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Victoria

April 29, 2023 – Saturday – Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

I don’t want to miss a thing as the ship approaches my home town, so I’m out on my verandah at 7:15am as we round Cape Flattery, sailing into Juan de Fuca Strait with Neah Bay, Washington visible through the fog bank. The snowfields on the Olympic Mountains to the south of us are impressive, and the Race Rocks lighthouse stands out from the marine mist as the Sun burns it away on the north side of the Strait.

Race Rocks lighthouse

Later, the pilot from Victoria arrives onboard as we sail past Sooke and Metchosin. Our ship docks at Ogden Point in Victoria about a half hour early at 11:30am. The Discovery Princess is already docked in the slip beside our ship, so that means about 5,000 passengers are going ashore today – 3,000 from the Discovery Princess and 2,000 from the Nieuw Amsterdam!

It is a bright sunny day, and it is warming up nicely, so I put on sunscreen before leaving the ship to be a tourist in my own town, at least in the James Bay neighbourhood. I walk slowly along Dallas Road to Fishermans Wharf, where I encounter hordes of cruise ship passengers. I guess the food and tour vendors on the wharf are happy to see them, but I’m surprised that the dock doesn’t sink under all that weight!

I walk further along the harbour, but there are so many people and traffic on Bellville, I decide to divert to Superior Street where it is quiet. I need a break, so I go to Discovery Coffee on Menzies Street and enjoy a traditional cappuccino away from the crowds and noise. The sunshine is great, making for a lovely day, showing off all the Spring flowers in bloom around the city.

My plan was to take the tour of the BC Legislature, however the building is closed to tours on the weekends and a protest on the front lawn is just winding up. Also, the Causeway and downtown are packed with tourists, so after taking a few photos of the Inner Harbour and the outside of the BC Legislature, I once again divert by wandering south on Government Street. I take photos of the old historic neighbourhood along the way and then turn right at Dallas Road, walking slowly from Holland Point along the waterfront to return to the ship by 5pm.

The above map is a 6km (2.5 mi) route, with a total walking time of 1 hour, 15 minutes if you don’t stop. It took me 2.5 hours with a 15 minute rest stop at the coffee shop, and a bit slower pace than normal to appreciate the sights and take a few photos. There are no hills and all the walking is on sidewalks.

Filet of Beef Wellington

I enjoy my last dinner aboard ship in the Main Dining Room this evening, having Smoked Salmon Rosettes with salmon caviar to start, Filet of Beef Wellington with mashed celery root, peas and carrots for my main course, and Baked Alaska for dessert..

Our ship departs at 10:50pm to slowly sail overnight to Vancouver, arriving early tomorrow morning at Canada Place.

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San Diego to Victoria – sea day 2

April 28, 2023 – Friday – Sailing from San Diego, California to Victoria, British Columbia – day 2 off the Oregon coast

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

We are sailing north offshore from the Oregon coast today. Bird watchers are setup on the Promenade Deck with their spotting scopes, binoculars and some have cameras. Apparently they are spotting seabirds, but I only see a few that are close to the ship.

I go up to the Explorations Cafe just after 7am for cappuccino and relax for awhile in one of the chairs facing forward. It’s quiet up here at this time of day – too early for the trivia or game players. I have breakfast in the Main Dining room, sharing a table with a couple from Surrey, who mainly go to Mexico all-inclusive resorts, but are trying cruising. They are finding Holland America doesn’t offer enough onboard activities, but they are otherwise enjoying their time aboard, especially the Panama Canal transit.

Ship's position off the Oregon coast at 5:30pm
Ship’s position off the Oregon coast at 5:30pm

I drop off my Canada Border Services declaration to the staff who are setup mid-ship on my floor this morning. I declared the Halley Hansen jacket and a Holland America 150th Anniversary 2-mug set. I didn’t buy anything while I was ashore on this trip! I give a gratuity to my room stewards this morning, after getting a couple of envelopes from Customer Service.

I watch a movie this afternoon: A Man Called Otto with Tom Hanks in the lead as a grumpy old man with a heart of gold. I enjoyed it, since he always brings so much subtle emotion to his roles. Mariana Treviño knocks it out of the park as his fiery new neighbour.

