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  #61 (permalink)  
Old October 14th, 2008, 06:59 AM
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Default Crossing the Equator

Oops! I’m running behindhere!

Let’s start with the crossing of the equator.

If you’ve never crossed the equator while on a cruse, you need to go right out and book something that will get you this experience, because it is unique.

Lore of old has it that King Neptune controls the seas, and only he can declare a ship and its crew seaworthy to cross the equator. Only he has the authority to grant Shellback status to those former Pollywogs – people who have never crossed the equator before.

Ships of old had elaborate ceremonies for crossing the equator. Military vessels had traditions bordering on hazing that they put the pollywogs through upon their first crossing of the equator. Some of these involved forcing them to crawl through all manner of noxious materials, including engine oil and garbage from the galley, in order to prove their seaworthiness. After enduring these indignities, they were made to kiss the bosin’s belly before their “hazing” ordeal was complete.

Of course, today we have become more civilized, and these ceremonies have been toned down even on military vessels. On modern cruise ships today, the ceremony for passengers is pretty much one of watching the crew’s initiation into the order of Shellbacks. And even their ordeal is nothing like it was in days gone by. In fact, today it is actually a fun experience for them to go through.

At a crossing of the equator ceremony, all crew members who have never made a crossing before participate. The event is held at the aft pool area and they are paraded before King Neptune, who lists their various crimes (things like a cabin steward who maybe “hoarded” pillow chocolates, or a front office person accused of dispensing laxatives in place of seasickness medication) and then sentences them to be punished for their actions. The “punishment” involves being “slimed” with all manner of leftover food from the galley – things like spaghetti, lettuce and other slime-like items of unknown origin, in a variety of colors. But, before they can be “slimed” they must first “kiss the fish.” Good lord, this would be the hardest part for me. This fish that they must kiss has been baking in the hot sun, for probably a good hour before the ceremony. It is clearly the biggest, ugliest looking thing that the cook and his assistants could find – often an ugly monkfish, but in this case a large tuna – that would be the last thing anyone in their right mind would want to get near to, let alone kiss.

Sometimes King Neptune wants a long, lingering kiss -- and all the passengers lining both side of the aft deck will chant “kiss the fish,” “kiss the fish” – over and over again, as the poor condemned pollywog will pucker his lips and hold his breath until he is practically turning blue. Then he will be turned over to the doctors and nurses for his “sliming.” Some deck officers were made to wear these large rubber buoyancy suits. Not only will they be slimed, but their suits will be unzipped as well, with all manner of garbage being poured inside.

Then they are turned over to the captain and senior officers. King Neptune will ask – shall they be thrown into the pool to sink or left on deck to stink? The officers will turn a thumbs up or a thumbs down to determine their fate. If they are left on deck, they have to sit there, baking in the sun, until the ceremony is complete, only after which they will be tossed into the pool with their luckier comrades who got to wash off right after their own “sliming.”

The whole crossing the equator ceremony is done in good fun and it is clear that passengers and crew members alike enjoy it. It is harmless fun and no one is placed at any risk of harm (unlike years gone by).

Passengers begin staking out their spots on the aft deck hours before the ceremony begins, and probably a good 80% of the passengers are in attendance for the ceremony itself – making that aft deck a very crowded place.

Commemorative tee-shirts are sold, and this process was a sporting event in and of itself. Apparently, Holland America gets the supply that Seattle sends them, and this supply was far from adequate. Once the tee-shirts were put out onto the table (along with lots of other designs) it became literally a feeding frenzy with everyone trying to snag one. The store clerks were helpless to stop people from grabbing them before they were “officially” on sale. The inadequate supply was sold out within minutes, with several near fistfights breaking out among passengers. Of course, this was quite entertaining to watch. Personally, I think they should have been raffled off for charity, especially since the supply available was nowhere near enough to satisfy the people who wanted to purchase one.

Getting photos and video was also a form of blood sport. As I tried to maneuver to a good spot to fire off a couple of quick photos, a woman taking video behind me became quite perturbed. She actually kicked me in the ass when I got into her shot. If she wasn’t somewhat elderly, I might have been tempted to toss her into the pool. But I minded my manners and simply moved out of her way after sweetly thanking her for her “courtesy.”

Other people around the pool got upset because passengers in wheelchairs and scooters claimed prime spots directly in front of the pool, and situated their power chairs in such a way that no one could possibly walk in front of them. I saw one person almost drop his camera into the pool trying, before he gave up and moved in behind the person in the wheelchair. Of course, it was those wheelchair passengers who clearly had the best view and the best photo ops. The rest of us got some pictures, but ours had numerous heads, hands, faces, etc. in our shots. I even saw people snap at the “official” HAL photographers and videographers who were trying to film the event, and even going so far as to try and push them out of their way. God, is getting a clear photo that important? Frankly, I’d rather just enjoy the event.

At the end of the ceremony, the tuna was left in place so that passengers who wished to get photos kissing it could do so. By now, the ice placed around it had all melted since that thing had been out in the hot sun baking for a couple of hours. I could only imagine the stink. I can’t help but wonder – in this day and age of the cruise lines cutting back on food expenditures, will that thing do double duty as the featured entrée on a future dinner menu? I know I won’t be ordering tuna anytime soon!

So, despite the crowds and even the pushing and shoving for tee-shirts and photos, the Crossing the Equator Ceremony was great fun. We all received a certificate in our cabins later on this evening commemorating our conversion from Pollywogs to Shellbacks, and confirming that we have been found seaworthy by King Neptune himself. This is the second time I’ve crossed the equator on a HAL ship (the first being on the Amsterdam in 2006), but I doubt I’ll ever tire of enjoying all of the pageantry and good fun of an equator crossing – as long as I don’t have to “kiss the fish,” of course.
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  #62 (permalink)  
Old October 14th, 2008, 04:52 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 1

hi Rita
my wife Ann and i will be taking that
cruise leaving from San Diego on 01/04/2009 looking forward to your cruise post

ja granato
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  #63 (permalink)  
Old October 15th, 2008, 10:18 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 516

hicker89-Welcome to the message boards! We will also be sailing on the Ryndam Jan. 4, 2009 sailing.

Rita: Enjoying your posts so much! Makes our trip seem so much more real. We are under 90 days now! Keep the post coming!

NCL Dawn (Repo 14 nite) 11-1-09
RCCL Mariner of the Sea (Mexican Riviera) 4-18-10
1 FFC--Princess

19 finished cruises to date!
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  #64 (permalink)  
Old October 15th, 2008, 12:50 PM
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Location: Philadelphia, PA
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Originally Posted by debshomespun
hicker89-Welcome to the message boards! We will also be sailing on the Ryndam Jan. 4, 2009 sailing.

Rita: Enjoying your posts so much! Makes our trip seem so much more real. We are under 90 days now! Keep the post coming!
And as my sailing winds down to the final week and a half, you and hicker89 are both making me jealous. I sure wish I could do it again in January. Trust me, you are both going to love it!

Blue skies ...

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  #65 (permalink)  
Old October 15th, 2008, 12:53 PM
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Default South Pacific Ports of Raiatea and Bora Bora

Sorry I’ve been a bit lax in putting up new entries. It's just that we are in the midst of a spate of port days and time at this computer is limited. But we'll be heading into a couple of days at sea shortly, and I promise to get all caught up, okay?

We arrived in the South Pacific two days ago, and I’ve been running non-stop ever since.

Our first port was Raiatea in the Society Islands. Raiatea is known as the sacred island because of all the open air temples or “marae” that can be found here. The people of French Polynesia have a sacred past and then, as is today, they are a religious people. Whereas before they worshiped various Gods, such as Oro, the bloodthirsty God of War, today they are mostly Christian and they take their religion very seriously. For example, most stores and restaurants are closed on Sundays so that the islanders in all of French Polynesia can go to Church. And that even includes when a cruise ship is in port – something the peoples of these islands don’t get everyday. In fact, according to our tour guide in Raiatea, they only get cruise ships about once a month, and Holland America only stops maybe two to three times a year. So, giving up tourist revenue on Sundays shows how seriously they take their worship responsibilities. The woman leading our tour told me that if I really wanted to see something truly unique and beautiful to attend a church service on the Polynesian island we would be at on Sunday (we were in Raiatea on a Saturday). Sadly I was unable to do this due to having a tour scheduled, though I did peek in at the Church located right near the pier in Bora Bora on the next day.

The tour I did in Raiatea was called “Raiatea Highlight” and thankfully this tour was done via an air conditioned bus. I learned my lesson when I was here two years ago, touring around in Raiatea’s version of “Le Truck” – a primitive open air bus with no air conditioning or pa system, and hard wooden beaches to sit on. By the time that tour was over, my back was killing me. So this time, I looked for something that would provide the creature comforts that make taking a tour so much more pleasurable.

On this tour we pretty much covered the entire island, which is rather small. The highlight however was a visit to the island’s botanical garden, where we took a “nature walk” through the winding paths that made up this beautiful estate. We got to see the Tiara flower, which is an extremely rare flower that only grows on this island, as well as a variety of other plant and flower species. We also got to see the Nono, a fruit which is reputed to have special curative powers. It sure stinks, though. Since this was only a half-day tour we were not provided with a lunch, but we did have a refreshment stop where a variety of fruits and juices were offered to us, as well as various demonstrations such as tying a pareo and breaking open a coconut in order to enjoy the rich nectar inside.

Certainly this was a wonderful way to spend the day while learning a bit about these wonderful island people. Sadly, while they enjoy life surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth, they don’t have it easy by a long shot. Their unemployment rate is around 17%, and most of the islanders who are fortunate enough to have jobs work several of them. Our guide, Summer, came to Raiatea from San Diego about ten years ago when she married an islander. They have two children, ages 4 and ten. She told me that while cable television is available on the island, it is quite expensive and only provides for some 25 or so channels. Without cable, they can only get two stations, both of which provide for mostly news and public affairs and broadcast in French. She told me that she has no cable in her house, instead preferring to share family time by doing such things as exploring the natural wonders of their island, as well as playing and working together. She does have a television set that is hooked up to a DVD player for movies, but no cable television hookup.

Summer told me that she and her husband both work multiple jobs, in additional to raising their children. She works full-time at a Pearl Farm, as well as part-time as a tour guide. She and her husband also run a landscaping business together.

While tourism is an important industry on the island, unfortunately, it is not large enough for them to subsist on. That is why the islanders must work in other industries (such as pearl farming) in order to make ends meet.

Pearl farms are big business throughout the South Pacific, and all along the waterfront you can see the little shacks the pearl farmers use in their work. At just about every pier where the cruise ships bring tourists in, there are multiple Tahitian black pearl vendors hawking their wares, including offering free shuttles to their showrooms. For someone who appreciates fine jewelry, the South Pacific can be worth the expense of the trip just to snag some good deals on these rare and beautiful pieces.

After a full day in Raiatea, we sailed onward for a two-day stay in Bora Bora. Here I decided to primarily do snorkeling type excursions, rather than island tours which I did the last time I was here two years ago.

On the first day, I went on a neat excursion to the “Lagoonarium.” This unique facility is located on a remote islet or “motu.” Here they have three separate enclosed pens where one can swim with a variety of marine animals including sharks, stingrays, various multi-colored fish and more. There is also a pen with turtles that we were able to closely observe, but these we could not actually swim with due to their rather nasty habit of biting people.

It was wonderful to swim in these pens, surrounded by all manner of brightly colored fish and big friendly stingrays who had no problem gliding all around the swimmers. Some of these rays were rather large, and we were told that they were also friendly and harmless. Crikey! (Sorry, poor attempt at humor, but memories of the naturalist Steve Irwin were certainly on peoples’ minds – though our guides assured us these rays were harmless and enjoyed swimming with humans.)

In addition to the time we spent at the Lagoonarium itself was the tour we got of the entire island of Bora Bora. We got to see the resort complexes of the major hotel chains, with their rows upon rows of grass huts made into over the water bungalows. Many of these “units” rent for amounts in excess of $1,000 per night, and are part of truly luxury hotels. Imagine ordering room service and having it delivered by canoe! These over the water bungalows are truly an isolated slice of paradise available to anyone who desires some seclusion from the outside world, and has the money to pay for it. The property on which they are built is private and only accessible by boat, virtually guaranteeing at least a modicum of privacy for those staying in them.

Since we were overnighting in Bora Bora, several of us got the idea it might be kind of fun to visit Bloody Mary’s that evening. Alas, those plans were quickly put to rest as we found out that Bloody Mary’s was closed on Sundays. The funny thing about Bora Bora is the fact that we overnight here at all. There really is nothing much to do on the island after dark, unless you want to head to some of the resort complexes for a drink or dinner – something you could just as easily do on the ship. Tenders ran continuously from the time we anchored out in the lagoon, until 11:30 p.m. – and then picked up again the next morning at around 7:00 a.m. until “all aboard” at 5:30 or so.

On our second day in Bora Bora I did an excursion that I did when I was first here a few years ago – the Shark and Ray Feeding. This is a neat snorkeling trip where you swim at a reef that is teeming with a great variety of marine life, including sharks (harmless reef sharks) and stingrays. The guides generously feed them from a large bucket, which brings more and more of them around. I have never swam among so many stingrays in my life. They were coming up between my legs and all around my body. The guides were also showing us how to kiss them and play with them in the water. We also viewed a variety of multi-colored fish which made it look like we were swimming inside of a huge aquarium – the sheer proliferation of colors was absolutely beautiful!

The only problem I had with this excursion is some difficulty getting on and off the boat due to the necessity of negotiating a rather steep ladder, but the guides were ever so helpful assisting anyone who was having a problem. Of course, this didn’t prevent me – klutz that I am – from badly pulling some muscles in my left arm when I slipped coming down on one occasion and fell the rest of the way, almost knocking over one of the guides.

After snorkeling with the stingrays and sharks, our guides took us on a tour of the coral gardens. In order to minimize any damage to the coral, several of us hung onto an orange life ring, while our guides pulled us along. This way we were able to keep our feet floating on the top of the water, rather than stepping onto the delicate coral formations.

I got dozens upon dozens of underwater photos, and these snorkeling excursions made me regret not having an underwater digital camera. I had to use regular disposable film cameras for this purpose, but I will get the photos “developed” onto CD ROM disks.

After our snorkeling excursion was over, we were served refreshments on a nearby motu. Fresh fruit, including bananas, coconuts and a variety of other delicacies were provided, while we had the opportunity to enjoy one last swim in the beautiful warm waters surrounding the motu. We could even see a proliferation of small fish in these waters, and it was truly a paradise none of us wanted to leave.

Once we were returned to the dock, I met up with Trisha and Virgil of Cruise Critic for a visit to the world famous Bloody Mary’s. This restaurant is known the world over for, you guessed it, their Bloody Mary’s. They are also known for good food and many other exotic drinks. The restaurant was named for a woman of the Island, Mary, who chewed on berries that made her entire mouth red. Hence, the name Bloody Mary, and the restaurant that was named in her honor.

I had never been to this place, but had heard a lot of stories about it. The restaurant is unique in that the entire floor is comprised of sand. You take off your shoes when you enter, and the only footwear that is acceptable is perhaps sandals or water shoes, or flip flops. Most people even kick those off as well.

The lunch menu is not terribly extensive, but is filled with all the favorites such as cheeseburgers and hamburgers, seafood items, and a variety of other sandwiches and finger foods. The drink menu is probably the more varied one, and the prices were quite high. I paid over $10 for a rather simple cheeseburger, with fries – and a whooping $15 for a pina colada of average size. I could have gotten the same thing on the Statendam for half that. But, it was probably more the ambience and the experience of the place that we were paying for, and that was certainly worth every nickel. When you enter the restaurant, you pass by a wooden plaque listing the names of many of the “famous” people who have dined there. These include show business, political and other luminaries whose names are pretty much household words. There is also another display inside of dollar bills, signed by many of the patrons who have visited the restaurant over the years. I’d bet there are several thousand dollars worth of these bills on that one wall display.

Another thing not to be missed around the restaurant are the variety of tiki carvings, including the guy with the extremely long tongue. Beautiful flowers also abound the entire property and provide for many wonderful photo opportunities.

But the thing truly not to be missed is a trip to the Men’s Room. Yes, regardless of your sex, you’ve got to stop in there. If you’re a lady, get a guy to take you in. They have a urinal flush handle that is definitely worth a photograph – and, yes, even a fantasy for us ladies.

