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  #31 (permalink)  
Old September 28th, 2008, 02:20 PM
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Default Meet Sheldon Prodanuk -- Pinnacle Grill Chef

If you have ever had the pleasure of dining in the Pinnacle Grill onboard a Holland America ship, you know just how good the food can be. It is a step above the food served in the dining room, and miles ahead of what can be had in the Lido. It also can give many land-based restaurants a run for their money. The steaks at the Pinnacle are all of prime quality, aged Angus beef. The way each cut is prepared, along with the mouth watering sides available, makes for a meal worth taking about long after disembarkation. I have done this Hawaii/South Pacific itinerary before, and we always plan on at least four Pinnacle dinners over the four week cruise. We will even add a lunch – a first for us – on this sailing.

Sheldon Prodanuk is the Pinnacle Grill’s head chef and he came to Holland America after a successful career at land-based restaurants. His cooking repertoire spans a range from French to Tigh cooking, with many other variations in between. While living and training in British Columbia, he worked at the well-known Bearfoot Bistro, an establishment of some renown in the ski resort area of Whistler.

It was only after the travel bug bit him that Sheldon sought a ship-based position. He’s been with Holland America now for five years, and has worked on a total of eight ships, most recently in his current position as the head Pinnacle Grill chef on the Statendam.

“Being a ship-based chef is much more difficult than a similar position on land mainly because the ordering of foodstuffs must be much more precise onboard. Unlike on land, you can’t just call your supplier and replenish supplies if you run out of something. Onboard you’re stuck. It could take several days to get additional supplies shipped in, especially on a voyage such as this one with large blocks of days when we are out to sea.” Sheldon must be almost clairvoyant, knowing just how much of this and that to have loaded onboard at the start of the voyage, as well as what to have shipped to successive ports in the voyage. “If we run out of something critical between ports, it could be a major disaster,” he added. “You also wouldn’t want to order too much, since certain items perish quickly.” So Sheldon must maintain a careful balance – ensuring adequate supplies are onboard – but not so much to result in waste – especially with the more expensive items .

Also, there are only certain ports where meat can be loaded onto the ship. This is because the meat served on the ship must be USDA-inspected and approved. So additional supplies of meat cannot be procured at ports outside of the USA without being inspected first. For example, if beef were to be procured from Argentina, for example, it would have to be shipped to the USA for inspection first, and then sent along to the ship, wherever that may be – even if it’s in Argentina at the time!

Some local provisions can be obtained in foreign ports, such as fruits and vegetables, and some other items of a more local flavor. However, these must be fully consumed before coming back to the USA. For example, on this voyage, perhaps some fresh local fruit will be brought onboard in Bora Bora. However, that fruit cannot be brought back into the United States, requiring HAL chefs to be able to pretty accurately guesstimate an ordering level that won’t leave too much waste.

“I don’t have to worry too much about ordering foodstuffs in local ports because our menus at the Pinnacle are pretty standardized by Corporate in Seattle. Holland America’s goal is that a meal at the Pinnacle Grill enjoyed on the Prisendam be identical to one enjoyed here on the Statendam. It doesn’t always quite work out that way, but we try.”

Sheldon does enjoy the chance to get creative though when he cooks for special events onboard ship, and when the ship visits certain exotic ports. “We adjust the menu somewhat to take advantage of certain seafood specialties in Alaska, or perhaps to offer a local specialty on the menu if we were visiting the Orient, for example.”

Since Sheldon has experience in many genres of cooking, such as preparing Tigh, Spanish and French dishes, among others, he particularly enjoys these opportunities to get creative in his kitchen.

Sheldon took most of his training in British Columbia, including a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management from the Vancouver Community College. He also trained under other chefs in the area, and learned much of his skills under their patient tutoring. When he came to Holland America, he had already amassed many years of experienced at land-based venues and was looking for a new challenge. Holland America clearly offered that.

“A chef onboard ship must be so much more versatile than one in a similar position on land. On ship, we have a multicultural passenger mix, and we must keep that in mind when we prepare our cuisine. It can be a challenge sometimes preparing meals for people from side a diverse cross-section of nationalities, but we certainly try.”

I asked Sheldon if he found any aspects of being onboard ship particularly stressful. “Well, of course I miss my family during those long stretches at sea, particularly my girlfriend. But she understands this life since she’s worked on ships as well. In fact, we met on a ship as do most married officers in the fleet. But officers can have their families onboard for a time each year, and some even work together on the ships. Holland America will do everything they can to keep couples assigned to the same ship, so that makes things easier.”

I asked Sheldon what he likes best about working onboard the Statendam. “Having the chance to see the world. It’s always been my goal to see every continent of the world before I even considered giving up the shipboard life. So far, the only regions I haven’t been to are Australia, New Zealand and Asia. After I’ve seen those countries, then I’ll have to re-evaluate my plans for the future.”

Sheldon works hard some days, such as those spent at sea, but said he makes up for it on other days.

“We generally serve lunch in the Pinnacle on most sea days, and at other times when the main dining room is closed. We serve dinner just about every night. But with the right planning, there are certainly times when I can get out and enjoy myself. When in port, I love taking tours and sampling a bit of the local flavor of the area, especially when we are visiting a place I haven’t yet been. I enjoy wandering the local markets and shopping. A special treat, especially for me, is going to some of the restaurants onshore and sampling their local specialties. There is always something new to learn – a trademark technique for preparing a certain dish or a unique style of presentation – that makes these trips not only fun, but educational as well. For example, when we are in Oahu in a few days, I’ve been invited to dine at George Mavro’s top rated “Chef Mavro Restaurant.” George Mavro is currently onboard the Statendam as one of the celebrity chefs provided through Holland America’s relationship with Food & Wine Magazine.

As part of Holland America’s new onboard enrichment program, the onboard chefs are much more involved in presenting cooking demonstrations and classes in the Culinary Arts Center. Sheldon is a regular, presenting a full schedule of these special events. “I really enjoy these and the cooking demonstrations have become one of the highlights of my job. They let me get out and interact with the passengers more – something I can’t always do in the Pinnacle, especially if we are particularly busy in the kitchen that evening.”

When I told Sheldon that a group of us from Cruise Critics and Cruise Mates were planning on dining in the Pinnacle this very evening, his eyes lit up. “Good. You’ve chosen a night where we won’t be too busy. That means I’ll get to come to your table and ask how you enjoyed your meal.” Somehow I have a feeling there certainly won’t be any complaints.
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  #32 (permalink)  
Old September 28th, 2008, 02:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cruisecouple
Maybe I can bribe my husband one day to drive to Philly to meet at Dave and Busters or someplace to see your pictures and get a first-hand accounting of your trip.
Let's plan on that, Marie. I am off on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and when I get home we'll set something up. I'd love to meet up with the two of you.

Blue skies ...

--rita
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Old September 28th, 2008, 02:41 PM
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Rita,

that was a rely from Theresa. Oh how I wish you and I lived closer! We will meet one of these days.

I sure am enjoying this report. It is making it really hard to resist booking this cruise while on board the Prisendam. I've promised my dh that I am going to tone down my cruising, lol. I think this big cruise will have to wait until after ds graduates from university. Still waiting for my cabin assignment. Will keep you posted .



Marie
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Old September 29th, 2008, 08:31 AM
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Hey girl!

I've been thinking about you crossing the Pacific to Hawaii and beyond! I am soooo glad to hear that so far your trip is going wonderfully!

Continue to have a great time and don't forget my refrig magnets please.....lol

See you in April!

Claudia
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Old September 29th, 2008, 09:55 AM
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Rita: Thank you so much for answering all my questions. I love reading all about your travels, so exciting. I am making my notes and will be sure to bring cold weather clothes, especially for the time on the ship in the "cold" rooms! Also, I will be srue to bring lots of bonine for me, just in case.

Enjoy your days at sea, and before you know it, you will have arrived in Hawaii!
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Old September 30th, 2008, 02:10 AM
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I agree with you. I love going to the Pinnacle Grill.
I love the porterhouse steaks . I always make it a point to go at least once every cruise.
Keep the reviews coming . You are on a cruise that I can only dream about .
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Old September 30th, 2008, 02:45 PM
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i must be missing something, please enlighten me. i thought at first that it was a 'rita' that was reporting on the cruise, but it seems that kryos from philadelphia and others that have taken over. where is rita? is she the same as or a surrogate for rita?
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Old September 30th, 2008, 03:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hombre
i must be missing something, please enlighten me. i thought at first that it was a 'rita' that was reporting on the cruise, but it seems that kryos from philadelphia and others that have taken over. where is rita? is she the same as or a surrogate for rita?
Rita and kyros from philadelphia are the SAME person .

The internet on the ships can be very hit and miss so several days may go by without hearing from her.

I hope this clears up any confusion.

Marie
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Old September 30th, 2008, 04:03 PM
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I'm loving reading about the cruise. It makes me want to go on the same one. Thank you so much for posting about this cruise.

donna
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Old October 1st, 2008, 09:24 AM
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Oh, Rita, you are the BEST!

We are doing the 15 day Hawaii from San Diego in Feb 09, and you are putting me right in the back seat of the car with you (although my ride is a lot longer). Can't wait to get there, even more so now that I have read your wonderful blog. Thanks SO much for all the tips and helpful info - can't wait for each new posting.
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Old October 1st, 2008, 01:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by venicecruiser
Hey girl!

I've been thinking about you crossing the Pacific to Hawaii and beyond! I am soooo glad to hear that so far your trip is going wonderfully!

Continue to have a great time and don't forget my refrig magnets please.....lol

See you in April!

Claudia
I'm on cocktail card number 3 now ... and the cruise is only about a third over.

Blue skies!

--rita
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  #42 (permalink)  
Old October 1st, 2008, 01:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hombre
i must be missing something, please enlighten me. i thought at first that it was a 'rita' that was reporting on the cruise, but it seems that kryos from philadelphia and others that have taken over. where is rita? is she the same as or a surrogate for rita?
Sorry about the misunderstanding.

I am "kryos." That's my screen name. Others are asking questions which I am trying to answer as much as possible as I go along.

Blue skies!

--rita (kryos)
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Old October 1st, 2008, 01:06 PM
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Default Days 8 to 11 -- At Sea and Hilo, Hawaii!

