We’re Having a Grand Time Aboard the Zuiderdam

Day 22, 2024 Grand World Voyage

Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024; Panama Canal

If this cruise gets any more “grand,” it may be the death of me.

If it’s not a port day with lots to see and do, it’s a party or special event aboard the Zuiderdam. There’s hardly any time to catch my breath (or catch up on blogging).

Just in the last week or so, we’ve had big sail away parties on the Lido Sea View deck, complete with live music, colorful decorations and special drinks.

Jo and Lance

Last Thursday was formal night, with a big Casino Royale party following dinner. The next day, the pollywogs in the crew were feted for their first equator crossings during the King Neptune ceremony.

Tomas leads the pollywogs

Sunday brought an Island Dream party. The crew spent hours decorating the Lido pool and buffet areas with palm fronds, flowers, white sand and conch shells. They even installed lily flowers in the pool (anchored to hold them in place despite the ship movement, until a passenger pulled one loose for a photo).

Tropical drink specials came in pineapple or coconut shells, and of course before long passengers and crew formed a conga line to the steel-drum music.

Like magic, by 6 a.m. the next morning when I headed for coffee, all the decorations had disappeared. It seems the hard-working crew doesn’t sleep much.

Two days later, another Lido party – Burgers and Beers. The special menu included the biggest hamburgers I have seen – complete with two 6-ounce patties, cheese, a fried egg, pulled pork and onion rings. It took a chopstick to hold it together while the entertainment staff delivered the orders. Red-checked tablecloths covered the pool-side tables.

I’ve peeked at tomorrow’s schedule, which includes another cake extravaganza during lunch. The aft starboard serving station – usually used as an omelet and then salad bar – frequently hosts a different theme. Sometimes Mexican, sometimes German, sometimes seafood, and probably a plethora of cakes tomorrow.

The bottom line is that Holland America got the message from passengers last year that the grand touches were in short supply, perhaps understandable after the two-year pandemic pause. The company is determined to make up for it. But I’ll just say I don’t know if I can keep up this pace for 128 days.

Today also included another thrilling transit through the Panama Canal. I can’t add much to my posts on the 2023 grand cruise transit (my first), the fall transit on the Zaandam or the holiday partial transit with my family.

Kimberly, our cruise director, kept up her commentary during the day from the navigation bridge and even included comments from one of the Panamanian pilots. She was busy researching on the fly – describing the ships ahead and passing us. Two other cruise ships entered the first locks near us, but turned around to exit after reaching Gatun Lake. Three sailboats rafted together for the transit through the final locks next to us. It must be thrilling to experience the transit from such small vessels.

A couple of dozen pilots joined the ship during our transit. It looked like a clown car when sailor after sailor boarded the ship from a small pilot boat, but sadly I screwed up the video. A local woman in traditional dress (with a beautiful head piece) posed for photos in the Crow’s Nest.

We will anchor on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama tonight in order to take on more fuel, and then will head northwest up the coast to Costa Rica and Mexico before heading west to Hawaii. There is still no word about the itinerary for the second half of our cruise, but many of us predict small odds that we will sail through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean as originally planned.

The odds instead favor a sail around South Africa. I’ve scheduled a refill of malaria pills at a pharmacy in Hawaii just in case we decide to take an overnight safari. I guess I’ve become complacent about where we go, after the interruption of the 2020 world cruise and the uncertainty of Amazon River cruises (once due to low water levels; a month later due to Brazilian visa issues). I’m just along for the ride — and the parties!