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?
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.
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
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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?