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).

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Day 26 - Top day in Hobart - Dec 20th

Paula watched the sail in as we nosed into Victoria Dock, almost down town Hobart.  I continued with the fruit and on this whole cruise, I hadn’t bothered to ask for my favourite item, soft poached eggs. The scrambled eggs, even when freshly presented seemed over-cooked for me, though they do usually have scrambled eggs plus. The plus being salmon, or mushrooms, cheese etc., but they still looked overcooked for my taste! 
It was only 9am when we wandered off, with no plans other than a possible hop-on hop-off bus if they had one. There was free shuttle to the information centre in town and sure enough, we spied an ex UK (West Yorkshire) double-decker bus, painted red and aptly named “Red Decker”.  After a few minutes queuing whilst a Japanese tour organiser tried to establish which tour company he had booked with (it wasn’t this one...) we boarded the bus and waited for the 9:30am start.  Normally, these buses only go on the hour, but they were awake enough to realise that there was a chance that of the 2,700 Diamond passengers, they stood a good chance of picking up extra trade.  The bus was almost full.
Now I have often criticised tour guides in the past for drab and boring monologues, but if there was an object lesson in how to do it properly, this was it.  Our driver (Mark) was informative, well spoken, funny and  the sound system on the bus was excellent.  He started off the tour quite slowly, letting traffic overtake as he explained the local dock history, without hurtling past at 50kmh/30mph that many seem to do.  His commentary was well modulated and his dry sense of humour might have been lost on the Japanese.
Classic example when slowing at a school where there were about 50 kids, all in uniform, waiting to board a coach.
“This is my daughter’s school.”  A toot and a wave. “There she is.  She is the one in the blue hat...”  (For those who do not understand the English dry humour, all the kids were in uniform - including blue hats....)
Our tour continued up as far as the Cascade Brewery (where several people hopped off, presumably to do the popular brewery tour).
The bus then turned around and Mark gave us a fascinating insight and information on what was the women’s prison and the role that the women (as servants) often played in the community.  I am not one for history, but this aspect of social history was so well conveyed, it was captivating (excuse the pun).  What the early convict settlers went through, particularly the women, really was most interesting.
The total tour took just 90 minutes and without a doubt, was one of the best tours anywhere thanks to Mark.  (Monaco may be my favourite place, but Mark’s commentary was definitely the gold medal winner for the year.) As he said as we were leaving. “If you enjoyed the tour, my name is Mark. If you didn’t, my name is Basil.”
Back at the info centre, it was a short but breezy walk to the centre of town and once again, an excellent coffee at Gloria Jeans!
On our walk back to the ship, I had a real craving for decent fish and chips.  We found a floating outlet at the dock and the chips were beautifully cooked (too many really  - we could have shared) and a couple of nice pieces of crumbed fish.  Maybe I should do a world survey on fish and chips – they vary so much on quality and price.  These weren’t  cheap but they were delicious.
We skipped the afternoon quiz and watched the Hobart Police Pipe band presentation in the theatre. Nice show.  We then went to the early show put on by Australian comedienne Maggie.  We didn’t attend her show(s) on the Dawn, so thought we’d give it  ago. Brilliant singing voice, but  the comedy was a bit slow for me.
A later than normal visit to the buffet...  Clocks forward again tonight and another couple of relaxing sea days ahead - three if you count cruising the Milford sound.  Hopefully, the fine weather will continue.
(Doing my best to catch up, so you may see more than one blog a day...)

Day 25 - A good sea day, even without Australian friends! Dec 19th

A disturbed night’s sleep for Paula as the sinusitis turned into a full blown cough, so she had every right to be grumpy with me – again!  I seem to have skipped the cooked breakfasts on this cruise just taking a bowl of fruit and even a drink of hot lemon and honey to kick off the day.  Our new routine of morning trivia continued and we wished Greg a happy birthday.  Being  a chocoholic, he was thrilled with a gift of Ferro Rocher and even more thrilled with our 16/20 trivia win!  We added more Princess drink bottles to our stock, but as we hadn’t brought ours with us anyway, a good prize.

We then headed off to see Karla (Future Cruises) as we’d done some serious thinking over recent days (and less serious budgeting...).  First of all, we cancelled the second part of our Grand Pacific cruise that starts in July. We now hop off at San Francisco and will fly home from there.  At least we’ll still catch up with several friends and we get to see Alaska which was one of Paula’s few remaining bucket list items.

Next, we enquired about the 2013 Europe cruise.  Karla was a bit surprised that bookings were open as she hadn’t had an email telling her.  We were so early, and yet the cabin we wanted had already gone!  Unbelievable. We booked anyway...

Afternoon trivia, we finished runners up, so overall, a successful day  - particularly for Greg.  After a long chat with Greg and Cathy again, we returned once more to Karla to book yet another cruise!

When we totted up where we’d finally get our coveted Black Card (Elite) it was 5 days AFTER Beijing, so we hunted around for a short cruise before the Grand Circle and opted for a 7 day cruise out of Southampton to Norway.  (We are in the UK, not via cruise ship in May anyway.)  Price seemed steep for a window cabin down on deck 5 on the Grand Princess, but it just goes to show that the Americans and Australasians are getting good value.  It meant staying in the UK for a few more days but that is a bonus. The Grand Princess is similar to the Diamond but it has been refurbished and the 250 ton Skywalkers lounge has been lopped off!