I’m glad I can now say I’ve been to the famous Bloody Mary’s – and, yes, even sprang $30 bucks for the tee-shirt! But, don’t know if I’d go back there because it was quite expensive. After all, $40 bucks or so for lunch is a bit pricey, at least according to my standards – not to mention the tee-shirt and “Le Truck” transport of $10 bucks roundtrip – but it was certainly worth the experience. Next time I get out this way, though, I think I’d like to try visiting some of the fancy hotel properties around the island. I hear many of them are worth the visit too.

I was so exhausted by the time I got back to the ship this afternoon that all I could think about was a hot shower and a restful nap. This day was particularly full, and I was on the go from early morning almost up to the all aboard time. I was sleeping so soundly that when an announcement came through the pa system looking for the “bosin and sailors” to heave the stern anchor, in my groggy condition, I had to think for a minute “am I the bosin?” – “Naaaaaaah, that’s not my job” – roll over and back to dream land.

Tonight Trisha and I enjoyed a delicious dinner in the main dining room. Our Matri ‘d, Kristin, snagged for us a nice, quiet table for two, where we had a chance for a quiet meal, just reminiscing about the wonderful experiences of the past two days, and the new adventures to come tomorrow in Papeete, Tahiti. Sometimes it is fun to join others at a large table, but we were both very tired this evening and really didn’t want to have to make conversation with others. We just wanted to enjoy a relaxing meal so that we could turn in early. My shoulder and chest were really hurting from some muscles I pulled while getting of the snorkeling boat today, and I just wanted to take something and go to bed – something that will work extra well with the wine consumed at dinner. There’s another full two days on the horizon and I want to be able to enjoy them.

As I sit here in front of this computer at about 2:00 a.m. we are heading toward Papeete and the new adventures that will await us there. Papeete, too, will be an all day/all night port stay. We arrive at around 8:00 a.m., and thankfully dock (no tendering in Papette). We will remain in port until 5:00 a.m. the next morning, when we will move over to Moorea, where we are scheduled to anchor by 8:00 a.m. – obviously Moorea is not very far removed from Papeete if we can make it there in a mere three hours time. We will be doing another snorkeling excursion in Papeete, something called Tahiti Lagoon Discovery, which Trisha promises I will enjoy. Later on that evening, we will visit the grand market, where I am told one can buy just about anything, and probably even grab a bite to eat at one of the “lunch trucks” – or what we refer to at home as “roach coaches,” though I am told they are much more fancy here, some of them even manned by chefs!

So, our adventures in the South Pacific continue, and I’ll be sure to provide another entry in this ongoing travelogue tomorrow. Until then, sweet dreams!
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  #66 (permalink)  
Old October 17th, 2008, 06:17 PM
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First Mate
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 390

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  #67 (permalink)  
Old October 17th, 2008, 07:11 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Posts: 1,139

Originally Posted by hombre
Sorry about the misspelling of Thai. The problem here is that I am working on an antiquated version of Word that does not have a spell checker. To look up all the spellings that I would normally check at home would simply take too much time. Internet access is quite expensive onboard, so I am trying to make the most of the time I have available.

As for the Falls, the way the steps winded around, some were actually up. There were quite a few to get to the falls, and then two options for getting back -- making a circular trip which was the more difficult route, or backtracking the way we came. Our guide told us that backtracking was the easier of the two routes. Personally, I think the easier route would have been the one I took the next day in Kona -- viewing the falls from the comfort of a helicopter!

As for the ship, we were told it was -- I believe -- the Volendam. Again, going back to check this will use valuable internet time. If I were at home, I would have carefully checked these facts by checking some other websites. Holland America offers free access on their website, but the speed is incredibly slow. I'll be happy to check this fact once I get home.

I am just trying to present a report here that will give people a flavor for what it is like to take a longer cruise that has lots of days at sea, along with some interesting ports. I guess maybe I am trying to write these posts as a voyager, because that is how I perceive many people are reading them. When I want to write like a "writer," I do special articles.

I am thoroughly enjoying writing entries to this blog, and reading the entries others make. I hope you are enjoying it as well.

Blue skies and wonderful travels!

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  #68 (permalink)  
Old October 17th, 2008, 07:14 PM
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Default Cabin Stewards to Work in Teams Coming Soon

Interesting Tidbit

Heard a story today – wonder what you all think about it. Holland America is instituting a new procedure with their cabin stewards which is beginning to roll out across the fleet this month. In the case of the Statendam, it will start on the 25th – the Volendam will have it beginning on the 26th.

This new set-up has the cabin stewards organized into teams -- one cabin steward and one lead steward. Between them they will have about 30 cabins to service on a twice daily basis. Some of the cabin stewards are not too happy about this because they think it may denigrate the level of service they are able to give to their passengers. And, that – in turn – could result in lesser tips and thus less money in their pockets at the end of the month.

Off the cuff, it would appear to me that it shouldn’t make much of a difference in service levels – you have two people doing those 30 cabins, whereas now you have one doing as many as 15. But then, what do I know?

From what I’ve been told by people in the know, a lot of large hotels work on this sort of a system, with teams handling the cleaning of rooms. “It’s the standard in the industry,” responded Cate O’Keefe, Housekeeping Manager on the Statendam. “The workloads the stewards have remain the same under the new system, it’s just that now more training can take place.”

Cate told me that sadly some cabin stewards are very shy by nature, and occasionally this innate shyness results in them not interacting with passengers as much as they should. Especially for those on their first contracts, oftentimes they are not real sure of their English and they tend to avert their eyes when passing guests in the hallways, rather than making eye contact and greeting them. They don’t intend to be rude, but sometimes it appears that way.

Under the new system, Cate said, the cabin stewards will be paired up into teams, with one person designated as the lead. New or lesser experienced stewards will be paired with a more skilled one with the idea being lots of on the job training and mentoring taking place. “In many cases,” Cate stated, “it was a close call as to who would be the lead and who the cabin steward. But in others, a relatively inexperienced steward, perhaps one on their first contract, will be paired with someone with years of experience.”

I asked Cate if the leads would simply be delegating most of the “scut” work to the lesser experienced stewards, resulting in the double the work for the less senior member of the team. “Not at all,” Cate was quick to assure me. “Under this new system, it will actually work out that cabins will get serviced much quicker. The team will service about 30 cabins. They will start with the beds. Working together they will make beds, sometimes stripping the linens and rotating the mattresses. This is very heavy work that cabin stewards must accomplish on their own now. With two, it will go much faster, in addition to being a lot easier on their backs.

“Next the stewards will split up. One will take the bathroom while the other will handle the living area and balcony. This streamlining of tasks will result in staterooms getting cleaned faster, as well as cutting down on ‘cross-contamination.’”

Huh? Cross-contamination?

“Yep. When one steward cleans both the bathroom and the living area, you could have germs spread into the living areas from the bathroom, which would more likely be the source of most of the germs onboard anyway. Having any potential for cross-contamination naturally increases the risk of Noro virus being spread onboard.”

Cate told me that the last time the Statendam had a “code red” situation (major incidence of Noro virus) was before she took over as head of the housekeeping department. “I am really big on hand washing and sanitizing. I’m the one that put the Purell dispensers all over the ship. In fact, you can’t get past them no matter where you go. You’ll find them at elevator lobbies, at the entrance to all eating venues, at the gangway, and in just about all public areas around the ship. My people are instructed to politely remind passengers to use them before entering public areas, such as the Lido. And for those who say Purell does nothing to kill the Noro Virus, they need to think again. Purell has a new product, which is what we use exclusively onboard now, that is specifically concentrated to kill the germs that cause Noro Virus. All we need is for passengers to use them, and we are having great success with that as evidenced by the fact that we haven’t even gone to Code Yellow in a number of years.”

As for how this new system will affect the compensation earned by the cabin stewards, Cate was quick to point out that it will only benefit them. “Naturally the lead stewards will get more in the way of salary to compensate them for taking the time to train and mentor lesser experienced stewards. However, even the regular cabin stewards will see a monthly raise as a result of this new team approach.”

Cate told me that she held a meeting a few days ago with the housekeeping staff onboard the Statendam. “At that meeting I gave them all a hand-out that carefully describes the new system. I asked them to spend a couple of days reading it and discussing it among themselves. Grumble, groan and come up with all your arguments and questions, I told them. Then, in a couple of more days, we’ll hold some more meetings where we invite them to air those questions and concerns. Frankly, I’m willing to bet that most of them will agree that this new system is a win-win situation for all.”

Cate was frankly surprised that anyone would think the system could hurt them or the guests they serve. “I think that may have been an ‘off the cuff’ reaction by either staff or guests who don’t have all the facts yet, or haven’t had a chance to digest them,” she added. She is confident this new system will promote a sense of teamwork among her staff, as well as reduce the amount of time it will take for them to complete their daily tasks.

“As you can imagine, it takes a substantial amount of time to service each stateroom twice a day, especially in some of the larger suites. It is hoped that this new approach will actually streamline the work, while improving the quality of the cabin service our guests experience.”

Of course, it’s hard for me to judge if this new approach will really work, though based on historical performance, I would tend to think it’s goal is to, if anything, increase the amount of income these hardworking folks can earn, by increasing the level of guest satisfaction. For example, many cruise message board posters have long criticized the auto-tip program – from the day it was first implemented. I, on the other hand, have often been the lone voice saying that it probably actually had a major impact on ensuring that these hardworking crew members received a fair wage. Let’s face it -- there are loads of very cheap people out there who would have no hesitation about “stiffing” their hard working cabin steward or waiters. The auto-tip makes it a bit more uncomfortable for them to do that, and thus probably discourages the practice. Cate agreed with this summary, though she did admit that there are still some guests, especially on longer cruises, who reduce their auto-tips – believing them to be entirely too high an amount. $10 per day too high? For the service we are getting?

Hopefully this new system will allow the cabin stewards the luxury of more time to give an even greater level of attentive service to their guests. This can only benefit them financially, while making us – the passengers – even more spoiled while onboard ship.

But getting back to my original question: What do you think? CruiseMates would really like to know.
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Old October 17th, 2008, 07:20 PM
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Location: Philadelphia, PA
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Default "Twofer"

Another interesting tidbit.

As you may know, I usually purchase cocktail cards prior to my cruises. These cards are good for ten signature cocktails at a rate of approximately $1.00 cheaper per cocktail. However, HAL has started something new which actually makes it cheaper to pay full price for drinks.

HAL is now having “Happy Hour” in the lounges. Signature Cocktails are 2 for 1 for an hour each day. However, you can’t use your cocktail card, having to pay full price for your first cocktail, and getting the second one free. Both cocktails must be the same.

It’s a great deal as long as you can drink two cocktails (no problem!) or you and your traveling companion like the same drink.

HAL started these “happy hours” about mid-way through the cruise, and they seem to be going over very well. The lounges are packed during the happy hours, which times differ for each lounge. For example, in the Ocean Bar happy hour is usually between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. In the Crow’s Nest it is between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. A new development, a “non-smoking happy hour,” has been instituted for the piano bar between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

The way it’s been working out for me is that I’m paying about $7.32 (with gratuity) for a tropical cable car and getting two. I usually go to the Ocean Bar’s happy hour on a daily basis. With the cocktail card, during regular hours, I would be spending approximately $6.00 per cocktail. So, it is easy to see why these Happy Hour events have been so popular. I know the Ocean Bar has been packed between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., and while I haven’t attended too many in the Crow’s Nest, I hear it is mobbed up there too during their Happy Hour promotions.

Just thought you’d want to know – drinking onboard just got a bit cheaper – and that’s always a good thing.
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Old October 17th, 2008, 08:56 PM
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Default Papeete

Let’s update this report. We’ll start with our day in Papette.

We spent a full day here; in fact, longer than a day – actually from morning until 5:00 a.m. the next morning. This allowed for a leisurely stay, with no need to rush back to the ship. Though, I still can’t understand why we stay docked until 5:00 a.m. There surely isn’t much to do here after nightfall.

A group of us started off our day with the Tahiti Lagoon Discovery snorkel excursion. This tour allowed us to combine sightseeing, with dolphin watching, with snorkeling at two separate spots. We started off with a leisurely tour over the blue waters of Tahiti. These waters are unlike any others I’ve seen in the world. The combination of rich blue and aqua green waters is truly an amazing sight. In the more shallow areas, you could see large coral reefs clearly from the surface. As we were heading out to our first snorkel spot, a large pod of dolphins began following our boat, breaking to the surface very close by. Our captain cut the engines and we simply floated there watching the dolphins all around us. Taking photos, though, is a challenge, and I discovered that the best way to do it is to simply shoot photos of the water, hoping the dolphins would break to the surface just as you pressed the shutter release. Fortunately, in this modern age of digital photography, such a technique is quite practical, since bad shots can simply be deleted or not printed.

After the dolphins had moved far out into the distance, we headed to our first snorkel spot. This spot was in deeper water, with much to see in the way of sea life. There is also an airplane submerged about ten feet down and some folks were lucky enough to be able to view this. I, unfortunately had a bit of a problem in that I did not have fins. While the excursion operator provided snorkels and masks, they did not have fins onboard the boat. Only those who had brought their own had use of them, and this left the rest of us at some disadvantage. Due to a pretty strong current at this location, it became very difficult to stay on course and the snorkel operators had to come out and “rescue” several of us who began drifting far from the boat. Were it not for them, I would have been blown clear back to the shoreline. This particular snorkel spot was close to the airport, and hence the submerged airplane. While I am sure the plane was intentionally sunk at this particular location, our guides told us that the plane had apparently missed the airport and went down in the drink. The unfortunate pilot had simply run out of gas. He also stated that when the plane went down, all occupants had fortunately escaped without injury.

Our next snorkel stop, however, was far more productive – at least for me. Here we snorkeled in much shallower water, amongst a proliferation of coral reefs replete with lots of colorful fish living in and around the coral. I tried to make up for lost time here, snapping off dozens of underwater photos – and only returning to the boat after repeated whistles from the crew who were ready to pull anchor and head back to shore. The water was so warm here, and the surroundings so beautiful, I hated to leave. Tahiti is truly a slice of paradise, right here on Earth – a far cry from anything I am used to in my daily life.

On the way back to shore, the boat crew treated to a selection of exotic fruits and juices, as well as tales of their lives in Tahiti. We got to view the elaborate hotel properties along the shoreline, each with a large variety of over the water bungalows attached. In Bora Bora, we heard that some passengers had made advance arrangements to rent these type of accommodations and spend the night we were anchored there off the ship. Different prices for these units were bandied about, but the one I heard most often was roughly $1,000 per night. However, depending upon how secluded one’s bungalow was often determined the specific price it commanded for a night’s rent. Clearly these bungalows along the shores of Tahiti were no less expensive, though I doubt many of the Statendam’s passengers opted to stay in them. We were sailing over to Moorea at 5:00 a.m., though they could have easily caught up with the ship in Moorea since the distance needing to be traveled to get there was quite a short one. We left Papeete at 5:00 a.m. and anchored out in the bay adjacent to Moorea before 8:00.

Once back onshore, and after a quick stop at the Statendam to change clothes, a group of us headed out to the Grand Marche (or market). This is an interesting place where the locals do most of their shopping. In this large two-story structure, vendors selling wares of every conceivable type can be found. You can buy exotic flower arrangements to bring back to your cabin onboard the ship (note you can’t take them off with you when you arrive home, but the arrangements will clearly be wilted by then). You can buy various food, from fish to fruits and vegetables, as well as a host of souvenir and clothing items. The prices, of course, are rather high as are all prices in this area of the world.

Tahiti, even the City of Papeete, is resplendent with tropical vegetation and flowers. The lifestyle in Papeete is very casual and it is even okay to walk around the city center without shoes. Bathing suits with a pareu wrap are also fine. Flowers are also considered an accepted form of non-verbal greeting – a lady with a flower behind her right ear means that she is single and available. A flower behind her left ear means she is either married or engaged. Some locals told us that a flower behind both ears mean married, but looking for an upgrade.

The sheer proliferation of flowers even around the bustling city was so varied that one could spend the better part of a day just snapping off photos of them. In fact, I have to say that of all the photos I took in the South Pacific, probably at least 75% of them were of flowers and plants. There is just so much of beauty to see that you can’t seem to help wanting to get as many photos of them as possible.

After spending several hours at the Grand Marche, our appetites finally got the best of us and we returned to the Statendam for dinner. It was a full, but exhausting day, and the perfect evening to turn in early. Another full day awaits tomorrow when we arrive in our last South Pacific port, Moorea – and to more adventures.
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Old October 17th, 2008, 08:58 PM
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Default Exotic Moorea!

Moorea is without a doubt my favorite of the South Pacific Islands. It is small enough not to have been as heavily affected by tourism as the others, and the people there just seem a bit more friendly. The surroundings are beautiful, and unlike Papeete, it doesn’t have a “big city” feel at all. It is truly a quaint island community where the population is small and the locals all know each other.

