Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another cruise booked!

I said I was taking a break from the long cruises, which is true. But our sons were very keen to do a repeat of last year's family cruise. So we're doing 10 days on the Pacific Pearl out of Auckland, to Tonga and Fiji. And that takes care of who's going to organise Christmas Dinner!

So now Christmas Day for us will be spent lazing away on Dravuni Island, Fiji, followed by Christmas Dinner on board the ship. Wonderful! No shopping, no cooking, no dishes, no hassles... Anyone want to join us?

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's a wrap folks...

Quote of the Day: "Well we survived this trip. Now all we have to do is survive the Rugby World Cup and the elections!"

The last day of the cruise was the usual flurry of activity, as people finished their packing, said farewell to cruise friends, exchanged email addresses knowing it's unlikely they'll ever write, worried about how much to tip the room steward and the waiter, and generally psyched themselves up to re-enter the real world.

I attended the last last Cruise Critic lunch, while BJ sulked away back in the cabin. He knew he was just a few hours short of being stuffed into the suitcase, then at home being chucked back into the draw until the next trip. Lunch was a fine affair, with appropriate speeches and thank yous. I've really enjoyed the company of this jolly group, and will hopefully meet some of the folks on other cruises...

I had an early night, planning on getting up for the sail into Auckland. I woke up in time for that, but on seeing it was only 10C outside, decided not to venture out onto deck! A final breakfast before a seamless disembarkation (The Americans could learn a thing or two here), and I was out of the Princess system, and all abandoned and alone in downtown Auckland. Strange thing is, there were many others disembarking who I'd never seen before. Where had they been hiding for the last 7 weeks?

I met friends in Esquires Coffee Shop, opposite the cruise terminal, and after the first decent coffee since Hawaii, and a good old natter, was whisked off to the airport. Back in Wellington, it was a stunning day: sunny and calm. Jenny and I sat down on the edge of Oriental Bay beach, and watched the boats on the harbour and the children playing. It's great to go away, but it's always great to get back home. Especially when you live in one of the finest cities in the world! It was like another port visit really, but this time I get to stay.

So that's it. All done and dusted until next time. Thanks for following my ramblings, and for the emails and comments along the way. It's nice to know people are enjoying what I write... In closing, for those who didn't read last year's blog, I'm going to repeat my final comments from that (with a few minor modifications), as I think they are still the best suggestions I can make to anyone contemplating a similar trip:

To finish, a few random observations and comments, which others thinking of a seriously long cruise may find helpful:

1. To be successful, it requires effort and commitment. If you are traveling with a partner or spouse, make sure you both have the same level of commitment. Compromise might work for a 7-day cruise, but not for over 3 months. If you are going solo, avoid sharing a cabin with a friend - if you do, chances are fairly low that you will still be friends by the end of the cruise.

2. Do breakfasts in the dining room. The omelets are to die for.

3. Avoid lingering in the laundry. It’s a hotbed of unfounded rumour and discontent!

4. Talk to the crew. Talk to everyone, from the officers right down to the cleaners. Talk to them as equals, and get to know them. They are lovely people, and over time you will hear some amazing stories.

5. Try to make friends with people who are different to your friends back home. This will enrich your experience.

6. Take some tours from the ship where they are the best option, but do you own thing sometimes too. Do your homework before you leave so you know what you want to see and do. Tourist sights are great, but if you get the chance to talk to the local people, they will provide you with special memories.

7. Chill. You’re on a cruise ship, and at sea. Shit will happen, as it would over the same period of time at home. And once you start moaning, it’s a downhill spiral…

8. And if you do need to complain about something, do it with a smile, and you may well find you get a better result.

Bon Voyage!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Temperatures going down...

Quote of the Day: “My husband takes heaps of photos. He says it jogs his memory. But if you need to jog your memory that much, maybe it’s time you forgot it anyway.”

For the first time there’s a bit of a cold bite in the wind. If you’re in a sheltered spot it’s not too bad, but out on the open decks it’s time to ditch the shorts and t-shirts. Some of the crew are already in long trousers and jumpers, while the sun worshippers are busy trying to get that last bit of depth into their tans.

Today I had a new experience: Trivia Rage! Quite a number of people got grumpy because the passenger talent show ran overtime in the venue we use for afternoon trivia. I couldn’t believe it. And we’re rushing where after this??? Chill, folks… Definitely time get back to the real world.

Tonight is the last formal night, and I’m hopeful of getting there. I think I’ve missed dinner in the dining room 4 nights in a row now, through dining at other venues with friends, and this bloody head cold… Last night I slept right through dinner, and had to resort to the buffet late at night. Too sad… My regular dining companions will be thinking I’ve abandoned them – which is only half true!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Last port before Auckland: Apia

Quote of the Day: “Our marriage was a good partnership. Once he was man enough to admit that a woman could have brains.”