It continues to be cold, foggy and some rain is falling today as we sail up the coast of Oregon on our way to Victoria. As can be seen by the ship’s position map, there is lots of shipping traffic along this coast!

I go to the Main Dining Room this evening, and have some Prosecco with my Rack of Lamb. Later, there is a lovely sunset over the ocean, which I watch and photograph from Deck 10. I surprise myself with the good quality photo I take of the 9 day old Waxing Gibbous Moon directly overhead. Canon’s image stabilization works amazingly well, even from the deck of a cruise ship!

Sunset over the ocean
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San Diego to Victoria – sea day 1

April 27, 2023 – Thursday – sailing from San Diego to Victoria – day 1 off the California coast

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

I attend a cooking demonstration this morning, with the Captai along with the Pinnacle Grill chef making Dutch Pea Soup.Our cruise director Kimberly hosts the event. The Captain shares with us that when he is home, he cooks most of the meals for his family.

The Captain demonstrates making Dutch Pea Soup, along with the Pinnacle Grill chef and hosted by our cruise director Kimberly

I grab a coat and walk around the Promenade deck in the cold, foggy morning air as we cruise offshore from Lompoc, California, where the rocket launching base is located. There are supposed to be Humpback whales in the area, but I don’t spot any.

Since there’s no further events on the daily program that interest me, I decide to go to the shops to spend my remaining US$200 on-board credit. I buy a Helly Hansen jacket that is priced at US$178 in a size large. So essentially, Holland America bought me a free jacket!

I dine in the Pinnacle Grill this evening, with the food and service being superb. I order a Tanqueray 10 Dry Martini with olive as a pre-dinner drink, and then have the Jumbo Lump Crab cakes for a starter. There is no seafood sauce supplied, but the two crab cakes are very tasty. My main course is a 8 oz Filet Mignon, roasted baby beets with blue cheese, onion rings, and a loaded baked potato. The shallot and red wine bordelaise sauce is in a gravy boat, and is very good.

Not-So-Classic Bakes Alasks with Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream, Bing cherries Jubilee

The Not-So-Classic Baked Alaska using merengue-covered Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream, Bing cherries jubilee is a very impressive substitute for the Cherries Jubilee which was previously flambeed at the table.

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Cabo San Lucas to San Diego

April 25, 2023 – Tuesday – Sailing from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to San Diego, California, USA

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

I was exceedingly tired last night from the excursion, and later the big meal at Canaletto. I wake up this morning well rested and feeling much better. Since it’s only 7am, I go up to the Explorations Cafe for a cappuccino and a bottle of Perrier. Around 8:30am I go to the Main Dining room for breakfast – they have blitzes, which are quite good along with a second cappuccino.

There is nothing on the daily program that interests me until this evening, when the Boy Band Evolution are performing again, so I just chill out for most of the day. I pick up a new book from the library – Julia Child’s My Time in France, which is short enough for me to finish before we arrive in Vancouver. The crew have put a huge number of towel art animals around the Lido Pool this morning, so I have a look at the display and take some photos, posting to Facebook. See banner image above.

Dive In Impossible burger

I preorder a Dive In Impossible Burger with fries, and go back up to the Lido Pool to have my lunch with a Dos Equis beer – one of my favourite meals. Although the Lido Pool area can be noisy like today when they are playing canned music, eating in the Lido Market is even more stressful since there are so many people in there. When I return to my stateroom, a Delft tile from Holland America Line commemorating sailing 150 years is waiting for me.

My room steward lets me know that he is flying home tomorrow from San Diego, so I give him an additional gratuity for his excellent service. His partner is staying with the ship, so I will give him some cash later.

The Boy Band Evolution performance this evening is just as good as their last time in Main Stage. A group that is a real crowd pleaser!

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Cabo San Lucas

April 24, 2023 – Monday – Cabo San Lucas and San Jose de Cabo, Mexico

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

We arrive in Cabo early at 6:30am. Nieuw Amsterdam is the only cruise ship anchored in the bay, so we get the nearest slot to the harbour, which means the tender trip to shore doesn’t take too long.

