Sunday, August 19, 2012

11 - 16 August

Saturday 11 August Port of Honolulu – Pacific Ocean 

Currency – US Dollars

We arrived in Honolulu about 0800 hours and everyone was more than ready to go ashore after five days at sea.  I had spent a week in Honolulu about 5 years ago and had done all the sightseeing I wanted to do so Pat and I decided we would grab a free shuttle bus into one of the big shops and then continue on to the biggest shopping centre on the island.

We left the ship, grabbed the shuttle and walked into the shops with the intention of walking straight through to the other side to catch the shuttle onto the next shopping complex which was where we intended going.  Yes, you are right $100 later I leave, it was a clever trick, when you walk in you are given a key to a treasure chest and you open it and pick out a prize which is a reduced price on pearls.  I was given a bowl full of live oysters and told to choose the hairiest and oldest one which I did and when it was opened it contained a large pink pearl.  I, of course had to have it set into a lovely charm for my Pandora and it looks fantastic. I have now run out of room on my bracelet, it is full of lovely memories.  Thank you John for starting me off.

We then moved onto the largest shopping centre and that was 1100 hours and we left after 1800 hours.  Pat had her hair dyed, nails repaired and I sat in the court yard making the most of free Wifi and uploaded all my outstanding blog journals, what I did in 1 hour would have taken me well over 5 hours on the ship and nearly $100.  I am going to find another way of doing it next time.

We returned back to the ship just in time for me to gr a bottle of wine and some ships and race up to the top deck to watch the sunset and to try out my new binoculars.  I was going to wait until I was home to buy them as I wanted to take them with me to Africa but they were a good price in Walmart and I can use them when we leave the Pacific Ocean which is just sea and more sea.

We had a ‘Sail-a-way’ party that night, we were all dressed up in Hawaiian clothes and lei’s, the men were all in the loud Hawaiian shirt, we left Honolulu about 2230 hours and we continued dancing in the warm tropical air until late into the night.

 Sunday 12, Monday 13 August – Pacific Ocean

The weather is still overcast and the sea is a little choppy although we do not feel it very much as the stabilisers are very good.  We still can’t get up on deck a lot as the wind is very strong.

All the 600 ‘Around the World’ passengers met at 1700 hrs on the top deck Monday to have a group photo taken; we covered the whole deck plus the surrounding deck, not sure if the photographer managed to get us all in.  I stood next to Ann who was wearing bright pink shirt so I should be able to find myself.

People are starting to talk about the end of the cruise and it is hard to believe that we have less than three weeks left.  

Tuesday 14 August – Pacific Ocean 

The weather is getting warmer although the wind is still strong, especially in the mornings. Tonight we cross the Equator at about 2030 hour and to celebrate the event the ship had a ‘crossing the equator’ ceremony during the afternoon.  I must admit that I enjoy life at sea and this section has a heap of sea days as we cross the Pacific.    

Wednesday 15, Thursday 16 August – Pacific Ocean

Gosh the Pacific Ocean is huge, we seem to sail and sail, over 500 nautical miles a day and we never see another ship and very rarely see land.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

6 - 10 August

Monday 6 August – Berth 92 Los Angeles.

It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and we have been promised about 32 degrees and clear skies.  Yes, we had to sit in the Princess Theatre for over 1½ hours before we could go through the Immigration process which was quick and professional and the we walked some distance past dogs, customs and eventually came out into the LA sun.

I was on a city drive by with just a couple of stops on the way, we left the Port and got onto the Freeway and headed to Olvera Street which is the oldest street in LA and is very Spanish as this area was settled by the Spanish and then later handed over to the US.

We drove past Disney Theatre, many Government buildings and we then set out towards Hollywood Bowl which is an enormous natural outdoor amphitheatre and is one of the most renowned music venues, the only problem was that there was a function on and we could not get near it so we had to drive past.  We saw the letters ‘HOLLYWOOD’ up on the hill although it soon disappeared behind trees and buildings.

We also drove past the area where they had the Oscar presentations and the area had chairs and barriers because there was a function on in the evening.