Since there is so much to see and do in Moorea, I had a difficult time choosing an excursion. I was stuck between a photography tour via 4 x 4, or a sailing onboard a luxury 43-foot sailing catamaran called the Margouillat. Since I was having such a difficult time choosing, I just opted to do both, with only an hour’s time between the two. Oh, boy. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

The morning started off with a 4x4 photo safari. This was without a doubt the most educational excursion I did on this trip, and it was worth every penny of its somewhat higher than normal price tag. Heading out in a four-wheel drive vehicle, we visited some of the most photogenic areas on the island. We were accompanied on our travels by a professional photographer, in addition to our driver.

He offered us some excellent tips about how to frame photos and also how to use the capabilities of our individual cameras to the best of their capabilities. For example, I found that I had the ISO setting totally wrong on my camera, and that was probably why several of my photos weren’t coming out properly. I was allowing too much light to reach the lens, thus causing several of my photos to have a bleached out look.

We started out in the interior of the island. We viewed miles and miles of pineapple fields and were able to get photos of the lush vegetation. Our guide/photographer then critiqued our shots, giving us pointers on how to better set them up. One interesting thing that I learned was that you don’t necessarily want the subject of the photo in the center of the shot. Sometimes it is better to have another object in the center – something that will present an interesting point of contrast. I played around with this and was able to get several interesting photos that I will upload to CruiseMates once I get home.

We then headed to the waterfront, and the quaint fishing villages that dot it. Here we were able to try our hands at shooting photos of the bay, along with the sky and the many palm trees along the coast line. Some amazing photos could be had here, and it didn’t really matter a whole lot whether you had an SLR camera set-up worth thousands of dollars, or a simple point-and-shoot. Either way, you could get some wonderful shots. I also learned about the settings on my camera, and how for certain shots I want to use the close up, or “flower” setting, and for others a more panoramic view.

We also got a chance to specifically photograph flowers, when we went to a botanical garden offering a wide variety of lush flowering trees. This was a working farm where these flowers were being harvested for shipment to locations all over the world. We also made a stop at the Belvedere lookout point, and this is the only portion of the tour where I had some serious trouble. To get to the lookout point required a bit of a hike, and it was one where you had to be in fairly good shape to manage it. One of the people in our group opted to stay with the driver, but I – like an idiot – didn’t realize there would be a problem. After all, the tour was only listed as one with “two men walking,” one that historically I could handle. This portion of the tour clearly was mis-classified – at least in my “humble” opinion. It should have clearly been three, or more, men walking – as it involved a trek through a lush forest complete with natural dirt steps and uneven, and often slippery terrain. The path was narrow and if you were unlucky enough to lose your footing, it would be quite easy to topple over into the underbush, falling many feet down a cliff. Needless to say, I was in trouble from almost the get-go. My legs are not good due to my parachuting accident, and the orthopedic hardware in both of my legs that I carry to this day. The poor guide had to literally hold my hands and guide me around the path to the lookout point. This path was not short – it involved, I would guess, about a quarter of a mile of hiking each way – over what I would say was a rather treacherous path. True, those in good shape didn’t seem to have too many problems, though some did encounter a few. Our guide was a saint, literally holding my hands and guiding me up and around each of the “steps” required to negotiate in order to get to the lookout point. He kept encouraging me – assuring me that the view from the point would be worth all the effort.

He was right, it was worth the effort, but I still felt badly that I had clearly held up the whole group and shouldn’t have even attempted such a hike. After spending several minutes at the lookout, snapping many photos of the amazing views from that vantage point, it was then time to head back. Once again, I required significant help and had much difficulty. I practically burst into tears upon arriving back at the vehicle and apologized perfusely to everyone else on the tour whom I slowed down. I can’t help but wonder if a stop had to be skipped because of my slow progress.

After the hike, we made a refreshment stop where we could purchase fresh fruit concoctions, as well as sample some fruit delicacies before reboarding our vehicle for the trip back to the cruise ship dock. I can’t praise our guide enough, both for his informative photography tips as well as his kindnesses shown to me on this tour. I just hope I didn’t inconvenience my fellow tour participants to badly on the Belvedere Looking Point part of the trip. I will mention the classification of this tour on my comment card at the conclusion of this cruise, and my belief that it should be rated as a “three man walking” tour.

After getting back to the dock, I had about 45 minutes to get to my next excursion – which was right there at the dock. To pass the time I wandered in and out of the various vendors stalls right there on the dock trying to see if there was anything worth spending a mint on. Since nothing really caught my eye, I decided to head over to the Margouillat, the venue for my second excursion of the day.

The Margouillat, named for a friendly Polynesian gecko, is a 43-foot sailing catamaran. This tour promised to be a very relaxing one, combining sightseeing, sailing and a bit of snorkeling or swimming for those who were interested.

To board the vessel, one is required to remove their shoes. This is truly a casual sailing adventure where nothing but a comfortable bathing suit is necessary. Once onboard, we were offered water and juice, along with fresh fruit. We started off using the ship’s motors, but it wasn’t long before the crew raised the sails, and then the fun started. Our captain clearly enjoyed a good ride, and he was riding the waves – bouncing up and then back down on each. It was truly a wonderful ride, though not terribly rough for passengers who maybe preferred calmer seas. We got to view some wildlife out in the bay, as well as a variety of coral formations. We stopped for a bit of snorkeling, but it was a deep water snorkel not involving any feeding to attract a proliferation of sea life. There was an area not far from the boat where one could view some submerged tiki figures, but most people opted to remain closer to the boat due to the current.

After the snorkeling was complete, we got underway again, as mai tai refreshments were served to passengers.

The boat itself was very comfortable and offered seating both outdoors and in a comfortable salon area. There were cabins below deck in case anyone felt the need to lie down and the salon provided shelter from the blazing sun for those concerned about too much exposure. Up on deck, there was a comfortable netted area where passengers could view the sights from high atop the ship.

There is just something wonderful about being on the water, under the power of the unfurled sails, enjoying the beauty of the South Pacific. It’s the kind of environment that makes one want to stow away and never disembark. Our pilot told stories about captaining such a ship from France, across the open seas, to deliver it to French Polynesia, and he told us that the Margouillat too could be taken out on the open ocean, though he had not yet had that opportunity.

Unfortunately, once we arrived back at the tender pier, there wasn’t much time for shopping or stopping for any sort of refreshment from the vendors set up along the dock. Last tender was scheduled for 4:30, and it was now close to 4:00. It had been a full day in Moorea, and perhaps the best thing to do would be to head back to the Statendam for a shower and a bite to eat.

Moorea wrapped up our stay in French Polynesia, and most of us were sorry to pull up anchor that evening and head onward to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Island Chain – a full two days away. The sail away party on the navigation deck was not quite as festive as earlier ones had been, probably because we knew that as we pulled away from the beautiful island of Moorea, that our cruise is slowly nearing its end. But, there are still some adventures to be had, including two relaxing days at sea before a full day at Nuku Hiva. Then we’ll have another full six days at sea before our cruise will really be over and we dock back at San Diego to face disembarkation.

I’m sorry I’ve been slow lately with these blog entries, but it is very difficult to stay up-to-date while exploring these exciting ports of call. With sea days, plenty of time is afforded for these journal entries, and I promise to keep you well sated with tales from the sea. For now, blue skies and sweet dreams – and, of course, bouncy seas!
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Old October 18th, 2008, 09:11 PM
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Well, I, for one, thank you so much for taking the time to write about everything.

I feel as if I am along on the tour. I have great difficulty walking far, and some of the tours would be way too much for me. I am happy to enjoy them via your posts.

Thanks again Rita.


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Old October 19th, 2008, 11:24 AM
Join Date: Aug 2008
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I still have some old pictures of my equator crossing at the tender age of five. Included are initiation pics of my parents and other passengers. As soon as we've crossed everything off our 'northern hemisphere to do list', we want to cruise from the USA to the land of OZ.

Thanks for the pics and stories, folks.

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Old October 19th, 2008, 09:51 PM
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Default Meet Vera Hutasoit -- HAL Restroom Attendant

This blog entry was written by Trisha Carter, who has been working with me while onboard this sailing.

Meet Vera Hutasoit – Restroom Attendant onboard the Statendam.

(Holland America only relatively recently began introducing female restroom attendants onboard its fleet of ships. This story is about one of the first participants in this new program.)

“I am very happy and proud to feel that I am representing the women of Indonesia,” said Vera Hutasoit, one of the first hired in a new program for Holland America Line. Long known for its wonderful Filipino and Indonesian crew members, HAL has only recently begun hiring female Indonesians as part of their housekeeping staff – which has historically been all male. Onboard the Statendam, Vera is part of a two-women team who are known as restroom attendants to us, but as “the toilet ladies” among themselves. Rest assured, far from being an insult, this is a title of honor to these Indonesian women.

Vera states that ever since high school it has been her dream to work for the Holland America Line. Two years ago, she saw that dream become a reality when she was offered the opportunity to be among the first female Indonesians hired by the Line’s housekeeping department.

Vera spent two months at Holland America’s state-of-the-art training facility known as the m.s. Nieuw Jakarta. There she shared a “cabin” within this mock up of a live cruise ship with another friend who had been hired in the same capacity. It was here that she learned the ins and outs of her new job, while also being indoctrinated into daily life onboard a modern cruise ship. Her days onboard the Niew Jakarta were full, learning not only her job duties, but also working on her English language skills. She also had to learn how to interact with passengers, along with the various cultural norms she would encounter among Holland America’s many guests.

As part of her training, she lived at the training facility during the week, returning to her home only on the weekends. It was only after successfully completing her training that she was assigned to her first contract, onboard the m.s. Oosterdam. Vera is currently serving her second contract with Holland America, this one on the Statendam, and she seems to be loving every minute of it.

Vera’s love for working onboard the ships of Holland America may have something to do with the fact that she met her husband, Mario, while onboard the Oosterdam. Mario is now the Statendam’s Controller and the two of them make an incredibly cute couple. They are clearly a happy one as well.

Vera raves about Holland America and how they go out of their way to accommodate married couples working onboard their ships. “They make sure we are assigned to the same ship, and they coordinate our contracts to run together. We are assigned a cabin together as well.”

Of their relationship, Vera says it was love at first sight and right now they are in the process of building a lovely home in Lombok, Indonesia. When asked for details about their new home, Mario proudly pulled out detailed drawings of the modest single-family dwelling, complete with two bedrooms, a modern bath, kitchen and parlor area.

Two bedrooms? When asked about her future and the possibility of babies, Vera’s face lights up and she positively beams. “One day I will stay at home and have Mario’s babies,” she said. However, this won’t happen until the time is right.

Vera is a middle child, and the only girl. Her older brother is married, while her younger one is currently enrolled in college. So, for now at least Vera must continue working to help pay for his college education. “We come from a very close knit family,” she stated, “and we help each other whenever we can.” Mario, too, is helping to finance his younger brother’s college education.

When asked about their future plans, Vera got a dreamy look in her eyes and stated that one day she and her husband hope to have a tourist-related business back home. But for now they are happy working onboard the ships of Holland America and building their future one day at a time. “HAL has been really great to us,” she stated. “They have been teaching us both valuable job skills, as well as helping us to improve our English. Working for the cruise line allows us to learn what it is that tourists expect when they are on vacation, so that we can learn to provide it, and provide it well.”

And if learning how to please tourists is one of Vera’s goals, she couldn’t have chosen a better teacher than Holland America, well known for their stellar passenger service. “That’s why working for HAL was always my dream,” Vera stated. “The same as it has been the dream of many of my friends. I was just lucky enough to have my dream come true,” she added, with a shy smile. Her husband, Mario, just looked at her and beamed.
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Old October 19th, 2008, 09:57 PM
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Default Meet Kristian Emanuel Yahya -- Dining Room Manager

Meet Kristian Emanuel Yahya – Dining Room Manager Onboard Holland America’s Statendam

If you've ever believed that the job of "Maitre'D" onboard a Holland America ship is a "cushy" job, think again. I sure had to.

There has been much talk about As You Wish versus Fixed Seating Dining onboard the ships of Holland America. There has also been much controversy as to the design of the program (as YOU wish versus as HOLLAND AMERICA wishes). Because of the almost constant flood of message board discussion on this topic, I decided to go right to the source and get some first-hand information regarding how the As You Wish Dining program is playing out across the fleet. To do this, I sat down with Kristian, the dining room manager onboard the Statendam (formerly known by the title of Maitre’D) to get his thoughts on the program.

Kristian started off our conversation by telling me that every new concept has to go through certain challenges and requires time to make it work. As You Wish dining will also need time to meet the challenge of making passengers happy with the new format, especially on those longer cruises such as this 35-day sailing. “On a seven day sailing, such as those we did in Alaska for several months, As You Wish Dining often works quite well. You’ve got a lot of families on those sailings, and As You Wish Dining is much more favorably received there. Maybe there are some bumps that have to be smoothed out on the first night of the cruise, but generally after day one things settle down and pretty much everyone is happy with their dining assignments. But on a longer cruise such as this one, the challenges can continue longer than expected.”

I asked Kristian what makes a longer cruise different from a shorter one in terms of dining. “I knew as soon as I got the preliminary dining lists for this cruise that we were going to have some challenges. I had over 1000 repeat passengers, most of whom wanted traditional fixed seating dining. I also had over 800 people all wanting to be seated early for dinner. Since our dining rooms are not configured for this many passengers at one time, I knew I was going to have to scramble to keep as many people happy as possible. To do this, I had to be creative. We had to first of all designate some of the tables in the open seating dining room (lower level) as fixed seating tables. I can use only a certain section of the lower level of the dining room for this purpose, as per home office directive and then only if absolutely necessary. To further complicate matters, I had a lot of passengers requesting tables for two at that early seating time. I only have so many of these to go around, and I had about 41 couples requesting them. So I had to try to spread those tables around as far as they can go, even using some tables for four as tables for two when necessary.

“The way we’ve been working the As You Wish flexible dining is to allow people to call during the day time to reserve a table for that evening and the next one. Nothing beyond that. This allows me to spread these coveted tables for two around as much as possible among those passengers wanting them, especially for the first seating dining times.”

I asked Kristian what he personally thinks of Holland America’s new As You Wish Dining program.

“Personally I think that on cruises longer than 15 days we shouldn’t offer it. Many of our more traditional guests, especially the ones who have sailed our ships repeatedly over the years, don’t want it. They like the traditional four seating times in the two-tier dining room and those are specifically the passengers who sail on these 15+ day voyages. We don’t offer the flexible dining option on our Grand Voyages and World Cruise, and I think we should go one step further and not offer it on any cruises over 15 days in length. Having a policy such as this would go a long way in streamlining our dining operations and keeping more of our guests happy on these longer sailings.

“Holland America is offering a lot of shorter cruises designed to appeal to our younger guests. These guests are the ones who often appreciate flexible dining options, and they are the ones who have truly embraced the As You Wish Dining concept. They often travel in extended family groups where it is often difficult or inconvenient to have everyone ready to dine by a certain time. They also like the flexibility of dining at a different time each night, depending upon their activities of the day. So, the As You Wish Dining Program works particularly well for them, while our more traditional guests – the ones you see on the longer sailings – generally want no parts of flexible dining. They’d rather have a set dining time each night, with an assigned table, being served by a familiar wait staff that they see each and every evening.”

I asked Kristian if the particular ship determines how successful the As You Wish Dining program will be. “Definitely!” was his response. “On our new Eurodam, it goes over very well because we have more varied dining options available there for our guests. In fact, the Eurodam was specifically built to accommodate “As You Wish” dining, with a multitude of dining options on offer. We have a casual Italian venue offered as a part of the Lido, as well as offering traditional casual dining there as well. Of course, we have our award-winning Pinnacle Grill, as well as a second Pan-Asian alternative dining venue, Tamarind, that has received rave reviews with our guests. These options are all in addition to our elegant dining rooms, and they take the pressure off of the main dining room since our guests have a wide variety of choices onboard; choices we just can’t offer them throughout the rest of the fleet,” Kristian explained.

“Holland America is spending another $200 million to upgrade the fleet with extra amenities and facilities that will enhance guests’ onboard experiences, and in the end that will have a positive impact not only in regard to the “As You Wish” dining concept, but also on overall guest satisfaction. But for right now, we will let the course of time and process streamlining determine the success of the “As You Wish” dining format, as some guests embrace it and others don’t.”

