Friday 26 March 2010

Appendix - Wild Life in the Antarctic

(Above picture of the march of the penguins)

There are no polar bears in Antarctica, they are only found in the Arctic region while penguins do not inhabit the Arctic but several different breeds of this species are indigenous inhabitants of the Antarctic which is also a major breeding ground for them.

Of the 17 species of penguins, only four breed on the Antarctic continent itself: the Adelie, the Emperor, the Chinstrap and the Gentoo penguins.

Most other species are found within the sub-Antarctic regions which includes many coastal islands.

Penguins are also found as far north as the Galapagos Islands, straddling the Equator.

Early Antarctic explorers actually thought penguins were fish and classified them accordingly.

In fact, as birds, they are superbly designed for their job, flying underwater with great skill. Their compact bodies have a breastbone that makes an excellent keel and they have massive paddle muscles to propel them at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. Their heads retract to create a perfect hydrodynamic shape. When travelling quickly, penguins will leap clear of the water every few feet -- an action called 'porpoising'. This enables them to breathe, and decreases their chances of being taken by a predator.

Antarctic penguins have also developed the ability to leap out of the water to a substantial height on land, enabling them to quickly reach the safety of raised ice edges or rock ledges.

Penguin legs are set far down and ashore they are often awkward, waddling and hopping over rocks; on snow they sometimes push themselves along on their stomachs.

Penguins natural predator is the Leopard Seal (see picture further below).

Penguins feed on fish and they must enter the water to feed. It is there that the Leopard Seal hunt the penguins especially when they are alone.

Going first is very risky in the life of a penguin, because they will be alone if only for a moment. It is in that moment that the Leopard Seal will find his/her dinner.

Because of the risks involved the Penguins function as a team. They jump together because they are much safer being together than they are swimming alone.

Just as it is dangerous for the lead penguin to go first it can be equally hazardous for the penguin to go last. Jumping in together is not only about working together it is about surviving.

Penguins are true flightless birds. Some species spend as much as 75% of their lives at sea, yet they all breed on land or sea-ice attached to land. To withstand the harsh conditions of the Antarctic, their bodies are insulated by a thick layer of blubber and a dense network of waterproof plumage. Penguins' bones are solid and heavy, which help them to remain submerged and reduce the energy needed for pursuit diving. Some species can reach depths of 1000 feet or more and stay submerged for up to 25 minutes, though most prefer shorter, shallower dives.

Natural enemies of the penguin include seals, killer whales (pictured immediately below), and in the case of young chicks and eggs, several species of seabirds. Healthy adult penguins have no predators on land, so they have no natural fear of humans. While they don't like to be approached directly, these naturally curious birds will sometimes come quite close to a quiet observer to get a better look.

Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins family and one of the world's most powerful predators. They vary in length from 23 to 32 feet and weigh up to 6 tons. orcas feast on marine mammals such as seals and sea lions as well as penguins and even whales (thus the name), employing teeth that can be four inches long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds.

Though they often frequent cold, coastal waters, orcas can be found from the polar regions to the Equator. They hunt in deadly pods, family groups of up to 40 individuals.

Antarctic seals are truly fascinating marine animals and a signature species of the Southern Ocean. Below are a pictures of predator seals, the Leopard, and below that the Weddle . These seals can be found throughout the Antarctic region, with some species living farther south than any other mammal.

The Antarctic supports a much larger seal population than does the Arctic, in part because of the highly productive feeding areas that exist.

Another reason is the lack of native predators such as polar bears, which also helps explain why seals in Antarctica show little fear of people.

Of the six types of seals which are found south of the Antarctic Convergence, four of them are considered true Antarctic species: the Weddell, the Ross, the Crabeater and the Leopard. Both the Southern Elephant Seal and the Fur Seal do occasionally venture onto the continent, but prefer the more northerly islands of the warmer sub-Antarctic seas.

Bird life too flourishes here in the frozen Antarctic continent. With the end of the long polar winter comes the arrival of millions of seabirds to breed soon after the arrival of the Adelie penguins who may have walked as much as 50 kilometres across the sea ice to reach their nesting grounds.

