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Live From March 22, 2018 Diamond - 22 Days SYD to Tokyo

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March 28, 2018 – Darwin

 

Another smooth night last night. Barely rocking at all. I see the lights of Darwin up ahead as we round the point into the harbor. Today we see the crocodiles jump. We had chosen the early tour, but they switched us to the mid-day tour, which does screw up our afternoon plans in Darwin. But it is supposed to be 95F today. Hot, humid and a killer sun – so that means sweating and gooping up with that sunscreen – although the alternative is far less attractive. Hoping to get to a store and stock up on some more water and ‘stuff’, but might not.

 

We did the ½ hour back last night. Now our watches and phones are so screwed up!

 

The highlight of yesterday was the top 40 cocktail party. Don’t know the actual numbers, but our 550ish days got us on Table 5 out of 6. But with the South African Doctor. Turns out the medical response on the 12 day New Zealand that we watched during sailaway was a real call out. I told him how impressed I was – and his requirements from the company are impressive as well. First of all, the first EMT responder, with a backpack full of IVs, defib, first aid, etc. has to be on scene within 3 or 6 minutes – I forget which. The second EMT within 6 minutes and the rest of the staff within 10 minutes. The requirements, which they drill at and are tested every few weeks, are very impressive.

 

Another thing I was not aware of was that Princess, and now Holland America, are two of the only lines he knows of that have strict doctor certification requirements. He has 4, South Africa, US, UK and Canada. Princess requires him to be certified in at least US, UK and Canada. Other lines do not have that certification requirement. His nurses have to be RN’s and his EMT’s have to be certified as well. He stated quite frankly that Princess ships are the best place to have a heart attack – outside a hospital room – period. Very nice discussion with him. Enjoyed it immensely.

 

The food was fantastic. A seafood appetizer in the shape of a lobster with lobster meat, scallops, shrimp – followed by a champagne sorbet – followed by beef tenderloin or halibut or pasta – followed by a chocolate journeys dessert and bite size pettifors. The halibut was excellent. Judy, my pastaholic, did not care for the pasta. She should have stuck with the beef or fish.

 

Last night the Domino Duo started early at 1700 so we started dancing with them in wheelhouse. Ivor Richards had his final comedy show in Explorer’s. And it was great. We laughed until our cheeks hurt.

 

More dancing rounded out the night for us.

 

Now its coffee and getting ready for Darwin.

 

Later!

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March 29, 2018 – At Sea to Kota Kinabalu

 

Gorgeous morning. Puffy clouds, blue sky, calm seas. The heat is on as we enter the tropics and probably won’t get relief until Hong Kong.

 

Yesterday was a great day in Darwin. It is a fantastic cruise port. With the new bridge access via the skywalk and elevators it’s a simple 10-15 minute walk into the CBD. Lots of people carrying cases of water and soda back on the ship from Coles. The immediate area around the cruise terminal has restaurants, free wifi, shops, including a convenience store, souvenir shops and a fantastic, and safe, lagoon to swim in. A beach, some grass, some shade, cool water. This would be a fantastic place for a picnic and a swim.

 

While it was hot and humid, it was not Bangkok hot. Noticeable, but not miserable. Modern day wicking fabrics, my fishing shirts especially, are great for this kind of heat. They dry quickly and coolly. Our Tilley hats are essential in this kind of sunshine. I used to have the solid kind, but it was way too hot. Now we have the ventilated kind and they are fantastic for keeping the sun off your ears and the top of your head, while not sweating you do death!

 

The CBD is compact, easy to get around, except for all the construction getting rid of the downed trees from Cyclone Marcus, nice parks and open spaces, gorgeous views out over the ocean. Someone needs to remind me why Melbourne is considered the most livable city in Australia? This place is fantastic!

 

One reason might be the price of housing. OMG! 3 bedroom house - $600 to $750k (AUD)! Wow! That is NOT cheap for sure! (So much for retiring to Darwin!)

 

But the highlight of the day was the Princess jumping crocodile cruise excursion which included a stop at the world famous Humpty Doo Hotel, Bar, (Tire Center and Hair Care Salon)…The cruise was fantastic. To see these animals in their native habitat, to hear the stories of Stumpy, Trevor and Candy, to watch them lift themselves out of the water with just a single sweep of their tail, to marvel in their coloring and actually go eye to eye with a hungry croc at 5 feet – just a once in a lifetime experience. This is an absolute must do, period, dot, exclamation point!

