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Naismith

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  1. I'm glad that you found a vacation that fits you so well, but I am not sure that is a fair characterization of land tours. We often unpack once, in London or Paris or Budapest or Rome or Washington D.C., and take day trips as well as touring the abundant sites of interest in that locale. Another thing I noticed when touring places like Chichen Itza (Mexico), the original Olympiad stadium in Greece, the Colosseum in Rome, and Thingvellir in Iceland is that we stay nearby, have a leisurely breakfast and start our tour when the site opens. We are done and leaving in late morning as the weather gets much hotter (well not in Iceland), and the buses from the cruise ships are just arriving. Yuk! I would not want to be part of that hot and sweaty cattle call. And one of our land vacations involved riding bicycles from Harper's Ferry, West Virginia into Pittsburgh. We totally set our own pace without cars or buses involved. I have thoroughly enjoyed the cruises I have been on, and am looking forward to another. There is no better way to see the Panama Canal or parts of Alaska. But I'm not going to pretend that cruises are always the best way for me to vacation.
  2. Don't be in a hurry to leave the airport in Singapore; they just opened a rain forest display at the airport. https://www.scmp.com/magazines/style/tech-design/article/3007786/inside-singapores-changi-airport-jewel-rainforest-40 Be sure to at least watch the movie of CRAZY RICH ASIANS before you go. Reading the book would be even better. You will recognize all kinds of scenes from the movie as you go around town. BTW, the hawker center (food court) scene was filmed at the Newton Center, which is super easy to access from the subway station of that name, and the food is great (although the characters in the book do not agree.) Great mass transit in Singapore makes it easy to get around. The botanical garden is incredible. I could have spent two days there. Most of it is free; there is a fee for the extensive orchid collection. The evening music/light show at Gardens by the Bay was the best I have ever seen, and I've been to all the Disney World shows. But it changes regularly so you will see something different. They repeat it twice each evening, and there is a hawker center right onsite https://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/dining/satay-by-the-bay.html, so you can eat and then follow the crowds to the trees. It is free to walk around Gardens by the Bay; but the enclosures and skyway between the trees have a fee. Most hotels lend you a cellphone with tourist info preloaded, so no need to find a SIM card after landing. And since Singapore is very digitally plugged in, lots of tourist info available online. And of course English is one of the official languages, so very easy that way. The most exciting thing to me: Singapore has some of the cleanest tap water in the world. You can drink it, brush your teeth with it, cook with it. Such luxury! (Okay, that probably isn't anything to a first-worlder, but it was a big thrill for me, since my island is not quite as progressive.) Have a great trip!
  3. Not only is it pricey, but the Japanese encephalitis immunization available in the US is an inferior product: less effective and for fewer years, and two doses required. In Asian countries, the Imojev vaccine is available--only one shot, and I paid $75 on Java. It is a nasty disease, so I wouldn't want to spend much time in the Far East without it. But if you had a morning free when you are out that way, and the hotel could recommend a walk-in clinic, something to consider.
  4. Yeah, for us the OBCs or prepaid HSC is what makes a difference, and phone calls are where that happens. We don't drink and aren't interested in fine dining, so some of the other benefits offered have little appeal to us. But it doesn't hurt to track the price as well. We just about always use a TA, but for our upcoming cruise, we ended up buying directly from HAL because there were two overlapping sales (cabin price drop plus prepaid HSC) that beat what the TA could offer, from our point of view. And of course the obvious answer is to find a new TA, but we don't cruise as often as some here, so we don't develop the strong relationship that some of you have. Also, just to confirm: with HAL, it seems OBC can be used for HSC? That wasn't true for another cruise line a while back, so wanted to check.
  5. Well, of course start here at Cruise Critic, over at Ports of Call > Alaska. Others have mentioned Trip Advisor. I also like the Lonely Planet Thorntree Community I also used books from my public library. I splurged and ordered a great little book from Alaska Geographic called "Denali Walks." I could have also bought it once we arrived in Alaska, but I wanted to study it in advance, and had a colleague who had worked college summers in Denali and recommended some of the hikes we actually did. We flew into Fairbanks and rented a car from the airport. I'm sure I forgot some of this, but the next day we visited... - the Museum of the North at UA Fairbanks campus--excellent collection. They also have botanical gardens nearby. - drove out to the pipeline. - Great Alaska wooden bowl factory. Watched them being made--fascinating! - Downtown visitor's center had movies, info, bookstore. We left our car in their parking lot and walked along the river. - Late afternoon stop at Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. Saw massive groups of birds getting ready for their pre-winter flight. (Since we live in Florida, it was neat to see them at the other end of the journey.) - stopped at a grocery store in town. I bought an apple for every day of our land tour and some other supplies. - Some good meals--lunch at a Thai restaurant, loaded with veggies. - our budget hotel had a free shuttle to/from the airport and train, so we used that after dropping off the car and then to the train station in the morning. - like every hotel, ours offered an aurora alert, to wake us up if there are Northern Lights, but it wasn't really the season. One thing is that even if you get the cheaper lower train seating, there is a dome car available, supposedly for 20 minutes at a time. But it wasn't very crowded on the trip Fairbanks-Denali and some people stayed there the entire time. The place in Denali that we stayed, the Denali Salmon Bake does have cabins with their own bathroom. We thought the location was wonderful. Our train got in at noon, they picked us up, and we walked the mile to the park for our first hike. We were tired after the hike, so accepted a shuttle ride back. The second day was a park bus ride (schoolbus type not the deluxe cushy) as far as the Eielson Visitor's Center (66 miles), and we did a hike near there (the bus reservation was made months in advance online). The third day we checked our luggage at the railway office (not sure if this is still offered) and got in another hike before the train to Anchorage.
