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John and Diane's Amazing Adventure - Part III

Johnny B

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January 11 – Day 6

At Sea


After two busy days on land, we have just completed the first of two sea days before reaching Belem, Brazil. We usually ease into a certain routine while at sea, as I (John is writing today) am sure most of the passengers do.


Unless we dance the night away in the Crow’s Nest, we are usually up between 6:30 and 7:00 every morning and, after a quick cup of coffee in the Lido, head for the gym. Some mornings are more painful than others, but it is generally a good way to start the day and helps insure that the pants will still fit at the end of this great voyage. Forty-five minutes later we head to the Lido for breakfast where we can read the daily NY Times digest of news and take our time over our breakfast while discussing what to do for the rest of the day. Trivia at noon is fixed, but the rest of the day is pretty flexible.


Today I spent about two hours on the Lido aft deck soaking up some sun while reading a dime store novel while Diane talked to the port lecturer about what to do in Belem ard Recife. We have downloaded the app for “1000 Places To See Before You Die” which has given us some great ideas of what to see/visit, but Barbara, the port lecturer, is a font of information and helps us finalize our decisions of what to do in each port. We generally prefer to be as independent as possible, but after being mugged two years ago in Durbin, South Africa, we now are a little more pruden, especially after the warnings about Brazil. At any rate, we decided to take the ship’s excursion up the Amazon with a 45 minute walk through the jungle.


As for the rest of the day, we usually follow trivia with lunch with our teammates, who also are our dinner mates. Is it obvious that we all like each other and get along? Previous and future travels and, of course, food are among the favorite topics discussed. After an hour or so of laughter, we then all go different directions: some to the Royal Dutch high tea, some to just read and relax, and others for more activity, like paddle tennis or a walk around the deck.


Next on the daily schedules is to meet somewhere for a pre-dinner drink, have dinner, then decide to go the show or to bed!

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January 13 – Day 8

Belem, Brazil


We sit here at the mouth of the Amazon River, ready for a boat ride as far up the river as one can travel in two hours. We’ve been at sea for two lovely, relaxing days, and even though our shore excursion (or “field trips” as these two retired teachers like to call them) doesn’t begin until 12:15, we’re going to take the tender in to port and look around the town for the time we have this morning.


Although the port of call is officially Belem (a shortened form of Bethlehem), we actually call at a small village about an hour outside of town. We had to decide whether to take the hour-long shuttle into town to visit the famous market there called Ver-O-Peso (“check the weight” market), or to take an excursion up the Amazon. Never having been to the Amazon, or to Brazil for that matter, we opted for the Amazon. Maybe we’ll actually see some piranhas, alligators, or really big snakes – can’t wait. Our whole table group is doing this excursion, so dinner tonight should be an entertaining recap.


I actually would have posted this yesterday, but it was not to be. It wasn’t my faulty (of course), but the satellite connection was truly awful and everyone was complaining about it. I heard one man yelling at one of the computer “tecsperts” in the library that he was tired of paying for nothing when he couldn’t even get an internet connection. Besides being rude, it did absolutely nothing to solve the problem, and was illogical to boot: how could he be paying when he couldn’t connect? So much for logic.


The tender is waiting and we’re anxious, so the report on the “field trip” will come in later.

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January 13 – Day 8

Belem - Part 2


The itinerary says Belem, but that’s not where we are. We actually dropped anchor at a small town called icoaraci. I know you think I forgot to capitalize it, but it is NOT capitalized. It’s the only town I’ve ever run across that isn’t, and I have no idea why. It’s a town of perhaps 75,000 people, and it’s about an hour’s drive to Belem. Apparently it’s a getaway weekend vacation spot for the folks in the larger city. There was a free shuttle provided, but since we had signed up for a tour, we had our transportation included.


Our day began with a tender to the town at about 10:00, and we proceeded to walk up one side of the main street and down the other. The stores are all open-front, and the nicest thing was that no one asked us to buy anything. We walked through one door and found ourselves at the town’s indoor market, where all types of fish, meat, fruits and vegetables were on display. Someone even told us that they had monkey legs for sale! One of our group pointed out that there was no refrigeration or ice in the building (since it was about 90 degrees), but no one there seemed to mind, so I guess it was OK.


