Holland America Showcases Theme Sailings in the Caribbean

Travel Weekly's Sabina Rubbinaccio sailed a seven-day Caribbean itinerary aboard Holland America Line's Noordam. Her report follows:

ABOARD THE NOORDAM -- The Glenn Miller Orchestra struck up "Pennsylvania 6-5000," and elegantly dressed couples took to the floor to dance the jitterbug.

Earlier, Margaret O'Brien shared behind-the-scenes stories of her performances in the films "Journey for Margaret" and "Little Women" and what it was like working with Robert Young, Elizabeth Taylor and June Allyson.

No, this sailing did not take place during the 1940s. It was a film festival cruise, part of Holland America Line's new program of theme sailings in the Caribbean.

The line is offering theme sailings through the fall, ranging from a 1950s sock hop to Oktoberfest, wine-tasting, country music, comedy and bingo.

The theme cruises are offered on selected seven-day sailings of eastern and western itineraries aboard the Veendam, Westerdam, Noordam and Nieuw Amsterdam.

On board the Noordam, guests reveled in listening to O'Brien describe her childhood career at MGM studios.

Back then, it was more like being part of a family, O'Brien said, in the days when actors were under contract to their studios and were told the movies in which they were to appear.

As if O'Brien had not already thrilled her audience enough, she lingered afterward to pose with any guests who wished to have a photo taken with her.

I had thought Pennsylvania 6-5000 lived on only as the phone number of New York's Hotel Pennsylvania (Glenn Miller's theme plays on the voice mail) but was delighted to learn on board that the Glenn Miller Orchestra still performs today.

It became a road band in 1956 under the direction of Ray McKinley, at the same time Jimmy Stewart starred in "The Glenn Miller Story."

The orchestra travels most of the year across the U. S. and in Canada under the direction of Larry O'Brien (who travelled with the band during McKinley's tenure).

Inspired by the band, most of the Noordam's guests, in their early 50s to late 70s, seemed to be reliving their youth.

It brought me back to my younger years when radio was quite the thing, until television came on the scene, and my love for the big-band sound has not waned.

We marveled at the orchestra, composed of men in their 20s and 30s.

They were not even born when this music was popular, and yet their renditions of "Little Brown Jug" and "In the Mood" transported me to the days when the gals would ask the guys to join them for a fox trot.

The musicians then brought us up to the more recent pass with Broadway showstoppers from "My Fair Lady," "Grease" and "Phantom of the Opera."

The theme provided an interesting contrast to our daily port activities.

Our first port of call was George Town, Grand Cayman, where we set out on a shore excursion.

It took us through the city of George Town and past Seven Mile Beach.

I had not been relishing the part of the tour that would take us to the Turtle Farm but was surprised to find it fascinating to see these creatures through their various stages of growth.

Our next stop on the island was Hell, an area with intriguing dark-rock formations, which apparently inspired its name.

A popular stop in this village is the post office, from which cards can be mailed with that distinctive postmark. (I suppose I was not the first tourist here to send my family a card saying "I've been to hell and back," but I could not resist.)

In a glass-bottom boat here, I was enchanted by the kaleidoscopic colors of the sea.

As we reached a coral reef, our guide gave us the history of some shipwrecks, and we saw the electric colors of many varieties of tropical fish, sponge and coral.

In Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, we embarked on smaller vessels and traveled the scenic waters of the Rio Dulce, which winds through the rain forest.

On reaching Quirigua National Park, we set out on a walking tour of the Mayan city, where the ruins date to A.D. 780.

I still can remember the rich flavors of our lunch here, which included a local version of black bean soup and barbecued chicken with fresh local fruits and vegetables.

When we reached Playa del Carmen, in Mexico, after climbing among the ruins, we were ready to enjoy the white-sand beach and swim in the beautiful Caribbean. Somehow we also summoned the energy to do some shopping for souvenirs.

Several fellow passengers spoke of the elements of cruising with Holland America that keep them coming back to sail again with the line.

They noted its high standards in food and service and the friendly staff, many of whom are Indonesian and Filipino.

Passengers noted that the line is affordable and includes a no-tipping policy but is, at the same time, elegant.

The 1,214-passenger Noordam, which has its home port in Tampa, Fla., features sophisticated decor without sacrificing comfort.

Holland America's tradition of installing sculptures and paintings throughout the vessel makes a walk from a cabin to the dining room seem like a trip to an art gallery.

The Amsterdam Dining Room has floor-to-ceiling windows that provide wonderful views of the sea during meals.

Tables are appointed with fresh flowers and Rosenthal china.

The Lido Restaurant overlooks the pool and offers full breakfasts as well as luncheon buffets.

The Lido Terrace enables guests to experience a barbecue in the middle of the ocean, with the aromas from the grill mingling with fresh sea air and the strains of a steel band beneath all that blue sky.

The Crow's Nest is the place to enjoy a cocktail, and visitors to the Explorer's Lounge can opt for after-dinner coffee and liqueurs.

In the afternoons, the lounge serves what it calls a royal Dutch tea.

Other on-board diversions include pool games, dance classes, movies in the Princess Theatre, bridge, horse racing, gambling in the Mint casino and bingo.

The navigation deck offers exercise equipment, saunas and massage rooms.

A beauty salon and a barbershop are located on the promenade deck, near the ship's boutique.

Four cabins were rebuilt in 1989 specifically for disabled persons.

The Noordam also has programs available to the younger set.

The Big Dipper game room for children is staffed with counselors.

Parents can bring their children there before heading off to dinner.

Baby-sitting for late-evening events is limited in availability and should be confirmed before departure, according to the line.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI