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Johnny B

John and Diane's Amazing Adventure - Part III

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February 18 – Day 44

At Sea en route to Pago Pago

 

Let me begin with complete honesty: I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Knowing that, and knowing that my friend Susie had as much musical talent as I do, we joined the HAL Chorale, the choir which practices on sea days and will be the closing act in today’s Passenger Talent Show. Why would we do such a thing? I guess it’s the same reason we did it in 2008 – it’s fun to pretend we can sing while being drowned out by the rest of the group, most of which CAN sing.

 

Our material is a medley of songs called “The Music of our Times,” but is nothing like “our times.” We sing songs like “On The Sunny Side of the Street,” “String of Pearls,” “That Old Black Magic,” and a few others to which my mother would have known all the words. The most contemporary song is the theme song to “American Bandstand,” the hit dance show from the 1960’s. Modern it’s not.

 

On the 2008 world cruise, Susie and I decided to join the group on a lark, and that time we sang a medley of Cole Porter songs. I really liked that music, and even though we had no more talent then than we do now, we had fun and made some friends in the endeavor. When the Chorale began again for the second half of the cruise, we made it to the first practice, stayed half the time, and then decided we’d rather have an afternoon glass of wine – and that was the end of our HAL Chorale experience for that cruise.

 

Two years later, they were singing the Cole Porter medley again, so we took a pass, but we decided to give it another try this time. I’m not wild about the music, but since we started, we figured we’d stick it out. So today is our public humiliation – er, presentation. If nothing else, it should be interesting.

* * * * *

Well, we got through it. After a gospel singer, a pianist, a poet, a quartet, a Frank Sinatra singer and our friend Barbara, one of the funniest women on the planet, we got up on stage and sang our hearts out. I think it sounded pretty good, but mostly because a lot of the people in the choir actually have good voices. Susie and I just “made a joyful noise” and had a wonderful time.

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So interesting reading your daily posts. Thank you and keep them coming. Just delightful. :)

We are on the Noordam in June this year (20 day Mediterranean tour). Can you let me know after your trip on the Noordam what beverage prices are like (eg wine,beer, whisky, liquors). That would be a great help for us. Thanks, inekee

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February 19 – Day 45

Pago Pago, American Samoa

 

All we heard in advance of calling in Pago Pago was that there was nothing here, it was really an awful little port, and why didn’t we go somewhere else? Even though we were only here for five hours, we found, though it’s very poor, it has incredible natural beauty and friendly and devout residents.

 

There are only 4,000 people who live on this island, primarily because so many of them move to Hawaii or the mainland U.S. to find good jobs. The main industry here was the tuna packing company, but it went out of business and between that and the recent tsunami, there is a great deal of poverty.

 

The ship docked about 8:00 this morning, and shortly afterward we headed out, through the impromptu market near the gangplank and off to the right, where Barbara, our port lecturer, said there was a pretty little park about a 40-minute walk away. The air and the water had been reported to be 84 degrees, but it soon got even warmer, so the trees along the way provided some much-needed shade. We poked into a couple of grocery stores and found several of our favorites: lime-flavored tortilla chips, salt and vinegar chips, and 75 cent cans of Diet Coke. What a find! Our frig is full of Diet Coke and the chips are sitting on the back of the sofa, just begging us to open them.

 

We discovered that there are many churches on Pago Pago and, since it was Sunday, the most wonderful thing was hearing the singing as we walked past. From Roman Catholic to Protestant to Mormon, the sound of voices raised in Samoan hymns was incredibly inspiring. They really “raise the roof” with their voices. Several years ago, while on a Tahitian Princess cruise through Polynesia, we attended church in Bora Bora, and what stays with both of us is the music, a combination of Christian hymns and tribal sounds. It’s really quite a unique sound.

 

Both today and in Bora Bora, we saw that the majority of churchgoers wore all white, and one photo we took was of a group of your people, all in white, sitting around a table outside the church while having Bible study. The typical attire, if not white, was a longer lava-lava for the men with a shirt and tie, and a long flowered dress for the women.

 

Something that somewhat surprised us was to find the “Golden Arches” right on the main street. When we went in (yes, I’m embarrassed to admit it), we found it busy with ship’s passengers on their computers. But that Diet Coke, ice cream cone and breakfast burrito really were very tasty.

