I wake up to a dreary, wet morning, although the sunrise over the ocean is a beautiful study in blue (see banner photo above). We are obviously approaching Vancouver and sailing into the weather I took this cruise to escape!
210 miles to Victoria pilot station
2,145 nm from Nawiliwili
18.9 kts average speed from Kaua’i
8:15PM – Cape Flattery
6:30AM sailing under Lion’s Gate Bridge
7:15AM dock at Canada Place
HAL Your (wildlife) Shot – Naturalist Natalie shows passengers’ photos of wildlife they have taken while on this cruise. I tell her about finding the White-chinned Petrel resting on the Promenade deck on Oct 19th. If she had known, she would have picked the bird up using a towel, and thrown it overboard, where it would have had the best chance of survival. I wish I had known…instead of telling Customer Service about the bird.
I meet a friend in the Crow’s Nest Lounge for an afternoon drink while it pours rain outside. Even though it is a repeat performance, I listen to the Lincoln Center Stage ensemble one last time, and give them a positive review in the Navigator app. I go for dinner in the Lido, having my favourite salmon fillets with vegetables and jasmine rice. By the time I finish my meal, the server comes around to offer me water! Service in the Lido continues to be very spotty.
I pack all my non-essential stuff late this afternoon, pull out all the valuables from the safe, and empty all the drawers and closets so I don’t leave anything behind when I disembark tomorrow. I finish by 7PM, so I go up to the Crow’s Nest for one last drink, but the new server up there never comes by, so I go to the Dutch Cafe and have a brown ale while I sit working on my photos on my notebook computer. I verify with the barista Kaye that they will be open tomorrow morning, so I can go down there for my cappuccino and breakfast before I disembark.
Apparently there are 1,617 Canadians and 608 Americans aboard, which illustrates how appealing a return sailing out of Vancouver is to Canadians. It’s also appealing to many dedicated cruisers who are weary of cancelled sailings, and waiting over two years for pandemic travel restrictions to ease sufficiently so they can enjoy themselves.
The Wizard of Wireless – Marconi– an EXC Talk delivered by Cruise Director Jayme
1901 first signal from England to Newfoundland
1903 first signal from England to Boston
Marconi radios aboard the Titanic – new technology at the time
18.1 kts average
19 kts needed to arrive on time in Vancouver
I talk with a man in the Crow’s Nest who’s wife has COVID-19 and is in isolation in a separate stateroom, as well as a woman seated beside us who’s husband is on oxygen with pneumonia. The man who’s wife has COVID-19 tested negative, but he will be tested again tomorrow. I walk the upper decks this afternoon, taking some photos of the ship’s sports facilities: pickle ball (see banner image above), jogging, swimming. I’m impressed by the size of the bow waves from the big swells we are currently sailing through.
I have dinner in the Main Dining Room this evening with a couple from Kelowna I met earlier. The Grilled Blue Marlin main course is very good, accompanied with a couple of glasses of white wine. Marlin can be dry when grilled, but this is done to perfection, so it’s quite moist.
BBC Earth Presents: Planet Earth II in Concert – accompanied by the ship’s musicians. It’s a good documentary, but I walk out after the first two scenes since this is the same production I saw aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam earlier this year while on my Alaska cruise.
We are in rain and rough seas this morning, so the Promenade Deck is closed on both sides to passengers. A rainbow appears to the south of us this morning (see banner image above). I have a continental breakfast in my stateroom this morning, adding a cappuccino from the Explorations Cafe. Today’s lunch is an Apple and bacon pannenkoek (pancake) from the Grand Dutch Cafe – delicious!
Hawaiian Connectivity – Naturalist John shares a study of the Hawaiian islands and reefs found northwest of Kaua’i, which he participated in.