I booked the Cabo Land & Sea excursion a couple of days ago, since I wanted to see more of the area than last time I was here, when I just walked around the marina area. Our group is on the first tender off the ship before 7am, but end up waiting for awhile to fill the large catamaran with perhaps a hundred people on this excursion. We then cruise along the shoreline where the famous beaches are located, and the hole in the rock (Cabo San Lucas Arch or El Arco). We go around the rocky point and a bit further into open water to see the beaches and resorts on this side before returning to the bay. There are included refreshments while on the excursion boat.

After returning from the boat trip, we board a tour bus, driving out of town and around the bay. We stop at a deluxe resort at Cabo Bello with a great view back to Cabo San Lucas, the beaches, resorts and of course our ship anchored in the bay. We only have 15 minutes, since our excursion is about an hour shorter than normal due to our ship leaving at 1pm, but we have time for some refreshment and of course photo ops to take in the spectacular view.

We next head to San Jose de Cabo, seeing hundreds of spectacular resorts along the way. We have a half hour in this lovely town, which I find to be much nicer than Cabo San Lucas. If I return to Cabo, this is the area I would prefer to stay in. I’m astounded at the wealth and development. Of course, this stop is to give people time to shop before we return to Cabo San Lucas for our final stop at a glass factory for a demo of glass blowing. We are then driven back to the marina, taking the tender back to the ship.

I have pasta for lunch in the Lido ahead of the ship leaving, and setup my GoPro action camera on my balcony rail to take a time lapse video of the departure, since I’m facing the shore. There are some great views of the beaches and rocks from our ship as we sail away out into the open Pacific. Speaking of which, when we round the point at El Arco, the ship is hit with very strong headwinds and there are whitecaps on the ocean!

I make a reservation for dinner in Canaletto for 6pm, since I’m still trying to spend my shipboard credit. I have the Osso Bucco again for my main course since it is the Monday special. The beef is absolutely wonderful, and the minestrone soup for my starter and chocolate torte for dessert are also very good. I’m stuffed by the time I leave to return to my stateroom, so I grab my fleece jacket (since it is quite cool and windy) to walk around the Promenade deck a couple of times to work off my meal.

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Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas – sea day

April 23, 2023 – Sunday – Sailing across the Gulf of California from Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

A Brown booby perched on a Sea turtle

The ship slowly sails across the mouth of the Sea of Cortez from Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas today. I spot a Brown booby perched on a Sea turtle this morning, and manage to take a photo of this unusual sight. A few minutes later the booby flies off after his brief rest.

Chocolate extravaganza in the Lido

The chefs knock it out of the park today with some amazing cakes, confections, desserts and sculptures, all made out of baked goods and sugar, and on display at noon in the Lido! Apparently there will be a chocolate extravaganza parade through the ship this evening, which is a Dressy Night at sea before we arrive in Cabo San Lucas tomorrow.

I have what will probably be my last swim this afternoon in the Sea View pool, since once we leave Cabo San Lucas, the North Pacific will cool the air temperatures on our way to San Diego and northward from there.

Since it is Dressy Night, I make a reservation at Tamarind for this evening, in order to work on spending my onboard balance. I have yet another wonderful meal with great service!

Exotic fruits with mandarin sorbet
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Puerto Vallarta

April 22, 2023 – Saturday – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

The ship docks at the main cruise terminal this morning, but backs in with the bow pointing seaward. We are the only cruise ship in port today. I have plenty of time to get a cappuccino from the Explorations Cafe before my breakfast arrives in my room at 8am. I go ashore at 8:30am to stand in line for my excursion to La Dulce Vista Luxury Resort. We leave in several vans just after 9am for the half hour drive to the resort, located in the hills behind the dude ranch where my horse ride excursion departed from back in 2011 on an excursion I took from the Rotterdam.

Tequila tasting - this bottle was US$250, but we got to taste it!

Our group’s first activity is a Tequila tasting, where we taste five types: Blanco (not aged), 3 aged, and the last bottle containing 20-year old Tequila aged in cognac barrels, and costing US$250! It’s a good thing I had breakfast before the excursion, since this tasting is in the morning!