The production show we had already seen, but we watched it again anyway and topped off a good (but expensive!) day with a coffee.

Hobart tomorrow and nothing planned but at least the head is getting better, albeit far too slowly.  The Coldral seems to mask most of the effects - most of the time.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 24 - Melbourne - Dec 18th

After a much better sleep, but with the Princess tickly cough as a reminder of smokers past, I let Paula get up to watch the sail in.  (Shouldn’t that be cruise in?)  At breakfast we met a really nice Canadian guy who was ex-Canadian Navy.  I think his team won trivia yesterday.
We ambled off the ship and joined the long queue at the dockside store to buy tram tickets.  After queuing for about ten minutes and just after paying, the shopkeeper announced that he had run out of tickets.  With a couple of thousand cruisers plus staff appearing, I suspect this guy wasn’t in the scouts.
Fortunately, the tram staff just told people to pile in and pay at the other end!  A touch of Tokyo here as we really did pile in for the ride to town. The locals waiting on the platforms en route were less than impressed.  We hopped off the tram a bit too early and walked along Collins St into town, then Bourke St, but passed a succession of closed shops!   Whoops.  We thought that maybe we’d made a big mistake, but as we approached the mall, there were hundreds of parents with small children, queuing up to look at the animated window displays in Myers.  The shops opened at 10am! 
I was beginning to fade after the long walk but once again, Gloria Jeans coffee was my saviour.  What we didn’t know until we wandered out was that we were in Mid City mall (I think...) with the clock tower in the centre.  A walk around then to the free circle tram.  Since our last visit to Melbourne, the loop has been extended to Harbourside.  We didn’t get off but stayed on back to the City and caught the tram back to the port.  Next time maybe.
We wandered around locally for a few minutes but it was a bit breezy and overcast so we headed back to the ship.  At least the shoe inserts worked well!
We watched as hundreds of locals queued for ages for the car ferry to Tasmania and as Colin & Jude (keen caravaners) were around, we thought that maybe the last pic might be them.  From my inexperienced perspective, it seemed a very slow loading system compared to the France/UK/Belgium cross channel ferries.
Just a snack in the buffet then we realised that every show and even the MUTS movie was a repeat.  Even the crosswords and the daily Sudoku and the TV films were repeats! So, after a coffee in the atrium we crashed early and read. (I’d bought a $5 book written by Humphrey Lyttleton, a well know Brit jazz trumpeter, band leader and programme  presenter, so at least I had something decent to read).
Just one sea day tomorrow before hitting Tasmania – a first for us. 

Day 23 At sea - again - Dec 17th

Today started a new cruise on two counts.  Firstly, it was in the Princess system as a new cruise not a continuation and secondly, our Australian quizzers had gone!

Just for a change, we headed for morning trivia (we usually only do the afternoon session) to join Greg & Cathy who we’d met previously and are from Florida, plus Joe & Heather, also from the USA, though Heather is Canadian.  Our team name was “Trying for 10”, which gives you some idea of our expectations...  We managed 15/20 which was a good start, but not enough to win.

To the atrium for coffee and a real bonus.  Notwithstanding the sugar(s) in my coffee, I don’t normally go too much for the sweet stuff, but I do have a Princess chocolate doughnut addiction. I managed one delicious mini doughnut – but that was it.  First appearance and a suspicion it may also be the last.

After warming up on the deck, we headed to the aerobic studio for a talk by Phil, the fitness trainer on foot alignment.  Whether it was his convincing sales pitch or brilliant presentation, we are not sure, but after seeing our own footprints and the slight alignment needed, the money saved from cancelling the Port Douglas trip ended up spent on hard plastic inserts for our footwear!  Expensive, but we do have to look after our feet.

Afternoon trivia was a less impressive 11/20 – but at least we reached our target.  We stayed and chatted to Greg & Cathy for a long time, then dressed up for one of the two formal nights.  Anytime dining and back to the Santa Fe dining room where we were seated promptly as a ‘honeymoon table for two’.  Did we miss our table companions?  Sure did. After a show in Explorers (another repeat artist) and a coffee, we retired, not at all sure whether or not this leg is going to be anything more than a pleasant way to get home with Paula’s carving!

The good news is that at least we are not assailed by fag smoke from next door... Melbourne tomorrow, one of our favourite cities but as it is Sunday, hopefully somewhere will be open.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day 22 - Sydney finish and restart - Dec 16th

Our original plan was to disembark in Sydney and fly home, but as no one had invited us for Christmas dinner and we hadn’t invited anyone to feast with us either, (plus Paula’s plan to purchase a large dolphin carving...) we made a very late decision to stay on the ship all the way to Auckland.  We managed a good deal cost-wise and the extra 12 days with Princess just puts us so much nearer Elite status (with free laundry!) and an itinerary that included one of our favourite cities – Melbourne, plus a first time visit to Hobart Tasmania, made this an attractive proposition.

Sydney put on a fine day for us and although I had the usual uncomfortable night’s sleep and I was up 6:40am, but we had already docked at Circular Quay.  This has to be one of the best ever ports as the bow of the ship is almost in the city.  We managed a farewell to Ros and Arnold, Colin and Jude in the buffet before they disembarked, with a promise that we’d find out about the 2013 trip in NZ dollars, as today is supposed to be the day the prices are released.  Well it was, but it has been delayed a day...

