Why are we blogging?

We thoroughly enjoyed the blogs from those on the World Cruise 2010. They were so useful and some were also very entertaining and so we we started our own, late 2010, ready for the 2011 cruise(s).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 36 - Jerusalem

A very short night and the knock on the door signified arrival of breakfast at 5:30am but we had set the alarm for 5:45am.   Unfortunately, sleeping in one’s birthday suit and trying to answer the door to sign for breakfast whilst half asleep was not the best start for the day!   “Yes, we have no bananas – again...” so it was rather tasteless melon as a substitute to accompany the yoghurt and rather delicious Danish pastries.  We trundled off down to Magnum’s bar as required at 6:15am just as the ship was entering the port of Ashdod in Israel.  I think there must have been some confusion as to the immigration process which had to be a face to face interview – and that couldn’t happen until we had docked and the officials were on board.  Sue’s group had swollen to about 30 but we had to wait until the official Princess tours had been processed before we were called, so no queue jumping this time.  So we patiently waited until about 7:30 before we were called. The process was fast and friendly, though they did give Arnold a grilling as they had never heard of his birthplace in Holland!  Personally, l just think he was chatting up the official to add to his harem.


The Trip to Jerusalem – no, not the Nottingham pub, reputed to be the oldest in England...

Our tour guide Michal was a bubbly character speaking very good English and a good sense of humour.  She has been a tour guide for 21 years and is passionate about her country and her religion.

We headed straight for Jerusalem but the traffic was heavy so after a slow crawl up the dual carriageway, David the driver opted to dive off and take a faster route into the city.  We had a brief photo and comfort stop with a panoramic view of the city.  Michal pointed out many landmarks before we heading to the walled, oil city.

With a strict instruction to keep together, she led us through the maze of streets in the old town, which appeared to be a combination of an Israeli version of St Ives in Cornwall, with narrow streets where cars probably should have been banned, to a covered market. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this was a 100% “no shopping” tour.  A real shame as a stop for ten or 15 minutes to actually look into the shops would have been appreciated even by non-shoppers such as myself.   However, knowing that many shoppers lose all track of time and tend to wander off and get lost, this may not have been a bad policy.  Most of us by now had rumbling stomachs and were desperate for a coffee or snack stop, but it didn’t happen.

For the religious, Jerusalem is something of a pilgrimage and walking on stone paths and entering some of these holy buildings where Jesus Christ had been, especially in the Holy Sepulchre, was a deeply moving experience and unusually, photographs were allowed.

We headed down hill to the wailing wall, the left side reserved for males and the smaller right side reserved for females.  Apart from an altercation with an extremely aggressive driver and passenger in a battered two door, who was travelling way too quickly down such narrow crowded streets, the other memory is of the different religious quarters and the different atmosphere in each.  When we emerged from the old city, the coach was fortunately not too far away and we piled in and headed for the Dead Sea.

So it was that lunch was at a self-service cafeteria and shop just two minutes from the Dead Sea – at 1:30pm.  Now I am not too sure about you, but going 8 hours without food or coffee after a skinny snack at breakfast means that almost any food is acceptable.  Sorry, but this was the low spot of the day.  For those who think the lowest of the low was a British Motorway Service area of ten years ago, think again.  We queued up to find that the options were ‘main meal’ or a salad – without meats...  My main meal consisted of a spoonful of almost plain rice, two smallish potatoes and a spoonful of a tortellini concoction.  Whatever else that was on offer -  mixed peas and carrots, something wrapped in a vine leaf and a falafel didn’t really excite my taste-buds.  The cost of that plus a very poor salad for Paula and a bottle of grapefruit squash was $32.50US.

No sandwiches, no local breads such as the possibly unhygienic date filled bread that looked so good in the old town, just the mains and salads or a pita bread stuffed with either a chicken escalope or a cooked chicken mix – but that was in a different queue that wasn’t obvious from the entrance.  Not impressed and I think our guide could have done a better job here.