Active volcanoes are only on Maui and Big Island (youngest)
New island forming off the Big Island
Birds first to arrive to newly-formed islands
Nene goose (from Canada Goose)
Introduced birds have largely replaced native Hawaiian birds
Mongoose to control rats, ended up decimating native birds
Papahanaumoku Wakea – Marine protected area – Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – NW of Kaua’i
Ko Hawai’i Pae ‘Aina
Small islands and reefs
Species protected and population restoring
False Killer Whale
Acropora – hard coral
Red Snapper & Yellow fin tuna (Ahi)
Climate change will cause a 1 meter increase in sea level in Hawai’i by 2100
689 nm NE of Kahalui
1,709 nm from Vancouver sailing at an average speed of 18.3 kts
I track the ship’s position and speed independently using the MarineTraffic app on my iPhone.
Made in New York – Lincoln Center Stage quartet play selections from:
Dave Brubeck’s Take Five
Other New York artists
I go to the Crow’s Nest for a Martini, and then go to the Lido for a quick dinner of delicious pork ribs, fries and veggies before going to the early show: Step One Dance Company Presents: In Tandem – a fusion of latin dance, blues singer – a full house!
I have a Benedictine liqueur as I watch this very energetic show. I then spend a couple of hours up at the Crow’s Nest working on my photos and videos, and sipping on my second Martini of the day. Such a decadent life…
We changed time zones last night to Alaska time – back 1 hour. I go down to the Grand Dutch Cafe for breakfast: cappuccino, blueberry muffin and a fruit & yogurt parfait.
Seabirds of the North Pacific – Naturalist John basically takes us through his biology thesis during his 45 minute presentation in World Stage. No doubt it was too deep for most of the audience, but he certainly knows his oceanic species, as my notes reveal.
Cold to warm water – San Francisco to Hawaii
Diving birds close to the North American coastline
Shearwaters – surface and swim underwater
Brant’s Cormorant – diver
Tufted Puffin – skimmers
Pigeon Guillemot – red feet, divers
Brown Pelican – plunge divers very close to shore
Western Gull – eats anything
Subsurface Predators near Hawai’i
Spotted, Striped & Bottle-nosed dolphin
Hawaiian ocean birds
Black-footed Albatross- dynamic soaring
Layson Albatross – 7-8′ wingspan
Wedge-tailed Shearwater – sensitive to artificial lights – collisions
Frigatebird – stealing food, don’t have webbed feet so they drown if they land on the water
White, Red-tailed Tropicbird – long tail feathers
Brown & Black Noddy – plunge divers
Sooty Tern – most abundant
White Tern – urban nesters
I attend the Kahului, Maui Port Talk, but I don’t pick up any useful information that I don’t already know. Since there are no lines at 1PM, I have lunch in the Main Dining Room. I’m seated by myself between two server stations, so it’s very noisy. I have a Heineken beer and a rather uninspiring Croque Monsieur.
On Music Walk: La Musica Latina– the art of the Tango. This performance by the Lincoln Center quartet reminds me of my visit to Argentina and Uruguay in 2020.
Later in the afternoon, I return to the Crow’s Nest to enjoy the Aloha Sunset Music Hour again. I have some good conversation with my fellow Canadians while enjoying two very nicely made Tanqueray 10 Martinis.
I have to wait for over an hour to be seated in the Main Dining Room for dinner, since it is Canadian Thanksgiving today. I find the turkey, stuffing and vegetables are nothing special, but I appreciate the effort by the chefs and enjoy the company of my fellow Canadians while seated at a large table for dinner.
The ship arrives in Juneau at 8AM and my floatplane excursion doesn’t leave until Noon, so I have plenty of time to have breakfast and look around the city. Juneau is the state capital of Alaska, so in addition to tourism, the city has the government and some industry to base their economy on. There are nice plazas, a developed waterfront, the shops are plentiful and appear to be prospering. Before returning to the ship, I check out where Wings Airways dispatches their seaplanes from, which is only a 5-minute walk from where the ship is docked.
Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration
The pilot selects me to sit in the co-pilot’s seat, so that’s a real bonus, allowing me to see out the front of the aircraft as well as having a side window. We soar over the lush wilderness of the Tongass National Forest, catching our first glimpse of five distinctly different and majestic glaciers making up a section of the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field. We fly over the deep crevasses and azure blue meltwater pools of the Norris, Hole-In-The-Wall, East and West Twin Glaciers and lake, plus the impressive five-mile-wide Taku Glacier. Of the 36 named glaciers comprising the Juneau Ice Field, the Taku Glacier is the largest. The Annex Creek power station is visible as we fly along the Taku Inlet. There is a verdant valley between the foot of Norris and Taku glaciers and Taku Inlet.
We end the flight by overflying the harbour and city before landing on a southerly heading, returning to the dock. I buy a souvenir t-shirt and ball cap combo from the seaplane office before returning to the ship. I have lots of photos and video taken with my iPhone 13 Pro on this spectacular flight in clear and sunny weather – well worth the expense for this excursion.
I have a pizza and a beer from NY Pizza aboard the ship, sitting in the shade beside the Sea View pool on the stern, overlooking the city and harbour. It’s a lovely warm and sunny day. In fact, Juneau breaks a record today set back in 1946 for the hottest day: 28ºC (82ºF). Our Belgian cruise director complains about getting a bit of a sunburn today!
Since I have the drinks package, I’m making a point of ordering cappuccino and alcoholic drinks anytime I want one. Today I had two cappuccinos with breakfast, the beer with lunch. I also have another cappuccino in the late afternoon at the Explorations Cafe, where Maria, the young barista thanks me for leaving a complimentary comment using the Navigator app a couple of days ago.
I skip dinner or even a snack this evening, since the personal-sized pizza I had this afternoon was 6 slices, which filled me up. I attend the 7pm Step One Dance Company Presents: Humanity and send a comment through Navigator app: “This is my first MainStage show viewed on this voyage, which I thoroughly enjoyed! Please pass on my congratulations to the performers. I know it must be tough to play to a mostly empty house, but their enthusiasm and professionalism shone through.”
I spot my first small Humpback whale at 9:30PM this evening from my verandah as we pass through Frederick Sound. The ship is making 20 knots to Ketchikan, so there is only time to grab binoculars, not my camera.
I have a leisurely breakfast in the main dining room this morning: vegetable scramble (eggs) with a cappuccino. There is no rush, since my excursion doesn’t leave until 12:10PM. I have lots of time to wander around Skagway, which looks a lot like Dawson City, since the storefronts are all historic looking, but mostly modern buildings inside. The first few blocks of State Street (the main street) has all the tourist shops and services, but walk further up the street a few blocks, or divert a block or two either side, and the real town reveals itself. Dominating the town are the deep sea docks for cruise ships, which once were also used for ore loading, and the multiple railway tracks of the White Pass and Yukon railway, which run from the docks along the eastern side of town.
I tick off a long-standing bucket list item today: riding on the White Pass and Yukon railway from Skagway to the White Pass Summit. The breathtaking scenery is a counterpoint to realizing the Klondike gold miners had to struggle up this steep mountain pass mainly on foot. When they got to the top, they had to go back down and up multiple times to haul their one ton stake to the summit before the North West Mounted Police would let them into Canada to seek their fortune in Dawson City, some 500 miles further! I think the excursion description is a great summary of my experience:
“Experience an unforgettable journey along the eastern side of White Pass aboard the world-famous narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, built more than 100 years ago. You’ll pass through some of the North’s most rugged terrain on board a comfortable rail car as you retrace the original route through breathtaking scenery to the summit of White Pass at 2,865 feet. Relax on the 40-mile roundtrip journey along steep grades and cliff-hanging turns as your train agent shares stories from the past.
Back in Skagway, board a motor coach and travel the historic streets of downtown Skagway, part of the Klondike National Historical Park. Visit The Lookout, a photographer’s delight offering a panoramic view of the Skagway Valley, glacier-clad mountains, Lynn Canal and your cruise ship.
