I got up at about 6:45 a.m., and finished packing. We had been very busy right up until the last minute before Jim and Tammy showed up, and I hadn't really had time to get everything finished. But things came together quickly that morning.
Before long, Dotti, Jim, and Tammy also got up, and shortly we were all dressed and ready to get started. Jim did most of the loading, using his packing skills learned in the Navy when he was a plane captain, loading cargo.
We wanted to be at the ship by 12 noon, and the drive should take about three hours. So, our departure time from the house was set at 9 a.m. We made it out the door about 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
We hopped in the van, and stopped at Starbucks on our way to the freeway, to get some caffeine for the trip.
The hours it took to get up to Seattle passed quickly as we discussed our cruise. It seemed like very little time had actually passed when we reached Exit 165, and soon we were cutting over to the waterfront. A final left turn put us on Alaska Way, which seemed very appropriate; because that road took us right to where our ship was waiting for us.
We turned in at the sign that said gate 5 and pulled up to the loading zone. Soon the car was unloaded and a porter arrived to help us put our luggage on his cart. Unlike on a plane, the cruise ship didn't have any limit on luggage—either number of pieces or on weight. Alas, Dotti and I over packed. It is something we tend to do. We don't want to get to our destination only to find that we forgot something important. However, as a result, we always take along stuff that we never use.
After the luggage was out of the van, I had to go looking for a parking place. Jim looked through the gate 5 parking lot, but it was an extremely small lot, and naturally it was totally filled. I had to go back out on the road and head north for a bit to gate 2, where a much larger parking lot was available, and I left the van in that lot. I parked right next to a large light pole, one of only two like it, so I would be able to find the van when we got back a week later. I then walked to the Terminal 30 building, where we would be checking in for the cruise on the ms Westerdam.
When I found the others (thank goodness for cell phones) they had already checked the main baggage in. Next, we had to wait in a serpentine check-in line, very reminiscent of airports, which always make me nervous. We had set our goal to be there by noon, and it was only a few minutes after that. The line was long, and we had to wait a while, but we finally got through. We were excited to be heading for our ship!
This is a photo of the Terminal 30 loading area, taken from the stern of our ship. On the far lower right, you can see part of the tiny Gate 5 parking lot. The end of the building that is facing us is the entrance that we used for checking in, and this is where we temporarily parked the van to do our luggage unloading. You can see the covered walkway that we took to the ship, and how it also runs over to the Sun Princess gangway.
The parking lot beyond the building is the Gate 2 parking lot where I had parked the van. I was hoping that it would be safe as I took this picture.
In the background, there are two professional sporting arenas. The closer and darker one is Safeco Field where the Seattle Mariners play baseball. The white football field beyond is the Qwest Stadium, where the Seahawks play. With the fine weather, the roof was open, and I could see that the lights were on, and there was a crowd in the stadium. At the time the Seahawks were busy beating the Arizona Cardinals 21-10, as we were readying ourselves for departure. Up closer our white van is just visible parked up against the second light tower.
Right after turning the corner from the check-in desk, with our room keys in hand, feeling a great rush of excitement about finally being able to board; we were walking towards the exit door, leading to the covered walkway to the ship, when we were stopped by an insistent lady. She was selling cards for $18, which could be redeemed for "20 sodas" on the ship. She was less than honest when she told us that the sodas would cost us $2 each otherwise, but we could get 20 of them by using her card. (As it turned out, we had an unhappy surprise when we found out later on the ship that we still would have to pay $2 for a can of soda, with or without the card. The card would get us a glassful of ice with some soda in it, but it was a lot less than a can.) Four cards, and $72 later, we were on our way.
I would estimate that we lost $50 out of that transaction. I only mention it here in order to warn anyone else who might be taking a cruise to beware of this little scam. On the upside, as I later told Jim: if that were the worst thing that happened on the cruise, I would be happy! And as it turned out I think it was the worst thing. So, we got it out of the way early.☺
As we continued on our way to the ship, we passed by several other concession stands, including ones selling hats and binoculars (we had fortunately remembered to bring our own on both counts).
Our route took us out of the large terminal building and into a covered walkway that headed straight towards the water. The walkway was laid out generally in the shape of a 'T'. Leaving the buildling, we walked along the the "supporting leg" until we reached the intersection with the top, or "crossing member" of the 'T.' We were directed to turn to the left. Passengers for the Sun Princess took the other route.
Later, when we were pulling away from the pier, both ships dropped lines at the same time, and we did a little dance, as the Sun Princess backed out of the way to give us a clear route to sea. She then ended up following us out.
