Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Another painful and disturbed night – but at least the alarm clock had been silenced. We had our official “Crazy Cruiser’s Meet & Greet” arranged by Anne, in the Jammer’s nightclub at 9am. A bit early for some so we grabbed a yoghurt and a juice first, but we had about 65 people attend and part way through, we were joined by the popular Canadian Captain, Todd McBain and three of his senior staff. Very impressive. So we gave them “Crazy Cruiser” name tags.
Garry (I presume) had organised some “Bloody Legend Award” certificates and the first three were presented to Anne for organising the meets, Joanne for her tireless work in arranging tours and yours truly for the name tags. Very impressive as they were framed!
After a quick photo session it was back to the buffet for a real breakfast. We are always going to get the basics in the hot buffet with one or two changing dishes. One of my favourites was the corned beef hash. On offer always are scrambled eggs, freshly cooked fried eggs to order and for those of us who prefer poached, one of the many kitchen staff simply takes your order and appears a minute later with your eggs. For those who watched the UK Master Chef when they worked on a cruise ship, you will know that they are pre-cooked and dropped into iced water well before service and are then simply scooped out and dropped into boiling water again to warm them through.
Bacon fans have the choice of real bacon as we know it – mainly the meaty part - or the crispy overdone American style where they use the streaky off cuts. Around the corner between the two buffet stations, there is a fresh waffle station.
Once late breakfast was out of the way it was a rush off to the first beginner’s dance class taken by Alana. I think that even she was surprised at the turnout but she coped extremely well and managed to teach the majority, the basic cha-cha step, plus a shoulder to shoulder and the New Yorker. Very witty and entertaining as well as a solid hour’s workout.
Back then for a shower and a natter up on deck for an hour or so as the weather started to improve significantly, before a late lunch.
Then the first Trivia session. A gang of us ended up in three teams and I had to leave before the scores were totalled for an appointment with the acupuncturist for what was booked initially as half an hour but took an hour. $164 lighter in the spending money and I realised then just how good our regular acupuncturist really is. (Hi Nina.) Was I impressed? Not really. Why? A bit short on the diagnostic and analytical skills I have come to expect.
Dinner at 7:45pm for the first time at our correct table and we had a full house of 10 – who had already met as we had made up our own table well in advance. Other tables naturally enough had varying numbers of diners and a fair few empty spaces. It is a bit tough for those on a table for 8 or 10 when several elect to eat every night at the buffet. Maybe Princess should consider a table reallocation based on those who obviously prefer to use the main dining rooms?
Another good meal of course, this time, pea and ham soup, veal cordon bleu, followed by a Gran Marnier soufflé. Methinks the chef must have swigged the Gran Marnier. The waiters are lightening fast and delays between courses are minimal so heading for a 9:45pm show afterwards was no problem.
Three talented Indonesian male singers who were excellent, backed by the Princess orchestra. Afterwards to the Wheelhouse bar for a dance or two to a good live 4 piece group then finally to the Atrium for yet more dancing with Alana, singing this time, whilst brother Alan played the piano.
We got to bed about 12:15 so you’ll probably understand why the blog updates are running a bit late – and still no photographs!
At least I managed to connect to the internet and update the blog but when checking the emails, I still seem to be getting information on NZ dances, so if anyone from dancing in NZ is reading this, could you please tell Ian to knock us off the circulation list, as unfortunately, we won’t be there...
Friday, May 27, 2011
After the long day we crashed into bed expecting a long, restful sleep. Two things conspired to thwart that. The first was that at 3:30am NZ time the day before, I had switched off the alarm. Unfortunately, I hadn’t cancelled it and the slim travel alarm was in my briefcase, happily bleeping the William Tell Overture at 1:30am. Needless to say, in the dark, I located the briefcase but not the alarm, so I lugged the case to the bathroom and switched on the light – after first accidentally switching on the full room lights! Needless to say, that didn’t go down too well with either of us, but especially Paula.
The second hiccup towards returning to a peaceful sleep was a badly aching right shoulder. No matter what my posture was, I was in a lot of pain. We eventually staggered out of bed about 8:30, not exactly rested, but ,looking forward to boarding which was advised at 1pm to follow the 12 noon rush, but before that, it was a stroll round the harbour to “Plate” restaurant for an excellent breakfast. We had intended stocking up, well I had, with a pack of cider as I expected there would be none available on board. Unfortunately, the Harbourside Centre shops didn’t open until 10am so it was a tube of Deep Heat from the pharmacy then back to shower and pack, check out and taxi to the ship. ($13 if anyone is interested...)
