Friday, October 28, 2016

Wallaby Burger & Beer

Regis meeting a Wallaby
After a day exploring a new city, I love finding a local Pub where they serve good hearty local beers, preferable local craft brews. Finding some nice local food specialty to snack on with the beer main course is even better. Everything came together here in Hobart Tasmania during our visit.

Although the captain had cut our stay in Hobart short so he can try to outrun a storm on the
Yup, Cobras in Tasmania
way to New Zealand (Who says cruising isn’t exciting?), we still had almost a full day to explore the city. So far, my impressions of Australia are very favorable. I loved Sydney and Hobart was just as nice. It is a clean, vibrant, modern city with lots going on. We arrived on a Saturday and Hobart has a really fabulous market that takes over an entire section of the downtown, with local fresh produce and hundreds of local craft-people selling unique hand made products. How about a lovely hand carved wooden bow-tie for my Tux? Although I have one more Gala night on the cruise requiring formal wear I did pass on this unique item, but I may try my hand a making one at home . . .

One nice thing about visiting the southern hemisphere in October, is that it is Spring here and everything is green and the flowers are blooming, and a walk through a residential area allowed us to see some beautiful gardens just coming into their best. Having two springs in one year is great!

Sampling the Local Brew
Getting tired, thirsty and hungry after a morning of exploring, I led us back to a pub I had noticed offering 16 local craft beers, and I discovered they had a Sampler tray where instead of having to only choose one or two beer, I could try five of them. They were all good, but then I have not found too many brews I do not get along with. Among their Gourmet burger selection we discovered a Wallaby burger, and Regis reluctantly agreed to try it (We were sharing). The meat was shredded instead of a patty, and to be honest it was like pulled pork only a little bit stronger tasting. I enjoyed it, but Regis’ imagination kept her imagining cute little hopping animals, so I got most of the meat . . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Down Under at Last

Sailing Into Sydney
After almost 30 days at sea, we finally arrived in Australia, and at 6:00 am, we sailed into Sydney Harbour.

It was not an easy journey to get there.  After leaving New Caledonia we sailed through seas of almost 4 meters, so the ship was bouncing and pounding through heavy swells and waves. As we walked around the ship there were noticeably fewer people out and about. I think many passengers were finding the rough seas a bit unsettling so were staying close to their staterooms. Many of the people I saw around the ship were complaining about the rough ride. I imagine most people were happy to feel the ship pull into the calmer waters of Sydney Harbour.
Just fitting under the bridge

We were docking at the White Bay Cruise Terminal, and the Noordam is the largest ship that can make it this far into Sydney Harbour. It still has to be timed closely so the tide is low enough to give the ship’s funnels the two meters clearance under the bridge. This timing worked well, however and the sun rose as we entered the harbour allowing everyone to watch as we slowly made our way into one of the most beautiful harbours in the world.

Sydney Harbour really is spectacular. It is deep and long, allowing the largest ships to get far inland. Of course there is the iconic Opera House sitting right out into the water underneath the city’s famous harbour bridge. We had to make two tight turns, which forced the local ferries to stop and wait for us the get around and once we reached the cruise terminal, the ship swung completely around, and the captain backed us neatly into the mooring.

Barangaroo Park
Sydney is a beautiful city, with a pleasant combination of modern buildings and old historical landmarks. I was especially pleased to find walkways all along the waterfront. It is a particular annoyance of mine to find prime waterfront locations sold to big resorts and hotels that then block access for the public. Increasingly cities are seeing the value to creating “Public” areas along the waterfront and Sydney is following this example. I was able to walk all along the waterfront from the Opera House back to Darling Harbour with only a short break where a waterfront park was being constructed. One section called Barangaroo was once a huge concrete pier and has been reclaimed and converted into a beautiful park with trees, sandstone breakwaters, and trails for walkers, joggers and bicycles. Of course there is lots of commercial development along this same waterfront, but attractive public walkways have been maintained and you do not find yourself blocked by fences and exclusive resorts hotels. Even the converted warehouse condos in Dawes Point feature walkways all around them.