Kristian’s sincerity was evident throughout our discussion. He truly wants to keep his guests happy, and he seems willing to do just about anything to accomplish that, including bending and stretching the rules as far as he can within corporate directives, if doing so will result in a satisfied guest. “Our guests depend upon us to give them the cruise of a lifetime, and that’s exactly what I personally want to do. I don’t like to see any guest go away unhappy, so I am willing to work with them to resolve any dining-related situations to their satisfaction. For example, in the flexible dining room we are supposed to turn over all tables twice each night – just as we do with a main and late seating in the traditional dining room. But if a guest wants a table for two at 6:15 p.m. instead of the normal 5:45, I will follow company policy by confirming that table for 5:45, but then will hold it for them up until 6:15 before giving it away to the next guest on the list. I think our guests appreciate this willingness to work along with them, especially since this is their vacation and we should try to accommodate their schedule as much as possible.”

Kristian is also a dining room manager who does not hide behind his office door (or curtain actually). Rather, he keeps himself out in the public eye as much as possible, especially during the dinner hours. He wants to be readily accessible to any guest that may wish to speak with him. “There’s no sense in hiding from problems hoping they will go away,” he told me. “That only makes a small problem much bigger, and creates for us an unhappy guest. I’d rather nip problems in the bud and have the guest leave the ship after his cruise feeling as though I met his needs. Only then do I know I’ve done the job I’m here to do.”

Another thing I’ve noticed on this cruise, and brought to Kristian’s attention, is the fact that the Lido now has far more extended hours for dinner than ever before – from 5:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. “That’s entirely by design,” Kristian replied. “By extending those hours, we take some of the pressure off of the dining room by offering another viable alternative for our guests who may be looking for something a bit more casual on any particular evening. Maybe they want to grab a quick bite because there is something else they want to do around the ship that night, or maybe they just don’t feel like getting dressed up. The extended hours in that casual dining venue are working out quite well.”

The dinner menu in the Lido is almost identical to what is being served in the dining room on any given evening. The ambience is also a step up from daytime service, with white tablecloths on all of the tables, complete with flickering candles, and a wait staff to carry your tray from the serving line to your table. Roving waiters offer beverage refills and tableside bar service is available as well.

“Our goal for dining in the Lido is to make the dinner experience there comparable to what one would enjoy in the dining room,” said Kristian. “We provide a lot of tableside service to accomplish this.”

Holland America is also keeping track of where passengers dine each night so that they can more accurately determine emerging trends. For example, it’s handy to gather data on where passengers are actually dining on formal nights so that staffing levels can be adjusted more evenly. “Clearly passenger preferences as they relate to dressing up for diner are changing, and we are tracking those changes quite closely,” Kristian told me.

And on the subject of formal dress “codes,” Kristian clearly expressed some discomfort in this area. “Holland America clearly wants to retain some of the traditions of cruising, and these include formal styles of dress on certain evenings. But enforcement can sometimes be difficult in that if you rigidly enforce a certain manner of dress in the dining room, you will upset some passengers. Yet if you decline to enforce the dress code for the evening, other passengers will become angry. It can be a no-win situation, that’s for sure. Personally, if it were my decision, I’d rather see dress codes as being suggested guidelines, not at all mandatory, especially on certain cruises where the majority of our passengers would clearly prefer a less formal style of dress.”

I asked Kristian whether he preferred shorter cruises, like his recent Alaska season, or longer sailings such as this 35-day itinerary and the 16-day Panama Canal one that will immediately follow. “No question, my job is a lot easier on the shorter cruises, and for that reason I naturally prefer them. But, then again, these longer itineraries do offer a challenge, and for that reason I like them too.” A really diplomatic answer, if you ask me.

I really enjoyed my talk with Kristian, as it gave me a great deal of insight into the challenges of managing a large and complex dining program onboard a luxury cruise ship. The challenges are unique in that you are dealing with passengers who have spent a considerable sum of money for what might be their dream vacation of a lifetime. In other cases, you are dealing with people of means who sail the ships of Holland America quite frequently, and are quite demanding in the standards of service they expect for their hard-earned dollar. Kristian has the unenviable job of trying to keep all of these people happy, while adhering to the policies and guidelines handed down to him by the home office in Seattle. But somehow it seems that he has hit on just the right combination of compromise and creativity to make this happen – and to make it look effortless in the process.

I will truly look upon the job of MaitreD’ in a whole new way from here on out, for it’s certainly not the “cushy” job I had always thought. Quite the contrary, it’s downright difficult, and one I certainly wouldn’t ever want to be called upon to tackle.
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Old October 19th, 2008, 10:00 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Posts: 1,139
Default I'm Reading All Your Replies

If I don't always respond to your comments, please don't think I am not reading them.

I will respond to everyone when I get home next Saturday. For now, I am only selectively responding in order to conserve on internet usage.

I hope you all understand ... it's kind of costly here onboard a ship.

Blue skies ...

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Old October 19th, 2008, 11:02 PM
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Default Meet Darlene, of Darlene and the HALCats

Meet Darlene – of Darlene and the HALCats

We all have romanticized ideas of what life onboard a cruise ship would be like – the world travel, visiting exotic ports of call, having good friends in every port, and a close family onboard. But of course, there is also the downside of a life at sea as well – being away from home and loved ones for long stretches at a time, the hard work, living basically out of a suitcase, having to get used to a new group of people every time contracts end.

CruiseMates sat down to talk with Darlene Carnahan, of “Darlene and the HALCats.” Darlene is well known all over the ship as a vocalist who provides many hours of entertainment to passengers. She and the HALCats perform at all the sailaway parties, as well as in the Crow’s Nest many nights. They also do some special events in other venues around the ship. In fact, they have recently begun a new “gig” -- “Morning Melodies” in the Ocean Bar, which has been pretty well attended.

“Our contracts call for performing five hours a day, though we rarely are scheduled for that many. So when the cruise director has something special he wants to try, he just tells me where to be, and I’m there. I love being on stage, so even though performing at 10:30 in the morning is kind of early, I’m there!” Darlene said. “Besides, I also love getting to sing different kinds of songs, and this is the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Darlene started performing on ships in 1999 when she was a cast member with Royal Caribbean. She did three six-month contracts and then decided to give up the shipboard life. She went to the University of Miami’s School of Music and got her Bachelor’s degree in Performing Arts, with a concentration in Jazz music. It wasn’t until January of 2006 that the sea beckoned to her once again, and she came to work for Holland America. She’s been onboard their ships ever since. “So far, I’ve been on the Ryndam, the Westerdam, and most recently here on the Statendam.”

“I really like working for HAL because they take better care of their people than I was used to on Royal Caribbean. I was in the cast there, but here I am a band vocalist. Yes, I work harder in this job, and actually get less money than a cast member would, but I get to sing a wider range of songs, and showcase my vocal range a bit more.”

I asked Darlene if she got to exercise any special creativity in selecting the songs she will perform in any given performance.

“Well, Stiletto – the agency that works with HAL’s entertainment department – provides us with songbooks. These books are huge and they contain all of the songs that show bands and vocalists throughout the fleet must know and be able to perform at a moment’s notice, such as if a passenger makes a special request. Our band is very good at sight reading, so they don’t have to practice very much. But I will often sit down at a piano on my off-hours and familiarize myself with any new tunes, or ones I don’t often get a chance to perform. But we have to stick with the songs in the Stiletto songbook in order to have consistency across the fleet. But those books are huge, and pretty much everything you can imagine is in there.”

I asked Darlene is she was actually a member of the HALCats or if she was separate from them. “No, the HALCats are the onboard show band. Every HAL ship has one. Then I am a vocalist who sings with them. Jamie, the woman who plays the keyboard or the piano, is the band leader. We work for her, and she’s great. The only thing that’s a bit difficult is getting used to a new band member who may come onboard. Every musician is different and every show band is different. Sometimes we click perfectly and there are no problems, such as with my last contract on the Ryndam. But other times there may be issues, such as a new or inexperienced musician coming onboard, that take some working out. That’s where Jamie is of particularly great help.”

With some band member’s contracts lasting for six months, while others end in three, there is a constant change in the composition of the show band. This makes it difficult for everyone to get used to each other’s performing style and even their abilities. “Often we will get some relatively inexperienced vocalists or band members, and they will have difficulty, at least initially, keeping up with the rest of the band. When I left at the end of my last contract on the Ryndam, I got a call from one of the band members a week later begging me to come back. The new vocalist who they brought onboard to replace me had no prior shipboard singing experience. In fact, her last contract was as a Steiner (the spa) employee! The band was having a very difficult time breaking her in. I just told him to be patient and give her a chance. She’d work out.”

Darlene talked about the concept of a “happy ship” versus a not so happy one. “I really like it here on the Statendam,” she told me. “It’s a happy ship, which means the staff and crew generally like working here and morale is high. That’s not always the case on some vessels.” I asked Darlene if a “happy ship” is as a result of a particular captain’s particular management style, or from other things. “Everyone contributes to it, not just management. In fact, Captain Jack (our current captain) only came onboard a few weeks ago, and this ship has been happy long before then. A happy ship is one where the staff is treated well, and here on the Statendam we are. If everybody is happy, our enthusiasm feeds off of each other, and you get what is called a ‘happy ship.’”

“There are lots of things that go into creating that feeling, and the company is responsible for much of it. For example, HAL does some things for employees that I didn’t see in my years with Royal Caribbean. For example, when we come onboard, especially on a first contract on any given ship, we are assigned a ‘buddy’ to help us get acclimated. You have no idea how important that is. Just learning our way around the ship can be daunting; all the back corridors and short-cuts to here and there. It’s a lot easier to get lost and be late for something important. It’s wonderful that we have a buddy to help us through those initial days onboard. We can go to them if we have any problems or questions.”

“We also attend various safety classes and crew drills where we get to practice team work. I’m a traffic coordinator, which means I make sure passengers are headed for their proper lifeboat station. That’s what you’ll see me doing during the passenger lifeboat drills. But if we had a real emergency, I would also be doing things like lowering a lifeboat and helping passengers into it. We all work together to learn how to do these things.”

I guess the biggest component that goes into making for a ‘happy ship’ is respect. We are treated with respect on this ship, and most of the employees working here are proud to be onboard the Statendam. Just as an example, we had a crew drill recently and when it was over, Mike – the cruise director – said ‘thank you everyone for participating in the crew drill.’ He didn’t have to do that. Crew drill is our job and it’s included in our contracts. But just the fact that he took the time to thank us for our participation shows that the Statendam and her people are special, and that more than anything else creates a ‘happy ship.’”

I asked Darlene – “surely there must be some sourpusses onboard. Everyone on the crew can’t be happy.”

“Oh, of course we’ve got our share of complainers, just as you would have in any workplace on land. Working at sea is something that you either love or you hate. There is no in between. The ones who love it can’t wait to renew their contracts when they expire. Maybe they love the ship they’re on and want to make sure they can stay, or perhaps there’s another ship they want to work on – one that maybe is doing a favorite itinerary or going someplace special. But the ones who hate working onboard will count the days until their contracts expire and then and will run down that gangway on that last day never wanting to see a ship again. The shipboard life isn’t for everyone.”

I asked Darlene what was most difficult for her about a six-month contract at sea. “Well, fortunately, I’m not married, and not even dating seriously right now, so I don’t have the problem of missing my guy. In fact, right now I don’t even have any real roots on land. I even gave up my apartment and placed all of my stuff in storage in Los Angeles. But I do have some dear friends that I miss, not to mention my tab cat, Rocky. But he’s being well cared for by a friend who trains animals, so I don’t worry too much about him. But I always say that I’d probably work on ships my whole life if they allowed me to bring Rocky onboard.”

“You also form tight bonds onboard with people who may disappear from your life after one contract, and sometimes even sooner. Perhaps one of you is assigned to another ship or whatever. That’s emotionally difficult – to be so close to somebody and then in a matter of day they are gone – poof – from your life. And worst still, it’s not like you could just pick up the phone and call them, or hop on a plane and go visit them. It’s not the same as on land – it’s just too difficult, not to mention expensive.”

“But, at least in my case, the good outweighs the bad. So for right now at least, this kind of life suits me. When I feel lonely while onboard, I just go back to my cabin where I’ve created a little home away from home. In my current position onboard, one of the benefits is a cabin to myself, and that’s a real plus. Of course, it is a tiny inside affair on “B” deck, but for me its home. I have it decorated with pictures from home plastered all over the walls and even my own “froggie” shower curtain. When I go in there, it just feels like home, especially when I gaze and the photos of Rocky and my good friends. I laugh at some of the guys in the band who have stark white walls in their cabins. I can’t understand how they could be comfortable in a cabin containing no personal effects whatsoever. That would depress me – but, hey, if it works for them -- ” Darlene laughed.

I asked Darlene about shipboard romances – “just between us girls.” After all, gotta get a little gossip before this interview ends, right? So I was wondering -- you see many married couples working together onboard -- I can’t help but wonder just how easy it would be for a crew member to find the love of his or her life while working onboard a ship.

“Well certainly it’s possible, and it’s clear that some people have made a go of it. But that’s actually relatively rare – and the sad truth is that there’s actually a lot of transient romances, resulting in broken hearts. Right now that’s not what I want in my life. If I’m going to be with someone, I want them exclusively – at least for the duration of our contracts. I don’t want to be with someone tonight and then find them next week in the crew bar with someone else. So right now, I’m not in the market for a shipboard romance, but that doesn’t mean shipboard romances are bad, it’s just not the thing for me right now. “

On the subject of romance, I asked about romance between a crew member and a passenger. “Ahhhhh, that’s frowned upon,” Darlene informed me. “We really aren’t supposed to get involved with passengers, and in fact, we have an 11:00 p.m. curfew where we must be off the passenger decks. This is as much for our protection as it is for the passengers. After all, relationships can go sour and in the case of a staff member, it can result in the loss of their job if the Captain decides to send them home.”

Darlene laughingly told me some stories, without using any names, of course – about the various personalities onboard. She mentioned the ‘bitter faces’ – the ones who seemed never to be happy. She talked about the Statendam’s nickname among this crowd – every ship has one. They refer to the Statendam as the “Satandam.” The Prisendam is the “Prisondam.” Then she talked about the “Stripe Chasers.” These are a group of females on each cruise whose purpose in life would seem to be hooking up with as high ranking an officer as they can – hence the term “Stripe Chaser.” The more stripes, the better! What they dream of is marriage and the good life. What they get is often just a broken heart.

I asked Darlene if she saw herself as a shipboard entertainer five years from now. “Yes, but not in this role,” she quickly responded. “I started out as a cast member on RCI. It was a great job. You didn’t have to work too hard, and the pay was actually higher. But the problem with being in the cast is that you don’t get to sing a wide range of songs, and that causes you to stagnate somewhat. I have a wide vocal range – rock and roll, jazz, ballads – and I want to be able to develop them all. This job allows me to do that, and therefore grow as an entertainer. But I’m starting to get a bit restless again, so now I’m trying to put together my own show. I’m working with somebody who is helping me to craft it and I go to just about every guest entertainer’s show onboard to observe their techniques. One day I’d like to be a guest entertainer onboard ships – someone who flies in for couple of weeks, does a series of shows, and then heads home – or onto another ship. I think having this sort of a gig would let me take my skills to the next level and grow as a performer – not to mention, it pays more too!”

Darlene seems to thrive on the seafaring life, and after talking to her one would get the impression she’ll be working on ships in some capacity for many years to come.

“I originally found out about working at sea by reading Craig’s List. There was a job posted there from Stiletto Entertainment for cast members for an onboard production show. I contacted them, auditioned, and was hired in short order for Royal Caribbean Lines, where I stayed for three six-month contracts. While I no longer work for Stiletto – band singers work directly for Holland America now – I am still eternally grateful to them for introducing me to this lifestyle, because it suits me. I’m doing a job I really love and still have lots of free time. This let’s me see and experience the various ports we visit. I must have been a mermaid in a past life because I’m in love with the ocean and with Scuba diving – and I get my fill of both, especially when we do an itinerary like this Hawaii/South Pacific run. We just spent several months in Alaska and I got to see some of the most amazing sights on this Earth. Alaska is probably one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

“Since I have my own cabin, I can also invite a friend to come onboard with me occasionally. Of course, they’ll have to share my tiny cabin, sleeping in a bunk, but we on the crew call this “elegant camping,” and it’s a whole lot of fun!”