We just completed our spate of four sea days heading towards the Islands of Hawaii. They were very relaxing which is important, considering we’ll need lots of energy to enjoy the six days that we will spend here in the islands. Most of these days will be full, as I have tours booked – but some will have lots of down time built in – time to eat onshore and to engage in one of my favorite activities – shopping!

I’ve been very lax so far this cruise in buying gifts for friends and family back home. Generally, I just buy refrigerator magnets for most people, but this time I want to get something special for a couple of people. I haven’t even begun to look and I have to buy these gift items in Hawaii since shopping in the South Pacific – at least for anything of any substance – is cost-prohibitive.

On our last sea day before reaching Hawaii, Trisha and Virgil and I were privileged to be invited to attend a “Cocktails with the Officers” party. This party, formerly known as the ‘VIP Party’ is by invitation only and while a lot of people like it for the free drinks, I personally think its outstanding feature is the chance to get to sit down one-on-one with some of the officers and have a chat with them. Just about everyone, including the deck cadets, attend – and this party is a great time to meet them all. We also capitalized on the opportunity to set up some really great interviews – so stay tuned to CruiseMates for these.

Another true pleasure I’ve been treated to on this cruise is finally getting to hear Trisha sing. I knew that Trisha was a professional singer in her youth, but had never gotten to hear a recording of one of her performances. Modesty prevented her from singing for me in the past. She claimed that her voice was no longer what it once was due to damage to her vocal chords from a surgery of a couple of years back. Well, one of the features of this cruise is karaoke which takes place maybe about twice a week in the Crow’s Nest, and after a bit of liquid courage, Trisha treated me to a couple of songs the other night. While her voice may not be in peak performance condition, I can truthfully say that if she wanted to, she could re-enter the professional arena tomorrow. Judging by the resounding ovation she got, I think most of the other folks in attendance felt the same way.

As for special talents of my own being discovered on this cruise, sadly I have to say that my fortay seems to be drinking. I’m on my third cocktail card already and the trip is barely a third over. It’s not that I’m a lush; it’s just that I think I associate “cocktail hour” with relaxing and being totally at ease. I never get into that zone at home, but here it’s all around me. So, I drink more than I ever would at home. In fact, at home I rarely drink at all.

Of course, my body is not used to alcohol, and so three cocktails can have me swearing that the ship is really rocking and that’s why I’m banging into the walls. I can’t understand why others aren’t having the same problem!

But, hey – there’s no harm in it and it’s not like I’m driving – though I did tell Theo (our Hotel Manager) that I’d be more than happy to drive the ship and give everyone a nice “extreme” ride. Since I don’t even have a driver’s license, I could promise an interesting time would be had by all – think of a ride similar to the “Tilt-a-Whirl.’ Needless to say, he didn’t even offer to approach the Captain with my ‘kind’ offer.

I had a chance to visit the spa yesterday. I wanted a “new look” and decided getting my hair styled would be the best way to achieve that. Stylist (I should actually say artist) Shaheda Isaacs spent several hours with me and the results have been the talk of our little band of online cruisers. Everyone we meet up with does a double-take. They can’t believe it’s me. I was certainly very happy with the results, but had no idea my new style would go over so big with others. I thought it was nice, but nothing ‘special.’ Apparently I was wrong. Everyone we’ve met has raved about it, so I guess it’s much better than I originally thought. Trisha claims it has taken at least five years off my age. Ummmmm, so I’m only looking about 80 now? 

Shaheda and I got a chance for an in-depth talk while she cut and styled my hair, as well as adding blonde highlights to it. This is her first shipboard contract and while she loves being onboard, she did say that she misses her family very much. She’s single, but has lots of family back home in South Africa – family that she really misses seeing on a regular basis. But she loves her work, and she said one of her favorite things is shopping for gifts for her family and friends – visiting the Walmart in each port to get great deals. Like me, she said she can’t see the sense in spending an inordinate sum of money for clothes, and she loves hunting for bargains so that she can send a lot of neat things home to her family.

Shaheda told me that when he port she will often have half a day off, so she certainly has more than enough time to see the sights and highlights of the different places the ship visits. She enjoyed the previous three months or so in Alaska, but is glad to be headed to the warmer climates of Hawaii.

As for her future working onboard ships, Shaheda told me for now it suits her, but she honestly didn’t know how she would feel, say, five years from now. I asked her if a job such as her’s wasn’t really something more suited to younger folks because of the stamina required, and she told me about a fitness instructor they had onboard until fairly recently who was 61 years old. She said that really anyone could work onboard a ship if they wanted to, as long as they were in reasonably good health. Age has nothing to do with it. This 61-year-old woman, Shaheda told me, had only left because her contract had ended. She is expected to return at some point. That may be all well and good, I told Shaheda, but at 52 I guess I’ve gotten lazy. I’d rather enjoy the cruise ship life as a passenger, where annoying things such as work won’t get in the way of a quality afternoon nap. 

The weather thus far this trip has been a bit of a disappointment. While it has warmed up significantly since our time in Vancouver and San Francisco, it is still not “Hawaii warm” and we are now in the Islands. The viewing of the Kilauea Volcano last night on the outside decks was pretty much a bust. There was a heavy layer of fog that made seeing anything extremely difficult. I did not hang around for very long. I had had a full day in Hilo and needed to take something for the pain in my legs.

Yes, pain in my legs – did I ever tell you how stupid I can be? When one has hardware in both legs, wouldn’t you think climbing dozens of steps to reach the viewing area of Akaka Falls was a bit dumb? Well, folks, I did it and I paid the price last night when I could barely walk. But, I have to say it was worth it as the view of these majestic falls was absolutely breathtaking. The tour I took was called Discover Hilo: Waves and Waterfalls, and it was a smattering of both – and then some. The “waves” portion was covered in a visit to the Pacific Tsunami Museum, while the Waterfalls involved viewing the Akaka Falls and thus climbing the steps to get there.

Upon arrival at the Museum, we were treated to a presentation by a docent, which even included the showing of videos of the 1946 tsunami that devastated the islands. The docent described the effect tsunamis have on the residents of Hawaii and how today they have built up a rather complicated advance warning system that they test out on the first working day of every month. She told us not to be concerned if we hear warning horns while in Kona tomorrow, as that’s the day designated for testing the warning horns.

After our visit to the Museum, we headed to the Akaka Falls. For those who have never been to Hawaii, viewing the many waterfalls that make up these islands is a wonderful treat. Some of them span for hundreds of feet and they are absolutely breathtaking to view. For the more hearty, routes have been designed so that these various Falls, and the pools into which they flow, can be hiked. As a reward for all the work, a refreshing swim below the falls awaits. The Akaka Falls is a freefalling waterfall that is 442 feet tall, that spills over a cliff of the now dormant Mauna Kea Volcano. Not just the Falls themselves, but the amazing array of foliage and some smaller ponds and waterfalls, make this entire experience one not to be missed – despite the struggle to get there.

Of course, hiking the falls is a bit beyond my comfort range, but getting to then via a series of concrete pathways with hand rails was doable. What I didn’t anticipate was the uphill walking and the about 100 steps required to get there. So if you have mobility challenges, be forewarned. It would be very difficult to do this tour on a walker, and absolutely impossible in a wheelchair. If you have mere “difficulties,” such as I do – the tour is certainly possible, as long as you take your time and don’t let anyone rush you.

After about 45 minutes at the Falls, our tour guide from Roberts Hawaii had a special treat for us. He gave us a short stop at a local bakery where we could partake of a snack if we so chose, including a variety of home-baked pastries and other Hawaiian treats.

Next, our driver took us to view the beautiful Shinmachi Memorial, which was erected to honor the many residents of Hilo who lost their lives to the devastating tsunami of 1946. We also saw the historic King Kamehameha statue (one of four in the U.S. – two in Hilo, one in Kona, and the remaining one in Washington, D.C.) and enjoyed a scenic drive through Lili’uokalani Gardens and the famous Banyan Drive. Generous amounts of time were allotted for touring these various sights, as well as taking advantage of photo ops along the way.

Our last stop on the tour was at Big Island Candies. Here we could purchase a variety of chocolates, including chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, as well as a variety of dark and milk chocolate delicacies. The store also stocks a full line of varieties of authentic Kona Coffees as well. Samples were available for tasting, and there was a working factory where visitors could view the chocolate treats in their various stages of preparation. It would appear that this factory is not automated to any great extent, as there were people at just about every workstation along the process doing much of their work by hand.

After our stop at Big Island Candies, we finally made our way back to the Statendam. We all definitely felt that we had gotten our money’s worth on this tour, which was billed as a 3.5 hour excursion. We had easily been gone for over 4.5 hours and unlike a lot of other tours I’ve been on, the people getting off the bus all seemed to be happy.

As we re-entered the cruise terminal at the pier, we stopped at a row of vendors who always make that warehouse area their home when a cruise ship is in port. Today, there were two – us and the Rapsody of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean vessel. The particular vendor we had come to visit makes beautiful Hawaiian leis, including hand crafted shell leis. These beautiful works of art rarely run more than $10 each, and there is also a wide selection of very low priced Hawaiian costume jewelry to choose from as well. Another table (sadly that wasn’t open when we got there) sells beautiful Hawaiian flower arrangements that people can purchase and have delivered to the ship. While the flowers can’t be taken off the ship at the completion of the cruise, they can certainly be enjoyed for the rest of the cruise, as the smell will linger in one’s cabin for days after Hilo is but a distant memory. Well, because we were so late getting back to the pier area, that table was closed down for the day, but I’ll bet there are a lot of cabins with the aroma of wonderfully-scented Hawaiian flowers on the Statendam tonight.

Despite it being a port day, there were plenty of things going on aboard ship. The highlight was a local Hawaiian show called “Leo Nahenaheo Pohai Kealoha” that was held in the Van Gogh Lounge at 4:30. Sadly, we missed this as we were just about getting back onto the ship at this time. Hula Dancing Lessons were also offered earlier in the day by a group of local Hawaiian “aunties” who were brought onboard the ship for specifically this purpose. I was sad to miss both of these events, but feel I made a wise choice in going to the Falls instead.