One nice thing about cruising is that you get a taste of many different places and it is brief stops on cruise journeys that have brought me back to places like Spain, Italy and the Caribbean. Sydney is certainly a city that our one day visit made us put it on a list of locations to visit again.  

Why is my Ship Listing?

Cruise ships, even ones as big as the Noordam, move around a lot as they navigate the oceans, and you get used to the constant rhythm of the ship. However the movement usually goes both ways; the ship goes down in the bow only to return as the stern takes its turn on down stroke. A rocking to the starboard is always followed by a equal rocking to port.

This Ship is not listing . . .
I was a little surprised when I felt the ship list one way and not return to level. Sitting in the restaurant, I felt the ship shift to one side and remain there. With a clear view out both port and starboard windows I could see sky out one side and ocean out the other. A walk up to the aft pool deck showed a clear, steady 10 or 12 degree list to one side. The horizon behind the ship was no longer straight, and the water in the pool instead of splashing back and forth was down on one side and overflowing on the other.

A quick tour around the ship did not find crew members scrambling to emergency stations, the list did not seem to be growing worse, and our speed remained a steady 18.9 kts. By the time I made a tour of most of the ships outside public areas we were mostly back to horizontal, so the problem seems to have been fixed, the testing of ballast tanks or stabilizers successful or whatever . . .
Sailing Out Of Sydney Australia

The most interesting thing about this was that except for one couple who noticing me staring out at the crooked horizon, and commented casually on the list, no one seemed to notice. People remained in their deck chairs reading their kindles, bridge games continued in the games room, and no one but me seemed to get up from their breakfast to see what was happening. I am not sure anyone noticed?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Rhythm of the Ship

The Noordam is a large ship, almost 1000 ft. long and 82,318 tons, with 11 guest decks, 6 restaurants, 10 lounges, two swimming pools, a gym, casino, sports court and duty free shops. Our room is like a nice hotel room, and dinner is served in a beautiful upscale dining room like a fine restaurant in any city. Although luxurious and comfortable, it is still an ocean going vessel making its way across vast amounts of water, and you are always aware that you are on a ship. But you quickly become accustomed to the rhythms of the ship.

Getting Ready to start Engines
Although we have had nice pleasant weather and calm seas, the ship still moves with the waves and rolling oceans. After a day or two you get used to it and learn to walk the decks and hallways without stumbling from side to side.

Everywhere you go, you hear and feel the rhythms of the ship. As well as being rocked to sleep by the motion of the ship, there is also the hum of the machinery from the AC unit cooling the room to the rumble of the engines deep under the room. The motion of the ship causes other little noises; our balcony door had a little squeak, that was mostly white noise rather than annoying, and on certain days at certain speeds and wind conditions, there was a constant rattle from a balcony down from ours.

As you walk the Promenade deck which goes completely around the ship (Three times equals one mile for the walkers), you get a variety of noises, from the rumble of the engines and propellers as you cross the open back deck looking down at the wake streaming out behind the ship, to the ventilation fans cleaning and circulating air throughout the ship.

When the ship is underway, there is a gentle constant vibration everywhere you go on the
The Atrium
ship caused by the massive engines generating power to run this floating town and to push the thousands of tons of steel through the ocean. The sounds increase when entering or leaving port or anchor, as the ropes are untied, anchor chains raised or thrusters activated to move the ship in the desired directions. We often leave port at dinner time and the hustle and bustle of getting hundreds of people efficiently fed can hide much of the initial movement and noise, but the sudden increase in the rumble under the ship as the propulsion pods push us away from the dock lets people know we are underway.
Loading the Tenders

If the seas get a bit heavier you get an additional sound added to the rhythm of the ship as, instead of slicing through the waves, the ship gets lifted on one swell and crashes into the next one sending a shudder through the entire ship. In very heavy seas this becomes a constant addition to the ship’s ongoing symphony of sound and motion.