We then spread out to find chairs and tables, loungers, or hammocks in the pool area. I pick a hammock in a shady spot under the lovely palm trees, change into my swimsuit and go for a swim in the huge pool. It’s nice to be able to do a few laps, since the small pools onboard the ship are pretty limiting. I dry off and get back into shorts and a t-shirt before we are shown how to make fresh salsa. There is also time to go to some nearby hot springs either by bicycle or walking, but that doesn’t appeal to me.

Then it’s time for a basic lunch, which is brought to us. Drinks are included, so I have a couple of Margaritas, a new drink for me, as is Tequila. Some resident dogs politely join us for lunch, hoping for some scraps to fall from our plates. I return to the hammock to relax before we leave the resort at 2pm for the half hour drive back to Puerto Vallarta to board the ship. It was a nice relaxing excursion, but I’m tired from the heat of the day (and perhaps the Tequila), and glad to be back onboard the air-conditioned ship!

I go up to the Crow’s Nest for a cappuccino while I sort through my photos and video. There is very good shore-side LTE mobile data to work with, so my roaming package is being well-used. I have about 300Mb left out of the 2Gb in my plan when I started, and I’m notified my data is used up by the time I’m finished today.

Several noisy party boats drift by the ship during the evening. I observe the Crescent Moon and Venus above the harbour and the high-rises, and stay up for the ship’s departure at 11pm, since the night vista of the city and shoreline is very pretty, and the outside temperature is quite moderate by this time.

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Costa Rica to Mexico – Sea Day 2

April 20, 2023 – Thursday – Costa Rica to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – day 2 at sea 17 nmi offshore from Oaxaca, Mexico

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

This is my first day of not wearing a mask. Previously, I wore a mask when walking the hallways and venues, using elevators, and especially when I expected crowds during performances at Main Stage or B.B. Kings. I wouldn’t wear a mask in my stateroom or when outside. I’ve decided to accept the risk and go maskless everywhere for the rest of the voyage.

It’s great to have another sea day, where I don’t have to get up early for an excursion, so I sleep in until 8am. I go down to the Main Dining Room around 8:30am for breakfast at a shared table with two couples, one from Nanaimo and the other from the Napa Valley in California who I have had breakfast with before. Spinner dolphins appear off the stern of the ship, so I jump up to take some mediocre video through the windows with my iPhone.

Spinner dolphins off the ship's bow

After returning to my stateroom, my laundry is delivered – such a luxury! I spend the next hour out on my verandah spotting more Spinner dolphins and Sea turtles. I’m using my 100-500 zoom lens, so take some pretty good photos!

Beef sliders, coleslaw, sharp cheese

I go for a swim in the Sea View pool , and then return to my stateroom to keep checking for more turtles, but they seem to be behind us now. I wait until 1:30pm before going to the Lido Market for lunch. The beef sliders speak to me, so I have two along with some coleslaw and two kinds of sharp white cheese, finishing off with a slice of chocolate caramel cake for dessert.

After not spotting any turtles from my verandah, I go up to the Explorations Cafe for a cappuccino and find a quiet spot in the Crow’s Nest to work on my photos and journal, while I enjoy my cappuccino. At dinner this evening in the Main Dining Room, I learn from someone at the table that the ship has 1,899 total passengers aboard, with 894 Canadians and 839 Americans.

I attend the late show of Boy Band Evolution in Main Stage, which I enjoy a lot. The four young singers all have their harmonies perfected, and the nostalgia factor of their songs is appreciated by this mainly Baby Boomer audience. Before returning to my stateroom, I go to the Ocean Bar for a nightcap martini, where the server always makes a point of charging me $2 extra for the Tanqueray 10 premium gin I always specify. The surcharge never appears on my bill.

Boy Band Evolution
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Costa Rica to Mexico – Sea Day 1

April 19, 2023 – Wednesday – Costa Rica to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – day 1 at sea

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

I go to the Explorations Cafe in the Crow’s Nest to pick up a cappuccino and a small bottle of Perrier sparkling water this morning, which I take back to my stateroom. Later, I have breakfast in the Main Dining Room sharing a table with all Canadians this morning, who are from: Victoria, Sunshine Coast, and Ontario.

I attend the Ask the Captain event in the Main Stage at 10am this morning hosted by Cruise Director Kimberly. Thankfully, no stupid or embarrassing questions are asked of Captain Jeroen van Donselaar. I always find these sessions interesting, since the Captains almost always reveal little snippets of behind-the-scenes information on how the ship works and the issues they deal with.

Nazca Booby in flight

I see flying fish this morning and Nazca Boobys are swooping down into the water near the bow of the ship catching them. I take more photos, despite already having many of the similar Caribbean Booby Gulls from past sightings on the Atlantic side and Brown Boobys on this coast. There is one mostly white Booby and another with mottled white, brown and black plumage among the rest.

Barramundi Red Curry

I have a Martini in the Tamarind bar this evening before going into the Tamarind restaurant for dinner. I start with lobster and shrimp potstickers served with smoked shoyu and pickled ginger. My main course is Barramundi Red Curry with Crab rice and bok choy – all very tasty. I finish the meal with a selection of House-made Sorbets: lemon-basil, yuzu, and lychee.

People watching – Two young male crew members (South Asian and Eastern European) are seated next to me with two old American biddies. It’s a pretty awkward “date” for the young men, but the two women lap it up and carry the conversation. A young couple in their twenties are seated next to my table on the other side. They really stick out since they don’t fit the demographic for this cruise, and don’t seem to socialize with other passengers. However, they appear to be enjoying themselves, so perhaps it’s an opportunity for them to get away…

Trumpter Nathan Samuelson performing on Main Stage

Trumpeter Nathan Samuelson gives an energetic performance in Main Stage at 9pm this evening, however 45 minutes of solo trumpet playing is a bit much. The house band is backing him up, which improves the experience greatly. He has a very good singing voice in the Michael Buble style, which I would have liked to hear more of. Nathan Samuelson Music

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Costa Rica

April 18, 2023 – Tuesday – Puerto Caldera (Puntarenas) on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

I’m awake at 5am as the ship turns into the Gulf of Nicoya enroute to dock at Puerto Caldera near Puntarenas. Once the Explorations Cafe opens, I get a cappuccino to take back to my stateroom to enjoy on my balcony in the early morning sunshine. I have a bagel, lox and cream cheese with a passion fruit parfait for breakfast in my stateroom, since my excursion leaves at 8am this morning from the pier.

As our rather large group boards two buses, I’m happy to see that Swiss Travel are the excursion company today. I have lots of good experiences with this Costa Rican travel company, who provided services to TravelQuest on their Costa Rica astronomy tours in past years.

Small farms on the side of the highway

We drive for about an hour and a half along the Pan-American Highway (Carretera Interamericana Norte) inland from Puntarenas, passing small farms in the hills until we are almost at San Ramon. The Cloud Forest we visit today is in a private reserve – San Luis Adventure Park – San Luis Canopy Tour. We split up into groups and walk along the trails, and over four suspension bridges which offer elevated vantage points to view the cloud forest below. Each of these bridges stretche between 30 and 78 metres (95 and 253 feet) and are suspended up to 38 metres (126 feet) above the ground.

Our guide stops along the way to tell us about the flora and fauna found in the cloud forest. Our first stop is an open hummingbird garden, where I photograph Amazilia hummingbirds perched on the bushes in the area. Many people miss them, since they are busy talking and moving about. I keep still and move away from the crowds in order to get some good sightings.

Other than the hummingbirds, we don’t spot other birds, butterflies or small mammals. Our guide talks about the plants, such as orchids, heliconias, ferns, bromeliads and other species of aerial plants that are part of this habitat.

After we slowly hike up the hill back to the main office, we enjoy a traditional Costa Rican lunch of beans, rice, vegetables and a choice of chicken or fish. I have the fish, which is very good. There are also some fruit drinks available from a self-serve fountain that is included with the lunch.

On our way back to the ship we stop at El Jardín, which has a massive souvenir shop, a display garden and decorated ox carts in the back, along with a screened area containing some butterflies. I take video of the butterflies with my iPhone, since I know from past experience it is hopeless to take photos of butterflies as they constantly flit about our heads.

The excursion returns at about 3:15pm, just beating the All Aboard time of 3:30pm. The ship doesn’t pull away from the dock until 4:45pm, 45 minutes late due to excursions returning a bit late. We have three days at sea until we reach Puerto Vallarta, so being a bit late leaving port isn’t an issue.