National Geographic: Civilized Denmark

Original Publish Date: July 1998

Originally published in National Geographic

Denmark is a little land of five and a quarter million souls, most of them Andersens, Hansens, Jensens, or Petersens, with a few Madsens Jacobsens, and Mortensens and Rasmussens thrown in for variety, who live on a pleasant green peninsula and two large islands and many tiny ones north of Germany, between the North Sea and the Baltic, a major supplier of ham and cheese and ceramics, a nation of irreligious Lutherans, a democratic society prickly to wealth and privilege and the home of a royal line that goes back to A.D. 935. The peninsula is Jutland; the two islands are Zealand, which includes Copenhagen, and Fyn. A handsome and civilized country, its only wilderness the sea.

The entire country is a little smaller than Lake Michigan, and if it were slipped in there, between Wisconsin and Michigan, it would not be such a bad fit culturally. The same dark humor prevails as in the Midwest, the same stoicism and gentility. It would be a shock to land in a Great Lake, but the Danes would study the situation and work out the best deal they could, keeping their queen and flag, their chirpy language, their generous health and unemployment benefits, their 37-hour work-week, their five weeks of annual vacation plus assorted holidays, their nine political parties (Social Democrats on the left, Radikale in the center, Venstre, or Left, on the right). They might ban the so-called Danish pastry too gooey). They would make fun of everything American and lambaste our foreign policy. They would see themselves, in every way, as the beautiful swan trapped in the realm of ducks.

Life in Denmark is divided into two parts, the Golden Summer and the Great Murk, which extends from late fall to mid-spring. The months of youth and beauty, when the sky is light until almost 11 p.m. and Danes take to the beaches, eat in their gardens, soak up the sun, feel sleek and smart, and the other months, when they go to and from work in the dark and the rain and just try to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not get too glum.

I used to spend Christmases in Denmark, back when I had connections there, and I remember the night flight over the Atlantic, the sun rising to reveal the solid cloud bank below, the descent through cloud to Copenhagen Airport, like coal miners going down into the hole, the pilot putting the wheels down and the ground still not visible, and then, suddenly, red-tile roofs of houses in the mist below, deep green meadows, tree lines, rain trickling across the window, and the wheels bump on the runway, and you’re in Denmark, in a gloom so dense you feel it in your skull.

You disembark onto a shopping concourse, and past the mink coats and crystal a sign points you to customs. You parade through, a little surprised at how casually the Danish police glance at your passport. (The man who waves you in may be the last uniform you’ll see for a while, Danes being a self-policing people who prefer that authority be inconspicuous.) You collect your bags, and off to the cabstand, the air gray, drizzly, with a tang of salt and smoke.

The cab races off through Amager, past the soccer fields and into the streets of the city, the identical brown-brick apartment buildings, the mustard stucco houses, passing a stream of bicyclists pedaling solemnly to work in their bright red or yellow slickers. Danish jumps out at you from signs, lots of cognates here: A drugstore is an apotek (remember apothecary), and a merchant is a handler—a boghandler sells books, a vinhandler wine—a restaurant is a restaurant, and you realize that you won’t starve here or get lost.

Sober-faced Danes queue at the bus stop in the rain, which they do not flinch at, and it dawns on you that a daylong rain is not unusual, this is a North Atlantic winter. The sun won’t shine tomorrow, maybe not the next day. You have arrived in a land where Christmas means more than in, say, Barbados; it is the last outpost on the long grim trek toward spring. Dark gray sky at noon, dull brown brick all around, dead trees, broken glass in the gutter, and you, sorry you, your head like a sponge full of mud. At first you think it’s jet lag, and then you realize that everyone else feels this way too.

Welcome to the birthplace of existentialism.

The taxi brings you over the canal and into the heart of Copenhagen, the grand old city that has resisted freeway and high-rise in defense of its narrow, twisting brick streets from medieval times, its skyline of green church steeples, its pretty squares and fountains. Past the Christiansborg Castle where parliament sits, past the big department store, Magasin, and the Royal Theater hulking on Kongens Nytorv, a plaza faced by stately old piles, and up a narrow street called Bredgade (Broad Street), past the queen’s palace at Amalienborg, and up to Østerbro, where I once lived, in a big echoey belle epoque apartment on Trondhjemsgade. The dining room had a 14-foot ceiling with plaster moldings, and when I sat in it, writing, it felt as if I were drafting the Treaty of Ghent.

We celebrated Juleaften there every December 24. My stepchildren and I trudged through the late afternoon mists to Trinitatis Kirke, where little Soren Kierkegaard attended confirmation class, the church the Round Tower is attached to. It was packed to the rafters Christmas Eve with shiny children and their mors and fars and mormors and morfars and farmors and farfars. We sang the old Danish carols and heard a sermon about our obligations to the Third World and hiked home to our pork roast and caramelized potatoes, and the oldest boy lit the candles on the tree in the dining room and threw the doors open, and we looked at it and gasped—every year the same gasp—and ran hand in hand through the dark rooms singing, “Nu er det jul igen,” and opened our gifts.

The 25th is an afterthought, a quiet day for recuperation; Christmas Eve is the great night of the year. And on Nytarsaften, the 31st, you sit down at 6 p.m., along with everyone else in Denmark, and watch Queen Margrethe deliver her annual homily to the people. It lasts about 12 minutes and ends with her greetings to the people of Greenland and the Faroe Islands and to the people who work on the sea. “Heartfelt greetings from the prince and me,” she says, beaming. “God bless Denmark.” And then everybody proceeds to get a little drunk, or maybe a lot. At midnight Danish television plays the romantic national anthem, and you stand, champagne in hand, and sing it, reading the words off the screen. At 2 a.m., to clear your head, you go for a walk. Blocks and blocks of five-story brick houses; gray, white, cream, blue, gold candles flickering in the casement windows; the steep red- or black-tile roofs, the forest of chimneys, dormers in the garrets; and you feel the romance of Copenhagen, as if walking into an old painting, the enchantment of darkness and rain and the warm hearth that you eventually will walk back to.

I had seen enough Danish Decembers to hold me for a while, so I flew over last year in June for a week of summer. I looked around Århus, the handsome harbor city with a forest next to its downtown, and had dinner with Brian, a poet friend and iconoclast who loves to drink whiskey and disparage the monarchy and the church. “Brian is one of those English names—Tommy, Johnny, Brian—that working-class parents favored after the war,” he said. “It’s a ruffian’s name. If there was a Brian in a class, the teacher would smack him on the first day and get it out of the way.”

I drove up to Skagen, where the turn-of-the-century artists Michael and Anna Ancher add P. S. Krøyer painted fishermen and garden parties and ladies in white strolling along a beach under the midnight sun. I took the train to Fyn for Midsummer Eve. I visited Gilleleje, the vacation village on the north coast of Zealand from which, to escape the Germans in October 1943, Danish Jews were smuggled by fishing boat over the sound to Sweden. I swam in the sea there with friends, which I wasn’t going to do, being skittish about nudity and knowing how cold the water is, until my friends said, “Of course, you don’t have to if you’d rather not,” and then, of course, I had to.

And I hiked around Copenhagen, along earthworks and remains of moats and along the pier where cruise ships tie up, to the statue of the Little Mermaid, sitting on her rock, looking small and forlorn, and beyond her to the magnificent fountain of Gefion, the goddess at the plow, lashing her oxen, water spraying from their nostrils, and great plumes arching up from the plowshare. I sat at outdoor cafés in Grabrodretory and Kultorvet and spoke my pitiful rusty Danish to waiters and ate my herring and studied the passersby. Danes are good to watch. They keep a stolid public expression, like Buster Keaton, and are masters of the raised eyebrow. Let a waiter drop a tray of dishes and looks of deadpan amusement flicker on every face, including the waiter’s. I step into a bakery, and when the girl behind the counter says, “Goddag,” I say, “Goddag, jeg vii Berne ha’ to line stykke boiler,” and her left brow lifts and she says, “Oh, you want two of these buns?” “Ja, tak,” I say. “You speak Danish well,” she says. “Where in America are you from?”

I am stopped by a young woman in jeans and a cutoff top who asks where to catch the train to Deer Park. A major thrill for me, to be asked for directions by a Dane, in Danish, and I tell her in Danish where the S-train station is, and add, “And thank you for your navel.” It is a very handsome navel. She covers it in mock modesty and murmurs, “It was a gift from my mother.”

In a cafe near Kultorvet, I used to sit every week and drink coffee with Fradley Garner, an emigre who speaks Danish with a New York accent to his grandchildren. “No matter how much you like Denmark, it’s good to get together with someone who knows who Joe DiMaggio is,” he told me once.

In another café I would have lunch with my friend Elly Petersen, a tall, aristocratic lady of 74 when I met her on my first trip there in 1985 and she told me about her flaming youth, dancing to American jazz in the clubs of Norrebro. We sometimes had oysters and champagne, what she called “the Karen Blixen lunch,” but usually we ordered the classic: herring on rye bread with a shot of aquavit, and then another shot, followed by a fish fillet with a glass of beer, and then a slice of roast pork with the rind on, and a slab of blue cheese for dessert, and coffee.

Elly had met Victor Borge, she said, in 1937 in a dance hall called Zigeunerhallen on Jagtvej in Nørrebro when he was still Borge Rosenbaum and played piano in a jazz trio. Once she had danced with him. “Really,” she said. “I did.” Rosenbaum was a Jew and wrote satiric songs about the Nazis and, on the verge of arrest in 1940, he caught a boat to Sweden, Elly told me. And a few months later he snuck back home to visit his mother, who was dying. He sat by her bed and told her a sweet lie; he said, “Mama, I’m going to Hollywood and get into the movies, and when I do, I’ll send for you, and we’ll live in California in a big house with a swimming pool.” And she said, “Borge, don’t let it go to your head.”

Back when I knew Elly, I aspired in a modest way to dress, smell, walk, and speak Danish, and she corrected my pronunciation, so I would sound more like the queen, less like a yahoo. I remember exactly when my Danish reached its high-water mark: It was late one night after a one-month total-immersion course at Askov Folk High School, in the corn belt of Jutland, when a fellow student and I sat in a tavern jabbering away, and after 15 minutes or so he suddenly stopped and said, “Hvor kommer du fra?” and I said, “Minnesota, naturligvis,” and he laughed and said, “leg er en Texan.” Born and bred in Dallas, but he had a good accent. We continued, in Danish, talking about what we loved about Denmark—the white stone churches, the golden barley fields, the shadowy beech forests, the good humor of daily life, the calmness of the people, their social grace, their eternal, untiring tolerance.

It is—let’s be frank here—almost everyone’s idea of the World’s Most Nearly Perfect Nation: a clean, peaceful, well-regulated society populated by prosperous (but not greedy or rapacious), tolerant (but principled), law-abiding (but humorous), computer-literate, bi- or trilingual people who all vote in elections and are as witty as Victor Borge and have no hang-ups about sex and reside in sunny, energy-efficient homes, the decor running toward light woods and primary colors, who can discuss (in excellent English) the infrastructure needs of developing countries or the Danishness of Woody Allen while serving perfectly poached salmon off handsome earthenware, copies of which are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Despite Denmark’s manifest virtues, Danes never talk about how proud they are to be Danes. This would sound weird in Danish and violate their pride of modesty. When Danes talk to foreigners about Denmark, they always begin by commenting on its tininess, its unimportance, the difficulty of its language, the general small-mindedness and narcissism and self-indulgence of their countrymen, the high taxes—52 percent is the average income tax rate, and there’s a 25 percent sales tax. No Dane would look you in the eye and say, “Denmark is a great country.” You are supposed to figure this out for yourself.