If you ever get a chance to see Darlene onboard a HAL ship, don’t miss it. She’s got a wonderful range of vocal talents – from wedding type songs, to good old rock and roll, and even some of the Broadway standards and show tunes. Even better, she’s real friendly, so feel free to go up to her and say hello. If it’ll make you feel more comfortable, just tell her you’re one of the Cruise Mates!
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Old October 19th, 2008, 11:04 PM
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Default Meet Osagie, Dancer with the Statendam Cast

Meet Osagie – Dancer with the Statendam Cast

Life as a member of a ship’s cast looks like a pretty cushy deal, especially for a young, physically fit individual. It’s a great way to make new friends, have a lot of fun, see the world, and not have to work too Godawful hard in the process, right? Amazingly, that can be somewhat true – but not entirely. CruiseMates got the chance to catch up with Osagie, one of the male dancers in the Statendam cast to learn a little about his life and work onboard the Statendam.

The ship’s cast generally consists of six dancers and four singers – a male and female lead, as well as a male and female second lead. There will often be a slightly larger cast assigned to the larger ships, such as the Vistas and new Signature Class vessels.

The cast gets their first introduction to each other long before seeing the ship on which they will be assigned -- in Los Angeles, where the production company that hires them, Stiletto, is based. It is there that new casts will learn and rehearse the shows they will be expected to perform. There are generally four shows each of these performers must learn and master over the course of four to six weeks -- two months if they are lucky. Needless to say, they put in ten to fourteen hour days, often six days a week.

“It’s very tiring,” said Osagie. “We are hired through Stiletto Entertainment, a company owned by Barry Manilov. They are the ones who put together all of Holland America’s production shows.

“Once a cast has been hired, we are brought out to Los Angeles so that we can begin the arduous process of learning all of the shows we will perform during a typical cruise. We not only have to learn the dance moves and lyrics -- but we also have to be formed into a cohesive body that can perform flawlessly together.

“ We learn each show in little bites of about 10 minutes at a time. We start off learning the various dance moves and then we practice them over and over. We get about six days to learn each show and then constantly review the old stuff as we are learning new moves. Since there are four hour-long shows to learn, we put in some pretty long days. But things get much better once we are onboard ship.

“Often there isn’t much time to get a new cast up to par and then onto a ship. Sometimes we’re onboard performing in as little as a month after we first meet each other in Los Angeles. So, this rehearsal time is often pretty hectic. But we’re professionals, so we manage.”

I asked Osagie about his living arrangements on the Statendam.

“We usually share a cabin with another cast member. When we arrive in Los Angeles for rehearsals, Stiletto pairs us up for rooming assignments there. As we form alliances during rehearsals, we just naturally flow into friendships so that by the time we arrive on ship, we’ve already formed friendships and know exactly who we’d like to share a cabin with. That makes the process of sharing tight quarters a lot less stressful than it would otherwise be.”

Osagie considers being flexible the key ingredient to successful shipboard life. “You can’t get too bogged down with trying to pack a lot into each day while you are onboard. You have to leave lots of room for rest and relaxation. You also have to realize that you are, in effect, going to be living out of a suitcase for your entire time onboard, and if that’s going to bother you, then maybe shipboard life isn’t a good fit in your case.

“You also have to be somewhat of an adventurer,” he added. I personally love to experience new things, especially new cultures. Our recent stay in Alaska was very meaningful to me, because I got to see a lot of nature, as well as natural wonders, as opposed to tourist sites. Did you know that billboards are illegal in Alaska? They don’t want advertising cluttering up the immense natural beauty of the state, and I personally think that’s a great thing.

“I have a natural curiosity about different cultures,” Osagie told me. “My father was African, and, in fact, my name is of African origin. So, naturally I have a special affinity for the African culture. But I love learning about other cultures in the places we visit as well, and will often go off on my own in port to places off the beaten track where I can experience the local flavor of our destination. After all, to travel to such interesting places on the ship and not learn about the local cultures of the places we visit would be such a waste.”

Another neat thing I discovered about Osagie is that despite his youthful age, he is actually a “throwback” to a long gone era. He likes handwriting letters home!

“I love to take $20 bucks or so each week and use it to put together a special “package” for loved ones and friends back home. I’ll start with a handwritten letter, and then add things to the package – little trinkets I pick up in my travels -- things unique to the places I’ve been and the adventures I’ve had. Then I’ll put the whole package together and mail it with local stamps. I get far more pleasure from communicating with my friends in this manner than I would by sending a simple email by computer. After all, you can’t enclose a hibiscus in an email.”

I asked Osagie about his day-to-day life onboard the ship. How does he keep himself busy and upbeat when he’s not performing?

Sometimes we work just about every day – especially on the shorter cruises where we may do three shows in seven days -- and sometimes we have long stretches at a time when we’re not too busy, such as on this 30-day sailing. In Alaska, we were doing one week cruises, so we were performing several nights a week, but on this cruise, we only have four regular production shows to do over the course of 30 days, so we will have a lot more ‘down’ time.

“On performance days, we will do two shows. If you’ve seen one of the production shows, you know just how strenuous they can be. We get just an hour or so break after the first, and then must be ready for the second. This can be exhausting, so it is very important that we schedule in lots of time for rest and relaxation. We also need to take good care of our bodies, by eating right and working out.

“I generally begin my day with the first of two workouts I will do in the gym. Some days we will also spend some time rehearsing, which is another workout in itself. I also try to eat right and keep my mind engaged by exploring the ports and indulging my interest in local cultures. I also make sure to get plenty of rest and relaxation in my down time.”

“When we have long stretches between shows, I also like to help out in other departments around the ship. Today, I helped out in the Purser’s office. Tomorrow, I may work in the Library. I like learning about the different shipboard departments and what they contribute to the passengers’ experiences. I am constantly amazed at how each department onboard the ship – housekeeping, entertainment, food and beverage, etc. – operates independently – yet each flows smoothly into the functions of each other so that you don’t even realize how closely aligned they are. The Statendam is one of the smaller ships in Holland America’s fleet, and because of this many employees have been thrust into high profile jobs that on a larger ship would probably go unnoticed. This is why it is so important that we do our jobs extra well on this ship. We can’t just blend into the background as we can on a larger ship carrying a lot more crew members. Here the passengers notice the crew members more, and that’s why it’s extra important to stay on our toes and always do our best, no matter what our job happens to be.”

Osagie earned his Bachelors Degree in the Performing Arts in Oklahoma City, along with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education.

“I was lucky with getting my cast job. My school is well-known for its excellent dance program and Stiletto routinely recruits staff members directly from there. So, it was relatively easy to get my first shipboard contract, where others often have it a lot tougher.”

Osagie was born and raised in Austin, Texas – the oldest of three children. He enjoyed the performing arts from a young age and one day hopes to be performing on Broadway. Today, he makes his shore side home in Las Vegas, where he keeps himself busy with singing, performing and modeling jobs when not onboard ship. I asked Osagie if he missed his home in Vegas.

“I miss the shore side life very much. I miss my family and friends, and I also miss the opportunity to better myself as a performer by taking various classes and auditioning for the many new productions that are constantly springing up. Being onboard a ship is great, but you do pass up a lot of opportunities since new shows are constantly auditioning for talent, and you’re just not there to try out for these parts.

“I am on my first six month contract, and it will likely be my last,” Osagie said. “It’s not like I hate my life onboard the Statendam or anything like that. This is a great life, but it’s just not the life for me. Sailing for six months at a time is not for everyone, and I found that it just doesn’t suit me as well as I would have hoped, so I will probably be giving up the shipboard life at the end of my contract.”

I asked Osagie about the age ranges of the entertainers on the ship, most especially cast members who have grueling routines to learn and perform each cruise. Surely that’s only something the very young, such as him, could do?

“Actually, there is no particular age limit placed on cast members. If you can keep up and learn and perform the routines, there should be no reason someone of any age couldn’t be a cast member. The cast members tend to be younger simply because of the fast pace of the routines we perform, but they don’t have to be. Surely there are older folks just as capable. It all depends on the individual.”

Osagie looks forward to our days in Hawaii and French Polynesia. “We’ve spent the past three months in Alaska,” he told me. “I loved being there and seeing everything that great State had to offer. But after three months, a region gets a bit tiring, and it will be wonderful to go to warmer climates for a while. There’s also an amazing array of natural wonders to explore in Hawaii and French Polynesia, not to mention a wide variety of rich, deep cultures to learn about. The travel opportunities are clearly the thing I will miss most about shipboard life – that and the many people I’ve met in the course of those travels. Both have enriched my life immensely.”

We have already been treated to two production shows this cruise, ‘The Designs of Mackie’ and ‘On Track.’

“We’ll be performing ‘On Track’ again later in the cruise,” Osagie told me. “The performance you saw was technically part of the Coastal voyage, so many of our passengers on this Hawaii/South Pacific sailing haven’t seen it. So, we’ll be doing that one again.”

“Don’t miss ‘World Beat” either,” Osagie cautioned. “It’s one of my personal favorites, where we perform this neat routine in white Elvis outfits that you won’t want to miss.”

Somehow I think that just about any dance routine that involves Osagie will be something I won’t want to miss on this cruise. His dancing is truly amazing, almost a work of art, and it is clear a lot of work went into perfecting those moves as to make them seem almost easy. In fact, I told Osagie that I could get exhausted just watching him and the other dancers perform. Their moves are that fluid, despite being fast-paced. These folks actually make the whole process look easy and almost effortless.

“Good,” Osagie responded. “That’s the way it’s supposed to look -- easy and lots of fun! – for both the audience and for us.”
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Old October 19th, 2008, 11:07 PM
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Default Internet Speeds Onboard the Statendam

I know many of you have heard me criticizing internet speed onboard ships many times in the past. I have been on cruises where it has literally taken forever to do the simplest functions using the satellite-based internet service onboard cruise ships of any line.

When I was on the Carnival Paradise last month, I only accessed the internet once, and that was not to “surf” the web, but rather to merely check personal email in a couple of boxes. I figured I would buy a relatively inexpensive 30 minute time plan. That should be more than enough time with some left over. Boy, was I wrong. I spent about 45 minutes just scanning emails in two separate boxes, responding to only one or two. I was pretty ticked off when I saw how much time that had taken.

Then I come onto the Statendam on September 20. About three days into the cruise, I needed to check email again so I decided to purchase a 250-minute plan. It took me all of maybe 15 minutes tops to check those same email addresses. That’s not too bad considering ship’s internet can’t really be compared to the broadband speeds available on land. In fact, I even made it a point to mention my pleasure at the relatively fast internet speeds to a person I ran into on the aft Lido deck who was wearing an MTN tee-shirt (Maritime Telecommunications Network). He was overjoyed at my satisfaction with his company’s services.

Throughout this voyage onboard the Statendam I have been very, very dependent upon shipboard internet service for a variety of functions, many of these web-based. I have had to post things to this CruiseMates thread, check email boxes, and even “FTP” photographs up to a CruiseMates photo gallery. Many of these functions are simply time-consuming by nature, and in every case I was pleasantly surprised at how little time they actually took. I fear that in the past, on other sailings such as my recent one onboard the Carnival Paradise, I would have gone broke just on internet minute purchases.

I don’t know what improvements you’ve made, Holland America, but keep it up … and maybe I can ask you to tell your cohorts on Carnival what to do onboard the Paradise to speed things up there?

Blue skies …

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Old October 19th, 2008, 11:11 PM
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Default "Gussying" Up

Oh, lovely. It’s formal night and I’ve got to “gussy up.” But in this case, it will be an honor, not to mention an indescrible pleasure!

Been invited to dine at the Pinnacle with the hotel manager and his wife tonight, among others.

What an honor, and certainly worth getting gussied up for. I’ll report back later on and let you know what all “hot tidbits” I was able to get from them.

I also promise to provide a report on the remarkable tour a group of us took on the isolated island paradise of Nuku Hiva on Saturday.

But for now, it's time to air out that reinstone-studded formal tee-shirt!

Blue skies …

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Old October 20th, 2008, 07:08 PM
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Default Last Port -- Nuku Hiva!

This was our last port, and for that reason there was an edge of sadness when we pulled into the harbor on Saturday morning. The small island is rugged looking even from our anchorage with tall, jagged mountain peaks. The whole mountainous terrain is colored a lush green, and it almost looks as deserted as it is. There are only about 1,600 people who make their home here, and because of that there is not a very well-developed tourism infrastructure – certainly not to the extent you would see in Bora Bora or Tahiti. Nuku Hiva is one of the ten Marquesas Islands, of which only six are inhabited today.

Cruise ships only call here a few times a year, and one combination freighter/passenger ship arrives each month, which brings supplies and other things needed by the islanders as well as a few day tourists.

Because of the lack of tour operators, Holland America does not have a tour excursion program developed for this port. In the literature they put together for this port, the cruise line advises passengers to enjoy the simple and natural pleasures of the island. Admire the many splendid and dramatic views of this unspoiled island paradise. There is some diving, fishing, 4 wheel drive and horseback riding options available, but they can be hard to come by since operators are not really plentiful. There is only one resort located on the island, and a small town center. When a cruise ship is docked in the harbor, vendors will usually come to the dock area and set up stalls selling their wares. These include home-made fabrics and wood carvings. Of course, one can always find tee-shirts and other more “touristy” items located here.

In order to see a bit of this island, one of the Cruise Critic group members made arrangements in advance for a full-day island tour with Claude, who was able to arrange to accommodate 24 of us spread over six vehicles. The group I was with was among the lucky ones to share an SUV sedan that, while it did not have air conditioning, did have relatively comfortable seating. Our driver, however, did not speak English. So, another passenger fluent in French sat up front with him and translated.

We started out heading away from the town center, and up the huge mountain that makes up this volcanic island. When we pulled into our anchorage early in the morning, one could see way up at the top the outline of what looked like an antenna. Well, we got a close up look at that whole antenna complex – it was actually several, including satellite dishes and other electronics all mounted on the same tower. We went up to the very top of this steep mountain.

As we ventured up the mountain, we first were on a rather stable paved road. However, it was a road with many twists and turns, and sights of such beauty to behold on both sides. It sort of reminded me of the road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii. We saw many of the Piki Vehine Pae Pae – or traditional Marquesan homes. These quaint structures were often painted in pastel colors and often they did not have traditional windows, but rather were open to the air with perhaps curtain like material hung as privacy curtains. Beautiful trees were in bloom with all manner of flowers and fruits, and the colors were simply breathtaking.

As we got further up the mountain, we could look down into the harbor and see the beautiful blue of the Pacific Ocean with the Statendam, looking like a tiny toy boat, anchored out in the harbor. Chickens freely walked along the road, and horses grazed along the mountainside, along with goats and cows. Our guide told us that the owners rarely kept them in a corral as such was not necessary in this small island community.

The island does have a school for the children, but it only goes up through the primary grades. If a child wishes to go to high school, his parents must send him to Papeete for high school. Few of the children of the island continue their formal education beyond the primary grades.

To earn money, many residents of Nuku Hiva work in the crafts. We were told that Claude, the person with which we arranged for this tour, worked as a carpenter making furniture and other such items for the people of the island. Others are “taxi” drivers, who make daily runs to the airport when an airplane is coming in. Others leave the island to get work, usually venturing to Papeete or even Bora Bora.

The island does have a small airport which is used by small commuter airplanes that deliver tourists from Papeete. There is usually an airplane that arrives daily, but it is not a large one. For “island hopping” of short distances, a small Twin Otter airplane is used that seats about nine people. Believe me, this is a small airplane. In my neck of the woods, Philadelphia and New Jersey, we use Twin Otters as skydiving aircraft. They only hold about 16 to 18 jumpers, and that’s with all the airplanes seats removed.

The island does have one resort, but other than for its seclusion, it really doesn’t have much other appeal. There really isn’t a lot to do on Nuku Hiva, other than enjoy the lush scenery. There are diving operations, as well as fishing, foul-wheel drive excursions and horseback riding available here. Other recreational pursuits would also include volleyball and swimming. Nuku Hiva is not really known for its beaches, however. Because of the jagged mountains and the volcanic nature of the rock formations, the shore line is often dotted with rocks and stones, rather than the smooth powdery sand that makes up more attractive beachfront resorts. However, our tour group did stop at one of the few easily accessible beaches where we did have the opportunity to swim and walk the sand for about half an hour. The water here is not the clear blue of other South Pacific islands and the water is not idea for snorkeling since the visibility is rather poor. However, it was as warm as bath water and did provide for a very delightful dip.

As we made our way up the mountain side, the paved road gave way to mud and gravel, with steep drop offs along the sides. I am known for enjoying “extreme” pursuits, but I could not imagine the skill required to drive these roads, especially at night, since one miscalculated turn would clearly result in a long drop down a sheer cliff. I could barely watch as our driver expertly negotiated several of these sharp turns.

