The m.s. Rotterdam’s 2009 World Cruise was truly spectacular! There was a wonderful ambience onboard, which made for very happy passengers who got lots of attention. The food was a cut above the usual world cruise fare, too. Kudos to the kitchen and dining room team! The whole staff bent over backwards to accommodate everyone from the master on down!
Captain Olaf van der Waard, who is energetic and gregarious, spent a lot of time interfacing with passengers and taking the pulse on the ship. Hotel Manager Henk Mensink, always a favorite with HAL passengers, was on his top game, making us all feel special—doing whatever he could to make this the best cruise experience yet. Cruise Director, Bruce Scudder, and his entertainment staff went overboard to come up with new and innovative events, activities, and entertainmentto keep us enjoying ourselves. One of the most fun events was the Pajama Party held on April 1, which happened to be Assistant Cruise Director Steve Gada’s 30th birthday. Being greeted by Hotel Manager Henk in his nightshirt, cap, and teddy bear, lounging near the elevator was a delightful surprise! Passengers came in a wide variety of sleep attire and regalia and were treated to hand massages, fun and games, dancing and prizes. The Crow’s Nest was hopping that night!
Although the weather was wetter than usual on this year’s world cruise (can you believe we even had rain in Dubai! That’s the desert, for goodness sakes!) it didn’t dampen our eagerness for seeing new places and making new friends around the world. I was fortunate enough to take a few adventurous overland tours:
From Hong Kong, we went to Chengdu, China, where a Giant Panda reserve is located. Chengdu may be my favorite city in China. Besides having Pandas in abundance, it is clean, has lots of trees along the streets, friendly people, and a most beautiful park. We spent a few hours wandering through People’s Park, watching local people do what they do in China for recreation: Ballroom dancing, Tai Chi, Drum Teams, sword routines, choirs of 200-400 people singing, instrumental groups, children in an amusement park . . . I think everyone going to China should spend some time in one of their amazing parks! From Chengdu, we went to Xian, where the Terracotta Warriors are located. Seeing armies of life-size soldiers on guard, row upon row, is amazing!
Another highlight of this year’s world cruise was the continent of Africa. From the beautiful Seychelles, to exotic Namibia, Africa is exciting. In Kenya, we did an overnight safari with about 50 people. I have never seen so many herds of elephants! At first we saw some dried elephant dung on the road and got excited that there were elephants in the area. By the end of the two days, we were saying calmly, “Oh, another herd of elephants.” They are magnificent! We saw herds of zebras frolicking along, too. There were rhinos, giraffes, lots of birds, cape buffalo, wildebeast, and hooved dear-like animals, too. It is always a treasure to see these wild animals in their natural habitat.
The other very special overland trip we took was to Victoria Falls, where we visited Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, all along the Zambezi River. Besides viewing the booming falls both from land and from a helicopter, we took an amazing cruise on the Zambezi and saw more hippos than I could count. There was even a brand new baby hippo, whose mom was very wary of our boat. Another land safari yielded more elephants, this time playing in the river, and moving around in family groups, with lots of little ones. Some in the group experienced a 4-hour Elephant Encounter, including a nice long elephant ride by the river, as well as educational input about the elephant life.
A few of us even got to walk with lions while the others were elephant riding! That was the real highlight for me. We spent 3 hours with three young female lions, about a year old, who were rescued in the wild as cubs. The program re-introduces the animals back into the wild in five stages, when they are able to survive on their own. These lions are just beginning to hunt their own food, but it will take a long time before they can be on their own. It was very exciting to pet them and rub their tummies when they turn over like little kittens—even though they are already huge! We were very careful not to get too close to their big teeth!
Sailing around the world this year has once again made me eager to do it again next. There are always new places to go, new people to meet, and new memories to treasure. I cant wait to see the penguins on the 2010 Holland America world cruise when we visit Antarctica!