They are followed soon after by the petrels and skuas, flying in from the open sea. Of the 35 species of seabirds that live south of the Antarctic Convergence, only 19 species breed on the Antarctic continent itself.

Probably 100 million or more birds breed along the coast and offshore islands of Antarctica. These include the pelagic or free-ranging species such as the albatrosses and petrels.

Coastal species, by contrast, forage close to the shore, and among them are found skuas, cormorants, terns and sheathbills.

The Antarctic sea birds have evolved to gain features that help conserve body heat--waterproof plumage, a layer of subcutaneous fat, and large, compact bodies.

Most famous and largest of these Antarctic birds is the albatrosses. It is known as the "wanderer" as it roams the Southern Ocean. They often follow visiting ships, wheeling and floating hypnotically at a distance for hours at a time. Effortlessly gliding on the wind, they are capable of round trips of thousands of miles over several days.

They swoop low over ocean swells, dipping down when the sea falls and rising when the wave rises. Their up to 11 foot wing span is capable of "locking" into an extended position, thereby reducing strain over long flights. They can live to be 80 - 85 years old and they mate for life. Once they leave the nest they may not return to land again for 7 to 10 years when they return to the island where they were born.

They have a white head, neck and body, a wedge-shaped tail, and a large pink beak. They can weigh up nearly 20 pounds. Plumage varies through its life, from dark brown in the first year to almost fully white in old age.

Tuesday 23 March 2010


This has been a most incredibly exciting voyage of discovery as few of the countries and territories visited in the last 70 days had previously been seen by us. It was the itinerary that sold us on this Grand Voyage.

The Prinsendam is somewhat unique in making this annual trek round the South American continent into the Antarctic and up the Amazon. No other ship seemed to offer such a good overall value for money coverage of this area in the southern hemisphere.

We had once briefly visited the Prinsendam while she was docked in Dubrovnik when we were passengers there on sister ship the Amsterdam.

Neither of us were impressed with the overall image of this slightly aging small to medium size ship, particularly having been passengers on the more glamorous and sparkling Amsterdam at the time. Therefore we didn't book the ship in blind ignorance.

Our experience is really divided into three parts: (1) the itinerary, (2) the ship and (3) the officers and crew.

(1)As far as the itinerary is concerned it really couldn't have been bettered and is something we will have great memories of for years to come. Our daily blog will hopefully allow us to continue to capture the magic of much of the voyage.

The provision of free shuttles from most ports into the centre of the local town was an important feature of this voyage and was always much appreciated.

(2)The ship is most definitely showing its age. It has a significant rust problem throughout.

The main services, so essential to guest comfort, seem to not be completely reliable. Sometimes it may be the air conditioning, on the rare occasion it may be water and plumbing and the elevators can be problematic in slightly rough seas.

The life boats (doubling up as ship tenders) also show signs of wear and tear and occasionally became unreliable while in action!

The balconies that I have seen also have deficiencies with rust showing through where passengers might stand or sit.

Although on going maintenance does take place while the ship is underway it seems to be a losing battle to my untrained eye.

Food and entertainment are always subjective matters but suffice to say there is more than ample of each. Perhaps food wins over entertainment on the quality rating side, in my opinion.

The new extended aft deck pool area is a real asset to the Prinsendam and an ideal place to sit and relax.

One of the really big minuses for us was not having the navigational information available on screen in our cabin. ALL cruise ships offer this service showing where you are on a map, your speed, wind direction etc.

It's what I consider essential information to ponder on a cruise. This was missing for 90% of the time on this ship. Unacceptable I'm afraid.

(3)The excellence of the officers and crew can not be emphasized enough.

In some ways they seem to try to make up for the other deficiencies. From Hotel Manager down, the attitude and concern for passenger comfort from these extremely hard working individuals is just so commendable. They keep this up on a daily basis for Grand Voyage after Grand Voyage. They are all quite exemplary.