We made several stops along the way to view the amazing scenery and to take photographs. Flowers of every amazing color, palm trees hugging the sheer cliff-side, lush trees hanging precariously to the edges of what appeared to be sheer vertical drop-offs, all made for awesome photographs. We also stopped at several settlements that had once been home to the ancient Polynesians who first migrated to these islands some 2,000 years ago. They built giant stone idols that were an important part of their culture, and in their settlements we could see those places where they worshipped and made sacrifices to their gods – often human ones. One could see the intricate detail on their tikis and in these stone idols, often depicting birds of the air and other animals of significance in their cultural practices. Some of their tikis face the sea, as it is believed that the spirits of their departed will return from the sea one day. In fact, our guide told us that they had a custom of sacrificing their first born child to the gods, and we saw the ceremonial place where those sacrifices were made. We were also told that the bones of deceased elders were deposited in open graves where it was believed they would watch out for the rest of the still living members of the community.

Some of these settlements were very elaborate, and we stopped at a couple. I did not make the hike to view the entire community, as some parts of it involved a somewhat arduous hike to reach – not something I am particularly suited to. The one thing of note, however, is that at this particular settlement, it didn’t matter if you stayed on the road with the vehicles or made the hike. Either way you were getting eaten alive by thousands of tiny bugs. Despite dousing ourselves with bug repellent, little could be done to avoid these nasty critters and several of us were onboard the ship that night still scratching. One woman reported that she had over 75 bites on her legs.

We then stopped at the islands only full service restaurant for lunch. Here we were treated to an assortment of chicken and fish items all served “family-style” on a large platter fashioned from palm leaves. Fresh fruit followed for dessert along with what, at least to me, was the best-tasting cup of coffee I have ever had. It was somehow blended with what tasted like fresh cocoa beans. These gave it a somewhat chocolate tinge, and while it was clear one was drinking coffee, it had a definite chocolate taste. Totally enjoyable.

The only thing I did not like is that when the waitstaff offered us coffee, they never told us there was an extra charge for it. We had been led to believe that the cost of lunch (with the exception of beer and soda) was included in the tour cost of $130.00 USD each. So imagine our surprise when we were informed that those who ordered coffee were being assessed an additional charge of $3.00. Clearly, this should have been made clear to us before ordering, or the tour coming should have eaten the additional cost.

After lunch we continued our tour of other remote sections of the mountainside. Around these hairpin turns we continued to drive, and at one point we crested the very top of the mountain, where we drove right by the antenna complex that we had viewed that morning from onboard the Statendam. We had to stop at one point in order to allow a group of what appeared to be wild horses to cross to the other side of the road. This was truly rustic countryside here.

We stopped at a beach for a short swim. Most people chose to just walk along the beach, letting the water come up to their ankles. The water didn’t look very inviting as it wasn’t the beautiful shade of blue we had become accustomed to from our visits to the other islands such as Moorea and Bora Bora. I was the only person to actually take a swim, and I found the water to be very refreshing and quite warm.

After a bit more sighseeing from the vehicles, we then made our last stop at a small beachfront settlement. Here we viewed more of the stone idols, these ones facing out toward the open sea. The scenery here was particularly beautiful, and one couldn’t stop taking pictures – there was so much here one wanted to capture. Many flowering trees provided postcard type photos, while the stone carvings were particularly intricate and beautiful.

All good things come to an end and we were finally deposited back at the dock area. A quick race to get into the shops to perhaps pick up a souvenir, as the security officer at the tender dock was frantically waving at us to get onboard. It was time for the Statendam to sail and we were the only group still on Nuku Hiva. They wanted us on the tender and headed back – like right NOW.

I was planning to be up on deck for the sailaway festivities, but as I came out of the shower I noticed the peaks of Nuku Hiva moving past my window. The Statendam had already sailed, so we must have been the ones holding everyone up. We had really packed a lot into our tour and thus cut it really close. Thank God we didn’t miss the ship! Wouldn’t that have been a bummer – having to fly all the way home from Nuku Hiva?!?!?! Guess that would have meant a flight to Papeete and then God knows to where else to connect with the United States!

We now have six glorious days at sea before arriving back in San Diego on the 25th. It’s depressing to know that this sailing is coming to an end. I can actually remember boarding the Statendam in Vancouver as though it were yesterday – leaving my hotel room at the Pan Pacific and making my way down to the cruise ship level, and through the pier facility. I can remember so clearly as I first stepped onto the ship, and the anticipation of knowing that I would be making my home here for the next 35 days. How sad to see that all come to an end.

But, on the positive side of things, there are still six days at sea, with all the adventures that will bring.

Blue skies –

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Old October 20th, 2008, 07:10 PM
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Default On the Way Home -- Is this Cruise Really Ending?

It's hard to believe that this wonderful cruise is really coming to an end.

We are currently enjoying our first full day at sea heading back to San Diego from Nuku Hiva. We will have a total of six. It appears each one is going to contain something special, though, and the fun is just beginning. Maybe these little “treats” we have in store will somewhat dull the pain of knowing that we will be getting off this ship in a mere six days. Where on Earth did the time go? This was a 35-day sailing – my longest yet!

Trisha and Virgil of CruiseCritic, as well as myself, received an invitation today. We’ve been invited to enjoy dinner this evening at the Pinnacle Grill, as well as pre-dinner cocktails in the Ocean Bar, with the Hotel Manager, Theodorus Haanen and his wife, Helen; and well as the Culinary Operations Manager, Martin Groenendijk and his wife, Maggie.

We all met up at about 7:30 or so in the Ocean Bar to get acquainted. Helen and I hit it off almost immediately as we are both writers and had a lot in common. Maggie is a really fun person too, and she is clearly excited at the prospect of having her husband to herself for a while, as he will be disembarking the Statendam in San Diego for his vacation. Maggie doesn’t travel full-time with Martin, as Helen does with Theo, so the prospect of a vacation with her husband is particularly appealing to her.

Dinner at the Pinnacle was a wonderful affair. We were seated in the rear portion of the restaurant, spread out comfortably at a large table. A wait staff of five practically fawned over us, taking care of our every need long before we could even articulate it. Take a sip of your water, and the glass was almost immediately topped off. Bottles of red and white wine instantly appeared and our glasses were always kept full.

The meal itself was to die for, as all Pinnacle meals are. My fillet was cooked to perfection, a nice warm pink center – just the way I like it. We were all stuffed by the end of this elaborate meal, and I was one of the few people at the table to order dessert. I can’t bypass my sorbet – tonight a very refreshing watermelon flavor. And before anyone criticizes me for not indulging in the decadent Chocolate Volcano Cake – I can’t. I’m allergic to chocolate.

As a little side note, a hot tip: The entire Pinnacle menu is being expanded and the new menu will be rolled out on the Statendam beginning with the 16-day Panama Canal cruise that kicks off right after we disembark on Saturday, October 25th. They are adding several new items, including a rib eye steak entrée, as well as some other beef dishes. Lobster will be making an appearance on the Pinnacle menu as well. Martin told me that it will clearly be a greatly expanded menu of offerings for this deluxe dining venue.

After dinner, it was up to the Crow’s Nest for the Sailor’s Ball, where it was another round of drinks, some great music by SeaBreeze, and more stimulating conversation. The atmosphere was gala, with white helium balloons strung up all over the room and colorful “disco” lighting on the dance floor. Just about all of the ship’s officers and staff who weren’t on duty attended and, from what I understand, the party continued until well after midnight. Alas, for us “early birds,” the hour just got a bit too late and we had to bid our kind hosts goodnight at around the Midnight hour.

I really enjoyed this intimate get-together because it gave me a chance to learn a bit more about what it is like to have the luxury of travel on an almost full-time basis. I am always fascinated to learn about people’s lives at sea. Theo’s wife, Helen, travels with Theo on his assignments and she spends a lot of her time writing. I was fascinated to hear about the series of children’s books she is working on – a first attempt for her at book writing. She has constructed an elaborate set of characters that came about when she found a child’s teddy bear onboard one of the ships years ago. No one ever claimed the poor teddy, so she adopted him and moved him into her and Theo’s cabin. There she built an elaborate history for him, and set about creating for him a host of other companions – some of them other teddies, along with a variety of other creatures, including frogs. In fact, her stories became so elaborate that she began sharing them with her mother back home. She even got her involved in making a variety of hand-sewn costumes for her various creatures. Theo even got into the act and wore one of Helen’s teddies on his ephlet at a shipboard New Year’s Eve party.

The food, the drink, and mostly the conversation was absolutely wonderful on this first of six glorious evenings at sea we have before we have to disembark the Statendam in San Diego on Saturday. This evening will go down as one of the best I have ever spent on this or any other Holland America ship. It was that much fun – and for a formal night too!
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Old October 20th, 2008, 10:18 PM
dmg dmg is offline
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Rita, have greatly enjoyed your posts! So much so, DH & I have booked this cruise for Jan 2010! Thanks so much for taking the time and $$ to let us take this trip with you. Smooth sailing home...
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Old October 22nd, 2008, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by dmg
Rita, have greatly enjoyed your posts! So much so, DH & I have booked this cruise for Jan 2010! Thanks so much for taking the time and $$ to let us take this trip with you. Smooth sailing home...
Wonderful! That means that perhaps we'll be sailing together! Although I booked a longer itinerary in 2010, I'll probably wind up on this one as well. With dad getting older, I probably won't get to do that longer sailing and will move over to this one. The itinerary in 2010 is also a bit different. We get a stop in Kirbiti and Fanning Island on that sailing, and lose the overnight in Honolulu. Keeps things interesting.

Hope I get to meet you on this wonderful, wonderful sailing!

Blue skies ...

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Old October 22nd, 2008, 11:11 PM
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Default Meet Cate O'Keefe -- Housekeeping Manager

Cate O’Keefe is someone who is constantly in motion. You often see her running all around the ship at just about any hour of the day or night. That’s because she’s one of the busiest department managers onboard the Statendam.

Cate is the manager of the Housekeeping Department, and that means she heads up one of the biggest departments on the hotel side of the operations. This includes all housekeeping responsibilities for the public areas, crew quarters and passenger cabins, as well as those of the night steward operations, luggage delivery and the laundry department.

Cate is also responsible for enforcing various standards for these departments, including those that keep us, the passengers healthy and happy. Norovirus is a very serious concern onboard cruise ships, and Cate takes a proactive approach to preventing it on the Statendam.

“I’m the one you can blame for all these Purell hand sanitizers you see around the ship,” she jokingly told me. “You can’t avoid them today – they are just about everywhere.” She is right, and I too noticed the proliferation of them from the moment I boarded the ship. They are located at the entrance to all eating areas, outside public areas, near the elevators, and at the tender or gangway areas. “And I train my people to remind passengers to use them, too,” she added. “As a result, we haven’t had a code red situation since I’ve been onboard the Statendam.

Cate is serious about keeping both the passengers and her people healthy. “Many people think Purell doesn’t do much to prevent the spread of the Norovirus,” she told me. “But they are wrong. We replaced all of our Purell dispensers last year with a new formulation of the sanitizer that is specifically designed to combat the spread of Norovirus. All our guests have to do is use them.”

Cate told me that she loves living and working on a cruise ship, and she enjoys longer cruises in particular because they give her more of an opportunity to practice team building with her people. “Longer cruises give me more of an opportunity to establish teams in the various departments, and to keep them together. This fosters more of a cooperative work attitude and allows for more training and mentoring among the teams. I’ve always been a team oriented type of manager.”

Cate has a long history in the service industry. She’s worked for major hotel chains such as the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons, and it was while with those organizations that she developed her management style focusing on building teams and motivating them. “I try to keep my people happy because I find that when I have a happy team, they will be more productive in serving our guests,” Cate told me.

“I’m basically a people pleaser,” she added. “Nine times out of ten, the guest will be right when they have a complaint. Therefore I want highly skilled teams in all areas of the housekeeping department, and I empower them to do whatever it takes to make the guest happy.”

Cate was housekeeping manager on the Oosterdam for two years before coming to the Statendam. She has been onboard the Statendam for the past two years and absolutely loves it. “I love the whole package of living and working at sea,” she told me. “I guess part of the reason for that is that I really don’t have much of a family shoreside anymore. So, the folks on the ship have pretty much become my extended family now.”

Cate is a very upbeat, “can do” sort of person. She loves tackling problems head on and doing whatever it takes to make the guest happy. “I love mentoring people, and have no problem with others seeing themselves in my job one day.” I’ve seen Cate’s interactions with her people, in particular with a housekeeper who was meeting with CruiseMates for an interview in Cate’s office one day. The housekeeper walked into the office at the time of our appointment. Cate told her, “make yourself comfortable in my chair. Get the feel of it. It may be yours one day.” Clearly Cate has no problem encouraging her people to think big.

Cate’s job often involves attending ship’s functions where she interacts with passengers in a social setting. “Those things are fun,” she told me. “I enjoy doing them. But I also like my quiet time too and can often be found reading in my cabin during my off hours.”

I asked Cate where she saw herself in five years. “Retired,” she laughed. “Seriously,” she added, “I enjoy my job and everything about it, but naturally I’d like to slow down and have a less hectic life at some point.” In her early fifties, it’s hard to imagine someone with Cate’s stamina in a rocking chair, and she freely acknowledged that won’t happen for quite a while yet. “I’d probably always like to work in some capacity, and can’t see myself ever fully retired. But maybe one day it would be nice to enjoy a slower pace, a job less demanding in my old age.”

Cate talked about many of the things her job involves – things most passengers wouldn’t even think of. “For example,” she told me, “we play a large role in the ship’s environmental initiatives. Every towel we wash, every set of bed linens that we send to the laundry, affects the ship’s impact on the environment and the oceans on which we sail. Therefore, it is up to us in housekeeping to encourage our passengers to conserve water by reusing their towels, and perhaps by using the same bed linens for more days at a time. We still change out everything on what is likely a far more frequent basis that you would change your towels and bed linens at home, and by reusing a towel for one additional day conserves an incredible amount of water when multiplied across all the cabins on the ship – and environmentally, that’s a good thing.”

Cate also looks for ways to streamline the work of her people. “Cabin stewards in particular are extremely busy,” Cate told me. “They have to service every guest cabin twice a day, sometimes more, in addition to performing other related tasks. Making the beds alone takes quite a bit of time, not to mention changing the linens and rotating the mattresses. It’s heavy work too. So, starting with the cruise after this one, we are going to try having the cabin stewards work in pairs – one lead steward and one cabin steward. We will pair them according to experience level so that the more experienced stewards can work in tandem with the newer ones. They will have double the amount of cabins to service, but we believe the process will go faster as well as more efficiently. They will work together on the beds, and then split up – one doing the bathrooms while the other takes care of the living area and balcony. This new configuration will also allow for more training and mentoring among the teams, and should actually save them time as they develop their own techniques for working together.”

Cate herself is very hands-on with regard to this change in procedure, and seems quite sincere in her desire to get her people to embrace the new concept. “I’ve held meetings with them, and given them hand-outs about how it will work. I’ve encouraged them to read everything over carefully and discuss it amongst themselves. Then I want them to bring their questions and concerns to a future meeting we will hold and we will freely discuss them.” Cate also pointed out that the new “team” approach to servicing guest cabins will also result in all of the stewards getting a monthly raise, with the leads obviously getting a bit more. “It’s actually been difficult in some cases figuring out who should be the lead and who the steward on some of the teams. Both are just about equally good. But then with other teams, I will have the chance to assign a relatively inexperienced steward – perhaps someone just joining the ship for their first contract – with a highly experienced one. That will be a win-win situation for both. The experienced one will get to take the new fellow under his wing and help him develop the job skills he will need to be successful. In fact, it is that sort of thing that is my biggest goal for this new program.”

Cate also seems sincere in her desire to see her people succeed and advance. “Some folks may think their cabin stewards do a relatively unimportant job, but you’d be shocked at how much skill and knowledge is required to properly perform their duties. I want my people to know they serve a critical function onboard the Statendam; one that probably impacts passenger satisfaction far more than many others. Nothing pleases me more than to see one of my people advance to a higher level, in housekeeping or elsewhere.”

And it is truly that last comment that would seem to embody the definition of the perfect boss – one who is not afraid to groom others to take over her own job one day. That would certainly seem to describe Cate O’Keefe.
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Old October 22nd, 2008, 11:13 PM
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Default Meet Wayne -- Holland America "Social Host"

Imagine a job where you get to spend pretty much your entire day dancing and socializing with a variety of interesting people, and best of all getting paid for it. Well, that is if you consider getting to cruise for free as getting paid.