Sunset at Sea
After a week on a cruise you get very comfortable with the ship’s rhythms, and the first day on land you miss the gentle motion and noise. I imagine that after 43 days at sea it will take a few days before I get a good night sleep without the ship rocking me to sleep.

Exotic South Pacific

Wall Art In Port Vila
We stopped yesterday in Port Vila, Vanuatu. To be honest, it was a little disappointing. You sort of expect an exotic South Pacific island to be Interesting, exciting and well,  . . . exotic. It really was none of these.

To start, the cruise ship docked at the container pier. Of course this makes sense, on these islands they do not have the infrastructure of large cities, so you build one facility to accommodate large ships and the cruise ships have to share with the freighters and container ships. The downside of this is that in most cases these container piers are stuck on the outskirts of the towns and you need to find a way into town.
Port Vila Shops
Here is Port Vila you have a choice. You can take one of the many mini-van taxis or you can take a water taxi. We elected to go with friends and take a regular taxi into town and then a water taxi back. These 2000 cruise passengers are a much-needed boost to the local economy, and there is a lot of competition for customers. I was sent out in advance to navigate the throngs of eager transport operators and negotiate a price. I discovered that the water taxis were simple, a set price of $5 each, and they don’t actually care if you use US or Australian dollars. The Mini-van taxis were more negotiable, and I got prices initially from $20 per person to $5. The difference here is that they want to get you into the vehicle so they can begin to sell you on a complete “Island Tour”. Since
Cyclone Damage
most people get into the taxis to go downtown, they begin by telling you how boring the town is and how many interesting things you can see on their “Tour”. I ended up doing very well, getting a ride into town for all four of us for only $10. Even though our friends had already booked a tour with the ship (terribly overprized according to our driver) he continued to sell us on the possibility of taking a tour, but he was friendly and a good driver. A 10 minute drive deposited us safely downtown where we discovered that most of the local information about the town was accurate – it wasn’t much, lots of tourist shops, a market, and a few dodgy drinking establishments. After looking for a spot with decent WiFi we gave up and settled on a place serving local beer.

Water Taxi
We took a water taxi back to the boat. All these boats are the same, a fiberglass open boat about 20 feet long with an outboard motor. They put 12 people in the boat sitting on wooden benches. One passenger asked about life jackets and I suggested that the loose pieces of plywood serving as a floor would keep her buoyant for a while. She shrugged her shoulders and said “All part of the adventure I suppose.” On the way back to the boat we saw some evidence of the destruction caused by a recent cyclone as we passed an island that was littered with sunken and damaged boats that had been tossed ashore in the storm.

Although interesting, certainly not the exotic South Pacific Island I had expected, but at least Port Vila did not have a MacDonald’s.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Not Exactly as Advertised

All cruise ships have people whose job it is to inform passengers about the places you are going to visit. On the Noordam this position is called the “Location Guide”. Our guide is KK, and although she is always available to pass on information, sometimes that information is not completely accurate.

For example, we stopped yesterday at the island of Dravuni which is part of the Fiji Islands. This sounded like a wonderful stop, an unspoiled tropical island in the middle of the pacific with only 200 inhabitants. We were told that when we visited their village we were “In effect” going into their living room, and we were asked to respect their culture by not wearing hats or sunglasses, and to wear modest clothing covering the shoulders and knees. We were told that there might be a few local handcrafts for sale and perhaps a barbecue might happen with some local food. The pictures showed simple native houses and a simple floating dock leading onto a deserted beach.

The island was only two miles long and a trail let to the highest point where you could see for miles around. This sounded like a nice activity offering exercise and photo opportunities.

Well there was a trail and the views were pretty spectacular, but that was about it for the unspoiled paradise. As our tender pulled into the modern floating plastic wharf, we were greeted by rows of $20 “Full body massage” booths, racks of Dravuni T-Shirts and pretty modern looking houses mixed in beside the “Native Huts” we were shown previously. There were lots of hats, sunglasses and bare shoulders. And there was a spectacular mile long beach perfect for swimming. I’m not quite sure how KK reconciled this attraction with the need to respect “Native Culture” – don’t think the ship’s shops sell full body swimming dresses any more. In fact it sort of looked like the island’s 200 natives seemed only too happy to have these hat-wearing, sunglassed, bare shouldered tourists come ashore to spend their money. Many passengers were upset about having to make another tender trip back to the boat to change out of pants and long sleeves into their western bathing attire to enjoy the waters around the island.

