My eyeballs must have been photoshopped while I was sleeping. That hypnotically translucent turquoise water I woke up to just can’t be real.
Of course it is. The Bahamas has the Dom Pérignon Rose 1959 champagne as the sea standard. Best of the world. Nothing finer.
Later that morning, as the almost-luminous waves rose a few inches and splashed all over me, I felt soothed by a magic potion, photoshopped to 100% cyan, deliciously washing away two years of pandemic misery.
I had arrived at tiny Half Moon Cay on Holland America’s cruise ship Rotterdam, which had set sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida the previous afternoon.
The box was ticked to wallow in a tropical sea for the first time in three years, next came the joy of walking along the white sandy beach while those gentle waves lapped over my toes. It was a wonderful coincidence that the destination turned out to be a beach bar.
Half Moon Cay is an uninhabited private island owned by Holland America’s parent company, Carnival Corporation, and was developed for day cruise visitors arriving by tender. Back aboard this elegant 2,668-passenger ship, which has the elegant style of an ocean liner, I watched as we departed from an undeniably beautiful beach in the Bahamas to begin the voyage to Curacao and Aruba off the north coast of Venezuela.
In the art of the sea
This is a somewhat unusual itinerary, as the 2,476-mile round trip from Florida down to the ‘A’ and ‘C’ of the ABC Dutch islands means three days at sea in one week – normally on a typical cruise you would only get one .
So I’ve had plenty of time to explore this beautiful new ship (launched almost October 2021) – the seventh to bear that name for the line – and the onboard activities. Or just sit by the pool and bar at the stern and read a couple of books I saved for the occasion. I’ve done a bit of both.
Each day, passengers receive a printed list of events and activities, and you can also create your own itinerary on the Navigator smartphone app via the ship’s WiFi.
For example, I could have gone to a health session for advice on a swollen ankle (I watch you and your annoying TV commercials, Eamonn Holmes), but I preferred the depiction of the flower arrangement.
I also attended a couple of fascinating, well-presented and well-attended audiovisual lectures in the main theater – one on Marconi and the history of wireless communications, the other on a virtual ship tour with Captain Werner Timmers.
Top marks for the boss for a great insight into his ship and some excellent jokes.
Back to the blooms, and given the Dutch heritage of the 149-year-old line, it’s no surprise to see plenty of fabulous floral creations on the decks.
But these have been surpassed by the array of outstanding modern art – most of it linked to contemporary music or wildlife.
I usually use the stairs on a ship and not the elevators to do these daily steps, but it took me forever to get anywhere as I kept stopping to admire the works! (There are 2,645 units valued at $4.1 million on board).
Many are incredibly creative with vinyl LPs carved into the faces of pop stars or animals made from recycled materials.
When it comes to dining, you’re spoiled for choice, and the star of the show for me was the $29-additional Tamarind, which offers Southeast Asian, Chinese, and Japanese fare. The Thai beef salad starter and the crispy duck with drunk udon and ginger chilli glaze for mains were fabulous, but the deconstructed yuzu cheesecake was a show stopper.
The fillet steak at Pinnacle Grill ($39) was spot on for the money, and you won’t get better Dover sole than at the intimate Rudi’s Sel De Mer Brasserie with its flashy sea-themed plates ($49).
But a special mention for the Grand Dutch Cafe. Hiding in public on deck 3, I only tried it for lunch on the last day (to my enduring regret).
A simple but tasty Edam toastie, fries with curry ketchup and a decent pint of Heineken were topped off with a bossche bol, a ridiculously good football-sized donut (only slightly exaggerated).
You’ll also be pleased with the main dining room and Lido food market (shout out for the fresh pasta dish
Fry Stand and, crucially, they have PG Tips Tea) while Dive In makes a mean burger by the pool.
Live music is the main part of the entertainment, and resident bands at BB King’s Blues Club and the Rolling Stone Rock Room hit just the right note.
These aren’t bar bands, they are great musicians and I checked out both venues each night (they rotate their set times so you drift from one to the other) along with many other passengers. Rock up early if you want a seat.
A fever of excitement, that is. Rotterdam’s Balcony Staterooms are contemporary, spacious and well appointed – I couldn’t find anything to fault. Like the entire ship’s crew, the friendly stewards Raka and Sandra did an exemplary job.
I knew very little about the most populous of the ABCs and our second stop, other than that it’s home to the eponymous Fancy Blue liqueur.
We joined a group tour with guide Hetty and headed to the Hato Caves near the airport. Rich in stalactites and ‘mites’, there is also a ‘bat cave’ with lots of little guys scurrying around (they eat nectar and avoid humans!).
Back in the UNESCO World Heritage capital of Willemstad, Hetty took us through the old town to see historic Dutch buildings and the star of the show, the 1888 Queen Emma Bridge, a rickety pontoon that connects Punda and Otrobanda across the harbor and is open to shipping.
From the 550 foot long “swinging old lady” you have a great view of the Handelskade waterfront with its colorful buildings. It may be light and cheery, but it also has a dark history, for for 145 years it was the heart of the slave trade, with tens of thousands of Africans being shipped here in chains to be sold to plantations in the Caribbean and South America.
After hearing all this, Hetty’s group was in a reflective mood as we set out to test the bridge’s shakiness.
The port is a 10 minute walk from the bridge and you pass the 1.5m thick walls of the 19th century Rif Fort which now houses chic bars and restaurants and offers great sunset views.
It’s just 14 miles from the Venezuelan coast, which can be seen on a clear day, and is the third and final stop before the two-day trip back to Florida.
The capital, Oranjestad, is heavily commercialized with diamond and souvenir shops, but some historic Dutch buildings remain.
I walked to the 1798 Fort Zoutman and its lighthouse, now a museum, and on to the beach at Governor’s Bay, where there was much entertainment to watch a determined pelican fish for lunch in the strong trade winds – and three fish for the hungry bird.
These winds were really strong, so strong that as I was strolling past the marina I was accidentally blown right into Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar and onto a seat in the shade.
Purely out of research interest and because it was hot hot hot I stayed to test a local chill beer. Inexplicably, like a Duff LFT, the first test was inconclusive, so I had to have another one. It’s a cold wind…
A snappy ending
After disembarking in Fort Lauderdale, I had a day to kill before flying back home, so I took a trip — ending with a Miami airport transfer — to Everglades National Park, where I saw vultures and alligators in the canals from an airboat between sawgrass could be observed. Have fun, time for the terminal, see you later…
to bring on board
Holland America Line’s Rotterdam will be homeported in Amsterdam this summer for northern Europe sailings and then switched to Florida for winter Caribbean itineraries.
- A 10-day Southern Caribbean seafaring voyage departing October 30 from Fort Lauderdale to Half Moon Cay (Bahamas), Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Turks and Caicos Islands and Amber Cove (Dominican Republic) starts from £1,149 per Person. The Have It All rate includes two excursions, drinks, a specialty restaurant and WiFi. hollandamerica.com
https://www.mirror.co.uk/travel/cruises/incredible-blue-seas-fabulous-art-26858738 Incredibly blue seas, fabulous art and great live music on a Southern Caribbean cruise from Florida