Boarding the Westerdam

Once we got onto the ship, we immediately made our way to the elevators where we headed up to our stateroom on Deck 7, the Rotterdam. Even though I had seen the panaroma photos on the Holland America website, I really had no idea what to expect when we opened the door to our room. At first glance, it is sized a little like an RV, with a narrow hallway, and carefully planned storage. We had a room with a balcony. Our larger bags had not made it to our room yet, so we took the opportunity to step out onto the balcony and take in the view in port.
We happened to be docked next to The Allure of the Seas, which is reportedly the largest cruise ship in existence. But. who cares about that ship, when we were aboard a chartered Gaither cruise?!

We left the room and started to explore the ship. We made it up to the 10th deck and found the Explorations Cafe, which adjoins the internet cafe. You can see a couple of folks who had already stacked out a reclining chair to enjoy the view. Hubby and I separated as we looked out at the different views. When I looked back around the room to find him, I saw that he was chatting with someone in the library section. Tori Taff was up there selecting a book to read and she and my hubby were having a lively conversation! I walked over, let my husband know that he was talking to one of the artist’s wives, and told her how much I enjoyed reading her blog. Once we left her to continue her search for a good book, I told him how hilarious she is! If you have never read her blog, check out her out at http://www.babybloomr.com/about/

Explorations Cafe--Westerdam

We checked out the view from the top deck and found ourselves looking down onto the Skyview Pool, which is on the Lido Deck (9). The Lido restaurant is sandwiched between this Skyview Pool area and the other pool which has a retractable ceiling that can be opened when the weather is right.

Yep, there is a basketball court on Deck 10!

On our stateroom key was a code which told us which lifeboat we were assigned to, in case that were to be needed. I was comforted to know that Buddy Greene and his wife would be in our boat. I’m sure he would bring his harmonica and we would sing our way to safety.

They take this safety drill seriously, though. As soon as we all congregated in our various areas (artists included), they read off the stateroom number and had us indicate that we were present. Those that were not present had their names called out over the loud speaker and asked to report or face removal from the ship. (Several names/stateroom numbers were called, but I believe that all were eventually accounted for.) Departure time was at 5 p.m. and this mandatory safety briefing was held promptly at 3:45 p.m.

We made it back to our stateroom to put away our belongings. Here are a few photos of our room before we messed it all up with our junk.


This one is blurry, but maybe it will give you an idea of the desk size. There is a little mini-bar stocked with “stuff.” We emptied it and filled it with Diet Coke. 🙂

Departure day had arrived–finally!

Wow, what a week! Our first cruise was awesome in so many ways. Lots of music and friends to share it with! The ms Westerdam of the Holland America fleet is a gorgeous ship and the staff is wonderfully friendly. It is a bit unusual to see the Gaither artists that we admire so much wandering around the ship just like normal people, but I got used to it!

On the day of departure, we stayed at the Rodeway Inn near the Fort Lauderdale airport, mostly because they have a free shuttle. They definitely cater to the cruise crowd because the lobby was a lot like a gift shop. (LOTS of hotels cater to the cruise crowd, so check out all the choices.)

There were literally dozens of us that needed to be shuttled to different piers to meet our respective cruise ships, so the hotel was set up with a loud speaker to call out the cruise line names. It was kind of a carnival-barker atmosphere. They squished us and our luggage into 15-passenger vans and off we went! We were finally aboard the ship and headed out on our very first cruise!

Once you get on the ship, it is primarily a cashless society, but, until then, be prepared to dish out some ones and fives for the driver of the “free shuttle.” 🙂

After a short ride to the port, the van driver set out our bags and a pier employee loaded them up into the appropriate containers. We had placed special cruise tags on our luggage with the cruise line name, our names, and our cabin number. (Even though all this happens just minutes after unloading from the van, be prepared to tip again. ;-0)

Once we were free of our larger bags, we entered the port building and were given a short health survey to fill out to determine our wellness. Holland America takes health and cleanliness very seriously, so we would encounter Purell hand-sanitizing stations frequently from here on in.

At some point our bags and persons were scanned, much like they are done at the airport. They don’t monitor liquid size like on airlines, because we had at least a dozen bottled sodas in our carry-on bags. (Can you say, “addict?”)

While it looks like this would take forever, the check-in process actually went very quickly. We stepped up to the counter, provided our passport and ID, had our photo taken, and were issued stateroom keys.

Our keys were scanned as we entered the gangway. Numerous staff members greeted us warmly, squirted hand sanitizer in our palms, and up the gangway we went! I could hardly believe the day had finally arrived!

More photos to come! (I know you want to hear about the MUSIC!)

Two more days until we sail

It’s actually only one day until my husband and I depart for Fort Lauderdale. Snow can fall anytime in Colorado and I have no intention of “missing the boat” because our flight was canceled because of inclement weather! (Two days ago we got six inches, but I still wore my flip flops out today. I really do love it here!)

I can’t wait to get on the ship and meet up with my DP phriends, my Facebook friends, and my new Cruise Critic acquaintances. Other than Post-It notes on the door, I have no idea how we will find each other if we don’t know a room number, but I’ll cross that gangplank when I get to it. 🙂 Even though we are headed to the sunny Caribbean, it is truly the music that I’m going to hear. Concerts in the states are wonderful, but they are over so quickly. On the ship, we will get SIX concerts, almost in a row! I intend to soak in every delightful minute.

