Cruising the Atlantic

Phew! Fourteen days of very little internet! Frustrating at times, exhilarating at others, but we survived this crossing at sea and gave ourselves a true break from reality. Enjoy these tidbits I have compiled about the beginning of this Spring Fling 2018 and continue to travel with me!

Fort Lauderdale Airport Super 8 is where we settled to easily set ourselves up for ship boarding at Port Everglades. This is the 4th Super 8 we stayed at in this season of travel. We have found this brand to be reliable in providing the basics of comfort, cleanliness, room amenities such as lotions and soaps as well as in-room coffee and continental breakfast included. The standard in these franchise locations meets our basic needs and allows us frugality in places where it’s “not about the room”.

There is not a lot to do in easy access from this particular hotel, yet we found everything we wanted within three miles which allowed us some of the walking we are requiring of ourselves to stay fit in this extended time away from a regular routine. Walking to the Dania Beach Pier and along the adjoining waterways was a great way to spend a day. Tarks Oyster Bar, just a few blocks down the street, proved itself a worthy enough spot that we ended up eating there both nights of our stay. This hole in the wall seafood bar is definitely not fancy. It boasts about twenty counter seats surrounding the open kitchen and five tables for four outside. Orders are taken at the cash register and the service staff are also cooks. One mans the steam pots, one the fryers and one specializes in oyster shucking while they all share in delivery. The staff and the clientele were all up beat making for a lively atmosphere. We enjoyed steamed buffalo shrimp, fried calamari, fried shrimp, fresh oysters, fish and chips and an order of wings which was the daily special on one visit. Crab, clams, gator and more were available in a variety of preparations. All was tasty and fresh and the prices were quite reasonable. The first visit we enjoyed buckets of Corona but on the second day while out doing our last minute pre board shopping and walk to Dania Beach we grabbed a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc to complement the oysters. The only disappointment came when they were closing early on the second night. We only had two dozen oysters and we would have had a third, they were simply sold out of things. This did not turn us off. Awesome to eat seafood at a place that turns out that much daily and keeps it that fresh. We will dine here again on a future pre-cruise visit!

The hotel offered shuttle service to the Port and provided us late check out as well as printing of our boarding passes and luggage tags, including the loan of a stapler so we could attach them and have all our t’s crossed prior to arrival at the Holland America pier. This boarding was extremely easy. We literally got out of the van, our bags were whisked away for loading and we were off to get our onboard ID’s made. Embarkation was a breeze and before we knew it, in under forty five minutes, we were in our stateroom.

4120 was labeled an obstructed view balcony and therefore garnered the value price my honey found it for us at. He had also meticulously combed the diagram of the ship and figured out the last tender (used for transporting cruisers to shore in some ports) that was the culprit of the “obstructed view” status actually fell just before our balcony leaving us a prime view and extended space because of the curve of the ship. We were thrilled with our location. Expedia booking and VIP status allowed us $100 onboard credit and a welcome bottle of bubbly which we enjoyed one evening pre dinner. The stateroom was comfortable with ample storage and we were able to settle in quite nicely for this fourteen day Transatlantic cruise beginning with six days at sea. Our stateroom attendants took nice care of us with daily cleanings, ice delivery requests and nightly turndowns offering creative towel art.

Lido Market beckoned us for our first bite to eat aboard ship (before we even sailed ;-). Prime rib with Yorkshire pudding. Indeed this buffet area, open for all meals and consisting of many stations such as carvery, sandwich board, Italian station, stir fry, salad and dessert as well as sushi, ice cream and other western fare, could fulfill our one days expenditures let alone the food we found in The Dining Room, in The Dutch Cafe, at the Pizza and Deli bar, at the poolside grill, simply anywhere we ate that was included in our daily ticket price of under $100 each. We could consume our justification easily and then we still had the free entertainment, seminars, our private room and the beautiful sun decks and incredible exercise areas and more at our disposal for this “rental fee”. We felt good about the value of our indulging in the best that life has to offer. New York Steak, short ribs, rack of lamb, shrimp and scallop salad, herring salad, Gravlox, French Onion Au Gratin, Vegetable with tortellini soup, cauliflower gratin, creme brulee, chocolate hazelnut torte, tropical fruit cheesecake, berry crisp with French vanilla ice cream, these are only the beginnings of the wonderful foods offered aboard Koningsdam.

Lido deck is where I spent a bulk of my time soaking up the sun, listening to the steady chug of the engines, the mixture of languages both feminine and masculine around me, following the images of the clouds, the trail of the wake and the gentle sway of the boat. I felt enchanted as a child. Seventy degree partly cloudy skies breaking into fully sunny late afternoons is how this trek across the Atlantic began. We actually encountered very little motion until the day before our first stop in Portugal and those big swells made for some large rolling motion but it was totally tolerable.

The teak planks of Promenade deck three offered panoramic views of the ocean as I used it to trek my 3-5 miles a day. The Greenhouse spa staff offered free facial and makeover lessons I took advantage of. There were afternoon seminars on bits of history, evening comedians, songsters, ballet and review style shows which all added to the onboard ambiance. One evening we lazed on the pool deck lounge chairs and watched Downsizing on the big screen with the sloshing of the pool and the sound of the ships engines adding to the atmosphere of the outdoor venue. The casino and its poker and black jack tournaments beckoned to my husband. Deck eleven offered basketball, shuffleboard and a jogging track with an awesome staircase perched over the water joining it to the Lido deck. Fresh floral arrangements and beautiful art adorned the inner decks. There was no shortage of things to do or beauty to take in whether outside or inside.

