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About ksmaxey

  • Rank
    Cool Cruiser

About Me

  • Location
    Toledo, OH
  • Interests
    Woodworking, reading,
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    Holland America
  • Favorite Cruise Destination Or Port of Call

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  1. We just got off the Westerdam on March 3 as well and were told that in the next year the Pinnacle bar is going to be redone and the end opposite the actual bar was going to get a Dutch cafe. Given that the Pinnacle bar doesn't open until late afternoon this would allow some additional revenue earlier in the day.
  2. March 3, 2019 Disembarkation and Final Review and Comments I woke up before the alarm and walked several miles around the deck while the Westerdam was headed to the pier in Shanghai. We had ordered room service for between 6:30 and 7:00 and it was delivered at 6:31. We had written in instructions and all was honored. We had priority disembarkation with transfer and were to be the first ones off with all our own luggage. Planning to get off early because of our early flight and hour transfer we planned to wait in a lounge near the Promenade gangway. When we reached the third floor the entire area was a mass of people including later groups doing precisely what the instructions asked guests not to do. About 7:40 (10 minutes late) the ship was cleared and we were quickly off, went through the health screening, immigration, customs and were met with a HAL representative for our transfer. 10 people were scheduled for immediate departure on a smaller bus. Within 10 minutes 8 of the ten were present but they held us for 45 minutes waiting for the final 2 passengers while other buses from later groups were already heading to the airport. We finally started complaining about the delay and missing our flight and they finally let us leave around 8:30. We would have been better off in the non-expedited group. It took an hour to get to the airport and we had to go through a security screening before we could enter the airport. The restrictions are greater than the US with no lighters, no powders and more stringent liquid restrictions. Everyone seemed to set off the metal detector all received a pat down and the use of a wand. We quickly made our way to the Delta counter and checked our luggage. We then went through Immigration, customs and finally though airport security. We made it to our gate about 20 minutes before boarding. After a great non-stop flight to Detroit we were on our way home. Some Final comments and reviews. We had the Elite Beverage Package and were reminded several times that non-alcoholic beverages were unlimited. We found several great wines but would have not enjoyed the wines with the SBP. ART - The art was the best we have ever seen but there was no one selling art. No auctions, no free sparking wine - NOTHING. A passenger was using the art area desk for his work on a book he was writing. Shops: The new vendor was there but they really didn't seem that different. There was very little for men, particularly even t-shirts. The deck sales had no HAL logo stuff or t shirts. There were less "sales." There was a jewelry auction at some point but we didn't participate. Food: We never saw any chilled soups. We loved the Asian options and most often chose them. We ate lunch twice in the Pinnacle and three times for dinner. (rudi's, cellar master and regular menu) For the Asian itinerary they had a one page supplement of Tamarind items that was quite nice since the Westerdam doesn't have the tamarind. The Dive in was great. We ate very little in the Lido. We were able to have the same table in the main dining room each evening and the service was great. Ports: We picked the cruise because of the itinerary. It wasn't like the Caribbean with easy immigration procedures. We had to go through he process at every port and it really delayed things. China was very polluted and while we are glad we experienced it, we have no desire to return. We loved South Korea and Japan. Laundry: We used the service and for the first time had 2 items that went missing but were quickly located. The service was high quality and typically prompt. Sea Days: There didn't seem to be as much programing apart from things that cost extra. America's Test Kitchen was great. Entertainment: We thought the BB Kings group was great but the music was often not of the BB Kings genre and really dated. (50's and 60's). We don't really enjoy Billboard so we didn't participate and didn't make any main stage acts. Gym: On our last cruise they didn't open it until 7 which didn't work with excursions. It was open at 6 and most days a few minutes early. Equipment was in fair condition and the staff was good.
  3. The thermal suite is part of the spa and includes a hydrotherapy pool that is somewhat like a large hot tub but sold as having minerals added. It also includes ceramic heated loungers, several steam rooms with different scents and dressing room with plush robes. We would sit in the pool and then relax on the loungers each day after excursions. Given it was a winter cruise in a cooler climate we enjoyed the warmth, but don't tend to pay for the service say in July or in the Caribbean.