At about 11:30 we boarded our bus for Belem. Have you ever seen African Queen? Well, it was bigger than that, but it’s probably the type of double-decker ferry that we read about sinking in storms in the Far East, so we had to take our chances. Actually, once we went past the 1.4 million people of Belem and entered the Amazon tributary where we were going, the old boat was pretty comfortable. Our happy little band of warriors was upstairs, where we enjoyed a lovely breeze off the river. Never having been to Brazil or seen the Amazon before, this was pretty darned exciting. Even though it was the wrong continent, it did feel like Humphrey Bogart would come upstairs and tell us that the engine needed some work.


During our one-hour sail up the river, we saw small dwellings inhabited by various Amazon Indian groups. Each house looked to have one or two rooms and a dock which extended out into the river. Both of our guides told us that most of the people who live on the river are not solely Indian, but are a combination of Portuguese and Indian. I did expect loincloths and bare breasts (too many movies), but the actuality was shorts, flip flops, and tee-shirts. School is mandatory, and a small boat taxis kids to and from school.


Once we arrived at our destination village, we walked into the heat and humidity of the Amazon jungle. We are just a few degrees south of the equator, and it was about 90 degrees and that much humidity. As we walked from our boat toward the jungle, we saw such things as Indians with cell phones and a motorcycle parking area. Strange. The jungle itself was everything we expected: it was more overgrown than anything we’ve ever seen and the trails would have grown over within days without use. We were shown the pod of a Brazil nut tree, a spherical object about five or six inches in diameter which, when opened (by machete, actually), contains about a dozen Brazil nuts in shells. Several of us tried them and they certainly did taste like the ones we’ve had out of the jar. We were shown trees that have medicinal value, and the harm of clear-cutting entire parts of this jungle really sank home. There are no doubt plants out there that will cure most of man’s ills, but if someone keeps cutting them down, we’ll never discover them.


Our last stop was to watch a 70-year-old man use a woven belt-like object to keep his feet together so that he could climb an incredibly tall palm tree. He did it very quickly, moved across the top to another, and slid down so fast that it was tough to get a photo (but I did!). He then leaned over and picked up a tarantula from under the dry leaves and let us watch it climb up his chest. Having had my class at science camp more than once, I knew that it was harmless, so I just watched and didn’t join the panicked group.


We then headed back to our boat, sailed back another hour to Belem, and boarded the bus for our hour nap/drive back to icoaraci. Because three other buses were caught in traffic, we will sail late – something that must really annoy the officers who run the ship. We, however, had a wonderful day, and our adventure on the Amazon proved to be just that – a great adventure.

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Hi! I just wanted to say that I am really enjoying reading your World cruise reports. I look forward to many more and really want to thank you for your time and the expense posting on a cruise like this!!


I don't foresee this cruise in my future, and I do appreciate your insights and humor as you share these places and experiences with us. I am grateful!:D

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January 14 – Day 9

At Sea


One of the reasons we so love sea days is that on port days, we run around like the proverbial chickens, trying to see and experience everything possible. Yesterday was a good example. Our tour didn’t leave until 12:15, but we were in town by 10:15, anxious to see everything. The heat and humidity of our wonderful Amazon cruise pretty much took it out of us, so today is basically an R & R day, preparing for tonight’s “Black and Silver Ball” and the day after tomorrow’s port of Recife.


Having done this twice before, each cruise two years apart, John and I discuss similarities and differences quite a lot. While basically the cruises are quite similar, there are things that have changed. For our group of friends, one big change was that Table 311 was no longer large enough for all of us, so we have added table 142. While we will, from time to time, trade around, basically the tables are set. Our table is an eight-top, which can be adjusted to add one, especially on formal nights when we enjoy having an officer join us.


The food remains top-notch, and we have noticed that the portions are smaller, responding to requests by many of the passengers. I always order a “small portion,” which keeps me from eating too much. Anyone who needs more may easily order extra, and our friend Sky often does that – especially with chocolate desserts.