 

After walking back from the park and the grocery stores, we dropped off our finds in the cabin and then headed the other way to see the Governor’s House and a cute little hotel called “Sadie’s Seaside Inn.” It’s named after Sadie Thompson, the main character in Somerset Maugham’s story “Rain.” It seems to be the only hotel on the island with a beach, and although the water here is fairly polluted, it was really tempting to jump right in. There had been a really beautiful hotel next door to Sadie’s, but it closed about 20 years ago and no one has tried to rebuild or replace it since. It’s quite a waste of a beautiful spot.

 

“On Board” was at 12:30, and we sailed away even before our planned 1:00 departure. Right now we’re already out of sight of land and headed to Sydney. HAL’s CEO Stein Kruse has come on board, and the Lido indoor poor area is now closed for construction of a giant Mardi Gras party scene for tomorrow night. Even though today is February 19, tomorrow is February 21 because of the dateline, and is therefore Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Every world cruise has a big blow-out while Mr. Kruse is on board, and tomorrow night is ours. They’ve even emptied the pool and are building something large and mysterious in the middle of it. It should be exciting.

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February 21 – Day 46

At Sea en route to Sydney

 

I’ve mentioned how time can be elusive, but it really gets that way when you go to bed on Sunday, February 19 and wake up on Tuesday, February 21. Last night the rugs in the elevators said “Sunday” (except for the renegade rug amidships that said “Friday), but this morning they said “Tuesday.” We’ve crossed the International Date Line and suddenly we’re a day ahead of our home in California. Fortunately, our handy dandy Macintosh computer tells us the day and time at home, so we can keep track of when it’s a good time to telephone or Skype.

 

Today is Mardi Gras, and the work is continuing apace on the indoor Lido area, with something that looks like a New Orleans house being built around the pool. Apparently, according to today’s onboard newspaper, they are building a “New Orleans-style paddle boat” in the pool. They are promising “French Quarter wrought iron balconies, Bourbon Street lamps and a Mardi Gras parade beginning at 5:15. There will be a King and Queen of Carnival to preside over the festivities, and such treats as King Cake and Bernie’s Dogs and lots of things to drink.

 

The trick to really enjoying this kind of celebration is to have at least two of us get there ASAP and corral an area where our group of neer-do-wells can congregate. We did that in the cistern in Istanbul in 2008, and on the Lido in 2010 when the entire area was transformed into a safari camp, and it makes the whole evening a lot more fun.

 

I went up into the closet this morning to retrieve the zip-lock bags containing the Mardi Gras things, including lots and lots of beads, two boas in the Mardi Gras colors (gold, purple and green), and masks, some of which were purchased in Dunedin, New Zealand in 2008 and some in San Luis Obispo in 2012. We have two young ladies, Yuli and Francisca, who cook and serve in the Lido and have been our BFF’s ever since we spent time together while in Antarctica. They don’t quite understand the significance of Mardi Gras, but they do realize that beads are necessary, so I dragged out three strands for each of them, each in one of the three Mardi Gras colors. They’re pretty darned excited about tonight and we wanted them to be appropriately attired.

 

I guess all we can do now is wait to see how fabulous the Lido can be made to be. I did learn something new, though, and that is that the center Lido area is called a “Magrodome,” which I guess refers to an area which is covered by retractable glass. The education around here never stops!

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Glad I found you, good blog.

 

January 16 – Day 11

Recife

 

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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February 22 – Day 46

At Sea

 

What do you get when you combine unlimited liquor, a paddle-wheel steamer, multi-colored coins and all kinds of food from lobster and shrimp to jambalaya and ribs? One of the things you get is a few people who had to be “helped” back to their rooms. The other thing you get is a huge crowd who, for the most part, had a wonderful time at our Mardi Gras celebration.

 

When the doors opened at 5:00, the mobs rushed in, trying for the best seats and/or tables on the Lido Deck. Every crew member and officer, up to the captain, was in costume and wearing enough beads to choke a horse.

 

We quickly commandeered a large table for 6, found two extra chairs to make it an eight-top, and settled in, ready for action. The hurricanes (rum punch) in multi-colored plastic cups were passed out freely, and the open bar was in the back, in place of the ping-pong table (and a lot more popular). One nice touch was that the beer was even flown in from New Orleans, as were the eleven members of the Dixieland band, which played and sang all evening.