  4. We are just off the Westerdam and there was no charge in the main dining room for ordering an extra main entree and while we didn't order an extra, on a couple of evenings our waiter did bring one because he wanted us to try and share something we didn't order.
  5. Friday, March 1, 2019 Kagoshima, Japan We were set to arrive in Kagoshima at 9 AM and tickets for immigration procedures would be available in the Ocean Bar. I got up at 6:00 and began an hour of walking around the Promenade at 6:30. I witnessed the sunrise and even a tug drop off the harbor pilot. At 8:15 we headed to the Main dining room for breakfast and swung by to get our tickets for going ashore. This is the first day that it was warm enough for me to wear shorts ashore. We headed back to our cabin and by the time we got our cameras ready we were called in group 3. We had been given photocopies of our passports with a customs declaration. When ashore the HAL staff placed a sticker on the back and the immigration folks looked at the copy, scanned both index finger prints and then stamped the sticker and we were set. It was a quick trip through customs with random searches for produce. Once in the terminal my plan was to use a money exchange machine to convert some Chinese currency for Japanese. There was a day pass good for all buses, trams and ferries that was 1200 Yen. Unfortunately the person at the front of the line for money exchange couldn’t figure out how to use the machine and we stood for nearly 20 minutes before he finally gave up. The next four of us were done in less than 6 minutes. Janice had been waiting in line for the transportation pass and we made the purchase left the terminal and took the ship transfer to the dolphin port. This was across the street from the heart of the Kagoshima and 2 blocks from the ferry terminal. During the day the ferries run every 10-15 minutes and so we caught the next one over to the island. A quick walk from the ferry terminal led us to the Island View bus terminal where we joined a long que for a 65 minute ride around the volcano with 3 brief stops. After the tour we hopped on the next ferry back to Kagoshima and began walking through the city center. I had a goal of eating at a local place. There was of course, KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks and I think Dunkin Donuts. We found several restaurants that had machines that you ordered your meal from but they didn’t have pictures or any English. We finally found a ramen restaurant that served 1 thing Ramen with roast pork. You had an option of 2 sizes and they offered tea, iced water and beer. It was fantastic and we were the only foreigners there. After lunch we returned to the shuttle and returned to the ship. We shopped briefly in the terminal before boarding and spending time on the back deck. We headed to dinner at 5:45 in the Main Dining Room. Saturday we have dinner in the Pinnacle so we planned to express our thanks to our waiter and assistant waiter as well as a gratuity for the great service. While we always leave the HSC in place, there are often those who make the vacation special and Arnel and Arnold did just that. We headed back to catch some news before listening to set by BB Kings. It was the best set so far this cruise. We then returned for bed and the joy of getting the hour back we lost earlier in the cruise.
  6. Thursday, February 28, 2019 Yellow Sea The day began a little bit later as I slept until 6. I headed up the lido for a cup of coffee to enjoy while waking up and getting ready for the day. At 6:30 I headed to the gym which was notably quitter as is typical on sea days and particularly later in the cruise. Janice slept in, though she is better about exercising later in the day that I. I returned around 7:40 to find that she was awake and we began getting ready for the day. We headed to the main dining room around 8:15 for breakfast and found it to be quite busy. They had advertised on the tables last night that they had a special breakfast “mixed grill” and we were intrigued by it. We ordered it and our waiter suggested an appetizer as it would take a while to make and so we ordered fruit plates. When the main came it was a larger breakfast than we normally eat but was fantastic. There was two sunny side eggs, a spicy sausage link, a lamb chop and a petite filet mignon. We overheard another passenger comment that they must be trying to use some things up, but in talking with one of the managers they have been planning this for longer cruises with more sea days. Another special Dutch breakfast is planned for Saturday, our last sea day. After breakfast we both read some and talked with other cruisers we met over the last week. Several commented on how few things there were to do, and I have to agree, that apart from attempts to sell things like jewelry, bingo and spa treatments there were not a lot of activities for a sea day. Janice attended the ATK at 11 which was packed but they only showed the 11 AM class when there are typically two on sea days. It turns out there was a second one, but it never made it to the When and Where or the online calendar. At noon there as a new voice providing our update from the bridge and we learned that Captain Vincent Smitt had completed his 3 month contract in Inchon and we had a new captain, but couldn’t make out his name over the noise around the Lido pool We met for lunch at noon and then spent time in the afternoon walking around the promenade deck before some time in the pool. At 4:15 we had another meet and greet for cruise critic folks in the Gallery Bar. The ship provided reserved space and appetizers. We headed back to change before sip and savor and dinner in the main dining room. Dinner was the third and final Gala night with what others call the “gold” menu. It included the filet and lobster. Here a few pictures. After dinner we headed to the room and watched “Blended.” The piano performance on the main stage didn’t sound appealing and this was a great way to end the day. Tomorrow is Kagoshima, Japan and we have already been given copes of our passports and another customs declaration. We are in port from 9-6 and everyone who wants to get off must clear customs and immigration before 11 AM.
