7 Days Sandy Beaches Cruises

This past week, we took an adventure with my Brother-in-law and his girlfriend on the Nieuw Amersterdam, a Holland America ship, as a private charter through Sandy Beaches Cruises. Since I’ve worked for Princess, we have not been back out to sea and this was an excellent way to go about getting our sea legs back. Seven days in the Caribbean with three ports and more bands and musicians that I can count on my fingers and toes. I was grateful to be a part of the experience.

Watching our family on thier first voyage was a treat and a true pleasure. Lucky for us everyone seemed to adapt to the ship life style pretty quickly and by day two knew their way around bow to stern, port to starbird. No situations of sea sickness or stir craziness being stuck on board.

Musical acts featured through Star Vista Entertainment included many groups we’ve enjoyed watching over the years during our travels to Austin, Nashville and New Orleans, Marcia Ball, The Mavericks, Carolyn Wonderland, Shinyribs (who reminds me of our Put-in-Bay friend, Mike Mad Dog Adams), Red Youg, Marc Broussard, The McCrary Sisters, The California Honeycrops, Seth Walker, Jonnell Mosser, Lee Roy Parnell, and a few new to me groups like Brennen Leigh, Jon Cleary, Reverend Peyton and Mike Zito. The headlining band, Delbert McLinton, unfortunately due to health reasons had to pull out of the cruise, but sent plenty of other great acts to ensure guests had alot of entertainment to choose from. To my great surprise, the Band of Heathens and the War & Treaty were welcome additions and recent discoveries thanks to programs like CBS Sunday Mornings.

On the first day, after finding our life boat (number 12) and watching a movie about safety during an emergency, we found the Lido deck with the midship pool, New York Pizza, the Dive-In hamburger/hot dog bar and of course the main buffet. (This week we will not be eating any of that junk food as we go back to our pescatarian mediterranean diets.)

We hit the aft pool for the sail away party, and it waws nothing like our previous life at sea. No line dances created by cruise staff, no jewelery expert trying to sell jewels, no art gallery expert trying to sell us a painting from Park West, just some spa girls standing by their entrance trying to get you to by a package and the bartenders selling drink packages. Nothing invasive, just making sure we were aware of what was available.

We ate in the dining room on three separate occasions. This is included in the price of the cruise, along with the buffet and snack bars. Pretty much a three course meal with a variety of options depending on the meal. There were several crusie ship classics that I remember eating during my crew years. Lasagna, Rigatoni with Sausage, Barramundi (a mild white fish), smoked pepercorn crusted duck breast, French Onion Soup, Eggplant Parmesean, you get the drift. Comfort food, and also a few healther choices for those folks looking to actually keep their figures the same while away from home. I did try to pick my battles wisely and not eat dessert every day.

On board the Holland America Ships, they also offer several up-charged dining experinces. These are also three course meal experiences, plus optional “sides”. In one, the Pinnacle Grill, our waiter informed us that if we wanted an additional starter or main, we would pay another upcharge at $7 per item requested. (This was not our experience on Princess, so I was a bit shocked when he informed us of this.) I didn’t need anything else outside of my appetizer, which wasn’t memorable, or the scallops that were my main course. Overall, the meal was pleasureable and I’d say worth trying if you want an affordable steakhouse experience that isn’t on land. Our second out of pocket dining experience was on the third sea day at their Asian/Thai inspired restaurant called Tamarind. (Side bar, I love to eat Tamarind and drink it as a soda.) I loved this entire experience. Loads of vegetarian and tofu options, plus my favorite style of cooking is Thai, especially their spicey curries. We ate Chinese style ribs, sushi, Tom Ka Gai coconut soup, Dan Dan Noodles (with tofu), oyster mushrooms, and Jake had Cashew Baramundi in Red Thai curry. We were in a hurry to get to some other music, and our waitress worked the flow as best she could. Totally worth the up charge and we all decided we would have gone back if the crusie were a few days longer.

