Cruise to San Juan, Tortola, Guadeloupe, Barbados, St. Lucia, Isla de Margarita, Bonaire, Aruba and Grand Cayman


Last update: 14-DEC-2008


This was a 14 day Caribbean gruise with Holland America departing from Tampa, Florida on 29-Feb.

We booked this cruise with Cruise Value Center on the web on 20-DEC and for the two of us we paid $2,652

My mom and dad decided that they wanted to go on 16-FEB and booked it for $1,846.  The lesson learned
is to wait till the last minute on these to get the best price.

We decided to drive down to Tampa and left South east Penna. at 5:30 am and we got into Tampa around 7:30 PM.
It was nice driving from the snow to the 70's in 14 hrs.  Really makes me wonder why I live here ??

We stayed at the Holiday Inn at Busch Gardens on East Fowler.  The room was $80 a night and they allowed 
you to leave your vechicle on their lot for the duration of your cruise for free.  I was worried about
this be we had no problems for the two weeks.

The four of us had a 20 minute $30 ride from the hotel to the cruise terminal so we were close.

We got on the ship right at noon.  No problems and the process was quick (less than 20 min).  We heard 
that others that arrived around 2 had long waits. We brought a bottle wine with us and when it went through the
X-ray machine the officer asked if it was wine and we said yes.  Looking back I would have brought more
on.  This was our 3rd cruise and we make it a point NOT to purchase anything on the ship except for shore
excursions.  I will not be ripped off in paying 5 times the cost for a drink !!

Another plus of arriving at noon is that we had lunch on the ship.


These photos were taken with a Kodak DC-280 2.1 million pixel digital camera
NOTE:  SOme of the dates on the photos are wrong due to the camera resetting


Cabin on the ship

We stayed in cabin 847. We always go for the lowest cost outside cabin as we only sleep in the room. I was concerned that there was no (or a real small) safe in the room so I did not bring my good digital camera or lap-top with me. We ended up having 2 lockable drawers in the room and I could have easily took them both. As ususal, I left money out as a test and nothing was ever touched. Our only complaint about the room was it was a bit warm and stuffy. It was probably related to the fact that the ship was old and that most of the people on it like it warm. I will pack a small fan for the next cruise. We heard that some people complained that their rooms were cold and that the ship was rocking too much, and that they would sleep in the public areas. Very strange.

Sunset in the Tampa Bay

We departed Tampa at 5:31 (31 min late) and headed towards San Juan  1,250 Nautical miles away

Sunset on our second day at sea en route to San Juan, PR.

The fort at the entrance to San Juan, PR.

We arrived into San Juan 4 hrs and 36 min late (6:36pm) so we only walked around San Juan at night.
I had been to San Juan a few times before.  Some of the areas close to the cruise terminals are not
safe even during the day.  So we went for a quick walk and then enjoyed the view of the city from the ship.

The good thing about San Juan is the that booze companies set up free sample stands at the terminal
and you can get a good buzz for free.

The reason that we arrived late is that we had a strong west wind between Tampa and San Juan. They reduced the ships
speed due to complains from some of the passengers.  We did not have any issues.  After all we are on a SHIP !!!

We departed San Juan at 12:01 am heading for Tortola 116 Nautical miles away


Tortola

We tendered at Tortola due to two other ships being at the docks.  We were heading off to Virgin Gorda & the Baths on
the ship excursion.  It was not crowded  and the cost was $54.00 a person.  We got back around noon.  Ate lunch and had
a few hours to explore Road Town.  With the other two ships it was a busy place.

This was the write-up for the Excursion

An excursion launch picks you up shipside for a 40-minute cruise along the Sir Francis Drake Channel to Spanish Town,
Virgin Gorda.  There you will board an open safari bus for a drive to the Baths for swimming and snorkeling in the
unique atmosphere of mammoth boulders, palms, sand and sea caves.  Roam through the intricate network of trails and
boulders to discover hidden caves and sea pools.  Make your way to the Top of the Baths where a bus takes you on a
short tour. Stop to shop for souvenirs before you return to your ship.

