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GETTING TO OUR FIRST PORT OF CALL

Introduction. Despite the disastrous experience on our December 2009 cruise on Holland America's Veendam, we decided to give that cruise line another chance. Their 16-day Riviera Springtime cruise was too attractive to pass up. So we booked it, even getting a cabin with a veranda, notwithstanding the weather to be expected crossing the Atlantic that time of year. This was another repositioning cruise, similar to the one we took in April 2009. The route was from Ft. Lauderdale to Rome with six stops en route and eight days at sea.

Wednesday, 27 April.
We left our home in Massanutten before 4:00 p.m. and drove to our son Joseph's house in Culpeper. He drove us up to the Best Western motel near Dulles Airport in threatening weather. As the three of us drove to the nearby Olive Garden for dinner, torrential rain poured down which, with the heavy traffic, made driving very difficult. Fortunately it had stopped by the time we finished eating. We were back to the motel about 8:30 and Joseph headed home.

Thursday, 28 April. We got up at 5:15 so we could have breakfast and catch the 6:30 shuttle to the airport. There had been heavy rain and lightning a little earlier, but that had almost stopped by the time we got to Dulles. Jane had hurt her foot just before we left home and was having trouble walking despite her using a cane, so we got a wheelchair for her. Check-in and security were unusually fast. We also used the new terminal train for the first time, and that sped things up, too. We were at the gate by 7:00 for out 7:50 flight on Jet Blue. By then the rain had stopped. 

It was a nice flight and we got to Ft. Lauderdale at 10:30. The  weather was sunny, warm and humid. A taxi had us at the pier in Port Everglades at 11:15, and we proceeded to board the Noordam.
 

MS Noordam
There was a long line but it moved quickly and we got to our room at noon. The room was on the Upper Veranda Deck (Deck 6), close to the stern on the port side. We found a beautiful basket of flowers and a bottle of champagne, the "VIP package"� Holland America provided in partial compensation for the nightmare on our previous cruise. There was also a second bottle of champagne with a note from the Noordam's Captain noting my complaints about the previous cruise and promising to do everything possible to help us enjoy this cruise. (I describe this, perhaps uncharitably, as the letter noting that I was a trouble maker.

We went right to the Vista dining room for lunch. That took a lot longer than eating at the Lido buffet, but it was much more relaxing. By the time we got back to our room at 1:30, our luggage was there. We unpacked before we had to leave for the life boat drill at 4:00. We had a little time to rest before the ship sailed at 5:40.

Shortly after that, we went down to the dining room, taking one of the bottles of champagne to share with our table mates. We were fortunate this cruise to have fixed seating at a table for six, as we'd requested. Only one of the other couples joined us this evening, though. They were Canadians, Peter and Marie, and we became good friends over the course of the cruise. There was a 9:30 show by the ship's entertainers that evening, but we were too tired to attend.

Friday, 29 April - Wednesday, 4 May. The next six days were "at sea." The weather varied greatly, from sunny and mild (high around 73) to rainy and cool (high around 60). We even had one small gale. In spite of all the leisure time, we felt "busy."� I only got to the gym twice during the six days. For one thing, we lost an hour to changing time zones on four of the six days. Three of the four time changes were at 2:00 p.m., compressing the already short time between lunch and dinner.
 

Caryatids along passageway
There were also a couple of interesting presentations in the Vista Lounge, the ship's auditorium, nearly every day. They were continuous series: one by a geologist on plate tectonics, earthquakes, and tsunamis, the other by a political scientist on "Our Changing World," addressing developments over the centuries wrought by changes in population, health, economics, etc., and concluding with projections for the future. There was also an almost daily presentation on the countries and ports we were going to visit. We made it to several, but not all the presentations, and others we watched on the TV in our cabin when they were broadcast the following day.
 

Every day a different animal
Another thing that made us feel busy, Jane and I had each brought a kindle loaded with books we wanted to read. Over the course of the trip (including the flight back to the U.S.), I finally managed to read Tolstoy's War and Peace. I had started it once before but didn't get very far. This time, though, I was interested from the very beginning and couldn't wait to get back to it. Sometimes Jane and I found ourselves willing to forego other activities on the ship so we could read. We also played bridge a couple times with Peter and Marie.
 

 Carved watermelons in Lido
Of course there were also the three meals around which our days seemed to revolve. Two of the six dinners were formal (i.e., coat and tie for the gentlemen). Then there was a show after dinner every evening in the Vista Lounge, and we went to most of them.

There also were a couple of historic events while we were at sea. The first day (30 May) we got up early and watched the royal wedding (Prince William & Kate Middleton) on TV while having breakfast in our room. (We had breakfast there several mornings during the cruise.) Two days later (1 May) we heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.
 
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