By this time the adrenaline was flowing pretty well in my veins. We were about to go onboard, and the feeling of excitement was mounting. What would it be like? It had to be good, but what shape would that take exactly? What did we have waiting for us at the end of the gangway?
At one of the turns on the covered walkway, leading to the ship, there was a photographer set up—one of many such stations we were to see during the cruise, which provided us with some high quality shots that will be priceless during the coming years. We asked if we could do a group shot, and of course they had no objection to that.
It was at this point where the "shipboard life" seemed to take over for me and, as if passing through a door, we didn't return to our old reality until we once again walked past this very point.
Finally, there it was: the entrance to the ship. We are about to cross the threshold. On a Navy vessel, a sailor had to present his ID card, turn and salute the colors (the flag hanging on the stern of the ship), and say, "Request permission to come aboard sir!" None of that here. Once we were up to the entrance, we were suddenly on the other side and standing on the deck of this huge ship. Let me tell you that it takes some doing to get a couple of ex-carrier sailors to call a ship huge! (See Side Bar)
At last, our feet were no longer on land, or on a land supported manmade structure. We were onboard!
At the entrance, things were busy. People were anxious to get their carryon luggage into their staterooms so they could start to explore the ship. However, we were met by a uniformed young man who told us that our staterooms were not yet ready for occupancy (it was 1:05 p.m.) and we could grab something to eat on the ninth deck (Lido Deck) if we would like.
Since the stateroom was scheduled to be ready at 1 p.m. (this was the deciding element in setting the time for when we would arrive), we figured that it probably wouldn't be long before the rooms were ready, but then we were hungry too. While we would have liked to drop off our luggage first before eating, this would be a workable compromise.
Now, how do we get there?
The crewmen of ms Westerdam are nothing if not helpful, and soon, with directions in hand, we were climbing onto an elevator, after its richly ornamented doors opened to let us enter. We pushed the button for deck 9, the Lido deck, and soon were on our way up.
The Lido Deck was pretty crowded already and we were wondering where we would get a place to sit once we found some food to eat. As we were taking in the sights and sounds of the Lido pool area, Jim spotted a table that was empty and grabbed it for us. We decided that the men would wait for the ladies to go and find some food, and then when they returned, the men would get something.
In the photo, you can see Jim sitting at the table he found on the starboard side, with some of our carryon luggage visible behind him. In the background you can see the Terminal 30 building that we had just passed through, and some of the passengers' luggage waiting on the pier to be loaded. (Our checked in luggage would be delivered to our staterooms later.)
The retractable roof was open, and so this was an "outside setting" at the time. Seeing the dock cranes sticking up high in the air over us seemed a bit strange.
The design of the pool was interesting, because, besides having the pretty dolphin sculpture at the end, there was a surrounding capture area that gave the main pool a sunken appearance. The next day we were going to see why it was there! When the seas get heavy and the ship starts to rock heavily, the water dances right out of the pool, but it is contained. In fact it looked just like it was a "wave pool" designed to create its own waves.
Later, Dotti came back to tell us that there had been a change in plans. (Yes, it was an ominous omen of things to come. ☺) They had found another table inside, and wanted us to relocate. We took a look at the luggage that was piled up around the table, and then at Dotti. She wasn't joking, and she seemed resolute. So, off we went. Of course, in rigid adherence to Murphy's Law, the announcement that our staterooms were ready came right as we were relocating. ☺
The new table was inside, where things were a little more congested. (This photo was taken at a later time when the tables were mostly empty. But you can see how closely spaced they are.) Once we found a place for the bags, more or less out of traffic, Jim and I set off to grab something to eat.
I ended up with a collection of tasty items that went from ice cream to spinach. I had some potatoes and some fruit. The chocolate chip cookies were large and delicious. Yes, I was racking up points faster than a basketball team. But it sure was good.
After eating we were planning on finally making it down to the staterooms to get settled in, but Dotti and Tammy wanted to set up an appointment for a pedicure and since they were not sure how much of a waiting list there might be, they wanted to do it right away. So, they went off to do that, and Jim and I took the luggage down to the staterooms on the fifth deck.
As is the case with nearly all things, the quality of something is judged relative to other things. A diamond is judged large or small, depending upon what you are comparing it against. So it was with the stateroom. If you compared it with the average motel room, it was tiny and cramped. However, if you compared with the tiny bunk and coffin locker I had on my Navy ship, this was the Taj Mahal!