Two days ago I went down with the ship’s bug, dammit. Cough, cold, sore throat, generally feeling like sh*t… much like manflu really. So the thought of going ashore in the heat and humidity of Apia did nothing for me at all. After breakfast, I collapsed back into bed, and mentally wrote the day off.

Surprisingly, I woke a couple of hours later feeling much better. Thank you Uncle Lemsip… Too late to link up with anyone else, I set off by myself for a look around. I had noted a coffee shop advertising that they did good quality coffee, so vaguely headed in their direction. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it – something to do with no street signs. Finally ended up at the main market, where there was a farewell underway for the Samoan rugby team heading for the World Cup. Big affair, complete with Police Brass Band, and team parade. Go Samoa!

People here are very friendly, and I ended up chatting with a couple of locals. One had spent time working in Christchurch and Auckland, as well as spending some time in the States. Gave me a lecture about lazy Samoans living overseas! Oh well…

On the way back I found a large number of people from the ship holed up in Aggie Gray’s, famous restaurant and bar. Always strikes me as a little odd that you would arrive in a foreign port, only to head for a bar, and sit there for hours drinking with people you’re on the ship with…

I found a lovely little park across the road, on the edge of the harbour, where I parked myself under a palm tree. A couple of locals plucked up enough courage to come over and talk to the strange white guy sitting by himself, and we had a good old chat. Turns out they were barmen from Aggie Gray’s, who were just chilling until it was time to start work. Kind of ironic I thought… One said he could never go and work in New Zealand, even though his brother was there – he’d be too frightened! Puts a different perspective on things, doesn’t it?

Lovely sail away, then a sudden 180, and we were heading back to Apia. The captain announced that there was a medical emergency on board, and a lady had to be taken off via the pilot boat, and taken to hospital. This afternoon he announced that she was doing ok, so that was a relief all round. Just as well we were only 30 minutes from port.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

All change in Bora Bora...

Quote of the Day: “After 104 days on this cruise, I’m dreading having to go home and do housework. I think we’ve become institutionalized. We might just have to book another cruise a.s.a.p.”

So whose idea was it to visit Bora Bora on the day they had the highest tide for over 4 years? The waves crashed violently over the reef, but little did we know what that meant until the announcement came over the PA system: most of the excursions were cancelled due to “inclement sea conditions”. But the sea looked beautiful – vivid aqua in colour – yet apparently below the surface it was all too turbid for good views. Later in the day, beaches closed, and hotels were evacuated…

I’d planned on doing a helmet dive thingy, where you wear a large helmet, connected by an air hose to the surface, and walk on the sea floor. Quite radical for me, and disappointing that I wouldn’t be able to do it. There were offers of excursions to drive around the island, but having experienced the local transport in this area previously, I decided to give that a miss. Instead, I had breakfast, then sat out on the deck admiring the view. I was actually very tempted to stay there all day – after all, people pay to hire a boat, to sail this far out, then sit and admire the view, and I was getting it all for free!

Eventually I roused myself, and caught the tender ashore. Being a little late, the tender wasn’t that crowded, which was a bonus. From the pier, I did a walk in both directions, and checked out the church, with its beautiful modern stained glass window, plus a couple of galleries and shops. Everything here is very expensive, which gave some of my fellow passengers something to moan about…

Having decided that I wasn’t in the market for black pearls (outrageously expensive for low grade pearls) I grabbed a tender back just early enough to beat the crush. Most on that tender were crew (all looking about 15 out of uniform) who decided to have a sing-along. They started with a few pop classics, then moved into Philippine songs – very nice, and an unexpected special moment of the cruise…

Last night was another deck party. I didn’t particularly want to go, but BJ insisted! He now sports a tacky plastic green lei, which at least adds a little colour to the cabin. And sorry folks, but the chocolate art is no more – I gave them all to a Samoan passenger who is collecting them to give to young family members she’s meeting in Apia tomorrow. I’m sure Mr Sumee is very relieved…

Just 4 days to go and I leave the retirement village and return to the real world. And I still haven’t worked out exactly what I want to do for the next 20 years. Most suggestions I’ve had from people on the ship are just plain silly!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

King Neptune and all that...

Quote of the Day: “He didn’t like cooking smells in the house, so he had another kitchen built in the garage, and his wife had to do all the cooking out there. But then he was a little odd. He was Austrian.”