We missed saying Hi to Joanne who was going to pick up Ros & Arnold but parking is impossible, so she was apparently just going to slow down whilst Ros and Arnold leapt aboard!

We did our usual amble off the ship when we were ready and apart from purchasing two fantastic R2E2 mangoes (our favourites) for $5 from  a street vendor, we didn’t exactly enhance the local economy by very much.  A decent coffee, a ride on the Monorail to the famous Paddy’s Market and we headed back to cabin 706.  An initial panic attack showed that one of the new residents shared the same named as Paula’s estranged sister but we soon met them and found that 704 & 706 were occupied by 3 sisters and a friend who are not related to Paula.  They  don’t smoke and the two suffering in 704 had to leave the cabin door open all day to try and get rid of the stench.   The couple in 708 don’t smoke either and we are not sure about the cabins below, but initially, it is looking good!  Hooray.

We caught up with our new American friends, Greg & Cathy and chatted away until quite late.

The sailaway was just brilliant (unlike the Dawn Princess in May, when it was cold and wet) as the weather was just about perfect and the city lights photographed well.

So, here we go, on to Melbourne after a day at sea, with a new travel chapter – though the blog continues until the end of the year, when I’ll start a new one...




Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Days 20 & 21 - At sea before Sydney Dec 14/15th

As I am running so late, needless to say, a summary of two sea days/two relaxing days.  Today, I lodged my written complaint regarding the effects of the passive smoking from next door, but the powers that be don’t seem to care two hoots.  Although Princess are banning smoking in the cabins and on the balconies from Jan 12th, it doesn’t really help those who genuinely suffer so much NOW.  Quite why they never ask on the paperwork whether or not people smoke, then set aside a rear section for them on each level is beyond me.  They are scattered all over the place and there are certain sections of the ship you just have to avoid as best you can, but when they are right next door, or below or immediately above, the smoke gets everywhere.

When I checked at the front desk where our next cabin was, Sydney to Auckland, they had no trace of the booking!  A frantic search of our paperwork and a return to the front desk with a booking number elicited a more positive response.  We move from cabin 702 just two doors away to 706!  Hopefully the smokers in 704 are getting off in Sydney.  If they are not, I’ll probably be throwing someone overboard.

The last formal night of this leg and  a nice meal before the production show “Ports of Call”.  As good as always.

Of our table companions and even absent lobster loving ex table companions, it seems that most are serious about the 2013 cruise back on the Dawn Princess, Sydney to Venice and back to Sydney.  That is going to be a popular trip judging by the local interest. Needless to say, I can’t see us missing out, but we’ll just have to wait and see. A lot of thinking to be done over the next three days regarding future travel plans.

The ship was moving about a bit on day 21, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

We met Barb & Ken up on the outdoor putting course and it was good to get outside in clear air, but it was rather cool up there so we didn’t stay long.  Paula didn’t win the jackpot at Bingo and our trivia score of 13/20 was fairly normal.  Afterwards, and before dinner, we met once again in Ros and Arnold’s cabin to toast Colin on his birthday.  He was the proud recipient of a belt with an MG buckle from us, so when stands alongside his MG TF,  he’ll remember us!

Tomorrow, Sydney, and a sad farewell to our cruising buddies (until the next time of course – whenever that might be) and a fervent wish for non-smoking neighbours, so that we can enjoy clean air for the last 12 days of the trip so that my head clears.   Way, way behind with the blog now, but who really cares?  Hey, it is holiday time – for us anyway.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day 19- Airlie Beach - Dec 13th

Another tender port with nothing planned, so we had our usual leisurely start to the day.  Although over the worst, it was obviously going to be  a slow return to normality so we went down to the atrium quite late and just walked straight onto a tender after the initial rush.  A very warm dockside welcome and a free shuttle showed that the locals appreciated the arrival of 2,700 passengers plus crew as potential spenders. Once on the coach the rain came down.  Oh boy, did it rain!
We arrived at Airlie beach to find cars up to their axles in rain water but the rain stopped just as we stepped off the coach and the sun returned.  This is  another small settlement well known to several of our group but with not a lot to offer the casual callers such as ourselves.  We did no more than wander up the main street looking later for refreshments and were charged a rather steep $8.95 each for a smoothie.  Nice drink, but a ridiculous price.
We were back on board about 3:30pm ready for an evening meal at one of the paid restaurants on board  - Sabatinis.  Our usual dining room round table conversation wasn’t as easy on the long table.  Our waiter was very informative and we had a very pleasant evening, but once again, I am not sure that the $20 surcharge is justified, bearing in mind the quality and range of the normal dining room food.  The soft shell crab might have appeared to be exotic, but my palate is so stuffed that I couldn’t really taste it anyway, but even so, not a dish that I would bother with again. My lobster trio dish was nice enough, but I felt it was a bit lacking in accompaniments (vegetables etc.) created especially for the dish.  Once the bright lobster shell had been removed, there wasn’t too much left on the plate. Plain steamed veg were offered but I think that something with a bit more zizz would be more appropriate.  A great evening though as our table always enjoys itself.  One of the high points of the cruise is the look of sheer amazement on Barb’s face as she encounters so many new aspects to cruising.  I think she is hooked too.
We watched Chris Cable (clarinet and sax) who we’d seen on the Dawn.  Must have been good as I even bought his CD!
Trying to email on line, the signal dropped out twice... Very frustrating.  A common problem with this cruise has been internet access, with so many passengers (and at night, crew), the system seems unable to cope.  When even the oldies have internet access, the majority of passengers now use the facility.
Two sea days to follow now then we say a very sad farewell to our great Australian table companions, but we know that (if not before) we’ll see them all in 2013.  Seems a long time ahead.  
Sorry about the ongoing long delays in posting and updating.  I think this blog may well be finished back in Auckland at the rate we are going!  My brothers have enquired whether or not I was still a) on board or b) alive...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 18 - Port Douglas - Dec 12th