Our Captain was not visible during the day but often made himself available for sessions in the Queens Lounge, where he was the occasion, and at many other social events held more privately by the various organizations represented on the ship.

Captain Albert, who also publishes a daily blog of his own, was normally very interesting, entertaining and often amusing. A good combination of assets to possess. He genuinely seemed to enjoy interacting with passengers.

Overall this was an excellent voyage only being spoiled very slightly by the vagaries of an aging ship. Well done HAL but you must address the matter of the ship itself. Either sell it and replace it with a newer version or really spend some money making it absolutely fit for purpose.

Finally, I should add that we did meet some delightful fellow passengers on this voyage, a few of whom I hope and expect to stay in contact with over the forthcoming years.


Day 70 Mar 23 - Caribbean Sea

Well this is it, day 70 of our 70-day Grand Voyage of South America, the Antarctic and the Amazon.

It's a bit like end of term at school. Nothing much happening and not sure what to do before the break-up for the holidays.

At 10.15 we were all invited to the Queens Lounge for a glass of champagne followed by a detailed presen-tation by Cruise Director Thom on the disembarkation procedure for tomorrow in Fort Lauderdale.

I supposed he was trying to make it as idiot proof as possible so he did go on a bit.

He also explained the importance of completing the Guest Satis-faction Survey Forms that the company pay so much attention too.

He did suggest the highest mark of 9 would do quite nicely!!

This was then followed by an elaborate Grand Farewell from the crew.

I don't know who was left running the ship but it appeared that crew from every department were ushered onto the stage to the cheers of the guests who had been looked after so well by them over the last 70 days.

Well done to the excellent crew.

Finally the Captain was introduced for his final message to us the guests.

Part of his presentation was to honour the employees of the months for February and March.

The names of two well deserving crew members were announced by the Captain and quickly they appeared next to him with beaming faces.

As well as being honoured in this way they also received a monetary award.

At lunch time a 'Grand Show Buffet' was being showcased in the dinning room. It says bring your cameras!

We however did not go and see the spectacular display instead prepared our baggage labels, filled in the Guest Satisfaction Survey form and started to write up today's blog.

In late morning Deden delivered the baggage tags so Maria took on the task of labelling up all our bags ready for handing over to the housekeeping staff for overnight safe keeping.

Tomorrow hopefully we would easily find them in the cruise terminal luggage hall. The bags are easily identifiable in colour and in addition have a yellow florescent luggage tag, courtesy of CSI, that should easily catch the eye.

Frank Buckingham, raconteur and travel expert extraordinaire, has asked us to join him for a farewell drink in the Java Bar before dinner. In this picture above, taken courtesy of Rosalyn's camera, joining Frank are Rosalyn, George, Jennifer, Robin, Maria and myself with an unknown lady seating behind us.

So other than that nothing much else was on the agenda today.

However I received a rather nice letter from the Guest Relations Manager offering us a not unsubstantial sum of money as a redeemable on board credit “for the patience and understanding we had shown with the various problems that affected our cabin”.

I must say this was quite a welcome surprise and will immediately help out with the considerable funds spent on the ship's Internet.

Thank you Garry.

One of the delights of traveling with Holland America on Grand Voyages is their use of a 'Bell Boy' to summons guests to dinner each night. This picture was also kindly supplied by Rosalyn showing me being summonded to dinner. Before the first and late dinner sittings this lovely young Indonesian crew member called Bagus, suitably attired and with cylaphone in hand, walks round the ship musically announcing that dinners is about to be served.

We will spend a little time tonight thanking various crew members for their hard work in helping us enjoy our voyage. It will give us the opportunity to show our appreciation.

This will be my last daily blog page for this voyage. I hope that those that have followed our journey have found it interesting and informative.

This has been my first attempt at a fully fledged blog and I have enjoyed the task although at times it was a little stressful meeting the daily deadlines.

For us it is a kind of permanent record of what we encountered during this 'trip of a life time'. It also served to keep our family and friends updated on what we were getting up to while so far away from home.

My concluding page to the blog will be an Epilogue which I hope will succinctly and fairly represent our overall view of this Grand Voyage on the ms Prinsendam.