From an entertainment perspective, we ran from the front (bow) to the back (aft) of the ship about every 60 minutes to hear someone else trying to also hit all the smaller venues on deck 2 along the way. There was no way we could see all of the entertainers. I “think” that’s a good problem… except I know I missed some great musicians along the way.

Sandy Beaches Blues Cruise

Overview of events we attended January 15-22, 2023

Embarkation day:

Sail away party – aft pool (covered) open deck

9pm Marsha Ball – Mainstage Theater

Great set great band… will not miss her (I hope)

11pm Mavericks when the band started, the microphones didn’t work in the PA when they came out… and then the volume was way too loud.

Sea day:

Mike Lito, aft pool, classic Texas blues rock and a couple cool covers of Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin

Nice voice & playing- covered In the Presence of the Lord & A Zep tune.

Red Young on piano in the Crews Nest deck 11 bar

The War & Treaty – who knew this couple was from Albion. Great soulful r&b compositions and passionate singing.

Shinyribs – this guy is alot like our Put-In-Bay friend, Mike Mad Dog Adams, tells funny stories, sings quirky melodies and is an over all fun good time experience.

Open jam – Every night, late night, some of the musicians showed up for a jam session inside the Crows Nest.

Day 3 Costa Maya

Ashore to Solumar beach restaurant- throw back fish by the sea from our old cruising days.

Marsha Ball – Second time in the Mainstage Theater seeing her and equally as fun. Wish the sound engineer could have found the frequency squeeling in her monitors. It was annoying for us in the audience, I can only imagine what she thought.

Band of Heathens – Pool deck aft, wow, just wow. Great harmonies, great lead singing by both guys with very different vocal tonalities. Highly recommend their album and their music.

Carolyn Wonderland – Her name was on the marquis in Austin every time we visited and I know why. Her guitar playing is akin to Stevie Ray and her voice is alot like Janis. Soulful blues rock and an enjoyable listening experience. If I am ever back in Austin, I will not miss seeing her.

Day 4 Cozumel

Mavericks – by the aft no pool for sail away. Packed house with loads of singing along and dancing happening. Super fun Latino influenced rock, if you don’t know them, you should. (We couldn’t hear Eddie’s guitar in the mix on any of the solos.)

Mcrary Sisters in the Main Stage theater, again, they were great but the sound was just way too loud and had to go back to the room. Even with my ear plugs in, my ears were ringing.

Asleep at the Wheel – we watched the live broadcast feed in the stateroom, after four days of running, I was just too tired and needed to put up my feet.

Day 5 sea day

John Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, New Orleans piano and a tight freakin band. Again with the sound engineer, WTF with the high end and the ringing kick drum and monitor feedback, every performance, all week long. The Mainstage Theater sound was not up to the snuff for the performers. 

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Funny as it’s a three piece with only guitar for melody…. He uses his thumb to play the bass… only one note there, but no loops. His wife plays washboard and along with the drummer they sing the back ups. Pretty folk-country, funny and quirky.

McCarthy sisters – Gospel R&B vocal quartet, one of their siblings passed and so they are now using her daugther as a replacement voice. Loveyly blended harmonies and inspirational versions of Amazing Grace and other classic songs.

Songwriter session private performance for VIP guests in the Main Stage Theater (with a free glass of wine)

Songwriters included, Gary Nicholson, James Pennybaker, Lee Roy Parnell, Adam Hood. These guys all have a very country blues sound akin to Texas roots music, enjoyed hearing their stories of writing with, knowing and meeting Delbert.

Sea Day 6

Raoul Malo of the Mavericks VIP solo acoustic performance. He sang all kinds of old crooner songs including Stardust, La Vie En Rose,

Friends of Delbert Keepers of the Flame – group of the entertainers with Delberts band backing them all singing a variety of his songs, featured Mike Zito, Leeroy Parnell, Jimmy Hall, Jonell Mosser, and a few others.

Songwriters Session with Jon Cleary, Lee Roy Parnell and Adam Hood

Another set of Carolyn Wonderland by the pool.

Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private Bahamas Island

Last night party with the Mavericks and friends playing a variety of music and featuring many of the musicians on board. A raucous event that really was disorganized, but fun to hear.

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