We dumped the three cases, passed the Jazz Band playing some excellent music, filled in an Australian health declaration and immigration departure form and straight to a queue free check in which was extremely quick. We were issued with our swipe cards, a small foldaway map of the ship and a boarding card for “group 4”. With a small food and drink stall in the tent, it was probably aligned to the Princess pricing policies with a can of lemonade or coke at $2.25 a can. No wonder others took on board a case of Coca Cola...
Meanwhile the Ratcliffs (Joanne & Garry) and Tullenors (Ros & Arnold) were travelling by limousine but with a following truck with all their luggage. After they had checked in, a quick impromptu jive in front of the jazz band (Jo & Garry, Paula and myself) and we were called through for boarding. The usual Disney trick. Short queue until you turned the corner to be faced with a long slow zigzag queue for immigration. We were lucky as the following group – 5, were hampered somewhat by the high winds knocking out the communications to the computers and it took them 2 hours to get through.
Up to the cabin – a bit smaller than the NCL ship’s balcony cabins, but something you soon adapt to.
We had arranged to meet the others in the buffet and some made it and some obviously didn’t.
We had heard negative comments about the buffet from some previous bloggers but as far as we were concerned, initial impressions were more than favourable. As an alternative to water, tea coffee etc, there were jugs of real lemonade – not the fizzy stuff and I managed to start the rehydration process. For future cruisers, at this point I decided that purchasing a soft drink concession card wasn’t really anything more than a hard sell, as the soda/soft drinks are the machine generated stuff and the lemonade was excellent.
An essential stage of cruising and we all trooped off to our muster stations on the 3:15 tannoy call – which interrupted our unpacking, as two out of our three cases had arrived. (The same two that were off the aircraft first... this time with a pair of (illegal!) handcuffs safely buried. (See Joanne’s blog...) Sailaway was scheduled for 4pm.
We listened attentively to the safety lecture and tried on our life jackets. Judging by the confusion around, some people would not survive two minutes if the drill was for real!
Then the dreaded announcement. As the temperature dropped and the winds howled and the rain gathered momentum; “Due to blah-blah-blah, we are not now sailing until 6pm – in the dark!
By the time we returned to the cabin to complete the unpacking, the last case had arrived, much to Paula’s relief, as it was 100% her stuff in there. The sailaway at 6pm was wet and miserable but nothing could disguise the excitement from the passengers braving the cold and the rain up on deck.
Note to the Sydney authorities: For future World Cruises, could you please switch on the opera house lights for a few minutes? Passing one of the world’s favourite and most spectacular landmarks in the dark is an instantly forgettable experience.
Then at 7:30pm, we headed for the dining room as a group of 12 and were seated on two tables of six. An excellent meal and for me (those who know me will know very well that the food comments will be a major feature from now on...) the prawn cocktail – an ever present on the menu was nice, the rib of beef and baked potato was excellent and to finish, a very nice plate of cheeses, dried fig, dried apricot, nuts and grapes, was also excellent.
The ship was moving around a little in a 7m swell, but most people seemed OK, though one or two had taken a precautionary pill.
And so to bed. A large comfortable King sized affair and keen to enjoy our first sea day of five, before getting to Darwin. As I write this, I am already two days behind, as believe me, there is so much on offer, that anyone who claims that life on board for so long with so many great people will be boring, should look in the mirror.
Now I have to catch up with adding pics...
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Monday May 24th and early to bed, well, early for us as the usual time for lights out is after midnight. Not a very restful night even though all the packing was done and there were no real worries – other than hearing the alarms and noting that my (body, not luggage) weight was only about half a kilo under my self imposed upper limit. Having heard of a previous cruiser who managed to pack on 15kg on a 28 day cruise, the chances of me only adding just half a kilo over 100 days at 5 grams a day is looking decidedly slim – which is probably more than I’ll look, come September 4th.
Well we managed to stagger out of bed at 3:30am easily enough and piled the luggage outside where the temperature was a decidedly nippy 8 degrees and a bit misty. The Auckland Super Shuttle was spot on time at 4:10am and we had a pleasant enough ride to the airport. An errant car speeding across our bows on a red light in Auckland City, was a timely reminder that Auckland drivers are not exactly the world’s greatest or safest. We’ll probably realise soon enough after experiencing the chaos of Mumbai (Bombay), that maybe Auckland drivers aren’t so bad after all. The roads are surprisingly busy at 5am around the airport.
The wonders of modern technology. Gone are the days of long slow moving queues at the check in desks only to find that the queue you chose was the one with all the problem travellers in it and you shuffled along for an hour or more. This may not apply to other airlines but Air NZ have it well and truly sussed out.
1) Put passports face down in the kiosk reader (no queue..) and your names and details come up on screen
2) Answer a couple of questions on the touch screen such as are you carrying any bombs, are you Osama Bin Laden’s replacement etc.
3) Input the number of checked in pieces of baggage - in our case, 3.
4) Swipe credit card in the reader to pay the $50 for one excess piece.