Stop at historic Liarsville, a gold rush trail camp nestled beside a waterfall at the foot of White Pass. Liarsville is named for the journalists sent here to report on the Klondike Gold Rush, whose articles included tall tales of the prospectors’ exploits. Browse the authentic camp exhibits, including antiques and garments left behind by the prospectors and those who profited from them. A cast of ‘sourdoughs’ and dance hall girls will entertain you with a hilarious melodrama and a poem by Robert Service, the Bard of the North.
You’ll also have a chance to try your hand at the art of gold panning in the Liarsville gold fields, where you are guaranteed to find some gold to keep. Enjoy a snack, shop for souvenirs or have your photo taken with a dance hall girl.”
Would-be gold miners had a choice of two routes: the shorter but steeper Chilkoot Trail, or the White Pass trail, which promised a less steep but longer route. Both were punishing routes which lead to the interior lake region where the stampeders could begin their 550 mile journey to the promised gold to be found in the creeks and rivers of Dawson City. The White Pass and Yukon railway was built a few years later by an Irish-Canadian named “Big” Mike Henry, who built the 110 mile route over just 26 months for $15 million. He is quoted “give me enough dynamite, and snoose, and I’ll build you a railroad to hell.”
In 1982 world metal prices plummeted, so the ore from the mines the railway transported to ships dried up. The railway suspended operations until 1988, when they reinvented themselves as a narrow guage tourist excursion train between Skagway and the White Pass Summit. The active line was later extended to Bennett Lake (1990s) and Carcross, Yukon (2007). Due to pandemic border restrictions, currently only trips to White Pass Summit are offered.
After returning to the ship, I have dinner in the main dining room with a couple from south Texas. I start with crabmeat corn fritters, panko-crusted hake for the main course, and strawberry pavlova for dessert. The hake is really nice – a new fish for me. I see the Belt of Venus and the Earth’s shadow in front of us after sunset, as the ship makes its way slowly south down the Lynn Canal to tomorrow’s port of call, Juneau.
Early this morning, I am a bit worried about not seeing the Hubbard Glacier later today, since when I’m out on the stern deck, there is a lot of fog. The ship sails past the very impressive St. Elias mountain range eastward through the Gulf of Alaska to Hubbard Glacier this morning, while another cruise ship is sailing westward. I attend the Mariner Society Welcome Reception at 11AM, where I meet some of the officers and chat with my fellow passengers with 3, 4, and 5 star Mariner status as we sip wine and snack on peanuts.
This afternoon, it clears up nicely as the ship turns into Yakutat Bay, with beautiful Mt. Cook visible. As we turn into Disenchantment Bay, I spot both Turner and Hubbard Glaciers, taking photos as we proceed. The ship eventually gets very close to the ice pack in front of the glacier face, slowly turning to allow all passengers to get views of this magnificent area.
There is commentary from the Explorations Lounge on Deck 11, which can also be heard on outside decks. I go down to the Promenade Deck to have a look, but quickly realize I will see everything from my verandah, with the added benefit of being able to duck inside my stateroom to warm up. This is the coldest day of the trip so far, with a cold wind coming at us from the glaciers, so I wear my toque, scarf and winter coat.
As the ship starts pulling out of Disenchantment Bay, I get dressed in a suit and tie for my dinner reservation in the Pinnacle Grill. I have a lovely Tanqueray 10 Gin martini to start, then crab cakes, filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms and loaded baked potato, finishing off with creme brûlée. I have a sparkling French rose with my main course. Despite the daily program saying attire is “dressy” this evening, it’s obvious that HAL no longer enforces a dress code, since I see people seated in the Pinnacle Grill who are wearing winter coats and jeans, and all manner of dress that is certainly not even close to being dressy.
The Rotterdam and Zaandam are at anchor in the bay just off Balboa today. At dinner this evening, the captain informs us we have approvals for a canal transit, so both ships raise anchor and proceed to the Canal entrance after dark.