Once past the generator installation, the pig pens (No, real pigs), and the garbage pits full of plastic, Styrofoam and aluminum refuse, the trail to the top of the island was worth the effort and I got some great pictures.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bringing the Beer

Walking in Suva
It was raining in Fiji. Well, not raining all day, but in the afternoon it pretty much rained constantly. As a result, after a pleasant self-guided walking tour of Suva in the morning, the rain in the afternoon convinced us to stay on the ship. As well, the ship’s “Location Guides” did not make the location sound very safe with warnings to ‘Not go out alone.”, “Not to wear any jewelry”, and “Definitely DO NOT walk anywhere at night.”

Suva, Viti Levu, Fiji Islands, is a large city, and the ship docks in a VERY busy container pier. Our balcony overlooked the acres of containers on the pier and the city beyond. Fortunately it was a Monday and there was a container ship being loaded and unloaded behind us, so I entertained myself for a while watching this operation. You do not often get a front row seat for this as it is normally hidden away from the public,
The Container Ship Show
and although everyone would not find it interesting, I loved watching the containers being sorted, moved and loaded. One end of the ship was being unloaded by the ship’s cranes and these containers were being stacked for delivery on the island, while the other end of the ship was being loaded with the large pier crane. It was amazing how these containers going in every direction ended up going to the correct destination.

I then discovered that four of these containers were parked under our balcony being unloaded and restocking the ship. In many ports, tractor-trailer trucks bring supplies, but obviously here, these containers arrived on ships previously and were waiting for us. Two were refrigerated units containing frozen food and two were
Bring the Beer
regular containers with other items.

It was interesting to watch this process. Workers inside the regular containers were using hand carts to move items moved to the door where fork-lifts transferred everything into the ship’s hold. I noticed a number of managers of departments down there making sure that their needed supplies were being handled correctly. I saw the Cellar Master who is responsible for all the beer, wine and spirits inspecting his incoming cases of bottles, and insisting they were handled correctly.

Loading the Ship
Opposite these regular containers things were not going as smoothly. The fork-lifts had to actually drive right into the container to get these larger pallets of goods. Because of the rain, things were slippery, and the small ramp used to allow access to the container was proving too much for the hard rubber tires on the machinery. They were spinning and slipping and unable to get into the container. When they could not solve this problem they decided to try pulling the pallets out so they could pick them up without actually going inside. Unfortunately this did not work as the pallets twisted and jammed instead of sliding out. Finally they figured out that if they drove one fork-lift up until it started spinning, they could push it the rest of the way with the other fork-lift. Not the most efficient process, but it worked. A lot of waiting and maneuvering, but everything got unloaded and put on the ship. 

Good to know that the beer coolers and wine cellars are once again fully stocked.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Pago Pago

Our slow crossing of the Pacific Ocean continues with a stop in Pago Pago (Pronounced “Pango Pango”) in American Samoa.

The Harbour at Pago Pago
After sailing down the US west coast, we took five days to reach Hawaii, where we spent four days. We then took four days to get here in American Samoa, where we pulled in for the day early this morning. I think this is day 19 of our voyage and so we are not even half way through the cruise. Every couple of days we are reminded to set our clocks back another hour, so the “Cruise Lag” is a bit easier to adjust to compared to the Jet-lag we would have had.

Pago Pago is a small town on American Samoa. There is a lovely natural deep harbour here, surrounded by tropical, jungle covered mountains. The harbour here is a commercial one with a container terminal serving double duty as a “Cruise Port”, and an extensive fishing and freighter fleet docked across the harbour from us.