  7. Here are some of the dinner menus 021819 Main Dining Room Day 2.docx 021919 main Dining Room day 3 Gala.docx 022119 Main Dining Room Menu.docx 022319 menu-dinner main dining room.docx 022419 main dining room dinner gala 2.docx 022519 Dinner Menu.docx 022619 Main Dining Room Menu.docx 022719 Main Dining Room Menu Gala 3.docx 030119 Main Dining Room Menu.docx
  8. Wednesday, February 27, 2019 Inchon, South Korea I woke up about 5:30 and spent a little time on the blog and pictures before heading out to walk around the Promenade deck. I love walking when coming into a new port, or any port for that matter. After preparing for the day we headed to breakfast in the Main Dining Room. We requested a table for 2 because we had an EXC excursion planned for 9:15 and needed a quicker pace than a group provides. After breakfast we stopped back by the room and I saw we were headed under a big bridge so I went to deck 10 to watch us pass under. At 9:10 we headed down to check in for the excursion in the mainstage starboard side. We had a first, in that the line to check in came out of the main stage and went past the BB Kings venue. Literally the line was half the length of the ship. We joked as others joined the line that they could have coffee in the main dining room while waiting. It took 30 minutes before we reached the front of the line and receive the hated “HAL Sticker.” We were supposed to be leaving the ship at 9:45, but with the slow pace of checking it wasn’t until 10:00 we were called to head to our bus. The gangway was on deck 2 and the EXC staff took the line out deck 1 on the side of the mainstage, but Janice and I headed up the stairs and walked to the gangway on deck 2. It was much faster and we were quickly off the ship and found our bus. We were headed to the DMZ and the 3rd Tunnel. We learned there was 3 buses headed to the DMZ so we would be doing things “backwards.” We began with a stop at a market in Incheon which was just opening for about 30 minutes. We sampled some local foods before boarding the bus to drive along the DMZ. We then drove an hour and stopped for lunch which was great. We then headed to visitor center to get tickets for the 3rd tunnel. Here we could see the Freedom Bridge and the train that North Korea had shot up near the end of the war. We boarded the bus and crossed through the military check point where passports were reviewed. No photos were allowed here or in the tunnel. We arrived at the site of the tunnel we watched an 8 minute video on the history and then saw a “land mine” line before dropping off our phones and getting hard hats for the monorail ride down 72 flights. It is 300 meter ride down to the tunnel. The tunnel was designed to drain water back to the north and be pumped out and was big enough to move significant troops and armor to attack Seoul. After the discovery 3 walls have been erected at the end near the border and it is now a tourist attraction. The North had painted the granite walls black and claimed the were mining for coal, but you can see how they were drilling holes for dynamite and how all indications were that the tunnel began on the North and headed south. After our visit we headed to an observatory where we could see North Korea. Our guide pointed out that you can always tell where the line is because in North Korea there are no trees as they have cut them all down for heat or food. On the South they erected a 100 meter flag pole so North Korea erected a taller one. On the south is a tower with a cross to show they have freedom of religion. Our guide seemed to have adopted President Trump’s nickname and called the “great leader” “little rocket man” After this we boarded the bus for the 75 minute trip back to the ship and boarded the MS Westerdam just before 6 PM. Our tour guide was great, but my one criticism is that with the bus full, one door for entry and exit wasn’t enough and with all our stops, we were constantly hampered by the slow pace of boarding and getting off the bus. HAL either needs to cap the groups to 35 people or require buses with two doors. Here is a few shots from dinner for all the foodies that are following along.
