For centuries, people dreamed of circumnavigating the globe, and Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition did it when one of his five ships, the Vittoria, managed it in the 16th century (Magellan himself was killed along the way in the Philippines). Now Humberto and I are settled in for a 128-day circle around the planet from Fort Lauderdale aboard the 1,380-passenger, 62,375-ton Amsterdam.
We had to unpack once to visit 47 ports –but it was a job. Even though after five previous World Cruises we learned our lesson and decided to pack clothes as we would for a two-week cruise, we wanted to bring a four-month supply of our favorite toiletries (hard to find in places like the Falkland Islands, Rarotonga and Madagascar –and we didn’t want to waste valuable port time shopping for them). We brought cold remedies and other over-the-counter medicines, just in case. We also packed clothes for two seasons as we will be spending time in the tropics and in Antarctica. Everything fit in our category D ocean-view cabin. Though the cabins have televisions that would feel at home in Granny’s house, they do have lots of closet/storage space. Our cabin stewards, Dandi and Ervan, take care of our room and give us chocolates each evening, plus 2020 Grand World Voyage commemorative gifts now and then: the first few were messenger bags, keycard holders and Moleskine day planners.
Since life onboard has gotten less formal with gala evenings decreased from about 20 in 2012 to 17 now, and dress code for galas requiring only a collared shirt for men, we were able to pack everything into eight pieces (including two backpacks). But some of our fellow guests must have packed a lot more as our captain, Jonathan Mercer, announced departure from Fort Lauderdale was delayed for two hours due to loading of supplies… and luggage.
The first couple of days on board we got re-acquainted with the Amsterdam. The ship’s public spaces are gracious, adorned with art, antiques and floral arrangements. We snapped a photo of the beautiful Astrolabe clock in the Atrium; checked out the Wajang Theater (cinema, religious services and cooking classes venue); Explorations Café with its books and comfy leather chairs/ottomans in front of windows; Explorers’ Lounge where a piano/violin duo entertains in the evenings; the Piano Bar; Crow’s Nest, scene of trivia contests in the afternoons and music by the Station Band in the evenings; the Ocean Bar where a quartet entertains, and the Mainstage, where the same show is presented twice each night. We poked our heads into the Pinnacle Grill (alternative restaurant with gourmet fare), greeted Tina, its wonderful, longtime manager, and made a reservation. We will also have dinner in Canaletto’s, another alternative restaurant serving Italian dishes. We have, as we requested, a table for two in the main Restaurant and our dining room stewards, Indy and Sal, are spoiling us right and left.
We spent time at the aft Seaview Pool with panoramas of the wake; had lunches in the Lido Marketplace with its Asian, Italian, salads, sushi, homestyle, dedicated station for custom sandwiches and other stations as well as at the Mexican kiosk and Dive In with delicious burgers and hot dogs by the Lido Pool and hot tubs. This area is covered by a retractable glass dome, good for the upcoming Antarctica experience and cruising in the chilly Chilean fjords, Beagle Channel, and Strait of Magellan – can you imagine Ferdinand Magellan surveying the horizon while soaking in a hot tub?
We established a (not-set-in-stone) personal routine and are pacing ourselves when it comes to food, tours and activities. A typical day at sea begins with leisurely breakfast in the Restaurant (our waiter, Hendra, and the rest of the attentive staff makes us think we are in Downton Abbey), Tai Chi, port lecture, walk-a-mile and trivia, Lido or dining room lunch, enrichment lecture, another trivia session, dinner, and the show followed by music in one of the lounges. This routine will get scrapped when we do scenic cruising in several locales.
When we got to Roseau, Dominica, our first Caribbean port, we felt at home on the ship and ready to explore. Dominica – the point that divides the Windward Islands from the Leeward Islands – is called the “Nature Island.” A 29-mile by 16-mile independent nation, it’s an eco-tourism oasis with tropical forests covering about two-thirds of its mountainous territory, beaches, waterfalls and national parks that are home to 160 species of birds and 1,200 kinds of plants.
We took the tram tour of Roseau, the busy, bustling capital, with buildings in vibrant tropical colors and sometimes gingerbread trim. Points of interest include Old Market Square, the original slave market; the Dominica Museum with historical and cultural exhibits; the 19th century Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Fair Haven on Virgin Lane; the modernistic St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, and the Botanic Gardens with many flowers and trees and home to Sisserou and Jaco parrots.
Natural must-sees we visited on previous cruises include Trafalgar Falls, two waterfalls five miles east of Roseau; Emerald Lagoon and Falls; and Morne Trois Pitons and Cabrits National Parks. Among the beaches is Purple Turtle on the sheltered west coast.
Other Caribbean ports included Castries, St. Lucia, with its Les Pitons green-clad mountains rising to more than 2,400 feet above the sea (Petit Piton) and more than 2,500 feet (Gros Piton, UNESCO World Heritage Site). We saw them, looking like two big, ominous ghosts in the twilight, as the ship left St. Lucia.
Castries highlights include the Market with produce and handicrafts, about a mile from the pier; Derek Walcott Square honoring the Nobel literature laureate, and the lookout point on Morne Fortune with views of the port. For a Creole lunch – maybe pumpkin soup and local crab as well as locally-sourced fruits and vegetables – a popular choice is Pink Plantation House with lush gardens tended by Bernard.
These Caribbean islands were like hot appetizers to our banquet of upcoming South America ports.
Some quick superlatives:
- Most startling: Feeling the ship tremble while sailing to Dominica during a 6.41 earthquake in Puerto Rico at 7:15 a.m. on Jan. 7.
- Most disappointing: Not being able to photograph a Sisserou parrot, Dominica’s national bird that graces its flag, at the Botanic Garden as the birds are in cages that are more than a dozen feet away from the closest point that visitors can attain.
- Most fragrant: shipboard floral arrangements with local flowers by two full-time Filipino florists.
- Most entertaining: The show by magician Jeff McBride, who fooled Penn & Teller.
- Most delicious: The three-berry minestrone chilled soup, surf and turf, and vanilla souffle during the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Dinner.