We were due back on the coach at 2:30 – and all except two were...   Typical I suppose. A stop with just one option to eat shop and people still can’t get back on time., so it is perhaps as well we didn’t stop in the old town.

The Dead Sea

Now I don’t need to tell you is  that the Dead Sea is several metres below normal sea level and has a concentration of salt, 10 times normal sea water.  What I do need to tell you is that there was charge for the place we were taken to which worked out to be about $11US – but at least that was included in the tour.   We arrived at 3pm and had an hour to change, get down to the beach, have a swim and get back to the coach.  I opted out for two reasons.  It was steaming hot and I didn’t really fancy the exposure and secondly, the very high concentration of salt can be a problem.  I stayed up top and kept an eye on Paula’s bag but she was one of the first back, so after she had changed, we had a Magnum ice cream each – at $5US a pop!

Poor Dennis with his dodgy leg had a lift down in a golf buggy but nearly came a cropper in the water as the ground is less than supportive even for those with two good legs.  We were also worried about his return as he had made a start on his own, but there was a big cheer when he finally arrived just after 4pm – in the golf cart again.

The driver made a stop by popular request at a small supermarket so that those needing to top up their wine stocks could do so.  We were back at the ship around the same time as many other coaches at around 6:20pm.

Our own BBQ!

After a shower it was back up onto deck 14 in front of the grill bar that closes at 6pm – so no chips!  However, we raided the buffet and brought several communal plates of nibbles out to the deck, dragged three tables together and had out own BBQ.  The buffet manager, Gabriel, passed by and asked if everything was OK.  Of course it was, but cheekily, either Ros or Joanne said that what would make it perfect, would be a plate of hot chips!  “I’ll see what I can do” said Gabriel and sure enough, about ten minutes later,  two platters of hot chips arrived!   Don’t you just love the staff on this ship?  Nothing appears to be too much trouble for them and it is easy to see why the Dawn Princess always rates so highly for the friendliness of its staff.

Given the choice of a snooty or poncy 5 or 7 star cruise, with starchy staff and the friendly Dawn Princess, even without trying the 5 star, I know which we would prefer.


A tiring day and an interesting day but again, possibly a case of ‘been there, done that’.  Israel still has a lot of problems and from Michal’s comments, it wasn’t difficult to read between the lines.  The average Jewish family produces 3.1 children, the average Muslim family, 8.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 34 - When a sea day is not really a sea day.

Firstly, an apology to the followers and regular readers, that I somehow or other deleted the ability to comment on each post.  At last, I have found the check box so now you can post your comments again– good or bad – for all to read. Please do – even if you have to go back and read some posts again!  As at June 19th, there had been a total of some 7,500 hits, so someone, somewhere must be reading it, but the analysis for June only is interesting, as there have been views from the usual places plus Bahrain, Singapore, US Virgin Islands, Malaysia, India and Germany.

Anyway, most of the passengers were up early for our day in the Suez canal.  Our cabin is on the port side so we probably had the better view and also the shadier view as at 8.5 knots, this really was more like a river cruise.  From an engineering and an economic and political perspective, the Suez Canal must rank in the top three of anyone’s list.  Just to show how we found it plus the arrival, Paula and I took over 300 pictures across three cameras – most of which we haven’t even seen yet, plus some video. All along the canal, people were hooting and waving and this ranged from children to adults, soldiers to fishermen, truck drivers to motorcyclists.  Hopefully I’ll have attached a couple of representative pics along with the harbour.

Our expected arrival time in Port Said was 6pm, but as head of the convoy heading north, it appears we had a straight through run and arrived a couple of hours early.  For once we berthed on the port side at Port Said (! – sorry about that...)  Our cabin was almost in a direct line to a main street where the noise of car horns is just about non-stop.

