amsterdam was tied up. In the Port Terminal, we were greeted by musicians and presented with flowers and refreshments, including champagne. The registration line-ups were numerous and
short, the crew dealing swiftly with the arriving passengers. Thus, dodging the ubiqitous ship's photographers, I soon boarded and was ushered to Cabin 2632 on the Main Deck (Deck 2) by 1:15 p.m.
At once I sought out the cabin steward and instructed him to put the
two twin beds together to form a single queen-size bed and also,
with regret, to remove the attractive fresh flowers from the dressing
table in order to prevent the activation of my troublesome hayfever.
After lunch at the Lido Restaurant on Deck 8, I went immediately to
the Purser's Office to investigate the possibility of getting a good last-
minute deal on an upgrade to a veranda suite on Deck 6--which query
the Guest Relations Manager undertook to forward to the Seattle
head office, though he seemed dubious about a favourable response.
Then I took the gift certificates from Five Seasons Travel found on
the bed in my cabin and set out for the Internet Cafe on Deck 4
(the Promenade Deck) and the Ocean Spa on Deck 8 (the Lido Deck)
in order to investigate how best to put to use these gifts of 100
minutes of internet time and 180 minutes of exercise classes.
After that, at 3:30 p.m., I took the Ship's Tour announced in the Daily Program found on my bed, in an effort to refresh my memory of the
ship's layout--it being a full year since I last was on board her, taking
the Panama Canal Cruise over the two weeks including Christmas
Only then did I learn that there would be no more than 494 (out of a possible 1380) paying passengers on board for this first segment of
the World Voyage ending in Rio de Janeiro, and that at no time would
the numbers rise above 600--even falling as low as 390 in the segment
from Tahiti to Auckland. For that reason, the staff involved with passengers' needs (such as cabin and table stewards, kitchen staff
and even shore excursion staff) had been cut in half before the ship's departure from Fort Lauderdale and the superfluous employees sent home. This otherwise sad piece of news inspired the mistaken hope
that I might be able to get a good deal on a cabin upgrade after all.
The first of what were to be many Champagne Sailaway parties began
at 4:30 p.m. on the Lido Deck, aft by the open-air Swimming Pool,
to the accompaniment of a small orchestra playing what I can only
term Golden Oldies--very suitable really, considering that the average age of the passengers must have been little short of 80 years. The
lines were scheduled to be cast off at 5:30 p.m., as the MS Amsterdam set out from Fort Lauderdale on the first stage of this 2003 World Voyage, heading south for Martinique in the French West Indies,
at a distance of 1291 nm (nautical miles) or 2391 km (kilometres).
At the 6 p.m. Early Sitting on the upper level of the La Fontaine
Diningroom on Deck 5--the larger lower level having been closed on account of the small number of passengers and the resultant staff reductions--I met the other members of our table for six: a "young" couple (in their early 60's) from Edmonton, another couple (in their
mid 80's) from Hawaii, and a widower from the State of Washington
(also in his mid 80's). Then, at 8:15 p.m., I put in the first of a very
few evening appearances in the Queen's Lounge on Deck 4 (venue
for the various nightly Showtime productions) in order to witness the
Welcome Aboard Introductions of the ship's managers and other
prominent personnel, including the all-important Executive Chef. Returning afterward to my cabin, I found that my suitcase had been delivered at last. So, before retiring for the night, I was able to unpack my belongings into the ample closets, cabinets and drawers and stow
my luggage away for the coming 54 days, until final disembarcation
on February 26 at Papeete, Tahiti, mid-way through the Amsterdam's
2003 World Voyage.
Sunday, January 5 was spent at sea.
Following breakfast, there was the mandatory Life Boat Drill, when
we all donned bright orange life-preservers and made our way to our assigned lifeboat stations (such drills would be held at the beginning
of every segment of the cruise for the benefit of newly-boarded passengers; but this is the only time that I intend to mention them).
Then I borrowed some books from the Erasmus Library on Deck 5, intended to furnish a little light reading (to leaven the Chinese
language texts and tapes I had optimistically lugged along--only to
find that I had little time or inclination to study them). At 10:30 a.m.
I attended the Introduction to Fitness Workshop, the first of many sessions with the two fitness instructors, both in the well-equipped
Ocean Spa on Deck 8 and in the Queen's Lounge (where morning sessions not requiring special equipment were held, such as the
popular Sit and Be Fit, which I attended almost daily at 8 a.m. but
do not intend to mention again in this account of the voyage).
After brunch in the Lido Restaurant, there was a Get-Together for
Solo Travellers in the Rembrandt Lounge--again the first of several
such events, including lunches, which will go unnoted hereafter.
