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A Tale of Two Ships

Last week, we sailed the ocean blues aboard the magnificent Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship, embarking out of nearby Port Everglades on an Eastern Caribbean itenirary to Grand Turk, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and Half Moon Cay.

Deju Vu, anyone?

Technomads in Puerto Rico

Ok, let’s back up and explain how us two non cruise-fans ended up taking 2 7-day cruises within a month.

This past summer when my father’s cancer came back earlier than hoped, my parents asked if my brother and I (and our sweeties) would join them on a December holiday cruise to celebrate their full retirement.

And hey, if someone else is paying, you don’t have to twist our arms!

It was kind of a bittersweet proposition, because at the time – we really didn’t know if my dad would be up for actually going.

Cruising. Ahhh.

We were quite excited having the cruise in our plans, as it had been several years for either of us and were looking forward to lots of quality family time. And cruises are absolutely fantastic family trips where you have people with different interests and energy levels.

As the months progressed, and my father’s health remained fairly constant, it became clear this thing was on. Hooray!

It was about that time that our friends invited us to join them on a November Disney cruise utilizing their you’d-be-stupid-to-say-no cast member rates.

We contemplated it briefly and decided, what the heck?  Two cruises within a few weeks of each other?  One paid for, and another insanely cheap?

Bring it on!

The Nieuw Amsterdam

Look, ma – no waterslides!

I had never been on a Holland America Line ship before, but they had long been my parent’s favorite.

I knew they had a very different demographic than the Disney ships, and was expecting more mobility scooters and less strollers.

True indeed, there were far far far fewer kids on board the Nieuw Amsterdam, which was a pleasant treat. There were no monster water rollercoasters or play scapes, with more focus on activities geared towards adults.

Beer chug relay on our pub crawl – you don’t get this on a Disney ship!

But what I wasn’t prepared for was how diverse the activities would be. I honestly had an impression that the cruise line was more senior focused – which we would have thoroughly enjoyed too. It seems the cruise line has been trying to appeal to a younger set, and we were definitely surrounded by a lot of age diversity.

There was a wide range of activities on board to keep our interests – from a Food & Wine Magazine Culinary Institute offering cooking demonstrations each day, a pub crawl, Tai Chi classes, wine tastings, mixology classes, piano bar, a dance club, ballroom dance lessons, a Microsoft classroom and fantastic shows.

We definitely were not lacking in opportunity to keep busy, in fact – we came back pleasantly exhausted wishing we had more time to just chill on deck with a book.

The Disney Fantasy and Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam, docked next to each other in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The food on board was absolutely exquisite, and very eclectic. They even handled my special requests of preferring a gluten free vegetarian diet – I was brought two menus every evening (the main one, and their special vegetarian one) to choose from, and they custom made me a gluten free version of my choices for the next day. It was magical to have Cherie-friendly food appear each evening.

The ports of call this time around where eastern Caribbean (as opposed to western on our last cruise). We chuckled as we were coming into San Juan and noticed the Disney Fantasy already in port – perfect photo op for this post!

Chris came back with some rockin’ braids!

In Grand Turk, we opted to take a ship day while the rest of the family went on shore excursions. On the Fantasy, we had done excursions at every port and wanted to experience being onboard while everyone else was off exploring. We thoroughly enjoyed the chill feel of an empty ship and heavily utilized our spa pass to the hydropool and thermal suites.

In San Juan, we hired a private tour of Old San Juan for just our family, and our tour guide was fabulous – even becoming our personal photographer.  The rest of the time we soaked up as much AT&T cellular data bandwidth as we could. As Puerto Rico is a US territory with ‘local’ cellular service, we had pre-planned to get as much work done here as we could.

Sailing Stars & Stripes – winner of the 1987 America’s Cup.

In St. Maarten, my mother and I went shopping while the rest of the family went on an epic adventure of racing the Stars & Stripes – the very 12m sailboat that won the America’s Cup in 1987. After hearing them all glow about the experience, I’m kicking myself for not going myself!

And on Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island, we enjoyed some chill beach time and wandering around before reboarding for our last evening at sea. Packing up to leave was tough, and we were definitely not ready to go yet.

Maybe a bit too smart for casual? Oh what the heck… we love dressing up!

Packing before the cruise this time was a breeze, as we had just been through it. And because we knew we were embarking on two adventures in close succession, we haven’t hesitated to totally pimp out our cruise wardrobes and have fun with more formal attire.

This cruise had two formal nights, and the rest ‘smart casual’.  I kind of missed not having a Pirate Night like on the Disney ships and I did end up leaving the corset behind this trip. But that sure didn’t stop us from bringing our own fun onboard!

But of course the most awesome part of the cruise?

My family – in Puerto Rico.

Family.

We are so incredibly thankful this cruise was possible, and for all the memories made that will last a lifetime.  Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Cruise Fans?

I gotta say, taking a couple cruises has been an excellent change of pace while we’ve been otherwise intentionally still for the past 3 months.

Before I would describe ourselves as not being much of cruise-fans.

Kiki not quite sure what her people are packing for THIS time??

But after two wonderful cruises in a row, I think we may be changing our tune. In fact, we’re kinda thinking a 7-day cruise may be too short.

We have proven that we can work while at sea, as long as we budget in the costs of shipboard satellite internet.

