Our travel blog is back!! After more than two years of not being able to travel due to the pandemic, we are beyond thrilled to be traveling once again.
Even though we have not been traveling, we have been busy moving, and then moving again and then moving again! In the fall of 2020 we sold our RV and rented a condo in Cape Canaveral, Florida. We were able to walk to the beach every day, watch rocket launches from our front porch and once cruising started up again we could see cruise ships leaving from Port Canaveral. We loved it there.
But then we got the urge to own a home. But so did everyone else, especially in Florida. The housing market was brutal. We settled on a house in Davenport, Florida in the 55+ community of Del Webb Orlando. Five months after moving in we came to the difficult realization that it just wasn’t the area for us. Mistake made, lesson learned. Time to move on. Life is too short not to admit your mistakes and move on. Right?
So we put the house on the market with the same realtor we bought it from and it sold in a month. We made enough on the sale of the house to pay our costs to buy and sell the house and break even. We were happy. We are currently renting a small house in The Villages in Florida. We have been here a month, with part of that month being on a cruise. Too soon to let you know how we like it. But no more home ownership for us until we know for sure where we want to live. Plus renting makes it easier to travel, especially extended international travel which we are hoping to do more of in our future.
That leads us to this blog posting. Last time we posted we were on a cruise to Asia in January 2020. If you remember, our cruise was interrupted halfway through the trip when the pandemic hit and travel came to a halt. We were stranded for days in the South China Sea waiting and hoping for a port that would let us disembark and fly home. Cambodia came to our rescue! Even though it wasn’t Holland America’s fault, they treated us very fairly. They paid for our airfare home and gave us all our money back in cruise credits for a future cruise.
Since we had been vaccinated and boosted and the time to use those cruise credits was running out, we decided it was time to dust off the suitcases and hit the road. Or should I say jump aboard a ship!
After lots of searching and pondering, we decided on a Holland America cruise through the Panama Canal. It began in Fort Lauderdale and ended in San Diego. Pretty convenient for Florida residents. Only thing that would have been better was beginning and ending in Florida.
After over two years we were a little rusty when it came to packing, but we managed not to leave any essentials at home. Two days before we embarked, we had to get our mandatory Covid tests. Bill made appointments for us at nearby Walgreens. It couldn’t have been easier. We pulled up to the drive thru window and the pharmacist passed us each a testing kit through the window. She watched as we each performed the test on ourselves and we put the swabs in envelopes and passed them back to her. She said the results would be emailed to us in about an hour. Not long after arriving home we received our email results and held our breaths as we read the results. Both negative. Whew! What a relief!!
On Sunday, April 24th we drove our car from The Villages to Orlando where we picked up a rental car. We left our car at a long term parking area near the airport since we would fly home from San Diego to Orlando. We then drove the rental car to Fort Lauderdale. We chose Avis/Budget which was very close to Port Everglades and they provided a free shuttle to the port. The timing was perfect and we were able to hop into the last two seats on the shuttle getting ready to leave and away we went.
Bill had worked very hard before the trip completing all our health information on the Holland America website, including our vaccine cards and our negative test results. He also filled out the information on a phone app called VeriFLY. When we reached the preboarding lines at the port, Bill told the ship officials he had completed VeriFLY which verified we were ready to sail. So we were able to skip the health check lines and after presenting our passports/boarding passes went straight onto the ship, the MS Noordam. Boy, was that easy!!
We had originally booked a cabin with a verandah (balcony). A couple weeks before sailing we received an email from Holland America offering us an upgrade to a signature suite at a very reasonable price. Since the price was right and it was a seventeen day cruise, we decided to take it. We were anxious to see our cabin and we were thrilled with it. The main cabin was large with a king size bed, love seat, desk area and lots of storage. In fact, there was so much storage and closet room we didn’t use it all.
The bathroom had double sinks, a tub and a separate walk in shower. The best was the balcony. Because the cabin was located where the ship widened, our balcony allowed us to look toward the front of the ship as well as out to sea. The larger balcony came with two lounge chairs and a table as well as two more chairs with a larger table. Best cabin we have ever had!
After completing the required and simplified muster drill, we enjoyed a delicious lunch. We then returned to our cabin and sat on the balcony waiting to leave the dock. We really enjoyed seeing all the boats out on this beautiful sunny afternoon.
The captain announced this was the ship’s first voyage since 2020. Over 700 days since passengers were onboard. He said he and the crew were so excited to have people onboard once again. So that explained all the smiling faces and “Welcome back!” we heard all afternoon. The captain said when we left the dock and passed all the condos where people always waved at the departing ships, he was going to blow the horn extra long to let everyone know the MS Noordam is back!!
We noticed in subtle ways the ship had not been used in over two years. All the dresser drawers were hard to open because they had gone so long without being opened. Our safe did not initially work because the battery was dead.
If you eat your meals in the dining room you have the choice of a table for two or a shared table with strangers which could be a table for four, six or eight. Our first night we asked for a shared table and ate with two couples. One couple was from El Paso, Texas and the other from Columbia, SC. We enjoyed talking with them and the THREE hours it took to be served our three course dinner went by quickly. We found that after traveling over seven years in the RV we could easily talk with people wherever they were from because we had either been there or been close by. Slow service in the dining room continued to be a problem throughout the cruise. More on that in future blog postings.
Our first two days of the cruise were sea days. We spent the time enjoying the ship, attending talks on upcoming ports, sitting on our balcony and eating WAY too much food! At breakfast on day 2 we sat with a couple from Boulder City, Nevada (the wife was a retired teacher and the husband had worked with power plants). The other couple was from Dallas, Texas and she was a retired school librarian. Perfect breakfast companions, all by chance! Dinner was with a couple from Texas and another couple from Seattle, Washington. On the third day breakfast was at a table shared with a couple from Denver, Colorado. The man was a retired dam engineer and Bill enjoyed having a fellow engineer to talk with. Dinner on day 3 was with a couple from Florida (not far from the Villages) and a couple from Ottawa, Canada. It is always interesting to listen to other people’s cruise travels and experiences.
Next up: our first port, Cartagena, Colombia