A couple evenings prior to our first port stop we invited two couples we had dined with at the beginning of the voyage to our balcony for drinks. We ordered cheese and fruit plates from in room dining and my honey muddled pear and orange vodka. We enjoyed the beauty of the setting sun and made our way to the dining room with our new friends. We enjoyed an evening of closing down the ships bars and ending up drinking into the wee hours as we made new friends and met neighbors in adjoining cabins. This made for an extremely lazy day recouping our energies to make our first trek on to the European continent in the Azores Archipelago.

Blustery wind welcomed us to the town center of Praia da Vitoria, Azores, Portugal, a small farming village beautifully laid out along the sea. We wandered a bit along the cobblestone streets looking at shops and churches dating back to the 1400’s. We stopped on our way to climb to the top of the hill overlooking the town at a spot on the edge of the marina called Tropical Point and enjoyed soup with sangria and beer. We luckily got back on board before a sleeting rain hit in the mid afternoon.

The sunset following this storm brought a rainbow, nearly a double as we were escorted by the sea pilots back out of the port. I have to say I certainly wondered what mermaid was lucky enough to find that pot of gold 😉 Nature has been good to me with Blue Marlins pointed out one day to me during my walk, the full moon, big and bright, glistening on the ocean one evening and whales jumping around the starboard side on another evenings pre dinner visit to the Crows Nest. Sadly, I only have those pictures in my mind, no phone constantly attached to my hand was part of my goal in these days at sea.

Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores was our second stop in Portugal. The captain announced the need to hightail it and make this port by 1am when originally we had been scheduled to arrive at 8am. He was determined to beat the storm that would keep him from maneuvering the ship into the harbor. We made it and by the sounds of it, good job by our crew, another cruise ship arriving in that time frame simply could not pull in and therefore had to abandon their day in port. Ponta Delgada was a livelier, larger spot and we enjoyed a beautiful day wandering its cobblestone streets and into the beauty of the botanical gardens surrounding the palace. We enjoyed €1 beers at a tiny spot with just four seats. The beauty of the small communities dotting the shoreline as we made our way back out to sea peaked my curiosity about a remote seaside life and set me off to daydreaming as I snapped photos of these beautiful communities.

Back at sea we traveled two days and made our way through the Gibraltar Strait and in to the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. These were the toughest days in regards to the roughness of the waters we were crossing but still totally bearable in the comfort and luxury provided by Holland America. We played trivia during happy hour in the Crow’s Nest lounge on deck 12, enjoyed dining with new friends, the general socializing that builds over this time with a floating community. The party really hit our balcony on the way past the Rock of Gibraltar. This passing took place about 3:30 in the morning when most of the ship slept but on board were a few of us determined to catch site of this iconic landmark for the first time. Our stateroom was luckily on port side and offered a great view point to catch site of the rock at the same time as having vision of the tip of Africa. It was another fun night which we paid for a bit when we rose early the next morning to venture on to a new country.

Malaga, Granada, Spain lies on the Costa Del Sol and emits a quiet, well tended, ancient city vibe. We sat at a cafe in the Picasso Plaza (the famous artist was born here) and listened to saxophone and violin music, enjoyed coffee and tapas and soaked up the heat of the sunshine and the feeling of our introduction to this country. To completely shake off the late night cob webs we hiked the hillside to the Alcazaba and the Castillo de Gibralfaro. This seaport city fort wall was created as defense for its city inhabitants in the early 1400’s and reinforced and used for centuries. Jail cells, abandoned fort walls, gunnery stations, central courtyards for public punishment all spanned miles of this hilly city and offered wonderful view points.

Our second Mediterranean stop was the smaller town of Cartagena, Murcia, Spain. We wandered the city and took in the marina with its deeply rooted naval influence and the ancient Roman theatre. Final gala night and a mid afternoon port departure found us back on the ship and resting in our stateroom in preparation for our final leg on board the Koningsdam. Our last full sea day was blustery and overcast but made for great relaxation and packing time before we met friends for one last hurrah together before disembarkation. Final navigation led us through the Strait of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia allowing me to tally a couple more countries I can add to my “I’ve seen” list and add the Tyrrhenian Sea to my traveled waters list.

Arrival in Civitavecchia, Italy found us enjoying one last in room breakfast before debarking to the free shuttle bus which took us to the €2 city bus and on to the train station where we spent €5 each and were off to Termini station where the beauty and history of Rome will entertain us for the next leg of this Spring Fling 2018 adventure.

A crossing should definitely be added to your travel itinerary. We had our doubts but when all is said and done this is simply a value trip we would easily jump at the chance to do again. An experience of a lifetime and all passengers we spoke to who use this voyage annually to get them to their Mediterranean destination of second homes or visits with family and home land would not miss it, they proclaimed it wonderful every time. We also met many full time cruisers (one couple had their 500th day celebration onboard and many had twenty five to fifty cruises to their credit. It’s an unbelievable way to indulge yourself. I say just do it 😉

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