Pago Pago is not a regular cruise stop and although there are two ships in port today, it is usually only visited on these “re-positioning” cruises, and although the locals have made the most of having almost 4000 shopping-deprived tourists deposited in their little town by setting up stalls and markets along the main roads, you can see that there is no serious full-time facilities for relieving tourists of their travel dollars.

Pago Pago Buses
Pago Pago Buses
The exception is the unique Pago Pago buses. There seems to be lots of these to take tourists all over the island. With the humid air conditions and proximity to the salty Pacific Ocean, the vehicles do not fare well, and I saw trucks with rust holes in the roofs. I think that once they reach that condition, they tear everything off but the engine hood and front fenders and build completely new, high bodied buses out of the rusted trucks. Retaining only the front body they hand build bus bodies with wooden benches and wide open “Natural AC” bodies. These buses are then painted in bright colours and used to transport people all over. The drivers individualize their vehicles with carpet and bright colours inside and out. There are simple small buses that are used by the local people to get around and larger ones decorated with tropical flowers to take tourists on tours around the island.
Regis On Pago Pago

But the nicest thing about Pago Pago? Definitely the friendly people. Everywhere we went we were greeted by cheerful locals with a friendly “Hello!”.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

An Italian Haircup

I have been getting my hair cut and my beard trimmed for over 30 years by an excellent Italian “Hair Stylist” (I am told they prefer that over “barber”). When you have been going to the same shop for that long, it is hard to change, and although he is now partially retired I try to fit my need for a trim into his schedule, and although his younger brother does an equally great job, I do like to go back to him when I can. Being away from home for over nine weeks, I had to get an especially short cut to make it last, and since my “hair stylist” was away in Italy, his brother did the job. As he is not so familiar with my beard, Regis said he did not cut it short enough. I had waited for the last minute to get this done, so it was a case of too late, so sad, it’ll have to do . . . .

A Handy Italian 'Hair Stylist"
Now if you read my previous post on “The People You Meet”, you will know that we are getting to know a lot of great folk on this cruise. Early on the cruise we enjoyed the company of two lovely ladies from Toronto, and have met up with them for additional dinners and events around the ship. We knew that Angela was Italian (She shouted that out in the Vista Lounge on the first evening), and we knew Jane was a friend and client, but we did not find out her profession until later.

Turns out that she is a well known hair stylist in Toronto, owning several salons and clipping, trimming, colouring, and making presentable some of the well known and famous in this city.

Looking Our Best on Gala Night
I was not privy to how the topic of Regis’ hair came up, but Angela and Regis decided that it needed a bit of a re-style and she offered to perform that service. She admitted that she did not have her best Italian scissors, but assured us that the ones she travelled with were more than adequate. An appointment was made and after lunch on one of the “Gala Night” (you want to look your best) sea days she came to our stateroom and not only gave Regis a “new do” but also trimmed my beard. Our balcony became her temporary salon, and a bath towel was used to catch the clippings.

I can just imagine the room steward coming to clean our stateroom the following morning, and discovering all the hair on the balcony flooring, “What on earth went on here?” We thought it would blow away on the sea breezes, but no luck.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sailing Into a Volcano

Yea, I know I did sort of use that title, but this time it is much more true.

The Islands of Hawaii, were formed and are still being formed by the action of volcanoes, and they are actually the peeks of the tallest mountain range on the earth (Or so our “Location Manage KK says). Of course most of the serious mountain building took place thousands of years ago, but Hilo, the largest island still has one active volcano, Kilauea which continues to build the island by flowing lava into Pacific Ocean.

Although you can take a tour to Volcanoes National Park, they do not take visitors near enough to the active volcano to actually see much. The only way to see the molten lava is to take a helicopter tour, which flies over the lava flow.

Once those passengers who had paid to fly over the volcano were back on the ship and we were preparing to leave Hawaii, the captain announced that he was going to make a slight detour and take us ALL to see the lava flow as it entered the ocean. Wisely, he did not tell anyone which side of the ship would provide the best viewing spot, because the ship would have probably tipped with the stampede to secure prime spots. As it was, once we figured which side would be facing the shore, the railings and decks were packed with people waiting over an hour for the spectacle.