Our total time in Tortola was arrival at 8:14 am and departure at 4:10 pm

Back up at the top of the hill (Parking Area) at Virgin Gorda Tortola

Leaving Tortola on our way to Pointe-A-Pitre, Guadeloupe 253 Nautical miles away


Guadeloupe

We arrived in Pointe-A-Pitre at 9:50 am which was 1 hr and 50 min late.  Not sure at this time why we are running behind
(I would later find out that we were having engine problems).  I always take a GPS so I can plot our speeds and we were going
slower on each leg of the trip.

British warship in port

We took the ship excursion to Pigeon Island which had a snorkel from a boat and a semi-sub ride.  The cost
was $39.00 a person and the time out was appx. 3hrs 10 min. 

This was the write-up for the Excursion

Combine the adventure of lush rain forest with a glass-bottom boat tour.  Drive through Pointe-a-Pitre and out into the countryside crossing the
Salt RIver, then you'll pass through the National Park to board a glass-bottom boat.  A 1.5 hour boat ride brings you to Pigeon Island - an underwater
reef area recognized by Jacques Cousteau as one of the finest in the world. After excellent underwater viewing on the boat, taste the planters punch 
or local fruit juice, then return to Pointe-a-Pitre and the ship.

Market in Pointe-A-Pitre  Selling crabs to live in the house.  They were called Mr. Bobo or somthing like that. The idea was to have the 
largest "Mr. Bobo." They fight so the largest usually wins...

We departed Guadeloupe at 5pm (which was on time) and headed to Bridgetown Barbados 218 Nautical miles away


Barbados

Amazing.  We are only 20 min late in docking at Bridgetown

 We had been to Barbados before and we found out that this Saturday (March 6) they were having the largest
horse race in all of the Caribbean so we wanted to stay away from that.  We hired a taxi to take us to a beach a few
miles north of the port and then come back to pick us up a few hours later.  We had come to this beach back in 2000
so we knew it was nice.

Barbados sunset

 We departed Barbados and headed to Castries, St. Lucia located 119 Nautical miles away


St. Lucia

We arried in Castries, St. Lucia at 7:34am which was 34 min late.  We had signed up for the
St. Lucia jeep safari which was $64 a person.  As soon as we got into the back of the un-covered jeep
it started to rain but we lucked out that we saw only rain at the start and none in the rain forest.

View of the ship from an overlook above Castries

Bananas everywhere

Roadside fruit stop and typical home.  I was surprised that we really did go back into the mountains.
With the GPS I was watching our elevation and we were well above 2,000 feet in some places. 

A big bug !! at the grounds of La Sikwi Sugar Mill

Coco trees at the La Sikwi Sugar Mill. Beautiful scenery.

gardens at La Sikwi Sugar Mill

The tour write up stated that this was the colorful picturesque village of Anse-La-Raye.
Did not look like a real safe place to any of us on the tour

We orgionally were going to drop off everyone at Castries then the ship was going to
move to the southern end of of the island at Soufriere, St. Lucia 

BUT...  Due to engine problems we could not do that for some reason.  So, we did a drive by on our way to El Guamache, Venezuela

Real crowded to watch the sunset

Another great sunset

 Our depature time from St. Lucia was stated to be 3pm and we left at 3:05 so as usual we departed on time.
We were on our way to El Guamache, Venezuela located 272 Nautical miles away


Margarita Island, Venezuela

We arrived at 7:25 am... AMAZING !!!  We were 35 min. early.  This is where the spare engine parts were meeting
the ship so the captain must have been in a hurry to get things fixed.
I was a bit concerned with the security issues of Venezuela but figured all of the problems were on the mainland 35 miles
to the south.  Still, because of the problems we opted to only explore the island with a ship organized tour.

We took the La Restinga Lagoon & Tropical Labyrinth excursion that cost $39 each, which was well worth it.  The total trip time was 4:45.

This was the write-up for the Excursion

At the landing stage of La Restinga National Park, you will board a small boat to float among the mangrove forests that grow in the lagoon.
Under the canopy of the trees there is an opportunity to get close to the flora and fauna of this ecosystem.  After visiting this unique
forest in the water, you will stop at the Tropical Labyrinth, a fascinating garden of tropical plants with a ficus labyrinth and many 
species of plants arranged in a very attractive patterns.  Refreshments are served at this location.