 

They have several different size boats, some single row, some double row, sit up on the front row to get real close, but you will be in the sun, so wear sunscreen and a hat. In the front rows you will not be able to stand. No need to. In the second rows there is shade, and the captain will let you stand to see the crocs, but you won’t be able to see the whites of their eyes! You get about 90 minutes on the river and will play with 2-3 crocs. The captain will entertain you about the history of the crocs in the area, they are all named, except for the new yearling we saw along the bank – soon to be a meal for Stumpy if she is not careful. You’ll hear a lot about the biology as well. A very well rounded presentation – and oh BTW, crocs love red and pink!

 

They did offer water and sodas at the boat dock. So we guzzled a couple of bottles on the boat and took a couple more back to the bus. The drive out and back was interesting as well. Lots of different mango orchards, bush, swampy areas, birds and a rather interesting RF listening post in middle of nowhere with every kind of LF and HF antenna known to mankind. There were several buffalo, the water kind, not the bison kind, surrounded by egrets as well. Very green as we were in the latter part of the wet season. Not to mention that Cyclone Marcus dumped a bunch of rain on the area. There were a lot of African Mahogany trees uprooted along the routes. The settlers planted them for shade, but they are shallow rooted and the Cyclone winds, only a CAT II, toppled them.

 

After the cruise we stopped at the Humpty Doo Hotel and Bar for a bag of chips (crisps) and a nice cold Northern Territory Original brew. Best beer on the trip so far. Not hoppy at all, which according to Chris, our guide, is typically of the northern territory beers in general. One could have ordered food at the bar, we had about 45 minutes, and they were quick if you ordered upon arrival. Several people ordered burgers. The locals were quite amused with all of us, but very friendly and open.

 

It was so good that when we went to lunch in the cruise terminal area, we had more – well Judy had another and I had a couple more! Fish and Chips, a burger, fries, topped off with some ice cream finished us on-shore. It was time to take a shower and try out another treat in the Atrium.

 

They have ‘hand-crafted’ iced tea infusions in the Atrium menu. Because it was so hot during the day we wanted to try them, but the decaf versions. So I had the Minty Apple Tea and Judy had the Citrus Spiced Tea. Both were very nice and decaf. Both would be great with a shot of booze as well! Spiced rum in the Citrus and Sour Apple Vodka in the Minty Apple! Got to try that one day.

 

So off to breakfast! Later…

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March 30, 2018 – At Sea to Kota Kinabalu (Day 2)

 

Another basically flat calm day, overcast, warm, humid, daylight at 0530, which I haven’t seen for a while. We went another hour back last night. Yesterday was a pretty typical day at sea with jam packed stuff going on all the time. Frenchie and Lynn try to use all the venues all the time with something. The Captain was observing one in Explorer’s and Judy got a hug from the Captain.

 

David Barret, the soloist guitarist, was in fine fettle last night as we were able to dance to several of his numbers with a variety of dances – nightclub, rhumba, foxtrot, hustle and even a waltz. It was nice not having to remember the steps and try not to stumble when the ship moved. Basically you couldn’t tell you were on a ship it was that calm.

 

Liar’s club was last night and we won! It was a 4 way tie with 3 correct answers out of 4, and Judy got the tie breaker (the collective ages of the three panelists – 104) perfectly correct. I was guessing 98. One bottle of Shampoo! Although we do not normally do trivia, we sat through the 80’s trivia with Ian, but did not play, we did play the Travel Trivia. 40 questions, some with multiple answers, on airlines, destinations, flags and geography. The winner got 38. Judy and I got 29. It was one of the more enjoyable trivia as all of us were giving Andrew a hard time. After all, he was the stuckee demonstrating chubble for liar’s club – while Ian was demonstrating how frustrating a stuck zipper on a pair of trousers can be!

 

Still trying to get the cabin A/C sorted out. Gets up to 28C in the cabin in the afternoon so we have to go somewhere else cooler on the lower decks. Yesterday it was the library.

 

Today is the crossing the line ceremony and tonight is the crossing the line deck party. Big events. The one in which I participated, put together by Kelvin and Matais, was memorable. This is a once in a lifetime event for Pollywogs and I hope a lot ‘kiss the fish’!

 

The atrium is laid out in Easter decorations this morning. A whole bunch of large handcrafted chocolate easter eggs are on display in the atrium and there are pink, yellow, green and blue pastel balloons and ribbons everywhere. (Or at least I think they are chocolate and not plastic!) Maybe they will pass them out later.