Monday 22 March 2010

Day 69 Mar 22 - Caribbean Sea

Neither Maria nor I tend to pay much attention to the various social and recreational functions that take place on the ship each day we are at sea.

We tend not to go to the 10.00 pm show that takes place after dinner in the Queen's Lounge either as most of the entertainment is, we perceive, to be average or below.

Although this is just in our humble opinions the view is often shared by comments we hear from other passengers. In any case one of us is usually too tired to sit there attentively until 11 o'clock.

However, on board there is a Cruise Director (CD) who is responsible for all the ship's entertainment and social activities. He has a small team of assistants.

They work hard and are no doubt an essential part of a cruise for many people.

It should be appreciated that there are events going on every day all day round the ship for the duration of the cruise and they have to all be organised and even supervised in many instances.

On our ship the CD is a very nice guy called Thom Faulkner who is always very visible around the ship with an extremely cheery disposition.

He is a lucky man because travelling with him is his lovely wife Tina, who in addition to being his wife is also the Future Cruise Consultant for those wishing to book a future cruise with HAL.

Thom and Tina are a very sociable couple of people and we have enjoyed their company when we have engaged with them.

There is a fair amount of comment round the ship about people just wanting to get off now. Ahead of us we have two 'slow' sea days while we await disembarkation on Wednesday morning in Fort Lauderdale.

On top of that tonight we have scheduled our last 'formal' night. I wonder how many people will give that a miss having already packed away their posh gear?

Did you know that it is possible for the gentlemen to hire the whole thing while on the ship? Pants, dinner jackets in black or white, dress shirts, cummerbunds and everything else, all available for hire on board.

While I sorted out our FedEx labels for the free shipping service of our baggage to Naples, Maria seems to have repacked a few bags. I suppose she knows what she is doing and I just don't interfere.

She can't finish the whole operation until after tonight's dinner is over and the white jacket, black trousers, dress shirt and black formal shoes can be put to rest.

What a beautiful day with a lively force 7 blowing but not affecting the stability of the ship. It is definitely a chance to relax in the sun for a while to show that you have been away on vacation!

After a sushi and soup lunch for me and something very light for Maria we went down to the Front Desk to retrieve our passports.

We handed these over to the booking-in staff in Fort Lauderdale nearly two and a half months ago and we haven't seen them since.

All entry procedures where passports were required to be shown were handled directly by the Pursers Office and we didn't have to personally get involve.

On inspecting our returned passports I see entry and exit stamps for most of the countries and islands we visited. Even the dear old Falkland Islands has a big stamp showing we were there.

After dressing in appro-priate attire I visited my usual pre-dinner bar while Maria attended to her own dress needs.

I have my regular seat at the bar which I usually occupy while awaiting the arrival of my wife.

I do enjoy my own quiet time in the Crow's Nest prior to Maria and the other regulars arriving.

The usual staff were on duty and happy to pose for a picture if it would appear in tonight's blog!

Here we have Annabel, Charles, Giovan and Gil who always perform their tasks with enthusiasm, wit and courtesy.

They are a great team and a credit to the Beverage Department.

Also at the bar tonight were two lovely ladies that grace the bar stools most evenings and with whom we have become friendly.

They are Gail and Brenda. Both have wonderful senses of humour and we have shared some really funny moments together over the months.

It was a beautiful evening and Maria managed to capture the setting and the eerily calm seas, through the windows of the Crow's Nest Bar, as the sun slowly vanished from view.

At 8.00 o'clock it was time for our last formal dinner.

All of us at table 305 made it to the dining room suitably attired.

As it was a formal night we were expecting an officer (or equivalent) to grace our table and were fortunate to find that Frank Buckingham was so allocated.

The meal was special with the main dish being Surf and Turf, although I had some lovely veal instead.

The picture shows Maria's inviting dinner plate.

The conversations flowed following which we all posed for final photos as we sat here in our finest.

After dinner it was time to de-robe to allow Maria some more packing time and me time to completed today's blog ready for posting.