I will ask around the ship today if anyone got good views of the Kilauea Volcano last evening. Hopefully the fog lifted enough for those diehards who decided to stick it out to finally get to see some amazing sights.

For now, though, I will end this entry. It is early on Wednesday morning and we are scheduled to spend our day in Kona. For today, I have a special treat. I’ll be taking an approximately two-hour helicopter tour of the island billed as the Big Island Helicopter Spectacular. For what I paid for this tour, it had better be spectacular! The description in HAL’s tour brochure reads “Discover all the Big Island’s beauty and volcanic fury on this aerial tour – the deep and immense tropical valleys of the Kohala Mountains with dozens of cascading waterfalls, the rain forest of the Hamakua Coast, and the lava flows of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – the most geologically active environment in the world. Kilauea has been erupting continuously for 17 years!” At least this tour promises not to be too strenuous on my legs – a good thing. I’ll let you know how it was tomorrow.
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Old October 2nd, 2008, 12:40 PM
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Default Day 12 -- Kona Flightseeing!

Today we continue our stay on the Big Island, just moving around to the other side from Hilo to Kona. Hilo is very wet, but Kona, because it is sheltered between the island’s two big volcanoes (Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea), Kona, which is on the island’s leeward coast enjoys near perfect weather. While we had mostly overcast skies in Hilo, in Kona it was nothing but bright sunshine. That’s why I chose to take my one helicopter flightseeing excursion on this island. I booked the Big Island Helicopter Spectacular with Blue Island Helicopters, which was an almost two hour flight that took us over the entire Big Island. In fact, we traveled over to the cruise ship dock, where we viewed the ships docked in the same place as we were yesterday.

This tour also provided us with a rare opportunity to view some molten lava. Most helicopter tours do not include this bonus. We flew over the dormant volcanoes and enjoyed the view of several huge cinder cones as well as deep craters in the earth. We viewed lava tubes that we were told extended for miles – all the way to the sea coast, and finally we were treated to a visual display like none other – a somewhat active volcano – Kilauea – which was spewing its molten lava into the sea far below. Of course, due to local regulations, we could only get so close, but our view was good enough that we could clearly see down into the deep crater in the earth where the lava was clearly visible.

Our pilot was a hoot, though I have a feeling some folks weren’t amused when he told us that this was only his second day on the job. He asked one of his passengers upfront to keep track of where we were, because he “wouldn’t want to get lost as he did on his first day on the job.” On a more serious note, he told us to just let him know if there was anything he could do to make our flight more special. I suggested that some heli-aerobatics might be fun, but the glares of my fellow passengers onboard were enough to shut me up on that subject. 

I guess I should mention right here that anyone planning to take a flightseeing tour by helicopter will need to be weighed. The weighing is done very discretely back at the cruise ship pier – right before climbing onboard the van that will take you to the heliport. The weighing is required by FAA regulations because weight and balance are absolutely critical for helicopters. Not only are they subject to very strict maximum weights carried, but that weight must be balanced – meaning that not only are passenger weights recorded on a chart, but then each passenger is assigned a number to correspond to their weight, and those weights are phoned into the company’s base at the heliport so that they can be plugged into a special computer program that will assign seats for the flight. The seats are assigned so as to balance out all the passengers’ weights throughout the aircraft. This is why one can’t request the seat that they want. They have to take the seat the computer program assigned them to. Two people will sit up front with the pilot, while four will be in the back. Initially, I wasn’t too happy about this because it seems that I always draw one of the two middle seats in the back. When this happened to me once before way back in 2001, every photo I took during the flight had the head or nose of the woman sitting at the window. In a 45-minute flight, I got not one good photo and I was a bit burned about that. Well, this time luck was a bit more with me. While I would have still been in that same exact seat had there been four of us in the back, we only had three of us there, giving me a nice window view. I got lots of great pictures this time!

Even the ride to the heliport was interesting. Ever hear of Kona Graffiti? This is a neat art form where people gather rocks from the shoreline and then paint them a stark white color. The rocks are then arranged to spell names and words, and are mounted against the backdrop of stark black lava rock that has accumulated into small hills all along the sides of the main road on the island. As people drive along, they can read your messages. Believe it or not, none o f the messages I saw were in the slightest bit obscene and mostly had to do with religion (“Jesus Saves!”) or folks declaring their undying love for each other (“Hona & Sue – Forever and Ever”). Somehow I think the messages would have been far more colorful, not to mention offensive, back home in Philadelphia.

Once we arrived at the heliport, we received a full safety briefing before being allowed anywhere near a helicopter. Did you know that you always approach a helicopter from the front – staying away from that dangerous tail roter, while with a propeller-driven aircraft you do the opposite – staying away from the front where those huge propeller blades could slice you to bits.

Finally, we were ready to board. We walked out to the craft as a group, under the careful watch of a couple of the Blue Hawaiian people who had to keep hurrying me along as I had a perchant for stopping mid-step to snap photos.

Once onboard and settled in, we got on our way almost immediately. We each had our own set of headphones along with a special handheld microphone that would let us talk to the pilot and ask questions. He kept us all well engaged throughout the flight because these conversations, along with his narrative, would comprise the sound track of the video footage that was being recorded by the four onboard cameras, including one in the cockpit. We could purchase a DVD, made especially of our flight for $25.

We flew over several mountains that were emitting huge plumbs of sulfur. These were blending with the clouds so that you could almost not tell where sulfur plumbs ended and cloud began. These huge puffs of smoke were emitting from great craters formed in the earth, and while those areas were considered geologically active, they were not considered to be active volcanoes because no hot lava was evident.

I must apologize right here for the vagueness of this particular entry and its descriptions. I have to say that I spent most of this flight awestruck and the immense beauty of the natural wonders I was viewing. When I first scheduled this tour months before my cruise, I almost immediately began to experience buyer’s remorse because I felt that I had chosen the wrong island for such a tour. I was sorry I did not select Kauai, which is known as THE island for a helicopter tour. This tour, because it was almost two hours in length, was not cheap – I paid close to $500 for it, and hence, the buyer’s remorse. Well, it wasn’t long into this flight that all second thoughts were wiped away, and I was grateful I had selected the Big Island for my one aerial tour, because the things we viewed on this flight were absolutely amazing – not to mention that this was the longest and most comprehensive flightseeing tour offered on any of the islands.

We made a landing at the airport in Hilo so that our pilot could refuel (that’s one commodity you definitely don’t want to run out of!) and we could stretch our legs a bit. We were told that Blue Island has a fleet of 25 helicopters, and branches now on all the Hawaiian Islands. They just opened up their newest facility on Oahu. They maintain the highest standards for the hiring of new pilots, and when we passed a helicopter training school on our trip out to Blue Island’s heliport, our driver remarked that all the new pilots there aspire to work for Blue Hawaiian, though few of them ever will. He told us that most of Blue Hawaiian’s pilots served in Viet Nam or the Military, and some had even been test pilots. They also have to be comfortable interacting with people, because Blue Hawaiian’s pilots not only have to be skilled at their craft, but also friendly and knowledgeable about the islands and the sights on the tours which they fly.

Now that we had viewed lava and steaming sulfur, it was time to see something far different, but no less awe-inspiring. We flew over the rugged coast line and viewed some amazing waterfalls – one which was over 1,000-feet tall. We also viewed the Akaka Falls from the air – yes, those same Falls I tore my legs up trying to get to from land just the day before. We were able to fly in between the towering cliffs of the coast line to get the perfect view of this majestic 1200-foot cascading waterfall starting at the top, and working its way to the sea far below.

All too soon our adventure was nearing an end. As we headed back to Blue Hawaii’s heliport, we all were still shaking our heads at the amazing sights we had seen, many of them only viewable by air. We saw the exact same lava-spewing volcano that passengers onboard the Statendam had tried to get a view of from the open decks of our ship the night before. But we saw far more lava since we flew directly above it. We also saw some of the most beautiful natural scenery probably in all this world, much of it also only viewable by air. So I doubt any one of us felt our money was wasted. I personally think it was worth every cent, and in fact, had actually briefly considered scheduling another aerial tour, perhaps in Kauai. I discarded that idea, though, since I’ve already got a very different sort of tour scheduled for there. Besides an aerial tour is special, and should be a delightful rarity on a Hawaii cruise.

By the time we were delivered back to the dock so that we could tender back to the Statendam, it started raining – again, a rarity for Kona. It seemed a fitting end to our stay here on the Big Island. We had seen so many rare sights both in Kona and in Hilo that the rain seemed like the proverbial cherry on top of our wonderful stay here.

Nothing much going on onboard ship last night, at least nothing that interested our little band of merrymakers. A couple of drinks in the Ocean Bar, dinner in the Lido, and early to bed. It’s a “school night,” as Trisha and Virgil say – a full day in Lahaina, Maui, and a whole bunch of new adventures tomorrow!
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Old October 3rd, 2008, 06:03 PM
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Oh Rita, are you sure you're not a writer??
Your posts are so fun to read !

We were in Hawaii in April, aboard Zaandam. We took the Waves and Waterfalls tour also. We really liked the tsunami museum and the memorial.

I am reliving our cruise vicariously, so "keep 'er comin'."

Pat
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Old October 4th, 2008, 09:20 PM
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Default Day 13 & 14 -- Maui and Honolulu

It is so difficult to believe that this cruise is almost half over; the time is just going way too fast. We’re are still in the Hawaiian Islands and will be for another two days yet. On Thursday, we spent our day in Maui. In fact, we remained there until 10:00 p.m.

I’ve spent considerable time in Maui, both on prior cruises, as well as attending a 12-day writer’s conference and retreat on the island back in 2001. So, there really was nothing particular that I cared to do on this port stop other than shop.

We left the ship after the “first wave” of people on tours had left, and we spent the better part of our morning exploring the little shops up and down Front Street in Old Lahaina. There is everything from souvenir shops, to fine Hawaiian clothing and jewelry stores. Another neat feature is the vast array of quaint little art galleries, some of them selling very expensive (and also very beautiful Hawaiian art pieces). We went to one place where the artist uses a computer generated system to create scenes that seem almost three-dimensional. This effect is achieved by printing them on a special type of paper. By dimming the lights, you can actually feel that you are in the middle of the painting, and the painting itself seems to glow all around you. He offers his works in a variety of sizes, and some of them are actually affordable, in the range of maybe $500 to $800 for a smaller sized print. Of course, wouldn’t you know that I can’t find the piece of paper where I wrote this artist’s name down, but when I return home I am sure a quick search on Google will yield it. That “quick” search is just a bit too expensive to run here via the ship’s internet.