 

One of the benefits of long cruises (or B2B’s) is getting to know the staff quite well, and they get to know you as well. It becomes an almost family situation. Heck we’ve already adopted Lynn – nice to be known as Mom and Dad instead of Grandma and Grandpa! Would love to take some of these guys and girls home to the states – they would be killer in the service industries and end up running hotels or restaurants. In just the first couple of days of this cruise Joana, the barista in the Atrium bar in the morning, already knew most of her regulars by name and what their preferences were. She greets almost everyone by name and asks if they want the usual. Anna is so perky – the minute Judy walks into the Atrium, Ana gets her coffee, hot water and lemon ready. And the really great thing is that in all the mornings we’ve had coffee, there has not been one grumpy passenger to spoil the mornings.

 

So off to prep the cameras for King Neptune’s arrival!

 

Later…

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March 31, 2018 – At Sea to Kota Kinabalu (Day 3)

 

Its mostly cloudy this morning. Seas are slight and its warm and humid. White chocolate latte, a smile from Anna and Joana and I’m set for some writing in corner of the atrium looking out over the foam from the bow wake. Yesterday morning we were treated with displays of flying fish darting out from the wake. This morning it’s probably a bit too choppy to see flying fish.

 

Yesterday was the crossing the line ceremony. Lynn ran 4 groups of a dozen each passengers through the ritual and one group of 14 crew including a cadet in her all white uniform that was brownish red by the time the ceremony was over. We got there early and snagged a shady spot under the MUTS screen. By the end of the ceremony, the shade was gone as both the ship and the sun moved, but on deck 15 that was the only shady spot available. The ritual was not all whipped cream, eggs and jello, but also had a gross smelly concoction that got poured over everyone.

 

I really like this captain. He came out for the ceremony and stayed, standing in the hot sun, for the whole ceremony. He didn’t have to, but he did anyway. Frenchie got a bit uppity with King Neptune and ended up in the pool, tossed by one of the enforcers, the male adagio dancer who could have probably tossed her across the pool! All in all it was a great ceremony and we now have our second crossing the line certificate.

 

Last night was the King Neptune deck party. And it rained, actually poured, before the party and showered during the party. It was great dancing in the rain! Nice and cool in the wind and rain. The flashmob was actually a surprise to some people! It was to a partial thriller soundtrack and we did the basic thriller dance - head shuffle, stomp, monster claws, forward step with head toss and mummy back step - three times. Lynn is in constant motion. She is one of those people who are doing 90mph at all times. Turn her loose on the dance floor and she’s a maniac! We danced for quite a while until the ankle alarm went off and I had to call it for the evening. Got a lot of walking to do in the upcoming ports and we don’t want to hobble through them.

 

I have to talk to the front desk again this morning. It was 78 in the cabin when we got back last night and only got down to 74 this morning. Its just too hot. We need a fan or something since they can’t seem to fix it the airflow in the cabin.

 

So interesting news, Hong Kong is going to be a major crew swap. Princess probably gets good rates on consolidator air tickets from Hong Kong. Our room steward is leaving, Frenchie and Andrew are leaving. Kelvin Joy is joining the ship as ED. Last time we sailed with him he was CD - and his chubble demonstration still stands as the best ever. A lot of the older CDs are shifting over to the ED position it appears with a lot of new talent moving up into the CD slots. By using 90 mph people in the CD slot, like Lynn, Princess can also save substantially on fuel bills by plugging them in over night to the ship’s power grid! Seriously though, I think the ED/CD split is working out rather well. The CD is much more visible during the cruise and actually has some time to talk instead of rushing to the next meeting or answering that incessant pager. Being able to talk to Frenchie during her morning desk hours is nice as well. She has taken all of our suggestions seriously and implemented those she could.

 

Nothing significant planned for the day…just staying out of trouble.

 

Later all!

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Just curious...

Did you need to get a visa for Kota Kinabalu before boarding in SYD or does Princess process any required visa's like they do for Vietnam onboard ?

 

 





Enjoying your reports

Srpilo

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Just curious...

Did you need to get a visa for Kota Kinabalu before boarding in SYD or does Princess process any required visa's like they do for Vietnam onboard ?

 

 

 





Enjoying your reports

Srpilo

 

Nothing special that we've been notified of. There is a landing card we have to fill out for Hong Kong. We got an immigration information sheet so I will try and post some information from that later on.

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April 1, 2018 – At Sea To Kota Kinabalu (Day 4)

 

Happy Easter and April Fool’s Day – all in one – from the seas around Malaysia. Partly cloudy, some blue sky, slight seas, warm, humid. They gave us a stand fan yesterday. Even though the room stays between 74 and 77, at least the fan provides a cooling breeze. We can now definitely make it to Hong Kong. Good thing the fan plugs into the new 220V outlet above the desk. Otherwise it would take up one of the two power plugs near the telephone.