We drove over to the La Asuncion Area to a Nature center where they had some of the critters found on the Island

Across from the nature center, where we got some real cheap beer, we saw an Interesting use of a dead cow head.

Business area and Apartment buliding in Porlamar with advanced wiring

All the houses / Apt.s had plastic tanks on the room.  Good idea for free hot water

I was surprised that for as poor that the area was, all the school kids had cell phones.

Laguna De La Restinga

A 19,000 hectare park with a 22 Km sandbar. 
Park has extensive lagoons and mangrove swamps

Looking across 27 miles of water to the mainland of Venezuela.  SOme of the mountains rise to over
 7,000 feet a few miles inland

Close to where we docked was a safe beach where we were snorkeling.  There were a few kids here waiting to
grab what they could when you went into the water.  They had a large collection of tennis shoes / socks and cruise
ship beach towels.  As with most of the places that we went, there was NO port security. It looked like anyone with
a car could just come out to where the ship was docked.

Sunset off of Margarita Island with the ship heading west towards Kralendijk, Bonaire

My mom and dad on the crowded deck

Watching for the green flash

We departed Margarita Island, Venezuela 5:36 pm which was 24 min EARLY.  I would hope that we all were on board for this.
We have 267 nm to travel to Kralendijk, Bonaire

About 75 miles west of Margarita Island we encountered a row boat with two people waving at the ship.  I looked
at the GPS location and we were 60+ miles from the mainland.  We just continued west.  I asked one of the officers
the next day what they do when they see cases like that and he said that they try to radio the proper authorities.
But in this case there was nobody to radio.  Oh well...  You better know what you are getting into in this part
of the world.


Bonaire

We arrived in Kralendijk, Bonaire at 9:40 am which was only 10 min late.  Not bad.

I took the ship tour over to Kleine Bonaire on the excursion two site advanced snorkel.  I had been here before
and it has some of the clearest water that I have ever seen

Underwater camera shots on Kleine Bonaire (Taken with a $7 Wal-Mart throw away camera)

Snorkeling right at the ship

Leaving Bonaire into the sunset

We left Bonaire at 5:45 which was 15 min late.  We only had 136 nm to go tonight to Aruba


Aruba

We arrived in Oranjestad, Aruba at 6:56 which was 4 min early.

Went hired a cab and rode up up to Malmok Beach which in my opinion was a mistake.  Good snorkeling but I wanted a good swimming beach and
this beach was too rocky. Next time I will go to one of the hotels and pay a few bucks for a chair and watch the waves.

One good thing is that we had the beach to ourselves.

Watched the iguanas in downtown Oranjestad

I looked like anything was allowed on the public roads.  ATV's were everywhere

downtown Oranjestad from the ship

We departed Oranjestad at 3:06 which was 6 min. late for the 812 nm trip to Georgetown


Grand Cayman

We arrived in Georgetown at 8am which was right on time.

4 or 5 big ships in port at the same time

we had set up our own trip to Stingray city which was good.  The ship cancelled all of the trips
to Stingray city due to the water being too rough.  Again with all the older people on HAL they have
to watch out for them. This worked out for us as a crowded place was a bit less crowded.

Our trip also had two snorkeling stops on the way out to swim with the stingrays

Stingray City sandbar

Underwater camera shots at Stingray City

Along the water front an interesting large tree

We Were to leave Georgetown at 5:30 and we did start moving but, we then spend the next hour or two going around in 
circles with the tenders following the ship.  Of course HAL did not inform us what was going on.  We later found out that 
two weeks ago the MS Noordam lost one of its anchors in the harbor and we were trying to pick it back up.  They did recover 
it and we were told that one of the reasons that they worked so hard at it is that the Grand Caymans were going to asses HAL
a large fine for discarding and item in a protected area.  Also, the replacement cost for an anchor was very high.

We then headed to Tampa 668 nm away.


Misc ship info / photos

This was our third cruise.  We try to pick smaller ships with an older crowd (we are both in our early 40's)
and we don't want to have a ship full of kids and party types.  Also, we take longer cruises as young people with kids
can't generally afford to take two weeks off with family activities.  We only saw 2 or 3 kids under 20 on the entire cruise.