We shopped up and down Front Street and even clear out to Hilo Hattie’s. A sad note about this well-known Hawaii landmark. She is going out of business. That’s right – Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It was all over the newspapers here in Hawaii yesterday. Citing financial problems that have spanned the past several years, as well as a declining tourism industry (one of my tour guides said that the recent summer tourism season – one of two that the islands really depend on – the other being the holiday season) had tourism off by something like 60%. Hilo Hattie’s had just been bought out by new owners about three months ago, and apparently they could not weather that particularly bad season. So, they declared bankruptcy. We figured something was up with them as the selection in their stores seemed on the “thin” side. When we asked about it, we were told that the store is going more in the direction of “resort wear” and that new stock was on order and just hadn’t arrived yet. Now we know what the real reason for the poor selection is. Obviously, they knew this was coming and just hadn’t ordered new stock – or perhaps their suppliers had cut them off knowing a bankruptcy was imminent. Sad to see such a well-established Hawaii landmark close its doors. Hopefully, a new retailer will buy it, and keep it pretty much as we know it. I’d hate to see them absorbed as a part of something like a Walmart chain. 

After all that hard shopping, our little band of merrymakers was ready for lunch. We stopped by Cheeseburger in Paradise for a nice greasy burger with fries. The Onion rings were good too! While the food at this “tourist trap” is exceptionally good, it’s the views of the waterfront that I enjoy best. Gazing out the window while waiting for our order, we could see both our ship and the Volendam docked out in the harbor. As they say, two is always better than one.

That evening back onboard the Statendam, we were treated to some local entertainment by Polynesia Productions. This consisted of a group of musicians playing a variety of drums and other instruments native to Polynesia, as well as a variety of hula performers featured in a variety of Polynesian native dance ceremonies. The best part of the performance was the group of three “hula babies” – the most adorable little girls you ever laid your eyes on. These children have been started young and they too performed intricate dance routines that clearly took a lot of practice to learn. I don’t think there was a person in the audience who didn’t want to take those children home – and some even asked – but of course, their parents, who were onboard as well, weren’t about to allow that. 

As soon as I can, I will get some photos of these dancers into an online CruiseMates gallery. I have actually taken a couple hundred photos thus far this cruise, but am trying to economize on internet minutes. That’s why most of them will be uploaded when I return home at the end of this month.

Yesterday, we spent the first of our two days in Honolulu. Thankfully, we dock here and we’re at the centrally located Aloha Tower dock. Sometimes Holland America gets stuck at one of the other docks. In January of 2006, we got stuck at Pier 17, which was a bit of a walk to the main shopping and tourist type area. But at this location, all we have to do is debark the ship, and we’re right in the heart of everything.

I decided to take an all-day tour billed as a “Military VIP Tour.” Conducted by “Home of the Brave,” it is a comprehensive introduction to Hawaii’s military contributions to our nation’s defense, especially during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Of course, the tour included a visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial itself. This part of the tour was not in any way VIP in nature. Just like everyone else, we got in line to get our tickets for the presentation in the theater and then embarked a Navy launch to go out to the Arizona Memorial itself. The entire experience was a very somber one, especially when you read the names of all the soldiers who died there on December 7, 1941. Another poignant reminder of that day is the oil that still bubbles up to the surface from the sunken Arizona – some 61 years later.

There are not too many Pearl Harbor survivors left, but one was apparently at the Memorial yesterday, as a camera crew was setting up to interview him about the events of that tragic day. Of course, time was allowed for us to visit the Pearl Harbor Museum and Gift Shop as well, and once we returned from the Memorial, this is exactly what just about everyone wanted to do. The foundation that runs the memorial is undertaking a major rebuilding effort, and are trying to raise funds to support this. The existing center is aging rapidly and if it is not renovated or rebuilt, it may have to be closed down. So any purchases made in the store, as well as donations offered, will go toward this rebuilding effort. Just about everyone reboarded the tour bus laden with packages.

As I noted, the visit to the Arizona Memorial was not very much “VIP” in nature. We were just a group of the many tourists that visit the site daily. The “VIP” nature of the tour mainly took place on the bus – where we had a World War II “docent,” or expert aboard who regaled us with stories about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the events and personalities surrounding it. The bus itself was adorned with authentic photographs of some of the aircraft used in the conflict, both American and Japanese. Many maps and photos were also passed around to illustrate the stories that were being told as we traveled from one destination to another. We visited the Punchbowl Memorial to see the graves of all the military personnel buried there. Today, there is no longer any room for coffins, but cremated remains can still be accommodated. We saw the gravesites of Ernie Pyle, a war time correspondent who covered World War II as one of the first “embedded” reporters to cover actual wartime events. Today, we have sophisticated satellite networks to deliver real time reports of events occurring on the other side of the world. But Pyle had only his pen and note paper, but still managed to earn a place for himself in history due to his fine reportage. He also earned a place to be laid to rest in this military cemetery even though much of his work during the war was as a civilian. He is one of the few such people buried there.

Another sobering site we viewed was the grave of Elison Ozinoka (please forgive spelling – again, I’m not “wasting” time to Google the proper spelling due to internet costs). Many will recall that Ozinoka was one of the seven astronauts who lost their lives in the Challenger tragedy. He was a native of Hawaii and served in the military, and hence earned for himself a place of honor at the Punchbowl Memorial.

The interesting thing about the Punchbowl Memorial is that tours can drive through, and can even slow down to a snail’s pace to view the various sites. But they can’t stop and allow people to get out. This is because previous visitors to the Memorial have left their marks in the form of various graffiti and other vandalism, so today the park imposes a $75 fine on any tour operator stopping his vehicle or allowing people to get out in order to take photographs, etc. Sad commentary on our sometimes less than human nature, huh?

We also had the opportunity to visit the Schofield Army Barracks, Fort Shafter and Wheeler Army Air Field. At Fort Shafter, we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch at the Military Base Club, a facility only open to active and former military and their guests.

Our last stop of the day was at the “Home of the Brave” museum and store, where we had the opportunity to shop for Pearl Harbor-themed tee-shirts, videos and other items significant to that infamous day. An upstairs lounge provided a place to relax and enjoy a Coke before returning to the ship.

This day was one that I won’t soon forget, and I am glad that I finally took the time to learn a bit about that tragic day in 1941. I had been to Honolulu several times in the past and had never taken any sort of military-related tour. I was too busy engaging in “fun” stuff to be bothered. Several people, including my own father, had to “shame” me into visiting the Arizona Memorial, and to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. In retrospect, I have to say that taking this particular tour, and learning about the events our military faced back in 1941, was truly enlightening. This day was one of the most sobering and moving days of my life.

We got back to the ship in the afternoon. I spent a couple of hours walking in and out of the stores in Aloha Tower and around the marketplace. I didn’t buy anything, though. My head was still full from all the things I saw at the Arizona Memorial, and somehow my heart was just not into doing any serious shopping this evening. So, instead – to cheer myself up – I took a nice long walk, with a mission to find the office of one of my favorite reality tv stars, Dog the Bounty Hunter. Armed with a brochure obtained for me by my friends Trish and Virgil, along with some helpful advice of people I stopped along the way, I found the site of DaKine Bail Bonds located on Queen Emma Street. It’s a hearty walk from the ship – about seven blocks each way – but it wasn’t too bad. Around the corner from the bail bond office is the gift shop. Sadly both were closed, which I found shocking at around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night. I would have thought they would have been open until at least 8:00, but no such luck. I am doing a shorter “Little Circle Island” tour on Saturday, and will ask the bus driver if he can let me off in this general area at the end of it. That should give me plenty of time to shop, maybe meet “the Dog” or some members of his posse, and then get back on the ship long before sailaway – a very, very happy woman. 
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Old October 4th, 2008, 09:23 PM
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Default I Finally Get to "The Dog House!"

I will do a more detailed entry for this port day later on, but I had to come back on to report that I had success in getting to “The Dog House” today – that’s what they call Duane Dog Chapman’s official store here on Oahu. Duane Dog Chapman, if you don’t know, is the infamous “Dog the Bounty Hunter” appearing weekly in a reality tv series on the A&E Network.

I took a Little Circle Island tour today – a 3.5 hour version of a full Circle Island tour I had taken a couple of years back. During the course of the tour, I asked the tour guide if it would be possible to get dropped off at the Dog’s Place, instead of back at the ship. I’m sure he thought I was an idiot, but he humored me and made the extra stop right in front of Da Kine Bail Bonds on Queen Emma Street (while all my fellow passengers looked at me getting off the bus as though I was nuts).

Sadly, “the Dog” was nowhere to be found, but the shop was being manned by one of his sons – Travis. Travis is not a regular on the show, though he has appeared in a few episodes. I immediately recognized him. His son – Dog’s grandson – is also a regular member of the “posse” this season.

Travis graciously answered all of my dumb questions about his family, and even showed me a model remote control helicopter he was putting together for the filming of upcoming episodes of the show. Apparently the thing will fly some 90 miles an hour and be entirely electric. Cameras will be mounted on it, so that it can take actual footage of the action going on down below, providing aerial shots to supplements the ones taken by the A&E camera people on the ground. God, I hope I have all that right – as I really don’t understand that much about this sort of thing. But what I do know is that the chopper sure looked neat, and Travis let me take a picture of it. I suggested he have the A&E network pay for a real one – then the posse could look for fugitives from the air. Travis didn’t think that was likely to happen.

Travis also graciously posed for a picture with me, and also took my photo against a large Dog the Bounty Hunter cutout that they keep in the store for just such a purpose. If you pose just right, it is very, very difficult to tell that the photo is being taken with a cardboard image.

