Brunch Bunch goes to sea
March 4, 2008 | Two years ago, Réal, Ken, and I took a cruise together and had a blast (See Chronicles, March 2006). This year, the entire Brunch Bunch set sail aboard the ms Zuiderdam for fun in the sun.
At the airport in Palm Springs, Ken finagled an upgrade to first class for the Las Vegas – Ft Lauderdale leg of the trip, having struck up a conversation with the counter attendant about his cowboy hat. Of course he mentioned it at every opportunity; of course we expressed our envy at every opportunity.
After flying all night from Palm Springs, we arrived in Ft Lauderdale just after 7am Saturday morning. Following breakfast at the airport Chili's Too and reinforcing eye-opener from the Dunkin' Donut shop next door, we headed for Port Everglades, ready for lots of standing around waiting. Wrong! We had completed Holland America Line's online check-in in advance and discovered that our Signature Preferred Boarding Pass allowed us to enter the terminal right away, get our key cards, and wait seated comfortably until the gangplank was opened for embarkation. Woo-hoo!
Bob adjusted his watch for Eastern time, but also somehow switched it to display the time in 24-hour format. It being an old watch with multiple functions controlled by unmarked buttons, he was unable to set it back. That was the last time that watch was right on the whole trip. If it had stopped completely it at least would have been right twice a day!
After lunch on the Lido deck we settled into our cabins to await the mandatory lifeboat drill.
Although our cruise director had to admonish us more than once that "Silence on the deck" was required, we were eventually released to return to our staterooms, stow our life preservers, and reassemble on the top deck for the Bon Voyage party while the ms Zuiderdam joined the parade of cruise ships leaving port.
It is possible — some would say obligatory — to become totally spoiled on a cruise. From the moment you awake until the moment you retire to your bed, you are surrounded by people whose sole job is to wait on you hand and foot. Sit down anywhere, and a bar steward will pop up at your elbow: "Would you like anything from the bar?" Leave your cabin for five minutes and your bed is made and fresh towels are provided. Go to dinner and a table steward, an assistant steward, a wine steward, and a dining room supervisor ensure that no fat cell goes unnourished. Go back to your cabin after dinner, and you'll find more fresh towels, the bed turned down, a chocolate on your pillow with a note from the captain wishing you a good night, and some of your towels transformed into exotic creatures.
We were somewhat abashed to find that on the Zuiderdam, open seating was the rule in the dining room. That is, your party would be seated at the first available table with enough vacant seats. Wrong! We had so enjoyed the table staff on our previous cruise that we pleaded with Sanjay, the dining room manager, to allow us to sit at the same table each night, and he assented. We may have been, therefore, the only ones to enjoy having the same staff every night. And enjoy we did!
After dinner on the first night, Mylene brought a tray with shots in Holland America souvenir shot glasses: buy the shot, keep the glass. Our enthusiasm was apparently convincing — we never again had to actually order the drinks, they simply appeared. Each night was a different concoction and a different color glass. By the end of the cruise, we had quite a collection.
Roatan, Honduras, was our first port of call, and to reach it we had a full day at sea, during which we passed about 26 miles from the west end of Cuba, which was clearly visible. In Roatan we had all signed up for a land excursion to a botanical garden and a butterfly farm.
Our guide at the Botanical Garden — I think her name was Stephanie — was somewhat disconcerted by our group. She couldn't figure out why there were no women, and was equally puzzled by the fact that so many of us were able to identify the spices she wanted us to guess.
The Butterfly Farm turned out to be more notable for its birds than for the butterflies. But what was even stranger was the large number of Honduran police who were on patrol there. I guess they were expecting a band of marauding desperadoes.
Our second port of call was Belize City, where the walled-off port and "tourism zone" are a shopaholic's dream. In fact, I was so caught up in the shopping spirit that I picked out a ring to buy. It was only then that I realized that I did not bring my credit card with me (the ship is a cashless milieu, so the cards were locked in the safe). "Réal, can I use your credit card?" He didn't have his either. "Ken, can I use yours?" At first Ken said he didn't have one either, thinking I didn't really want to buy the ring and he would help me by providing an excuse. When he finally realized I was serious, he produced the card, and the deal was done.
While Bob and Phil went off on an all-day excursion to Mayan ruins near the Guatemala border, Ken, Réal, and I took an airboat tour through a vast swampy area much like the Florida Everglades. We saw thousands and thousands of birds, a breeding lagoon for manatees (but no manatees), and even baby crocodiles.
Been there, didn't do that! The winds were so strong (gale force) and the sea so rough that only one tender trip was completed. At that point, the captain determined that it was simply too dangerous and suspended all tender operations. Consequently, we were unable to get off the ship in Cozumel.
Never mind! Ken and Réal went to the spa and got massages — and came back with small sacks of products. I went to the spa and had my teeth whitened — and came back with a small sack of products. Phil nursed his cold, and Bob reeled about the ship.
After a day at sea with "strong breeze, rather rough seas" (Dutch for 'gale-force winds and continuous pitching and rolling') we anchored at Half Moon Cay for a day at the beach. We all got sunburned and pictures were taken that should not have been taken!
Back in port we collected our bags and handed them over to the agent from Bags To Go. For the miserly sum of $15 per person, we were able to check in for our return flights and get our boarding passes and luggage tags while still on board the ship. Our bags were taken to the airport and turned over to the airline for us! We didn't see them again until we arrived back in Palm Springs. Now that's a real service!
We had booked return flights leaving Ft Lauderdale in the evening in what was, in hindsight, a misguided effort to save money. We rented a car and drove to Miami Beach for a bit of sightseeing followed by dinner at a great Cuban restaurant in Miami. Unfortunately, it was all anti-climactic; by the end of lunch we were simply drained of all energy, and by the time we landed in Palm Springs at 1:15am Sunday morning we were simply exhausted. It's now unanimous: we're too old to travel by red-eye!
Last updated on Sep 1, 2016