Sunday 21 March 2010

DAY 68 Mar 21 - Ponce, Puerto Rico

Ponce is both a city and a municipality in southern part of Puerto Rico. The city is the seat of the municipal government. It has a population of about 200,000 inhabitants.

Puerto Rico officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: "Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico" — literally Associated Free State of Puerto Rico), is a self-governing unincorporated territory of the United States.

The City of Ponce is the second largest city in Puerto Rico outside of the San Juan metropolitan area, and is named after Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, the great-grandson of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León.

Ponce is often referred to as La Perla del Sur (The Pearl of the South), La Ciudad Señorial de Puerto Rico (The Noble City of Puerto Rico), and La Ciudad de las Quenepas (Genip City.

This City serves as the governmental seat of the autonomous municipality as well as the regional hub for various Government of Puerto Rico entities, such as the Judiciary of Puerto Rico. It is also the regional centre for various other Commonwealth and federal government agencies. The City is also the seat of a Catholic Dioceses.

The Municipality of Ponce, officially the Autonomous Municipality of Ponce, is located in the Southern Coastal Plain region of the island, south of Adjuntas, Utuado, and Jayuya; east of Peñuelas; west of Juana Díaz; and bordered on the south by the Caribbean Sea. Ponce is a principal city of both the Ponce Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Ponce-Yauco-Coamo Combined Statistical Area.

In 1883, Ponce was ravaged by an enormous fire. The fire threatened to destroy much of the south coast, but thanks to the firemen of Ponce (who operated from Ponce's Parque de Bombas fire station) Ponce and the south were saved. The Parque de Bombas fire station in the central plaza has since become a museum and tourist attraction. The station continued serving the Ponce community until 1990, when it was closed and the building's activities were entirely dedicated to a museum, which is still open to the general public.

Let me start by saying that I'm feeling a lot better this morning and thanks for the get well wishes. A good nights sleep seemed to have done the trick.

We picked up our pilot at about 6.30 shortly after the lights of Puerto Rico could clearly be seen in the distance.

It was still early but the temperature and humidity seemed much more acceptable here than in comparison with so many of our recent previous ports. It even felt relatively cool.

Our ship slowly came into what seemed quite a new industrial port that was relatively small in size.

After my own breakfast I disturbed Maria with her breakfast in bed, one of the last to be enjoyed by her for a while.

We were not in a hurry to go anywhere in particular this morning so Maria continued just sorting out bits and pieces and putting recently arrived laundry into cases.

One of our priorities in Ponce would be to find an ATM machine because our supply of US$ was at a perilous low level.

We wanted to dish out a few additional gratuities to those that had constantly served us well over the last 70 days. Indeed some of them have already received tokens of thanks as we have progressed round South America.

Gratuities for the crew are paid by all passengers on the ship on the basis of about $11 per person per day, so $22 per couple per day or a total sum of $1540 for the period of this long voyage.

Deductions are automatically made and charged to the passengers credit card although by booking early the company itself pays these gratuities on behalf of the guest.

The money is split between cabin stewards, dining room waiter, assistant waiters and the head waiter. It is an essential part of their remuneration package.

Beverage staff are rewarded in a different way as 15% is added to all beverage bills with that money being used to remunerate the beverage staff team.

Shortly after 10 we headed off the ship. It was much warmer than I expected and was probably in the high 70s and not as predicted 75 degrees.

The City of Ponce had laid on what seemed like a local school brass and drum band plus supporting majorettes to entertain us as we left the ship.

The band had three little boys playing drum and they were just so cute.

The whole troupe performed admirably and were a joy to watch and be entertained by. It was noticeable that the passengers were not just walking through as they usually do on these occasions but were all stopping to take in this music spectacular.

The majorettes ranged in age from very young, maybe 5 or 6 year old, up to girls aged between 16 and 17. They were very well rehearsed and extremely agile with their performance.

After progressing past these entertaining performers we came across two stands.

One offering free local rum drinks.

The staff claimed that Puerto Rican Rum was the best in the world and were out to prove it.