 

At 5:15 the Mardi Gras parade began, but was barely able to make its way around the deck because of the crowds. They persevered, however, distributing beads and coins to the assembled multitudes. Their costumes were great, but it was hot up there and some of those costumes looked pretty heavy.

 

Then it was time for serious eating. The food stands were set up all around the Lido Deck, and the most popular stands had seemingly unlimited amounts of jumbo shrimp (my favorite oxymoron) and lobster tails. I thought that as soon as that pile was gone we’d have seen the last of them, but those quantities continued all evening, even past the 9:00 conclusion of festivities. There was chicken and vegetable jambalaya, roast pork, pork ribs, steak, New Orleans hot dogs, vegetables, and collard greens. I’ve always wondered what those taste like, and I still don’t know – there was too much culinary competition.

 

Inside the Lido there was a spread of desserts, but the best choice was the crepe stand. A couple of very talented servers continually made crepes to order, and then there was a line-up of toppings, from fruit to chocolate to caramel to whipped cream. They were delectable.

 

After drinks, dinner and dessert, the natural conclusion is dancing, so we went over to the corner gazebo, which housed the Dixieland band, and jumped right into the crowd to dance the night away – or at least until 9:00 when the band stopped.

 

It was a wonderful party and a great conclusion to the pre-Lenten celebration. Today there are several people on the ship with ashes on their foreheads, reminding us that today is Ash Wednesday, the first of the 40 days of Lent. The Protestant service for ashes is at 4:30 this afternoon, so that’s where I’ll be.

 

Today is our mandatory face-to-passport inspection by the Australian officials on board. We have to collect our passports outside the Hudson Room and meet with an official while he checks our faces against our passport photos. Then he stamps the passports and we’re good to go when we arrive in Sydney on Saturday.

 

After last night, it should be a pretty quiet day on board, and I do feel a nap coming on this afternoon.

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Really a nice story...Interesting about the sliding penguins and standing in line to go again.

 

Jim

 

February 2nd-day 28

At Sea off Cape Horn.

 

Gale force winds from 45-50 mph and seas from 20-30 feet are our current sea conditions. White barf bags are placed strategically throughout the ship, and seasick medication is available at the front desk. The Captain announced late yesterday that we would be having some very rough weather as we sailed from Antarctica towards Cape Horn, and he was spot on. The rough seas are supposed to abate in about three hours as we round the horn on our way to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern most city in the world, and a part of Tierra del Fuego. For many passengers, solid ground can’t come soon enough.

 

Now it’s a couple of hours later and the seas have calmed, since we’re in the Beagle Channel, protected by the land masses on either side. The outside decks have been “off limits” for the last 16 hours or so because of the rough seas and high winds, but now they’re available again, much to the delight of the walkers.

 

Over the years there have been many threads on CC dealing with dress code, smoking, and rude/uncivil passenger behavior, and I (John) thought I’d make a few comments about what I’ve observed in the past three weeks. (Diane wants the day off from writing.) Not wanting to start any arguments here, I’ll just comment on a few areas which have been frequently discussed on this board. Yes, jeans have been sighted in the La Fontaine dining room at dinner, but I’m not sure if any have been sighted on a formal night. A few evenings ago, a gentleman was told he could not enter for dinner wearing a tee-shirt. A young woman was wearing her bikini top and a towel wrapped around her waist while getting food in the Lido one day while a rather large man came strolling through without a shirt on, and bath robes are seen, but mainly by the pools. Again these are just a few observations.

 

While in the waters of Antarctica smoking was totally banned in all outdoor areas which meant the two indoor designated smoking areas were even more smoke filled. Many refused to set one foot inside the Crow’s Nest! There has been some general confusion and ambiguity about whether one could smoke in his/her stateroom. When one of our table mates repeatedly smelled smoke from an adjacent cabin, she was told that only on world cruises was smoking allowed in cabins, but would not be allowed on future world cruises. We shall see!

 

And, finally a few comments on rude behavior: just like everywhere, there are some people who talk during the shows, give demands instead of requests, and have apparently never learned to say please or thank you. We have even witnessed near blows (well verbally) fighting for seats for trivia and evening shows. On the other hand, the vast majority of our fellow passengers do NOT behave that way, and are truly considerate of not only fellow passengers but of the wonderful crew that pampers us so well.

