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Holland America Caribbean Cruise – A Life-Changing Experience

Written by Amanda Rios.

Hi, I am Amanda Rios a Seventh grader from Seneca Middle School Clinton Township, Michigan. I would like to tell you about a life changing experience I had on my first cruise to the Caribbean.

This was my first cruise ever; it was put together by my mom who is a Business Development Manager for Holland America Line. My mom surprised my Grandma and I with the cruise, and we would be going over the Thanksgiving break just 2 weeks away. My Grandma and I were so shocked, and it would just be us girls the 3 generations for a week of fun.

We drove to Palm Beach, Florida where my Grandma’s condo is, and then left from there to go to Ft. Lauderdale November 26, 2005 to set sail on the Zuiderdam.

Our first day on the ship was awesome we got to settle in and explore the ship, and the neat experience before we left was my first Lifeboat Drill. Then to my surprise we were moving and I didn’t know we even left the dock. This evening we were entertained by shows and meals, and then to bed we go. It was exciting to go to sleep because as I woke up we were at our first Island Half Moon Cay. Holland America Line’s Private Island.

On Half Moon Cay I went to my first shore excursion this was to snorkel with the stingrays in Sting Ray Lagoon. The staff set me up with a wet suit and snorkel equipment. I was ready to get in the water! I saw many sea creatures’ lots of stingrays, a Sea Turtle, a conch, starfish and many tropical fish. I don’t believe I would of ever gotten into the water but I felt safe because I was in a Lagoon. Before this experience I would never go into the ocean or in anysaltwater area where there could be a shark or some sea life that could harm me. I felt ok, and ready to venture to the other side of the Island where my mom and I went horseback riding on land and in the sea. This was an amazing excursion and so much fun with the horses and the feeling that you had while in the water with them. Now back to the ship we go, we had a wonderful dinner and time together with my family and the great entertainment. Tomorrow we have a day at sea with allot of programs planned with the teen club.

The excursion today was to go kayaking and snorkeling in the Mangrove Lagoon, STT. Here my mom and I got our two passenger kayak and snorkel gear and we were off to see the wonderful scenery and explore. Our guide gave a wonderful presentation where we learned about the restoration of the Mangrove and that it was being saved. Within an hour of our trip we got out of our kayaks and got to snorkel in a juvenile lagoon with many tropical fish, jellyfish, and most of all Barry the 3 foot Barracuda. I was getting to a point now of feeling really comfortable about the ocean. Barry swooped by me and let me get a photograph of him. It was fun.

It was time to go back to the ship and pick up Grandma for our excursion to St. John Island on a 4-½ tour of the gorgeous beaches and views of St. John left a lasting impression and great memories with Grandma and this trip here.

Back now to the ship as we depart for are next port of call Roadtown, Tortola.

Tortola is where my first snorkel experience was in deep water no Lagoon no nets just the big sea. I cannot believe I jumped off the back of the boat in 45 feet of water. To my surprise I could see the bottom. Pretty cool got my mom and off we go with our underwater camera in tow. Here we saw a sea turtle and lots of gorgeous reefs with tropical fish and coral. I felt so comfortable in the water I was even diving down to get closer pictures of some of the neat life below me. Didn’t want this excursion to end, I got back into the boat and told my mom I would now take diving lessons. What a switch from just 4 days ago, my feeling of the ocean. My mom and I got back in time to shop a bit and get on the ship to set sail for again another wonderful sea day. Cannot forget tonight and our wonderful barbecue on the outside deck and the great show that we had front row seats for and some memorable time with Grandma at the midnight buffet.

Our last port of call will be the most memorable. Nassau, Bahamas where I Amanda Rios and my mom swam with the sharks. We left the Zuiderdam for a ten-minute van ride to a smaller boat that took us to Stuart Cove. Here we got our snorkel gear and left for a 10 minute boat ride to a location where we were to snorkel. We all thought we would see some sharks but only saw tropical fish and a plane wreck. Oh, let’s not forget the divers and the submarine below us. When we got back on the boat we asked why we didn’t see any sharks. The guide told us we had another area to go to. My heart stopped as the boat slowed down my mom turned around to look into the water and she screamed “These are not baby’s these are large and they are here now”! As the crew put the chum down in the water they explained the rules and put out two ropes in the water and told us to climb off the boat and hang on. My mom was the second to go and yelled at me to come on. Wow, here I go. We are now 15 feet from the boat and 20 feet from 20-30 sharks that are 8-12 feet in length. They are going at the chum box but not at us. My mom was freaking out and I had to remind her of the rule not to thrash in the water. She calmed a bit when I said to her “You want me to be the one that is the chum”. It was incredible; I will never in my whole life forget this opportunity I had. We got back to the ship and at dinner are table partners heard the whole story as they did the last 5 nights and one of the ladies said, “This trip was a Life Changing experience for you, Amanda”. She was absolutely right. I didn’t want this trip to end, but it did and what stories I have to tell and what a learning experience I had.

I want to take this time to thank my Mom and Grandma and Holland America Line for the opportunities I had.

I would like everyone to know that you may fear something one day and love it another just dive right into whatever you might be afraid of and have fun!

Amanda Rios
7th Grade
Clinton Township, Michigan