‘Africa & Mediterranean Grand Voyage’ with HAL

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 56 of the September 2011 issue.

by Philip Wagenaar (First of two parts)

On March 12, 2011, our 62-day adventure began as my wife, Flory, and I boarded MS Prinsendam of Holland America Line, or HAL (Seattle, WA; 877/932-4259), for our “Africa & Mediterranean Grand Voyage” round trip from Fort Lauderdale ($14,200 per person).

The journey would take us to the Caribbean, the Cape Verde Islands and the North African countries of The Gambia, Senegal and Morocco. After sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar, the ship would anchor at Montenegro, Croatia, Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Israel in addition to multiple destinations in Spain and Italy.

The Prinsendam carries 835 passengers. Meals are served in its two cozy and intimate La Fontaine dining rooms. If desired, self-service repasts are available in the Lido restaurant, whose airy feeling makes one want to linger way past the official mealtimes. The Lido also provides the option of enjoying a meal on the adjacent outside decks.

HAL caters to an older clientele, and the service on the ship is exemplary, which is the main reason why we cruise on HAL ships exclusively.

For entertainment, a string trio played classical music nightly to an overflowing audience in the Explorer Lounge. In addition, HAL offers two nightly shows by famous performers in the large amphitheater in the front of the ship, where, during the day, lecturers discuss interesting topics.

In addition, duplicate bridge sessions are a boon for aficionados on all sea days.

A fitness center, library, Culinary Arts Center, Pinnacle Specialty restaurant (for which there is an additional charge), spa, movie theater, tennis court and two pools add to the amenities.

Shore excursions, offered by HAL, give travelers a chance to visit the ports.

All in all, the ship, itself, along with ports of call yielded a full program.

As we had booked our trip before the June 30, 2010, HAL-imposed deadline, we were eligible for free round-trip transport of our suitcases from Seattle to Ft. Lauderdale by FedEx — a real privilege.

Because we traveled on an extended cruise, HAL had been showering us with presents, such as attractive travel bags, neck pouches (in which to carry valuables), a multipocket bag filled with toiletries and different kinds of pills (ibuprofen, Imodium, etc.) and many other amenities. Thoughtfully, at the end of the cruise we were given two huge duffel bags on rollers with which to carry all the gifts home.

Below, are short vignettes about several of the memorable ports we visited.

St. Barthélemy

Our first landfall took place on March 15 in tiny St. Barthélemy, an eight-square-mile French outpost in the Caribbean Leeward Islands.

Roaming the island in a small taxi, we passed by beautiful palm trees swaying in the wind; steep roads slicing through mountainous countryside, and numerous exquisite, white sandy beaches — clearly, an island to visit were it not for the high prices. Our driver pointed out a typical hotel where rooms went for €2,500 (near $3,623) a night!


On March 18 we dropped anchor in Barbados, another Caribbean island. Previously a British colony, the island received independence in 1966. With its good climate and pristine beaches, it is very popular.

Its most dramatic scenery is at the north and east coasts, where the huge breakers of the Atlantic Ocean crash into the cliffs.

Our guide told us that the island’s 250,000 inhabitants are well cared for and poverty is absent.

Cape Verde Islands

After crossing the Atlantic for four days, we docked on the fifth day in Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa.

Originally occupied by the Portuguese, the country became independent in 1975. While most construction shows its Portuguese heritage, with shuttered pastel exteriors and red-tile roofs, newly built houses look like cement blocks.

Our HAL shore excursion bus took us on a narrow, steep, one-lane, cobbled road to the top of the 2,500-foot volcano, the island’s highest point, which offers a stunning view of most of the island’s perimeter.

Our guide told us that Cape Verde has clear, 80-degree weather year-round except during the three-week rainy season, which takes place during September and the beginning of October. At that time, strong winds originating near the top of the volcano push the rainwater, with its associated mud, in huge torrents down to the city of Mindelo below, inundating many of its streets. Most people stay home during that time.

Although citizens pay no personal income tax, imported items face stiff duty.

The government heavily promotes affordable education, and 60% of the population works hard to become proficient in English (the official language is Portuguese). Teachers are treated with great respect.

On the other hand, our guide related that the islands have a poor health system.

The Gambia

The next morning we docked in Banjul, the capital of independent The Gambia, a former British colony with a population of 1.5 million. Having visited the country on a previous cruise, Flory and I remained on board.

Two young, immaculately dressed Gambian policemen joined us on board for the free breakfast that HAL had provided for them, each one consuming an inordinate amount of sweet rolls.

Sitting on the Lido deck, I relished the view of Banjul’s waterfront, where ferries docking at the jetty disgorged throngs of people, who disappeared inside the city.

Other locals, arriving farther from the pier in overloaded boats, dove or jumped into the water in order to reach the shore.

Tenerife, Canary Islands

During the following two days the ship docked in Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, where, year-round, eight to nine million tourists enjoy the sunshine and lovely beaches. While most of these consist of black volcanic pebbles and black sand, one man-made beach, Las Teresitas, has golden sand that was brought in from Africa.

The center of the island is dominated by 12,200-foot El Teide, a volcano covered in snow most of the year.

Our tour bus, which slowly zigzagged up a picturesque, narrow, steep, two-lane road, led us to the top of the 4,000-foot Anaga Mountains. While the low-lying areas are quite dry, as we gained altitude the vegetation became more and more luxuriant, the result of increased moisture brought by the north wind.

Just over the top, in the hamlet of Tananaga, an ancient Spanish café offered us great-tasting olives accompanied by cheese and mouthwatering baguettes.

Casablanca, Morocco

On March 26, in Casablanca, we took the HAL-provided shuttle bus to one of the town’s central squares.

From inside the bus, I watched as men crossed the street, their jeans peeking out from underneath their long djellabas (each a long, loose, hooded garment with full sleeves), their neatly trimmed beards each displaying a prominent white quadrangle of hair surrounded by dark hair, appearing as if the center of the beard had been dyed.

Women wore whatever they wanted. Some, their hair unbridled, sported jeans; others had donned over-long shorts and high heels, and still others were completely covered with kaftans (a djellaba without a hood), the latter varying from most stunning to drab.

Next month, I will continue my Grand Voyage travelogue.