On our first WC, Bruce, the cruise director, had a “cruise staff” of young, enthusiastic assistants who were such fun to be around. Now, however, he only has an assistant, Brett, and the cruise has added more lay people to teach various classes. There are teachers of bridge (and we really, really miss Bill and Joan, our previous tablemates), creative writing, Qi Gong, shopping, and so on.


The service remains topnotch. The dining room and room stewards give amazing service and we really appreciate them. In the Lido, they’re removed trays, and the food waste has gone down a great deal, a result which we are very happy to see.


Human nature being what it is, however, some things never change. At the beginning of Team Trivia, there is invariably a conflict (sometimes loud) about seating arrangements. “But we’ve been at this table every day!” is a comment heard over and over. There are no reserved seats, but some people have a hard time understanding this.


For all the changes, however, a world cruise is a wonderful experience, and we’ve been so fortunate to be able to do it three times.

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Hi John and Diane, I've been pleased to read your comments on what changes have been made to the modus operandi of this world cruise. Having of course been privileged to have completed a 'World' in 2007 I can definitely relate to what you say. Continue to have a great time and yes I'm just that little bit envious of your wonderful experience.



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January 15 – Day 10

At Sea


On a cruise of any kind, the people you sit down at table with can make a world of difference to your enjoyment of that cruise. Once, on a7-day Caribbean cruise, we made the mistake of asking for a table for four. We were seated with a couple of about our age (at the time) who seemed perfectly nice on introduction, but it turned out to be a real problem. He was a control freak and a cheapskate, a terrible combination. We always like a glass of wine with dinner, and tablemates usually are willing to trade off on who buys. He, however, was not willing to buy wine, and when we offered some to his wife, she was happy to share ours, but he let it be known by his tone and his body language that there was going to be hell to pay when they were alone.


On these world cruises, there is not such a thing as “Anytime Dining,” as most people like to sit with friends. We have been particularly lucky in our choice of tablemates for all three cruises. It’s time you met them, because I’ll be mentioning them from time to time.


Our “Alpha Dog” is Susie, who organizes us and makes us a calendar. She and her husband Woody live in a suburb of Atlanta half the year and on their 4-bedroom, 4-bath houseboat on Lake Lanier half the year. Twice we’ve had reunions on the boat in June to celebrate Susie’s birthday. They’re great fun and Woody has a very dry sense of humor.

Next is Eloise, our friend from the Florida Panhandle. She is a retired middle school administrator and probably as much a lady as anyone I know. Besides that, however, she’s a whiz on our trivia team.


Greg and Heo are Aussies, but Heo is originally from South Korea. Greg is retired from Qantas Airlines and Heo was in hotel management. We love imitating Greg’s accent, and Heo spends a great deal of time working on his blog. We found out from him this morning at trivia that it took him an hour and fifteen minutes to upload 15 photos. I think we’ll keep this blog photo-free.


Last is Sky (short for Schuyler), who lives in Massachusetts. He lived much of his work life in Oregon working for the Parks Department, but then retired to his home state. Sky is a perpetual bachelor with a really good heart. Susie is always trying to set him up with someone. Sky is often the one who accompanies the two of us on our independent adventures.


In addition to the eight at our table, we always save space for a guest (or two), and so far this cruise we’ve had guests four times, including officers on the two formal nights. The only rule is that no one may “spring” a guest on the table without warning.


So, that’s our merry little band of warriors, and we laugh and tease our way through dinner every night. It makes such a difference on a cruise like this.

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January 16 – Day 11



The ship’s passengers had four choices today: to take a ship’s tour, to stay on board, to take a shuttle to the outside of the dock area, or to take a shuttle to the middle of downtown, to the Casa Cultura, to be exact. John and I, with our friend Sky, opted for choice #4, since our ultimate destination was Olinda, the beautiful old town on the hill above Recife.


