Which Amsterdam?

Pop and “Uncle” Ed, one of those honorary uncles who had been one of pop’s army buddies, built a cabin cruiser in Ed’s garage.  It was a 16-footer made from a kit.  They proudly trailered “The Laurel” to a marina at the foot of the George Washington Bridge (couldn’t afford mooring closer to the fishing grounds at Sandy Hook but it was a wonderful ride down the Hudson to the grounds.)  But when they put “Laurel” into the water it kind of disappeared among the other, bigger, boats.  Uncle Ed looked down at his pride and remarked “It’s a peanut!” 

The MS Amsterdam kind of looked that way among the bigger ships at Port Everglades.  And Amsterdam is not small.  But looking at cruise ship row from our hotel room it was the only ship of we couldn’t see.  It was too small and low and hidden by buildings. 

As we approached Port Everglades, we could see other ships towering over the buildings.  Our driver shot right past Amsterdam, over our protests, and brought us to the terminal for the much larger (by several decks and just under 1,000 more passengers) Nieuw Amsterdam.  We said “No we want Amsterdam.”

He said “No you want Nieuw Amsterdam.”  But we were the customers so he reluctantly did a U turn.  As soon as we got out of the car a lady wanted to see our boarding passes.  She sighed relief when she saw “Amsterdam.”  She told us that several people, aiming for Nieuw, got through security and had their pictures taken before realizing they were at the wrong ship. 

We cleared security and I insisted in taking the photographer’s picture as he took ours.  You need to mess with the photographers a little so they recognize you and learn when you want a picture and when to leave you alone.  It usually ends up being a cordial relationship.

Holland America used to have the advertising slogan “It’s Good to be on a Well-Run Ship.”  It didn’t say anything about a well-run embarkation process.  Passengers can begin boarding at 11 AM.   We waited until after 2 figuring there would be no lines.  We were wrong.  It took us 45 minutes to get to an agent. 

The line was one of those rats’ mazes of stanchions and black fabric tape aligned so we meet the same people head on 7 times before getting to the front.  We had a chance to renew acquaintances and people watch.  One man wore a t shirt that read “I don’t need Google; my wife knows everything.”  Each time we passed he had his face down into his telephone madly tapping.  I thought it was funny and started giggling.  Giggling is contagious.  But the guy in the t shirt never noticed because he never took his eyes off his screen.

One of the agents told me that Holland America had three ships in on Saturday and only so many terminals tied to its computers.  Most of the computers were being used by the other, larger, ships.  Amsterdam was assigned only 15 terminals to check in 1,202 passengers.  One woman who arrived at 11 tole me she had been on line 3 hours. Our table mates waited over an hour.

So, some folks were a just a tad grumpy when they finally got on board.  Grumpiness abetted by the mandatory lifeboat drill followed by the slow delivery of luggage.  The ship was supposed to sail at 5 PM.  The Captain said it would be closer to 5:30 by the time we got the luggage on board.  In reality it was closer to 7:30.   We were lucky, our bags were in the room before us.

Holland America did not assign some cabins until the last minute.  At least one of those passengers wandered the halls to find his bags outside someone else’s room.  Other bags appeared lost and were sitting next to the front desk waiting for people to claim them.  One looked like a forklift had punctured the sides.  The owner complained that a T Rex must have handled her bag.

Our room steward confirmed things were a mess.  There were more bags than they had anticipated.  This year they sold out all the rooms (On past world cruises they sailed with about 1000, this year they sailed with 1202 aboard.)  The staff was not geared for those extra 200 people.  And according to the steward one couple had 18 suitcases.  How can you even do that?

And because all the cabins were sold there were no spare cabins to store empty bags, as there have been on past world cruises.  Fortunately, all our bags fit under our bed but if we had 18 bags in our room, well I hope that couple had a suite and a balcony.

Waiting in our room were several letters of apology.  The brochure that give us planning information about our ports had not been printed yet, amenities people had ordered would not be in the staterooms for another two days, the printed schedule for the following day was not available.  In our case the internet we had pre payed for had not been entered into their computer and we had to go to the internet desk at 9 the next morning to attach our account with our pre-paid package.  This was supposed to be done automatically by, well, a computer.  It took the guy seconds to enter in the code but the line to get to him was 50 minutes. Well, it’s a long cruise.

But now, internet is working, our stuff is all here, our bags are stowed, we’ve attended our first lecture “Oceans the lungs of the world” met with friends from two years ago and made dinner plans.  The chaos of embarkation is over and we feel so lucky to be doing this, and grateful.

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