  6. Oh, yeah--I can see that:) Can you tell we also camp? So with a comfy bed, a shared restroom did not seem like a big deal.
  7. Thanks so much! Indonesia has become our second home, so nice to know we will have a taste of that when we cruise HAL. SempreMare, the day in Indonesia is divided differently from USAmerica. They don't have noon, but rather a time of day around our noon... So the greetings are as follows: Selamat pagi - morning until 10:30 a.m. Selamat siang (SEE-ang)- from 10:30 to maybe 2 p.m. Selamat sore (so-ray) - from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Selamat malam (ma-lam) - after 6:30 p.m., because that's when it gets dark in Indonesia, year round because most of the islands are pretty much on the equator. (But even on a cruise to Iceland where the sun doesn't set until after midnight, you could still use the evening greeting after 6:30 or so.) Of course I don't intend to distract from the hard work they do (good reminder), but it would be a pleasure to just say those brief everyday things. When we were on another cruise, one time we said "Selamat pagi!" to an Indonesian we noticed in the hall, and the entire hallway seemed to echo the response. (Malaysians also use much of the same vocabulary.) Also, if you happen to shake hands with someone when you meet them, which we often do with our room steward the first time, the custom here is to shake the hand and then briefly bring that hand to the heart. And this coming Saturday, August 17, is their Independence Day (74 years!) so if you are on a cruise then you can say, "Selamat Hari Kemerdekaan!" all day. Oops, that's long. Just say "Merdeka!" (mare-DAY-ka) and they will probably grin, raise a fist, and echo, "Merdeka!"
  8. I am writing this from Indonesia, where I have been living for over a year serving as a missionary for my church. As a result, I can speak bahasa Indonesia effectively if not quite fluently. I understand that HAL has a training center on a nearby island. Indeed, although it is in a brick building it is called MS Nieuw Jakarta. So I imagine a good proportion of workers are from Indonesia? We are returning home to the U.S. next month and headed off on the Zuiderdam in November, so I am wondering, for that ship, what would be the odds of having an Indonesian room steward? We are looking forward to keeping up the language skills, and it would be a delight to be able to speak the language again. Terima kasih! (thank you)
  9. Another vote for independent touring. We wanted the land tour but couldn't it afford it, so we did a DIY land tour before our cruise. We flew into Fairbanks and rented a car for the day, and drove around to all the sights on our own schedule. No crowds, no waiting, and enjoyed the Museum of the North at our own leisure. The next morning we took the train to Denali; this is very relaxing but also quite interesting as we also had a narrator who pointed out various things we saw along the way (one-way car rentals were prohibitively expensive but one leg of our train fare was off-season). We spent a few nights at the Denali Salmon Bake, which is relatively inexpensive lodging attached to a great little restaurant, with a free shuttle to/from the park and train station. We stayed in a cabin/tent with a foot of foam insulation and restroom a few buildings away. It's right across from the Princess Lodge. The first afternoon we enjoyed a hike in the mountains, and then walked to the nearby Subway to order box lunches for our bus tour the next day. The lunches were ready for pickup by 7 a.m.for our day tour up in the mountains (had booked the bus tickets online in advance). We did see the top of Denali above the clouds, and bears washing in the stream, and got in a great hike that day. The last day after another hike we took the train to Anchorage and stayed in a hotel one night, doing laundry before the cruise. The hotel was near the Saturday market and we did some other Anchorage sightseeing before catching our ride to the ship. Because of our commitments at home, we couldn't be gone more than 12 days, so this was a great way to get a lot in. This meant flying into Fairbanks, then out of Vancouver, but those "open-jaw" flights are not as expensive as they used to be.
  10. Your answer was so much better than my question! I happen to be round-trip FLL, so starting in Gatun Lake. But what I am hearing is that we need to roll with the flow:) Thanks much!
  11. May seem like a stupid question, but how does one get from the ship to the railroad? At what point along the rails does the excursion railroad journey begin? Thanks much!
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