Having had such a terrible day yesterday and cancelled our trip, plus a far from good night again, it was with some trepidation that we staggered ashore from the tender boat after a leisurely breakfast.  The buffet coffee is renowned for tasting like anything other than coffee, but even a Robert Timms coffee bag tasted terrible.  The Coldral and Strepsil diet wasn’t doing my palate any favours, so everything tasted terrible. 

From the pleasant pier, where they were offering half hour tours by trike, we wandered up to the main street, about  a five minute walk, to find a small settlement that obviously relies on tourism, with a plethora of bars, cafes and souvenir shops, plus the inevitable Target.

It is not  a large place so it didn’t take long to walk the length of the main drag and back.  We staggered into a cool, pleasant cafe, for a drink, mine being a welcome caffeine boost of Coca-Cola, to find the cheerful proprietor was from Grimsby, a matter of eighty or so miles from Nottingham!

We were ferried back to the ship quite early, by local catamaran, rather than the usual lifeboat.  It was only 12:25 when we returned, but at least I survived the morning with collapsing in a dribbling spluttering heap.

We were invited down to Ros and Arnold’s presidential suite for pre-dinner drinks at 5pm.

It was one of my favourites for dinner – French onion soup – which was no doubt good for me, but I couldn’t savour it as normal and was full by the end of it anyway!  The appetite has taken a bashing

One of the regular cruise items is the staff show in the theatre and on the Dawn, we were far too late to see it and the telecast on to the MUTS screen and the TV screens was dreadful, the sound quality even worse, so this time, we made sure we were in time.

There are some talented staff members and little Deasy, a popular buffet waitress, really belted out her number with a professionalism that puts some paid entertainers to shame.  Lyle singing with ukulele accompaniment was also memorable.  As usual, the cruise entertainment staff put on a couple of well received comedic skits.  Although we didn’t need to see it on TV, at least they had a camera operator this time, rather than a high set fixed wide angle camera, that only really showed the backs of audience heads, the wings and the proscenium arch of the Dawn!

Knowing that a shortage of caffeine is likely to keep me awake, we called at the atrium for a late coffee (drinking chocolate for Paula) so bed was a more respectable 12:15!  A bit nearer our normal be time.

Another land day tomorrow – Airlie Beach.  We have never been this far up the east coast of Australia before and Cairns or Port Douglas had been on our ‘to do’ list for some time, so it is all new to us.  For the Australians on our table, this is all old hat of course.  For them, Airlie Beach represents little more than the last stop before Sydney on this cruise, so they are not exactly jumping up and down with glee, but talk persists of plans for 2013 to maintain the excitement levels.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Days 16 and 17 - Oh dear... Dec 10 & 11.

Today is my brother’s birthday, so happy birthday Dave.  Sorry we won’t be dropping in.

Again, not  a good night but Paula slept like a log.  (She claims it must have been the foot massage before bed!)  We didn’t stir until 9:50am and I felt terrible.  Sore throat, heavy head, eyes that objected to daylight and the obvious signs of an extended rough patch.  Into the Coldral capsules big time, but they weren’t anything more than helpful.

Trying to get fresh air on the balcony (which is what I needed) was hopeless as the fag smoke from 704 was invasive – as usual.  A trip to the front desk to complain brought the standard response “we can’t do anything”.

We did OK at trivia but the winners were 4 better.

Dinner was enlivened by the ‘offer’ of purchasing a shot glass which would then be filled with limoncello.  I tried it but it wasn’t really cold enough - and I spilled half mine anyway... 

The production show in the theatre was “Words and Music” which was pretty good, as always.  The production shows are always worth watching, but some appeal more than others.

Bad Night, Worse Day

Terrible night and had to stay in bed most of the day. A lack of coffee probably didn’t help but all I could manage all day was a bowl of soup.  We cancelled our booked trip in Port Douglas tomorrow, which was the much proclaimed train and sky ride, as facing a long hot day was the last thing I could probably have coped with.  I bet the smokers have no idea of the misery they can cause the sensitive non-smokers.  Fortunately, the tour desk managed to on-sell our tickets so we didn’t lose out financially.  Coldral is keeping me afloat – just.

Happy birthday to Jill and sorry we are not at your BBQ...

Day 15 - A hot Darwin - Dec 9th

Not a good night at all for me, but even worse for Paula as my erratic snoring and snorting drove her to the other room.  But wait a minute, unlike home, we don’t HAVE another room,  so she decamped to the balcony for half an hour, but that was not exactly satisfactory, as the smoky people next door slept with their door open, so the stench was impossible to escape from.  Paula did the only thing possible and took a pill...