It is the land of the silk safety net, where almost half the national budget goes toward smoothing out life’s inequalities, and there is plenty of money for schools, day care, retraining programs, job seminars—Danes love seminars: Three days at a study center hearing about waste management is almost as good as a ski trip. It is a culture bombarded by English, in advertising, pop music, movies, the Internet, all the chic media, and despite all the English that Danish absorbs—there is no Danish Academy to defend against it—old dialects persist in Jutland that can barely be understood by Copenhageners. It is the land where, as the saying goes, “Few have too much and fewer have too little,” and an American is struck by the sweet egalitarianism that prevails, where the lowliest clerk gives you a level gaze, where Sir and Madame have disappeared from common usage, even Mr. and Mrs., and children address teachers by their first names. It’s a nation of recyclers—about 55 percent of Danish garbage gets made into something new—and no nuclear power plants: The Danes prefer windmills. It’s a nation of tireless planners. Trains run on time. Things operate well in general. Only 2 percent of the national budget goes to police and prisons and courts, and 3 percent to defense. It is a famously peace-loving country, whose troops, part of the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, engaged Serbian militia in a firefight in April 1994, the first official Danish act of war since 1864.

Such a nation of overachievers—a brochure from the Ministry of Business and Industry says, “Denmark is one of the world’s cleanest and most organized countries, with virtually no pollution, crime, or poverty. Denmark is the most corruption-free society in the Northern Hemisphere.” So, of course, my heart lifts at any sighting of Danish sleaze: skinhead graffiti on buildings (“Foreigners Out of Denmark!”), busted beer bottles in the gutters, drunken teenagers slumped in the park.

Last summer in Odense, two blocks from the Hans Christian Andersen birthplace museum, my car was broken into and a billfold stolen; around the corner from the crime scene was a wooded area littered with garbage, where gaunt figures sat shooting up heroin. I enjoyed telling Danish friends about this for days afterward. When they expressed chagrin, I said, “Hey. No problem. We have crime in America too.”

Nonetheless, it is an orderly land. You drive through a Danish town, it comes to an end in a stone wall, and on the other side is a field of barley, a nice clean line: town here, country there. The stores close at six, even earlier on Saturday, and on Sunday you window-shop; an American has to learn that sometimes you just plain can’t have it. It is not a nation of jaywalkers. People stand on the curb and wait for the red light to change, even if it’s 2 a.m, and there’s not a car in sight. The red light is part of the system: You cross against it, and you are showing disdain for your countrymen. (I feel sheepish waiting for the red light, so I cross, and several times I discovered that Danish drivers don’t slow down for jaywalkers. They don’t see you in the crosswalk because you’re not supposed to be there.) Danes don’t think of themselves as a waiting-at-2-a.m.-for-the-green-light people—that’s how they see Swedes and Germans. Danes see themselves as a jazzy people, improvisers, more free spirited than Swedes, but the truth is (though one should not say it) that Danes are very much like Germans and Swedes. Orderliness is a main selling point.

Denmark has few natural resources, limited manufacturing capability; its future in Europe will be as a broker, banker, and distributor of goods. You send your widgets by container ship to Copenhagen, and these bright, young, English-speaking, utterly honest, highly disciplined people will get your widgets around to Scandinavia, the Baltic States, and Russia. Airports, seaports, highways, and rail lines are ultramodern and well-maintained. There is a presumption of punctuality here. An American train leaves the station if all the members of the Departure Committee can find no reason for it to wait; the Danish train leaves the station unless someone throws himself across the track and he happens to be someone they like.

Daily life turns on predictability. If the timetable says that the train leaves Klampenborg at 7:06 and arrives at Østerport Station at 7:27, those times are reliable, and if you invite Jens and Camilla for dinner at 7:30, that’s exactly when they’ll knock on your door, not two minutes later. And when you open the door, they will expect that you too have managed your time and are not racing around snatching up dirty socks, that dinner is under control, the candles lit, the wine chilling, the hosts prepared to be congenial.

To Danes this is a sensible way of life, and to an American it seems marvelous at first, and then it strikes you as stifling. Weird, even. You meet Danes who have their lives planned in quite some detail for years in advance and derive comfort from this. You see how stability is cherished. You meet an old married couple, both teachers, who keep their finances separate, and the wife says, “I would love to visit America next summer. Ole is going, but I can’t afford it.” To an American, this is perverse. They love each other. Why can’t Ole just pay her way? Because that is not how those two do things, that’s why.

A few years ago, walking along Store Kongensgade in Copenhagen before Christmas, I passed a building gutted for renovation and looked in the cellar window, and there, on a dirt floor, surrounded by piles of lumber, were three long tables covered with white cloths and set for a meal, a Christmas centerpiece on each table, with candles and little Danish flags, and at each place setting, silverware, a glass for aquavit, a glass for beer, a china plate, a napkin. The construction workers were about to enjoy their traditional Christmas lunch, with proper china and silver, with the herring and aquavit, the requisite toasts and speeches, and by the time the apple fritters were served, they’d be in a mood to sing Christmas songs, and you knew exactly which ones they’d sing.

I told a Danish friend, “If American workers held a Christmas party, they would go to a restaurant.” And she said, “Why should they be ashamed of where they work?”

The orderliness of the society doesn’t mean that Danish lives are less messy or lonely or angst-ridden than yours or mine, and no Dane would tell you so. You can hear plenty about bitter family feuds and the sorrows of alcoholism and about aimless, overindulged young people working the system to make a cushy life for themselves and perfectly sensible people who went off one day and killed themselves. An orderly society can’t exempt its members from the hazards of life.

But there is a sense of entitlement and security that Danes grow up with and Americans don’t. Certain things are yours by virtue of citizenship, and everyone knows what they are, they’re the same for everyone, and you shouldn’t feel bad for taking what you’re entitled to, you’re as good as anyone else. A woman in Florsholm, who had lived in California as a child, told me: “I miss people I knew in America, how open and friendly they were, but it’s better to have a safety net under you. You might not have a chance to do big things, but nothing so bad will happen to you.” The rules of the welfare system are clear to everyone, the benefits you get if you lose your job, the steps you take to get a new one; and the orderliness of the system makes it possible for the country to weather high unemployment and social unrest without a sense of crisis.

There is social unrest in the World’s Cleanest and Most Organized Country—which is, to an American, certainly interesting, considering how Danes once lectured us about racial intolerance, but never mind that. Now you hear them discuss the country’s troubles with its Yugoslavian and Turkish guest workers, who came 30 years ago when the country needed cheap labor, and today the guest workers’ children, Danish-born, Danish-speaking, Muslim, are discriminated against because they have the wrong last names. Protest demonstrations flare up in the Muslim ghettos of Ishøj, and right-wing politicians have seized on the issue. But I never heard the problem described as intractable: Everybody seemed to think it would get worked out eventually.

Denmark is the stable society it is because it is productive and prosperous, and because Danes get a similar start in life, whether you grow up in the mansions of Hellerup or the tenements of Norrebro. At birth you become a member of the Lutheran Church. (You can petition to get out, but it’s no simple matter.) You go to similar day care centers, toddle off to the same kindergartens, then to a folkeskole for grades one to nine, where, in the fourth grade, you begin the serious study of English (in seventh, German or French). There isn’t Public School 10 for the poor and St. Cuthbert’s-on-the-Hill for the mill owner’s children; everybody goes down the same road. In the spring of ninth grade you reach the great divide and find out if you go to gymnasium or a technical school or a business school for late bloomers. Gymnasium is for the serious student, no troublemakers, no slackers, no goofballs. About 40 percent wind up there. At the same time the state starts paying you a stipend of up to 1,800 kroner a month ($260), depending on your parents’ income. It’s meant to even up the odds a little more.

After three years of gymnasium you take the test that pretty much decides your career, the studenter exam. Admission to various colleges and professional schools is by bidding, high studenter scores get first dibs. It takes a very high score to get into the humanities, medicine, dentistry, or psychology—a lesser score to major in math or physics or chemistry or theology. On the other hand, to become a midwife (in Danish, “earth mother”) takes a very high score, it being a popular career. So the woman in blue scrubs who tells your wife to take a deep breath and push hard may be a good deal brighter than the guy in the pulpit who explains the parable of the vineyard.

My last day in Denmark I took the Inter-City Express from Copenhagen to the island of Fyn for Midsummer Eve at the house of old friends, a teacher and his wife, a writer. The train no longer switches onto a ferry for the trip across the Great Belt; it slips into a tunnel and races under the sea and up to an island and over a bridge, the longest rail-auto bridge in Europe, 6.6 kilometers long, one of a series of bridge and tunnel links that will knit Denmark together and tie the country to Sweden. My friends, Britt and Torben, met me at the station, and we drove south to their house. I said I missed the train-ferry, and they said they had mixed feelings about it. “But then we Danes love to hold two opposing views at the same time,” said Britt. “That’s probably why there was no referendum on the bridges, because the people might have voted against them, out of sentiment, even though everyone knows they’re necessary. We can’t think of ourselves as an island anymore. But we still do.”

The car wheeled south, through the rolling paradise of Fyn, and we talked about the Danish love of paradox—the tendency to strive to get ahead and to deny that you are doing any such thing. To belong to the Lutheran Church and yet never attend except at Christmas. (“Actually,” said Britt, “attendance is up a little. You see 14-year-olds coming in to be baptized, sometimes over their parents’ objections. Anyway, there are more coming in than going out.”) The paradox of a highly secular society—no Dane running for office need make any public show of religious faith whatsoever, in fact it would be taken as bad taste—and yet Danes take Easter as a holiday and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Monday, plus three days for Christmas, and Whit Monday, and something called Great Prayer Day in April. “Well, that’s just us,” said Britt.

Danes have belonged to the European Union since 1973 and still, down deep, feel opposed to it, she said. “We are terribly offended by our bureaucrats who go to Brussels to work for the EU and earn more than their counterparts here, fly first-class, live in luxury apartments—at least, we think they’re luxurious. We’re funny that way. If 90 Danes were living the high life in Brussels, or if we thought they were, we might very well vote Denmark out of it.”

Britt and Torben’s house is an 18th-century stone house on the outside, modern on the inside, old casement windows with thermal panes, an antique ship captain’s table with a computer on it, by which Torben exchanges e-mail with me. Shelves full of books, dozens of American novels, Cheever, Updike, Hemingway, Paul Auster. The house looks down a long slope of meadow toward the sea, the island of Langeland in the distance, and the island of Ærø, the name of which I am one of the few living Americans to pronounce almost correctly, they told me. I was so proud, I tried to work Ærø into the conversation all evening. Even if I barely understood what the conversation was about, I said, “Would this also be true on Ærø?”

There were 30 guests milling around in the backyard when I arrived, and a few minutes later we took our seats at two long tables in the backyard. Torben raised his glass and welcomed everyone and said, “Skål. Velkommen.” And we sat down to shrimp salad and poached salmon and lamb and red wine and very good bread.

The dinner included long toasts, to the queen and to America and to one another, and there were songs about the beauty of the Danish landscape and Hans Christian Andersen’s hymn that begins, “In Denmark was I born, there I have a home; there is my root, from there my world begins. O you Danish tongue, you are my mother’s voice, how sweetly you bless my heart.” Every time I looked around, I saw people smiling.