The store is chock full of every item of Dog the Bounty Hunter merchandise you can think of, and within ten minutes I had spent close to $100 bucks on tee-shirts. Travis also gave me some wrist bands with the Dog’s famous saying – “No More Ice in Paradise.” Ice is a form of cocaine that is very popular on these islands. The Dog is one of the dominant forces in trying to discourage young people from getting into the drug culture in Hawaii by stamping out this scourge.

Travis told me that it was a shame I wouldn’t be on Oahu the 15th of this month. The entire Chapman clan would be hosting a “Fan Appreciation” event on that date, and he said that I could have surely met the Dog, and probably gotten my tee-shirts autographed as well. Sadly, the Statendam will have long sailed away from these islands by that time, and will be far into the South Pacific come October 15. Oh, well – my loss.

I realize this entry may seem silly to most people, but – hey, what can I say? I like Dog the Bounty Hunter just like others enjoy their favorite soap operas and the people who star in them. The only difference in my case is that I try to make my fantasies come true, and I’ve long wanted to see the Dog’s bail bond office, as well as shop his official store in person rather than just on the internet. Well, I made sure this trip to do that, and the accomplishment makes me feel good – just like the accomplishment of making a tandem skydive on the North Shore of Oahu during my last visit to these islands in 2006 made me feel good.

So, I’ll close this entry by saying always have dreams, and then go out and make them come true!

Note: I will try to get a small gallery of photos up just as soon as I can get my editor to post them.
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Old October 5th, 2008, 12:35 PM
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Well, now I really feel stupid saying you should be a writer

You really are !

My Dad (still living) is a PH survivor. He was 18 yrs old then, and was on the Medusa, which was moored around the corner from Arizona on Ford Island.

I am excited for you that you got to see the Dog House. I like him too, much to the chagrin of DH.

Thanks for the fun.

Pat
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Old October 5th, 2008, 01:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sassyredhat
I am excited for you that you got to see the Dog House. I like him too, much to the chagrin of DH.
Don't feel bad. My father absolutely HATES him.

Blue skies ...

--rita
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Old October 5th, 2008, 01:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sassyredhat
Oh Rita, are you sure you're not a writer??
Your posts are so fun to read
Thank you so much for the kind words. I'm having a ball with this thread too, and it is truly a labor of love to write these entries.

By the way, when I get home, I'll send you a link -- or you can google "Falling into Place" or "Rita Ippoliti." You'll see that I've already written one book -- on an entirely different subject than cruising.

Blue skies!

--rita
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Old October 7th, 2008, 03:50 AM
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Default Extended Voyage versus Shorter Cruise

Extended Voyage versus Seven to 14-day Cruise

When I was planning this cruise on the Statendam, I had a lot of folks (including my own family members) ask me how the heck I could stand being “trapped on a boat” for 35 days. They couldn’t imagine anything so boring, and couldn’t believe anyone would be nuts enough to take a trip that involved so many days on a cruise ship. To them, at least on the surface, it seemed the equivalent of a living nightmare.

Since my own family and small circle of friends felt that way, I figured maybe some of our CruiseMates readers following along on this virtual cruise might be wondering about the same thing, so I thought I’d devote an entry to just this subject.

I guess the major difference between a short and an extended cruise is that on a short cruise, one often feels pressured to see it all and do it all. We only have seven days (and sometimes even less time) on the ship, so we want to experience just about everything the trip has to offer. You want to go to all the shows, try all the onboard restaurants, experience all the ports, enjoy all of the “drink of the day” offerings, play in the casino, etc., etc. Since you have a very limited amount of time to squeeze all this stuff in, often you find yourself falling into bed totally exhausted each and every night. On a longer voyage, I guess the main benefit is the luxury of time. You can savor the experience. You still want to enjoy as many of the cruise offerings as possible – both onshore as well as on the ship – but you have the luxury of far more days to do so. This means, you don’t worry if you miss tonight’s show – unless of course it is something really special – you don’t worry if you don’t feel like “doing” formal night tonight, because there will be many others during the course of the voyage.

With this Statendam cruise, we have the unique situation of having the ports “clustered” around “bunches” of sea days. You don’t always get that with some cruises, even the longer ones. Because of the relative locations of the places we are visiting, this particular itinerary is perfect for the person who loves relaxing days at sea, while also wanting to visit some wonderful ports.

For example, this cruise started with a five-day coastal sailing beginning in Vancouver. We then had a port stop the next day in Victoria, followed by a sea day, and then a stop in San Francisco. We then had another sea day before getting to San Diego. Of course, many people wanted to experience a bit of those ports, so they got off in all of them. But with the sea days intermingled in between, it wasn’t necessary to exhaust oneself. Then, once we left San Diego, we enjoyed a solid four days of sailing – plenty of time to sample some of the pleasures of the ship, before concentrating on six days in the Hawaiian islands. Every single day of that six days I spent running around. I went on bus and van tours, including a full day Military Base VIP tour that included Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial, as well as stops at the various military installations on Oahu. I also did a short circle island tour of Oahu, a trek to Akaka Falls in Hilo, a Grand Helicopter Spectacular (two hour flight) in Kona which allowed us to actually view molten lava, as well as a shorter Helicopter Spectacular in Kauai. We also got a chance visit some of our favorite eateries – yes, including Mickey Dee’s for a Big Mac treat – and stock up on supplies (at a reasonable price) at a local Walmart. My personal favorite was getting to visit “The Dog House” – Dog the Bounty Hunter’s shop in Oahu (located right around the corner from his DaKine Bail Bonds storefront).

Needless to say, we all fell into bed exhausted each night because each day was a pretty full one. But we also knew that we would have five more days at sea to recover once we left the islands. We would also have the chance during that time to anticipate all the new adventures we would enjoy once hitting the South Pacific Islands later on in the cruise.

Believe me, on a long cruise, one happily anticipates the days at sea and especially on this particular cruise, those sea days are a welcome change from running around from morning until all aboard time sampling all of the joys available in these island paradises.

As for getting bored on sea days, I don’t know – I guess some people might become bored, but I just can’t understand how. There is so much going on around the ship on sea days that surely there’s something for everybody. But the best thing of all is that there is always the option to do absolutely nothing if that is your desire, and not feel one bit guilty about it, because there is still tomorrow to do those things that maybe you didn’t feel like doing today. People on World Cruises have reported that they quickly learn to pace themselves. They maybe eat everything in sight for the first few days, and try to do all the activities available, but soon they settle down and realize they are in this for the long haul, and they begin to pace themselves. They have a light breakfast and maybe skip lunch some days, especially if there is something particularly good on the menu for that evening’s dinner. They learn after a few days onboard that part of what makes a World Cruise so special is the fact that they have plenty of days to get everything in that they want to do, so it is not necessary to run around trying to do everything the first week they are onboard the boat.

It’s kind of the same thing on this voyage. We have the luxury of time to experience everything we wish to experience. There is no need to do it all in a day. For example, today is Monday – our first sea day out of Hawaii. We had a full day in Kauai yesterday. I spent my morning taking a helicopter flight over this lush island. In the afternoon, it was time for a trip to Hilo Hattie’s and to the local Walmart to stock up on a few things we would rather buy now at reasonable prices – instead of waiting until we get to the South Pacific islands where prices tend to be through the roof. For example, on my last trip to the South Pacific, I got “caught short” a couple of disposable underwater cameras for my snorkeling excursions. So, I had no choice but to buy them at a kiosk at the pier on Bora Bora. I paid the equivalent of about $28 USD for each – an absolutely ridiculous price. This trip I used my head and brought a much more generous supply of these cameras with me from home – to the tune of about $7 each. Big price difference.

So today, because it is our first full day at sea, everyone seems to be quite laid back. I got up lazy this morning and nothing much has changed all day. Oh, my intentions were good last night. I carefully highlighted all of the items in the daily program that I wanted to check out. At 9:00 there was a Celebrity Coffee Chat with Jack Mayberry, the comedienne we enjoyed in the Van Gogh Lounge last evening. Then at 10:00, there was a special presentation by the Future Cruise Consultant about the process of building a new ship (the Eurodam). Then there was a cooking demonstration in the Culinary Arts Center at 11:00. This one was on Hawaiian food. There was also a lecture this afternoon at 2:30 about Whale Watching by Melvyn Foster. Lots of other stuff on tap today as well, such as Bingo, a Champagne Art Auction, fitness classes, unhosted games such as Taboo and Scattegories and Mah-Jongg, etc. And those things are just the daytime activities. Tonight is a formal night, and in addition to the regular show time in the theater (tonight will feature Elena Ivanina – a piano virtuoso), the Officers’ Black and White Ball will be held in the Crow’s Nest at 10:00 p.m.

As I said, I had my little schedule carefully highlighted with all of the things I wanted to do today. So what did I end up doing? Absolutely nothing. I just spent a lazy day relaxing and enjoying the ambience of the ship and the endless blue ocean. I sat out back, by the Navigation pool, listening to a great hour of music by Darlene and the HALCats – rock and roll favorites -- a cold drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other, surrounded by friends and wonderful scenery. As I gazed out at that beautiful blue sea, with that wonderful music blaring in the background, I turned around to Trisha (my good friend) and at just about the same time, we both said – “It doesn’t get any better than this.” It is moments like this – and there are many on a longer cruise such as this one – that I cruise for. Just watching an endless blue sea, relaxing with friends, enjoying a drink, smelling the fresh ocean air, knowing that my every need will not just be met, but often anticipated before I can even give voice to it – that is why I love cruising. To be able to savor the time at sea, and not feel rushed or pressured to do it all – that’s what a vacation is all about to me.l Yes, the food on a cruise ship is wonderful, but it’s just not that important to me. Yes, the casino might be nice and a lot of people have fun there, but it’s not my thing. Bingo, art auctions, fitness classes – those things are all nice and some people love them – but not my thing. The shops onboard – lots of people spend hours in them, looking for just the right piece of jewelry. Not me. You’ll find me relaxing with friends, sharing laughs over totally ridiculous things, taking the time to meet new acquaintances and getting to know them – enjoying a drink and even, God forbid, a cigarette – all while gazing out at the vastness of an endless ocean – those are the things for which I cruise, and for me they never get old – no matter how many sea days are on the itinerary.