I’ll confess I’m a little tired of packing. Since I’m a newbie to this, I’m sure we have over-packed. (All the packing lists say “bring a hat,” but, if I don’t wear a hat here, will I wear a hat there? I didn’t even wear a hat when we lived in Florida.) The good thing is all you future cruisers are welcome to learn from my mistakes, because I’ll share all most of them here once we get back. I may even share my OCD-ish, Excel-spreadsheet, color-coded, luggage-tag-sized packing lists. (Nah, I doubt it. I want to be known as normal for as long as possible.)

Anyway, 48 hours from now we should be settling into our rooms, putting things away, downing a dose of Dramamine, and getting in line for our first dinner on the ship! I can’t wait!

Three weeks from today, we’ll be climbing aboard the ship.

Of course, I’m excited!

This is my first cruise so every step of preparation is new to me. I’ll admit that there is a bit more paperwork required than I realized. It’s not bad, really, you just have to actually read the information that is sent to you. Insurance is one of those items that I would have preferred to avoid. At first blush, it just seems like a waste of money to buy insurance for a trip. I mean, who expects to not go on the trip that they are so excited about? However, in researching trip insurance, I learned more about the situations that might arise. Consider sickness, for example. If I were to get ill aboard the ship and need hospitalization, I would have to be taken off the ship via helicopter. I have only one experience with a medical airlift and I learned that it costs $10,000 to $15,000 for ten-minute ride from one hospital to another. And, that was within the states! Just imagine that we are miles out in the ocean and the nearest helicopter has to come from the islands, and the nearest adequate hospital is on a different island. You can see how the costs would mount rather quickly.

Another scenario that might arise–which would be completely beyond our control–is a situation where an immediate family member is injured or hospitalized. We all know family comes first, so we would have to interrupt our cruise to return home. The cruise line can’t be expected to refund our money. Insurance would cover the cost of the cruise, airfare and a few incidentals related to the trip.

What if the airline cancels our flight and we miss embarkation? (First of all, prudence would dictate that we put a little cushion of time between when our flight arrives and when the boat departs.) But, aside from normal caution, situations do arise where an airline would cancel our flight and there are no more outbound flights available. We could potentially miss the beginning of the cruise. I have no idea what it costs to get a flight on short notice from the states to the Bahamas, but I’m guessing that it would not be cheap. Do I have the extra funds to cover that expense?

All in all, I still hated to purchase insurance. We could weather the basic costs of missing the cruise, even though it would be financially painful. But, the medical scenarios that might arise? I wasn’t so sure I wanted that kind of risk. Huge medical bills could bankrupt most families. So, we purchased insurance. For the two of us, a medium-coverage policy cost $375. Most policies cover trip interruption or cancellation adequately, but I was more interested in medical coverage for an emergency health problem and the necessary funds to cover a medically-necessary evacuation off the ship. By definition, insurance is one of those things that you hope you never need. Let’s pray we don’t have to use it!

Our cruise schedule has arrived!

I checked my email one last time last night and, there it was, our tentative cruise schedule! It is actually starting to feel close now! I’ve been so curious about how they planned the concerts and dinner schedule to accommodate so many people. Apparently, we are divided into blue and red color groups. (Does that remind you of 2nd grade reading, or what?) Within those groups we also have a second color which will allow us to have priority seating at the concert a couple of times during the week. I assume by “priority” they mean something along the lines of get-there-early-enough-and-you-can-sit-at-David-Phelps’-feet-type priority? That’s how I read it! 🙂

Wow, though, I have a new respect for how much the artists actually work on these cruises! They sing twice on most days, with the exception of Wednesday. There are a couple of autograph sessions thrown in there as well. Bill, Gloria, and Ken Davis all lead different morning devotions–at 7am! (I haven’t decided if I’m getting up for those, yet. That’s quiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite early when you are on vacation.)

Anyway, I posted the tentative schedule for those of you that are as curious as I am about how these things all work. Buried in the schedule are also the times that we arrive and leave each port of call.

So, so excited! Just a couple more things to find for my husband and we will be all set to fold and pack!

P.S. Did you know that soda is NOT included in the all-inclusive meals? I guess soda is considered an indulgence! Ha! Indulgence! (It’s going to be an expensive week–that’s all I’m sayin’.)

Here’s the link to the schedule:
http://mygaithercruise.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/GA12CE-Tentative-Schedule-PDF1.pdf

Less than two months away!

The Christmas season is soooo busy that I barely had a chance to think about our upcoming cruise. But, now that the holidays are over and the decorations are put away, I can put all my energy into making sure that my summer clothes are ready to go into a suitcase!

Immediately, I realized that I still have a lot of questions. Do I pack our own beach towels for on shore excursions? (Ruth helped me with that one. No, the ship will let us check them out to take on shore. Apparently, “you lose it, you buy it” applies here.)

Today’s question is this: For a 7-day cruise, how many outfits should I take? (I know how shallow that sounds.) But, seriously, will daytime clothes work for the informal dinners? Just how hot will it get in the Caribbean in March? (That’s code for “How sweaty will I get and need to change?)

Ok, help me out here. Just how many sets of clothes do we need to take?

Going on a cruise!

My husband and I are going on our first cruise! I started this site to share our experiences, both before and after. I am so excited, but I have SO many questions that I can’t find answers to! I’m looking forward to hearing from any of you that have been on a Gaither cruise before. What should we expect? Can we meet all the artists? Do they bring their families? Yeah, soooo many questions!

(Did I mention I was excited?!)