The sky was still aglow at eleven, when we hiked down to the shore where Torben had laid a ten-foot-high tepee of lumber and kindling for the bonfire. His sons trooped down from the house, bearing a life-size straw witch on a pole. She was decked out in a dress and hat and shoes and stockings and riding a broom. “Those are my and your mother’s clothes!” cried Torben in mock dismay. They propped up the pole in the lumber and put a match to the wood, and we sang hymns to Denmark and summer as the blaze licked at the witch’s skirt and she went up in flames.

You could see, up and down the shore, bonfires for miles. Everyone in Denmark seemed to be outdoors, busy banishing evil spirits from the land. When the fire burned down, the boys and men took turns leaping over the embers. We went up to the house for coffee and cake, and I climbed the stairs to bed about the time the sky was turning light again. It was a wonderful party, one of the best. It is hard not to love a country that brings up its people to do this.

The pleasure of running into Stan on Sunday

I stopped in a cafe on Sunday after church to get awakened from a feeling of blessedness and who should I run into but my Anoka High School gym teacher Stan Nelson, who is 99 years old and still talking and making sense. He looked at me and said, “Are you still having trouble with chin-ups and the rope climb?” I was 17 at the time and now I’m 76, and I told him that I’ve managed to stay out of situations that might require me to climb a rope or lift myself up by a horizontal bar, so the answer is, No, it’s no trouble at all.

“You’re looking good,” he said. He’s looking good too, hearty and keen, as if 99 is what he was aiming for all along. “You flunked the physical for football, didn’t you,” he said. I said, “Yes. Heart valve. They fixed it in 2001.” I opened my shirt and showed him the surgical scar on my sternum. He said he didn’t think I would’ve liked football anyway. I agreed with him about that.

It made me happy to see a man of 99 enjoying his life. It puts everything else into perspective, all the mopey poetry I wrote in college, the long single-spaced anguished letters written to friends under the influence of Kafka and Kierkegaard. Self-conscious misery is for the young; old age is the time to cheer up.

I was brought up by people who went through the Great Depression and the war and who told me how hard life could be and I matriculated into prosperous times when I put myself through college working part-time in the scullery and could still have a beer now and then. I’ve been independent ever since. I never confided my problems to anybody; I just let them go unexpressed and eventually they blew away like dry leaves. Or they became quirks. I was lucky. I married well. I got my heart sewn up by a surgeon and now I’m older than most of my aunts and uncles. I went to church and was forgiven and took Communion and now my old gym teacher is pleased to see me.

Minneapolis is near where I grew up on the Mississippi. The city has risen, spread, renovated, beautified itself since I was a boy — the old factories and warehouses are now expensive condos — and it’s lovely to walk around the old hometown, one foot in the past, while looking at the unimaginable present, the enormous towers, the male couples, the young women checking their cellphones, the ordinariness of being among people of color: that didn’t exist back then.

I’m at peace with all of it and a great deal more. The children of my friends are engaged in good works, trying to help people addicted to opioids and heroin whose lives have fallen apart, who live in ragged encampments, desperate families with small children, a scene of wretchedness out of Dickens’s Oliver Twist in the midst of my prospering city. I admire the doers of good works. I worry that they’ll forget to go to the state fair and ride the Ferris wheel in the dark and laugh and enjoy their cheese curds.

Life is good. Power and influence are illusory. Rich people often get lousy health care. Doctors don’t give thorough digital prostate exams to CEOs. Famous people are more likely to die in stupid accidents because their handlers are afraid to say, “Stop. That’s crazy.”

We live in treacherous times but so did Thomas Keillor who survived the five week voyage from Yorkshire in 1774 and my ancestor Prudence Crandall who got booted out of Connecticut in 1831 for admitting young women of color to her school and so she fled to Kansas where she campaigned for women’s suffrage. She was a Methodist. I like to imagine her sitting on a porch in Kansas, writing fierce polemics against male supremacy and the racist killjoys who blight the landscape, and at the same time enjoying the music of meadowlarks and the taste of tomatoes eaten off the vine and the pleasure of shade in the midst of brilliance. To change the world, you must start out by loving it. It’s fine to march but don’t forget to dance. The Lord is gracious. Come unto his gates with thanksgiving. In other words, get over yourself. It isn’t about you. Grab the rope and pull yourself up. Try. Try again.

When I consider how my time is spent

A mockingbird couple has set up housekeeping in a tree in our backyard and the male goes crazy whenever we set foot in his territory, which I guess means that their children have hatched and are at that perilous point in life when you’re about to fly. When we slip out back for supper, he shrieks at us from the corner of the yard, far from the nest, and flies from branch to branch to fence, cursing us, threatening to peck our eyes out. He’s a good father. The mother stays on the nest and he exercises his toxic mockingbird masculinity and yells bloody murder.

It’s been a week of blissful summer weather and so we sit back there evenings, sometimes mornings, especially now that our own fledgling has flown off to summer camp. She tried to hide it but she was eager to leave and we’ve not heard a word from her since. She’s a sociable kid, a busybody, a member of the gang, who loves drama, and life at home as an only child is much too sedate. To be the daughter of a writer means hanging around a silent inert parent who is of less interest than a scarecrow. Camp means swimming, hiking, gardening, camping with a gaggle of equals. There’s no comparison.

Once in a blue moon, she calls. If we text her, she responds with a word or two. I’ve given her several postcards, stamped, addressed to me, which is a joke. The chance of her writing a postcard to her father is zero to minus. She and I hug when she’s home and sometimes she walks over to my laptop and says, “Make me laugh,” so I do. She and I share a keen sense of humor involving bodily functions and I know her vulnerabilities and though she folds her arms and looks very stern, I can make her fall apart. Her mother handles discipline, hygiene, manners, and education, and my department is comedy.

I miss her and at the same time I’m grateful that she finds pleasure elsewhere. Meanwhile, a tiny feathered father is yelling at me to stay away from his kids or else face death.

My love and I sit at a table in the shade of a tree and pick at our summer salads, gorgeous tomatoes and cucumbers, greens, chopped peppers and onions, anointed with oil and vinegar, and we carry on the conversation that is at the heart of any happy marriage. We met thirty years ago, a lunch date, and I was taken by the fact that she was funny and concise and never at a loss for words, which is still true. I am an old man now and she somehow remains 35, same as then. I experience sudden gaps in memory, like walking along a sidewalk and suddenly a ditch appears, when I can’t come up with the word for old-age confusion — dentistry — diminution — sensual — pretension — and have to slip-slide around it, and she ignores this and leads the conversation onto solid ground.

I could go on living like this for a long long time, two people under a tree in a backyard, watched over by a ferocious bird, waiting for our child to call. When she does, often it is only for a minute: we hear girl talk in the background and laughter and then she says, “Can I call you back later?” and we say yes and she’s gone. Life is good. Of course disaster can strike at any time — last week we had supper with a friend who described a visit to a park where she tripped on a curb and had to go to the ER and wound up spending two weeks in the hospital for reconstruction — and I am aware of that though I choose not to discuss it over salads. I am aware of a whole string of beloved relatives and friends who are gone because they were born too early to be able to enjoy the medical advances that would’ve enabled them to live longer. I miss them and I try to live up to their example of fidelity and humor and kindness.

I’m glad we traveled to Portugal in June and I am looking forward to baseball in July and the return of our daughter in August, but this is the good life as I know it, a day of work followed by a conversation with my lover in the shade of the backyard, feasting on salad, and speaking quietly to a fellow father, assuring him that I intend no harm. That’s my goal right now. No harm.

 

 

Life, liberty, dancing, feasting, hugging, and collecting stuff

I have returned from a week in Portugal and a little village where we attended our nephew’s wedding and enjoyed lavish feasting and shameless dancing and people hugging each other left and right. There was liquor involved but mostly it sprang from lack of self-consciousness. Everybody knew each other except for us Americanos; there was nothing to hide. After the wedding, I saw men hugging other men, if you can believe such a thing. The father of the bride hugged the groom and squeezed him hard.

I’m from Minnesota. I associate male hugging with pickpockets. I don’t recall ever hugging or being hugged by another person of the male persuasion. My people shook hands. We were cautious people and didn’t want to be thought “too forward.”

The feast and dance took place at the bride’s parents’ farmhouse and I noticed the great freedom that her father enjoyed in his enormous garage. Several motorcycles in stages of repair, tractor parts, many gizmos and whatchamacallits around in no apparent order. Antique clocks and tools, implements, machine parts, tchotchkes, buckets of miscellaneous bolts and screws. Also a good deal of junk.

All of this was attractive to me. And so when I came back to America and watched the Democratic debates, I was looking for a candidate who would open the door to feasting and dancing and hugging and the basic freedom of owning stuff for which there is no good explanation. I don’t see Biden or Sanders or Warren or Harris as being that candidate. They all stayed behind their lecterns.

And so I come, for the umpteenth time in my life, to realize how irrelevant politics is to happiness.

Nobody wants to hear this, but I’ll say it anyway: the Current Occupant hasn’t changed much. He’s ridden along on a wave of prosperity that began during the Obama years and he’s issued thousands of twitters and scowled and threatened and called people names and he’s shown great cruelty to people who can’t vote, but when it comes right down to it, the daily weather forecast matters far more than anything he does in Washington.

As we descend into the 2020 presidential campaign, the very number 2020 reminding us to seek Clear Sharp Vision, let us agree that the importance of the presidency is greatly exaggerated. The office gets so much attention because journalists are lazy and it’s easier to write about one guy than to, say, spend six months in Iowa and write about American agriculture. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t get into the movies played by Redford and Hoffman by writing about corn and soybeans. But the effect of Watergate on the lives of Americans was less than that of a solar eclipse.

No president can make America great. God is the judge of greatness, and meanwhile the challenge is to educate children, do business, feed and doctor people, preserve farmland and wilderness, deal with the real world, look for the least worst outcome.

The guy who affected my life most was LBJ, whose Vietnam War obsessed me in my 20s and whose Medicare is a lovely benefit in my 70s. In between, there was Nixon whom we liberals loathed for reasons I can’t recall and Gerald Ford who pardoned him and thereby was defeated by the Georgia Sunday school teacher. The movie actor I remember for his affable Irish mug but don’t ask me to write 500 words about Iran-Contra because I can’t and neither can you. Then came the Ivy League Texan and the last of the Arkansas liberals and Dubya who tried so hard to be presidential and then our first Kenyan president and now this New Yawk showman who has the distinction of being the first man elected to the office by being an out-and-out jerk and mooning the media and giving the stinky finger to whoever irks him and yet what has he done other than offend most Americans? Not that much.

Most of the real damage done by presidents falls on distant lands while life in these States keeps chugging along and so when I look at the Democrats in the race and ask whom I favor, I say, “Anybody who doesn’t wear a ducktail and who attends church now and then and doesn’t blather.” We need a new story. And now I’m going to take my wife by the hand and walk down the street and find a café with a table under an umbrella and order salad and an iced tea and enjoy some conversation about the future. That’s where happiness lies, out in front of us.

APHC cruise 2020 logo

The 12th A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION CRUISE

Aboard the ms Veendam
March 18–25, 2020

Letter from Garrison

Itinerary

Talent

Ports

FAQs

Note: Some of you may have heard rumors that U.S. citizens will no longer be able to visit Cuba by the time the ms Veendam sets sail. Please know that at this moment, we are fully planning to keep Cuba on the itinerary, but that we have backup options as well. In the event that the itinerary changes, reservations will not be canceled or refunded.