We then drove through Beverley Hill and saw a number of beautiful houses and we even saw the little house where Marilyn Munroe lived.

We were supposed to stop at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre which is an iconic Chinese inspired Los Angeles movie theatre; it has a walkway paved with the cement hand and footprints of numerous celebrities from Clark Gable, Brad Pit and Lassie.  As you can see, I said supposed as our bus driver could not find a parking spot so we didn’t stop.  It was very disappointing as all the other tours managed to stop and the passengers really enjoyed trying to find their favourite stars.

It was the day after the anniversary of Marilyn Munroe’s death and there was a wreath and other flowers on her star.

We stopped at the Farmer’s Market for lunch and I had  a fantastic southern dish of gumbalyunya which is a dish from ‘down South’ of rice, seafood and beans, huge meal but luckily 2 men from the ship were passing and they helped me eat it.

Unfortunately we headed straight back to the ship, the trip was a disappointment as we were back early and also didn’t get to see te footsteps which was the main reason I chose the tour.

I decided it would be the ideal time to have a swim as most of the passengers were either on shore or asleep in their cabins and the weather was perfect.  I changed, grabbed my sun screen and went up onto deck 12 and guess what, all the pools had been emptied and so no swimming.  Darn.

Sail-a-way commenced at 1700 hrs and we proceeded to leave Los Angeles, this city did not have the same feeling as New York and it had a different feeling.  The passengers who went to see the Universal Studios said that they had a fantastic time and it was well worth the $150 they paid to go through the studios. 

Tuesday 7 August – North Pacific Ocean.

Another day at sea, the weather is overcast and the seas are rough and we are experiencing slight gale force winds, it seems that there are two small hurricanes around, one on either side of us.   We are travelling 19 knots and trying to outrun the weather, the ship is very stable and I think it would take a lot to throw this ship around.

Lots of new faces on board today, it seems that most of the new passengers are Aussies on their way home.  This is the last section and it is mainly consists of sea days, think there are only about 4 ports left.

A lot of the passengers have re-booked for next year and yes, so have I, Princess has offered a fantastic deal of a saving of $10k and $4k on-board spending.  There are 12 new Ports to see and of course some of the fantastic ones from this cruise, I will find out who reads my Blog!!

Wednesday 8, Thursday 9 & Friday 10 August – Pacific Ocean.

The weather is slowly warming up although it is still necessary to wear long sleeves when you go outside.  It seems that the health on the ship has settled down although there are a number of older passengers are suffering from chest problems.

Thursday was a formal night and we have only three left, things are coming to an end, the songs the choir are practicing will guarantee that there are no dry eyes in the theatre.

31 July - 5 August

Tuesday 31 July – Gulf of Nicoya.

Port of Puntarenas – Costa Rica           

Currency – Costa Rican Colon 

When I came out on deck this morning, the ship was already moored and we were looking at beaches whose sands were brown because it was ground up lava and it seems that we were back into 3rd world counties again.  A number of the excursions had been cancel due to a small hurricane which had gone through the island and caused a lot of damage and others due to a demonstration which could cause delays for the busses.

My excursion was OK and we set off through Puntarenas to travel through the countryside and after about 30 minutes we pulled off the road and our guide went just into the jungle and started calling out and after a few minutes a cute little monkey came out to take a banana from the guides hands and of course give us the opportunity to take pictures. 

We then travelled onto a cruise boat on the Tarcoles River which was very similar to the river banks in the Top End as it was very tidal and full of crocodiles who were not as big as ours as they were more like our Johnsons.  We saw crocs, herons, falcons, jacana, vultures, egrets and my favourite green iguanas.  I must admit, I was really uncomfortable during the cruise as the boat was very low in the water and no sides and we were going right up to the crocs and I was really scared that they would jump in, I was glad to get back on shore.

Lunch followed the cruise and we enjoyed local food of fish, rice and beans and a couple of bottles of local beer.  Most enjoyable.

