Koningsdam in the Eastern Caribbean

By Mary K. Taylor
This item appears on page 12 of the May 2021 issue.
Hippo water ferry — St. Lucia. Photo by Mary Taylor

At last count, I’ve been to 53 countries in my travels, on cruises and land tours. Arriving at sunrise in Europe is not my passion anymore, though, so in February 2020 I took a cruise in the Eastern Caribbean with family aboard the Koningsdam.*

Booking through Vacations To Go with agent Mark Otton (Houston, TX; 800/338-4962, ext. 7356), I paid $2,830 plus $522 in insurance.

A tortoise sleeping atop a caiman in a Barbados reserve. Photo by Mary Taylor

My stateroom, on Deck 1, was large and comfortable and had a spacious window. The only deck without verandas, Deck 1 is the lowest passenger deck, right above the water line, and I had great views of the waves. Being lower down, I also didn’t feel the rocking in high seas.

My brother, Charles Barnett, and my sister-in-law, Jean, were on Deck 8 in a veranda stateroom, with Jean’s daughter, Pam, in an inside room.

Launched in 2016, the Koningsdam of Holland America Line, or HAL (877/932-4259, hollandamerica.com), can hold 2,650 passengers.

I’ve traveled often on HAL ships. Part of the fleet is made up of smaller ships which I’ve taken. For example, the Maasdam carries 1,258 passengers. I thought with more passengers there would be a problem with disembarkation at ports, but that didn’t happen on the Koningsdam. Some passengers were in wheelchairs and on walkers, and they didn’t go ashore.

Mary Taylor on a snorkeling trip.

For shore excursions, instead of meeting on board in the theater, groups met ashore, usually at the end of the pier — a better way to handle it, I felt.

Of all the islands visited during this cruise, Feb. 12-23, I had previously been to only one, Barbados.

Our first stop was at Sint Maarten, where I took a tour that I’d booked through Vacations To Go. We got to see beautiful, colorful birds in a bird park, as promised, but the country drive and light refreshments that had been described as part of the tour were left out. I received a prompt refund upon my return. In fact, the $53 refund was $6 more than what I’d paid for the tour ($47).

At the next stop, Martinique, Charles and I went ashore at Fort-de-France to get a taxi. However, none were at the pier (it was Sunday), so we walked about a mile into town. It was a pleasant day and we saw a lot, though Charles (93) and I (84) could have used transportation.

In the main town, we enjoyed sitting by the waterfront, sharing a Coke and people-watching. As in many places around the world, there was a special feel about a Sunday on the island, with people out walking and some pushing strollers. A second cruise ship was moored in the harbor, as were several sailboats, which people reached in small dinghies.

A monkey sitting on a tortoise in a Barbados reserve. Photo by Mary Taylor

Along the waterfront, we visited the one souvenir shop that was open and then found a nice restaurant. The server brought us an English version of their menu, and we enjoyed fish and chips. Afterward, we found the only taxi in town and got a ride back to the ship.

Koningsdam, the biggest HAL ship I had ever been on, had some special features. Instead of a small, isolated theater, there was a Lincoln Stage open to the shops nearby. A quintet of young musicians performed classical music on several evenings for those seated and people walking by the shops.

In the World Stage, instead of the usual ship’s company with gaudy costumes and energetic singing and dancing, two young comedians gave their repertoire on separate nights to a packed theater.

Instead of America’s Test Kitchen (a staple of HAL ships), this cruise featured a delightful Port to Table cooking show every few days in the World Stage.

Another thing we liked about this ship was that the pools were deep enough to swim in (5-8 feet), allowing us swimmers a stroke or two.

Dining room attire was somewhat relaxed. When Pam told the waiter that we hadn’t attended a gala night because she had no formal clothes, the waiter said she was dressed “just fine” for a formal night. She was wearing white pants, sandals and an attractive top.

A sightseeing jitney on St. Thomas. Photo by Mary Taylor

The only thing we missed on the Koningsdam was a large library with real books. This feature had shrunk to perhaps 20 books on a bookcase.

On Barbados, I took a ship’s excursion to an open reserve where, at 2 p.m. each day, green monkeys, Brocket deer, tortoises and Patagonian maras (large rodents) showed up for feeding-time handouts.

In St. Lucia, where Charles and I were again on our own, we took the Hippo ferry ($5 round trip) into town. The vegetable market there was interesting.

At St. Kitts, I took a ship’s snorkeling excursion, a lovely trip on a catamaran. We went a short distance, then snorkeled for 20 minutes, seeing small colorful fish and interesting reef plants and animals.

At St. Thomas, Charles and I took a tour ($25 each) that we arranged with a man we met when we left the ship. He drove us in an open-air jitney all the way up the mountain overlooking the harbor.

Unfortunately, because rough seas prevented us from stopping at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, St. Thomas was our last stop.

The only glitch on this trip occurred after we disembarked in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We had booked an early departure, requiring us to carry our own bags and leave about 7:45 a.m. Seven cruise ships were in port, and many people were leaving. At the airport, we weren’t able to get through security and into the actual airport until two hours before our plane departed.

Luckily, I was in time to catch my plane, which boarded at 11:15. The others found a coffee shop on the lower floor of the terminal to wait for their flights.

While it’s fun to travel to far-off places, I enjoyed being so close to home on this cruise.

Rockport, TX

*Though the “Koningsdam” had been repositioned to the US Pacific coast at press time, Holland America Line does have cruises to the Eastern Caribbean scheduled on other ships in 2021 and 2022.