 

I continue to be more impressed with this Captain as he is much more approachable and available and visible than any other Captain we’ve sailed with. Not only was he up on the deck during the entire Crossing the Line Ceremony, he was up yesterday observing the crew tug of war competition. And boy did the crew take this one seriously. It was not a half hearted, entertain the passengers and get back to work game, they came to win! The overall winner were the Spartans, the Galley crew, complete with togas, spears and helmets. They put down the Engine crew for the win. The crowd favorite were the girls from the shops – the Sharks, or Shoppies – who won against the Spa, then lost to the Engine – but the cutest was when they allowed all the shoppies on deck, about 20 of them, to grab the rope and walk all over the 8 burley guys from the engine room. This was a lot of fun for all of us. The 8 team members each got a day off and a meal at a specialty restaurant. No wonder they were all so enthusiastic!

 

With the hectic nature of the last couple of cruises, we did not attend a lot of specialty events, saving those for this cruise. Last night they actually had the Captains Circle party on a casual night – so we attended. Now everyone knows the drinks are a bit watered down, so the key is to zero in on the drink you want and then go looking for it during the mingling time and stock up! (They close the bar after the last speech!) I found a rather interesting drink that I still do not know what it was, but it was pretty good and I snagged three of them before they shut the bar down. The only thing of interest was that the 2019/2020 Australia/New Zealand season goes on sale around the 18th of April.

 

We then watched Dancing with the ST...AFF. It was a hoot and very well done. Its hard to describe. You don’t have to know how to dance, you just have to have fun, and the more fun you have, the more likely you are to win! 3 ladies and 3 gents are paired with staff, most are part of the dance troupe. Three staff members provide the judge’s critiques. All are part of the entertainment staff or dance troupe. There is then a group dance in a certain dance style – cha cha, waltz, etc. in3 rounds in which one couple is eliminated in each round, then interviewed backstage by cruise staff on the TV screen. When only three are left, the host announces a fusion type dance for each couple – salsa/irish, tango/jive, etc. One couple is then eliminated. The last two go head to head in a freestyle to a song chosen by the host – Time of Our Life, for example – and the winner is selected by audience acclaim. Great idea, great show.

 

Tomorrow – Land!

 

Later!

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I am sorry if I missed this but who is the Captain? Is it Todd McBain by chance? We really liked him when we sailed on the Diamond.

 

Thanks,

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I am sorry if I missed this but who is the Captain? Is it Todd McBain by chance? We really liked him when we sailed on the Diamond.

 

Thanks,

 

Gennaro, otherwise known as 'Captain Speaking From the Bridge'!

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March 3, 2018 – At Sea to Phu My

 

An exciting April fools day. From the Great Easter Egg Hunt to the ‘move to the Port side of the ship’ to the all too real First Stage Response at 0330 prior to KK, it has been an interesting couple of days.

 

The Easter egg was a lot of fun. We came in third by missing the ‘blood, sweat and toil’ clue which we thought was the gym, then the chapel, forgetting about Churchhill’s bar! Who needed Zumba scouring the ship taking photographs of bunny prints from top to bottom. A really good time.

 

I tried to get Akane on an April Fool’s but she was already primed and ready to go. Oh well. So the Captain gets on the horn in the late afternoon talking about turning the ship into a certain strait and a certain current and could everyone please move to the port side of the ship! So we are listening to people scramble to our side of the ship in our hallway. We knew what it was from the get go, but it was still pretty funny to hear everyone’s reaction in the hallway when he April Fooled them.

 

Of course the 0330 in the morning First Stage response was no April Fools joke. Someone tripped a bell box near our cabin where there is a room service pantry. There was a fire, but either the assessment party or the First Stagers got it under control. There was a lot of running around outside our door for a while though and when they restarted the ventilation system, the smell of burning plastic was evident. Three separate announcements, one calling for the first stage and two from the captain. We did get a little dozing in after that, but not much.

 

So now to Kota Kinabalu, or KK. We booked the zoo and museum half day Princess tour. Not a good tour, partially because of circumstances outside Princess’ control and some because of poor planning on their part. Our guide was very good, with good English and an understanding of what tourists like to know about a country. Prices of housing, fuel, cars, income levels, political structure, etc.