I have transited the Panama Canal on three previous occasions, but I find this is without a doubt the strangest. First of all, apparently the reason we were approved to transit is that Panama considers this a medical humanitarian mission. Both ships are proceeding after dark with minimal external lighting – no veranda deck lights, cabin blackout curtains are pulled, and we are transiting using the more remote, but new Cocoli Locks. I’m speculating, however I think it’s likely these measures are in place so the Panamanian public and canal workers don’t see our ships. There is great fear of mass protests by governments during these strange times we now live in…
The banner image above shows a webcam view of the Zaandam passing through Cocoli Locks. Note there are no canal workers in sight, since these new locks are designed to allow ship’s thrusters to be used instead of the labour-intensive towing that is required in the old locks.
It is a lazy morning, but I’m finally motivated to get up and go to the Explorations Cafe for a cappuccino. I sit quietly in a recliner looking out at the flat seas we are currently sailing through off the northern coast of Chile. I try to calm myself and relax, as my mind races through all the scenarios the end of this ill-fated voyage might take.
At 2pm the captain comes on the PA system with an important announcement: “A higher number of passengers with influenza-like symptoms reported to the medical centre this morning. Until further notice all guests need to stay in their rooms, since it is well-proven that this strategy will slow the spread of the virus. All food service in public areas will cease and meals will be delivered directly to passenger staterooms.” This is dreadful news – we are in quarantine!
March 23, 2020 – Day 2 at sea – off the coast of Peru
We wait until 10:30am for our breakfast to appear, and considering the ship’s clock lost an hour early this morning, it was actually 11:30am! Instead of a pot of coffee, we just get two cups, along with eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, Cheerios and milk. There were also a couple of pancakes, which didn’t look at all appetizing. No doubt, food services staff are scrambling to deliver meals to all 1,300 guests three times a day!
After lunch, the captain announces that Holland America has dispatched the Rotterdam to assist us with any additional staff or supplies we might need until we reach Fort Lauderdale. Rotterdam loaded extra supplies (including COVID-19 test kits) from the now-idle Eurodam and Oosterdam, and is now underway towards us, meeting us on Mar 26th off the coast of Panama. All three ships were located near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Our lunch arrives around 3pm, and consists of chicken breast, rice, vegetables, spring rolls, and salad. A half dozen beer and bottles of red and white wine are also delivered outside our door. So we now have four bottles of wine in our stateroom. Too bad we’re in no mood to party!
A first-stage alarm goes off this afternoon, which turns out to be a small fire in the laundry. It doesn’t go any further, and the captain announces a stand-down for the crew shortly after, and reassures the passengers that the incident is successfully resolved.
The couple from across the hall are thrilled to see out our window while we chat with them (at a distance) with our cabin doors open. They occupy a windowless stateroom, but they seem to be coping pretty well.
March 24, 2020 – Day 3 at sea – off the coast of Peru
Thirteen guests and 29 crew members have fallen ill on board as of yesterday, displaying flu-like symptoms. The captain relates that new cases has fallen dramatically today, since passengers and non-working crew remain in their cabins for the second day. The captain continues to indicate they still want to give at least passengers in inside cabins with no window some brief outside deck access. We would also very much appreciate having access to some fresh air and be able to walk on deck, since our window doesn’t open!
March 25, 2020 – Day 4 at sea – off the coast of Ecuador
The meals being brought to us are very good, but neither of us have an appetite, so we just snack a bit. I can feel myself shutting down – both mentally and physically. I just sit doing nothing…it’s like I can’t achieve focus, despite having lots of tasks I could be doing on my computer, or listening to music or e-books, or watching TV, etc.
Today we get to leave our cabins for the promised fresh air break for those of us who don’t have verandahs. Each group gets 30 minutes outside on deck, which is very much appreciated, even though we have to wear masks and follow other quarantine protocols!
March 26, 2020 – Day 5 at sea – no report
March 27, 2020 – Balboa, Panama
Both the Rotterdam and Zaandam are now anchored in a bay adjacent to Balboa (the Pacific entry point for the Panama Canal), where we continue to await clearance to transit the Canal. Rotterdam will refuel while at anchor.