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that life on this ship is almost like life in high school. There are the seniors (no pun intended) who have traveled on dozens of world cruises and have their own little cliques and will, on occasion, let a newby join in. At the other extreme are passengers who book a segment and are like the transfer or new students who are often welcomed but more likely ignored because many have their little groups already formed. And then there is every group in between the extremes. Some take part in every activity while others prefer to sit and read. Perhaps this observation seems simplistic, but after teaching high school for 30 years, I see lots of parallels.

 

Shipboard life includes the good, the bad and the ugly, just like small-town USA. Oops, sorry Canadians. People are people, wherever they are.

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February 23 – Day 48

At Sea

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN!

 

I really did think that the day after the Mardi Gras celebration would be a quiet one, but (not for the first time), I was wrong. We did see some people who were clearly feeling the aftereffects of an open bar, but everyone else seemed to just go along as usual.

 

Birthdays are tricky things when crossing the International Dateline as well as when the CEO of HAL is on board. We generally celebrate by inviting our tablemates and a few other friends to join us for dinner in The Pinnacle, but Mr. Kruse has first choice (shocking, isn’t it?) so that’s out for tonight. Instead we booked for tomorrow night and we’ll have 12 of our friends in the back room, which is more private so we can be sillier.

Tonight, however, is a formal night, which means we’ll have an officer at the table, so it really isn’t a good night to celebrate a birthday.

 

Because of all these complications, it was decided somehow that LAST night would be “John’s birthday” at the table. There were party hats, sparkly sprinkles on the table, gifts, a birthday cake, and a dozen waiters singing the Indonesian birthday song. It was a great deal of fun. Today, being the actual birthday, is a formal night, and Mr. Kruse is hosting an hour-long cocktail party in the Queen’s Lounge. We, of course, are assuming that it’s in honor of John, so we’ll have a lovely time there.

 

Anyway, three days of birthday celebrations may just be a little too much for John, since he really dislikes any attention to himself, but he did have a good time last night and we hope it will continue both today and tomorrow night. Actually, tomorrow will be his birthday at home, so I guess it’s appropriate.

 

Speaking of Stein Kruse’s time on board (from Pago Pago to Sydney), it really stirs things up. Before he came on board, everything on the ship was cleaned, vacuumed, polished, or otherwise brought into tip-top shape. While he’s on, everyone seems to be virtually standing at attention.

 

There have been, are, and will be activities, most of which we won’t be participating in. For example, for two nights the Pinnacle was used to wine and dine the guests in the 7th floor suites (too many for one night). Today there is a luncheon in the Crow’s Nest for passengers with more than a thousand days but who are not yet in the President’s Club. Tonight there is the reception for everyone, followed by a dinner for President’s Club members in the King’s Room. There will be 29 attendees and 15 servers. I think if I were in the President’s Club I’d demand a footman behind every chair, but, surprisingly, they didn’t ask me.

 

Tomorrow there will be another luncheon in the Crow’s Nest, this one for those who have between 700 and 1000 days. Since we’re at a paltry 400, there’s nothing for us except tonight’s reception. I think when Mr. And Mrs. Kruse disembark in Sydney, there will be a collective sigh of relief from officers, crew, and passengers. The stress is just too much, even though he seems to be a perfectly nice man, and his wife led the conga line at the Mardi Gras party.

 

We’re looking forward to Sydney because we’re going on a Cruise Critic tour to the Blue Mountains, and then on Day 2 we’re flying to Cairns for some extra time there. However, these sea days are lovely, and since we’re not being called to special dinners or lunches, we have more of the ship to ourselves.

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Thanks for your posting!! I do have to say that I think it IS shocking that Stein Kruse took over the Pinnacle. :rolleyes: :eek: I think he has forgotten who is working for who!!! :rolleyes:

 

You and your ship mates are some of the top Mariners that HAL has the privilege of serving, and you pay mightily for that honor. He should be worried that he is disrupting YOUR cruise and remember where his paycheck comes from !!!! Really, how much is his cruise costing him? (Okay, I am done with that rant but I just had to say it!!)

 

I hope John had a wonderful birthday despite of the lack of Pinnacle dinner!

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Happy birthday John. What a great way to spend a birthday and to have it happen over 3 days is very special.

 

Thanks for all the posts, I am enjoying reading each days and now that you are just about in our time frame, I don't have to wait until next morning to read them.