  9. Tuesday, Feburary 26, 2019 Jeju, South Korea Our visit to Nagasaki had been extended by 1 hour because of our late departure from Tianjin. This meant the captain really had to push as we made our way around Jeju to the north side. I awoke around 4:30 and spent time on the blog and pictures. We had an 8:30 meet with our private tour after an 8:00 docking. We had put a room service card out for coffee, orange juice and 2 fruit plates. The fruit plates are from the main dining room and they are one of the best parts of cruising. The menu had the earliest delivery of 6-6:30 but we hand wrote in both the fruit plates and the 5:30-6:00 delivery. At 5:31 there was a knock at the door. I thanked the steward profusely and tipped generously because that would make everything work. At 6 Janice headed to the gym and I walked the outer deck. It was cold so I had sweats, a hoodie, hat, gloves and a winter jacket and it was so worth it seeing how beautiful the arrival was. At 7 we met back in our cabin and prepared for the day. Anyone who wanted to go ashore today or in our net stop for Seoul had to go ashore before 10 AM and be cleared by Immigration. We headed to the ocean bar for tickets for Immigration and were the second group to be called. (Rather than having long lines waiting in the port, the ship called people in groups to leave the ship and be processed.) We were off in the second group and met our guide by 8:30. There were 12 of us in a bus for 20 and we were headed an hour away to the other side of the island to visit some parks and view some waterfalls. The ride was beautiful and our guide was wonderful. Sadly one in our group was unhappy about everything. He stood up complaining about his seat causing the driver to pull over as seat belts are required. He then sat up with the driver and had the driver turn all the heat on high so he could see. The back of the bus finally spoke up as it was over 80F in the back. He complained about his driving and his using his brakes rather than downshifting and even how he was holding onto the steering wheel. It was embarrassing, but would only get worse. Our first stop was along the coast and families were grilling and eating on the stones down by the water. The views were beautiful. The person who organized our tour bought a bag of local tangerines that were just harvested and they were spectacular. As a Floridian I am sad to report that none from Florida compared to these delightful Jeju tangerines. We arrived at a second park and I was able to use an ATM. There were many locals visiting the waterfall and lots of vendors with street food and souvenirs. We bought some Korean Chicken BBQ and a cooked sausage. Another tour member bought a pancake shaped like a squid. It contained no squid and was quite tasty. A short 20 minute drive and we were at our third park. No waterfalls but beautiful views. Here Janice and I bought a print from a photographer that was spectacular. We asked him to sign it and he was so honored that he gave us two postcard photos for free. The photo will be mated and hung at home as a reminder of this trip. At 12:50 we boarded the bus for the hour long drive back across the island. We arrived back in port just as all the HAL tours did. We went through a thermal scan for quarantine, a thorough security scan, and quick review of our passports before being able to reboard the Westerdam. We dropped our stuff by our cabin and headed to the lido to discover that it was a zoo. There were no tables in the lido or by the lido pool. After a small lunch I headed back to enjoy the warmer temps by the sea view pool and while sitting there we quietly pulled away without any announcements for missing passengers. We spent a little time in the thermal suite before getting ready for dinner – the Cellar Master’s dinner. The non-foodies can stop reading here. What follows is a 7 course 3 hour meal with wine pairings. It will be a highlight of this cruise. We were seated with 80 others in the Pinnacle for the meal and service was fantastic given the size of the group and the timing of each course. for the menu and pictures please see my blog
  10. Monday, February 25, 2019 Nagasaki Japan The morning began in the gym which was not nearly as busy given our arrival into Nagasaki wasn’t until Noon. We spent an hour in the gym before returning to our cabin to prepare for the day and grab a quick bite to eat in the Lido. We planned to eat a light breakfast as we planned an early lunch before heading into Nagasaki. After breakfast I spent some time walking the Lido enjoying the warm weather. (IE didn’t need a hat, gloves or jacket.) I worked on the blog some and walked again as we entered the break wall to dock At 11:30 we placed orders at the dive in and after nearly 30 minutes discovered issues with the pagers. The canon ball burger and fries were still great. After we returned to our cabin to grab our stuff and get a ticket to go ashore. For Japan we had been provided a copy of our passport and a customs form. About 30 minutes after receiving our “ticket” our group was called to go to deck A and go through Immigration and customs. Everyone who wanted to go ashore at any point in the day needed to do this before 2PM. Upon returning we were reminded we needed to return the copies to the ship. The process went quickly and we soon found ourselves back in the terminal buying streetcar passes and heading out to catch the streetcar. About 30 minutes later we arrived at the peace park. Both the statue and the fountain were closed for repairs but the sculptures are a stark reminder. Nearby is ground zero and memorial and there is also a museum. After spending time there we walked back part of the way before catching a streetcar back and arriving at the ship at 4:30. A quick dip and then it was dinner time at 6:30. We retrieved our passports which will be needed for South Korea, watching some TV and then headed to BB Kings before heading to bed. While we slept we left Nagasaki and headed to Jeju/Cheju.