It was hard to get passed the stand without being 'forced' to have a slug even at this early hour of the day.

Shortly passed here was another stand offering free Pina Coladas.

Wow this could be an interesting last port of call.

A shuttle bus was then available to take us the short distance to the board walk where stalls selling a variety of nick knacks had been set up by local traders.

It was at this point where we noticed a group of easily identifiable girls and boys from the local University. They all displayed on their T-shirts

Their job was to ensure we had maps and information about their town and they would even arrange taxis to take us there should we so wish. The fare was $10 each way.

Of course the language of the island is Spanish and many of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico don't speak English.

These young people, in bright orange T-shirts, were available to assist us at strategic points all over town and especially in the town square area where the picture above was taken.

Once we were in the centre of this clean and smart Caribbean town we asked another group of smartly turned out boys and girls from (see photo above) where the nearest ATM was and we were soon relieving it of some much needed loot.

The town centre is well served with banks so getting money out is not a problem

The centre of town, Plaza las Delicias (Plaza of Delights), is very pleasant and dominated by the very beautiful twin towered cathedral.

It is a whitewashed building and just looked so pristine clean compared with the majority of the other cathedrals we have seen in the past few months.

Opposite the cathedral in the main town square is the local legislature building that has been completely renovated and was looking in excellent shape.

Parked along the street outside were a few horse and carriages available for hire although we did not venture on one.

Just off the square is the historic old Ponce Fire Station now turned into a lovely museum.

This was a major stopping point for most people off the ship including ourselves.

The City ran a trolley bus tour that we were pleased to sign up for at $2 each for a 45 minutes tour of the City.

The whole town can be proud of what it has to show off and how well it has been looked after.

I think we are one of the first cruise ships to visit this side of Puerto Rico and on this evidence Ponce will become a very popular stopping point for many ships in the future.

The old town is currently being renovated with grants from the local gover-nment.

The refurnished buildings look beautiful and when the project is complete this whole area will be an outstanding place to visit.

An interesting area of the town we rode past was where the local fire fighters have their homes.

These compact dwellings were all uniform not only in shape and size but also in colour, all of them painted a bright red. It was an amazing sight to see a whole street of red painted homes.

Once we had completed the tour we made another visit to the Cathedral where a high mass, being celebrated by the bishop, was in progress and a soloist soprano lady was singing.

In town we met Henk and Lucia who were on our tour trolley and also saw Gerry and Gary doing the sights and next cabin neighbours John and Barbara in the old fire station.

We headed back to the ship at about 12.30 and on the way stopped at the Pina Coladas free drinks stand and had a slug of the local rum followed by some Pino. Very nice too.

The free rum stand was also doing a roaring business in the supply of drinks with a selection of 10 different types of local rum available. A variety of mixes were on hand to enhance the taste of this rather pleasant rum.

The whole show had been put on and paid for by the city, hoping, no doubt, to convert a few of the passengers away from competing products.

There is no doubt that HAL has found a little gem with this port of call.

The Mayor was very much on hand at the port and although we didn't personally meet her we did catch her digitally on the camera.

Here she is on the left of the picture with some of her family and friends enjoying seeing the Prinsendam visit her municipality.

On returning to the ship we lunched in the Lido where we drank loads of cold drinks after our morning exertions.

Unlike many other cruise ships HAL offer a wide selection of fruit drinks from a help yourself dispenser. Flavours include orange, pineapple, grape, cranberry and apple to mention a few. This is in addition, of course, to iced water and iced tea.

Later it was on deck for the sail-away party which is always fun.

We were pleased to see that most of our friends were around and we all enjoyed a good exchange on the days exploits.

We were unanimous in our warm feelings towards the city of Ponce.

I wonder if the free drinks available all day at the port inhibited in any way the bar sales at the sail-away party?

I managed to take a lovely picture of Jennifer and her brother-in-law George taking in the whole ambiance of the sail-away.

It was a beautiful evening for a party on the aft deck of the Prinsen-dam, our very last sail-away party on this 70-day Grand Voyage of South America. We would remember the evening for being what it was.