In this Holland-America's photo, the stateroom appears to be spacious. But it is shown without people. In the next photo we have added two people to the room. The morning coffee fills the only table, and the television (which was never turned on) takes up even more of the "dresser top." Under the chair you can see the basket of fruit that was normally on the table, but which had to be moved to get the coffee onto it. But where? We found we needed to be creative to find some space for things. One point about the fruit, it was excellent! I ate quite a bit of it during the week onboard, and they kept the fruit basket filled for us!
I took this picture as a lark, because the large mirror on the wall caught my attention. The curtains and wall on the far left and the light and pillow top at the bottom are the only items in view that are not just reflections in the mirror. However, when you click on the thumbnail to look at the larger image, you will see that I have flipped the picture horizontally, so what you are seeing in the glass is what Jim and Tammy would have seen if the wall were transparent between our staterooms, and they were looking through the mirror, as if it were a window into our room.
Of course the bed was cluttered as we were busy unpacking. The ship-supplied bathrobes were hanging on the wall. The little cubbyhole under the TV table area is open, but there wasn't much room for anything in there besides the ship supplied hard wired hair dryer. The lanyard that I was given for my name tag and room key is hanging from the light fixture on the right. (I really don't care for lanyards, and that is usually what happens to ones that I am given. ☺)
When our morning breakfast was brought in, on a very large tray, the poor steward had to work really hard to get past the bathroom door, and the foot of the bed, without dumping the tray. The tray went on the bed itself, because otherwise we would not have had a table to eat at. Space was a bit of an issue, but then again, this was awesome food being delivered right to us, with no extra charge! And we found a way to get things arranged to work. The early morning breakfasts in our room was one of my favorite parts of the cruise. No lines and no crowds: just my lovely wife and I, having a romantic breakfast together.
The only downside of having breakfast in the room was that they were a little slow picking up the tray. In fact they waited until the room cleaning session each day to actually pick it up. With the small space, this posed a problem. However, I finally found a solution: we could put the tray in the bathtub while waiting. This worked out pretty well, and the stewards didn't seem to mind.
The chair and table in the room just didn't fit really, but there was no real solution to that problem for the ship. There was no way to do without them, but there was no place to put them. So, it came down to moving them around as needed, and all was well. As I said, this was spacious living at sea compared with what I was used to.
Another task that required table space was transferring pictures to my laptop. The camera was greedily eating up the storage space on its memory card, and I had to clear it off routinely or I would run out of space. When I opened up my laptop, things became even more cramped. Power outlets were few, but fortunately I had brought along a large extension cord with many outlets.
The table was cleared off, and I slid it over to the "dresser top", where there was just a little bit of open horizontal surface to place some of the hardware I was using. But, it worked, and I didn't spend a large amount of laptop time during the cruise!
As for Internet access, there was no wireless connection available in the stateroom, or even J45 cable access. They did offer a modem connection, but at 75 cents per minute, dialup gets pretty expensive. (We did use the Internet Café a couple of times just to check on how things were going, but we didn't spend much time at all on the Internet during our cruise.)
We had been told that our stateroom would have a refrigerator in it, which was technically true. (It was located directly under the TV.) However, it was already filled with items; and each item was for sale, with its price to be found on an accompanying price list. There were sodas (and our punch cards didn't work for those), water, and beer, with no room left over inside for anything you might want to put in. I just pulled most of the items out and put them in the little basket that you can see in the photo, located under the chair (along with the fruit). On the last day of the cruise, I returned them all to their places, so when they came through to inventory and then lock the refrigerator, we wouldn't be charged for anything.
The bed stuck out longer than I had expected, and it cut one side of the room off from the other, making the trip difficult. But it wasn't too bad.
With the right point of view, this was indeed the Taj Mahal! Yes the room was small, but not for a ship. And this time they let me bring Dotti along! ☺
We had a veranda and could go out on that. It had two chairs to sit on, and it was covered, so we could enjoy it even when it was raining (and we had a lot of that). I noticed that the partition between our veranda and Jim and Tammy's veranda was actually a door, and I asked the steward if he could get it opened for us. (I had tried to open it myself, but the lock took a weird square shaped key that they had to supply.) He was happy to have it done for us a little later in the day. They opened the door and latched it out of the way for the duration of the cruise. We used that pathway a number of times over the upcoming week to visit our friends without having to go out into the interior passageway.
They announced that we were going to have a mandatory lifeboat drill at 3:15 p.m. while we were waiting for the ship to get underway.
