We’ve crossed into our 24th time zone, Atlantic Standard Time (or Eastern Daylight Time.) While we have one more port before Fort Lauderdale people are packing. Many are already packed. We are putting that off until the last minute. I’m glad because last night was the final “Gala Night” and on gala nights we get a “pillow gift.” Some of them have been practical (a messenger bag for shore excursions, a little spare USB phone battery, a panama hat for the sun and most importantly new expandable carry on suitcases for each of us.) Some of it is not practical and pretty clunky, like tulip vases and Waterford sugar bowls. But last night we each got a huge and heavy Royal Goedewaagan commemorative platter (“hand made in the Netherlands since 1610”) with a map of our voyage. I feel sorry for those who’ve already packed.
On these final days people are making arrangements for next year, setting up tables and making lunch dates for the early days of the cruise. On one of the earliest posts I commented that we seemed to be crashing a private party of people who do this every year. By now we have joined the party.
We have “Open seating” which means we sit somewhere different each night. As the cruise progressed we have been invited to some “set tables” that have open places for guests. We seem to be circulating between three tables where our presence is requested. We’ve been invited to join some of those tables next year and folks seem genuinely disappointed that we are not on next year. (It’s already sold out.) “Well what about 2020?” We laugh and say financially we probably have only one world cruise in us. So now we’re getting suggestions on how to cut the costs. One woman has offered to let us stay at her place in Fort Lauderdale on both ends to cut expenses. Others have told us how to book “best available” cabin to save money. Some people think that it’s best to do that directly through Holland America to get the best placement when it comes time to assign cabins, others say it’s best through travel agents. We may not get best placement but they buy bulk for lower rates and we get a portion of their commissions kicked back as on-board credit. The 2020 itinerary does looks interesting.
The ship’s staff does not want the pace of the cruise to lag in this final week so they are scheduling extra things. Several nights we have two different shows. There are cocktail parties and events honoring frequent cruisers. There’s a ceremony where everyone who has spent 100 nights on Holland America gets a bronze medallion (and since this is a 113 night cruise… “all must get prizes.”) There’s silver for 300 nights, gold for 500 nights, platinum for 700 nights and, the PhD of cruising, the President’s club for, I think, 1400 nights. And it IS kind of like a commencement for grandma, the music plays and we go forward with our medals for a picture with the Captain, it goes on forever and ever before the amen. I half expected the band to play Elgar. The worst part is that, unlike a graduation, where they ask you to hold your applause until the end, the cruise director is trying to whip up applause for each person called. How many times can the Cruise Director say “that’s quite an achievement” and sound like he means it? At the end, with all our medals dangling from our necks, it looked like the finish of the Boston Marathon. The best part, when I got my picture snapped, I got to thank the Captain for the great plug he gave to Sitka in his Q&A earlier in the week. (What’s your favorite port of call? Man has good taste.)
The closeout entertainment is pretty intense. On deck 5 you can walk from aft past the Explorers’ Bar where “Adagio” is playing the theme from “Dr. Zhivago,” past Jamm in the Piano Bar who is leading the bar flys in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and on to the Ocean Bar where the “Ocean Trio” is “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid.” We stay for a while to listen to “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Sweet Lorraine” and “Green Dolphin Street.” Then back through where Jamm is doing some Andrew Lloyd-Webber song (I can’t tell which, they all sound the same to me) and “Adagio” is playing “Bei Mir Bistu Du Shein.”
On a good night I like the Ocean Trio because they play jazz, although many nights they are loaded up with requests for dance music which I enjoy but not as much as nights when there’s a ship-wide event that we are not interested in. On the evening we left Dakar it was only Suzi, me and the four gentleman dance hosts at the Ocean Bar and the trio cut loose, jamming for themselves. When clarinet player Pete Neighbor (a protégé of Aker Bilk) joined the Ocean Trio it was a great evening.
In the main theater there’s nightly entertainment. Sometimes it’s a local culture show. On most nights, it’s like the booker for the Ed Sullivan show found a new career with Holland America. We have had jugglers, stand-up comedians, a ventriloquist and dummy, accordion players, fiddlers, piano players, harmonica players, an Abba Tribute Band, a Queen Tribute Band, a Billy Joel tribute performer, singers and dancers with production shows, pop singers, opera singers, classical pianists, an impressionist, a mime and magicians. (The Rabbi refers to the ship as “A floating Grossingers.”) Some of it is corny, some wonderful. But hey, isn’t it great that a tin whistle player can get a paying gig on a cruise ship between Dakar to San Juan?
Like the Sullivan show the program is programed to appeal to major ethnic groups. I think there is a requirement that “Danny Boy” be in a show at least once a week. Fortunately, Volare is not what they pick for Italians. Usually it’s some opera aria. I didn’t know there were so many Czechs on board but we have heard Bohemian Rhapsody in at least 6 shows, and we only go to half the shows.
But it’s the lecturers who, for me, are the most interesting “entertainment.” Often we have had lectures on the same topics from two or more different disciplines. We’ve had lectures on Captain Cook from an historian, retired sea captain and retired military officer, giving us navigational, scientific and geopolitical perspectives. We’ve learned how Arab, Chinese, and different European traders all tried to monopolize the spice trade while spreading culture, religion and genes from a historian, a retired naval officer and an economist specializing in commodities trading. Their techniques vary. One woman with a very expressive voice turns out all the lights and tells stories illustrated with slides. Others are more upfront and physical in their presence.
Probably the most successful lecturer on this cruise was an astronomer who always had a full house and followed up his presentations with an “astro-chat” in one of the bars taking questions and leading discussions. He said the most provocative thing of the trip when he suggested that humankind may just be an evolutionary step to a higher form of intelligence, artificial intelligence. “You will be assimilated by the Borg.” One lecturer, a radio telescope astronomer, is trying to make contact with intelligent life in space. Another is asking why when we can’t yet talk with other intelligent life on earth. (He was talking about whales.)
For foodies, there is America’s Test Kitchen, lecture, demonstrations on preparing different dishes from different places we are visiting, with chefs brought on board from those destinations. Many of those dishes appear on or dinner menus.
For me the most provocative series has been 5 day a week class on the history of the Jewish people taught by Rabbi Gan who headed an LA temple. He had Groucho Marx in his congregation. Not only is he the source of good stories and has given me plenty to think about but he has given me lots of biblical trivia that I can use to win bar bets. Did you know that no two people mentioned in the Torah have the same given name?
This cruise is not about the party on the lido, although we have had a few of those. For me it’s about expanding my understanding of stuff.