Olinda is a World Heritage City, because of the numbers of beautiful old buildings contained therein. It’s the usual story: the city was pretty much abandoned and no one cared even to knock down buildings and build highrises, like they did in Recife, a city of eight million. So now, Olinda is a multicolored gem of a city in pastels, with steep hills, narrow streets, and beautiful views over the skyscrapers of Recife. The legend is that the Portuguese explorer who discovered the area shouted “O, linda!” (O, how beautiful), and that’s supposedly how it was named.


We took a taxi from the Casa Cultura, which took about 20 minutes and cost $15.00. Such a bargain! The taxi dropped us across from the tourist office, so we went directly there, spoke with a lovely young lady, and were given a city map with her careful directions for a rewarding walking tour.


We walked up the hill, past church after convent after monastery, until we reached the beautiful Cathedral de Se. We wandered through it for some time, watching people take photos of their friends and family members – with clearly marked “no photo” signs in the background. Afterward, we walked across to the Plaza de Se, which has a view to kill for. We could see all of Olinda, the beaches, Recife, and our ship.


There were small markets everywhere with far more attractive things for sale than usual. There were beautifully woven hammocks, good quality tee-shirts, adorable dolls, hand-carved jewelry, and lots of other things. Although some things were considered, we didn’t end up buying anything – except lunch.


After our two-hour self-guided walking tour, we headed down to where we had begun, took a stroll along the beach, and then took a bus back to Recife. Believe it or not, the bus took less time to travel the distance than the taxi had; it really hauled!


Once back in Recife at the Casa Cultura, we decided to take a look around. It was perhaps the strangest market I’ve ever seen. The building itself was the municipal prison, on three levels, with the original cells still carefully numbered. Each cell had a small handicraft “store” in it, and even the restrooms were former cells. They’ve left one cell as it was to let the visitor know what the place looked like originally, although with shops in cells, it’s pretty easy to tell.


We were getting hungry, so we went on a further hike to find a place to eat. It turned out that virtually every place that could be considered a restaurant was actually a self-serve cafeteria sort of place, with prices set per 100 grams (4 ounces) of food on the plate. That really didn’t appeal, so we found a really lovely air-conditioned restaurant which looked great until we walked in. Every man there was dressed in a coat and tie and the ladies were wearing quite nice dresses. It didn’t take long for our little group to turn our shorts-wearing bodies around and find somewhere else. We headed back to the old prison and found a small local restaurant on the second level. We were the only non-locals there (which we love), and we had some wonderful fish, beef, rice and beans. It was delicious, and the meals (with several cold beers) cost us about $10.00 each. It was the perfect conclusion to our day’s excursions in the heat.

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Do you have any concerns about getting sick from food in any of these places? I try to not eat raw vegetables, etc but I got salmonella from eggs in Mexico and food poisoning from seafood at a beach bar in Anguilla last year. I'm getting a little nervous about eating on shore!

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January 17 – Day 12

At Sea


One of the first questions people ask when they find out we’re going to be on a four-month cruise is “What do you do to keep busy?” In fact, it’s really just the opposite situation, with trying to fit in all the things we want to do, since there are so many opportunities on board ship.


One of the wonderful things that keeps us entertained (strangely enough) is the entertainment, and there is a great deal of it. I’ve already written about Melissa Manchester, who put on a great show shortly after sailing. The Grand World Cruises (HAL’s capitalization) generally have three “headliner” entertainers. In the past it’s been such people as Regis Philbin, The Osmond Brothers, and Larry Hagman. On this cruise, it’s going to be Melissa Manchester, Doc Severinson, and Michael Finestein. I’m sure they keep the age group of most passengers in mind when booking, and I think most people enjoy the headliners.


In addition, however, we have one of the best small bands I’ve run across, headed up by Irving Brown at the piano. They back up virtually every stage show, play for sailaway, and occasionally put on their own shows.


Another group, which plays in the Crow’s Nest before dinner, is the Station Band, and while there are several repeats (they always play “Elvira” so that people can dance the Electric Slide), they really are a good dance band.

There’s another dance band in the Ocean Bar, but it’s much calmer than the Station Band and plays more mellow music. A three-piece trio plays more classical listening music in the Exploration Lounge after dinner.