6/20/2019 UPDATE: Cuba must be removed from our itinerary. U.S. travel to Cuba for tourist activities is now banned by the U.S. government.

Welcome!

Dear Prairie Home Cruisers,

It was a long hard winter in Minnesota, and I am in a mood for warmth and pleasure next winter and that will be The 12th Prairie Home Cruise, a one-week jaunt from Fort Lauderdale with stops at Jamaica, Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, and Key West, sailing March 18, 2020.

All a person needs to get through the blizzards and darkness is a bright light on the horizon — a candle in the window — and so, next winter, I will dream of March 18, the flight to Fort Lauderdale, the surprise at seeing sunshine, green plants, people in shorts and T-shirts.

And then the cruise!!!

Rob Fisher and his 10-piece Coffee Club Orchestra will perform for your dancing pleasure. The amazing jazz singer Nellie McKay is coming, a powerful pianist and ukulelist. Gospel will be represented by Jearlyn Steele. Pat Donohue will join us, as will Dakota Dave Hull, a veteran of early PHC days who is in all-time top form. Robin and Linda Williams are on board. Heather Masse is coming, and Christine DiGiallonardo so Brooklyn will be represented. Maria Jette and Vern Sutton will sing from the piano bench tropical hits such as “Bésame Mucho” and “Perfidia.” Of course our acting company of Sue Scott, Tim Russell, and Fred Newman will be there, and thanks to them, Dusty and Lefty will ride the plains and Guy Noir will scour the back alleys and Mom and Duane and Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian. Rich Dworsky and the Guys All-Star Shoe Band will support all of this and I will be there, as well. Talking about Lake Wobegon, coffee, rhubarb pie, reminiscing about early radio days. Doing poetry. Emceeing the story hours. Writing limericks for guests who win the limerick lottery. And singing with Heather and Christine, Robin and Linda.

If this cruise is as much fun as I expect it to be, maybe we’ll do another. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

Wild nights — Wild nights! Were I with thee
Wild nights at sea! With PHC!
Off to Jamaica! Freely we go!
Peel that banana! Let’s do a show.
Winter, goodbye!
Minnesota, New York!
Hello, Miss McKay
And the Coffee Club Orch.

Keep in touch,
Garrison

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ITINERARY

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TALENT

As on previous cruises, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy music performances, lectures, and nature viewing in multiple locations. We’ll gather at the Mainstage for live A Prairie Home Companion shows followed by dancing with the Coffee Club Orchestra, the Crow’s Nest for early morning singing and late-night dancing, and the Wajang Theater for lectures. Guests can catch live music sets in intimate settings such as the Ocean Bar and bring acoustic instruments to picking sessions at the Explorer’s Lounge. Of course, bird-watching will take place ­­on the decks!

Dan Chouinard

Dan Chouinard is a St. Paul-based honky-tonk pianist, concert soloist and accompanist, street accordionist, sing-along enabler, Italian and French teacher, and bicycling vagabond. He’s been commissioned to write and host a number of live programs blending history, memoir, and music for broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television. He played on a dozen live broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion and served as rehearsal pianist for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan during the making of the 2006 Robert Altman film of the same name.

The Coffee Club Orchestra

The Coffee Club Orchestra sprang into existence in the fall of 1989 when Garrison Keillor asked musical director Rob Fisher to put together a group for his radio show. Chosen for their breadth of experience and their versatility, the Coffee Club musicians delighted public radio listeners with their rambunctious renditions. Rob Fisher and the Coffee Club Orchestra have since appeared on many of New York’s stages, from the plaza at Lincoln Center to City Center’s Encores! series. Their album of Depression-era popular music, Shaking the Blues Away, was released on EMI/Angel in 1992. They can also be heard on Kristin Chenoweth’s debut album, Let Yourself Go.

Christine DiGiallonardo

DiGiallonardo photo

New York-based vocalist Christine DiGiallonardo is at home singing in early-music chamber ensembles as well as jazz and rock bands. She has performed in New York City Center’s Encores! productions of High Button Shoes, Me And My Girl, Brigadoon, The New Yorkers,Annie Get Your Gun, Lady, Be Good!, On Your Toes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Fiorello! She also performs solo and with her sisters, Daniela and Nadia, as The DiGiallonardo Sisters, and her voice can be heard on commercial jingles for Aquafresh, Mr. Clean, Playtex, and Febreze. 

Pat Donohue

Donohue photo

Grammy-winning fingerpicker and songwriter Pat Donohue has a devotion to acoustic guitar that has made him an American standard, as he echoes the tones of Robert Johnson, Blind Blake, Charlie Parker, Muddy Waters, and Chet Atkins. A versatile guitarist’s guitarist, he wows fans with intricate fingerpicking, easy wit, and nimble interpretations of old blues, swing, R&B, and original tunes. For over 20 years, Pat was lead guitar and songwriter for A Prairie Home Companion’s Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band. He now tours the U.S., playing performance halls, clubs and coffeehouses, conducts workshops, and teaches at prestigious guitar camps.

Richard Dworsky

Dworsky photo

For 23 years, Richard Dworsky served as pianist and music director for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, providing original theatrical underscoring, leading the house band, and performing as a featured soloist. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native also accompanied many of the show’s guests, including James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, Chet Atkins, Renée Fleming, and Kristin Chenoweth. Rich’s original compositions for piano (and piano with ensemble or vocal) can be heard on his CDs All In Due TimeSo Near and Dear to Me, and The Path to You

Rob Fisher

Fisher photo

For four seasons, Rob Fisher served as APHC’s music director and led the Coffee Club Orchestra. An internationally recognized music director, conductor, and pianist, and a leading figure in musical theater, he has been a guest of every major orchestra in the country as conductor or pianist. With the New York Philharmonic, Fisher conducted the acclaimed concert versions of Carousel (Emmy nomination for Best Music Director) and My Fair Lady, as well as Mr. Keillor at 70. For his work on the Tony Award-winning Encores! series at New York’s City Center, he was presented the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Special Achievement.

Dakota Dave Hull

Hull photo

Fargo native Dakota Dave Hull calls what he does “classic American guitar.” Hailed by everyone from Dave Van Ronk to Doc Watson, from the Washington Post to DownBeat magazine, his style spans a wide musical geography to create an infectious, uniquely personal blend of jazz, ragtime, folk, blues, Western swing, and vintage pop. He is a restlessly curious, adventurous traveler along the broad highway of America’s music. Most of all, his music is great fun. As Douglas Green (Ranger Doug of Riders in the Sky) puts it, “There is an imp within Dave Hull that always expresses itself on the fretboard.” His recent albums include his Sacred and Profane set, Heavenly Hope and This Earthly Life (Arabica Records).

Maria Jette

Jette photo

Versatile soprano Maria Jette was a frequent performer on A Prairie Home Companion. She can sing dozens of operatic roles; she also performs pop songs, chamber music, oratorio, and show tunes. Maria spent a decade singing with the Twin Cities Baroque opera company Ex Machina, and has appeared with orchestras nationwide, including the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Minnesota Orchestra.Among her recordings is The Siren’s Song: Wodehouse and Kern on Broadway, her second volume of P.G. Wodehouse songs, both with pianist Dan Chouinard.

Larry Kohut

Kohut photo

Bassist for Prairie Home Companion’s house band, Larry Kohut is equally fluent on both upright and electric bass. He’s a first-call studio musician as well as a favorite with jazz musicians, playing with artists such as Kenny Werner, Ramsey Lewis, Bruce Barth, Benny Golson, Michael Brecker, George Coleman, George Garzone, Phil Woods, Chris Potter, Kurt Elling, Karrin Allyson, Patricia Barber — and the list goes on. His discography includes more than 100 albums, as well as several major movie soundtracks and hundreds of commercial jingles.

Richard Kriehn

Kriehn photo

When Richard Kriehn turned 10, his mom bought him a mandolin; at 19, he’d won the Buck White International Mandolin Contest. He went on to play with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and bluegrass group 1946. On the classical side, he has performed with numerous orchestras and was principal second violin for the Washington/Idaho Symphony. He first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 2006, when the show broadcast from Washington State University, where Richard had just completed a master’s degree in violin performance and conducting. A few years later, he was a fully established member of the APHC house band.

Heather Masse

Masse photo

Trained at the New England Conservatory of Music as a jazz singer, Heather Masse is equally versed in a variety of American song traditions — folk, pop, and bluegrass. A member of Billboard-charting folk group The Wailin’ Jennys, she has performed at hundreds of venues across the world. She was a frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, both with The Jennys and as a solo performer, and collaborated with artists such as Elvis Costello, Wynton Marsalis, Sheryl Crow, Renée Fleming, and Emmylou Harris. Her recordings include August Love Song — on which she joins forces with trombone great Roswell Rudd.

Nelly McKay

McKay photo

Nellie McKay has released a stack of acclaimed albums, among them: Sister Orchid, My Weekly Reader, and Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day. She won a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Polly Peachum on Broadway in The Threepenny Opera and performed onscreen in the films P.S. I Love You and Downtown Express.She co-created and starred in the award-winning off-Broadway hit Old Hats and has written several musical biographies, including A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton, and The Big Molinsky: Considering Joan Rivers.

Joe Newberry

Newberry photo

Known worldwide for his exquisite clawhammer banjo playing, Joe Newberry is also a powerful guitarist, singer, and songwriter. The Missouri native was raised in a family full of singers and dancers. He took up guitar and banjo as a teenager and learned fiddle tunes from great Missouri fiddlers. After moving to North Carolina, he quickly became an anchor of the incredible music scene there. The Gibson Brothers’ version of Joe’s song “Singing As We Rise,” featuring guest vocalist Ricky Skaggs, won the 2012 IBMA Gospel Recorded Performance Award. With Eric Gibson, he shared the 2013 IBMA Song of the Year Award for “They Called It Music.”

Fred Newman

Newman photo

Fred Newman is an actor, writer, musician, and sound designer for stage and screen, cartoon and concert hall. For nearly two decades, he added myriad sounds to A Prairie Home Companion. Originally from small-town Georgia, he worked with Jim Henson and created sounds, voices, and music for the Nickelodeon cartoon series DOUG, PBS’s Between the Lions, and films like Gremlins, Cocoon, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He even created the sound of Old Faithful for Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Visitor Center — all with his mouth. Author of MouthSounds, he’s now at work on a new book and series: From the Sound Up (The New Anthropology of Sound).

Tim Russell

Russell photo

Tim Russell worked on-air for WCCO Radio in the Twin Cities for some 33 years. In 1994, he became an actor on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion until the fall of 2018. The CD Tim Russell: Man of a Thousand Voices (HighBridge Audio) is a collection of his work on APHC. Tim is still a man of many voices and a proud SAG-AFTRA Voiceover Artist. He appeared in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion, in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, and opposite Christopher Lloyd in I Am Not a Serial Killer. Tim is also a film critic on his blog, Russellreviews.com.

Sue Scott

Scott photo

After enjoying 24 years as the female cast member on A Prairie Home Companion, Sue Scott has rejoined the vibrant Twin Cities theater community. She recently appeared in Barbecue at Mixed Blood Theatre, Little Wars with Prime Productions, and in the sold-out run of Sisters of Peace at the History Theatre in St. Paul. A veteran voice-over talent, Sue has also been cast in some interesting roles in film and television: ABC’s In An Instant and the Netflix series Lady Dynamite. In addition, she is immersed in creating and producing her new podcast, Island of Discarded Women. 

Chris Siebold

Siebold photo

Chicago-based guitarist, singer-songwriter, composer, and arranger Chris Siebold leads his own bands — Lennon’s Tuba and Psycles — and collaborates often with Grammy-winning harmonica player Howard Levy. House guitarist for the last two seasons of A Prairie Home Companion, Chris joined Garrison Keillor and company for the “America the Beautiful” and “Love and Comedy” tours. This is his fourth appearance on an APHC Cruise. Chris lives in Batavia, Illinois, with his four-year-old son, Julian.

Billy Steele

Steele, Billy photo

Youngest of the Steele siblings, Billy Steele, performs, writes, produces, and serves as assistant director for the Grammy-winning Sounds of Blackness. He writes and produces for various other artists as well, including the Steeles, and his voice has been heard on soundtracks with the likes of Rod Stewart and Luther Vandross. Recently, he collaborated on the Disney soundtrack Legends, The John Henry Story, narrated by James Earl Jones. Billy is the musical director for Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Jearlyn Steele

Steele Jearlyn photo

Growing up in Indiana, Jearlyn Steele sang with her siblings as The Steele Children. One by one, they moved to Minnesota and started singing together again. Now music is the family business. She has performed with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at Carnegie Hall and at the 2018 Super Bowl LIVE Verizon stage. In addition, Jearlyn is a public speaker (the singing speaker, she calls herself), an entertainment reporter for public television, voice-over talent, and host of Steele Talkin’, a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis. Among her solo CDs is Jearlyn Steele Sings Songs from A Prairie Home Companion.

Vern Sutton

Sutton photo

Vern Sutton has collaborated with major musical organizations as a singer, actor, director, and educator. He was a founding member of the Center Opera Company, which became the Minnesota Opera, and composers Dominick Argento, Robert Ward, Conrad Susa, Stephen Paulus, David Thomas, Libby Larsen, and others have written for his voice. For 36 years, he taught at the University of Minnesota School of Music, and for four summers he was artistic director of Opera in the Ozarks. Vern was a guest on the first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion and on innumerable shows after that.

April Verch

Verch photo

Growing up surrounded by living, breathing roots music, April Verch thought every little girl learned to stepdance at the age of three and fiddle at the age of six. She decided early on that she’d be a professional musician, and for decades she has been captivating audiences across the globe. From her native Canada to Europe, Australia, China, the United Arab Emirates, and beyond, she has spread a signature sound that blends regional Canadian, American old-time, bluegrass, country, and Americana. In 2019, April released her 12th recording, Once A Day (Slab Town Records), a heartfelt homage to 1950s and ’60s classic country.  

Robin and Linda Williams

Williams photo

For decades, Robin and Linda Williams have made it their mission to perform the music they love: “a robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time, and acoustic country that combines wryly observant lyrics with a wide-ranging melodicism.” Today some might call it “Americana,” but these music masters were living and breathing this elixir 20 years before that label became a radio format. The two first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 1975, the same year they recorded their first album. In 2013, they released Back 40 — marking 40 years on the road and 40 years of marriage.

Jed Wilson

Wilson photo

A versatile pianist equally at home as an improviser and as an accompanist, Jed Wilson earned a degree in jazz performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and has worked extensively in the worlds of jazz and folk music. In addition to maintaining a long-term collaboration with singer Heather Masse, he has performed or recorded with Aoife O’Donovan, Dominique Eade, and Rushad Eggleston. His most recent recording is a solo piano EP titled Nocturnes.

NATURALISTS

Aly Busse

Busse photo

Aly Busse is the Vice President for Education at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, a nonprofit research laboratory. She comes from a diverse background in informal science education, including aquariums, museums, and community outreach programs. Before joining Mote Marine Laboratory, Aly was Education Director at UnderWater World, Guam, and Youth and Family Programs Coordinator at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. She also held dual roles at Rutgers University as the Senior Program Coordinator for a science outreach program and Associate Director of the Rutgers Geology Museum. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina–Wilmington, a Master of Science in Science Education from Old Dominion University, and is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida.

Kiley Gray

Gray photo

Originally from Florida, Kiley Gray has always known that marine biology was her passion. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of West Florida, Kiley worked as a fisheries biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. She is currently the Coordinator for Public Programs at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, an independent, nonprofit research laboratory with a public aquarium. In this position, she is responsible for bringing marine science and research to the public through a variety of programs for audiences of all ages and is an instructor for the Florida Master Naturalist program.

Lytton John Musselman

Musselman photo

Lytton John Musselmanearned a Ph.D. in botany from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and was chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he holds the Mary Payne Hogan Distinguished Professorship of Botany. He established the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve in 1984 and is the Manager of that property. In addition, he has been a consultant for new Qur’anic gardens in Albania, Qatar, and Brunei Darussalam. Lytton is co-author of The Quick Guide to Edible Plants (Johns Hopkins University Press). His other books include 2019’s Parasitic Plants in African Agriculture. Described as a “passionate botanist” by Garrison Keillor, Lytton received the Meritorious Teaching Award from the Association of Southeastern Biologists in 2019.

LECTURERS

Jon Wiant

Wiant, Jon photo

Jon Wiant is an authority on intelligence and international affairs. His senior intelligence career spanned the Cold War and the security challenges that followed.  In retirement, this recipient of the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal has taught at Washington universities and is a widely popular cruise and tour lecturer.

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PORTS

Ocho Rios beach

Ocho Rios, Jamaica 

A lot of history is packed into Ocho Rios, Jamaica — or Ochi, as the locals call it. Christopher Columbus was marooned near this site for more than a year, until a rescue ship finally arrived and the explorer returned to Europe. It was his final voyage. Playwright Noël Coward lived in the vicinity. So did swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn and author Ian Fleming. (Parts of Dr. No, the first James Bond movie, were filmed nearby.) And reggae pioneer Bob Marley was born in this same parish: St. Ann.

The area is a bonanza for nature lovers, featuring scenic hikes, spectacular waterfalls, and sandy beaches. And the area’s cross-cultural cuisine runs the gamut from spicy jerk chicken to the leafy greens of callaloo to ackee with saltfish (the country’s national dish).

George Town image

George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands, is located on the western shore of Grand Cayman. Here, you’ll settle into just the right tempo for you: prestissimo (very quick) or larghissimo (did someone say sloth?). Enjoy swimming, snorkeling, diving, moseying through lush gardens, hiking through nature, bird-watching, sauntering along the fabled Seven Mile Beach (one of the best in the Caribbean), shopping, or taking in historic sites and the National Museum. Or just plunking down in the sand and daydreaming.

Then let the grazing begin! A melting pot of cuisines and a magnet for top chefs, Grand Cayman has culinary offerings to suit any palate.

Cozumel ruin

Cozumel, Mexico

Twelve miles off the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, the island of Cozumel serves up a visual feast — from the stunning beaches to an array of birds and tropical fish to ancient architectural ruins of the Maya, whose settlements in the area date back to early in the first millennium A.D. Scuba dive or snorkel in the crystal-clear waters. Rent a bicycle and pedal the island’s paved bike path. And leave a little time for shopping — leather goods, Mexican handicrafts, silver, and maybe a brightly colored hammock to doze in back home in your own backyard.

Mangroves

Key West, FL

Key West — the westernmost of the Florida Keys and the southernmost city in the contiguous United States — has a ton of history, culture, and charm packed into a few square miles. John James Audubon, Tennessee Williams, and so many other notables drew inspiration here. Tour historic buildings, including the residence of one of the great American writers of the 20th century: Ernest Hemingway, who called Key West home for more than a decade. (And keep an eye out for those six-toed cats!) Enjoy water- and nature-related activities. Take in the stunning scenery. Sample sumptuous seafood. Soak up the sun. Relax.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Here you will find answers to the more common questions we have been asked about our cruises. We also address some important issues specific to this cruise.

Before sailing with us, you must read and sign EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions, which spell out important and contractually binding guidelines for our cruise.

We recommend that you visit the Holland America website. You will find extensive and detailed information about sailing on their ships. They have been in the cruise business much longer than we have — please make use of their expertise.

EXECUTIVE MEETINGS and INCENTIVES, INC. (EMI) is your partner in travel. They are your first stop for any help you may need with travel arrangements or any question you may have. See EMI’s website for more information.

YOU MUST HAVE A CURRENT PASSPORT TO SAIL ON THIS CRUISE. Even though this cruise originates and returns to the same domestic port, you must have a passport to sail this cruise. U.S. citizens under the age of 16 may present an alternate government-issued proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Please refer to Holland America’s website for Passport Guidelines.

YOU MUST SEND EMI YOUR FLIGHT ITINERARY BEFORE SAILING ON THIS CRUISE.

You must also provide details as to how you plan to transfer to and from the cruise terminal in Fort Lauderdale. This is a Holland America requirement and can be provided during the OLCI (Online Check-In).

WHAT IF A PORT BECOMES UNAVAILABLE DUE TO REASONS BEYOND THE CONTROL OF PRAIRIE HOME CRUISES AND HOLLAND AMERICA?

We were scheduled for two (2) stops in Cuba — Havana and Cienfuegos, as well as Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and George Town, Cayman Islands. Holland America uses this language in their agreements with passengers: “WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DEVIATE FROM SCHEDULED ROUTE, CHANGE PORT OF EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION, SUBSTITUTE TRANSPORTATION, CANCEL CRUISE AND ACTIVITIES, AND CHANGE OR OMIT PORTS OF CALL; SUBSTITUTION.” As this change was necessary and the cruise will sail as scheduled March 18–25, 2020, there will be no refunds. Please refer to EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions for more detail.

WHO ARE WE?

PRAIRIE HOME CRUISES (PHC) is an independent company that was formed under the umbrella of PRAIRIE GRAND, LLC, for the purpose of chartering cruise vacations. PRAIRIE HOME PRODUCTIONS is the sister company that produces “A Prairie Home Companion” and “The Writer’s Almanac.” PHC is responsible for all changes and additions made to the regularly scheduled HAL cruise. We will provide the APHC performers, entertainers, and lecturers sailing with you.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINES (HAL) operates and manages the Veendam; provides for passenger safety and comfort; and is responsible for your cabin accommodations, food, beverages, recreation, and shopping while on board. Go to Holland America website for more information about life aboard the ship.

EXECUTIVE MEETINGS and INCENTIVES (EMI) is our agent in charge of selling our cruise and booking your accommodations. They will provide you with the highest levels of professional travel-related services. They will book your passage on the ship. EMI will help you with transfers to and from the cruise, cabin selection, and dinner table seating, and will provide guidance for other onboard needs.

For other questions, email us or call EMI’s Prairie Home Cruise number at 908-458-3591.

I. Booking

How much does the cruise cost?
For pricing information, visit EMI’s pricing page. We have cabins in a wide range of prices. You will find that we are offering favorable rates compared to our other cruises, especially when you look at how much we are charging per day.

What types of cabins are on the ship? Where are they located?
There are a wide variety of cabins throughout all levels of the ship. You will always be close to the action on the Veendam. If you are interested in a Verandah cabin, we suggest that you book early, since there are relatively few of these available. See HAL’s Deck Plan for pictures, descriptions, and deck plans.

Is this a different ship than we have sailed before?
For those of you who have traveled with us before, we will be sailing on the original class of ship with the Veendam. We sailed the same ship for a seven-day trip to Alaska in 2006. This ship will feel familiar, since the layout is similar to previous charters we have sailed. You will come aboard and immediately feel at home. Check out the Veendam Deck Plan.