The secure area of the wharf is where many stall holder set up, seemingly to block free access, so that you are forced to run the gauntlet of traders who are a bit more pushy than elsewhere (so far) and travellers of a nervous disposition, particularly lone or elderly females, are easy targets.  We waited until the rush to get onto dry land had abated a wee bit and ambled off into the stall area, determined to check out the prices. Just as an example, a specific pewter item Paula was keen on ranged from $35US down to a non pushy $15 US...  (Most places seem to accept US dollars.)  Many items were duplicated so an opportunity to compare prices before committing, though many did purchased early.  Often they want you to buy a second item and their ploy is to put it in the bag with the one you want and charge for both.  You have to be quite firm and take it out again!  However, there was one item we bought 4 of, as gifts, and I am not giving away the prices or the details, but suffice to say they were one tenth of the price we’d been quoted in a previous stop!

We hopped back on board again for dinner and as the others are off to the pyramids tomorrow, they retired early. What a shame!

We needed ‘cam boy’ Garry in the half-full Vista lounge for David Copperfield’s show.  No, not the illusionist, but a British TV star I remember well from a comedy series called “3 of Kind” about 1980. ( The other two were Tracy Ullman who has since made a name for herself in the USA and the well known black comedian, married to Dawn French – or was until recently I believe, Lenny Henry.)

David’s performance was a classic of a very talented performer with a great show of mainly humour but he also possesses a fine singing voice and plays the guitar well.  Yours truly, sitting about 4 rows from the front got roped into the act (literally...) and ended up sitting on his knees, with a barber’s type cloth over me, hiding him, whilst he had his arms in the smock and made out it was me playing the guitar!  He is a master of the unusual and offers the microphone to you but before you can say anything, he has responded in a squeaky voice for you.  His audience interaction was great too, with lots of people involved .

He asked the audience to name a favourite singer and the first response was Cliff Richard, whereupon he borrowed the glasses of an audience member and did a great take off.  He then had to borrow the glasses again for ‘Roy Orbison’.   His other ongoing gag was that every time he hopped up on stage, he made a rude noise into the mike and complained that there was a squeaky floorboard.  I just loved this show as he made most of the previous comedians look quite lame.  So sad that he isn’t around long enough to do another and that most of the passengers missed it.  The first standing ovation on this cruise and well deserved.

A great day though Paula was getting a bit croaky later on, so straight to the cabin afterwards.  A quiet day in store for us tomorrow.

Almost forgot.  Had a nice email from daughter Julie who said that she is happy enough to pick us up from the airport when we return to Auckland.  We had a chat with the captain, but he says that he would prefer the usual berth at the quay in the port of Auckland, as the jumbo jet pilots get a bit miffed if he parks at the airport. 



Monday, June 27, 2011

At sea again for day 33

After Petra and the walking, many were extremely glad of a sea day to relax, or in some cases, catch up with the laundry.  The Petra sand was everywhere so all our clothes went into the wash, though Paula opted to use the wash basin in our bathroom. We chose our travelling clothes very carefully on the basis first of all on colour co-ordination, then ease of laundry.  We chose well as hanging the washing out on our balcony has meant no ironing at all.  We took a length of string from home and simply put  a couple loops over one of the pipes on which we put the hangers.

Oh, such excitement.  I bet you are all so jealous...

My cutting back on food a wee bit went awry this morning.  Plenty of fruit – healthy.  Drink of hot water with lemon and honey – healthy.  Chocolate topped ring doughnut, very fresh  – delicious....  Healthy?  Fort the mind definitely.

As someone who rarely suffers aches and pains after badminton, I was somewhat surprised that my upper calves were a bit tight for the day, so dance class was fortunately a revision one.  Anyway, the Vista lounge gets quite crowded due to the popularity so most of the time, you can’t step it out anyway.

Paula went to the port lecture on one of the Italian stops, whilst I moved the images from the camera cards to the computer and did the blog.  I also shuffled Megan’s pics on to her computer. IN spite of several reminders, she hasn’t adjusted the times on her camera so as she wanted the date printing on her pics, half her Petra pics will show that she was there June 25th (correct) and the other half will show June 26th!

It may be a pain adjusting the cameras and computer just about every two days, but it does make photo sorting later a much easier task – especially when you want to mix images from other people into your collection.