We stopped at a few souvenir places on the way back, getting in back in time for the afternoon monsoonal showers.  As I was going through the security gates at the start of the pier and was being scanned by the metal detector, the local Policeman noticed the Scout shirt I was wearing and told me that he was a Scout Leader so we then of course had to have a chat about Scouting and he gave me his scouting business card.  I often wear my scout shirt when I leave the ship and have met a number of scouts and leaders.

We have been searching for places with free wi-fi every time we leave the ship but have not managed to find one yet, I am glad that my computer is a light as it is. Maybe we can find somewhere in Los Angeles.

Up on deck at 1800 hours for ‘Sail-a-way’.

Wednesday 1 August – Pacific Ocean passing Nicaragua. The sea are calm and the weather is overcast and the ship’s passengers are excited as at breakfast we found salt and pepper shakers, milk and sugar on the tables.  Wow, we are out of total lock down and we can now serve ourselves and it is silly how something as simple as that could make everyone overjoyed with the knowledge that the virus is under control.

Thursday 2 August – Pacific Ocean south off Mexico.

Last night we passed through a lightning storm and heavy rain and the people with a balcony tell me that it was brilliant bit those who live in the centre of the ship slept on unawares as it is constantly black inside our cabins, it is impossible to know what time of the day it is in there.  I would rather save the money by staying in the inner cabin and use it on excursions etc.

Friday 3 August – Pacific Ocean 15 miles off the coast of Mexico.

Storm again last night and overcast today.  The choir had their performance in the theatre this afternoon and as usual we were really great.  It has been a lot of fun and I have really enjoyed learning the songs and although I still cannot read music I follow the notes as they go up and down and watch the conductor, our final concert before Sydney will be a teary one as most of us have been on the whole cruise.

Saturday 4 August – Pacific Ocean 30 miles off the coast of Baja California Mexico.

Another day at sea, the weather is over cast and the seas are calm, there are a lot of dolphins swimming around the ship this morning as the water temperature is now about 30 degrees.

We had a bit of excitement this morning, the ship sail into a small island to disembark two sick passengers.  It was interesting to watch the transfer, the ship had stopped and then the small boat came along side of the ship and the medical staff boarded the ship and then the luggage and the passengers were transferred.  It was smoothly done, all the time we were close to the Mexican shore we were constantly circled by a Mexican Navy Patrol boat and the soldiers on board the craft were armed.  I am not sure if I would have like to be unloaded on this small island in the hope of finding medical assistance.

Formal night again and of course we will be having Baked Alaska again.

Sunday 5 August – Pacific Ocean continuing along the coast of Baja California Mexico.

Weather is still overcast and I am wearing my track pants and dragged out my slippers.  A number of the passengers who are doing the World Cruise have decided to leave the ship in LA and either spend some more time in USA or travel direct to Hawaii and spend days there until the ship arrives on the 11th.  I am happy to stay on board and hopefully the weather will warm up and I may go for a swim and get a tan.

I am starting to think about how I am going to fit everything into my 2 suitcases.

29 - 30 July

Sunday 29 July – Caribbean Sea.

Panama Canal.  This marvel of engineering took 34 years to construct at a cost in lives of over 25,000 people who died from either tropical diseases or landslides. The Panama hat isn’t made in Panama at all it originated in Ecuador but was worn by the balding Ferdinand de Lesseps during the building of the canal.  They were imported from Ecuador to be used by the thousands of canal workers to protect them from the intense tropical sun.

At 0500 everyone was up on deck as we slowly leave the Caribbean Sea and proceeded along jungle covered banks, through the channel towards the Gatun Locks.  The whole process is truly amazing, we travel through two locks, we approach the first lock and move up to the lock gate and the gate closes behind the ship and the water rises, we rise 9 meters in 8 minutes and the water is gravity fed.  We have been held in place be mechanical ‘mules’ on either side of the ship, these mules travel with us to the end of the lock. 

The ship paid $400,000 to pass through the canal.