We were therefore out of bed quite late but there was no rush as Darwin isn’t a tender port.  After a light breakfast, we walked into town and it was already quite hot.  We hopped straight onto a number 4 bus heading for the Casuarina shopping mall.  (It is strange how through life, names like this appear to be coincidental, as the rental I was in when I first met Paula was on Casuarina Rd...)  We flashed our NZ Seniors’ passes and it cost us nothing.  Getting old isn’t all bad.  Route 4 is the ‘scenic’ route, covering three sides of a square, taking 55 minutes, so if you are in a hurry, you take a number 10 which is direct.

Not a very scenic route really, but we didn’t mind.  A great shopping mall and although I tried black trousers on at three different menswear shops, they either didn’t have my size or the cut was awful, so I resigned myself to the remaining formal nights with pale trousers.  Coffee at Gloria Jeans’ was just excellent and much better than on the ship.  In fact, coffee on this ship is a bit hit and miss, but more about that later when I do the ship comparisons.

Back to the ship with Ken & Barb (on the number 10 of course) and for a late buffet lunch.  We skipped trivia but met up with the others in the top floor Skywalker’s for the sailaway.  Dinner was nice with hot jubilee cherries for dessert.  I don’t often succumb to desserts but hot cherries and cream – yum!

The juggler wasn’t so hot and after, a long chat to Greg and Kathy from Florida.  Clocks forward 30 minutes tonight with two days at sea before Port Douglas.  The smokers have really done my head in though, and that is not good.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Days 13 - 14 Two straightforward sea days. Dec 7 & 8th.

Not too much of either interest or note other than the Indian buffet was a bit lacking in variety, though the chicken madras and the fruited rice was tasty enough for a second run... We sat up on the balcony around the indoor calypso/conservatory pool to eat it and noted that not for the first time, a senior Japanese gentleman with an obvious passion for table tennis (complete with his own designed and constructed bat!), was keen to help the youngsters improve their game.  We watched as we ate, and saw a youngster improve so much, that in the 20 minutes or so we were there, he developed a formidable forehand smash from virtually nothing!  Great to see.

We did manage the salsa dance class for a bit of exercise, but most of the classes seem to be 30 mins, rather than the 1 hour on the Dawn.  Although I tried several times, internet access appeared to be impossible 9though this specific blog is written later anyway – much later...)  We had another formal night and I managed a lobster tail with a crab-cake, (for a starter rather than the published main...  Looking at the photograph now, it is also easy to see why this may have been a good choice as a starter only, as it wasn’t really up to the standard we have come to expect.) but my head’s taste department was still on strike anyway, so I can’t say too much about it.   (There was yet another toast to an absent friend, who is a lobsterholic...)  I did manage to enjoy the steak Rossini main though, which was superb.  A beautiful steak topped, with pate, nice vegetables.

Our table waiters Freddie & Oscar livened things up a bit with a bit of table sculpture, though Ros looks a bit perturbed as to its stability, Arnold is more intent on studying the dessert menu, trying to find the lost berries.

We went on to club fusion for a game show – “Blankety Blank”, but sadly, the three cruise members on the panel were too predictable and that meant that the audience’s answers soon turned out to be predictable and boring too. Not a success.

It appears to us that the whole tone of this cruise staff is a bit more serious and a bit too PC maybe.  Have they been told to be a bit less silly?  We miss the infectiousness of Bex and her laugh, Barbara for being Barbara and Warren’s rapport with Deputy director Dave.

We did enjoy a coffee afterwards and a chat with Ken & Barb in the Atrium - until about 11:45pm!


Next day, we once again were unable to enjoy the balcony that we’d paid for, as the smokers next door were outside. Very frustrating as not feeling well is a pain.  It is more of a pain when on holiday and even more so when I know that second-hand cigarette smoke from next door is the reason. 

The Princess theatre act was Grant Galea, a singer who put on a good show, enlivened a wee bit by singing impersonations.

It almost goes without saying, that neither day provided a trivia win, but we still enjoy it.  Our team “The Guessalots” is aptly named but there are one or two really smart teams on board.  But hey, we don’t profess to know it all, but we are all still learning.

Another atrium late coffee stop with Ken & Barb and we were joined by the very bubbly and bouncy, but very single, Linda.  Quite a character that one...

Darwin tomorrow and that meant an easy immigration face to face whilst at sea which speeds things up.  We were in Darwin earlier in the year so we’ll just amble off again and maybe I’ll find some black trousers suitable for formal night, though with just three formal nights left, maybe I won’t...    

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 12 - Benoa (Bali) - Dec 6th

For our last Asian stop, we accidentally caught up with Barb & Ken whilst waiting for our tender call and when we arrived on dry land, there were plenty of taxis available at a published fixed fare of $25 each way to Kuta beach.  We had never been to Bali before but we know it is a very popular destination for both Australians and Kiwis.  There are different spots on the island and the nearest for us was Kuta, which is  a beach resort.  We managed a modern Suzuki taxi van for the four of us and our driver was more than happy to drop us off and pick us up 3 hours later and refused to accept 50% payment for the outward trip.