Fortunately, one advantage of frequent use of the gym facility on the ship, I knew that there was a nice little-used deck out there right over the bridge, and accessible only through the gym. Others knew of this as well, but we managed to get a good spot to wait for the ship to reach the volcano. I was not the only one up there who noted the similarity to the Italian Costa Cruise disaster; “Oh, no one will mind if I just go a little bit off course so I can wave to my girlfriend on shore . . .”

It was nighttime by now, and was pitch black out and everyone stared into the distance for a glimpse of the volcano. Although the ship is moving at about 15 kts, it seemed painfully slow when you are waiting for something. Finally, in the distance a faint pick glow appeared, and gradually got bigger and brighter. As we got close enough to actually see the steam, smoke and molten lava, the captain announced that he would get as close as possible, stop the ship and turn it so the bow faced the flow. He allowed the crew to open the normally inaccessible bow area to let passengers to go out there to view the volcano.

Sailing Into a Volcano
I do not know exactly how close he was able to get, but many people standing around us were actually worried he was too close. We had a clear view of the brilliant red molten lava flowing into the Pacific, sending up clouds of steam and smoke. It really was a spectacular view. Then to make it even better, he turned the ship completely, giving everyone a clear view from every balcony or deck space.

This was not on our itinerary, was never advertised, but was definitely a highlight of the trip so far. It certainly showed the skill of the navigation crew to safely bring a vessel of this size that close to a volcanic lava flow to provide a memorable experience for everyone.  I’m just glad I did not pay $439.00 for that helicopter ride . . . .

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Climbing Into a Volcano

At Diamond Head
Now I admit that the title is a bit dramatic . . . We actually visited Diamond Head State Monument but 300,000 years ago this crater WAS formed by a volcanic eruption. This site is the most recognized landmark in Hawaii, and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968. During the war the strategic location and panoramic views of the surrounding area from of the crater walls made this an ideal location for island defense, so observation posts, gun emplacement, and fire control stations were installed.

The infrastructure built by the military provided the basis for the current facility. There is a 1.3 km hike up the crater walls to the top. Although not a long hike, it involves a climb of 560 ft, 173 steps up, a 52 step circular staircase climb, two tunnels (one 225 ft long), and then 82 stairs back down to the original trail. All this is connected by a steep switch-back trail up
Through the Tunnel
the crater wall. All of this is part of the original military installation.

The trail is popular. There was a steady stream of people making the climb to the 761 ft observation tower area. There were at least three school groups and hundreds of tourists in a steady line all the way up and down the hike. We were properly outfitted for the adventure, with good shoes, hats and water, but there were many people struggling up the slippery trails in flip-flops or dress shoes, and I saw one woman in heels. It was a sunny hot day, with 28° temperatures and many people did not have water with them. I was surprised at how easy I found the climb. I listened to people huffing and puffing and breathing hard where I was fine; I guess I am in better shape than I thought. My knees were feeling it on the way down, but I found it a very pleasant morning adventure.
Wear Appropriate Footware?

I do think we will take it easy the rest of the day however.

Riding With The Locals

On The Bus
Honolulu, Hawaii is a lovely city, and we were docked there for two days, so we had lots of time to see a bit of the city. The ship docks right downtown, so we were close to everything. Our original plan was to book a “Hop-on-Hop-off” bus through the ship. It seemed like a reasonable deal and was active for both days, but when we tried to book this shore excursion it was sold out. We decided it would not be any big deal, we’ve found our way around cities all over the world, simply finding a map and exploring on our own.

Not so easy here in Honolulu . . . Most cities that host cruise lines, make the most of thousands of tourists suddenly arriving to spend their money, but when we left the ship this time, other than a line of taxies, there was nothing, no tourist info site, no free maps, not
A 'Local"
even anyone to give us advice. After exploring the area, and receiving negative responses to locating tourist information, we were not sure what to do. The two activities we wanted to do were at opposite ends of the city, Pearl Harbour at one end and Diamond Head in the other direction.