It is quite strange standing on the deck and feeling the ship rise so quickly, the gates open and we then move into the next lock and the process begins again, 9 meters in 8 minutes, we are now towering over the land below, we then carry out the same process of 9 meters in 8 minutes, twenty seven meters higher we enter the Gatun Lake. 

Gatun Lake is a man-made lake and it is huge and ships anchor up each end of the lake while they are waiting for their turn to go through the locks, we waited over 40 minutes until we could move into the lake.

We passed under the Centennial Bridge and at 1400 hours arrived at the next set of locks which are the other end of the lake and we had to commence our decent into the Pacific Ocean.  Pedro Miguel lock, the first of the last two locks was entered at 1430 hrs and we proceeded to drop 9 meters and we then moved on to Miraflores Locks where we moved through two locks and dropped a further 18 meters. 

At the end of the last lock was a lovely surprise, a very large group of about 200 hundred Panamanians from the nearby city of Panama City  were there to welcome us to the Panama Canal and of course we had to yell “Aussie, Aussie, Oye, Oye” at least twenty times as we went through.  It was great fun and we were having a great time and then the afternoon monsoonal rains came and we scattered inside and they hid under the verandah.

We passed under the Bridge of America and into the bay of Panama, we then anchored at the Balboa Anchorage for approximately four hours to bunker fuel oil, before continuing on our passage to Puntarenas.

The Panama Canal was truly one of the manmade wonders of the world and very different from the Suez Canal, both canals enable thousands of miles to be saved by sailing ships travelling around the world and of course save many weeks of travel.  Some of the passengers said that they saw monkeys in the jungle during the day and it was truly primitive in some places, I am sure that it is where you would find ‘The Ghost who Walks’.

Monday 30 July – Pacific Ocean. The weather is nice, the seas are calm and I spent a lot of time lying in a deck chair and reading today.  Tonight was a Formal Night and fortunately I had one outfit left that I hadn’t yet worn although I had to risk my life by going into the laundry to iron my trousers.

Everyone knows that I am reasonably tough and will do most things but to date I have not been to the laundry preferring to wash in my hand basin than risk being ripped apart by some of the women who use the laundry.  You have no idea the stories I have heard and I have even met a women who was banned from using the laundry because of the trouble she caused.

25 - 28 July

Wednesday 25 July.  St Thomas – Virgin Island.

Currency – American Dollars.

 St Thomas is in the Virgin Islands and was bought by the United States during the First World War for $25 million and is the home of the Cruzan Rum Distillery which makes Southern Comfort and of course Cruzan Rum.  The Islands were the home of many famous pirates including Blackbeard and Bluebeard and both of them have castles here.

It is famous for its duty free shopping, especially diamond and watches and there certainly were a lot of stores offering gems of many shapes and colours.  Yvonne, Pat and I caught the open style taxi into town and started a 3 hour shopping spree.  As you know, I am not a great shopper so I was bored in about 10 minutes and I didn’t buy anything. 

We decided on taking a tour offered by one of the locals and immediately started driving up St Peters Mountain which was almost 1500 feet high and the view was spectacular although some of the islands in the distance were hidden by sand in the air from the Sahara Desert.  

We saw on iguana which was extremely tame and enjoyed the cool mountain air.

Lunch was next on the agenda and we went back to the dock and went into a local pub and ordered fish and chips and several Light Buds, most enjoyable.  The girls bought some wine and I bought a Pandora bead for my bracelet, not a lot of room left on the bracelet.

It seems that the ship has taken up idea of Christmas in July so tonight we had roast turkey for dinner and after dinner we all went up on deck and believe it or not Santa came and we had snow.  Yes, snow came down from the upper decks and showered us with fine shaved ice and it just added to the atmosphere.  They tell me that on Christmas Day, they shower the inside of the ship with snow and it falls on the Christmas tree below.  It was a fun night and we danced in the beautiful sea air and had a great time. 

Thursday 26 July – Caribbean Sea. Beautiful weather, calm seas and we are still having the special quarantine restrictions which are really hard on the staff and passengers, the Captain dropped hints that we may be back to normal after the Panama Canal.  Hope so.      