We were somewhat surprised by the heavy traffic here and the driver did a bit of ducking and diving through the backstreets to try and avoid the worst bottlenecks.  As promised, he dropped us off at the market with a straight walk to the beach. At least 90% of the market must have been clothing – mainly singlets and tee shirts. All around, at almost every stall, were small offerings with incense burning, but often these seemed to get trampled on.  The singlets and tees seemed to be similar on every stall and we gained the impression that maybe one or two were wholesalers selling to other market traders, so there was a lot of haggling going on.

We walked down to the beach, turned right and walked along the water’s edge.  Plenty of offers of massage, cold drinks etc and dozens of small stalls.

Moving back in land again, the traffic was still extremely heavy, but what we noticed was that 80% of the jams were probably caused by slow moving taxis touting for custom and they contributed to about 80% of the traffic too!

Time for a coffee and we spied the Australian franchised Gloria Jeans.  Having had an excellent coffee in Vietnam and paying in $US, we were somewhat surprised to find that this branch only wanted local currency - so they missed out, as we didn’t have any.  Negotiating very poorly maintained pavements was a worry, as they effectively covered storm drains, but not all the coverings are in good condition. It was far too easy to put your foot down a hole so you had to be very vigilant.

Paula had spied a large dolphin carving earlier in the day so our last stop before the taxi at 3pm was to see how much he would drop his price of $100.  Now bargaining is the norm here so Paula offered $50.  He wasn’t happy.  Eventually he asked Paula her top price and she said $70. He wanted $80 and wouldn’t budge so we walked away.  He soon chased us and said OK, $70.  He wrapped it with bubble wrap and card board and when Paula handed over the $70, he claimed we had agreed on $80!  We paid $70 and staggered back to the taxi with our extra passenger...

Back at the wharf, it was quite entertaining to be in a fenced compound, whilst the traders tried to haggle through the fence.

We attacked the buffet at 4pm then caught up wit he others in the lofty Skywalker’s lounge for the sailaway, which as a tender port, wasn’t spectacular.

That concluded the Asian content of the trip as the remainder is more of an extended homecoming than anything.  With just three Australian ports before Sydney, the mood changed significantly and much of the talk was now of future plans...  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Days 9 - 11 At sea again, being lazy

As I have a bit of catching up to do, suffice to say that the three days at sea passed by without being attacked by pirates, hit by tornadoes or tsunamis.  There was no mass outbreak of bubonic plague, dengue fever, the lurghi or the squits – though there may have been isolated outbreaks here and there.  No mutinies of crew or passengers and no streakers - though given the likely state of so many un-ironed birthday suits around here, that is something of a blessing really.  Has anyone ever seen a geriatric with a walking frame, streaking?

We did turn up for the “Buddhism 101” lecture in the theatre one morning.  It was so peaceful that we both nodded off...

The following day it was port lecturer Hutch, on Benoa (Bali).  We didn’t nod off.

Unfortunately, the Diamond Cats lunch clashed with the crossing the equator ceremony but as viewing seems a little crowded compared to the Dawn, we did the lunch.  Nothing arranged other than the lunch, where Dave excused himself towards the end, as he was off to be verbally abused at bridge, where some old biddy objects to him smiling!  

For the second night, we caught an act that we had seen on the Dawn.   The first was illusionist Wayne Hoffman and the second was pianist/guitarist Bayne Bacon.  Good acts, but there is never enough seating unless you want to wait until the 10:30pm performances.

We also managed a couple of production shows, but we are now in the zone of getting repeats, though the stage equipment and effects appear to be  a bit more advanced than on the Dawn, or certainly compared to the first half of the cruise.

Benoa (Bali) tomorrow concludes the real overseas sector as after that it is all Australia and NZ.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Apologies for the delays...

Apart from the time factor of trying to get the blog up to date; the fact that the connection keeps dropping out; a severe attack of sinusitis/head-cold, probably caused by the chain-smokers in the adjoining cabin, all is well.  Already, there is talk of plans for 2013, as Princess has just released the itineraries.

When you are addicted, you always need to plan when your next fix is coming along.

I promise I will get the blog up to date but quite when, I am not too sure.  Apart from Gary & Joanne, I am not even sure if anyone is even reading it, as internet access is so fragile I haven’t even bothered checking the stats.

In real time, we have already been to Bali, Darwin, Port Douglas and are currently an hour or so away from leaving Airlie Beach, then the run down to Sydney, where all of our table friends will be getting off.  Sob, sob.

Oh no.  The smokers are back on their balcony next door...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Days 7/8 Dec 1st & 2nd - at sea and Vietnam

Back to a leisurely start to the day and the usual relaxed routine before a swim in the Conservatory pool, which is all under cover and the temperature in the water must have been about 30 degrees plus.  Lovely.

A very nice lunch that was so good, I just had to have a second plateful – a bit of a rarity for me on board.  This was followed by a visit to the tropical fruit buffet where we had the opportunity to try various items we normally wouldn’t see or have the courage to try.  Maintaining 5 portions of fruit/veg per day is so easy.  Jackfruit, lychees, massive guava, chocco, pineapple, dates, paw-paw, oranges and no doubt others I missed.   (Please note Mrs Wallace, 8 fruits on my plate...) Very nice too.

We didn’t win at trivia.