5) System deducts the $50 and along with your baggage tags and boarding passes you get a printed GST receipt.
6) Attach the luggage tags to each piece and trundle them over to the conveyor, where an attendant checks the weights (16, 18 & 21 kg for us), scans the tags and bye-bye luggage.
Wonderful. A leisurely snack from McDonalds - not a lot of eating choices at Auckland these days, with just Subway, McDonalds, KFC, (KFC at 5am???), a Sushi bar and a couple of coffee shops, plus Burger King and a bar airside. A decent cup of coffee in my Autobahn travel mug from Cafe espresso as I know from past experience that their idea of a large cup and my idea of a large cup, are vastly different. A leisurely wander through immigration to gate 7 for the 7am NZ101 flight to Sydney. We weren’t tempted by any duty free offerings as neither of us drink spirits anyway.
Announcement 6:45am – “Flight 101 to Sydney is cancelled due to operational requirements. All passengers will be booked on the 9am ANZ flight, but you will be given meal vouchers...”
Ho hum. The joys of international travel.
An hour or so later.
“For passengers on the 9am Sydney flight, it will now be leaving at 10am from gate 8.” .... Oh deep joy.
At 9:10am, visibility was back down to about 50 metres so opting to leave a day early for Sydney was still less stressful than wondering if we’d make it straight to the ship on the day of the cruise. We eventually took off on a 777 about 10:45 and as we were late even for the 9am flight, a holding pattern before finally landing at Sydney. Not the best of landings either for such a modern aircraft.
What really capped it then was the seat belt lights went out and everyone leapt up, grabbed their hand luggage and surged forwards, ready to disembark, only to be told after 5 minutes, that we all had to sit down again as they weren’t used to the 777 on that gate and the air-bridge wouldn’t reach and we needed to be towed forwards a couple of metres. At least we got the opportunity to sit and wait in the Premium Economy seats and try them for size. Worth the extra? H’mmmm.
As usual, we had two pieces of luggage through together then a long wait for Paula’s case. We finally got outside the terminal at 1pm to a very chilly Sydney. Only about four and a half hours late.
Our pre booked shuttle ($26AUD) arrived just as we were trying to ring them (luckily). Checking in to the Four Points Sheraton was easy enough and the room overlooking Darling Harbour was ready, so a shower and out to Harbourside across the bridge at 3pm, killing time until our pre-cruise 4:00pm meeting. We were both feeling peckish so shared a slice of pizza - made by Italians!
So at a few minutes to 4pm, we braved the pouring rain and dashed over the road to the Pyrmont Hotel where Joanne had pre-booked space for about 22 pre-cruise travellers. Several were already there.
The “2011 Crazy cruisers” group cruise came alive after we had eaten, as Joanne and Ros bounced back an April Fool’s day shopping list that Ros and I had compiled for Joanne, but I had emailed. Check out the link on the left to Joanne’s blog.... Suffice to say that there were lots of laughs (at my expense) and I came back with a weird bag of goodies that will need to be packed up until we reach Auckland. A wonderful evening and nice to get to meet some people again and some for the first time.
A cold and damp windy walk back to the hotel having been up since 1:30am Sydney time, so it was lights out again at about 10:30pm, with the expectation of a good night’s sleep ready for the real off May 25th 2011.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The next big event was a shorter haircut than is normal for me for winter - just in time for a night temperature that dropped to 8 degrees before we'd even got home. We almost needed the winter quilt last night and Paula did wake up in the night needing to add a robe to the bed clothes as she was cold. Hard to think that this time next week we'll be 1 day north of Sydney and the weather should be getting warmer - much warmer as we get further north until the real heat of Dubai, Egypt, Greece etc. Places I have never been to and to be fair, have never really been on my bucket list. I will enjoy them but most of all, we are really looking forward to a whole new group of friends, several will no doubt become lifetime friends.
What really made it all seem so real was a farewell Skype call to son Stewart and a wave to that gorgeous little grandson that I am dying to meet and various farewells from all sorts of people.
Never had so many hugs and handshakes in such a short period of time as people wish us Bon Voyage!
We have a farewell dinner Saturday night and possibly a tea dance Sunday to look forward to and then Monday to finalise everything else. Paula was adamant she'd manage with just one case, but already has enough for a case and a half!
I haven't even started assembling anything other than paperwork - which seems quite extensive. I can't even print out our luggage tags for part two, as they are not available until 75 days before sailing, so that is a last minute job still to be done, along with a few more CC11 name tags.
One extra expense (through choice) was an auto- focus long lens for the full size camera, as Paula has struggled with focussing the manual one. It hadn't arrived today so hopefully should arrive tomorrow.
Sorry no pics on this post as nothing really relevant - other than I could post a pic of some food. Food is always relevant...