In December our travel agent emailed us a cruise opportunity that was too good to pass up. Only problem was it was an 84 day trip leaving January 3rd. To prepare for departure we had two items that needed to be done quickly. We needed a yellow fever vaccine and a Brazilian visa.
We called several pharmacies around The Villages and none of them gave the yellow fever shot. Fortunately I thought of calling the Costco pharmacy and they had the vaccine. And they were happy to help even though we are not Costco members. While talking with the very nice and helpful pharmacist he mentioned if you are 60 or over you can get a waiver to not get the vaccine. Apparently research has shown that the potential side effects from the shot in older people are greater than the possibility of getting yellow fever. Through Costco we were able to get a waiver signed by a doctor which we picked up at the Costco pharmacy. It was a lot cheaper than a yellow fever vaccine and much less painful.
The second important thing to accomplish was getting a Brazil visa. Beginning January 10th, all citizens of the United States, Canada and Australia need a visa to enter Brazil. I could write a novel on how frustrating it has been trying to get the visa. Believe me, you can’t imagine. The company hired by Brazil to process the applications were overwhelmed by the volume of requests by travelers entering by plane and cruise ship, etc and did not have computer software to handle the overload. It was, somewhat comforting to find out from Cruise Critic and Holland America that everyone else was having the same problem. In the end, after many tense days, we were able to board the ship with our visas still being processed. As it turned out, Bill received his visa by email the third day on the ship and I received mine on the fourth day. Ironically that was the same day Holland America announced that Brazil had waived the visa requirement until April 10th. Our visas are good for ten years so perhaps we will need them on another visit to Brazil in the future.
On January 3rd, we left home with a sunrise promising a beautiful day, and drove a rental car to Fort Lauderdale to board the ship. We had a folder full of documentation to provide and were apprehensive about what to expect. There is always the worry on these international cruises that there will be some form or document we forgot. As it turned out, embarkation was very easy and fast.
Our Holland America ship, the Zuiderdam, is smaller than the Royal Caribbean and MSC ships from our travels last summer. We prefer the Holland America ships. They don’t have the glitz and glamor of the other cruise lines with zip lines, putt putt, simulated surfing and water slides. But the smaller Holland America ships means less walking and definitely less people. While the other ships had capacities of 3,000 + passengers, the Zuiderdam has a capacity of 1,900. We have 1,270 passengers on this voyage. Older passengers with no children, crying babies at dinner, crowded elevators and dining rooms. Without all the glitz, we still have plenty to do. Guest lecturers on the history and culture of upcoming countries, port talks on upcoming ports, great evening shows, several music venues, and plenty of friendly passengers to meet.
On the first night in the dining room, each lady was given a long stem red rose.
On our second day, Holland America had a block party. At 4:00 pm everyone went outside their cabin door to meet their neighbors. Waiters came around with champagne, red and white wine as well as little bowls of snacks. For a hour we got to know our “neighbors”. The lady in the cabin next door is a single lady who sold her house in California and now lives on the cruise ship full time. We also met neighbors from Canada as well as a couple who lived on a 35 foot boat full time for nine years, circumnavigating the world.
The Holland America crew is friendly, attentive and eager to please.
One evening when we returned to our cabin after dinner, we found gifts left for us. We each received a tote bag, backpack, battery for charging our phone or tablet, a wallet and a hat which will come in handy in the hot days ahead. Nice touch, Holland America!
After three days at sea, on January 7th we reached our first port of call, the island of Tobago and the small town of Scarborough.
Next: A day in Scarborough, Tobago