Cruising to classical music, stone crabs in the Caribbean

Our family has enjoyed traveling all over the world (on planes, trains and automobiles), but this is just our second cruise.

The first time we took our son on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 during its inaugural season in 2004. We sailed from Southampton to New York after spending a week in London. It was an excellent adventure.

The QM2 isn’t a “cruise ship”; it’s a transatlantic ocean liner. Ocean liners are meant to carry passengers from Point A to Point B. They are built strongly, with a great deal of steel in the hull, and they have a deep draft.

Cruise ships take passengers on a journey that begins and ends in the same port — in this case Fort Lauderdale. The bow of this ship — Holland America’s near-new MS Koningsdam — is shorter and wider with a reduced draft.

Like Cunard, Holland America is one of the more upscale cruise lines. Inspired by music, the Koningsdam (a new-generation cruise ship) features Lincoln Center Stage, B.B. King’s Blues Club, Billboard Onboard, and the Rolling Stone Rock Room.

This is what attracted us, along with a chance to show our son the Caribbean. (Shannon and I honeymooned on Anguilla and St. Barts in the ’90s, and I sailed in the Grenadine islands with friends in the ’80s. We revisited St. Barts with our son about 10 years ago, renting a house on the beach).

“What we’ve done with classical music has really raised the bar, because there’s just nothing else like it in the cruise industry,” Holland America cruise director Jonathan Rogers said.

The classical music is sponsored by New York’s Lincoln Center. On this trip, we heard classical music from a “piano quintet” (string quartet and piano — a Steinway, no less).

All of these young musicians were trained at the Milan Conservatory. Examples included “Masterworks by  Brahms,” “Masterworks by Dvorák” and “La Musica Latina” (featuring music from composers in Puerto Rico, as well as Tango music).

The Lincoln Center Stage is an intimate seating area and was decorated for Christmas. You could order a glass of wine or a cocktail while listening to the music — a great pre-dinner activity.

We opted for a new program called “Club Orange,” which included an intimate dedicated dining room, priority tender service and other perks.

The food was top notch: fresh fish from the islands, fresh salads, prime steaks, and a special Christmas Eve and Christmas menu (one entree was roast goose). Delicious stone crabs were on the menu one night. It was a three-course fine dining experience.

We ate breakfast in Club Orange too, enjoying fresh fruit, eggs benedict, even steak and eggs (which our son liked). Before breakfast, we sipped coffee on our veranda, staring out at the ocean.

It was a civilized and polite group of travelers, including happy families who had gathered for Christmas. The newspaper was a digest of articles from The New York Times; a digest we’ve received at first-rate hotels in Hawaii.

Tomorrow we’re going to visit a private island in the Bahamas for snorkeling and swimming. There’s also a beach barbeque. All told, it’s been a great experience and time for some “family togetherness.” We’re looking forward to the New Year.

Here’s a video from our iPhone:

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

4 thoughts on “Cruising to classical music, stone crabs in the Caribbean”

  1. There is nothing better than an ocean cruise on a great ship. As a child I sailed on the Matson line to Hawaii and Australia. I sailed home from Germany on the General Patch, which was a military transport. My family also sailed home in military style from Japan when I was a teen.
    After 911, my husband and I drove across the U.S. rather than flying over it in the ether. It is such a good way to get to know our country. When we reached New York we sailed round trip to Europe on the QE2 . We were scheduled to sail on a Radisson cruise type ship but it developed propulsion problems and we were rebooked on the Queen Elizabeth II. That was a stroke of luck because I wanted my hubby to experience sailing across the Atlantic on a real ship. At times the old girl got up to 28 knots, felt like flying. It was elegant traveling. The entertainment was great. We were able to see Brian Bedford, the late Tony award winning actor in the QE2’s stunning theater. His brilliant performance was centered around the letters of Oscar Wilde. We did catch a glimpse of David Bowie boarding, but he stayed in the more private cabins on the top deck. There was “tea time” in the afternoon, very British, with dainty sandwiches and tea.
    I was a bit saddened to learn that the Cunard line had been acquired by Carnival. The crew and staff were mostly east-European or Asian. The only Brits were the officers, but they did have a charming Scottish bartender. We did take a Caribbean cruise once, but it just didn’t compare. From now on I would only sail on small cruise ships, with no more than 100-200 passengers. We did that once on the, “Reef Escape”, out of Cairnes, Australia, to tour the Great Barrier Reef. I have to say it is the way to go if you prefer very personal attention and no crowds. For that reason the river cruises look intriguing. Probably our next big adventure.
    Safe travels home to you and your family Jeff.

    1. Thanks Judith! I love hearing the sound of waves at night and waking up with an ocean view. We loved the QM2 transatlantic voyage, with all the British touches, including afternoon tea, a British captain, even a kennel for the corgi dogs, etc.

      This one has been fun too, especially with a teen who loves to go to the beach, swim, snorkel, watch outdoor movies, etc. We’d visited a few of these Caribbean islands before (via air or a ferry from a neighboring island), so we just grabbed a taxi to a few of the beaches we were familiar with rather than go on a planned excursion.

      The “Orange Club” (a new program) on Holland America was worth the extra money because it is much more private for dining and other activities. Only about 25-40 of us were in a specially designated dining room (with a beautiful open kitchen) at any one time — set apart from the big main dining room. The QM2 had designated dining too — “Queens Grill” program — but it was expensive.

      We skipped the buffet dining area onboard all but a few days for lunch, but it was good too: at lunchtime, hand-carved sandwiches from roasted chicken, beef and lamb, fresh fish, and fresh salads, for example.

      The good news about the parent Carnival Corp. is that they let their brands run independent from each other with their own identity (and pricing). Princess Cruises is the “Love Boat” for budget-minded travelers. It also owns Seaborn, a small, high-end cruise line (founded in S.F.).

      On the other hand, a big corporation like that can finance more new ships. Ours, which is almost new, cost $700 million-$800 million, the captain told us. An Airbus A380 jumbo jet goes for about half that. Happy New Year to you and Brad!

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