Also, 2 weeks is the way to go.  Our next one will be 2-3 weeks.

We knew that the ship was being sold in Nov 2004 but except for the engine problem everything else seemed ok.

The crew was very helpful and most knew our names after being with them for for two weeks.

With an older crowd you really did have run of the ship after 9 pm.  Often we could walk all over the place outside
and not see another person.  Many days only a few people would use the ships two pools.  The hot tubs were a bit more
popular but still not very heavily used.

The food was great.  

The dress had three levels.  Casual, informal and formal.

I DON'T DRESS UP.  I am one of those people that wears shorts everyday even in winter.  So, I have a BIG problem
with dressing up on vacation.  So, I wore only a button shirt and a tie on the formal and informal nights.  I was
not alone.  Sure I got some looks...  But, screw them.... After dinner I would run back to the room and put the shorts back
on.

The really pushed the Internet Cafe that they had.  Also, they rented lap-tops with a wireless lan card in it that you
could use from your room.  Or, if you have a computer you could connect to the network and surf the web.  This was NOT
cheap.  I went up to see how much it costs and I was shocked that it was in the $50 to $100 range for only an hour or two.
Also, people were complaining that the connections were slow.  The funny thing is that they lowered the price considerably 
as the cruise went on.  Towards the end it was very reasonable.  Still, I would not give them a cent due to this pricing policy.

Like all the other cruises they try to take your photos all of the time.  Then they put it up on a wall and sell it to you.
I usually take mine off and tear it up.  As the cruise went along the lowered the price to try to sell these.  The last few
days they put red stars on the back and then they were free. 

I like messing with the slot machines and I was amazed at how loose some of the nickel machines were during the day.  It seemed
that between 12 and 4 they would pay out but in the evening hours the machines were tight.  I watched and played a bank of 4 machines
and there was a trend.  I came out $250 to $300 ahead on those 4 machines over the two week cruise.  Not bad considering this it made
it that HAL via. the slots paid for our shore excursions.

Very crowded out on the front of the ship

One of the ships that was docked in Aruba is passing us up heading back towards Florida

Where is everyone?....   Life is great on a ship with the average age of 70+

9PM and they are all asleep

2PM nap time


Total mileage on this voyage

Ports                              Mileage

Tampa to San Juan                 1,250 nm
San Juan to Road Town               116 nm
Road Town to Pointe-a-Pitre         253 nm
Pointe-a-Pitre to Bridgetown        218 nm
Bridgetown to Castries              118 nm
Castries to Isla de Margarita       272 nm
de Margarita to Kralendijk          267 nm
Kralendijk to Oranjestad            136 nm
Oranjestad to Georgetown            812 nm
Georgetown to Tampa                 668 nm

TOTAL                              4,111 nm

4,111 nm = 4,727.6 land miles = 7,611.4 Kilometers


Ship Facts Maiden Voyage: 1984 Cruise capacity: 1,214 guests Passenger Decks: 10 Gross Tonnage: 33,930 tons Length: 704 feet Ship's Registry: The Netherlands


