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Top 10s Of The 2016 Amsterdam World Cruise

By Georgina Cruz

Like Scheherazade, who had 1,001 Arabian Nights stories to tell, I could go on and on about the 2016 Amsterdam World Cruise. An amazing voyage circumnavigating the planet during 115 days on the 62,735-ton, 1,380-guest Amsterdam from Holland America Line, it transited two legendary canals (Panama and Suez) and stopped at more than 40 ports (including a three-day stay in Hong Kong and several overnights). It was filled with adventures. Here are the top 10 experiences that my husband Humberto and I were privileged to enjoy, and the top 10 things we learned.

Top 10 Experiences We Enjoyed

Moorea, French Polynesia: This was our third visit to Moorea, the heart-shaped idyll in French Polynesia that inspired James Michener’s Bali Hai, and we had admired its lofty green peaks and sparkling bays from the Belvedere Lookout and visited other points on the island on a ship’s tour. So we just wanted to be footloose and fancy-free this time around, relaxing in a lovely resort. We chose the Moorea InterContinental Resort & Spa with 144 bungalows and rooms. This property, with its deluxe thatched roof over-water bungalows and rooms, is nestled on 27 acres of gardens on a tropical lagoon with a beautiful mountain backdrop. In addition to the expected amenities of an infinity pool with swim-up bar, a spa, watersports and white sandy beach, we found some unexpected ones: a turtle sanctuary and clinic where injured sea turtles are rehabilitated and returned to the wild, and an opportunity to swim with dolphins. Other options include lagoon catamaran cruises and transfers to a nearby reef islet for encounters with rays–and, what we chose most of the time, luxuriating in its turquoise lagoon.

Auckland, New Zealand: On a tour organized by our travel agency, Cruise Specialists, we took in the highlights of Auckland including its Harbor Bridge, Sky Tower, modern skyscrapers and Victorian buildings, and enjoyed a Maori cultural performance of music and dances including the famous “Haka," a traditional ancestral dance, war cry and challenge, vigorously performed.

Sydney, Australia: Everyone is on deck early for the entrance to Sydney Harbor, one of the world’s most scenic, with such sights as the Sydney Opera House with its sail-like roofs and the Harbor Bridge, nicknamed the “Coat Hanger” by locals. With an overnight in Sydney, we explored the sights via Captain Cook’s Hop-on/Hop-off boat, good for 24-hours, and we used our tickets the afternoon of our first day and the morning of the next making stops at Taronga Zoo with its iconic kangaroos, koalas and Tasmanian devils and vast collection of animals from Australia and other parts of the world. While sailing in Australian waters, we had a "Beach Party" onboard the Amsterdam, by the Lido pool amidships, with real sand, beach toys including gigantic beach balls, three authentic lifeguards from Bondi Beach(!), an Australian band and complimentary drinks and food including such Aussie favorites as prawns, emu, crocodile, and oh, no: kangaroo!

Hong Kong, China: In this, one of the world’s top three scenic ports, we were up early to watch our entrance. We explored via the convenient hop-on/hop-off Big Bus, for this was our fourth visit. We always find something we have not seen: this time it was the new Hong Kong Observation Wheel that debuted in December of 2014 offering breathtaking views of the city’s skyscrapers, Victoria Harbour and Victoria Peak. Other highlights included a visit to Sky100, an indoor observation deck on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre, a traditional sampan ride, the Symphony of Lights nightly show in the harbor, a concert under the stars by the ship's wonderful pianist, Debby Bacon, and a performance by a Chinese cultural group including the Dragon Dance and a "changing faces" master, also presented onboard.

Singapore: Highlights of this spectacular city-state include the iconic Merlion (half lion, half fish), a symbol of Singapore; its eye-popping architecture including the Marina Bay Sands (three towers topped by a ship) with its observation deck 650 feet over the city; the Singapore Flyer observation wheel; the 250-acre Garden by the Bay with 250,000 plants housed in domed conservatories, and the Raffles Hotel with its world-famous Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling (yum!) was invented. Since we had two days, we also enjoyed the Singapore Cable Car ride to the top of Mt. Faber and the Sentosa Express monorail to the world-class “playground” of Sentosa Island with some 30 attractions including Universal Studios Singapore; the S.E.A. Aquarium with more than 100,000 marine animals representing 800 species; a replica of the Merlion, and the Tiger Sky Tower, Singapore's highest observation tower, 131 meters above sea level–amazing!

Dubai: This was our first visit to Dubai, so we signed up for a Cruise Specialists’ highlights tour to the Jumeirah Mosque with its symphony of domes and minarets, the Al Burj Hotel on a manmade island, the Souk Al Bahar Arabesque market, and a visit at the top of the Burj Khalifa Tower, at 2,716 feet high, the tallest building in the world, with an observation tower on the 124th floor. Awesome–though not for those who suffer from vertigo!

Jerusalem, Israel: For our second visit to Jerusalem we chose an 8-1/2 hour program called Jerusalem Old & New, from Cruise Specialists. The highlight was a 2-1/2-hour walking tour of the Old City where the air itself seems thick with prayers. We took in such sights as the Mount of Olives with panoramic views of the Old City with the golden Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount; walked along part of the Via Dolorosa, believed to be the way Jesus took to the crucifixion, and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Christianity’s most sacred shrine believed to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection, and the Western Wall, the remnants of the Holy Temple and holiest site in the Jewish world.