The captain announces this morning that four passengers have died over the last couple of days. COVID-19 testing has revealed two passengers testing positive. A small number of healthy guests will be moved from Zaandam to the Rotterdam today, with priority being given to inside cabin occupants and those who are over 70. We qualify to be moved to the Rotterdam, so after passing yet another medical test, we’re all packed and waiting for our transfer to happen. We know everyone will continue to be confined to staterooms while on the Rotterdam, but it is still a more promising situation for us.
Later, the captain reports that transfers are delayed since the Rotterdam is still bunkering fuel, although he expects at least some guests will transfer this evening, with the rest of the transfers now delayed until tomorrow. He also reports that new cases reported to the medical centre have levelled off, but he urges all passengers to wear the personal medical masks provided. They are also suspending the fresh air program on the advice of the US CDC.
March 28, 2020 – Balboa, Panama
Wendy and I are transferred to the Rotterdam this morning, since we are both relatively healthy. They continue to transfer healthy passengers from Zaandam to Rotterdam all day using strict medical and cleaning protocols.
Our cabin on the Rotterdam ends up being nearly identical to the one we had on the Zaandam, right down to having the exact same number!
Now we wait for news of our ships being permitted to transit the Panama Canal.
Although Capt. Albert J. Schoonderbeek was not the duty captain on the Rotterdam at the time of our voyage, he was aboard the ship as an “ambassador”. He personally and cheerfully greeted my fellow passengers and I as we climbed the gangway into the ship when we were transferred from the Zaandam. If you are interested in the behind-the-scenes activities the crew carried out on behalf of the passengers, please read his blog.
The 5,000-passenger MSC Preziosa docks before we anchor, so their passengers are crowding the dock area and the downtown. Some of us walk the few blocks to the town, where there are festivals and busy open air markets. I soon return to the ship to escape the heat and chaos.
An excursion is late returning passengers to the ship, so we depart Kingstown at 2:00PM instead of 12:30PM. I’m concerned, since I have an excursion scheduled for a 2:15PM departure from Bequia, the next island. The Cruise Director assures us the excursion will run, since it is a short trip to Bequia.
I try some roast suckling pig for lunch. The crackly skin is pretty tough and the meat is dry, so I use some gravy to make it edible. There is a 30 knot wind in the harbour by lunch time, and the crossing to Bequia is exceedingly rough, with the ship rolling wildly – passengers are struggling to not crash into things and each other. Welcome to the Windward Islands!
Our Magical Coast of Bequia excursion this afternoon is delayed but still leaves from Port Elizabeth as promised. It isn’t pleasant because of the high winds and being on a speed boat means we are pitching and banging wildly. The crew are constantly asking us to move to a drier part of the boat as they struggle to put up tarps to keep us from getting completely soaked. Nobody can hear the narration describing the sights we are passing because of the roar of the engines and the strong wind.
Moon Hole is one location where the waves and wind subside, so we can actually take some photos and hear the fascinating story behind the place. Nearby is an old whaling station at Sempler’s Cay. Apparently residents of Bequia still have the right to take a whale or two each year, but it hasn’t happened for awhile.
We also go around West Cay to see the airport (unimpressive) before retracing our route. The last stop before we return to the ship is to swim and snorkel at Princess Margaret Beach. Due to the late start, it is almost sunset by the time we arrive, so it is pointless for me (and others) to go in the water, since we won’t see anything and we only have 20 minutes. Some go in for a swim anyway, while the rest of us stay aboard and enjoy the rum punch.
The ship’s servers and kitchen staff all parade through the dining room at dinner this evening, and sing “We Are The World” waving flags as the rest of us wave our napkins. Tomorrow the cruise is over when we dock in Bridgetown, Barbados. After returning to my cabin, I pack everything in my big travel bag, and put it out for the porters to take ashore tomorrow morning. I’m feeling a bit nauseous due to the extreme pitching of the ship as she takes the strong winds on the nose. Once I finish packing and go to bed I am fine, and sleep well.