  11. Sunday, February 24, 2019 Yellow Sea It being a sea day after a busy couple of days we slept in and then headed to breakfast in the main dining room. After, Janice went to a port lecture on Nagasaki and Jeju and I spent an hour walking around the promenade deck for a little over 3 miles. At 11:45 we had a Mariners Luncheon in the main dining room for returning HAL passengers. HAL has the highest number of repeat cruisers of any line in North America. The luncheon had grown boring with the same menu and I had suggested not attending. We receive a deft tile but I was confident we could get ours at the front desk. Janice urged me to attend and I am glad we did. The menu reflected our Asian itinerary and we both began with a Miso soba noodle soup and then Janice had vegetarian kung pao and I had an Asian beef dish. The dessert was simple and not too sweet. There was complimentary sparkling wine and a toast. The captain didn’t make an appearance which is unusual but did do then noon update on the PA during the meal. Shortly after lunch the captain came on to announce that we would be unable to arrive in Nagasaki on time after the 2 hour delay caused by the Chinese officials. We were going as fast as possible (20+ knots) and with us going into the current we would be an hour late and thus we would stay an hour later. Our new time of arrival is Noon and our all aboard time is 8:30PM. A letter was delivered later in the afternoon detailing the change. He encouraged anyone with private excursions to stop by the front desk for help. It sounded like you might be able to make a free phone call or access the internet to make any changes. After lunch we read some and then I headed out on the deck to walk some more before sitting on the back deck enjoying the warmer weather. One thing to note is that the further we get from China, the more clear the skies and the cleaner the air. Anyone who wants to dispute the impact of pollution or argue that we don’t need environmental regulation needs to visit China. In the afternoon we spent time in the thermal suite before dressing for a Gala evening and stopping by Sip and Savor before heading to dinner. Janice had the sole and I had the rack of lamb. Some things don’t change. After dinner we rested before heading to the B.B. Kings performance. They are a great group but they were plagued again by style drift. Anything with the word “honkytonk” is not of the genre of B.B. Kings. I am surprised that the licensing allows it to be honest. RESPECT was fantastic and appropriate. “Stand by me” not so much. The best piece was completely Motown and was all instrumental with each musician having a chance to show off their skills. After we returned to our cabin to enjoy the gentle rocking of the ship as we sped along at 20+knots
  12. Here is a link to the tripadvisor site for the restaurant https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294212-d1005538-Reviews-BeiJing_LiQun_Roast_Duck_Qian_MenDian-Beijing.html