From the Navigator Each day Holland America had a newsletter called On Board that would tell you what was happening that day. Monday March 1, 2004 After passing the Dry Tortugas early in the morning, we will be crossing the Straits of Florida until we reach the coast of Cuba. Here we will alter course to the Southeast and head for the Old Bahama Channel. This channel has only a narrow width of navigable water, and so Traffic Separation Zones are used to safely separate the opposing flows of traffic. During the evening, depending on visibility, you might spot the lights of several towns and villages on the Cuban coast on our starboard side. (Note. Not only could the towns be seen we were only 7 miles off of the coast. Street lights and even car headlights could easily be seen) Tuesday March 2, 2004 Our second day at sea will start with the Noordam heading South Easterly along the North coast of Cuba. As we reach the Eastern tip of Cuba, we will continue on an easterly course. In the evening we will make landfall to the North of the Island of Hispaniola containing the two countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As we cross the Mona Passage we will set course to the South East directly for San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wednesday, March 3, 2004 Early in the morning the ms Noordam will make landfall at the north coast of Puerto Rico. At about noon we will start our approach to the harbor of San Juan, we will pass the Fort at Punta del Morro on our port side. The Noordam has been assigned terminal four, East in down old San Juan. Thursday, March 4, 2004 Road Town is situated on the South coast of the island of Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin islands which are located 96 km East of Puerto Rico. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy, with the yacht industry as a major contributor. The 'roads' to Road Town are quite narrow and will give to 'scenic cruising. When departing and clearing the Virgin Islands we will set a South Easterly course, where in the early mourning we will pass the Netherlands Antilles Island of Saba, and the Saba Bank, the largest shallow area in the Caribbean Sea, on our starboard side. Friday, March 5, 2004 In the early morning we will pass the South West point of the Island Grande-Terre, one of the two islands which form Guadeloupe. Afterwards, we will follow the costal line to the North East, up to the pilot station. The pilot will guide us through a five nautical mile buoyed and lighted channel, which leads between the off-lying shoals south of our destination, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. Whereas Basse-Terre is banana growing region, Grande-Terre is a sugar producing territory. In addition to bulk sugar cargoes and bananas, the port of Pointe-a-Pitre handles minerals, grain, petroleum and general cargo. Saturday, March 6, 2004 At sunrise we will make landfall off our most easterly destination, Bridgetown, which is on the South West Coast of Barbados. Barbados is an isolated island lying about 100 miles east of the Windward Islands, making it the eastern-post point in the West Indies. Bridgetown is the capital and commercial center, with a main export of sugar. Sunday, March 7, 2004 We will be docking in Castries, which is on the north-west coast of St. Lucia, in the early morning. After departure in the afternoon, we will be scenic cruising along the lush, green coast of the island passing Soufriere Bay, where you will be able to see from a distance the impressive double peaks of the "Pitons". Shortly after we will set the ms Noordam on a south-south-westerly course and commence our seavoyage to El Guamache on the beautiful Venezuelan Island of Margarita. Monday, March 8, 2004 At twilight the ms Noordam will enter canal de Margarita, situated between the island of Margarita and the mainland. Isle Margarita is the largest of a group of islands, known as Nueva Esparata, laying within an area extending 25 miles from the coast. The island consists of two rocky mountainous sections joined together by a low sandy isthmus, about 2.5 miles wide. The ms Noordam is scheduled to dock at Puerto el Guamache, located on the southern coast. Tuesday, March 9, 2004 The ms Noordam, is scheduled to dock at the north pier in down town Kralendijk, the capital of Bonaire, is a small town with substantial trade and tourism. Bonaire is one of the five islands forming the Netherlands Antilles. While approaching, on the starboard side you might spot white looking hills. This is salt being exported to the USA for de-icing the roads. Between 8 pm and midnight we will be scenic cruising along the south coast of Curacao, the main island of the Dutch Antilles. Wednesday, March 10, 2004 At twilight the ms Noordam will enter "Paardenbaai", the port area for Oranjestad, and has been assigned berth "c" in downtown. The narrow bay is protected on its west side by a barrier reef. Aruba, on which only sparse vegetation grows lies only 15 miles north of the coast of Venezuela. The island is slightly hilly, with few isolated peaks. Besides a considerable tourist trade, the island has an oil terminal with a large refinery. It imports and transports crude oil and exports refined products. Thursday, March 11, 2004 Throughout the day we will be sailing in a north-westerly direction in the Caribbean Sea. This area is known for its consistent weather pattern throughout the year, largely influenced by the easterly trade winds. To reach Grand Cayman we must pass by the Pedro Banks, South of Jamaica. Thence we will head in a more westerly direction for George Town. Friday, March 12, 2004 In the early morning we will anchor off Georgetown, and soon after, commence our tender service. The Cayman islands are a British crown dependency. Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman islands, the others being Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. After weighing anchor in the afternoon, we will set a northwesterly course for the Yucatan channel. Saturday, March 13, 2004 During the morning we will pass Cabo San Antonio, which is the western most point of Cuba. After rounding this point, we will set a north-north-easterly course to enter the Gulf of Mexico and head toward the entrance to Tampa Bay


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