At 2 p.m. in the Queen's Lounge occurred the first of a series of
sessions by the resident astronomer, Vic Stryker, who also could be found nightly on the tiny Sky Deck (forward above Deck 9) pointing
out constellations. That afternoon, what he termed my "zebra blouse" caught his eye, when he was looking for someone with a January birthday; so he called me up on stage to explain to me what my
"real birthday star" is and then gave me a copy of his Birthday Star Catalog for acting as guinea pig. Back in my cabin at 3 p.m., I
watched on T.V. half of the first of the regular series of talks given
in the Queen's Lounge by Frank Buckingham--each talk dealing with
the next port to be visited, in this case Fort-de-France, Martinique
(again, I shall not mention any more of his witty commentaries, even though I either attended or watched them all, since this detailed
account of the first day at sea is intended merely to afford some sense
of the aspects of daily cruise life on the Amsterdam that attracted my interest). At 3:30 p.m. I met with Vera Deane, who would be hosting several cocktail parties (not noted here in future) for the small
number of us whose travel agents subscribe to the Select Traveller programme, which offers "rewards" such as free excursions in
certain ports. By 4 p.m. I was at the Internet Cafe, using up a lot of
my free internet minutes in a vain effort to establish an interactive connection with mcmail (my McMaster University e-mail account)
via the ship's system, which involved a log-in fee of $3.95 US plus
a 50-cent-a-minute charge. Then, at 4:30 p.m. in the Ocean Spa,
I took part in my first Stretch and Relax session (which, although it became a regular feature of my day's activities when not off on a
shore excursion, will never again be mentioned in this account).
Returning to my cabin that evening after dinner, along with the
usual items (a bedtime chocolate, the New York Times Digest and
the Daily Program for the following day), I found on my pillow a card reminding me to put my watch forward one hour. None of these
routinely appearing items will be mentioned again in this account; nor
will the various "gifts from the Captain" (most of them orange-hued, perhaps in honour of the Dutch royal family) which were found on
my bed from time to time and were described on their accompanying cards respectively as: an ID Card Case, a Cruise Calendar Portfolio
& Pen, a Terra Cotta Robe, a Glass Brain, a World Atlas, a Hand-
Crafted Wooden Shoehorn, Playing Cards, an Antarctic Hat, Scarf & Mittens, a Plush Penguin, a Wooden Model of a Pitcairn Longboat,
two separate Delft Ceramic Tiles (blue this time, the first depicting
the SS Amsterdam II and the second the route of the 2003 Grand
World Voyage), a 2003 World Voyage pin and a Holland America Mariner Society pin.
At this point some prefatory comments seem appropriate regarding
shipboard life, as I experienced it.
World cruisers clearly constitute a distinct cultural group, well worthy
of anthropological study. Many of my fellow passengers had fully
earned their membership in that group, having participated in more
than a dozen cruises just as lengthy as this 108-day World Voyage.
Typically, they proved to be elderly, affluent, socially and politically conservative Americans--some of whom never actually went ashore
at our ports of call, except occasionally to purchase souvenirs (mainly jewelry) at a convenient Port Terminal market. These constituted
the true world cruisers; and the bulk of the activities listed in the ship's Daily Program were astutely tailored to match their interests.
Nightly Showtime in the Queen's Lounge auditorium consisted of
scaled-down Las Vegas acts: singers, dancers, comedians, magicians,
etc. On the rare occasion when a classical concert was offered
(possibly as a sop to the small number of Europeans and more
culturally-pretentious Americans aboard), it never was well attended.
Otherwise, evening entertainment consisted of the casino, plus music
and dancing in the various bars throughout the ship. Daytime
activities on offer were too numerous to keep up with: from normal shipboard games like shuffleboard, through lessons in dancing, bridge and cooking, to bingo, trivia games (mainly based on popular U.S. television programmes), crafts, singing groups, and tips on such topics
as table-setting, wine and cheese selection, dieting and cosmetics--
none of which activities, unfortunately, held even the slightest
interest for me.
To be sure, other types of activity occasionally were offered, but only
a very few passengers (including myself) took advantage of them.
For instance, excellent guided tours were advertised to view:
the Bridge on the Navigation Deck (Deck 7); the anything but
luxurious "Back of the House" areas below the passenger decks on Decks A and B, where the crew live and where the butchers,
vegetable chefs, tailors, carpenters, upholsterers, laundry and
storeroom personnel work (as well as where seawater is desalinated
and other water purified and recycled for use throughout the ship);
and last, but certainly not least, the many well-catalogued art works
and antique pieces adorning this beautifully appointed ship.