On a longer cruise itinerary, everyone seems to find their sea days niche, and they never seem to become bored with it – at least the majority don’t. Some people are sun worshippers. They will stake out a lounge chair and spend the better part of the day in it – leaving only occasionally to take a dip in the pool, or grab a bite to eat. Others will hole up in the Explorations Café, where they can listen to music on the iPOD type listening stations, or immerse themselves in a good book or magazine. Others just find a nice cubbyhole in which to hide out and just enjoy reading a good book, or listening to some music on their iPOD.

By the time we hit the next cluster of ports, believe me, most people are truly sorry to see the relaxing sea days come to an end, and they are already anticipating the next set. You don’t get this sort of relaxing environment on a shorter cruise. You simply don’t have enough sea days to truly get into the relaxation “zone.” People are not as relaxed and friendly on a shorter cruise. They are more apt to want to stick with their own groups, and aren’t that much interested in making new friends. But on an extended voyage, strangers become friends, and friends become closer friends. It just seems to work out that way. Maybe it’s the influence of the sea?

So I hope I’ve given you at least some sort of an idea about how a day at sea is spent onboard a longer itinerary, as opposed to on a shorter one. The way I like to think about it is that when I return to my “real” life from a longer cruise, I am truly relaxed and recharged. In other words, I don’t need a vacation to “recover” from my vacation. Life doesn’t get much better than it is onboard the Statendam right now.
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Old October 7th, 2008, 08:28 AM
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Default Love reading your reports Rita!

Rita: I just love ready all about how much fun you are having on the Statendam! I just made my final payment for our 30 day Ryndam yesterday, so now it seems more real. Following along and reading all the things you are doing is just adding so much more to the anticipation of our cruise!

Enjoy the crossing of the Equator and the rest of the sea days until you reach the South Pacific! It sounds like you have your days down perfect and are enjoying them to the fullest!
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Old October 7th, 2008, 01:40 PM
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Ahhhhh Rita, you're making me long for our last Hawaiian cruise.

It may sound crazy to some, but one of the things we enjoy on a long cruise, is going to the movies on the ship.

No poolside movies for us ! We like the traditional HAL way.

I made a vow last April that I would try to continue living on "island time" instead of "mainland time".

Basically, I have just slowed down. I don't drive so fast, and if someone cuts me off, I tell myself "I'll get there".

Your post is actually rather calming. Thanks.

Pat
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Old October 8th, 2008, 11:53 AM
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In honor of your cruise I made Crockpot Kalua Pork
4-5 pound pork butt roast
1 1/2 tablespoons Hawaiian sea salt (rock salt/kosher salt)
1 tablespoon liquid smoke flavoring
2-9oz bags of Spinach
1 Cup of water

I like to pierce the meat with a fork so the liquid smoke can get in there. Then rub with liquid smoke, next rub with sea salt, and cover with 1 bag of spinach. pour water in bottom of the crockpot and place roast in pot make certain it's completely covered in spinach. I usually line the spinach on top of the water and then drop the roast in. Cook on low for 8 hours, add second bag of spinach. After it's done cooking remove bones and use two forks to shred the pork is should shred easily mix in spinach. Serve over steamed rice.

It cooked all day while I was at work and I came home dinner was made and so tasty.
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Old October 8th, 2008, 10:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sassyredhat
Your post is actually rather calming. Thanks.
Glad I could be a calming influence to you, sassyredhat. I'm gonna try to take the island time attitude as well when I get home. Don't know if my boss will appreciate it, though.

Blue skies ...

--rita
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Old October 8th, 2008, 11:01 PM
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Default As You Wish Dining on the Statendam

There’s been lots on the message boards about HAL’s new “As You Wish” dining. People have grumbled that they are unable to get their preferred fixed traditional dining unless they book a year or more in advance, and sometimes not even then.

Since this subject has generated so much discussion, I thought I’d make it the subject of today’s blog entry – since this is an area where I, too, made some surprising discoveries.

First of all, what is “As You Wish” dining – ala HAL style?

As You Wish or AYW dining is simply a program which allows people to decide how they prefer to dine each day. You can select either traditional dining on the upper level of the dining room (main seating or late seating at 5:45 or 8:00 p.m.) or flexible dining on the lower level anytime between 5:15 and 9:00 p.m. You can either call ahead for reservations anytime during the day between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. or you can just show up when you are hungry – the choice is yours.

I have always in the past been a diehard traditionalist – preferring to eat with a set group of tablemates at a certain table, and at a certain time. However, over my past several cruises, I have become a bit less enamored of this form of dining. Maybe I’m just getting older and more impatient, but over the past several years eating has become less of a priority for me. Sure, I still enjoy a good meal, but just not the way I used to. I don’t necessarily want to make that meal my evening highlight, especially when on a cruise. I’d rather still have time to enjoy a show, or maybe listen to some good music, or maybe even do some shopping, or at least browsing in the stores. It seems more and more that traditional dining is taking an inordinately long time to get through. On my last cruise on the Veendam, for example, we never got out of the dining room in less than 2.5 hours – and often that time was only achieved by skipping dessert and coffee! Some people may like that, but for me it was becoming intolerable. For that reason, I wasn’t too upset when on this cruise I had to opt for flexible dining simply because fixed seating was full. I decided to go into it with an open mind and see what developed.

When I got onboard the Statendam, a good friend I was sailing with (Trisha) informed me that she had managed to snag a coveted spot in early seating, traditional dining. Since her husband never goes to the dining room, preferring to eat in the Lido, she suggested that I just join her in traditional dining. When we wanted flexible, we’d just go to the Lido. I agreed and we went to the dining room once. Never again.

We were seated at a table for ten. Everyone at the table was far older than either of us, and we could readily see that while we could enjoy conversations with them, we could barely maintain them for the length of time this meal was taking.

Of course, when you are at a large table, everyone eats at different speeds. They also eat a varied number of courses. Some folks may only order soup and an entrée, while others may order something from every course available. Some people also may choose to order two appetizers, etc. Needless to say, this means that if you haven’t ordered from one of the courses, you will just sit there waiting for others to finish that course. The wait staff will not serve you your main entrée until everyone else is up to their main entrée. This meant that we spent a lot of time just sitting around, smiles pasted to our faces, waiting for the slower eaters to finish so that we could get our main course served to us. Same with dessert. If someone else ordered two entrees, and were slow eating them, we had to sit there just waiting before we could even see the dessert menus. Since we were at real risk of missing the early show, we wound up wolfing down our desserts and then excusing ourselves to get to the theater in time to snag a couple of seats.

This was unacceptable and after one dinner in the traditional dining room we decided to make the move to flexible dining and try our luck there.

The next time we went to the dining room we found almost the same situation in flexible dining. We found out that you could not get a table for two by just walking in. The tables for two apparently are only available for reservation at certain times. If you just walk into the dining room, you join a larger table. The experience we had on this night was that we were the second two folks seated at a table for six. We were all immediately handed menus. We ordered our meals and a short time later we received our appetizers. So far, so good. We were about ready to receive our main course when another couple was seated at the remaining two seats at the table, and now the trouble started. Of course, this couple had to get through their preliminary courses as well. We were then made to sit there waiting for our entrees until they caught up. This wasn’t going to do. When finally everyone had their entrees, we realized that we were probably going to be spending as much time in the dining room under the flexible format as we did with traditional – and, in fact, that did pretty much turn out to be the case.

An informal talk with Theo, our friend the Hotel Manager, was going to be in order. And later on, in the Ocean Bar, we asked him about this. Should people in flexible dining have to wait for others seated later to “catch up?” He agreed that there were a lot of problems with As You Wish Dining, and HAL was trying to address them. He promised to make some inquiries and see what he could do.

A few days later Trisha and I decided to try the flexible dining room again. This time we were in a hurry because there was a show we wanted to see and it was starting early – at 7:00 p.m. Neither of us was willing to wait for the later show. We were far too tired for that. We were the second two people seated, with a third couple seated shortly thereafter. We only ordered soup and appetizers, while the others ordered entrees as well. We both looked at each other. “Are we gonna have to wait until all of these people get through their entrees before being allowed to order dessert?”

When we completed our appetizers, we asked to see the dessert menu, and it was immediately brought to us. We ordered our desserts and were served them in rapid order, along with our tea. Now this is what flexible dining is supposed to be like. Diners should have the option of taking as long or as little time as they wish with their dinner under a flexible format. I can well understand everyone having to stay together on the same courses in traditional dining. There tables of people are supposed to be dining together, and I can understand the wait staff wanting to keep everyone on the same course at the same time. But flexible dining should be – well – flexible.

Trisha and I got out of the dining room in plenty of time to get to the show lounge and snag some good seats. We have finally hit upon the perfect combination of dining that suits our cruising style:

The Pinnacle Grill is a great dining option for those evenings when the evening meal WILL BE the highlight of our evening. Nothing else will take precedence. At the Pinnacle we will enjoy each course in a leisurely fashion, without any particular desire to be anywhere else around the ship at any given time. If we want to see a show that evening – well, we’ll have to go to the later show if necessary, or just pass it up.

Then for those evenings when we don’t mind dressing up to at least a “Smart Casual” level, and we want to be served our dinner, we’ll opt for flexible dining in the lower level of the dining room. This is also a great option for when we either don’t want a full dinner, or when we have something else we want to do around the ship in the evening. We know we can somewhat control how long the meal will take, and we will still enjoy the luxury of having the waiters bring everything to us. Sweet.

Then for those nights when not even “Smart Casual” will do, or when, God Forbid, it is a formal night in the dining room and I cop an attitude about dressing up – even in my studded tee-shirt – we’ll go to the Lido where we can dine in shorts or running pants and enjoy pretty much the same food offerings that are being presented in the dining room that evening. The other nice thing about the Lido is that you can pick and choose. You don’t have to take everything that comes with the prime rib whether or not you like it. For example, I can’t stand most of the vegetables, so I simply get my prime rib only. Why should I have vegetables I have no intention of eating cluttering up my plate?

Another interesting thing is that Holland America must be running some sort of survey, trying to figure out where people are dining each evening, because whenever you appear at any dining venue, they ask for your cabin number and then input it into their computer system. This gives them good data on just how many people opting for traditional dining are actually spending most of their evenings dining in the Lido, and how many people are dining in the Pinnacle and how often, etc.

