Guest Georgina Cruz recently completed her fourth Grand World Voyage and is sharing her experiences with the Holland America Blog.
If Cole Porter had sailed on a World Cruise with Holland America the lyrics to his popular song might have read, “Night and day, the Amsterdam is the one!” During the ship’s Grand World Voyage, there was a wealth of daytime activities: Tai Chi; meditation; lively team trivia contests, enrichment lectures on the history, culture, and arts of the ports; culinary classes and demonstrations by celebrity chefs such as multi-cookbook author Paulette Mitchell; deck games including a mini-golf tournament; computer classes; watercolor lessons; drawing workshops; flower arranging demonstrations; arts and crafts sessions; dance classes; chess and Scrabble events and more. What can I say, never a dull moment at sea!
And, my goodness, when the sun set, we also had an ocean of enchanted evenings. No wonder Gene Young, cruise director, often refers to our schedules in his announcements over the ship’s Public Address system as “jam packed.” They are! Often my husband Humberto and I think there is no way we can fit in all these activities and entertainment in 24 hours – and fortunately, on our westerly course on the World Cruise, we have quite a few 25-hour days (we gain hours instead of losing them as we traverse various time zones)! So as Gene kept reminding us, we “have no excuse” not to go out and enjoy ourselves to the utmost. Ah yes, we do!
And while some activities and entertainment are expected when you are sailing on a World Cruise on a premium vessel like the Amsterdam, other offerings are quite unexpected.
Among the enchanting evenings we expected – and encountered – during our fourth World Cruise on the Amsterdam this winter were sumptuous five-course dinners in the La Fontaine Dining Room with such delights from jumbo shrimp cocktail and French onion soup to lobster and filet mignon main courses to sinful desserts like chocolate decadence cake and crème brulee. The greatest luxury in life is choice, I firmly believe, and HAL’s menus offer the most choices we have encountered at sea with an abundance of dishes to pick from. On a typical evening we had 11 appetizers, soups and salads, 10 selections for main courses and 15 desserts to choose from. Several dinners in the La Fontaine Dining Room were themed events, with the restaurant tastefully decorated and the waiters in traditional garb appropriate to the theme: one of our favorites was the Red Lantern Dinner which we shared with our daughter and two grandsons who came to visit us for one segment of the GWV from Osaka, Japan, to Hong Kong, China. This classic gala dinner had hundreds of red lanterns and two fancy dragons gaily decorating the restaurant; the waiters, who always provide friendly and attentive service, were in Mongolian garb, and the menu featured Chinese specialties. Simply enchanting!
Also in the outstanding culinary evenings onboard were the meals in the Canaletto and Pinnacle Grill alternative restaurants including the Captain’s Dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. Capt. Jonathan Mercer, the master of the Amsterdam, invites all full-World-Cruise guests to a special dinner filled with gourmet specialties, complimentary wine and a commemorative gift for each of his guests.
On our dinner, the menu consisted of a tuna appetizer with avocado, paprika aioli, Dungeness crab and crostini; a cream of asparagus and green pea soup; a salad course with lobster; a main course with lamb, sweet potato croquette and natural jus; and a Valhrona chocolate bar with caramel, hazelnut and vanilla … delectable! The wines poured were a Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and a Columbia Crest Estate Merlot from Washington State. Our gift was a set of beautiful appetizer plates with vintage HAL ship art. This is invariably a very special evening with the captain that we have immensely enjoyed on each of our four Grand World Voyages.
Also expected in the activities and entertainment department by World Cruise guests, who like us have enjoyed multiple Grand World Voyages on the Amsterdam, were the elegant themed balls like the Black & Silver Ball and Valentine’s Day Ball, as well as a Masquerade Ball – these are very gracious traditional evenings on board. Also, very noteworthy is the entertainment presented by local troupes who brought their arts onboard during folkloric shows and cultural presentations as part of Holland America’s fine On Location Program that brings onboard various aspects of cultures encountered on voyages – from cuisine to music, dance and other local arts. It was a pleasure, after a leisurely dinner including local specialties, to head out to the ship’s Queen’s Lounge – instead of having to go ashore and going through the hassles of looking for a taxi and buying tickets to enjoy an authentic cultural experience from the countries we were visiting. No hassles for us: we just walked over to the ship’s show lounge, settled back and relaxed. Among these On Location cultural presentations were shows put on by troupes from Japan (while in Osaka, featuring traditional music and dances), from China (while in Xingang, put on by an amazing 45-member group), from Singapore (showcasing the Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cultural influences of Singapore during our overnight in that exciting city-state), from India (while in Mumbai, a fun presentation themed to Bollywood), and from Jordan (a local folkloric band performed while in Aqaba).
While sailing towards Jordan we were treated to a 1001 Arabian Nights party under the Lido Dome. The Lido Dome was decorated with Bedouin touches including tents from where beverages were served and the staff donned Arabian garb. Middle Eastern delights and treats – the plump and juicy dates from Oman were big favorites – were served by the culinary department, drinks were complimentary and a band played on deck … made me feel like Sheherezade!
Other expected, and encountered entertainment, included exciting headliners who gave us many a delightful and memorable evening. Among these headliners and personalities from around the globe including Las Vegas and the West End who performed on this World Cruise were Las Vegas entertainer of the year Clint Holmes and Olympian Gold Medalist Lance Ringnald. And a bonus: on a World Cruise, often these celebrities stay on the ship for a week or more (due to embarkation/disembarkation points sometimes being spaced out particularly in remote areas of the planet) so there are more opportunities to hobknob with them. One example: Ringnald not only performed but also volunteered as a model during one of Artist In Residence Ben Sack’s drawing workshops so students like me were able to sketch him, chat with him and get his autograph when he graciously offered to sign our drawings of him!
This opportunity to interact with Ringnald falls into the category of less often encountered experiences at sea – and there were more equally enchanting evenings for us to enjoy. Among these were several Concerts Under The Stars performed by the ship’s wonderful pianist, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist, Debby Bacon, presented up on deck at such locales as Honolulu, Singapore and Aqaba with the skylines of those cities as backdrops.
My husband and I have been privileged to sail on more than 200 cruises, including segments of World Cruises on several lines, and the only times we have been offered such enchanting entertainment has been on our World Cruises on the Amsterdam. Imagine this: the crew moves a piano into position in an upper aft deck and arranges chairs auditorium-style and provides blankets in cooler climes for additional guest comfort. Alongside the piano are arranged Debby’s brass instruments. Soon guests start arriving and choose their seats. Debby, in her usual warm and friendly manner (she seems to know every single passenger’s name) presents a different program at each city – she delights in presenting new and interesting programs every time – featuring the piano, vocals and flute and saxophone playing – and sometimes as she plays her brass instruments as she winds her way around the audience. As the evening progresses, the cities’ skylines become flooded with lights – a visual feast along with the ear candy of Debby’s music.
Yet another unexpected and enchanting evening was our Shanghai Sunset event held on the evening of our overnight in that exciting Chinese city. The Lido pool and domed area of the Amsterdam set the scene for this surprise glorious evening – decorations included special red lighting, quaint umbrellas, and the beautiful, dramatic red sails of traditional Chinese junks that were eye-popping points of interest in the swimming pool. The ship’s culinary department prepared wonderful specialties from China including yummy spring rolls, roast pork, kom pao chicken as well as a bounty of seafood and an abundance of fresh exotic fruits including mangoes, papayas, pineapples and dragon fruits. Since this was a Mariners’ Appreciation event, beverages were poured on a complimentary basis. And the Amsterdam’s talented band provided musical entertainment – so memorable and grand – just one more of those special moments that make a Grand Voyage grand!