How do I book a cabin? What types are currently available?
For booking information, visit EMI’s pricing page. You will see a list of the currently available cabins. Just click on the one you are interested in.

May I sail only part of this cruise?
Deviations need to be requested in advance of the sailing via EMI. We do need to ensure that you are aware of a few stipulations. As with any travel, cruise guests must comply with all customs and immigration specifics that are applicable to the port in which they embark/debark the vessel, including any additional costs that may be involved at the pier/port to embark/debark the guests. Additionally, while we endeavor to follow our published itinerary, please understand that unplanned circumstances may require that we change or cancel our scheduled call to this port, or otherwise prohibit our ability to honor the deviation request. Should this occur, you as the guest assume all responsibility for any additional costs incurred.

Unfortunately, we are unable to adjust the cruise fare or make a change to individual invoices to manually reflect the shorter cruise segment. Please be advised that because this is not a standard embark/debark port with porters on staff, guests will be responsible for carrying their own luggage off the ship. We regret any inconvenience and appreciate your understanding.

Are wheelchair-accessible rooms available onboard? What about other special needs?
Holland America, PHC, and EMI do not discriminate against persons on the basis of disability. We seek, to the fullest extent feasible, to accommodate guests with special needs. Holland America offers a limited number of staterooms designed to be wheelchair and scooter accessible. Most public areas of the ship are wheelchair accessible; some areas such as the topmost outdoor observation area are not. To learn more about HAL’s options for guests with special needs, see the Shipboard Life section of Holland America Frequently Asked Questions. You can explore the deck plan (Veendam Deck Plan) to see where the wheelchair-accessible rooms are located. Please contact EMI directly at 908-458-3591 to discuss any special needs you may have.

II. Payment/Finances

Is travel insurance necessary?
We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance. You will be booking this cruise many months before we sail; circumstances can easily change. Insurance is your only recourse for reimbursement in the event of change, delay, or crisis. For more information, see EMI’s pricing page.

What is included in the payment and what will cost extra?
Please refer to EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions page. While on board, you can spend a minimal amount or incur significant charges by the end of the cruise. You will certainly be able to have an enjoyable time no matter how little or how much you spend. Alcoholic beverages, soda, spa services, the casino, and other onboard services are not included in your fare. We do not include airfare, ground transportation, shore excursions, or other off-ship expenses in our fares.

I’m a Holland America stockholder. Can I get a discount on my cruise?
No. This cruise is private and chartered.

I’ve booked my cabin. What’s next?
EMI will confirm your reservation with you electronically and provide an EMI confirmation number they will use to track your reservation. Closer to the cruise, EMI will provide your Holland America booking number and cabin number, which you will use to prepare for your trip to Book Shore Excursions.

How do I check in?
Check-in and preparation for your cruise is an online process that HAL calls Express Docs. All passengers are required to check in using this system in advance of the cruise. You will need your HAL booking number to do this. You will be prompted to accept Holland America Terms and Conditions online. Once this is clicked, the contract is accepted.  All documents necessary for your cruise will be provided online through Express Docs, including your cruise contract and your boarding pass. You will need to print out the boarding pass portion of these documents for each person in your party and have the boarding passes available at check-in. See EMI’s website for step-by-step instructions on how to use Express Docs.

It is essential that you review all documents thoroughly and that you bring everything with you. This process is similar to checking in for an airline flight, just more extensive. It is required.

May I cancel my reservation?
You may cancel, but we have a strict refund policy. Within TEN (10) DAYS of your registration, your deposit becomes nonrefundable. On or after November 20, 2019, your full cruise fare will be collected and is not refundable. Please see EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions page.

How do I pay for extras while on board?
While on board, HAL maintains a “cashless society.” All additional purchases made will be charged to passengers’ onboard accounts. These accounts must be settled before disembarking.

If you have not done so already online, you will need to register your credit or debit card in order to use your onboard account for shipboard purchases. On the day of sailing, your card will be pre-authorized for U.S. $60 per person for each day, or $420 per person. Your account will then be activated, and you may make purchases by simply showing your guest identification card and signing a receipt. At the end of your cruise, you will receive a final statement, and your card will be charged only for the actual amount of your purchases. Please inform your credit or debit card issuer in advance that your card will be used on a Holland America Line ship. This will help prevent delays in obtaining pre-authorization on board. Some banks may keep the pre-authorization in place for up to 30 days. If you do not want to use a credit or debit card, the ship will collect a cash deposit from you at time of boarding in the same pre-authorization amount. Any excess deposit will be refunded to you at the end of the cruise. Traveler’s checks may be cashed at the front office to make your deposit. Personal checks are not accepted on board.

What about tipping? To whom and how much?
A prepaid gratuity is included in your cruise fare. The gratuity currently is $14.50 (cabin) — $16.00 (suite) per person per day, or $101.50 (cabin) — $112.00 (suite) per person for the cruise. This will be shared among the Veendam’s entire staff. In addition, an automatic 15 percent gratuity is added to all bar and beverage service. Any tipping above this is entirely up to you. It is common, but not required, to tip for personal service in your cabin. Spa services include a 15 percent automatic gratuity. Additional tipping for bar service, dining room service, or the ship’s transportation services is not expected. For more info regarding these charges see Gratuities and Service charges.

In terminals, airports, ports of call, on-shore excursions, and at hotels, we suggest that you extend gratuities consistent with customary practices.

Are guests from outside the U.S. able to purchase online?
Yes. International guests will be able to book their cabins online. All credit card charges will take place in USD and be converted to your local currency the day of the transaction.

III. Travel To/From the Cruise

Regardless of who books your air travel, you must send EMI a copy of your flight itinerary. If you book your own travel, you must still provide EMI with your flight itinerary. EMI must provide HAL with travel itineraries for all passengers. This is a legal requirement: you will be denied boarding if you do not provide your travel itinerary in advance. You must provide a cell or other phone number that can be used to communicate with you in the event of travel delays.

We recommend that you purchase airline tickets early. We hope you can find a good deal for travel to Fort Lauderdale. EMI can help you book your flights; see EMI’s website for more information.

When do we leave? When do we come home?

Please note: This cruise departs and returns on a WEDNESDAY.

Boarding will begin in Fort Lauderdale at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020; please do not arrive at the terminal before 11:00 a.m. You must be on board no later than 3:00 p.m. We sail at 4:00 p.m. local time and cannot wait for delayed passengers.

Fort Lauderdale is a major cruise port and there are many options for same-day travel from the airport to the cruise terminal. The two are quite close to each other. Please be sure to allow ample time for travel complications, understanding that you should arrive to the cruise terminal no later than 2:00 p.m. For those that choose to fly into Miami International Airport, driving time between the Miami airport and the port is approximately 40 minutes. Leave ample time to transfer as you would in any major city.

Upon our return to Fort Lauderdale, disembarkation may begin as early as 7:30 a.m. and will end by 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Passengers should easily be able to depart from Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, if you wish. We suggest a departure time no earlier than 1:00 p.m.

What if my luggage gets lost by the airline?
In the event your bags are delayed, Holland America will make every effort to work with local operators to help your bags catch up with the ship. Guests will need to submit a claim at the airport before joining the vessel, once onboard the Veendam, guests must submit their claim along with any other details to the Guest Service desk. Please note that some major discount air carriers require that lost or delayed luggage be signed for personally by the owner at the airport. Please check their policies carefully before booking your air travel.

Where can I stay in Fort Lauderdale?
EMI has blocked out rooms in a nearby hotel, before and after the cruise. See EMI’s website if you are interested. Fort Lauderdale hotel rooms are not included in your cruise fare. EMI will not book a hotel room for you unless you ask them to do so.

What are the arrangements for travel from airport to ship?
We recommend that you purchase a transfer package from EMI when you purchase your cruise — they are available for both Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport

They will offer a number of options; see EMI’s website for details. These transfers will include luggage handling. EMI will not book any of these options for you unless you request them. Costs for these transfers are in addition to your cruise fare. Here are the basic options:

– Airport to hotel on March 17th, hotel that night, and transfer to the ship on the 18th

– Airport to ship on March 18th.

– Ship to airport on March 25th.

– Ship to hotel March 25th, hotel that night, and transfer to the airport on the 26th.

How about getting to Fort Lauderdale on my own?
This may be a good option for many of our passengers. There are parking facilities available at or near the terminal, including a garage adjacent to the terminal.

How do I get my luggage onto the ship?
They do it for you! Once at the port terminal, you will leave your bags at the designated drop bag area for transfer to the ship—much the way you would check bags for a plane flight. There is no cost for this service. Your bags will be delivered directly to your cabin. A similar procedure will happen in reverse when we return to Fort Lauderdale.

When you first get on and last get off the boat, there will be a lengthy period of time when you will not have access to your baggage or to your cabin. Please be prepared with a small carry-on bag to hold the items you need, including all of your travel documents, medications, and any valuables you may have with you.

Whenever your bags are being transferred for you, please be sure to respect deadlines for having your bag ready, properly tag your bags, and reclaim them promptly. In particular, remember that just as at an airport, you will always need to claim your luggage in the cruise terminal. It will not automatically be transferred to your hotel.

Is there security screening?
Before embarking the ship, your luggage will be screened before being loaded onto the vessel. If electrical devices or illegal substances are detected, you will be called to security to verify your items.

Will I need a passport?
All passengers 16 years of age and over need passports. There are exceptions for infants and minors under the age of 16. Passports must be good for six months beyond the duration of the cruise. These regulations are strictly enforced. Please refer to Holland America’s website for Passport Guidelines.

May visitors come onboard?
Holland America does allow for guests to have onboard visitors. If guests are interested in having a guest on board, they can visit the front office to find out the terms and conditions.

What about after the cruise, in Fort Lauderdale?
We arrive early in Fort Lauderdale, allowing a great opportunity to explore all the area offers. EMI has blocked out hotel rooms in Fort Lauderdale for the night following the cruise, if you’d like to stay overnight.

EMI will offer you the option of booking a transfer directly to the airport if you are flying immediately following the cruise.

You will require a minimum of two (2) hours to transfer off and get from the ship to the airport, plus time to navigate the airport itself. We suggest booking flights out of Fort Lauderdale that leave after 1:00 p.m.

IV. Traveling Abroad

Will I need a passport?
Yes, all passengers must carry a passport that expires a minimum of six (6) months following the cruise. For this domestic origination cruise, infants and minors under the age of 16 may prove citizenship with a government-issued birth certificate, and copies are acceptable. Please refer to Holland America’s Passport Guidelines.

Do I need shots?
We are not aware of any special vaccinations or immunizations required for the areas to which we are traveling but please refer to Immunization Recommendations for additional information. Please refer to Travel Advisories for current details regarding all advisories.

What languages will be spoken at our ports of call?
English is the official language in Ocho Rios and George Town. In Mexico, the official language is Spanish, though many citizens speak English.

What about currency?

JAMAICA:

The currency of Jamaica is the JAMAICAN DOLLAR. ATM machines will be available to draw funds, but with arrival in Jamaica on a Sunday, banks will be closed. Credit cards are widely accepted.

CAYMAN ISLANDS:

The currency of the Cayman Islands is the CAYMAN DOLLAR, but the U.S. dollar is readily accepted. Credit cards are widely accepted.

MEXICO:

The currency of Mexico is the MEXICAN PESO, although US dollars are still widely accepted in most local businesses in Cozumel. Your best bet is to use Mexican Pesos instead of other currencies to pay for your shopping, dining out, and other purchases as local business exchange rates are usually not good. Alternatively, you can pay with your credit card and be charged your bank’s exchange rate.