One of our four bags had arrived, and Dotti was busy unpacking. I spent the time getting our life jackets ready. One of them had the tie cords routed differently than the other, and so I used the drawing on the sign on the back of our stateroom door to figure out which one was right, and then make them both correct. Next I practiced putting the life jacket on, to make sure I had it right, and then Dotti took a break and got hers on so we would be ready when they "called the drill away."
Just after 3:00 p.m. we went next door and Jim and Tammy were pretty much settled in and getting their life jackets on. Soon we were heading down to Deck 3 (Promenade Deck) for our drill.
(If you would like to help orient yourself to places mentioned in the discussion please feel free to take a ship's tour.)
When we got down to the Promenade Deck and at our station—Assembly Station One—there was orange everywhere! The deck was wall to wall people in life jackets, but soon they had us in ranks, like a military unit. Well, at least sort of like one. ☺
We looked up and noticed that we were standing right underneath our lifeboat. With the number of people that they had under the boat, it looked like it would be really crowded if we ever had to actually go into it. We were hoping that wouldn't happen, and if it did, that we wouldn't remain in that sardine can for long.
They separated us out, with women and children in the front, and the men in the rear. I was happy to see that the old-fashioned, but still wonderful concept of having women and children boarding the life boats first, and making sure that they are safe, is surprisingly still in practice. Good for Holland-America Cruise Line!
The crew members assigned to us were busy making sure that everyone had on his jacket correctly, and then one of them used a bull horn to call out names and take a muster. He didn't call out any of the names of our party, or our stateroom numbers (5021 and 5025) but he said that if they didn't call our names, they had checked us off when we arrived. (Our life jackets had cabin numbers on them.) For a safety procedure. it was less than perfect. It left a hole in the process of making sure everyone had done the drill. And the guy had closed the door on anyone double checking him after the drill, just in case he forgot to call a name or stateroom out. (Which he actually did.)
As it turned out, they did check off Dotti and I, even though they never called out our names or our stateroom number, but they dropped the ball completely with Jim and Tammy. They neither called out their names, nor marked them present on the list of attendees. Later, after dinner, Jim and Tammy got a notice that "since they had missed the drill" they had to do it once more at 9 a.m. the next morning. Instead of doing that of course, Tammy and Dotti went down and talked with the office and got it straightened out.
After the lifeboat drill, Dotti was doing some unpacking in the stateroom and I went up to the top of the ship, to watch us cast off lines. I gave LeRoy a call to let him know that we were onboard and ready to pull out and that we were thinking about him.
We got underway around 4 p.m. as scheduled, and we did a sort of dance with the Sun Princess as she was pulling out. The two ships were nose to nose, bow to bow, when they were tied up and our bow was already set to the right direction to exit the dock area, but the Sun Princess was 180° out. So we had to wait as she backed up and turned around out of our way. And we set a course that put us in the wake of a Carnival Cruise Lines ship, which looked to be about the same size as the ms Westerdam.
I was back on the aft most part of the tenth deck when my cell phone rang, and it was Jim. He said that he and the ladies were up topside watching the ship pull out. After a bit of discussion we figured out that they were a deck down from me, on the Lido Deck, and all the way forward from where I was. So, I quickly went down a ladder and made my way forward to join them.
Here are my traveling companions on the forward most part of the Lido Deck. We were all set for an exciting adventure and it shows. The Seattle skyline in the background would still be there a week later when we returned, but it would seem different to us, because we were different. This cruise was a fun, educational, and relaxing experience that was made even better because we had our best friends with us.
And here was my turn to stand with the two prettiest girls on the ship. Not only that, but the cruise had begun and we were underway! After all of the times that getting underway was a bad thing for me, leaving Dotti crying at the pier as my ship pulled out, this was so much better. No tears, no heartache, just happy anticipation!
Looking off our bow, we saw a view that said Seattle in no uncertain terms. To the left was the Space Needle, copied around the world today, but still an important symbol of this great town. The Washington Ferries moving across the Puget Sound always have been special to Dotti and I. We have taken them several times, and usually it has been a very pleasant experience. The skyline stretches across the gray horizon, and that is a very common sight in this city.
When we had been there a bit, the coatless ladies were getting cold (it was 65° but the wind was picking up as we began to move) and so we headed back in. But not before we ran into the ship's "naturalist" who was hired to provide information on the areas we would be visiting during the cruise. He had spent the whole summer doing this. He was really nice and even gave us a few pointers on how to locate some things on the ship. (E.g. all eating was at the rear of the ship and entertainment and shopping—was that redundant?☺—was towards the bow.)