Crossing the Equator is a great excuse for a whole heap of nonsense! King Neptune arrived on board at noon, and shortly after there was much ranting by his entourage, throwing around of spaghetti, smearing of goop, and kissing of fish – who on earth came up with these things??? Everyone gets a certificate saying they have made the crossing, and the Cruise Director’s staff get to dress up for a few hours – plain old fashioned silly fun…

Apart from that, it was another cozy day at sea. I did my usual sea day things: breakfast (those wonderful omelets), coffee, gym, read, sleep, snack, lecture, coffee and scones, trivia, gym again, dinner, show, drinks, and before you know it, it’s nearly midnight. So where did the day go?

Unfortunately the internet on here is now running very slow, same as last year. Rumour has it that it's on purpose to make you buy more time as you try to organise your arrival back home...

Oh, and the choc art is progressing rather nicely too: 74 chocolates and still going. It’s taking longer and longer to rearrange now, and taxing my imagination… and Mr Sumee still hasn’t commented!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gotta love those sea days...

Quote of the Day: “Everyone’s cutting down on the food and drink as we get closer to home. Philip is still having his scones though, but without the whipped cream.” Hmmm – first time I’ve heard myself mentioned in a Quote of the Day. Thanks Randy!

So what do you do on the quiet middle day of 5 sea days? The washing is all done and dusted (I managed to get the machines first try yesterday, and felt like I’d won at the Casino!), the ironing’s done, I’d been to a great lecture on Extreme Nature, and it was still a couple of hours until scones and coffee. I could have sat out on deck and read my book, or listened to music, but instead I opted for a visit to the onboard Acupuncturist… as you do.

Now given my extreme aversion to anything with a pointy end penetrating my person, to the point of fainting with blood tests, this may well seem something of an unusual thing to do. However I had been thinking about this for some time, had even attended a free lecture, and chatted briefly to Ryan, the man himself, in the gym. He’s Chinese, which I felt was a good start, as I’m sure there’s a genetic element in all this.

I also mentioned it over dinner, and a couple of the people on my table had had good experiences with acupuncture, so I thought, why not? It could well help my vertigo…

When I rang to make an appointment, expecting to have to wait a couple of days, they had just had a cancellation – could I come in 30 minutes? After a mental scream, I quickly ran through numerous possible excuses, but couldn’t come up with a good on fast enough, so had to front up at the appointed time.

After a chat with the fellow, I decided his charges were the same as everything in the Spa: outrageous! Over twice what I’d pay for any of their services back home. So I guess I won’t be signing up for a pincushion package right now…

Tonight is Country night. Now anything involving cowboys or Country and Western I loathe with a passion, so I’ll be carefully avoiding any such events. I think it could well be an early night again, or maybe a movie on the telly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A mixed day in Hawaii...

Quote of the Day: “You should see her up by the pool. She looks like burnt meat.”

The day got off to a shaky start: we were a couple of hours late in getting to Honolulu, plus it was the day I’d scheduled to hop on the scales… not a good result there, so it’s “bye bye” to the wine, the bread rolls, the oatmeal with prunes, the deserts and the whipped cream on the scones. Extreme measures are called for!

Having been to Hawaii four times before, I’d done most of the tourist things. The weather was looking a bit dodgy, so I opted for a leisurely day based around Waikiki, just like thousands of other tourists…

I avoided the crowds trying to get ashore in the first 30 minutes (we’re here until midnight, folks) and took The Bus to Ala Moana shopping centre. Here I had my first Honolulu Coffee Company latte of the day, the only place between the UK and New Zealand I’ve found does coffee the way I like it. Several more followed… Once the caffeine hit the bloodstream, I realized that I didn’t really want to be at a shopping centre, so picked up a trolley to Waikiki Beach. Here I picked up a few basic supplies, and a couple of shirts, before hanging out on the beach for a while. I interspersed this with visits to the main Honolulu Coffee Company café, which is slightly elevated, and a great place to people-watch.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t as crowded as on previous visits – apparently the Japanese aren’t coming in their usual numbers, due to the financial crisis – and that the temperature was lower too, which made for a very pleasant afternoon.
For Japanese only...

I briefly considered taking a hike up to Diamond Head, but no sooner had I had the thought, than it began to bucket down. Fortunately I’d toted the umbrella along, so didn’t get the drenching many others received. Once the rain stopped, I thought it might be easier to get a Trolley up to Diamond Head. I’d asked the driver of the previous Trolley, and he said it would cost $5. Sounded like a good deal to me.