That’s the job Wayne has been performing for the past several years onboard the ships of Holland America. He’s what is known as a “social host,” and he is currently serving in that capacity onboard Holland America’s m.s. Statendam during this 35-day cruise of Hawaii and the South Pacific. Wayne’s job, if you want to call it a job, is to “entertain” ladies who may either be traveling alone, or just desire a dance partner at various functions around the ship.

But what’s really involved in this “cushy” job? Well, a lot more than meets the eye, that’s for sure.

“We used to be called dance hosts, but that title has recently changed to Social Host,” Wayne explained. “We’re also known as social ambassadors or gentleman hosts as well. True, the job is a lot of fun, but it can be a great deal of work too. It also requires quite a bit of physical stamina.”

Wayne explained that he’s often on the go from noon to midnight everyday while onboard. These hours can extend even longer if he’s on a shore excursion with passengers any particular day. In addition to being in attendance wherever the orchestra is playing, he also must attend many of the special dance events onboard the ship, such as sailaway parties and certain gala ball events. “We also help out with the dance classes and make ourselves available as dance partners during them as well. We’re always available in the lounges for cocktail hour dancing, and often later on up in the Crow’s Nest for late evening dancing as well. Then we host tables at the daily ‘single and solos luncheons,’ as well as hosting dinner tables, especially on formal nights. Dancing is a big part of our jobs, but it’s certainly not all that’s required of us. We need to be good conversationalists and tour escorts as well.”

Wayne explained that Holland America usually provides the services of Social Hosts on all of its longer itineraries, generally those in excess of 14 days. They will try to work it out so that each Social Host averages about four regular dance partners. Contrary to popular belief, Wayne told me that the social hosts aren’t just there to serve as dance partners for single women who are traveling alone. “Oftentimes married women will need dance partners as well,” he told me. “They may have husbands who don’t dance for one reason or another, and who are only too happy for us to take the pressure off of them by dancing with their wives.”

On the subject of single or widowed women, Wayne told me that the job of social host onboard a cruise ship can often lead to lifelong friendships. “Lots of very close friendships can develop in this job and I’ve seen some dance hosts who have moved on to personally escorting some of their former dance partners on future cruises. Often for women traveling alone, it is comforting to have someone onboard to look after them exclusively, joining them on excursions as well as serving as their exclusive dance partner. While I’ve never accompanied a former dance partner on such a cruise yet, I have escorted people on shore excursions, looking after them and providing personal assistance as necessary.”

Wayne normally does about three cruises a year with Holland America and sometimes picks up a fourth on short notice. “There are agencies we use, such as To Sea with Zee, where we can go onto a website and select the cruises we would be interested in doing. I’ll usually do three a year, because that’s all I currently have time for. But sometimes I’ll help them out if they need me for a fourth, such as when someone backs out on short notice.”

Wayne explained that the job of social host is one more geared to retired gentlemen. “After all, how could someone managing a busy career get away for several long cruises a year?,” he asked. The job is also ideally suited for those who truly love to dance, maybe having done it professionally in the past. Wayne has over 14 years worth of dance experience, having most seriously pursued his interest in the discipline after his retirement.

Wayne’s dance experience covers the whole gamut of dance types, from the modern to classical ballroom genres. “We social hosts have to be familiar with a wide variety of dance styles,” he told me, “especially if we’re going to teach or even help out with the dance classes onboard.” Wayne has been involved for years in his local ballroom dance society at home in Victoria, British Columbia. He also serves as a dee jay at many of the group’s dance events. To keep in shape while at home, he also likes to bicycle several miles each day.

“I’ve been working as a social host onboard ships for about seven years now,” Wayne told me. “I love the chance to travel that this work provides. My favorite destination is the Mediterranean, but I’m happy going pretty much anywhere. We truly live in a small world, and I’d like to see as much of it in my lifetime as I possibly can.”

In addition to the Statendam, Wayne has also done sailings on both the Noordam and the Prisendam. He has so far served as a social host on some 20 cruises, most of them with Holland America. “I love meeting so many interesting and wonderful people,” Wayne told me. “That -- more than anything else -- is what makes my job so enjoyable. I’ve really developed close bonds with some of the people I’ve met in my travels,” he added.

I asked Wayne if he has ever been a social host on a World Cruise. “Funny you should mention that,” he laughed. “I think Holland America might be a bit perturbed with me right now. I just turned down an offer for next year’s World Cruise.”

Wayne explained that while he loves serving as a social host onboard Holland America’s ships, he also loves his life at home too. “I am very involved in our ballroom dance society, and in various community organizations in and around Victoria,” he told me. “So I like to spend some time close to home too. While I’d love to do a World Cruise, being away from home for that length of time is just a bit too much for me right now.”

While still a relatively young man, Wayne has enjoyed a rather interesting career history. He’s been involved professionally in dancing for the past seven years, but before that enjoyed a 25-year career as a financial planner. He’s also spent many years working in and around airplanes, mainly as an aerial photographer. Having these varied experiences makes him ideally suited to the function of a social host as those experiences provide him with plenty of versatility as a conversationalist.

“While I don’t mind talking about my experiences and my life,” Wayne told me, “my favorite thing is to learn a bit about the lives of the many people I meet while onboard for these longer cruises. You really get to know people over the course of 35 days,” he added. “And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the best part of my job as a social host.”

Somehow I think the people Wayne spends time with his cruises would probably feel the same way. Meeting and getting to know him has probably equally enriched their lives. It certainly has mine.
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Old October 22nd, 2008, 11:15 PM
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Default Meet Theo H. M. Haanen -- Hotel Manager on the Statendam

Theo H. M. Haanen is the Hotel Manager onboard the Statendam and he is probably one of the most seasoned of Holland America’s many employees of long-standing. Having served the line for some 42 years, he has seen many, many changes over that time – mainly good, but probably a few that have been not so good.

Theo worked his way up in the Holland American fleet to his current position as Hotel Manager. In that role, Theo is responsible for everything on the “hotel” side of the ship – basically everything not related to moving the ship through the waters. As Hotel Manager, Theo has all department heads on the hotel side of the operation reporting to him, and these include housekeeping, dining, beverage, guest relations, and a host of others.

“The secret to managing a large hotel operation is to place faith in the people who serve under you, and to support them. For example, in all my years as a hotel manager, I have only overruled a decision of the Guest Relations Manager twice – and those were special situations.”

Theo believes that a major part of resolving guest complaints involves being a good listener. “Most times, guests are very reasonable in their expectations, and when they have a complaint about something that is not meeting those expectations, half the road to resolving the issue is simply being a good listener and showing them that you honestly and genuinely care. Sadly, there are times you really can’t do a whole lot to resolve the problem. Maybe there is an issue with their accommodations and the ship is full with no place to move them, or perhaps they are experiencing discomfort from rough seas. But if you show the guest that you truly care and give them your personal attention, they will often feel much better just from knowing they are being taken seriously.”

Theo also talked about the importance of not hiding from problems. “When a guest has a problem, the worst thing you can do is try to avoid them. I tell all of my department heads to face problems head on, and deal with them. The result is always a much happier guest even if the problem is something we really can’t do a whole lot about.

“Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that when a guest has a problem, it is often a good idea to deal with them privately. Often when one person has a problem, other passengers will ‘egg them on’ to expect unreasonable resolutions – such as a 50% refund of their cruise fare because their cabin steward perhaps forgot to provide turndown service one evening. I find that when I get together with the guest privately, they will be much easier to deal with and we can often resolve the problem in a reasonable fashion, such as by sending a complimentary plate of truffles or offering a free dinner in the Pinnacle.”

I asked Theo about the various types of guests he’s dealt with over the years. “Our guests will often vary by the type of cruises the ship is doing at any given point in time. On an itinerary such as this 35-day sailing, guests are paying a lot more money for their accommodations, and that will certainly have some bearing upon their expectations. Passengers on this type of sailing are frequently repeat guests, some with many, many hundreds of days sailing the ships of Holland America. They know what they can expect on our ships, and they don’t hesitate to let us know if we are not living up to those expectations. And, actually, that’s a good thing. It keeps us on our toes.”

Theo said that sometimes he really enjoys the shorter sailings because of the diversity of passengers that can be found onboard. “Our Alaska season was kind of fun,” he told me. “Because of the time of year these Alaska sailings take place, we have a lot more families onboard – a younger passenger demographic. Often many are first-time cruisers and they tend to be positive and upbeat. They are totally taken with the whole shipboard experience and they can often be a lot of fun. I don’t think I would be happy with all 30+ day sailings. I do like a bit of variety.”

Theo generally works under four month contracts, with two months off. He was born and raised in the province of Limburg, in the southeastern portion of the Netherlands. He got his start in hotel management early, helping his parents to run a hotel restaurant from a very young age. Once the travel bug bit him, though, he enrolled in the Merchant Marine Hotel School in Rotterdam. Upon graduation, he signed on with Holland America Line and served in various capacities onboard their passenger ships. In 1980, he left HAL to run his family’s restaurant business, but the lure of the sea was just a bit too much for him, so he returned to the Line in 1986 -- this time in the capacity of Beverage Manager. Distinguishing himself as a hands-on manager with a strong belief in teamwork, he quickly rose up the ranks to his current position as Hotel Manager. “I’ve always enjoyed team building,” Theo explained. “I try to keep my people happy and always working as a team, and that’s always the winning combination to achieving peak guest satisfaction as far as I’m concerned.”

When not sailing on the ships of Holland America, Theo and his wife, Helen, make their home in Coconut Creek, Florida. Since they have no children, Helen is now able to travel with Theo full-time while he is onboard the Statendam, and she too keeps quite busy while onboard. “Helen teaches English and cultural etiquette to our crew members while she is onboard. She helps them not just with their language skills, but also introduces them to a lot of the slang and context of the language. This goes a long way in helping some of our non-English speaking crew members to enjoy their interactions with guests.”

Helen told me that oftentimes, especially when they are new, crew members will be terrified to speak with guests. True, they learn some of the basic language skills while in training or working in their home countries, but often they are still quite unsure of their English when they come onboard. They are afraid that they won’t understand what a guest is asking them, and because of that they will avert their eyes when encountering guests in the hallway. They are not being rude; they are just afraid – but this sort of thing could still be offensive to some guests. So I put together these fun little classes where I create scenarios that help them to think not just in terms of the words needed to answer the question, but the context of the words being used as well – since the same word can have various meanings depending upon how it is being used. I incorporate a lot of “slang” terms in these classes as well to make the classes extra fun for participants.”

Helen seems to be a natural-born teacher who enjoys the whole processing of helping people to learn. “If you are just patient with people and make the learning fun, you’d be surprised at how quickly they grasp even the most difficult language concepts.” Helen went on to tell me that English is actually one of the most difficult languages to learn, especially when it is a second or third language. “Even the slang,” she pointed out, “is not universal. It often varies by the region, such as east coast versus west coast terms.”

Theo is obviously very proud of his wife’s talent for helping crew members with their English. “Helen also helps them understand the cultural differences between our various passengers onboard. Something could be fine in their own culture, but highly offensive in another.” For example, Theo related an incident that took place one evening while he and Helen were having dinner. “My wife sometimes will eat a very small dinner, and one night when we were in the dining room she only ordered an appetizer – no entrée. The waiter said something to the effect of ‘I guess tonight you want to just drink your dinner.’ While we knew he did not mean to offend, a guest could easily take that sort of comment in the wrong way. That’s why what Helen does onboard is so important. She helps our primarily Indonesian and Filipino crew members – the very ones who interact with our guests the most – to avoid uncomfortable snafus like that by better understanding the language and cultural differences of our various guests onboard.”

Theo and his wife make quite a team. While Theo is busy running the hotel side of things, Helen is also working on a series of children’s books incorporating the environment of the ship, but also a cast of characters purely from an imaginary land. Some of them are small “Teddys” that she actually keeps in her cabin. They have a full set of home-made outfits, many of which were created by her mother back home. She paints a series of adventures in which these characters engage, which are not just cute, but will give her readers an idea of what life at sea is like. She plans to one day publish these stories, when the time is right.

Theo makes the job of Hotel Manager look easy. Any given evening onboard the ship, one can see both him and Helen making the rounds of the public areas, sharing a word with a bartender here, a laugh with a group of passengers there, and perhaps an intimate cocktail with another couple. But a careful observer will realize it looks so easy only because they both so much enjoy socializing with folks onboard. Theo’s job looks so easy only because he has carefully laid the ground work to ensure his people are happy. This in turn ensures they will keep guests happy as well. It all works like a well-oiled machine, which, in fact, it is.

So when you see a hotel manager making the rounds onboard your next Holland America sailing, maybe you’ll have a bit more of an understanding of his job and what it takes to have a smoothly running ship with a lot of happy passengers. And, if it looks easy, then you can rest assured you have one of the more experienced, better hotel managers onboard – maybe even someone who was once trained and mentored as a part of Theo’s team.
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Old October 23rd, 2008, 01:21 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 390

rita, thank you for such a wonderful tour; i almost felt i was back there again after 15 years -- how time flies. i was planning a cruise to tahiti some years ago, when, suddenly, renaissance cruises went belly up. now you have 'fed' my desire to go back again, though at age 65 i'm not as up to it as i was long ago. and retired, i'm not quite as financially able, especially in this terrible economy. still, i much admire you, having your own physical issues and still getting out, going on tours, and writing about it all so that we can have vicariously the thrills. i especially remember my visit to moorea; we had a van guide who called himself 'the white monkey' because he was scandanavian married to a tihitian wife; he was so great; even climbed a coconut palm and threw me down a green one. it is brown now, and a bookend, but the memory lives on. thanks again, and God bless. now, for a cigarette!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hombre
i know you know the feeling!
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Old October 23rd, 2008, 03:18 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Posts: 1,139
Default Heading Home from Nuka Hiva -- First Four Days at Sea

Sorry I haven’t been updating this blog in the past couple of days, but I’ve been quite busy.

Most people mistakenly assume that a day at sea means nothing going on at all. Well, that’s actually wrong. There is always something going on, even if that means spending a day just being lazy ... and there’s nothing wrong in that. But others fill their days with shipboard activities, so that they remain pretty much on the go from morning until night, even on a supposedly lazy day at sea.

I started my day off with a leisurely breakfast in the Lido -- the spot where I’ve taken every breakfast since day one of this sailing. Normally I eat light, but today I had the works – pancakes, breakfast meats, bacon, juice, and two nice big cups of java. On the subject of the java -- while I wouldn’t call HAL’s coffee delicious, I do have to say that it has improved some since my last cruise on the Veendam in April of 2007. There it was absolutely horrible, to the point that I had to stop drinking it and switch over to specialty coffees from the Explorations Café. Here on the Statendam, however, it seems to be a bit more drinkable, and with a couple of packets of sugar, it isn’t too unpleasant to ingest. I guess shipboard coffee will never be entirely good, but at least the Statendam tries.

After breakfast we lounged around in the Ocean Bar with the “Breakfast Club.” That’s a group of smokers that have taken to congregating there in the morning for conversation, to read a good book, or just to relax.

The big event of the day, however, was something we asked for, but I never believed we would actually manage to get -- a private tour of the Statendam’s bridge by one of the watch officers; the navigator on duty, which was arranged for representatives of CruiseMates and Cruise Critic. At the appointed hour, Trisha (Cruise Critic), her husband – Virgil – our official “photographer” (yes, he is the only one among us who has the fancy camera equipment and the brains to know how to use it), and myself met at the front desk for our escort up to the bridge. I’m just thinking to myself “we’re going up into rarified air – onto the Navigation Deck – where the “rich” folks live.

We were greeted by the officer of the watch who explained that he was the Navigator on duty. He showed us each section of the bridge and its extensive array of equipment, explaining what it is used for and its purpose for ensuring safe passage on the high seas. He showed us the thruster controls, the large computer consoles from which the bridge can gather various weather information, as well as data regarding the ship’s positioning on the high seas. For example, one computer display provides a running estimate of when the Statendam will get to its next port – in this case, sadly, San Diego (and disembarkation) based on real time data concerning the ship’s speed. This display is constantly updated so that the bridge officers can make adjustments to the ship’s speed – perhaps slowing the ship down to save fuel if it appears the ship will arrive in San Diego too early for disembarkation.

We also saw the controls for the stabilizers and the radio systems that allow the officers on the watch to communicate with lifeboat captains in the event of an emergency requiring us to abandon ship. We also saw an emergency telephone system that can be used even if the ship loses all electrical power.

