Last week was one of the best weeks I ever had. I took a one-week Caribbean cruise, accompanied by nearly 200 genealogists. The Holland-America ship, the m.v. Westerdam, became a genealogy hotbed.
The genealogists assembled in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, November 13. We embarked on the cruise ship without much difficulty. Late in the afternoon, we sailed out of the Port Everglades cruise terminal and headed for Half Moon Cay, a small island in the Bahamas owned by the Holland America line.
Arriving the next morning, I found the island to be a a bit bigger than I had expected and it also offered great views. Most attendees strolled around the island, took in a bit of sunbathing, and most of us tried the beachside barbecue. The experience worked well.
Two days later, we were in Aruba. I spent a week in Aruba several years ago and the experience was fresh in my mind. This time, two friends and I managed to wander the streets of Oranjestad, Aruba's largest city, until we found the El Gaucho steak house. If you have ever eaten at El Gaucho's before, I am glad to report the restaurant is sill in business and is still serving steaks of unbelievable quality. I think I ate about a pound and a half of beef.
The following day we docked in Willemstad, the only city in Curaçao. It was almost a repeat of the previous day: good food, sightseeing, beaches, and shopping. The picture above is of Willemstad harbor in Curaçao, taken by newsletter editor Pam Cerutti. You can see the m.v. Westerdam in the background. You also can click on the image to see a larger picture.
We then headed back to Fort Lauderdale, requiring two additional days to reach our destination.
The Wholly Genes agenda was well organized. The cruise is accurately described as "software neutral." That is, most of the presentations are not aimed at any one genealogy program or even any one operating system. Attendees included Windows and Macintosh owners alike, along with one or two genealogists who admitted they don't own computers. I was surprised by the number of Macintosh laptops seen on the cruise, they almost outnumbered the Windows laptops. In fact, almost all the presenters were using Macs. Of course, that isn't much of an issue these days as The Master Genealogist and almost all other Windows programs run on Macs as well as on Windows and on Linux, if you have the proper software installed.
All the genealogists on board seemed to enjoy the wide variety of presentations made on many topics.
All the "general purpose" genealogy presentations were made in the daytime on days that we were at sea. Presentations never conflicted with time spent in port. A few additional classes were offered to those who wanted specific information on The Master Genealogist, the Windows program produced by Wholly Genes Software. The schedule also offered one-on-one consultation sessions with genealogy experts and/or genealogy software experts. Another nice touch was the "hosted breakfasts" in which attendees were invited to sit with one of the experts at breakfast. No agendas were published in advance for the hosted breakfasts, it was "talk about whatever you want to talk about." I know I enjoyed the breakfasts and think the others did also.
Of course, any cruise ship offers a lot more than genealogy seminars and the m.v. Westerdam is no exception. I have been on a number of cruises on other cruise lines in the past but this was my first experience with Holland America. With one notable exception, it was a great experience.
Holland America's target audience appears to be adults with less emphasis on children's activities and not many "fun and games" events for younger adults. Unlike other cruise lines I have sailed on in the past, there were no belly flop contests at the pool, no hairy chest contests, and no "pub crawls" organized by a loud-mouthed cruise director.
The one thing that sticks in my mind is how little the ship's crew used the public address system. On one previous cruise on a different company's ship, I almost jumped overboard to escape the "squawk box" that blasted out announcements all day and all evening of Bingo sessions meeting in the lounge in 15 minutes, cake decorating classes, pub crawls in all the ship's bars, and similar silliness. The Holland America philosophy seems to be one announcement in the late morning, one around noon, and one more about 6 PM or so. I found this cruise to be a lot more peaceful than some previous experiences.
The food was excellent, as you expect on most any cruise ship.
The one downside was the Internet connectivity. I depend upon Internet access daily and I know from previous cruises that satellite connections from a cruise ship can be slow. However, the m.v. Westerdam seemed to set a new record for slowness. I could calculate the amount of time between screens with a sand-filled hourglass. There was no need to use a stopwatch.
On the first two days of the cruise, logging on to the Internet required seven minutes before the first web-based screen appeared. Then, entering any URL to go to a different web site required an additional five to seven minutes. Each additional "click" required still another five to seven minutes before the next page appeared.
Of course, the user is paying 40 cents to 75 cents PER MINUTE for this Internet access, depending upon the plan selected. I soon realized that my normal daily duties on this newsletter's web site would cost me several thousands of dollars and many, many hours over seven days. I had signed up for the most comprehensive Internet access option, paying $100 in advance for 250 minutes of online time. After two days, I still was unable to read a single email message or to perform a single task on the www.eogn.com web site. I demanded my money back. Despite the stated policy of "no refunds," the Internet manager refunded my money.
Actually, it took another 24 hours for him to cancel and refund the money. It seems he is supposed to cancel accounts by logging onto the Holland America web site and performing some tasks there. Internet access was so slow from the ship, that the Internet manager couldn't log onto the web site to cancel! He promised he would make a phone call via ship-to-shore radio and have the account canceled. Apparently that worked, as my user name and password were invalid the following day, as I had expected.
I am told that Internet access did improve a bit in the last two days of the cruise although I never saw that. Instead, I spent several hours in Internet cafes on shore in Aruba and Curaçao to catch up on email messages and to post some new articles to the www.eogn.com web site. Access speeds from the islands were quite reasonable.
The problem with slow access speeds seems to be limited to Holland America line or to some other cause that was unknown to me. I have used Internet access before from cruise ships operated by Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Royal Caribbean. I wouldn't describe any of them as "speedy" but they were at least useable, unlike Holland America's connection.
While irritating, the ridiculous Internet access speeds were only a minor problem in the week's many activities. I must say that I enjoyed the cruise. If you have never been on a genealogy cruise before, I'd strongly suggest you consider joining a future Wholly Genes cruise.
These cruises function as mini "genealogy seminars at sea." They cover a wide variety of genealogy topics, not just software, and the presentations are made by some of the leading experts of our time. This year's presenters on the Wholly Genes cruise included John T. Humphrey, CG; Audrey Collins (from England!); Rick Sayre, MA, CG; Pam Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL; Craig Scott, MA, CG; John Cardinal; Bob Velke; and myself.
Of course, the food, the scenery, and the extra-curricular activities are far better than any genealogy seminar I have ever attended on land. What other genealogy seminar serves lobster?
NOTE: Well, there was one. The Cape Cod Genealogy Society and the Falmouth Genealogy Society served lobster the previous Saturday at a seminar I attended on Cape Cod. I ate lobster twice in one week!
The genealogy cruises usually are modestly priced. This year's prices started at $870.65 per person (inside cabin, double occupancy) and went to $1210.65 per person for a balcony cabin. Suites were available at still higher prices. Those prices included the cruise, all meals, and full admission to the genealogy presentations. Those prices do not include travel to and from the port in Fort Lauderdale, however.
If you attend a typical four-day genealogy conference in the United States, you still have to pay for the travel to and from the host city. Then you add in hotel rooms, restaurant meals, and admission of $200 or more. I typically plan on five nights in a hotel to attend a four-day conference and conference hotels often cost $130 a night or more. Five nights there plus 12 to 15 restaurant meals plus $200 or more for admission totals as much or more than a seven-day cruise and I really love those extra three days! I'll take seven days on a cruise for less money over a four day seminar on land for more money any day.
If you would like more information about the recently completed Wholly Genes cruise, look at http://www.whollygenes.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?screen=CRUISE
I suspect information about next year's cruise will appear on the Wholly Genes web site about six months from now. You might start thinking about it today, however. I bet you will enjoy a genealogy cruise.
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