For ATMs, it is best to withdraw Mexican Pesos, as you will pay to convert your money twice if you withdraw USD.

V. Entertainment

What will we do on board?
Boredom is not an issue. Never has been, never will be. We will schedule a full slate of musical performances. In the main showroom and in smaller venues throughout the ship, you will have ample opportunity to enjoy your favorite “Prairie Home” performers. There will be sing-alongs and storytelling and gatherings with Garrison. We will add lectures, readings, and other events to HAL’s regular cruise offerings.

The APHC events are in addition to all of the activities you would expect on a cruise ship: dining, swimming, spa services, eating, relaxing, sports, gambling, shopping, eating, entertainment, other special events, and more eating.

When do we attend the evening performances?
Our main attraction on board is the evening performance in the main showroom. These can be similar to APHC broadcast shows, or they can be music concerts, or even shows featuring the various talents of your fellow passengers. Regardless, everyone wants to come see them.

The showroom only holds about half of the ship’s passengers, which is why we repeat the show each night. The problem comes when people try to see both shows. This can deny your fellow passengers the opportunity to see the show, so we use a plan that we hope you think is fair.

You will receive a color-coded Holland America ID card. This will identify which show you may attend each night. We are going to check this identification for each main evening show, just as we would take tickets for a regular performance. We will clear the auditorium after each show, and we will not allow people to reserve seats in advance.

Will you publish a schedule of activities?
We are always adding new things to do, right up to the day of departure. When you arrive on the ship, we will have for you a schedule of activities for the entire cruise. Once aboard, we adjust the schedule daily. HAL and APHC will publish an official daily schedule, which will be delivered to your cabin every morning.

Will I actually SEE Garrison and other performers?
The Prairie Home Company will be guests of Holland America just like you, living in cabins right down the hall or maybe next door. You’ll see them in the elevators, on the Lido Deck, at the buffets and bars, and, of course, on stage. Don’t hesitate to say hi, ask questions, or tell us you loved a particular event, but do understand that we may be running to our next assignment or just need some time on our own.

Should I bring a musical instrument?
Sure! On this cruise we plan to give our passengers opportunities to play together and we will schedule “jam” sessions with a few of our performers. In casual — purely unplugged — settings you’ll have the chance to share your musical talents with your shipmates. Acoustic instruments only — Garrison wouldn’t have it any other way!

Will any of the shows be broadcast?
No, but they will be recorded for possible later use. We may feature some video, photos, and audio segments via garrisonkeillor.com within a month or so of our return.

Will there be opportunities for autographs?
While on board, feel free to ask for autographs at your leisure. We will also schedule autograph sessions in coordination with the gift shops on board. Check in with a Prairie Home or EMI staff member on board if you have questions about this.

Will there be APHC merchandise for sale?
Yes. Check out the gift shops on board. We’ll have clothing, books, and lots of music featuring your “Prairie Home” favorites.

VI. Dining

When do we schedule our dining? May we sit together at dinner?
When you register for the cruise, you will request your seating preferences for dining. EMI will do everything possible to honor seating requests. In most every case you will be able to sit near friends and family (assuming you want to!). You may meet new friends at your table as well. Note that your dining time preference determines which performance of the evening Showroom events you will attend.

What is the difference between early seating and late seating?
The Dining Room and the Main Show Lounge each hold half of the ship’s passengers, so we all need to rotate.
—EARLY seating passengers will eat at the first seating of dinner, at 5:30 p.m. Then they go to the second Main Lounge show, at 8:30 p.m.
—LATE seating passengers see the Main Lounge Show first, at 6:00 p.m. They then go to dinner at the second seating, at 7:45 p.m.

While accommodations can often be made, due to the popularity of our evening shows, we will use assigned dinner times: the “As-You-Wish” dining program available on regular HAL cruises will not be used.

If I have food allergies or other dietary needs, will the ship be able to accommodate these?
Yes, but you must inform us in advance. Upon your initial booking via the EMI website, you will be asked about dietary restrictions. You will be asked again when you check in to Holland America to receive your Boarding Documents. Any special needs should be noted at this time (e.g. need for distilled water for CPAP machines, etc.). You can learn more under Shipboard Life at Holland America Frequently Asked Questions.

What is the Dress Code?
Because we are chartering the ship, APHC has the freedom to set our own dress code policies. We are considerably more relaxed than the standard cruise. Sunday-go-to-church clothes is about as fancy as we get. If you like to dress up, please feel free, and many of us may join you.

The only time there will be an actual dress code is in the dining rooms during the evening meal. On most nights, the dress code will be “smart casual.” This means long pants and sports shirt or sweater for men, and skirt or long pants and sweater or blouse for women. We ask that you not wear casual T-shirts, swimsuits, bathrobes, tank tops, shorts, and the like in the dining room. Further, we will designate one or two evenings as “semi-formal.” This generally means sport coat and maybe a tie for men; and a dress, skirt, or pantsuit for women. These nights are an opportunity for you to dress up, and the crew will wear their dress uniforms, but it is not a strict requirement.

May we dine elsewhere?
Holland America offers many other options for dining. You are not obligated to join us in the dining room, although you may want to let your seatmates know you won’t be joining them. Dining options include a private table at the Pinnacle Grill or the Canaletto Restaurant, informal dining on the Lido Deck, and Room Service available 24/7. The Pinnacle and Canaletto options require a modest surcharge — well worth it for the high quality of food, level of service, and atmosphere. Remember that the dining room is a lovely, peaceful, option for breakfast and lunch — and it’s included.

VII. Life Aboard Ship

How do I contact an EMI or APHC staff person? How will they be identified?
We will staff an info table near the front desk. And we’ll all try to wear our ID lanyards.

After boarding the ship, how long before I can get into the cabin?
Boarding for the ship begins several hours before we cast off. You’ll be able to settle in once your stateroom is prepared. HAL has streamlined this process to a great degree but please understand that they have to turn around accommodations for more than 1,200 people in a very short period of time. Plenty of onboard activities will be available while you wait. Make arrangements for your week. And the buffet lines will be open.

An announcement will be made when your staterooms are ready; that’s when you can meet your cabin steward and get unpacked.

What kind of amenities will I find in my cabin?
Cabins on the Veendam are outfitted much like a good hotel room. You will find them to be comfortable, nicely decorated, efficient, and clean.

All linens and bedding will be supplied. Your bathroom comes complete with towels, toiletries, and your very own onboard bathrobe. You will find ample closet and drawer space, a dressing table, cabin-controlled air conditioning, a variety of cabin lighting, and a television with shipboard programming.

All staterooms are equipped with standard 110 AC (U.S.  port) and 220/240 AC (2-prong European port) power outlets. Personal care items and electronics will work just as they do at home. Hair dryers are available in all staterooms. You may wish to bring a travel alarm clock since they are not provided, although your cabin phone accesses an effective wake-up call system.

For safety reasons, the ship respectfully requests that you do not iron clothing in your stateroom. Ironing facilities are available in the self-service laundry rooms for your convenience. Full laundry, dry-cleaning, and valet services are available on the Veendam.

Where can I smoke?
Please note that Holland America has a strict policy of prohibiting smoking in all staterooms. This policy will be strictly enforced. Substantial fees will be charged for cleaning your cabin if you smoke inside. In Verandah cabins, smoking is permitted outside on the balconies only.

In deference to our performers and your fellow passengers, this is a “non-smoking” cruise with even stricter policies than regular cruises. You may smoke only in one designated public area on one outside deck of the ship. Our cruise designates all interior areas (including all lounge and restaurant areas) as non-smoking where smoking might be permitted on other HAL cruises. See the Holland America Smoking Policy.

How can I be reached in case of an emergency?
Holland America has procedures in place for situations that require emergency contact with your loved ones. Please refer to Emergency Phone Numbers for more information.

What if I need medical attention?
Fully trained medical professionals are on board at all times, and a complete medical facility is available. Aspirin and seasickness pills are available at guest services, but you may have to pay for other items or services.

Can I call my friends in their cabin? Can I call home?
Your stateroom comes equipped with telephones that can be used to call your fellow passengers just as in a hotel. They can also be used for ship-to-shore communication, however significant charges apply. Please refer to Ship-to-shore communication for more information.

Passengers may not see our guest roster, and we will not give out cabin numbers.

Will my cell phone work?
Probably not while on board, almost certainly while in port — but be careful. Call your carrier for details for your plan. We suggest purchasing a data roaming package or making sure you deactivate your roaming feature before you leave port. Cellular at sea is very expensive.

Will I have access to the internet?
Yes. You may bring your own computer or use ones provided by HAL. You can buy minutes for surfing the internet at any point throughout the trip. Wi-Fi is available throughout the entire vessel, including your stateroom, and is charged under the same system. Please be aware that the prices are high and can add up quickly. Please refer to Internet Use for more details.

We know that on previous cruises, many of our passengers have not been satisfied with the internet service on board. HAL continues to do what they can to improve service. However, a ship on the open ocean will only be able to access a certain amount of bandwidth and there will definitely be service outages. For your information, the biggest problems on our cruises occur when all of us try to get on the internet between leaving port and having dinner.

We recommend that you do not plan on accessing the internet to stream video, hold conference calls, engage in an activity that requires to you to maintain one consistent connection, or any other activity requiring high-quality internet service. You should expect to be able to check your email and keep up on basic social media but there will be times when service is simply not available. It is also advisable that you LOG OFF when you have finished using the internet.

On this cruise in particular, reliable high-quality internet service will be readily available in all of our ports.

Can I get married on board ship?
No. This is a private, chartered cruise. No weddings. No divorces, either.

Will there be stuff for my kids to do?
Holland America provides a range of activities for kids through their Club Hal program. See HAL Onboard Activities for details. The Club HAL room is regularly available with games electronic and otherwise, and has daily special group activities. The schedule of events is determined by the number of kids who sail with us; we will include APHC programming in their schedule.

How should I dress for the weather?
March is one of the prime months to sail the Caribbean, when the seas are generally calm and weather temperate. Expect good beach weather.

When on deck, it can always be windy and cool; be prepared for that. Of course, be prepared for rain. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes for walking on deck or on shore.

Should I bring anything else?
If you are interested in “knowing stuff,” you might want to bring along your binoculars and a field guide or three (birds, marine mammals, wildflowers, and geology are just a few). Previous guests have found benefit from bringing a camera, a journal, an instrument, or their most recent knitting project.

What will sea conditions be like?
We could have calm seas. We could have large waves. The ship may glide placidly along with barely a perceptible movement. The ship may rock back and forth, making even the stout of heart (and stomach) reach for the Dramamine. We will probably see a bit of everything. Holland America schedules cruises for favorable weather, something we’ve certainly experienced over the years. It is unlikely that we will experience severe weather, and HAL does an excellent job of tracking and avoiding storms as necessary.

VIII. Excursions

You’ll find all the information you need at Shore Excursions. You will receive an email notice when they are available for your review and booking.

Booked guests may confirm shore excursion requests in advance of sailing. Once you have your Holland America booking number and cabin number, you may use it to view shore excursion information specific to your itinerary. To complete a booking, please proceed through all screens on the HAL booking page until you receive confirmation from them that your booking is complete.

Before you leave from home, we suggest you make use of a handy feature on the website: you can generate a complete schedule of your cruise that includes your pre-booked activities.