We wandered around a bit and found a few things. We found the shops on the third deck, but they were all closed until we got out to sea. However, there were a few cute window displays. (Click on image to see animated gif.) We also found the library and the Internet Café. (It was 75 cents per minute to go online, and so we didn't do much of that.)
Dinner was at 6 p.m. and so we wanted to get ready for that, and we headed back to our staterooms.
We didn't know what to think about dinner before heading down to the Lower Promenade Deck. What was it going to be like? Would we like the food? What would the service be like? Would we feel comfortable or strained? The four of us were chatting about dinner, the ship, and everything that we had seen so far.
One of the things that we had really enjoyed was the art around the ship. The stairways had some form of art on each landing, and most of the elevator doors were works of art in their own right, but they often were accompanied by some very nice sculptures. I was thinking to myself that I would have to make a tour of the ship and take pictures of much of what I had seen already, and I knew there was a lot more to discover than what we had found so far!
As we were walking down a lush passageway, we came upon a sign that said, "Vista Dining Room." We had passed by a small gentleman, dressed in an outfit that a bellhop would have worn in a 1940s movie, complete with a round flat topped cap with a chin strap, who had played a few notes on a chime he was carrying and he had announced with a big smile that dinner was served for us.
I should mention here that smiling was not only something that we saw the crew do nearly perpetually, but we saw a very large number of smiles on the faces of the guests as well.
At the door of the dining room we found the ubiquitous hand cleaning station, which dispensed a cleansing lotion that sterilized the surface of your hands. It felt cool, as I rubbed it all over my hands, like any hand lotion would, but before we reached our seats, it had completely evaporated. It felt like a gel, but it vaporized nearly as fast as pure alcohol would have. After a week of using it regularly, it did dry my hands slightly, but it was minimal, and after leaving the ship, my hands showed no lingering effects.
Once we sat down at our table we were introduced to our regular cast, beginning with the table. The table had a little brass plate with the number 151 engraved in it, and it was mounted on a very nice wooden stand. Our room key even told us which table to eat at, and at what time to be there.
Shortly we were visited by our beverage hostess. Each night she came to our table to ask if we wanted any (billable) drinks. If we wanted tea, coffee, or water, which were normally provided with the meal, we had to deal with one of the other serving personnel. (It sort of felt like a labor union on this point, with division of labor sharply marked out.) However, she was quite nice about it, and she would let the others know if we requested a cup of coffee etc.
Very shortly after that we met our waiter. Each night he did his best to make our meals enjoyable, and his best was more than adequate to the task. He was friendly and attentive, and he appeared genuinely cheerful and happy to see us. When we ordered, he took the order and then arranged our silverware to match the food we were going to eat. Implements were taken away, and new ones appeared. When Tammy ordered a fish entrée, the fish knife was laid beside her plate. (She had fish quite often.
I usually had water and iced tea in my glasses, and I went through quite a bit of both. When my glass went dry, if Dotti was having something a little stronger, she would swap her full one with my empty, and then when the busboy came by, he would fill up both of our glasses, setting me up for another double round.
The final member of the serving team whom we routinely saw was the Head Steward. He roamed around the entire dining room making sure that all was well with all of the guests. He spoke with us each evening and was very friendly. Judging from the service we received, he was doing an excellent job!
Now that is what the ship provided, but each evening we also visited with our best friends! The meals just wouldn't have been the same without them. We have so much fun sharing time with Jim and Tammy, and it seems we are always laughing. We certainly were merry during the meals we shared onboard.
The food was excellent, with small servings (the first night we joked with Jim telling him that he was on Weight Watchers but didn't know it), but the excellent kinds of food you would expect in a really fancy restaurant. And small servings or no, I still ate more than I should have. Especially for the dessert; I had Baked Alaska—I finished mine and then Dotti gave me about a third of hers.
Although I got more calories in than I should have, we did walk up and down those stairs a lot. I walked all the way up to the eleventh deck and then back down again, and we made several other trips up and down as well. We made a point of not using the elevators, and using the stairs every time we changed decks, which was quite often. The exercise was really helpful. We were burning up a lot of calories!
After dinner, Dotti and Tammy went to the casino, while Jim and I came back upstairs. I used the time to transfer the pictures I had taken during the day over to my laptop. The ladies didn't stay too long at the casino, and soon we were climbing into bed for our first good night's sleep at sea.
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