When we see someone young, tall, thin, and gorgeous on deck on or in the Lido for breakfast or lunch, we know he or she is a member of the Amsterdam singers and dancers, a group of about eight performers who, as of tonight, will have put on four shows. They’re energetic and talented and most of the passengers really enjoy watching their shows.


One of our favorite things to do is watch movies that we’d missed at home, or even those that we’ve seen and want to see again. They are shown in the Wajang Theatre, and popcorn is served. There’s a different movie shown each day, and so far we’ve been to Midnight in Paris (again) and 50/50. On previous cruises, one of the showtimes was usually on sea days at 2:00 PM, but other activities seem to have usurped that time, so the earliest is now 6:00 PM, followed by 8:00 and 10:00.


There really is as much entertainment on board as one wishes to enjoy.


BTW, in answer to the question about Heo’s blog (with photos), his website is http://www.cruisedownunder.blogspot.com He really does have some wonderful photos.

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One of the wonderful things that keeps us entertained (strangely enough) is the entertainment, and there is a great deal of it. ... On this cruise, it’s going to be Melissa Manchester, Doc Severinson, and Michael Finestein.

Oh, wow. Wish I were there to enjoy the performances. And thank you for listing out the other entertainers by name. Tell me, please, who is playing in the Piano Lounge.


I am enjoying all of your posts very much. Although this is not my kind of itinerary, I can still appreciate the adventures.

Thanks for posting so much.

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January 18 – Day 13

At Sea


When folks ask us what there is to do while on board for long days at sea, I want to laugh. My main goal is to take it easy and read a lot, but for those (like our friend Sky) who like to be busy every moment, there are activities from dawn until late at night.


Our friend Susie has been beginning the day at 7:00 with early morning stretch, which has been moved from the gym to the Crow’s Nest because of the large number of people wishing to take part. As I’ve said before, John and I almost always begin the day in the gym, but many people sign up for classes, both free and paid, which are offered by the two fellows who man the gym.


This year there is a “Lifestyle Consultant” named Danube. What, you will probably ask, is a lifestyle consultant? I asked the same question when she was introduced the first day. It turns out that she teaches several classes, including guided meditation, Qi Gong (a type of self-massage), Sit and be Fit and Aqua Aerobics. Basically, she wants to make you healthier and happier.


There is a series of “Explorations Speakers” throughout the world cruise. Right now, we have a speaker who is an oceanographer as well as Tommie Sue Montgomery, who lectures each afternoon about Central and South America. The speakers are usually specific to the area where we’re traveling, but from time to time there is no relationship, as during the 2010 WC when we had a DNA expert who was fascinating. Our friend Woody usually goes to the lectures, but we always tease him about it being his nap time, since he sits in the back where it’s fairly dark.


Every day at 11:15 there’s some kind of cooking or other domestic demonstration in the Culinary Arts Center (which is also the Wajang Theatre). Yesterday’s demo was the Pinnacle chef Das demonstrating how to make crab cakes and chocolate volcano cakes. The really good thing about these demos is that samples are always distributed. Today’s demo is how to filet a chicken, so I think I’ll take a pass.


There are all kinds of classes to take, including bridge, watercolor, computers, arts and crafts, and dance. Basically, if you want to learn something, this is a good place to do it. Susie takes watercolor classes and our friend Barbie loves to dance.


Throughout the day there are competitive games, today’s being a Wii challenge and another that involved tic-tac-toe on the floor and lots of cheering. Sky never misses one of those. If you can’t find something in which you’re interested and you wish to share your own expertise, you can present a “Public Forum.” Today’s topic is how to prevent heart attacks and strokes, which should be well attended.


As you can see, there’s lots to do, but the loveliest thing about it is that you really don’t have to do anything.



NOTE: Regarding concerns about eating off the ship, yes there are some bad experiences, but we are fairly conservative and try to stick to hot, recently prepared foods. One of our best experiences was sitting in “The Market” in Montevideo in 2010 and watching a very large and colorful man grilling our lamb and ribs. They were delicious. However, in Recife the day before yesterday, we took a pass on the “serve yourself” restaurants because they consisted of too many foods without heat or cooling. Instead we went to a tiny little café in the former prison where we had freshly cooked fish and beef. We really believe that eating off the ship is all part of the experience, and that people who restrict themselves to ship food really miss out on a lot.