Guests may pre-book shore excursions online until five days prior to sailing. If your departure date is less than five days away, please call Shore Excursions at 1-888-425-9376 to book directly with an agent. All shore excursion requests are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Wait-listed requests for sold-out shore excursions will be processed prior to requests made on board. Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult over 25.

Excursion cancellations may incur a cancellation fee, and any refund may be issued in the form of credit to your onboard account. Excursions have individual deadlines after which no refund or credit is given. Please refer to Shore Excursions for details.

All excursions are the responsibility of independent tour operators. HAL acts only as an agent to help you book your tours. We have no financial or operational relationship with them. While excursions may be arranged directly with independent operators on shore, you will have limited recourse in the event of an unsatisfactory experience.

All of our ports afford the opportunity to explore on foot at no cost or by local transportation. We will have extra information on all of our ports for you before and during the cruise. Please feel free to set out as you wish.

Wherever and however you explore, be sure to be back on time. Be sure that your watch is set to ship’s time; local time on land can be different. The ship cannot wait past scheduled departure times.

IX. Contact Us

Email us or call EMI’s Prairie Home Cruise number at 908-458-3591.

See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Solo The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

August 24, 2019

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Faribault, MN

Faribault, MN

August 24, 2019

Love songs, poetry from memory, observational comedy, and accompaniment from pianist Richard Dworsky. $38.50

September 13, 2019

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Edmonds, WA

Edmonds, WA

September 13, 2019

Accompanied by Richard Dworsky on piano, it’s an evening with Garrison Keillor at Edmonds Performing Arts Center. 7:30 p.m.

September 14, 2019

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Coeur d'Alene, ID

Coeur d’Alene, ID

September 14, 2019

Garrison Keillor performs a benefit show in behalf of the Coeur d’Alene Symphony. 7:30 p.m.

September 20, 2019

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Waynesboro, VA

Waynesboro, VA

September 20, 2019

Accompanied by Richard Dworsky on piano, it’s an evening with Garrison Keillor at the Wayne Theatre. 8:00 p.m.

September 23, 2019

Monday

7:00 p.m.

Bethesda, MD

Bethesda, MD

September 13, 2019

Accompanied by Richard Dworsky on piano, it’s an evening with Garrison Keillor at Edmonds Performing Arts Center. 7:30 p.m.

October 5, 2019

Saturday

4:30 p.m.

New Marlborough, MA

New Marlborough, MA

October 5, 2019

Garrison Keillor in conversation with bestselling author Simon Winchester. Tickets $20-$25.

October 11, 2019

Friday

7:00 p.m.

New York, New York

New York, New York

BIRDLAND JAZZ CLUB
October 11, 2019

An Evening with Garrison Keillor and Heather Masse.

October 12, 2019

Saturday

7:00 p.m.

New York, New York

New York, New York

BIRDLAND JAZZ CLUB
October 12, 2019

An Evening with Garrison Keillor and Heather Masse.

Radio

The Writer’s Almanac for July 19, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 19, 2019

On this day 65 years ago, the first volume of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” was published. The three complete volumes were more than 500,000 words long.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 18, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 18, 2019

It’s the birthday of journalist Hunter S. Thompson (1937). After he died, per his request, his ashes were shot from a cannon.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 17, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 17, 2019

On this date in 1867, the Harvard Dental School was founded. Prior to the 19th century, people generally went to barbers or blacksmiths to get teeth pulled.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 16, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 16, 2019

In 1945 on this day, the first atomic bomb exploded 120 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Officials told citizens that an ammunitions dump had blown up.

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A Prairie Home Companion: July 20, 2002

A Prairie Home Companion: July 20, 2002

A rebroadcast of our February 5, 2000 show with Czech bluegrass band Druha Trava, guitarist Pat Donohue along with accordion player Dan Newton, and singer/songwriter Lynn Peterson.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 15, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 15, 2019

It’s the birthday of the philosopher who said “There is nothing outside the text” — Jacques Derrida, born in El Biar, Algeria, 1930.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 14, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 14, 2019

On this day in 1789, an angry mob stormed the Bastille prison in Paris and liberated the seven prisoners within: four forgers, two “lunatics,” and an aristocrat accused of incest.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 13, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 13, 2019

There was a blackout in New York City on this date in 1977. Over 25 hours, more than 1,600 stores were looted, more than a thousand fires were set, and nearly 3,800 looters were arrested.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 12, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 12, 2019

Today is the birthday of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904), who wrote under a pseudonym to avoid his father’s judgment, and always in green ink, because he believed it was the color of hope.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 11, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 11, 2019

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was published on this date in 1960. Harper Lee wasn’t sure how it would be received. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 and has sold more than 40 million copies.

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Writing

The pleasure of running into Stan on Sunday

I stopped in a cafe on Sunday after church to get awakened from a feeling of blessedness and who should I run into but my Anoka High School gym teacher Stan Nelson, who is 99 years old and still talking and making sense. He looked at me and said, “Are you still having trouble with chin-ups and the rope climb?” I was 17 at the time and now I’m 76, and I told him that I’ve managed to stay out of situations that might require me to climb a rope or lift myself up by a horizontal bar, so the answer is, No, it’s no trouble at all.

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When I consider how my time is spent

A mockingbird couple has set up housekeeping in a tree in our backyard and the male goes crazy whenever we set foot in his territory, which I guess means that their children have hatched and are at that perilous point in life when you’re about to fly. When we slip out back for supper, he shrieks at us from the corner of the yard, far from the nest, and flies from branch to branch to fence, cursing us, threatening to peck our eyes out. He’s a good father. The mother stays on the nest and he exercises his toxic mockingbird masculinity and yells bloody murder.

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Life, liberty, dancing, feasting, hugging, and collecting stuff

I have returned from a week in Portugal and a little village where we attended our nephew’s wedding and enjoyed lavish feasting and shameless dancing and people hugging each other left and right. There was liquor involved but mostly it sprang from lack of self-consciousness. Everybody knew each other except for us Americanos; there was nothing to hide. After the wedding, I saw men hugging other men, if you can believe such a thing. The father of the bride hugged the groom and squeezed him hard.

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A June wedding in a faraway village

We came to Portugal knowing only the words for apology (desculpe) and gratitude (obrigado) and were stunned by the beauty on every hand, the seaside city of Porto on the river Douro, the narrow twisty streets and red tile roofs over skinny passageways into stone-paved courtyards, the crowd on the stone wharf at night, the girl swinging flaming torches and an old man singing to his guitar about his many heroic disappointments.

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In the Fatherland for Father’s Day

I’ve landed in London where there are no elevators, only lifts, and where the signs say “Offices To Let,” which at first looked like “Office Toilet” to me, and where you see “Look Left” or “Look Right” painted on the pavement at every pedestrian crossing — and I wonder, How many of my countrymen looked the wrong way and were crushed by a lorry before the Brits painted the warnings? Nebraska wheat farmers, New York stockbrokers, confident successful men who brushed off their wives’ warning to look both ways. “I know how to cross a street, dang it,” they said and stepped in front of a double-decker bus and were erased from the face of the earth and their dust flown home for the memorial service.

They spoke of the kindly delight
In family, how he fought the good fight,
And nobody said
As they spoke of the dead,
“Why didn’t he look to the right?”

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Trying hard to relax and have fun

I’ve been a grind for many years, chained to my oars, and I am in serious need of frivolity, so last Friday my wife and daughter and I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in New York and sailed out of the harbor and under the Verrazano Bridge bound for England with a dance band on board, a casino, deck chairs where one can lounge and doze and do nothing meaningful whatsoever. A big band plays nightly in the enormous ballroom and there is a multitude of serious dancers on the floor who know the jitterbug, the foxtrot, the tango — really know them, don’t just stand and sway rhythmically — and a handsome Irishman belts out “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” There are impenetrable Brit accents everywhere and elaborately polite service — waiters who say “Thank you” at every opportunity. The bottle of English ginger ale says, “Upend before pouring” — when was the last time you saw “upend”? The sign in the toilet says that the plumbing does not operate on a “cistern system” but a pressure system so do not flush while seated. There is the sunny aft deck where I can lie and not read a book. So what do I do? I think about work.

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The graduation speech I didn’t get to give

It was graduation weekend at my daughter’s school and so I hung out with emotional dads for a couple of days and at the graduation dance I got a little teary-eyed myself. It was the Father-Daughter dance and we shimmied and shook to “I Saw Her Standing There” and then a slow waltz to “Wonderful World” and I sang the words to her, “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow; they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.” And I meant them.

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A fine day on which I did nothing at all

Memorial Day and my love and I walked out in the park to observe the young and restless, the old and rickety, soaking up the sunshine. The laziest day of the year, meant to remember the insane fury of war. Contented families, families making an effort to ignore each other, kids teetering along on bikes or skateboards, dozens of runners each with his or her signature stride (lope, lunge, trot, traipse, scoot, sprint, stagger), picnickers lounging in the shade and dogs sniffing other dogs and toddlers acquainting themselves with the wonders of grass.

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Life is so interesting, it’s hard to stop

It’s a privilege to have a doctor of medicine in the family and my family has two, one American, one Swedish. We dreamers and ideologues need to come into contact with science now and then. The Swedish doctor told us yesterday she is skeptical of the American practice of routine colonoscopies, that the profit margin on the procedure is very high and the rationale is modest at best. I’d never heard skepticism about colonoscopies before; it was like someone bad-mouthing mouthwash. I’ve been pro-colonoscopy because it feels good to get cleaned out and the muscle relaxant is so luxurious and pleasurable, and health insurance paid the freight so I didn’t give it a thought. Interesting.

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What I learned from window replacement

I am drinking coffee this morning from a cup that says “Verum Bonum Pulchrum” — truth, goodness, beauty — an impossible ideal, but it’s my sister-in-law’s cup, not mine. Our apartment is undergoing window replacement so my love and I are being harbored by relatives. She sleeps in a handsome mahogany bed that belonged to her grandmother Hilda and I sleep on a hard single bed in the basement. Separation is good for a happy marriage like ours. We say good night and I trudge downstairs and lie in the dark on a skinny bed that is like the one I slept in when I was 17. So I close my eyes and it’s 1959 and I’m considering my prospects in life.  

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Press Kit

If you are hosting a show with Garrison, please feel free to use the below press photos for marketing, as well as the below short biography. Promo video for purpose of booking is available here.

Garrison Keillor did “A Prairie Home Companion” for forty years, wrote fiction and comedy, invented a town called Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, even though he himself grew up evangelical in a small separatist flock where all the children expected the imminent end of the world. He’s busy in retirement, having written a memoir and a book of limericks and is at work on a musical and a Lake Wobegon screenplay, and he continues to do “The Writers Almanac” sent out daily to Internet subscribers (free). 

He and his wife Jenny Lind Nilsson live in Minneapolis, not far from the YMCA where he was sent for swimming lessons at age 12 after his cousin drowned, and he skipped the lessons and went to the public library instead and to a radio studio to watch a noontime show with singers and a band. Thus, our course in life is set. 

Recent reviews:

“Fans laughed, applauded and sang along throughout Sunday night’s two-hour show” -Jeff Baenen, AP News

“His shows can, for a couple of hours, transform an audience of even so-called coastal elites into a small-town community with an intimacy only radio and its podcast descendants can achieve” -Chris Barton, LA Times

“[Keillor is] an expert at making you feel at home with his low-key, familiar style. Comfortable is his specialty.” -Betsie Freeman, Omaha-World Herald