After a dinner that included two mains – prawns and veal rack, (I skipped on the soup) we went to see Maurizio in the Explorer’s Lounge, rather than his usual spot in the atrium where he has a massive following.  This was more  a concert than the usual sing-along /dance-along.  Very enjoyable but ruined for us by some woman of foreign extraction seated just behind us at the rear of the area, who yapped all the way through.  Turning round and glowering had no effect.

With an early start tomorrow for a tour to Ho Chi Min city (Saigon), we crashed early.  We had a 6am alarm set as Paula wanted to see the sail in.


Day 8 Vietnam

The sail in wasn’t really very interesting but it did give us time for a quick breakfast before the 2 hour run to Hi Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

Until I’d seen the UK’s “Top Gear in Vietnam”, I had no real wish to visit, but for a programme that is based on cars, they did a stellar job of promoting Vietnam.  Although we didn’t get out and about to see the real beauty of the countryside, this was a fascinating stop.  Our guide “Ho”, looked a lot like a slimmed down smiling Buddha, with a round face and he did smile a lot and was also quite gentle with his commentary.   I just love to analyse some of these guides for mannerisms, as they all seem to have them.  Ho’s mannerism was repeating half of the last sentence or phrase at least twice, so the day went something like this.

“In Vietnam we have 85 million people and 70 million motorbikes: - motorbikes. The adults have to wear crash-helmets: - crash-helmets, but not the children: - children.”

The journey in from the port at Phu My was interesting, as for the only time of this trip, we drove on the “wrong” side of the road.  Having said that, watching the kamikaze motorcyclists, you could so easily have been forgiven for thinking that they drove on the left.  Our very skilful coach driver took no prisoners and when making right turns from lane 2, across the motorcyclists, he turned quite slowly and the motorcyclists continued to dive in front as we were turning until we were well through and then they passed behind.  Scary!  Seeing the stuff they carry on the bikes is mind boggling, but it seems that whatever you want delivering to your house, it arrives on the back of a bike.  We passed a couple of bikes carrying not one, but 4 single mattresses.  As most families have just the one bike, seeing mum, dad and one or two kids on at the same time was the norm.  (Families are limited to two children...)  Amazingly, throughout the trip, we saw no accidents so it does make you think.  NZ prices motorbikes off the road, (the registration fee is higher than for a car) yet in many countries we have visited this year, including some in Europe, it is the most efficient means of transport.

We had a “Happy Room” stop about 1 hour in, and as I hadn’t packed enough leisure shirts, I was happy to buy 3 genuine Ralp Lauren polos for $20.  (Yes, I have spelt the label name correctly!)  I didn’t bother bargaining but others managed 3 for $10!  Needless to say, on the return to the ship, there were quite a few passengers supporting Ralp Lauren.

Our first stop on the tour was a 45 minute stop at a lacquer factory, where just for the tourists, there were about 10 operatives showing the different processes including some intricate work using mother of pearl and even egg shells!  I have to say that this was one of the better of these showroom stops.  We duly got back on the coach and waited; and waited; and waited.  Twenty minutes after our due time, two passengers who are from world’s third largest continent, finally made it to the coach, which was parked at the showroom exit.  They received the slow handclap from the rest of the passengers.  They couldn’t understand why they were given the treatment until someone told them in no uncertain terms how selfish they were.  Our next stop was the Post Office for 20 minutes – but they didn’t get off the coach...   It was left to a further two of their countrymen to be a further 10 minutes late...

On then to the market.  As with all indoor markets, hot and steamy with in this instance, the outer ring of stalls manned by government employees and everything at fixed prices, so no bargaining.  Once past them, the bargaining started in earnest  - it is almost a national sport.  NOT bargaining they find quite disappointing.  Paula did well here and bought a few more items to add to the Ralp shirts and also a couple of coolie hats we’d bought at the stall inside the post office.

Thankfully, no one was late this time and the coach dropped us off at Duong St in the city.   We led the rush to a “Gloria Jeans” coffee shop, where they took US dollars and provided a superb coffee.  Just what we need before strolling up and down the street, marvelling once again at the motorbikes travelling on whatever side of the road took their fancy.  We walked as far as the river, but wisely I think, elected to not cross over the road.  The general rule here seems to be, amble across the road at a steady pace and whatever you, do, don’t run.  The traffic should (repeat, should) flow around you.  If you stop or run, the oncoming gaggle of bikes has no idea whether to go in front or behind.  

A quick photo stop at the palace where we were allowed inside the gate, but not more than about ten metres from it.

Almost the whole journey back to the port, the road was lined with small businesses.  Far more interesting than passing large modern factory buildings.  In Vietnam and Thailand, I think I could have cheerfully taken my time passing through and taken enough interesting photographs to fill a book or two.  There was just so much of human interest and the people are very likeable.

Very noticeable was that in NZ and most western countries, there are always car sale yards, here there were a lot of yards selling second-hand construction equipment such as cranes, rollers, diggers etc. There are many road side eating establishments as the food is so cheap and with people working long hours, it is easier to eat out rather than cook.  Many of these road side establishments had hammocks for the use of clients. Now that is something that the west could offer!  On the outskirts of Saigon is an amusement park that looked quite large but I have no idea what it was called, though there was a massive rock structure, not quite as big as Disney’s Matterhorn, but pretty impressive. We were back the ship at 5:10pm with once again, our driver skilfully using any of the three lanes available, but the run was noticeable by the number of broken down trucks in the ‘slow’ lane.

