As the Holland America cruise ship the ms Nieuw Amsterdam set sail Monday afternoon from Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, the 464 guests on the eighth WEEKLY STANDARD cruise convened in the ship’s showroom for the first panel sessions of the week.

Editor Bill Kristol kicked things off by introducing the cruise’s cast of speakers, including (in addition to many of us at TWS) Juan Williams of Fox News, pollster Scott Rasmussen, and Mary Katharine Ham. Kristol then led the discussion off with a review of the state of the nation, focusing on the 2012 election and its implications for our future long-term economic prosperity and the role of government in American life. Two panels of speakers followed, each focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of first the Democrats and then the Republicans in next year’s elections. The discussion was lively and well-received.

Guests have already dined twice with STANDARD cruise speakers as well as met with them at receptions and gatherings throughout the ship. Juan Williams noted at Monday’s panels that one guest said she was happy to meet him in person. “It’s just so great to put a body with the talking head,” she told him.

The Nieuw Amsterdam will spend Tuesday at sea, on its way to Grand Cayman, while guests of the STANDARD will hear from its speakers about the GOP primaries, what (gasp!) a second Obama term would look like, religion and the 2012 election, and the truth about the news media.

The weather’s been good, the seas only a little rocky. Biggest surprise of the cruise so far: One of my colleagues (I can’t say who—what happens on the Nieuw Amsterdam stays on the Nieuw Amsterdam!) is ahead $200 at the blackjack table.

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