20 - 24 July

Friday 20 July and Saturday 21 July – New York.

Welcome to America and the excessive immigration procedures, I sat in the theatre waiting to start my tour for over 1 ½ hours for my turn to be processed by immigration.  Normally, we just walk off the ship, not even taking our passports with us and the whole process takes a few minutes.  Not here, we have filled out forms, paid for a visa, lined up, had our finger prints taken on both hands and a retina picture taken and passport checked.  The immigration staff was friendly and we were made to feel very welcome.

My gosh, what a fantastic entry to the city of Manhattan, we sailed into the harbour and although the day was overcast and the famous Statue of Liberty was difficult to see, we berthed right in the centre of the city, we were 5 streets away from Times Square.

I went on a city drive by tour and unfortunately it was raining although it wasn’t cold and windy which was good and it wasn’t a Sunday.

Well it was like sitting in the lounge room at home with the telly on, we passed by:

the Empire State,
the place where John Lennon was shot and were Yoko lives now
The twin tower site and saw the damage and the new building
Took pictures of the Statue of Liberty
The headquarters of the United Nations
Some of the sites from Seinfield and Friends.

We drove through Harlem and Flushing Queens and so much more, it was really a lot of fun and we loved every minute of it, especially after seeing a country that’s history was the same as Australia.

We went back to the ship and then ventured out by ourselves, New York is a very easy to move around as the Avenues are very long and the streets are short.  We were going out to a Broadway show that evening so we decided that we would see how far away it was and although it was still raining we wandered around the city and had a coffee and donut in one of the local shops.

Many of the passengers were going out to see a Broadway show, I went to Rock of Ages, Yvonne saw Jersey Boys, John went to see Porgy & Bess, others went to see Phantom of the Opera and War Horse, everyone enjoyed the experience.  To see a show on Broadway is truly an experience which is made even more memorable as we then walked one street to Times Square.  The rain had eased off and although it was after 2230 there were heaps of people in the Square, so we wandered around and enjoyed the atmosphere.  Over 1 million people cram into Times Square to watch the ball drop at midnight; I could not imagine how crowded it must be.  

It was well after 0200 and I wanted to find a hot dog stand and try a hot dog but it seemed that I was in the wrong place and had to settle for a Mc Donald’s hamburger.  As we were returning back to the ship the crew were just leaving for a night out.

The poor things they still had to constantly sterilise everything and we now have had everything taken of the table and the stewards have to serve everything including the pepper and salt.  Our cabins have been totally stripped and thoroughly cleaned as the virus is getting worse and when someone gets sick they are totally quarantined until they have been clear of vomiting and for 24 hours.  Touch wood, I am still well, it has been hard as a lot of people have not been able to go one shore especially the ones who missed out on New York.

The next day had been designated for shopping and we were off the ship early and fortunately the weather had cleared up and we headed for Central Park.  What a huge place and as it was Saturday, it was full of walkers, runners and people riding bikes and of course a heap of tourists.

We then went to two huge department stores and I tried on heaps of clothes but it seems that most designer clothes are made for ‘pencils’ and not shapely one like me.  I managed to find a few things and I bought a lovely Celvin Klein shirt, my first designer outfit.

We then walked back to Time Square which is closed off on Saturdays and they set up stall and there were streets of them selling everything you can think of.  Unfortunately it was soon time to return back to the ship as we were leaving at 1600 hours, 1 ½ days is not enough time and everyone just loved NY, it is nothing like you see in CSI and Law and Order, there were Police everywhere and zero tolerance against drugs and violence.

We had a lot of new faces on board during the sail away party that evening.  It was an experience sailing past the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the skyline of Manhattan, the weather was perfect.   

Sunday 22 July & Monday 23 July. At sea and the ship is still experiencing health problems and sanitation is everywhere, the stair handrails and in fact every surface that can be touched by a human is constantly being cleaned.  I am told that this has happened before on other ships, it comes from so many people living together and of course new people coming on board with the germs.