In summary, the shipboard activities alluded to in the remainder of
this account represent a small fraction of what was constantly on
offer and include only those few that held some interest for me and
which (along with a good deal of reading and watching the old movies
and documentaries shown on cabin TV) completely filled up my time
during the many days at sea. On the other hand, some of my table-
mates at dinner in the La Fontaine Diningroom--as well as strangers
who kept insisting on joining me for breakfast or lunch at the Lido
Restaurant--often told me how (whether afflicted with very short attention spans or simply gluttons for variety) they had abandoned
one activity mid-way through in order to race to another being offered
in the same time-slot. These passengers are the addicted cruisers,
those for whom cruise lines plan their daily shipboard programmes.
One, who stands out in my recollection, was a diminutive 93-year-old
lady, whose luggage apparently remains on board year-round, since
she takes every cruise the ship offers. I would see her at 8:45 a.m.
(when I was on a treadmill in the Ocean Spa) making gallant attempts
to hobble her way through an aerobics session; and I was told by
other passengers that, in the evening after Showtime, she could be
found in the Crow's Nest bar on Deck 9, insisting on having the most attractive of the young officers in attendance as her dance partner.
For me, this insatiable nonagenarian will remain forever the epitome
of the world cruiser.
Monday, January 6 was spent at sea.
It should be noted that, on this day as on any other day at sea,
whenever I sampled a new shipboard activity or something unusual
or noteworthy happened, brief mention of it will appear in this account. Otherwise, it should be assumed that each day at sea aboard the MS Amsterdam followed much the same pattern of activity as its predecessors; and my account will focus instead on the various ports
of call or on items of interest seen when the ship was doing what the itinerary termed "Scenic Cruising"(as in Antarctica).
After breakfast, I sampled the 8:45 a.m. Aerobics Class and decided
that this kind of activity on a moving ship requires a better sense
of balance than mine. At 9:15 a.m. I visited the Guest Relations
Manager regarding upgrading to a veranda suite, but decided to turn down the head office's offer for a combination of reasons. One was
the $10,000 Cdn upgrade fee--no price concession having been made, even though so many cabins stood empty. In addition, (unlike my
D category cabin, number 2632) the B category cabin I was offered
on Deck 6 had no bath, but only a large shower; also, upon inspection,
the highly-touted veranda proved to be quite small and far too windy
for my comfort. At 10:30 a.m. a sample Pilates class was offered in
the Ocean Spa; but, unfortunately, this type of class never was offered again (for lack of passengers willing to pay); so I could not use
my 180-minute gift certificate for that purpose. Then, at 11:30 a.m.,
I went to the Shore Excursion Desk to sign up for the excursions
I had selected to make in the various ports where we were scheduled
to dock throughout the first half of the cruise.
After lunch, I attended the first of numerous movies shown in the
Wajang Theatre on Deck 4: "The Road to Perdition", which I had missed during its Hamilton showing (none of the other movies I was
later to watch in that same theatre will be mentioned in this account).
After a formal dinner, I attended the Captain's Champagne
Reception in the Queen's Lounge, which was for all passengers.
Following that, as would be the norm with me, I decided to skip
Showtime at 8:30 in the Queen's Lounge, even though it featured
a "star act", Sandy Duncan. Instead, I spent half an hour or so
vainly trying to access my McMaster e-mail account.
At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, January 7, we docked at Fort-de-France, Martinique, the first port of call on the cruise. Martinique, which
means "Isle of Flowers" in the Arawak language, is a region of
France and its people are French citizens with all the rights and
privileges of those living in France.
At 9:50 a.m. a group of us walked in along the pier to our waiting bus
(see below) and set out on a four-hour excursion billed as "St. Pierre
and Island Drive". This took us first to Balata to visit the 1925 miniature replica (second photo below) of the Basilica of Sacre Coeur
in the Montmartre district of Paris, then via La Trace road between
enormous bamboos and giant arborescent ferns and lianas to Morne Rouge, a village lying at the foot of the volcano Mount Pelee
which a century ago was totally destroyed by that volcano's eruption
on August 30, 1902. From there we drove to Saint Pierre on the coast, once the capital city of Martinique and known in its 19th-Century
heyday as "the Paris of the West Indies", where on May 8, 1902
all 30,000 inhabitants (except for one prisoner protected by his windowless stone cell) died in a catastrophic eruption of Mount Pelee. Between the back of the very interesting Musee Volcanologique
and the coastal road, one can see clearly (third photo below)
remnants of the deep layer of lava that once covered St. Pierre and
its unfortunate inhabitants. Returning to the ship by the coast road,
we passed through a number of fishing villages, including Le Carbet,
at the point where Christopher Columbus supposedly landed in 1502
and where Paul Gauguin certainly lived in 1887 (as witnessed by
many a beautiful canvas; see, for example, the fourth photo below:
Gauguin's "Among the Mangoes at Martinique", 1887).