The biggest hold back would be Kiki. Unless we can get her certified as a service animal. We do miss her while we’re away, the cruise line wouldn’t want us grieving, right?

Cherie has been been a location independent entrepreneur since 1994, working in full scale software development. When she met Chris in 2006, she was at the exact right time in her life to hit the road and combine wanderlust with career. She strives to live a life of conscious intent while embracing serendipity.

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  1. So awesome that you were not only able to go, but that your Dad was well enough also.
    Were they flying kites at “El Morro” when you were there? Couldn’t make out any in the photo. It seems it’s always windy there.

  2. Cruising! Who would have thought, eh? My man & I just arrived home from a 15 day, transatlantic cruise. I highly recommend it. Cruising is awesome! For both the introverts & extroverts.

    I wish my family would go on one together. Alas, the navy men (brother & father) have had plenty of “time at sea.” Treasure the moments.

    Happy New Year! Perhaps we’ll see you on a cruise in the future.

    • For sure, cruises are great for extroverts and us introverts. We’d love to do a repositioning transatlantic cruise someday.

      My father served on submarines, so he’s particularly fond of cruising on surface targets and being able see things out windows.

    • I’d love to hear more about what the transatlantic cruise was like. I’m particularly curious about the ways that it differs from a traditional Caribbean cruise. Do they still have shows every night? Is there substantially more boat motion?

      I tink a transatlantic cruise would be a great way to head to Europe for an extended trip – particularly considering how unpleasant flying has gotten.

      • We’ve been in 20 foot seas several times now, about what would be considered “heavy” by many standards, and what many experienced transatlantic cruisers have reported to us as being a very real possibility on transatlantic crossings.

        Yes, you certainly feel movement. If you’re particularly susceptible to sickness, or it bothers you, The key is to get a stateroom on the lowest deck possible, and as close to midships as possible. Simple physics dictates that this is the best area to minimize movement. ;)

        On our last cruise on Explorer we were on deck 9 on the stern (close to the worst possible spot) and one night we were literally being bounced around in bed by the sea conditions – we sailed through the remnants of a Nor’Easter on the way back from Labadee to NYC. I didn’t sleep great that night, suffice to say.

        Short of “exceptional” conditions, I would think that transatlantic conditions could be the same if you hit weather.

        I did hear some horror stories from the staff aboard Explorer about their 3 days stuck in Hurricane Sandy, though, although that would be way beyond anything you’d typically experience on any crossing, I’m sure.

  3. That’s funny, I was looking at your “Merry Christmas” photo and immediately thought to myself that it looked like it was taken on a cruise ship.

    We just got back from our third cruise in the last 13 months – needless to say we absolutely love it. Just last week we were in some of the same ports as you, with curiously similar photos as well. :)

      • I’m almost certain we were there on the same day as the Disney Dream was next to us – it had actually followed us from St. Maarten, to St. Thomas, and then to PR. Was Explorer of the Seas docked next to the Disney ship when you were there?

      • There was a RC next to the Disney Fantasy when we pulled in, but it pulled out fairly early in the day and I didn’t catch which one it was. We were in PR on Wednesday the 19th.. and it was definitely the Fantasy next to us, not the Dream.

      • Yep, that was us. :) We saw your ship come in after us and the Dream had arrived in the early AM. It was beautiful and sunny on arrival but the rain unfortunately kept us aboard the ship for the first few hours in port before it cleared. If you saw a large group of 8 people wandering around town, half wearing blue rain ponchos and 2 guys wearing clear garbage bags (they ran out of ponchos, and I’m not picky!)…that was us!

        Small world. Had I seen either of you guys I would have recognized you instantly and said hello.

      • Small world indeed! We walked off our ship (the rain had cleared by then) and right into a private van for a 2 hour tour. By the time we got back to port, your ship was gone. So a very near miss indeed!

        Here’s a pic we took of your ship and the Fantasy as we were coming into port:

        Puerto Rico

        The Dream and the Fantasy are sister ships… and both very worthwhile talking up. We loved the Fantasy, Disney does an amazing job of paying attention to the details and incorporating art into every crevice.

      • And yes, it was the Fantasy, sorry. I keep saying Dream since we have friends who have sailed upon her and always talk it up.

    • Yes, we arrived early (bumped the pier at 7AM IIRC). It was looking like it was going to be a nice day as we arrived (we were on deck as it was a beautiful arrival) but about 30 minute later the skies tore open, and it continued to rain for a few hours.

      It didn’t stop until about an hour before we left port, unfortunately, so we didn’t get far into town aside from walking through some of the kitch shops.

      After we re-embarked and went up on deck for sailaway I noticed your ship had slipped in while we were gone.

      Too funny, what were the chances.

      We didn’t book any tours or excursions there – rather glad we didn’t given the weather for 90% of our time there. Me and my friend Carl had initially planned to make the hike to the castle on foot, so if we had chances are we WOULD have bumped into each other by the looks of your pics.

      Here’s a pic of us wandering around in town. We sure looked classy. ;)

      https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/c37.0.403.403/p403x403/61802_10152339398370084_814684855_n.jpg

    • It was a treat for sure. And I’m pretty surprised with how my view of cruises has changed over the years too. It’s a great way to keep exploring and traveling, without the constant logistical planning. A nice break for sure.

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