 

Jennie

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February 24 – Day 49

At Sea

 

Yesterday was the high point, or at least the busiest point, of Stein Kruse’s onboard visit, with the 1000 day luncheon, the grand and glorious cocktail party, and the President’s Club dinner. We decided that our invitations to the luncheon and dinner must have been lost in the mail, but we did go to the cocktail party, chatted with the hoi polloi, and had some tasty appetizers as well as a few glasses of bubbly.

 

Because all of the senior officers were at the President’s Club dinner, our “officer” last night was our friend Char, the Future Cruise Consultant. She’s the person onboard that passengers meet with to ask about and book HAL cruises after this one. She wears a little illuminated pin that has the current number of passengers booked for next year’s world cruise, and yesterday afternoon the number was over 1000. The ship’s capacity for that cruise is about 1190, so if you’re going to book, don’t wait too long. She told us that not only are the penthouse suites both booked, but there are waiting lists for them. I guess there are people who don’t mind spending 250,000 for a world cruise; unfortunately, we don’t happen to be two of them.

 

The captain made an announcement this morning that, although he had told us we would not be able to do a “sail-by” of Howe Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, he had done more study and found that we could, indeed, do it. So at 10:45 this morning, we sailed (slowly) between Lord Howe Island and Ball’s Pyramid, an absolutely spectacular volcanic peak which reaches up 2000 feet from sea level, making it the tallest volcanic structure in the world. It’s part of an ancient caldera, and it resembles a bony hand extending an index finger into the sky.

 

Lord Howe’s Island is a heritage site because of the great numbers of rare species on it. It has animal and plant species that are found nowhere else in the world. Apparently there is one resort there, accessible by plane from Brisbane, Australia. The whole “cruise-by” was amazing, and the Captain has proved his worth yet again!

 

We continue on to the third day of celebrating John’s birthday. It’s one of those which ends in a zero, so it does deserve a lot of celebration, but three days does seem to be a bit excessive. On the 22nd, we had the “table birthday.” On the 23rd, John’s actual birthday, he received a few more gifts and, of course, Stein Kruse hosted a cocktail party for 900 people in John’s honor – or at least that’s what we’re telling ourselves. Tonight is the Pinnacle dinner for 12 of us, and that should put paid to the celebrations. Since today it is actually the 23rd in California, it really is the correct celebration (and with the best food).

 

Tomorrow is Sydney, and we’re really looking forward to our Blue Mountain tour and then our flight to Cairns (pronounced Canns) on Sunday. We should have time there to do everything we want and then to meet up with the ship three days later just in time for an Australian barbecue onboard.

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John and Diane,

 

Someone has given you the wrong facts about Lord Howe Island. It is accessible by plane from both Sydney and Brisbane. There are a number of resorts, guest houses and units to rent on the island but the most visitors that can be accommodated at once is 400.

 

We spent our honeymoon on that beautiful island back in 1964 and at that time the only way could get to the island was by flying boat out of Rose Bay in Sydney. We landed on the lagoon on the island and were then taken to shore by boats.

 

The best way to get around the island is by bicycle and back in 1964, there were no cars, TV's, radio's on the island so after spending 2 weeks there, we hadn't any idea of what was happening in the broader world.

 

In the 70's a small landing strip was built and that is where the planes now land. The biggest plane that goes to the island is a Dash-8 with about 20 passengers and the luggage limit is 15kg.

 

We were last there in 2001 and it is still paradise but the locals now own cars which takes away a little from the ambience though there aren't that many all up.

 

Jennie

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John and Diane,

 

Believe it or not there are two ways of pronouncing Cairns. We say it as it is spelt, cennes, but other pronounce it cannes. It just depends on where you live in Australia.

 

Jennie

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Thanks for the information. We've talked to some shipmates who, like you, spent a week or two on Lord Howe Island, and they loved the flora, fauna, and isolation.

 

I can barely pronounce Australia, so I'm not surprised there are pronunciations I'm not aware of. Good info.

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February 25, 26 – Days 50, 51

Sydney (and to Cairns for us)

 

We were up and at ‘em by 6:00 yesterday, because the sail-in to Sydney is really quite beautiful. In the hazy dawn, we could only see tall buildings and the outline of the bridge, but as we approached, the sky became clearer and the well-known landmarks began to appear. Finally, we made a gentle turn around a corner and there were both the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, in all their distinctive beauty.