Another passenger we shared a table with at dinner suggested that the public bus system was quite easy to use and could actually get you anywhere on the island you wanted to go. I found a Department of Transportation office that had a rack of bus route maps and we found a couple that seemed to head in the correct directions.

Trying to Blend In
This worked great, and for $2.50 (it would have only been $1.00 if I could have proved “senior-ness”) we got a return ticket. The bus stop was easy to find, and the stops were clearly announced as we went. We managed to go visit Pearl Harbor and get back to the ship with no problem the first day and then used the same procedure the next day to visit Diamond Head.

There was lots of Hawaiian patterns (Yup, the locals really do wear those Hawaiian prints), flip flops and grocery bags, so our beige cargo tourist pants and Tilly hats did not really fit in perfectly but the locals seemed to accept us on their buses, and we got around the city perfectly well.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The People You Meet

Cruising is a great way to meet people. You are on a ship with hundreds of other people in a large but confined area. On other cruises, we have normally chosen the fixed dining option, where you sit at the same table with the same people at the same time every evening. This is great on a shorter cruise as it gives you a chance to get to know your table-mates pretty well by the end of the trip. There are many people who we have met on cruises that we keep in touch with. Strangely, other people who you get to know well on a trip, never contact you again. Or, you exchange e-mail addresses and possibly write back and forth a few times but then it stops. We met an older Scottish military man and his wife on one cruise and had a great time with them. He was not at all well, and his health was failing, and could no longer fly, so was traveling on the seas. He wore kilts and regimental regalia to formal nights and swore like a sailor, but he was a character you couldn’t help but like. I got his e-mail and tried to send him a picture we had taken of the four of us, but never heard anything of him. I worried that something had happened to him, but then years later I happened upon him on Facebook, and discovered that he had given me an incorrect e-mail so never got my correspondence, and we have kept in contact off and on since.

Now sitting with the same people for 43 days might be great, but what if they were not very nice or downright annoying? We elected to try the open seating on this voyage, and we sit with different folk every night. We have indeed met a few rather annoying people but the vast majority are interesting, friendly travelers and we regularly find ourselves happily chatting about hometowns, favorite trips or common interests when we notice the dining room staff waiting for us to leave so they can prepare for the next hungry diners. We have missed not a few events or amazing shopping opportunities because we lingered too long with our dinner guests sharing stories.

Our Ship The Noordam
The biggest difference to this is that although we have only been sailing for 9 days, we have met more people than we have ever before. As we wander from one event to another we are always being greeted by someone who we ate breakfast with, or shared a Lido table with. The biggest difficulty is recalling what their names are or exactly where we met them. Was that the guy who was going boar hunting in Australia, or was she the retired lumber baron? Did we meet them at breakfast in San Diego or was it while sailing to Hawaii. That is the advantage of travelling with Regis; everyone recalls her name. My name is common, but when we introduce ourselves we are often faced with a response to her name. “That’s interesting; What was it again?; Are you named after someone? Of course that other “Regis”, “what’s his name” always comes up.

One afternoon, we politely asked a man sitting alone at a large table out on the pool deck if we could share it with him, and he quietly said “Sure” and went back to his book, head down. Twenty minutes later we knew that he was from “South Texas – as far south as you can get!”, and he had no idea where his wife was in her walker. Although shy and quiet at first we have now seen him many times around the ship (And he still can never find his wife . . .) I recall his name, but I forget the names of the people we came up on the elevator with . . . . where did we meet them?