After waiting at the stop for over half an hour, with several “Private Charter” Trolleys going past (you have to be Japanese with an appropriate pass to use these – so how ironic is that given Pearl Harbour and all?) the green line Trolley arrived. As I tried to board, the driver told me I had to have a ticket, and couldn’t pay in cash. He said the only time cash was accepted was if you got on at the top of Diamond Head to come back down… Say, what??? He then proceeded to tell me I needed to go to The Bus stop, get a bus to the entrance, then walk blah, blah, blah… I thanked him, and retreated down the road, to another latte… Maybe next time I’ll have more success.

After dodging another shower or two, I headed back to the ship. After a late dinner, I opted for an early night, with no intention of being on deck for sail away, sometime after midnight. However, as it happened I woke up just as we were pulling away from the pier, so headed up to the top decks. There I was just in time for the maneuvering: a full 180-degree pivot, which is quite something to experience. So that was at 1:30am, in a fine drizzle, and with only 9 other passengers and 5 crewmembers in attendance… a lovely moment as the lights of Honolulu and Waikiki faded into the distance.

We now settle in for 5 sea days before Papeete – and in less than two weeks I’ll be back in New Zealand.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Well done Princess...

Quote of the Day: “Well dear, that was Hooters. Now we can cross that one off the bucket list.”

Much to the amazement of a number of people on board, Princess has actually refunded all my expenses arising from my unexpected diversion from Amsterdam to Bergen. Initially we were all told that we’d be given a letter explaining what had happened (i.e. the ship couldn’t get in to Amsterdam because of the weather), and it would then be up to us to claim the expenses back on our travel insurance.

Then a week later, we received a letter asking us to submit our receipts or credit card printouts. Two weeks after that, I was advised that they were refunding my expenses in full. Now that saves me a lot of hassle, plus the excess on my policy, so I’m quite happy with that outcome.

Well done Princess!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

L.A. - same old chaos...

Quote of the Day: “I spoke to this lady from the cruise in Long Beach today. She’s been on the ship since Sydney, and this is the first time she’s been ashore.  She said everywhere else was either too hot, too cold, or too wet.”

Going through US Immigration in LA is the pits! It’s done in groups and by deck level. Firstly the crew, then disembarking passengers, then those booked on excursions. After that comes those “in transit” and continuing on from LA. Being in the cheap seats way down on deck 5, I was in Group 16, the very last group, scheduled to go through Immigration at 10.00am. That in itself was bad enough, seeing we’d been docked since before 6am, but the authorities saw fit to send just 4 officers to process 3000 people face-to-face! So it wasn’t long before they were running over an hour late.

Eventually they did send reinforcements, but by that stage everyone, including the ship’s Passenger Services people, were tearing their hair out, and getting pretty angry about things. I had a friend waiting onshore, and fortunately managed to use this excuse to sweet-talk my way into an earlier group. Even so, it was nearly 11am by the time I got off the ship.

US Immigration need to get their act together. Cruise ships come to LA all the time, so they should have enough officers to do the job quickly. After all, on the Dawn Princess, there are probably at least 2000 passengers and crew just itching to get out there and spend money. Now in the current economic climate, you’d think they’d want to get the punters to the shops a.s.a.p. Anyway, enough ranting about that…

Once ashore, I was picked up and whisked off to the Getty Villa. The original plan was to go to the Getty Museum, but in keeping with my ongoing travel disruptions, that was closed being a Monday. Maybe next time…

The Villa is in Malibu, and opened in 1968. And what does someone like J. Paul Getty do when he wants something a little different? He re-creates a first-century Roman country house, the Villa dei Papiri, which was in Herculaneum, and destroyed by the Mt Vesuvius eruption of A.D. 79. I’d seen the remains of the original villa several years ago, so found the re-creation really interesting.

The Villa houses over 1200 pieces from the Getty collection, featuring Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts. The thought of all this drove us first to the café, where we sat out on the terrace, and dined on chicken wraps and beer. On a beautiful summers day, this was idyllic, and we could have quite happily spent the whole afternoon there.

However, we thought we’d better do the cultural bit, and do a quick once-over of the pottery, statues, sarcophagi and jewelry, before doing a lap around the beautiful Roman gardens. All very interesting, even if the exhibits did all start to look much the same after a while… Philistines, I know!

From there, the choice was either a Korean massage, with guys walking over your back, or coffee. Being basically a conservative fellow, I opted for the coffee. We found a quiet corner café on a back street at Long Beach, and settled in for a latte and a chat. So good, and a great break from the shipboard routines. An added bonus was that because we had an early sail away, I was back on board in time for scones…

With Mike and Heather, plus the other two on our table, leaving the cruise in LA, I was faced with a new crew at dinner. All Kiwis, and they look as though they will measure up. So hopefully I won’t be looking for another table prior to Auckland. Time will tell…