Rome, Italy: It had been years since we had been able to visit the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica–the crowds waiting to enter had been monumental on our last visit to Rome two years ago. So we booked an all-day Holland America excursion that, in addition of offering a panoramic tour of the Eternal City’s sights including the Colosseum, made a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica for personal devotions and to admire the art treasures inside including Michelangelo’s Pieta (the only piece he ever signed). We also saw the preserved bodies of Pope John XXIII and Pope Pius X at the bases of two altars. Other huge highlights of the tour were visits to the Papal Summer Residence in Castel Gandolfo, opened to the public by Pope Francis, and visits to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo's breathtaking frescoes.

Monte Carlo, Monaco: We have visited this super-chic Riviera enclave a half-dozen times, but never tire of its fairy-tale-like ambiance and glamour. We took the hop-on/hop-off bus to get around easily, making stops on this trip at the Prince’s Palace for the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony at 11:55 a.m.; the Cathedral where Prince Rainier and Hollywood actress Grace Kelly were married and are buried, and the Oceanographic Museum, where Jacques Cousteau was once a director.

Barcelona, Spain: We have visited Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, several times and always fall for its many charms: seven beaches that span five kilometers along the shoreline, art and architecture–from the Gothic to modern and contemporary styles, plus delicious cuisine and wines. We headed for the major points of interest via the hop-on/hop-off bus. One of them, Las Ramblas, is arguably, Spain’s most famous street, with flower vendors and street entertainment including living statues. And we revisited the Antonio Gaudi landmarks, the city’s most famous architect, including La Sagrada Familia, a Neo-Gothic basilica begun in 1882 and still unfinished, and Parc Guell a UNESCO World Heritage site with works by Gaudi including whimsical structures like a mosaic roof supported by Doric columns and a long, serpentine, snake-like bench. Yet another Gaudi highlight is the Batllo House, in an “organic” style–the locals call it the “house of bones” as it seems to depict skeletons and bones. Experts have called it, and I agree, “an architectural smile.”

Top 10 Things We Learned

Preparing Well, Not Worrying – We started preparing three months before sail date: getting a check-up and inoculations, negotiating visas, making lists of needed items and getting them, setting up automatic payment of bills, arranging for someone to look after our house and get our mail. Since Wi-Fi on the Amsterdam is slow, we warned relatives we would not be able to communicate as frequently as when we are at home and took care of many details regarding our finances in advance. Then we boarded the Amsterdam and left worries about home or anything else behind on the pier as discarded bundles, surrendering to the care and pampering of a hand-picked staff.

Setting The Right Speed – There is so much to see and do on a World Cruise, we made a conscious effort to pace ourselves: alternating a full-day excursion in one port with a hop-on/hop-off bus tour where one can pick where one gets off to explore and see the rest of the sights comfortably from the bus.

Packing Appropriately – A World Cruise guest once told me she’d brought 23 suitcases… and needed another, connecting cabin to keep all her stuff. We decided we’d bring enough for a two-week cruise. There are self-service launderettes onboard.

Being Sensible About Culinary Delights – Chocolate Avalanche Cakes, Beef Wellingtons, Lobster with cheese sauce and more for 115 days can wreak havoc with your waistline. We adopted a sensible strategy: breakfast and lunch like we normally have at home, and some splurges on dinners. To burn the extra calories we took the stairs and went on active shore tours that included walking and swimming.

Avoiding Homesickness – Experts recommend bringing something from home. We brought one of our Mickey Mouse souvenirs and put it on our cabin’s desk where we could see it every day. And we booked the same cabin on the Amsterdam on three World Cruises–so from the moment we board we feel at home!

Establishing An Onboard Routine – To make the most of our days, particularly those spent at sea crossing oceans, we established a routine that included port lectures and team trivia in the mornings, and enrichment lectures, including a Q&A session with author Paul Theroux in the afternoon. This was not etched in stone, but served as a framework for our sea days.

Keeping A Journal – Such a voyage deserves recording. Writing about our daily activities and sightseeing was a relaxing pursuit. We are sure we will re-read about our adventures many times in the future and leave the journal for our children and grandchildren to read as well.

Sharing Your Good Fortune – Many ships offer opportunities to contribute to charitable causes. During the World Cruise guests had the chance to participate in a silent auction to benefit the charity A Helping Hand Sri Lanka and a box benefiting UNICEF was available where we could donate any leftover currency from our 40-plus ports.

Selecting Meaningful Shore Excursions – We like to select shore excursions that benefit communities in undeveloped countries or ecological programs like one we took to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia that contributed funds for the preservation of the reef.

Keeping The Dream Alive – When we started dreaming of a World Cruise several years ago, we viewed it as a once-in-a-lifetime event. But we soon learned otherwise. Now, three World Cruises later, we are still dreaming and doing something about it: we have booked the 2017 Grand World Voyage of the Amsterdam!

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