My personal hope is that Holland America’s data shows that a relatively large percentage of their passengers are opting for the Lido on formal nights – enough so that maybe HAL will one day eliminate their mandatory observance. But, of course, that will only happen if the majority wishes it to happen, and I have no idea what the majority truly prefers. Naturally, I have no access to HAL’s database.

Let’s take a moment here to talk about dress in the dining rooms as well. I went to the dining room on one formal night thus far. I wore my studded tee shirt, with a pair of velvet slacks and a black blazer over top. I can honestly say that I did not feel out of place at all. Sure, some people were dressed far more elaborately than me, but plenty were dressed no better, and in fact far less fancy, than I was. Many of the people I’ve spoken with around the ship expressed less than enthusiasm about dressing up on a Hawaii/South Pacific cruise, where casual would seem to be the natural order of things. Also, a few people I spoke with said that they didn’t even pack traditionally formal clothing due to airline baggage restrictions. Their plan was to eat in the Lido or via room service on all of the formal nights on our itinerary. I shared with them my personal opinion that I’ve often expressed on these boards. You don’t have to dress formal to “pass” and gain admission to the dining room. Just dress as though you took the time to care how you looked. Wear a nice blouse or a dress shirt and throw on a blazer or a jacket if you are a guy. A simple black dress or blouse and dark pants for a woman will do the trick quite nicely. Believe me, I cannot imagine (nor have I ever seen) anyone denied access to the dining room on a formal night dressed in such a manner. The only people I’ve ever seen directed to the Lido were the ones who made no effort whatsoever, choosing to come to the dining room in shorts or jeans, with a tee-shirt thrown over top – and even some of them make it in.

The face of cruising is changing, and a lot of people don’t want to see that. The traditionalists would prefer everything remain familiar – as they know it – with a fixed seating time in the dining room, set tablemates and regular waiters. They also want to see everyone dressed to the nines on formal nights, and dressed fancy on “smart casual” nights as well. Well, sadly folks, that is not going to happen – at least on the mass market and even premium lines, like Holland America. The median age range of today’s cruisers is coming down, and today’s cruisers are a more informal bunch. Sure there are some that will always like to dress up, and I had several folks also tell me that they love formal nights because they get a chance to wear clothes they don’t get to wear at home. Well, that’s fine. As I always say, if you want to dress up, why wait for the cruise line to tell you it’s okay? Declare your own formal nights and then everyone in your group dress to the nines on those nights regardless of how everyone else onboard the ship is dressed. It’s your vacation, right? But then respect those others who prefer a more casual ambience as well. Note, I’m not saying one should dress like a slob at dinner. Casual doesn’t mean that. But the person who prefers to slip on a nice pair of slacks, with perhaps a colorful “Aloha” shirt on a Hawaiian itinerary, should be able to do that – and it shouldn’t wreck anyone else’s cruise experience to be around them.

I for one like the options Holland America is offering today. Something for everybody. And the shocking thing is that I have made a complete 180 degree turn in my opinion of As You Wish Dining in the process. While I too was very much opposed to it initially, I now totally embrace it. I like to eat when I am ready to eat – not when the cruise line tells me it is time to eat. Also, getting to eat with a different group of people each night is nice too. You don’t have to worry about getting stuck with the same group of people every night, even though their company became “old” after the first week. On longer cruises, the variety of different tablemates can be an enriching experience. Also, I was originally concerned about how flexible dining would work with the solo cruiser. Would they get stuck dining alone most nights, while being shoved in with less than amicable tablemates on others? I needn’t have worried. A large table is always in the process of being formed, and the solo cruiser will actually have a hard time getting a table to themselves even if they wanted it. They would have to call to reserve it in advance if they were really determined to eat alone that evening.

So, from here on in, it’s flexible dining for me.

I’ll end this blog entry for now. It’s getting near dinnertime and I’m starting to get hungry. Bon Appetite!
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Old October 9th, 2008, 07:31 AM
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I knew you would come around eventually about as you wish dining!

I also think you make some excellent points about formal vs smart casual. I used to love getting all dressed up on formal nights. Now, I avoid them whenever possible. I just got tired of packing all the extra stuff for formal evenings...As I get older, I like to keep things simple!

Your description of why you cruise, "...vastness of the ocean..." was perfect. I don't cruise for the food, or even the destination-unless its Europe- I just love being on the water far away from the everyday world.

Continue to have a wonderful time, my friend!

Claudia
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Old October 10th, 2008, 08:27 PM
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Default As You Wish Flexible Dining for the Solo Passenger

I’ve often offered my criticism of As You Wish flexible dining. One of the major issues I had with flexible dining concerned single and solo travelers. What would become of them with such a format?

The main “draw” of flexible dining programs is that you can dine when and WITH WHOM you want. Well, where does that leave the single or solo traveler, I always wondered. For example, what happens if a single walks into the dining room at such a time when there is no larger table being formed with multiple groups? The single asks to be seated with others because they would prefer not to eat alone. Well, gee, everyone else in the dining room at that time would prefer to dine within their own groups. Now what happens with the single? Sure, they want to dine with others, but no one else in the dining room chooses to dine with them. Guess they get a table for one, right?

Last evening onboard the Statendam, I decided to try out dining solo in the flexible dining room. I went to dinner at an “off time,” around 7:30 or so. Clearly it wasn’t crowded. I told the matri ‘d I was a single, but gave him no dining preference. I wanted to see where he would put me left to his own devices.

I was shown to a table for four where there was already another woman seated. She had clearly just arrived because she didn’t even have a menu yet. We introduced ourselves, and I learned that she too was a solo traveler. Before we could make much small talk, another couple was seated with us, and we received menus.

Flexible dining isn’t the nightmare I thought it would be for the single traveler. I discussed it in depth with the other solo traveler at the table, who had been dining alone every night of the cruise so far. She loved flexible dining. She told me that on only one night so far in the cruise did she have to wait to be seated. They gave her a beeper and told her they would summon her when a table was ready, but she hung around the dining room area anyway. Then a short while later, she went back to the matri ‘d station and asked if she could be seated. She was then shown immediately to a table. All other nights during the cruise she said she experienced no wait at all.

She also told me that she enjoyed flexible dining because she had so far met a lot of interesting people during the cruise. She said that most people love eating with others, and those who don’t make reservations for smaller tables in advance. Those who just show up know they’re gonna be seated with others and they have no problem with it.

She told me that in her opinion flexible dining is even more beneficial to single travelers than it would be for others. While people traveling in couples or in groups are not as dependent on meeting others onboard – after all, they have each other to do things with – the single traveler really needs to meet the acquaintance of others in order to have a good cruise. Flexible dining provides the perfect opportunity for this. This woman told me that she is an independent traveler by nature, but it is sure nice to meet others for a bit of conversation to break up the “monotony” of always being on one’s own.

Just thought this would be some interesting information for CruiseMates many single and solo cruisers.

Blue skies ..

--rita
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Old October 10th, 2008, 08:32 PM
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Default Children Onboard?????

This is the second time I am doing this cruise, and I do notice one major difference between this and the last time. There are more children onboard this cruise.

On the Amsterdam in 2006, we had really only one toddler-aged child on the sailing. There was actually a second child on part of the sailing, but he was the child of an officer who was only traveling with his mother as far as Hawaii. We rarely saw him around the ship.

On this sailing, however, I am noticing a bit more children, including a couple of teens or “tweens,” a couple of young kids and even a couple of toddlers.

I can’t help but wonder – don’t some of these kids go to school? This cruise is a minimum of 30 days if you boarded in San Diego. What school system allows you to pull your kids out for 30 days? I had originally assumed the older ones were the products of home schooling, but we asked the one kid, maybe about age 12 or so, if he was being home schooled, and he said no. So much for my home school philosophy.

Of course, the whole basis of my shock at this situation could be pure jealously. My parents could never have afforded to take me on such a cruise when I was growing up, nor any sort of “elaborate” vacation. I am sure there is much to be learned on a sailing such as this, and I would assume that a parent deciding to bring their school-aged child on such a cruise would take advantage of the many and varied opportunities to teach the child about the cultures, people, and unique aspects of the far off places being visited. Just to imagine the opportunities for learning on a voyage such as this are mind-boggling to me, and I guess jealously would be a normal emotion for the “average joe” who never enjoyed these opportunities growing up.

But, then, I too have to wonder, is it good to pull a child out of school for such a long period of time? Can a Hawaii/South Pacific Islands cruise possibly be worth the missed opportunities for the kind of learning that can only take place in a classroom with one’s teachers and peers? Don’t the kids on a trip such as this miss a lot back home – sports teams, after school activities, bonding with friends and schoolmates, etc.?

Also, how much learning can truly go on while on a luxury cruise ship like the Statendam? Is this really the venue for a truly “educational” trip?

I’ve done extensive research into a program called Semester at Sea which is sponsored by the University of Virginia. This organization runs truly educational cruises where college-aged students get a semester’s worth of credit for spending three months or so at sea, visiting a limited number of ports, but spending several days in each. While at sea, these college students sit for actual classes, the same classes they would be taking if they were in their college classrooms back home. When they are in port, they engage in a wide variety of “field experiences,” that include such things as overnight home stays with a host family, cultural exchanges, service projects and even some fun activities like attending a local sporting event or entertainment venue unique to the country being visited. Also, Semester at Sea’s voyages go to truly exotic locales, such as China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. The opportunities for learning in these places is truly unlimited, and I cannot imagine anyone taking such a voyage or did not come home at the end of it a truly changed individual.

Semester at Sea is not just for college kids either. Adults can avail themselves of the program as well by signing on as a “Lifelong Learner.” The cost for adults to attend is quite competitive; far less than a “World Cruise” or a luxury cruise line would be, and the adults are welcome – no, in fact, encouraged – to sit in on any classes that they wish, and to become as involved as possible with the young people attending for college credit. Of course, since the adults are not getting college credit for the courses they sit in on, the price of their cruise is far less than what the young people would pay.

The lifelong learners also get cabins in an area of the ship separate from where the kids are housed, so they even have a refuge to which they can escape when they want some peace and quiet. The adults too can participate in the field program, and they can opt to work side-by-side with the students on various service projects and cultural exchange experiences.