A visit to the buffet then to an 8:15pm comedy show by Don Ware.  Don was for six years, a script writer on the Cosby show - and at times he even spoke like Bill Cosby!  His recall of his Bangkok hotel with free massage was hilarious.  Totally non PC – thank goodness - and with a fair bit of picking on the audience.  He challenged one guy, who was escaping for a cigarette, “ Who cut your hair? Stevie Wonder?”.  My kind of humour.

A coffee in the atrium – virtually the only place you can get one.

Now we have three days at sea to look forward to, when I may give our comparisons of the Diamond and Dawn Princes ships - if I can find the time of course - and if there is internet available.  With 2700 passengers, compared to the 1950 of the Dawn, the pressure on the internet is so much greater, so getting connected and getting anything done, such as viewing emails on line, sending them or posting blogs, is not that easy.  We may now have to wait for Darwin before we can upload, so what you are reading today may have been written days ago.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Day 6 - Thailand 2 - Nov 30th

Laem Chabang

Having been to Bangkok before, we had opted for a shorter tour than the whole day tour to that major city.  Several people from the “Diamond Cats” were just getting  a coach to Pattaya beach and we weren’t sure when we got up (at 6am) whether or not we’d be joining them.  After a quick snack, we managed to buttonhole the tour staff and they cheerfully checked that there was space on the tour we wanted and simply altered our incorrect tickets.  Phew!  We are so glad they did as Paula had done us proud and selected a tour that is probably going to be one of the trip highlights.

We set off promptly at about 7:45am with our guide “Moo” and we passed through Pattaya and hooked a left, straight into the Nongnooch Gardens, a 500 acre privately owned resort site that is obviously very popular and also well organised. We arrived early and had 20 minutes to wander around an area that was totally dominated by various sculptures made out of small terra-cotta plant-pots. Then it came alive... For 50 Baht (about $US) you could have your photo taken with a monkey, bottle feeding a baby tiger, sitting on a pair of elephant’s trunks, with a macaw or three and so on.  Some great photo opportunities if you weren’t paying either. This was just in a tiny compact  area of the 500 acre site and even though we weren’t hungry, we would have liked to have wandered around the food area just across the way.

Back on the coach for a two minute drive through to the next area which was a mass of stalls but we didn’t get much time before we were ushered into the large tin shed with tiered seating and fans blowing a cool mist.  This was for the cultural show.

Over the years we have obviously seen a few cultural shows but this has to be one of the very best.  With local dancing and movement with a cast of over 30, this was no tin pot little tableau.  The back-drop changed at least 5 times with different aspects of Thai culture with references to Hindu as well as local traditions.

The front stage then was suddenly taken over by a small gang of workers who quickly erected a boxing ring and we were treated to a demonstration of kick boxing of two rounds.  This was not without humour as one of the ringside worker/supporters got whacked at the end of round one and the referee at the end of round 2.  An exhibition of sword fighting, then stick dancing then a display of fighting whilst sitting on decorated elephants followed by smaller elephants effectively dancing, made this a fast moving show and it was over all too quickly.

We were then shepherded through to the outdoor arena for the elephant display.  The Princess tours had VIP seating at the head of the arena and we were encouraged to buy small bunches of bananas to feed the elephants.

The display was just wonderful, with elephants doing everything from throwing darts at balloon targets, kicking large soccer balls, riding tricycles, playing basket ball, to a very impressive display of tee shirt painting! One managed to draw a picture of a tree, another a bunch of flowers. 

Several members of the audience were invited to participate by lying on mats, and the elephants walked up and stepped over them.  Two audience members then laid down on their backs, the elephants tapping them on their stomachs with trunks, then with a front foot!!!

We just loved the display.  Paula held out two bananas from the bunch.  An elephant took the offered bananas and before Paula could reach to the floor to peel off another couple, the elephant beat her to it and took the whole bunch!

Just five minutes to check out the stalls and back onto the coach to Pattaya and the “factory shop” stop.

This turned out to be a jewellery factory.  Oh dear.  Forty five minutes here in a large modern air-conditioned building with dozens of ‘helpers’ always means the same thing. They want you to buy their expensive jewellery.  At this point, all the guys went off the idea as did most of the women.  If it had been a local market or even 45 minutes to wander up and down a street, no problem.

Princess, their tour companies, coach operators, taxi drivers etc  tend to spoil a lot of these trips by taking you to places like this.  I have never yet met a man who enjoyed them and the 45 mins would have been far better spent back at the gardens where there was much to see.

Nevertheless, the factory selling aside, this was a great trip. The journey through the area was fascinating as the towns seem to spread for ages with hundreds of small businesses lining the roadside.

I love the Thai people.  They seem kind, somewhat relaxed and smile a lot. They encompass various religions quite happily and when the name was changed from Siam to Thailand, the word means “Free Land” and this could just as easily be “Peaceful Land”.

There was a little bit of shopping at the terminal and I bought a belt – with an MG buckle!

Dinner was a full table but so far, we feel that maybe the food on the Dawn was a little better.  After, we went to the full Bobby Borgia magic show and enjoyed it, but an excess of ice cold water at dinner probably didn’t agree with Paula’s internals...

Another day at sea ahead before Vietnam, so after an early start to the day, fairly early to bed.