The lunch buffet had a Mexican theme but at 1:45 when we opted to eat, it was just about over but more spicy prawns from the main buffet went down well.

Trivia is anything but trivial to one or two people who have complained to the cruise director that two presenters should be dropped.  Their complaints were totally unfounded and we are now part of the unofficial Barbara and Robert supporters club, so when Barbara announced that she was doing the trivia, a big cheer from our corner.  (With Robert, Barbara has hatched a wonderful response to these whingers, so we’ll report on that when it happens.

Another formal night – and the lads opted to wear their Arab headgear – and had a formal group photograph taken.  In picture 4, Garry is displaying a nudie ‘Birdie.   Lobster tails again and Joanne requested a first course of salad – with lobster, with lobster and the baked monkfish for her main.  Pics should show the difference in entry size between hers and my baked clams (they were minced and quite disappointing.  Our waiter (Watchara) decided his assistant (Neil) also needed a hat, so he made him one.  Waiters wear a long sleeved jacket, assistants just have a waistcoat...  

To the theatre for another stage show “Vegas”.  This time with the orchestra.  Nice costumes and another pleasant show.

We weren’t up to dancing afterwards as we were both a bit snuffly and my calves needed a rest.

Overnight, we approach the Suez canal and pass through during tomorrow, to end up in Port Said about 6pm. From then on, our days will more often than not be in ports, with a total of just 5 sea days before we hit Dover July 17th.  We’ll just have to pace ourselves.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Aqaba for Petra - Day 32

I couldn’t even begin to describe Petra accurately as others are far more accurate and adept (such as Ros of course.....)

Like many others, we were up not long after 6am to see land not that far from our ship, so a hasty lightweight breakfast before nipping back to the cabin to pack what we thought we would need for the day.  A bottle of cold water and one of lemonade (from the buffet) were wrapped in a damp flannel we had left in the fridge overnight.  We weren’t sure about the potential for eating during the day so we lifted a couple of bananas and packets of cracker biscuits from the buffet.  We expected to be out in the sun so hats and sunscreen were essentials and we both wore socks with our trainers.

Although the ship wasn’t docking until 10am, we agreed to meet Colin and Judy at the time suggested by Princess – namely 9:15am.  With 1400 people going on the same tour, (including 150 staff I believe), at 9:15am sharp, we were allocated to coach number 22 – of 28...   We then had to sit patiently in the theatre for over an hour, watching endless repeats of the DVD shot by the ship, of Salalah.  Once you have seen this about 4 times you tend to fidget – well I do anyway, having a very short attention span and even less of an attention span when they could just as easily have shown the whole “Reflections” DVD s to date.  Quite why we all had to be there at 9:15am anyway is somewhat questionable.  Surely, knowing the ship was docking not before 10am, asking you to go to collect your group sticker from 9:45 would have worked just as well.

Tip for 2012 cruisers: If doing the Princess tours, you may just as well collect your ticket early and then go and watch the arrival, as you can amble back to the theatre once you hear that the ship has had a clearance.  It also pays to research private tours, taxis  etc.  See the other blogs for details.

We boarded coach 22 with Basam the driver and Basam the tour guide.  For the two hour drive to Petra, it was a non-stop lecture. This appears to be a common problem with many tour guides.  Anyone who has had the misfortune to be either a teacher, trainer or tutor, knows full well that the attention span of the average listener is about 20 minutes.  What was notable (for me) was the number of ‘unfinished’ buildings around, with reinforcing steel poking out all over the place, probably to facilitate extensions later.  Just about everyone living in Petra is dependant either directly or indirectly on the tourist trade.  The arrival at the town of Petra itself quite frankly was a blessed relief – in more ways than one as there was rush for the facilities, as most people hadn’t been for three hours.  (However these modern coaches do have bathrooms, but I couldn’t find the light switch...)