 

While HAL usually docks at Circular Quay, just between the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, this time we were bumped by the Pacific Princess and docked around the corner at Darling Harbor, about a 15-20 minute walk (or a 5-minute shuttle) to Circular Quay. It’s an up-and-coming hot spot, with waterside restaurants and luxurious new hotels. But it’s NOT Circular Quay!

 

We were due to dock and be cleared by 8:30, so our CC tour of the Blue Mountains was scheduled for assembly at 9:00 and departure at 9:30. We finally disembarked the ship at 9:40, with one couple coming 10 minutes later, to make a party of 22. Jeff, our driver, began his narration with a wonderful Scottish accent, and explained that although he’d been in Australia for 30 years, his accent had just hung on.

 

The Blue Mountains are about a two hour drive out of Sydney,

and are so named because of the bluish color of the mountains in the distance. They are something like five times as old as the Grand Canyon (I am such a good listener), and are (I think) another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our first stop was at a flat sandstone mountaintop, where Jeff joked about the aboriginal art – since there were all kinds of “Freddy loves Sandy” inscriptions all over the top of the rock. This vantage point allowed us to look for miles, and it was incredibly beautiful.

 

After a short stop in the cute little town of Leura for lunch, we next drove to Scenic World, where we rode across a steep gorge by cable car, took a cog railway down to the rain forest area, walked through said forest for about a half hour, and finished with a ride on the world’s steepest railway which ascends and descends at a 55-degree angle. That was an “E” ticket ride, if ever I’ve had one!

We also saw the renowned “Three Sisters,” three sandstone towers that sit there looking over the gorge and the mountains.

 

After we reboarded our little bus, we headed to a turnoff that took us to an aboriginal carving of a kangaroo that had been created several hundred years ago. Not exactly the caves at Lascaux, but considering that it was right out in the open, pretty impressive.

 

Our last “drive-by” was the Olympic Village from 2000, which has become a well-used sports center, a popular condominium area, and a large business center. From there, we boarded a ferry for the 45-minute ride back down the river to Darling Harbor.

 

I was incredibly impressed by what the city of Sydney has done to make their entire city even more beautiful. They’ve found new uses for places like the Olympic Village, reclaimed areas that had been fouled by industry, and cleaned up their waterways. It really is a beautiful city where I think I would be happy living. The only drawback for me would be the cost of living. At lunch out in the countryside, we bought two sandwiches to take away along with one Diet Coke, and it cost us almost $23.00. If we had eaten them inside, it would have cost about $15.00 more. Walking along the Darling Harbor waterfront and looking at restaurant menus, we found that main courses seemed to average from $30 to $40. If you live in New York or San Francisco that’s probably not much, but in San Luis Obispo it really is. I know, someone lucky enough to be on a world cruise shouldn’t think that’s a lot of money, but I do.

 

Our return, about 6:00, gave us time to wander along the Darling Harbor waterfront to “check things out.” It is really a popular hangout for the thirty-something crowd, especially on a Saturday night, and we even saw a couple of “Hen Parties,” or pre-wedding getaways for the bride and her bridesmaids. We’ve seen lots of those in England, but I didn’t realize that they were also popular in Australia. There is usually a theme, and there’s some way of indicating which one is the bride – usually a “Miss America”-type sash. Sometimes the themes are pretty funny; once we saw a dozen or so young women in nurses’ uniforms, when they clearly were not nurses. It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon.

 

The evening was a quiet one, highlighted by the boarding of our good friend George Geary and his partner Neil. They’ll be sitting with us at dinner while George is on as a guest chef, and they will no doubt seriously liven up an already lively table. We’ve become friends over the last couple of years and always enjoy their company. Susie and I and a couple of other friends are already signed up for George’s cooking classes, which have more names on the wait-list than on the class list.

 

Today it was just about two hours walking from our harbor to Circular Quay and back, going through the market at The Rocks, and then getting ourselves ready to fly to Cairns. In fact, this entry is being written at about 30,000 feet over Oz. We’re really looking forward to our activities in Cairns, and you’ll no doubt be hearing a lot more about them.

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Diane and John,

 

My fingers are crossed that you won't be having the rain that is coming down all over Eastern Australia at the moment otherwise it won't be worth going out to the reef.

