Just as last year when we were on ms Noordam, there was a giant queue for the cable car to go up to Thira. Last year we hiked up and down the ridge. A pretty strenuous climb. You also have to be very careful because you share the path with herds of donkeys transporting the tourists up. I remember the moment when a donkey stepped on my foot, which wasn’t very pleasant. This year we didn’t go up. We wanted to visit the volcanic islands in the middle of the Santorini caldera. There was no shore excursion from Holland America going there, so we had pre-booked with a local company: Pelican Travel Services. We had some spare time between arriving by tender and sailing to the volcano. We had a drink in the port at the foot of the hill. At 11 a.m., we boarded the Albatross and sailed to the island Nea Kameni.
There are seven craters on the island, one of which is still active. Part of the earth you are walking on is just a little over 60 years old, formed by the last eruption. Hot fumes are still coming out of some holes in the crater.
Once we were on top we had a marvelous view over the whole caldera. The guide gave us some free time to look around and check out the craters. We could stay as long as we wanted, but we had to be back at the pier in 25 minutes or the Albatross would sail away. Oh, by the way: walking down takes about 25 minutes. So we had hardly any free time before rushing down. You don’t want to miss the boat. We took some hasty pictures on the way down and arrived at the Albatross in time.
We were in time, but most of the others were still climbing down. So we waited for over 20 minutes before sailing away. I wish we had spent these 20 minutes at the crater instead of waiting on the ship. Unfortunately we were too obedient I guess. After visiting the crater, we sailed to the hot springs on the smaller island Palea Kameni. You could dive from the boat and swim about 50 meters into the “cold” water to the hot springs. The water there is brownish in color because of the sulfur and is really much warmer than the blue water. They say that the mud has healing powers. We’ll see.
At 3 p.m., we were back at the pier and ready to go to the Nieuw Amsterdam by tender. All in all, it was a very nice experience to visit the islands. Especially if you have been to Santorini before. It beats going up to Thira again. But this excursion was a bit too much “hurry up and wait.” I would recommend that Holland America add this excursion to their collection. Then you can leave from the ship without transferring at the port. Also take more time, because three hours is not enough to fully enjoy the magnificent sites. You can easily spend four to five hours. But even though it was a bit of a hasty experience, we wouldn’t have missed this. It was great to be on an active volcano and swim in the hot springs.
Back on the ship and after showering the salt and sulfur off our skin and hair, we relaxed again with the usual recipe. The kids in the Lido pool, the parents in the Crows Nest sipping piña coladas. Sailing out of the Santorini caldera was beautiful again. They opened the forward bow on “our” deck 5 again — the best spot on the ship. After dinner we went to see the Comedian Tom Sutton. He had a bit of a slow start, but after a while he was absolutely hilarious. Later that evening they had karaoke in the Queens Lounge. A chance to sing together with Shanty and the HALCats. Kim and Rhodé where the first ones to perform. Together with their friends Ella and Kayla, they sang ABBA’s Dancing Queen. Not even that bad.
Later that evening the chefs presented their famous desert extravaganza that included huge pies and delicious pastries. The event was hosted by Holland America’s Master Chef Rudy Sodamin himself. He is ultimately responsible for the quality of the food on all HAL ships and we must say that he does an excellent job!