Monday, October 3, 2016

There's Nothing Out There

The Pacific is a big ocean. It covers almost 1/3 of the planet, so sailing across it, is a long trip. We sailed down the US West coast to San Diego where we headed out across the Pacific to Hawaii. This is just the first leg of our Pacific crossing but it takes five days to get to the Hawaiian Islands. As I write this, we are on day three of this segment, and as I sit on the balcony, there is just the blue of the ocean and the blue of the sky as far as I can see. During Caribbean cruises, you usually share the seas with other ships and can usually see the lights of other cruise ships or freighters around all the time. Here I have not seen anything on the ocean in three days. Not a boat, not a bird, nothing. And I do not mind a bit. I sit and watch the occasional cloud drift by, watch the boat’s wake roll out the side and dissipate into the gently rolling sea. The ship moves on at about 25 mph or 18 kts, the seas are relatively calm and the winds are coming onto the other side of the ship making my balcony a peaceful, comfortable 24° spot to relax and wile away the time.

Now many people look at these ocean-crossing cruises as boring and wonder what on earth they would find to keep themselves busy. It is really not a problem, with the ship’s entertainment crew, publishing a daily “On Location” guide with a listing of everything going on around the ship. We make use of this and circle everything we might want to do. There are cooking lessons, dance lessons, tours of the ship, cards, computer tutorials, and even lectures given by eminent university professors. Yesterday we had seven possible events circled, but as I settled out in the balcony and discovered that our south, southwest course provided me with sunshine all day, I missed most of them. The e-book on my IPad from the library back home expires in two days, so reading and relaxing took precedent over learning to dance or finding out the Anthropological origins of the people on the islands we are going to visit. I did manage to put a shirt on and get to the buffet for lunch, but I believe in taking a minimalist approach to the “boring sea days”, and do as little as possible.

Bullets, Bombs & Ancient Mariners

The View From the Bridge
Three years ago we visited San Diego California while on another cruise through Panama Canal. We saw the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, but did not have time to actually visit. On this trip we decided to devote our day in the city to a visit to this attraction.

The cruise ship terminal in San Diego is conveniently located right downtown and almost next door to the permanent mooring for the Midway, so a short walk along the waterfront put us at the museum. Actually between our ship and the Medway was a tourist information Kiosk, where we were able to purchase tickets (even got the “Senior Discount”), and we were able to walk right in avoiding the long queue for tickets at the museum entrance.

The Midway is a huge ship, and remained the largest vessel of any type for ten years. Built during the last part of the World War Two, it never actually saw action in battle, although provided air support in the Vietnam and Gulf wars before being decommissioned in the early 90’s. It spent a few years in the boneyard where anything useful or still serviceable was salvaged, and was scheduled to be scrapped when it was decided to turn it into a floating museum honoring the many airmen lost and to provide a picture of the Marine Aviation section of the US military.

All Armed?
A lot of work has gone into bringing this huge carrier back to some semblance of its former glory, but the ship is a museum, not an accurately “restored” vessel. Many aspects of the ship have been modified to accommodate the public and allowing access to the many exhibit areas and displays. For example, the hanger bay accommodates only a few planes and a lot of fun exhibits such as flight simulator games and a large gift shop, and the huge elevator used to lift planes from the hanger to the flight deck is now a dining area. Keeping to the theme however, the chrome chairs and tables share the space with a restored fighter plane.

The flight deck houses an impressive collection of many of the planes that were launched from the carrier fleet, and most seem to be nice restorations or genuine “survivors”. Under the Flight Deck and Hanger, a very well organized self guided tour snakes through the ship showing how life aboard an aircraft carrier would have been for the thousands of young men serving on the ship. I was surprised at the extent of the dental department, which rather than just serving dental needs, actually was set up to improve the dental health of the sailors.
Don't Mess With Huey!

Like the Hamilton “War Birds” museum, this museum is operated by a dedicated army of volunteers, most of who were once servicemen, and many served on the Midway. One enthusiastic senior who gave us a wonderful detailed history of the ship while we waited to take a tour of the bridge, admitted when asked that he actually only served on the midway for two weeks, but you would never have guessed from his evident pride in this museum. All through the ship were these ancient mariners giving their time with pride and enthusiasm to help people enjoy touring the Midway museum. I was told that as funds and material became available, other sections of the ship were being opened to the public and since the ship opened to the public in 2004, it has grown to the 6th ranked museum in the United States, just behind the Smithsonian.