 

With regards to prices, you have been in very touristy areas, including Leura, so prices will be so much higher than normal especially for sandwiches at lunchtime though a main course down here at a normal restaurant is between $30 and $40 which is not that dissimilar to Sydney though we have always been a little cheaper. Remember, most of us earn a good income or have retired on a good superannuation package though.

 

Jennie

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John & Diane,

 

Welcome to Cairns :D

 

Sorry we couldn't bring the sun out for you - but at least the rain has held off and at a very pleasant 25 you shouldn't feel too hot. The sea temperature will feel gorgeous if you are intending to snorkel or dive.

 

We really hope that you enjoy yourselves.

 

We are currently booked on the Amsterdam to Alaska in September so DH and I will be coming down to the Wharf to have a good look at the ship (unfortunately only from the outside :(). So if you see a couple with a wistful longing look in their eyes - give us a wave :)

 

Anne-Marie

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February 27 – Day 52

Cairns, Australia

 

I just barely learned to pronounce Cairns, and here we are. It’s an amazing place, situated between the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest. The only advice I can give is, if you come here, be prepared to pay pretty steeply for activities, but if today’s is any example, it’s well worth it.

 

This morning we took the scenic (read antique) train for two hours to Kuranda, an aboriginal town in the middle of the rainforest. It is a spectacular ride, going through 15 tunnels and 80 cuts and across a whole bunch of bridges. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, with tropical trees that reach up hundreds of feet from the valley floor to get a bit of light necessary for growth.

 

Kuranda wasn’t anything like I expected. For one thing, it was much bigger. I had expected a tiny little place with perhaps four shops and a tea room, but it is a lovely little town containing and surrounded by many kinds of plants and trees, including (the only one I could name) banyan and several different types of ferns.

There were probably four blocks of shops selling everything from kangaroo key chains to crocodile skins to tee shirts to opal jewelry.

We bought some things for our granddaughter, daughter and son-in-law, including kangaroo jerky, and then had meat pies for lunch.

 

The return trip was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. We took the Skyrail rainforest cable car 4-1/2 miles over growth thick enough that if our cable car had fallen, I’m sure we would have had a soft landing. The trees were so plentiful and so thick on the ground that we couldn’t even see the ground. There was mist everywhere, looking a lot like London in the winter. We saw beautifully colorful birds, flowers of all sorts, and vines that would have made Tarzan envious.

 

The rain began just before the cable car reached its terminal and continued as the little bus took us back to Cairns. It continued as we headed toward the post office to mail a “care package” to our kids in Davis, CA, and now the biggest decision will be where to eat dinner.

 

Tomorrow’s adventure will be on the Great Barrier Reef. We’re hoping for sunshine right in the middle of the rainy season in Cairns, but, believe it or not, sunshine is forecast.

 

An interesting aside has to do with Australian politics. While Americans are pretty much overwhelmed with political debates and who will gain the Republican nomination, here in Australia there has been constant drama centering around Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister, resigning his cabinet position and trying to take over the leadership of the Labour Party from Julia Gillard, the current party leader and Prime Minister. On TV, it’s been all Rudd vs. Gillard all the time. It’s been a fascinating peek into another country’s government.

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Diane and John,

 

Finally the latest drama in our politics has come to an end and hopefully it will be laid to rest for awhile as Julia won the ballot. We are heartily sick of the drama that has been unfolding for the past few weeks. We have a very stable country, no recession and a good standard of living and yet we have these silly power plays that we don't need.

 

I do hope that tomorrow is a sunny day for you both as down here right at the bottom of Australia, we are getting the rain that Queensland has been having for the past week or more though we did have a very hot weekend and the rain is a welcome relief.

 

I am enjoying your posts and look forward to them every day. Keep on enjoying your wonderful cruise.

 

Jennie

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Thanks again for taking the time to write your stories. I love reading it and relaying it to my husband in snipits.. I love your continuous detail.... You have really peaked our interest in World Cruises for the future.

 

Safe travels back to the ship.

 

Wendy:)

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John and Diane,

 

Someone has given you the wrong facts about Lord Howe Island. It is accessible by plane from both Sydney and Brisbane. There are a number of resorts, guest houses and units to rent on the island but the most visitors that can be accommodated at once is 400.