Our stop was at one of several Movenpick hotels in the area (yes, the Swiss ice cream people) and so at 12:35 we sampled an excellent buffet meal until our 2pm Petra walking tour started. The buffet included hot and cold dishes including a whole lamb, on flavoured rice, where the chef grabbed a handful of meat straight off the carcase and put it onto your plate.  Delicious.  The hotel was probably a four star hotel with an impressive open area/foyer which 4 people decided to pollute by smoking.  Two of these chain-smokers are in the cabin next to Col & Jude, with smokers on the other side too.  Thankfully, Princess are making all cabins smoke free from (I think) January next year.  Well done Princess.

The entry to the site is a massive $50JD – about $75US, included in the Princess fee.

Others will have described the history of this unique place but the relentless heat and a tour guide who wanted to stop, then describe every hollow, cave and stone and its history in minute detail, was just too much.  Significantly, as we walked down the long trail, each tour group seemed to get smaller and smaller, as people just wandered down on their own.  Some of our ‘Crazy Cruisers’ group had organised their own tour and arrived well before the coaches but they hadn’t had lunch, so they were heading up the hill as we were still heading down.  Paula took a pic of one of the carts that carry people up and down , only to find a grinning pair of Dormers (Anne & John) happily heading back.   These poor horses seemed to be driven quite hard and many expressed concern that they may have been overworked and under watered.

The walk is really in three phases going down.  The first is totally out in the open, the second is between the rocks, with plenty of shade and the third, beyond the ‘Treasury’, is open again.  What this really means is that when you get to the bottom of the hill, which we did by about 4pm, only a few hardy souls climbed the steps up to the right.  We didn’t.  We headed back and on the way, Paula bought her souvenirs of Petra from one of the many stalls.

It took a solid 45 mins of virtually non-stop walking to get back to the top.  Note that if the first phase going down is in the open sun, so the last phase coming back is also in the sun – with an uphill slog.  It was indeed too much for several people – and one overworked horse that keeled over apparently.

There is a cool bar attached to the Crowne Plaza (The Cave) but a glass of beer was about $10US!  We opted for a can of iced tea at $2 from a stall.   Many people felt that the sellers were a bit aggressive and unwilling to bargain, though Paula turned down the Arab headdress at $15 or even $12, at the lower end but a 9 year old boy at the top, was more than happy to take $6...

The Princess coaches were scheduled to leave at 6pm sharp, to get back to the ship at 8pm, but they were open at 5pm with the air-con switched on.  Our total coach was aboard before 6pm but before we left, we were all presented with a ‘Movenpick’ boxed ‘lunch’, consisting of a fairly dry roll, a tomato, a whole small cucumber, an apple, a fairly dry muffin and a small bottle of water.  A nice enough gesture, though most of us would have preferred an ice cream..  We noted that assistant cruise director Dave (who is supposed to be on a diet) didn’t get back to his coach until just after 6pm - and was seen busily demolishing an ice cream en route...

There appeared to be a protocol about the despatch too, so although we were ready for the off, we had to wait until we were waved away by the dispatcher.  Thankfully, Basam (the guide, not the driver) opted to catch up on some shuteye for the return journey.

Once back at Aqaba (which appears to be a nice town  – and is in fact a holiday spot that is growing), we had to wait yet again whilst the earlier buses had dumped their human cargo and were clogging the two gangplanks.

A quick shower (we felt very grubby and the fine sand was in all our clothing) and up to the buffet for a superb Indian meal, one of the best buffet meals so far, with many people taking advantage of the piles of spicy prawns.  Out to deck 14 to find the rest of our normal dinner table getting stuck into a massive plate of hot chips!  It was rather warm and my shoulder was aching so I headed back to the cool cabin as soon as the ship had turned 180 degrees.

A fascinating place Petra, but most would agree that with the Dawn Princess dumping 1400 people there in one hit, it was a busy crowded sort of day.  Once again, the tour guides can make or break a tour.  No humour whatever from ours though he was a nice enough chap.  Clocks back yet again tonight and another couple of sea days ahead, one of which will be the Suez Canal.