Dink. The crew member handed back my passenger ID card as I stepped onto Holland America’s ms Westerdam for the first time. The feeling of being on a ship again was exhilarating! Pulling my carry-on luggage behind me, my mom, sister and I weaved around the hallways of the ship to our stateroom. This was my mom’s first cruise and my sis and I couldn’t wait for her to experience firsthand everything we had told her about the other Christian cruises we’ve been on. Yet, it would be a new experience for us as well – a different cruise line, a different ship and a different itinerary. This was our first Alaska cruise and it was our first cruise with In Touch Ministries. Some things, we would experience for the first time together.
When speaking of cruises, the thing that everyone wants to know about is the food. Around noon, the buffet on the Lido deck opened to serve passengers lunch. Inside the Lido Restaurant, selections abounded. There were four main stations – a salad bar (including fruit), bistro, pasta bar, Asian station and ice cream/dessert bar. My first buffet meal came from the Asian side and consisted of rice, curry pork and spicy vegetables. It was delicious! (Albeit very hot…) 😉 For dessert, I tried the peanut butter silk pie – smooth and creamy, the kind that melts in your mouth!
Before the Westerdam set sail at four o’clock, all passengers were required to attend the Life Boat Drill. After a very shrill blast from the alarm, a voice came over the loud speaker, “All passengers must proceed to your assigned lifeboat station – anyone who refuses to take part in the mandatory safety drill will not be permitted to sail…” Down at our assigned station, the lifeboats hung above us and we were instructed to stand in rows of seven. The crew member in charge of our lifeboat asked everyone for their stateroom numbers, making sure everyone was present. When the deck was partially full, a cheer went up from each lifeboat station as Dr. Stanley came walking by. When he stopped a few stations down and a loud cheer went up from the crowd, the people in line by me joked, “If anything were to happen to the ship that would be the lifeboat to be in!” LOL
The Westerdam set sail at four o’clock. The most exciting place to be when a ship leaves port is on the top deck, and that’s where my mom and I were! The clouds drizzled just enough moisture for us to don our rain jackets, which the chilly air tried to cut through. Yet, that didn’t faze us! We stayed out there until it was time to get ready for the first seating in the Vista Dining Room, and even then, we didn’t want to leave the city scape or green shore behind.
The Dining Room is one of my favorite parts of cruising. A little elegance, gourmet food and great service make unique memories! There are three courses in the dining room; the first night I coincidently ordered all vegetarian dishes. For a starter I had the Cheese Tortellini and Vegetable Soup, for an entrée the Penne Primavera and Mango Mousse for dessert. All were excellent!
After dinner, we went to the “Welcome Aboard” event with Dr. Stanley in the Vista Lounge. The Vista Lounge is the Westerdam’s largest theater, located in the front of the ship and spans three decks. Inspiration, the Christian tour agency that coordinated the cruise, did an amazing job organizing these events. The lounge could not seat all the passengers at one time, so they divided the number of passengers into two groups – Red Badge and Blue Badge. Then they took that same number and divided it into three groups – green, yellow and purple “priority groups.” Each day, a different priority group would be allowed to enter the theater first and select a seat. Priority always had the floor, first two rows of the middle section and first two rows of the balcony reserved for them. This insured that everyone on board would have the opportunity to sit closer to the front if they chose to. Brilliant is the only way to describe this arrangement! Everyone had a turn and equal opportunity – I loved the spirit and atmosphere this gave the audience.
The first night was “green priority” and that happened to be us! We sat on the first row of the balcony and Stan Whitmire was gently playing “Family of God” as everyone walked in. Our worship leader for the week was Mike Speck and he welcomed us and encouraged everyone to sing Blessed Assurance together. Then we sang a medley of Because He Lives, O How I Love Jesus and How Great Is Our God. When Dr. Stanley walked on stage the audience rose to their feet and applauded. Dr. Stanley told the people, “I want us to get to know each other – that’s my spirit of being here.” He went on to say that we were going to have a lot of fun that week and we were going to be blessed. Then he asked, “How many of you are Pentecostal?” When only a few hands came up, he added, “Ah, well, it’s gonna take more than that…” LOL
The evening concert began with Greater Vision singing their popular song, He’d Still Been God. After a few lines of singing about a sinking ship, Gerald interjected, “We should have picked a different song…” Stan Whitmire played a solo of Great Is The Lord – it was his 16th cruise to Alaska with In Touch Ministries. He introduced the next group by saying, “About 30 years ago I met Mark Trammell…” Then The Mark Trammell Quartet sang Wonderful Time Up There. Lisa Ryan with In Touch Radio made an appearance on stage and explained that In Touch Radio was represented on the cruise for the very first time and would be interviewing all the artists on the Lido Deck throughout the week. Babbie Mason sang Jesus Reigns and told the crowd, “I think when God made Alaska, He was showing off.” Dennis Swanburg, the comedian on board, had a small segment before Triumphant sang Everyday, the Collingsworth Family continued with I Could Never Praise Him Enough and finally, the Booth Brothers closed with In Christ Alone.
During the session we also learned that 80% of the passengers were cruising with In Touch for the first time and countries such as Barbados, Papua New Guinea, Netherlands, Germany and Canada were represented! (As well as a few more I wasn’t fast enough to jot down.) For a Gospel Music fan who is accustomed to long nights of multiple groups singing, I really enjoyed how this program had each group sing just one song. The concert flowed from one thing to another – there was always something new on stage!
Conclusion: From the moment I stepped on the ship I just knew adventures lay ahead… The itinerary was perfect, the ship pristine, top notch music and scenery that would take your breath away! The Westerdam couldn’t sail fast enough for me – I was ready to be in Alaska!
Have you read all my posts about the Alaska Cruise? You can find more below!
Where we left from – A Day In Seattle
Saturday – you just read it!
Sunday – The Tale of the Whale