 

We spent our honeymoon on that beautiful island back in 1964 and at that time the only way could get to the island was by flying boat out of Rose Bay in Sydney. We landed on the lagoon on the island and were then taken to shore by boats.

 

The best way to get around the island is by bicycle and back in 1964, there were no cars, TV's, radio's on the island so after spending 2 weeks there, we hadn't any idea of what was happening in the broader world.

 

In the 70's a small landing strip was built and that is where the planes now land. The biggest plane that goes to the island is a Dash-8 with about 20 passengers and the luggage limit is 15kg.

 

We were last there in 2001 and it is still paradise but the locals now own cars which takes away a little from the ambience though there aren't that many all up.

 

Jennie

 

Wow Jennie,

 

When I was young & around 1963, Mum & Dad treated me from my home town of Hobart to Sydney on that flying boat, landing 3.3/4 hrs later at the old flying boat base in Rose Bay. Absolutely fantastic trip.

Now, like you both, we cruise the world.

Many thanks...don't you just love the reports from John & Dianne!

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February 28 – Day – who knows?

Cairns – The Great Barrier Reef

 

The big suspense this morning was the weather. We had been told by more than a few people that if it were raining cats and dogs in Cairns, it would be a waste of time to go to the Barrier Reef. At 6:00 it was mostly sunny, but then clouds came over and then went away. We were to check in to the “Great Adventures” office at 10:00 for a 10:30 departure, and since we had only made a 20% down payment, we wouldn’t have to pay the balance if we didn’t go.

 

It was mostly sunny at 9:45, so we headed over to the office, paid our balance, and boarded our cruiser, to be greeted on board with rain. It didn’t last long, though, and by the time we arrived at our platform two hours later, it was sunny and blue and the air and water temperatures were nearly the same.

 

The “platform” needs to be described. It’s probably 150’ by 75’ and contains a kitchen, fresh-water showers, changing rooms, three decks, including an underwater observation platform, and facilities for choosing one’s snorkel, fins, and (optionally) a lycra stinger suit, since it was jellyfish season.

 

We first took a 20-minute ride in the semi-submersible boat, where we saw lots of coral and fish of different sizes. Afterwards, we helped ourselves to the buffet lunch, the high point of which (for me) was the beef curry on rice. Then it was time to snorkel, and the fish as well as the coral were magnificent. I was so excited when the Jumbo humpbacked wrasse, a huge blue fish, came up to me and I could pet him. Later John did the same thing. The coral of all different kinds was amazing and the fish were beautiful. Since I was wearing a life vest, I occasionally just spread out my arms and floated above the coral and the fish while breathing through my snorkel tube.

 

We all know about the saying “It’s a small world,” but as we sat putting on our masks and flippers, we began talking with a young man named Ben who told us he lived in Cayucos, a small town in which John grew up and is only about a half hour drive from us. Small world indeed!

 

On the way home, the rain began again, but had stopped by the time we returned to port. It had been a wonderful day at the Great Barrier Reef. We had been told that the Reef was more pristine off Port Douglas, so the next time we’re here, that’s where we’ll begin our trip.

 

I know I said that Sydney was a wonderful city, but I was also very impressed with Cairns. First of all, the weather is lovely and tropical (which of course means occasional showers this time of the year), but it’s more the way they run the city. Our first evening, we went for a walk after dinner and walked past the municipal swimming pool. Many cities have such things, but not like here. First of all, it’s completely open to its surroundings (read free) and the pool itself is a free-form structure of about an acre or so, part of which has a sandy beach.

 

This morning when we were walking over to the dock, we walked across the park and commented on the fact that the shell/stage would be a good place for concert. This afternoon, as we walked back after our reef adventure, we heard music from the stage and discovered a Zumba class, with more than 200 “students” dancing and exercising on the grass in front of the stage. Last month, they even set a Guiness Book of Records for over 2,000 people doing Zumba at once. That doesn’t even include the bats! Every evening, hundreds and thousands of what we thought were birds – and later found out were bats – fly in huge waves from tree to tree in different parts of the city. They’re so much bigger than our little country bats in San Luis Obispo that we didn’t even recognize them as such.

We have just been so favorably impressed with the place and would really like to return.

 

So far, we’re two for two on successful outings, and tomorrow’s should also be great. We’re going on Billy Tea’s road safari to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest by four-wheel drive vehicle. Looking forward to it.

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