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We are enjoying your posts. We are considering taking the 2014 wc depending on which of the 4 routes is selected. After reading your post about dinning and seating arrangements, we now are very concerned about this, as we too have had an interesting experience on one cruise. Are there tables for two? If we book a vs would we be able to dine in room? We don't want seats with the left overs, we are not ones to ask to switich.

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January 19 – Day 14

Rio de Janeiro


Fred Astaire was happy “Flying Down to Rio,” but I have news for him: there’s nothing so glorious as sailing into Rio, even if it is between 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning, causing folks who didn’t get to bed until 11:30 to skip some sleep. We were up on deck by 6:00, ran into our friend Heo, and as the sun rose through some clouds, he said, “That’s the first time I’ve seen the run rise in 20 years!” It hasn’t been nearly that long for us, but it was beautiful nonetheless.


The first recognizable sight was Sugar Loaf Mountain, and then Copacabana Beach spread out on the left. As we drew closer, in the distance we could see Corcovado (hunchback) Mountain, crowned by the statue of Christ the Redeemer. There were rock-like islands coated by greenery in the bay and, all in all, the sight was breathtaking. We are SO glad that we got up early.


At 9:00, we began our day’s tour, booked through our “Specialist” cruise agency. We drove through the streets of Rio, fighting horrible traffic, but seeing all kinds of interesting buildings, old and new. We drove to the area which is the center of Carnivale, and it certainly doesn’t look like it will be ready in a month for the week of festivities before the beginning of Lent.


Our next stop was at Sugar Loaf Mountain, where we rode two aerial trams, one to an intermediate mountain and the second to the top of Sugar Loaf, over 2,000 feet above Rio. The panorama was beautiful and we could see mountains, beaches, the downtown area, and St. John’s Fort, obviously named after us! Because there was little shade at the top, the 90-degree heat became a little stifling, but then it was time to return to terra firma.


Our last stop was for lunch at a restaurant called “Marius” right on Copacabana Beach. WOW! The beach was spectacular, the sand was soft and white, and the bikinis – or, as our guide called them, “dental floss,” were something to see.


I’m not usually impressed by tour restaurants, but this one was something else. There was an hors d’oeuvre table which was about 30 feet long and 10 feet wide, and the diners could grab a plate and help themselves to anything on it. It was mostly seafood, and if I had a dollar for every shrimp in that display I could move right into a penthouse suite. There were about six different kinds of soup, most of which were seafood based, and I opted for the lobster bisque. My plate was full with all kinds of things, but I had to remember that there was a main course and dessert coming.


For a main course, the waiters just kept coming around with sliced grilled meats, beginning with sausage, continuing with chicken, and then to top sirloin, rib eye, “baby beef” (I’m not sure what that was), and then a couple more types of beef. I’m not much of a beef eater, but I dug right in.


The dessert was another buffet, with raspberry cheesecake, tiramisu, little individual cakes, chocolate cake, cheeses, fruit, and nuts. It was all we could do to waddle back to the bus after a short jog to the beach.


When we arrived back at the ship at about 3:30, a nap was definitely in order, but then by 5:00 we were ready for another walk, so we crossed the road into “Central,” which is the business district, and walked for about an hour and a half, finding ourselves to be the only non-Portuguese speakers we could hear. Cool!


We passed on the Samba show tonight, preferring to stay “at home” quietly to get a decent night’s sleep. Tomorrow is another tour – this time to Corcovado. Can’t wait!

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I am really enjoying your report, and this latest one about Rio has brought back many happy memories of the morning we sailed into the port at Rio. Your description is so vivid that I could see it all again.

We also went up Sugarloaf mountain and finished with an awesome dinner at one of the restaurants with an awesome appetizer/salad bar and whose entree was many kinds of meats brought around on swords carried by the servers.

Thank you for all the time you spend on writing up the descriptions of your sea days and ports.

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