We saw the paper navigation charts that the officers use to plot our course. While computer overlays are also used to ensure the paper charts have the latest information, it is not considered good maritime practice to rely primarily on any computer-generated charts. Paper charts are always the primary ones, and these are prepared anew for each cruising using the most updated information regarding hazards, shallow areas, reefs, etc. It was explained to us by our guide that he does two watches each day; one for about four hours and one for two. During this time he mans the bridge, monitoring all of the equipment and keeping a watch over our current position. He also updates the ship’s log periodically; recording information about anything of note that occurred during his watch. During other hours, however, he also works in plotting the charts for the Statendam’s upcoming cruises. For example, right now he is preparing the charts for the upcoming cruise, one that will take the Statendam through the Panama Canal and to Fort Lauderdale.

There were only a few officers on the bridge at the time of our visit, and these are called the officers of the watch. We were told that this complement is doubled at night, with even more on duty during certain critical periods, such as when arriving in port. There are also at times some cadets working on the bridge. I was surprised to learn that these cadets are merely observers, as they are still maritime academy students and thus can’t be given any real duties onboard the Statendam (they are not yet licensed). Their purpose is to spend a short period of time onboard, learning and observing under the watchful eye of deck officers – sort of like “interns” – and then they return to their classrooms at the maritime academy to complete their formal schooling.

At the time of our bridge tour, the Statendam was running on auto pilot, just as a jumbo jet would be, with the officers just monitoring her progress through the seas and keeping watch for other vessels. Since we were out in the open ocean, with a long way to go before arriving at San Diego, there really wasn’t a whole lot to do, but officers are always on watch – generally two during the daylight hours, with a minimum of four during nighttime periods.

An interesting tidbit. A question was brought up about the “first water.” This is apparently a tiny jar containing a sample of the first water to hit the ship’s hull as the dry dock in which the ship was built is flooded with ocean water at the completion of construction, thereby allowing the ship its first contact with the sea. It is said that this small jar of water is supposedly stored on the bridge somewhere and a request was made to see, and perhaps photograph it. We were told that in the case of the Statendam, the jar containing the ship’s “first water” is actually stored in the captain’s cabin and not on the bridge. Since no one was particularly interested in bothering the captain, sorry – we could not get a photo of this.

We also saw the room in which the navigator works when he is making up his charts. That room also contains the controls for the elaborate security monitoring system for critical areas of the ship. We saw the fire monitors for various areas, such as the Lido Pantry and other potentially “hot” spots around the ship, and how the officers get notification if there is a potential problem. They can then zoom in on the area and determine just which smoke detectors went off, and determine whether there is likely a problem requiring further investigation.

There are lots of other interesting areas on the bridge, more than I would have ever suspected. It is a very large room, running the entire width of the ship. There are stations for every conceivable purpose, from navigation, to control, to communication. There are also several large comfy chairs against the wall at which observers can sit, and even an exceptionally large chair from which the captain can call out commands.

There is no large wooden wheel to steer the ship. Instead, there is a small racing-type wheel that the quartermaster uses to manually pilot the ship, executing the orders as given by the captain. Our host was kind enough to allow us to pose for photos here – “Look, Ma! I’m driving!” Yeah, right.

The thrusters are controlled from another station, using joystick-like controls. These are generally used when the Statendam is maneuvering in and out of port.

Another neat thing is a clear opening in the floor on which a watch officer will often stand when he wants to look directly down into the sea. Most times this is necessary while maneuvering into or out of port, especially in tight situations. Standing on this clear piece of glass is a bit intimidating since it appears one could fall directly into the sea. Of course, the glass (or probably actually plastic) is very thick, and falling through would be virtually impossible. But try telling that to someone when they are standing there. It can be quite intimidating. Yet we all tried it, and none of us were any the worse for wear as a result.

We also got to meet the Statendam’s “bridge mascot,” a large inflatable croc (or maybe it’s an alligator) affixed to a section of the large glass window that gives the bridge officers the best view on the ship – a sweeping, virtually limitless panorama of the infinite ocean – at least on this portion of our sailing. Standing at that window, even without the use of binoculars, provides an amazing view, directly over the bow of the ship. And, best of all, it’s true what they say – the more you pay, the more you sway. The folks working here truly get to feel the full “motion of the ocean.” The movement of the sea is so much more pronounced on the bridge, just as I am sure it would be for those lucky folks staying in accommodations on the Navigation Deck – the uppermost level of guest accommodations onboard. I loved the ride we enjoyed from the bridge and found myself holding onto the railings conveniently provided at each equipment console.

The senior bridge officers, and of course the captain, all have accommodations along a small hallway directly adjacent to the entryway onto the bridge itself. The door to the bridge is protected with a surveillance camera as well as a keycard locking system. Our host explained that the reason they have cabins so close by is so that they can get to the bridge at a moment’s notice, even if they are off duty and in their cabins sound asleep.

All too soon, our wonderful tour was over. We appreciated the time we were given by the busy bridge officer who answered all of our questions and explained the use and function of each piece of equipment. He was also kind enough to allow us to take unlimited photographs and even have some fun playing Statendam “driver” for the camera.

This experience is one I won’t soon forget.

Yesterday we had yet another treat in store. This was a combined CruiseCritic/Cruise Mates get-together in the Crow’s Nest. Our wonderful hosts were kind enough to provide a spread of appetizers, as well as coffee, tea, juice and cookies to make the occasion even more festive and fun. Just about everyone in our group attended, despite the fact that there was a Mariner award ceremony/brunch going on at almost the same time.

Several of the Statendam’s officers attended, including Theo (Hotel Manager) and his wife Helen, Jackie – the Internet Manager (my “angel” with regard to this blog – had she not supplied a loaner wireless card when my own failed to work, this blog would have contained nothing but one or two line entries), the onboard florist whose artistic arrangements onboard the ship have provided us with hours of visual and sensory pleasure; Peter, the food and beverage manager who set these wonderful affairs up for us; and a host of other wonderful people too numerous to individually name here – but you know who you are. We had a great Q&A session and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

And, on the subject of the events of these sea days on the way back to San Diego, I should also mention for those here interested – the Mariner Awards ceremony. I was told that there was something like 1,000 repeat passengers (Mariners) on this sailing. And everyone onboard qualified for some sort of award, even if it was their first cruise – since this sailing was a minimum of 30 days in length. So the Mariner Awards had to be broken down into three separate days to accommodate everyone. The first day (Tuesday) was for people getting 100 day or more medals. The remaining two days were for folks getting 25 or 50 day pins. I got my 100 day medal on this cruise, while Trisha and Virgil got their 300 day ones. We had a nice ceremony in the Van Gogh Lounge where each award recipient (beginning with 100-day medal holders) was called up to the front individually to receive their medal from the captain and hotel manager. An announcement was made regarding just how many days they had sailing with Holland America, and an individual photo was taken (and delivered to our staterooms the next day gratis). Following the 100 day pins, awards for 300, 500 and 700 day Mariners were made. Appetizers and drinks were served – and, yes, you could order a cocktail if you preferred – or you could select among the wine and champagne constantly being brought around on trays. Orange juice and soda was also available.

At the end of the ceremony, all others onboard with 100+ days, who were not receiving medals on this cruise (because they had already received them for their last award level) were asked to come up to the stage for a group photo with Theo and Captain Jack. I assume they too received a copy of that photograph.

Immediately following the awards ceremony, we were all invited to the dining room for a brunch. A special menu was printed for the occasion which we could feel free to keep. The menu was somewhat limited, but was certainly more than adequate. There was a seafood dish, a quisch type entrée and a steak dish. I chose the steak, thinking that what I would get would be a small lunch steak. Imagine my surprise when I was served a full-size dinner steak that I could hardly finish half of.

Maybe it is true that Holland America doesn’t offer the past passenger amenities that some cruise lines do. But then, that could be because Holland America doesn’t have to. Most of this line’s passengers are repeaters, and I guess that says something about the product offered by the Line. I suspect Holland America has put a priority on upholding the higher levels of service that keeps these passengers coming back time and time again, instead of providing things like free internet and laundry service. At least to me, those “perks” don’t mean very much, and I would much rather forego them to get the same high quality cruise experience that I’ve come to expect while onboard. I like the more personalized attention that I receive on a Holland America cruise and will take that over a free bag of laundry any day. It’s really nice to have stewards who greet you by name each morning when you appear in the Lido for breakfast, and who insist on carrying your tray to your table. It’s nice to have a dining room assistant manager who refused to allow me to fetch my own cup of coffee one evening, simply because I was on vacation, and summoned a steward to take care of it. But, then, I guess it’s all a matter of what’s important to you, and I can only state what’s important to me.

But I think this nice Mariner’s event, not to mention the higher level of personal service on Holland America will be enough to keep me returning – time and time again. I don’t need no “stinkin” free laundry.

These past three or four days at sea have been wonderful. I thought the whole six sea days heading back from Nuku Hiva to San Diego would be downers, but quite the opposite has been true. They’ve been restful and pleasant, with high points contained in each one of them. I’m gonna hate to see this cruise come to an end. It’s clearly been my most pleasurable one yet.
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Old October 23rd, 2008, 03:52 PM
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Default Meet Hanna Kielczewska -- Guest Relations Manager

On the face of things, Hanna Kielczewska would seem to have one of the most difficult, if not downright frustrating jobs onboard the Statendam. Everyone knows that working in customer relations is a big challenge, but it’s one that Hanna seems to thrive on.

“A lot of people think my job involves handling a never-ending stream of complaints all day, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Actually, only about 50% of the guests I deal have issues that need to be resolved; the rest simply have questions or need information that will help them better enjoy their cruise.”

Hanna says that she loves her job mainly because it never gets boring. “It’s something new and interesting everyday,” she told me. “I love having my finger on the pulse of everything that’s happening around the ship. There’s very little that doesn’t go through my office, and I just love being in the loop. The job never gets boring because every single day onboard is different.”

As guest relations manager, Hanna is in charge of the front desk operations, as well as those of the concierges in the Neptune Lounge. “I empower my people to handle just about any situation that could come up, but I always encourage them to send passengers to me if they feel they can’t handle them. I just love resolving problems, and no matter how difficult a passenger may seem to be, I usually can calm them down and get to the root of any issue that’s upsetting them.” And it’s her upbeat, cheerful attitude that is the key. She’s also not afraid to delegate. “I don’t set foot in the Neptune Lounge that very often,” she told me. “The concierges up there know their jobs and they don’t need me telling them what to do. They are the ones most familiar with the needs of their Suite guests, so I only get involved if they have something they ask for my help on.” “I believe that people will only take full ownership of their jobs if you give them your full trust and guidance. This helps them to develop confidence in their ability to do their jobs because they know you have confidence in them and their abilities.”
Hanna says that her secret to resolving problems is to carefully listen to the guest to find out what is wrong and what it will take to make it right. “There is no such thing as a chronic complainer or even a ‘difficult’ guest,” Hanna explained. “There is just a guest who has a problem that I am here to resolve. That’s my job. So, I deal with them from a foundation of sincerity and honesty in order to do that. I let them know that I am on their side, and I deal with them one on one, person to person. I want them to know that I am not ‘the cruise line’ against them, but rather someone who genuinely wants to resolve any issue that may be standing in the way of them having a great cruise. I also try to get out from behind the desk,” Hanna added, “I don’t even want that desk separating me from the guest, and I encourage my people to do the same thing. It makes interacting with guests far more enjoyable.”

Hanna is probably so passionate about her job because she honestly enjoys it. “I really like dealing with people,” she told me. “It’s all a matter of reading guest emotions, and then dealing with them from a similar viewpoint. I take the same tact when dealing with the people who work for me as well.”

Holland America employs an exclusively Filipino front desk staff, though supervisors and management staff are European. Hanna got her start in guest relations working for Celebrity Cruises on their front desk. She then served as a concierge onboard that line for two contracts. After a short stint back on land, she began her career with Holland America Line, as a Guest Relations Supervisor onboard both the Westerdam and the Oosterdam. After three full contracts on the Vista Class ships, she was promoted to Guest Relations Manager onboard the Rotterdam, before moving to the Zaandam, and after that to the Statendam this past September. “I started on the biggest ships in the fleet,” she explained, “but moved on down to progressively smaller ones as quickly as I could. I always was interested in working on small ships where I can get to know our guests, as well as my co-workers, a bit better.”

“The front desk is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Hanna told me. “Everyone works an eight hour+ shift, split with a break of several hours in the middle.” Hanna works similar type hours, which she seems to enjoy. “Of course, my hours are not rigidly held to eight hours a day. Some days I may work eleven hours, while on others I may work only seven. It all depends on how busy we are and whether we are in port or at sea.”

Hanna says that longer sailings, such as this one, are far more challenging for her. On longer cruises, we have the same guests onboard day after day. Of course, we handle any issues as they come up, but generally things smooth out over time, however, mind you; the same people always might appear again at the very end of the cruise, so you have to remember names, faces and stories up to the very last minute! The shorter cruises, with guests changing every seven or so days, can get a bit more hectic with a constant flow of challenges. Keeps things hopping, which is just the way I like it.”

Hanna works under six month contracts, with six to eight weeks off in between. When on leave, she loves to go home and spend time with her family. Hanna was born in Poland, and today her family resides in Holland. “I have an identical twin,” she told me. “Her name is Anna – we were always Anna and Hanna growing up.” Hanna’s father recently passed away after a period of illness, so there’s only her mom and sister left. “Neither my mom nor my sister have ever been onboard a cruise ship,” Hanna told me. “My mom hasn’t even been on an airplane yet. So over the holidays they’re going to be joining me onboard the Statendam for a vacation. My mom had a rough last couple of years, taking care of my father who was ill, so I want this to be a really special trip for the both of them. I booked them into one of our suites so that the cruise will be a memorable one. It’s a Caribbean sailing with a lot of ports, so I am trying to arrange my schedule so that I can work while they are out exploring the ports and then be available to spend most evenings with them.”

It’s a challenge to be away from one’s family while working extended periods of time at sea, but Hanna doesn’t seem too troubled by it. “I honestly enjoy just about everything to do with my job,” she said. “I love the work that I do, dealing with people. I also love my work environment. Being at sea means there’s something new everyday. Your environment is constantly changing. You sail into new ports, in entirely new regions of the world, on a regular basis. The weather is different. The scenery is different. You get to see new places and experience new things. “And also in this job -- issues, solutions, goals and expectations might change overnight and it is always your capability to adjust that keeps you moving. You can’t ask for better and more empowering working conditions than that.”

I asked Hanna what itinerary she most loves sailing, and she seemed to have difficulty answering the question. “I’ve been pretty much everywhere except Asia and a few other countries in that region, and I guess I enjoy them all. But if I had to choose my favorite itinerary, at least here onboard the Statendam, I would have to say Alaska because it’s so naturally rugged and beautiful. But I also like it because we did that itinerary over the course of a solid three months. When we do the same itinerary every week, there is no pressure to get off the ship and see the various ports. You know that if you don’t get a chance to see Sitka this week, there is always next week or the week after that. With this Hawaii/South Pacific sailing, there is only one, and we are visiting so many incredibly beautiful places that you hate to miss seeing even a single one. So that adds a lot of pressure to free up at least a few hours to go out and explore every day we are in port. That sort of thing can be very tiring because it means I feel the need to think a bit more about time scheduling as well.”

Hanna has a small cabin overlooking the bow of the ship. I told her that it would seem to me that she has one of the best cabin views onboard the Statendam. “True,” she laughed, “but then I guess I should also mention that my cabin is directly above the show lounge. Getting a mid-afternoon nap was difficult at first since there are rehearsals going on in there just about everyday. But after awhile I learned to just tune out the noise,” she added.

I asked Hanna where she sees herself in five years. “Probably in the same place I am right now,” she answered. “I really enjoy my work and while it’s possible I could be doing a similar job for a large hotel, I honestly prefer my life at sea. So, since I’m still pretty young, five years from now will probably find me still working on a ship somewhere.”

Hanna freely admitted that when she is not at sea, she misses it. “I went back home after working two contracts for Celebrity. But I didn’t stay there very long. The lure of life at sea was just too much for me. So I began applying for jobs and Holland America was the first company to get back to me. They offered me a position to start almost immediately, and I’ve been here ever since.”

I’ve had occasion to deal quite extensively with Hanna during this cruise, and I can say without hesitation that from the first time I met her, I was impressed by her upbeat and positive nature, and by her sincere desire to be of assistance. It’s no wonder the guests here onboard the Statendam love her. She really bends over backward to ensure their happiness. Hanna facilitated this entire CruiseMates blog, and without her assistance it would not have been anywhere near as comprehensive as it turned out. She coordinated interviews, set up appointments and made herself available to meet all of our needs. She even went to the trouble to arrange a private bridge tour for representatives from both CruiseMates and Cruise Critic. And the amazing thing? She would do just about the same for any guest. That’s just the type of person she is – Holland America at its finest.
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