  13. They tend to have the most personable bartenders teach the class and it is always fun.
  14. there are lots more pictures on the blog Friday, February 22, 2019 Beijing I awoke early and spent some time organizing pictures and posting the blog. At 5:30 I headed out to walk around the promenade deck and watch the ship come into port and dock while walking 4 miles. The ropes were thrown just as I finished my walk and headed in to clean up and pack for our overnight trip to Beijing. We let our stewards know we would be gone and then headed to breakfast in the Lido. It was crazy as everyone was trying to eat before the ship was cleared. At 7:45 we were cleared and we headed off the ship. We again had to have a photocopied stamped copy of our passport and because of our overnight stay, we needed our passports as well. We met our guide and boarded a bus with a total of 43 participating and staying at the same hotel. The same company filled another bus at another hotel. We set out for the Great Wall and the nearly 3 hour drive. We made a stop on the highway for a rest stop. There were squat toilets and a few potty toilets -which caused chuckles from the westerners. After the stop we continue until we reached a police checkpoint. Everyone is supposed to produce an ID for them to verify, but our guide yelled that we were all foreigners and we were waived through. When we arrived at the great wall, our guide asked that our bus take us to the entrance. They agreed but said anyone able had to get off and walk through the complex for the cameras and then re board . We quickly realized that it had nothing to do with cameras and all to do with us walking the gauntlet of vendors selling their wares. A quick trip up the hill and we parked and walked to a local restaurant for a local lunch served at a table with a lazy Suzanne. It was absolutely fantastic. After lunch we walked up a little further and our guide purchased tickets to ride the cable car to the top of the wall. (think ski lift) We then had 2 hours to walk the wall and experience it. After finishing our time I bargained with the vendor and got an embroidered piece that he wanted 1000Y for down to 100Y after I kept walking away. It was about $17 US. Janice and I being under 60 were then able to ride toboggans down to the bottom. We rejoined our group and began the drive to Beijing. During the drive the guide explained that we had our hotel upgraded so that we would be closer to Tianeman square and that this would be at not additional cost. We checked into the Sunworld Hotel. They had to process our passports and register our presence. After dropping our bags in our room we set out for LiQun for Peeking Duck. The hotel concierge helped get us a car and the 20 minute trip ended with us finding it with an alley entrance. Another CC participant had shared that it had been featured on Antony Bourdaine’s Part’s Unknown and he recommended it. After a 20 minute wait the four of us were seated with two locals. We had Peeking Duck and a full menu of other items. It was less that $25 USD per person including local beer. The place was packed and they quickly turned the tables over. We watched the chef cut 6 ducks in our short time there. After dinner we had a little trouble getting a cab to stop but finally found a cab and the ride was 1/3 the time of the ride to the restaurant. It was 14Y or 2.25USD. The other couple walked to see Tianeman Square by night and we headed to our room and bed.
  15. Thursday, February 21, 2019 – Yellow Sea We both slept the latest we have on this trip. I headed to the Lido for coffee and then began organizing photos and posting the blog from the day before. It was then off to the gym where everyone continues to jockey for cardio equipment. From 6 AM to 7:30 it was absolutely crazy but at 7:30 it was like a switch was flipped and everyone left. Here is the view while exercising It might be related to the fact that while the Lido had been open since 7, the main dining room opened at 8. After showering and preparing for the day we headed to breakfast and the rest of the day. This was the first day where the sun came out and we could see without the haze. At 10 Janice attended a lecture on our upcoming ports while I spent some time outside. At 11 we attended the America’s Test Kitchen demo on salads and then had lunch in the Pinnacle. I then attended a mixology class on Asian cocktails and Janice attended another ATK presentation. We used the thermal suite in the afternoon and had some down time before dinner. We also used this as an opportunity to pick up our passports from guest services as we will need them to check into our hotel in Beijing. (Hotels are required to report who is staying there and as a person traveling on a visa, if we don’t stay at a hotel we must report to the local police station to report where we are staying.) We used this as an opportunity to prepare for our overnight trip to the Great Wall and Beijing. We had dinner in the main dining room after stopping in the sip and savor. Since we have no real interesting pictures to share, here are a few of our appetizer and dessert After dinner we opted for BB Kings which is again quite gifted musically but when the set was largely 50’s and 60’s music we slipped out and headed to bed. On Friday we are to dock by 8 and after being cleared by officials we are to meet our tour guide between 8 & 9. The ship staff has been clear that they don’t control the process so we don’t know when we will actually be cleared. While it won’t matter to us with our tour, while the ship is docked overnight, it is very likely that the immigration folks will shut the gangway down overnight so there will be no getting on or off the ship. With our travel away from the hotel and internet filters, our next update might not occur until we back on the MS Westerdam. 022119 Main Dining Room Menu.docx
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