We are currently about 1,400 miles southeast of the United States – it’s 4am – and we will be arriving at our first stop in Dominica in a few hours (noon).

Before describing our first port of Roseau, Dominica, I’d like to share some thoughts relative to our first few days; two days prior to embarkation and our first 48 hours aboard our new home- away- from- home. We left Phoenix a day early for two reasons. First, Cheryl knows I don’t like to be late for anything and typically quite early for most all events (yes, I know what you’re thinking) and secondly, Cheryl thought it would be nice to book a few extra romantic hours on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale since we spent our 24th wedding anniversary quietly at home on New Year’s Eve, as we typically choose to do. Cheryl’s plans were just perfect - a day early into Lauderdale & a hotel on the beach with a full ocean view! You just can’t go wrong with the Sheraton and with the exception of one element, everything was perfect. Unusually cold weather worked its way into southern Florida & neither of us were properly clothed, but from the inside comfort of your hotel, not a problem, or was there?? Our room had a beautiful view but was somewhat chilly so I immediately cranked-up the fan to warm the room – the longer the high-speed fan ran the colder the room became, so I thought I should report the problem to the front desk. By then, the sun had set and after a quick dinner, we approached the attendant at the desk who was suspiciously adorned in a winter parka – definitely not the uniform you would expect to see behind the counter at a Sheraton Hotel! As I began describing the cool temperature in our room, she started smiling and explained that none of the hotels on the beach had heat – the weather was typically such that heating units were not included in any of the construction & design plans, however, she said she’d be glad to give us an extra blanket! We returned to the room shortly thereafter and by then, the room wasn’t merely chilly, it was downright frigid!! It’s often been said that necessity is the mother of invention – there were two pieces of equipment in the room that emitted heat; a coffee maker and a blow dryer. You guessed it! I plugged-in the hair dryer, propped it on a suitcase, adjusted the temperature and air flow to the high position, and Walla…HEAT!! It took several hours, but the room gradually warmed to 68 degrees and we were able to maintain some level of comfort for the balance of our stay!

On embarkation day, we were two hours early – of course! In fact, the cab driver looked at his watch and said he was happy to take us to the port, but we may the only ones there. Ultimately, we found ourselves surrounded by several others who were early – folks who were also temporary residents of unheated hotels in search of warmer facilities! Holland America was extremely well-organized – they had their doors open with a reception area set up – nice comfortable chairs, and two ship employees walking around with water, lemonade, & warm chocolate chip cookies! Again, the embarkation process was extremely well-organized and within 45 minutes, we were through security, checked-in, processed, and in our stateroom. After dropping a few small carry-on bags, we were off to the Lido Deck to sit by the pool & relax in the midday sun. Champaign was being passed out by very friendly stewards and before we knew it, it was time for the short lifeboat drill, a quick return to the stateroom, and off to dinner.

I need to pause for a moment and just brief you on some of our observations initially from our first several hours on the ship. Having cruised exclusively on Norwegian for the past several years, we noticed a stark difference with Holland America initially – much better organized with what seemed to be a streamlined check-in process and certainly the complimentary water, lemonade, cookies, and Champaign were nice surprises. Having been onboard now for two days, we would rate breakfast & lunch comparable with Norwegian, but dinner is definitely superior – not only in taste, but the variety of available entrees available is five-fold. Desserts have also been superior!! The ship itself is everything advertised and more. It’s a smaller ship than your typical cruiser, but yet better appointed in terms of elegance – beautiful artwork, crystal, rich woods & stained glass throughout. While a typical cruise ship may carry between 2500 – 4000 passengers, this ship accommodates only 1300 and we’ve been told that for this particular world cruise, there are less than 800 passengers on board with a crew of approximately 600. They say the economy has had an impact on this itinerary, & understandably. That said, what a nice change from the typical hustle & bustle! No lines or congestion anywhere – it’s almost as if you have the ship to yourself and in some of the libraries, small theaters & game rooms, we’ve found ourselves alone and it’s actually quite nice! The passenger mix was/is predictable – largely retired folks, and VERY nice at that! We’ve seen no teenagers, a few wheelchairs & scooters, but not out of the ordinary and certainly not in the way. Two or three pre-K children, but we believe they belong to members of the crew. We were also told that because of the average age of passengers on this trip, approximately six pass away at some point over the course of these four months. Interesting statistic and hopefully one that will not materialize as everyone we’ve met is extremely friendly! I’d mentioned some pre-cruise concerns over assigned seating & table partners for dinner, but I will share with you that we couldn’t ask for better table mates! Wonderful, genuine people!! Three are from Canada, one from West Virginia – most are former educators.

During out first two days, we’ve spent the majority of our time meeting new people, exploring the ship, relaxing by the pool, watching the NFL wildcard games, listening to some very interesting lectures by PHD’s (more on that later) playing cards and going to evening shows. Last night was the Captains Welcome Party – a very nice formal function, with Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester in concert. Quite honestly, we didn’t enjoy her – just personal preference in music as she’s obviously very good in her own right. Doc Severnsen & The Tonight Show Band is up next, but not sure what evening yet. Very much looking forward to hearing Doc & the band – you can bet we’ll have front row seats for that – what a GREAT trumpet player!!

So…first stop – Roseau, Dominica. This community belongs to and is part of the Lesser Antilles & is located on Dominica’s southwestern coast. Rugged mountains drop into lush valleys – truly a tropical paradise, and we’re off on an aerial tram through the rainforests today. We’ve seen rainforests in other countries but without question, this is by far the most beautiful, expansive rainforest to be found anywhere. Our aerial tram traversed an average of 60’ high and in one place, nearly 400’! The foliage was diverse and with an annual rainfall of 350 inches, everything seemed like the soil was laced with steroids – just incredible! At one point, we walked a suspension bridge towering 360’ over a raging river – a bit unnerving but since its construction 10 years ago, no accidents to date!

Dominica itself is very beautiful as described, but very similar to other Caribbean destinations, very poor socio & economic infrastructures.

We returned to the ship at approximately 4:45 – had a very informal dinner on the Lido deck, enjoyed the hot tub for an hour, and now back in our stateroom, await the start of the BCS championship football game before retiring.

Only one serious incident today – a fellow passenger was hit by a local tour bus on the very narrow city streets, none of which have traffic lights. She remains in a local hospital in serious condition with her husband at her side, as we now sail without them toward Bridgetown, Barbados.