Tuesday 24 July. At sea and today we had bit of excitement as the ship had to evacuate 2 very sick passengers.  The aft of the ship had to be evacuated and as my cabin is right at the back I was unable to return to my cabin for 2 hours.  The Coast Guard sent a plane and helicopter from their base in St Johns and the plane continued circling the ship while the helicopter hovered over the ship and a crew member repelled down to the ship and then the stretcher was winched back up into the helicopter.  The load was too much for one helicopter so a second one was sent and they both went to an American hospital some distance away.  One of the patients suffered a heart attack during the repeated vomiting attacks and the other patient needed an emergency blood transfusion which was performed by the medical team here but he needed further treatment.  It was an interesting exercise and I think everyone was thankful that it could happen, knowing it could have been them.


18 - 19 July

Wednesday 18 July. The weather over the last few days has been cold and the visibility outside of the boat is almost zero, the ship’s foghorn was sounded every 90 seconds.

Halifax – California               Currency – Canadian Dollars

This morning we docked in Halifax, Canada 2 hours early at 1030 hours and the weather had cleared and the sun was shining, the first time we had seen the sun in days.

Halifax Harbour is one of the world’s largest natural harbours and Eyvonne, Pat and I once again didn’t have a tour and we set out on foot to discover this Canadian township.  The wharf area was very modern and there was a lot of activity happening with lots of tents and display areas being set up, we were told that the Tall Ships were arriving over the next 5 days and they were preparing for the festivities.  One ship arrived when we were there, what a magnificent sight.

We wandered up the streets and the motorist were so polite the stop for you to cross the streets even without a pedestrian crossing.  

We decided to walk to the Citadel National Historic site which is on top of a high hill and we had about 15 minutes to walk to the peak to be in time to hear the firing of the noon gun and to see the changing of the guards.  The gun was huge and although we were ready for the ‘bang’ it was extremely loud and a number of people jumped.  The changing of the guard was lovely, the soldiers seem to be so young and they were Canadian Mounted Police in very traditional uniform.

We wandered back down the hill and walked towards the shopping area of the town and went in to Tim Horton’s which is the Canadian version of Starbucks and bought a coffee and a jalapeno bagel which cost a total of $2.50, so cheap.

I saw a hairdresser and fortunately they were able to take me in immediately so I had a wash, haircut and blow dry and styling for $40, he did a great job and certainly cheaper than the ship where the same thing would have cost well over $90.

We spent some time in the centre of the city, Halifax is very nice and the mixture of French and English is very noticeable as everything is written in both languages.  The buildings are about the same ages as the ones in Australia and it would be easy to imagine that you were walking around any large country town in Australia.

The time was flying by and we went back to the wharf area for lunch at about 1530, lobster is the specialty of the area and although we were very tempted as a number of the customers were tucking into hugh red lobsters, it was hard to justify $60 so we had fish and chips which was lovely and certainly less than a third of the price.

We wandered slowly back to the ship and I took some pictures of a Tall Ship which had just come into harbour and they were furling their sails.

Back on board and I sat outside on the top deck and read in the sun and waited for the ship to sail and even though it was still light, I went into the dining room for a bowl of soup and a roll and then off to bed.

Thursday 19 July at Sea.  The weather outside of the ship is cold and windy and the sea is calm and most of the passengers are staying inside except for the poor smokers.  It is the last day of progressive Trivia and yes, believe it or night, my team came last again and this time we were given gloves, masks and a cleaning rag and laughingly suggested that we spend our time helping with the clean up!!!

The Princess Pop Choir also had our performance and as usual we were very good and I must admit I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy singing so much.  It is still a challenge not being able to read music but I have now worked out if the notes go up then so do I.

Once again we had Baked Alaska after the last evening meal as over 500 passengers were leaving the ship and the same number boarding. 

The walk down the corridor back to my cabin showed how many were leaving as they leave their suitcases outside their doors to be picked up by the stewards.

It is coming home to the long term travellers as we are on our way back to Aussie now, more days at sea than on shore.