A Semester at Sea type voyage would truly be an experience worth pulling any kid out of school for, and while I’ve not heard of younger kids participating, I cannot imagine the University having a problem with parents bringing their mature child along on such a sailing. This type of a voyage would truly be something that could open a young person’s eyes to the world around him, and it is something that even the most conservative school teacher would probably be enthusiastic about one of her pupils attending, especially if that pupil was a good student, with parents willing to take a proactive role in his educational development over the course of the Semester at Sea voyage.

But a Holland America cruise to Hawaii and the South Pacific? Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to consider that an “educational experience.” Can’t you just imagine a teacher rolling her eyes at the parent who came to school to remove their child for a month to make such a voyage, explaining that the destination for the child’s travels would be Hawaii and the South Pacific Islands? Somehow I think the teacher’s reaction would border on one of disgust.

There is nothing wrong with travel for children. In fact, any kind of travel can only benefit a child’s development into a productive adult. But there is a time and a place for that travel, in my “humble” opinion, and during the school year would not seem to be appropriate for destinations such as Hawaii. Wouldn’t summer vacation be the better time for that?

I’ve heard of several families being onboard World Cruises last year. While I was onboard the famed QE2 for a Transatlantic crossing in April of 2007, a sailing that was actually the last segment of their 2007 World Cruise, I heard a story about three families who had their children onboard the entire 100+ day voyage with them. Two of these families were homeschooling, while the third had a tutor along to see to their child’s educational needs. In a case like a World Voyage, with its variety of exotic and far off ports, no one can validly make the kids are being shortchanged on their educations. The opportunities for learning and enrichment on such a sailing would be incomparable to anything that could be offered in a classroom. And, if the parents are truly conscientious in their homeschooling responsibilities, the kids should be fine regardless of where they learn their lessons – especially if they don’t attend traditional schools while at home anyway.

But pulling kids out of school for a “fun” voyage like a Hawaii/South Pacific or a Caribbean or a Mexico sailing – especially one of long duration? I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit right with me, and it certainly doesn’t seem to be good for the kids – at least not in the long-run anyway.

But, enough about what I think. I’m not even a parent. What is your take on this? Do you think pulling kids out of school for two, three, four or more weeks to go on an extended cruise is a good idea? What about an “exotic” voyage such as a World Cruise or a sailing that it visiting countries far from your home one? Would you do it with your kids? Why or why not?
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Old October 14th, 2008, 06:58 AM
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Default Last Sea Days Enroute to the South Pacific

Wow! i am really running behind here -- so let's get this show on the road!

This is the second time I am doing this Hawaii/South Pacific itinerary and the reason I love it so much is not just the interesting island ports, but also the wonderful stretches of sea days in between. We are currently on our second “cluster” of them, heading toward the South Pacific. We are on the third day out of five, and the pace is wonderful.

I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast up in the Lido this morning. I am finding that I don’t eat a lot, just a nice variety of the things I most enjoy. It’s wonderful having that variety close at hand and being able to partake whenever I am hungry. At home I never have a “dammed” thing in the house, so I wind up having to go out and get anything I want before I can enjoy it. Just not as organized as I should be in my daily life. Too busy working for a living.

It’s funny, but I don’t find myself ordering room service much this cruise. On port days, I just grab a bite in the Lido before heading out on tour, and on sea days I don’t want any room service waiter waking me up. I prefer to just get up when I am ready – generally anywhere between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. – and eat in the Lido. I’ll have to make a point of ordering room service before the end of the cruise so that I can evaluate it’s efficiency for you folks.

A lot going on around the ship today. Lectures, “Dam Dollar” type events, spa and fitness classes, a future cruise presentation on the 2010 grand voyages (oh, Jesus – how I wish), unhosted games, afternoon tea – you name it. I spent the better part of the day attending some presentations and then sitting in the Ocean Bar with friends.

We have developed our little “smoker’s crowd” onboard. We usually run into each other in the smoking section of the Ocean Bar at all hours of the day. Whenever any one of us feels like some good conversation, we know we can go there and always run into a friendly face. We sometimes use the Crow’s Nest for this same purpose, but sadly often that’s not an option because for some reason the Crow’s Nest is often colder than a meat locker during the daytime when there’s not too many people gathered there. However, we do sometimes head there in the evenings for drinks.

We enjoyed our second dinner in the Pinnacle Grill this evening. As is always the case, the meal was delicious. However, they seem to have some sort of problem with air ventilation there. It becomes very warm once the restaurant gets full. Towards the end of the meal, it did start to cool down, but that was only after the staff called the engineering department after several complaints from diners, especially the ones at our table. I am fortunate in that I am not feeling the temperature problem. I am usually colder than most people, probably due to some of the medications I am taking right now. But poor Trisha and Virgil (my dining companions) were really suffering.

We also enjoyed lunch at the Pinnacle the other day – a first for our group. The lunch selection is very good, with several items to choose from. The Pinnacle Burger looked great, though I decided not to order this since I could see that it was way more than I would ever be able to eat. But others reported that it was absolutely delicious. I had the beef dish – basically a small steak. Perfect size for my appetite. They also have a selection of soups and salads to go along with the meals and the five mushroom soup was to die for.

I should also mention that the surcharge for dinner at the Pinnacle has been dropped back down to $20. It’s $10 for lunch. Breakfast in the Pinnacle is free, but is only open to luxury suite passengers. So, sorry, I won’t be able to give you a report on that. 

So, once again, it would be wise to decide when you want to dine there and then make your reservations early in the cruise. I would imagine reservations fill up rather quickly, as every time we’ve eaten there, the place has been pretty packed. Since we’re on a longer cruise, it hasn’t been difficult to get reservations, but I would imagine that on a seven or ten-day cruise, this could be a challenge. Our group early on selected four dates on which we wanted to have dinner there, and one date for lunch. We stopped by the restaurant and got all of our reservations made right after departing San Francisco – before the major crowd for the cruise got on in San Diego.

The casino is doing a hopping business this cruise. It’s funny, but everyone I talk to indicates that the slots are “tight,” yet every time I walk past, there seems to be a healthy crowd in there. I have a difficult time understanding that. Wouldn’t it be better to just take the $20 or whatever you plan to lose, and just toss it into a collection box – maybe for a maritime charity? Okay, it’s just me. Maybe I’m just being a sore loser. I had decided to try the slots – figured everyone else was having so much fun, maybe there was something I was missing. Within five minutes I had burned through $20 bucks with nothing to show for it. I told Trisha that it reminded me of a vending machine that doesn’t give up the item you put your money in to get. Most sensible people will maybe bang on the machine a few times, or even put another dollar in hoping to force the “stuck” item to drop and get two candy bars instead of one. But no one is stupid enough to keep putting dollar after dollar in – getting nothing out in return. That’s how I felt playing this slot machine -- $1.25 in – very little if anything out – before I knew it – GAME OVER! You’ve gotta be kidding! I’d rather use the money for cocktail cards!

I do want to try Bingo, though, at some point before the end of this cruise. Believe it or not, I’ve never played Bingo on a cruise ship, but it sure looks like people are having fun with it. On sea days, they run two separate Bingo sessions – one at 11:30 a.m. and another at 4:00. Sometimes these will have “themes” attached to them. Today’s looked interesting. They had something called Bathrobe/Shower Cap Snowball Jackpot Bingo. I couldn’t understand why all these people were running around in the Atrium in nothing but their bathrobes until I realized they were having this event. Maybe I can talk them into doing “Formal Night Buster” Bingo – everyone coming in their sloppiest tee-shirts and shorts to play on a Formal Night? Would work for me! Maybe they could even host the game in the dining room!

On sea days there are also a couple of lectures as part of the Explorations Speaker Series. One guy, Warren Salinger, is doing an eight-lecture series about global issues and today’s offering was called Asean – Ten Southeast Asian Nations in a Major World Role. Sounds a lot like a college lecture to me, and I got more than my fill of them studying for my Bachelor’s, Master’s and Law Degree. No thanks. Another lecturer, Melvyn Foster, did a presentation entitled “Island and Islanders of the Pacific: French Polynesia.” That looks much better and I will have to catch it on the tv today. That’s the nice thing about all these talks. You don’t have to worry about making them when they are presented in the lounge or the theater because each one is run repeatedly on the in-cabin televisions as well. I prefer to watch them there so that I don’t have to be embarrassed if I fall asleep. With all the good eating around this ship, that has become a real concern for me.

The show this evening was pretty interesting. I’m not real big on shows, but tonight’s piqued my interest. I originally wasn’t going to bother attending, but decided at the last minute to head out for the 10:00 p.m. show and see what it was about. The show was called “A Man and His Duck” – Ken and Casey, and it was a hoot. I originally assumed it was a live duck that Ken was working with, because the description of the show wasn’t very clear on that point. Turns out Ken is a ventriloquist – or “vent,” as he likes to say – and his show is absolutely hilarious. I won’t give away too much, but if you ever get a chance to see these guys – either on a ship or on television – don’t miss it. I was literally rolling in the aisles.

As I sit here and write this, I am happy to report that we’ve finally gotten a little “bouncy bounce” on this cruise. I cornered Captain Jack in the Ocean Bar last night and asked him if he could prevail upon the weather gods for a bit of movement, but other passengers within earshot quickly shushed me. They are perfectly happy with smooth seas and don’t want me “rocking the boat.” Woussies! But apparently someone heard my plea. We’re not getting a whole lot of motion, but at least some. I am anticipating being rocked to sleep a bit as the gentle lapping of the swells can clearly be felt as I sit here in my cabin writing this. Finally!

Well, it’s another full day tomorrow, including our Crossing of the Equator Ceremony. We actually crossed this equator this evening, but King Neptune agreed to let us hold the ceremony by daylight. So it will be held on Thursday instead. I’ll write more about it in tomorrow’s blog entry, but suffice to say it’s a fun event that is only held on ships whose itineraries take them across the equator. This is my second such cruise, so I know the ceremony will be just as memorable as it was on the Amsterdam. All passengers will receive a certificate as well, signed by the Captain, and indicating their induction into the order of Shellbacks – no longer to be considered a Pollywog. Fun stuff!
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