 

The ride from the ship to the zoo took about an hour. The zoo was supposed to open early for us, but did not. We only got an hour at the zoo, which is far too short a time. In order to see all the animals and at least be able to photograph them, you need a minimum of 2 hours, 3 would be better. Also, while Princess limited the tour group sizes, they don’t limit the number of tour groups, so we had 5 bus loads show up at the same time, which overloaded the viewing platforms and slowed everything down. Interestingly enough, at 1000, everybody was well into the loop and as we headed back to the bus, there was almost no one at the major attraction areas.

 

The zoo itself is quite nice and interesting. (Although there was a severely injured deer that they really needed to isolate from the herd and treat. Not a pretty sight.) There are elephants (pygmy), monkeys, orangutans, birds, a tiger and several species of deer in large fenced pens, aviaries and limited cages. The wildlife displayed at the zoo changes as they do rescue and release some of the species.

 

It’s a very nice walk around the zoo, the trail is paved, but uneven. The area is heavily shaded which is very nice in the equatorial sun. Viewing platforms for the major exhibits do get a bit crowded when tour groups go through, but they provide a nice place to just sit and observe the animals if you have the time.

 

Bottom line – the zoo is highly recommended, but not on a Princess tour. Grab a cab at the port. There is a taxi stand at the zoo for the return.

 

From the zoo we went to the Museum. The replica houses of the natives were interesting, but very hot. The Museum itself was pretty much a mess. The power had been shut off – part of a brownout apparently. So you could not even see the exhibits in the darkened hallways. Only the emergency lights were on and those were running out of juice. Even the gift shop was in the dark. All in all, I don’t know enough to recommend the museum or not, but its pretty big and you should expect to spend at least 2-3 hours there. There is a taxi stand as well.

 

Our most fun, honestly, was after the excursion. We rode the shuttle into KK from the pier - $8 AUS each way each person. (We guzzled 6 bottles of water during the zoo and the museum, so no walking in that hot sun!) The shuttle dropped us off in front the major shopping mall. A 7 story monstrosity with shops, restaurants, fast food and our favorite excursion – a grocery store! We shopped for candy, some toiletries (running out of toothpaste and mouthwash) and looked at all the cool stuff. The store was well organized, clean, well signed and had a lot of Japanese products. A real Asian selection of fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses. But no Easter candy sales and very little chocolates and lollypops! A whole aisle of cookies (biscuits) and crackers. Soft drinks of all types of fruits and vegetables. This was really cool.

 

After shopping we found a Thai restaurant in the mall across from the grocery store. OMG it was so good. Simple, cheap, tasty, fresh. Had a noodle dish and a sweet and sour fish and rice dish. Not too spicy, but spicy enough to perk the taste buds. I almost ended up at McDonalds, just to try it out, but common sense prevailed and we just had to try Thai with a Malay influence.

 

Last night we did attend the ‘You Be The Judge’ gameshow. A lot of fun. At this point in time in this cruise, the cruise staff almost knows you by name, and we all know them and their quirks and pet peeves. Its almost like a family get together at these games. It was fun…

 

Lots to do to prepare for Vietnam. Later!

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In Phu My today and Nha Trang tomorrow with all day private tours. Might not get a chance to update in a couple of days. Probably day before Hong Kong. Very busy port schedule the rest of the cruise.

 

Later!

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Really enjoying your cruise :)

 

 

Looking forward to your Vietnam reports

Srpilo

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April 6, 2018 – At Sea to Hong Kong

 

Overcast, warm with just a slight swell this morning. A few bumps in the night. A really good nights sleep with the fan blowing air over us. We should start to cool down in the cabin soon as we head further north.

 

While we have been to Vung Tau before off of Phu My, we had not been to Saigon, so this was our first time. I will not ever drive in Saigon or ride a motorbike or bicycle and may not ever walk across a street there! It is an experience all in itself. But you have to see it once yourself – even if you see nothing else, you must see this city in action.

 

Saigon, Ho Chi Minh, is very hard to describe except as semi-organized chaos. From the traffic to the buildings, to the street wiring, to the motorbikes, to the cars, it’s just overwhelming to the senses. The wiring in the city is such a good analogy – there are rat’s nests of power, telephone and cable on every pole – almost as if someone tried, but failed to sort it out, and just ran another wire rather than untangle the mess. Functionality overlaid on chaos – that’s what I mean by semi-organized chaos! At the basic level, it works.

 

Barbara booked a tour for both ports in Vietnam via My Way Travel. It was great. Our guide, Lou, spoke excellent English, our driver, Duc, drove through stuff that made your hair stand on end. The van was a 12 seat Ford Sporter style for the 6 of us with great A/C. Very comfortable.

 

We did the central square in Saigon, saw the various new and old buildings, stopping at a small market on the way and trying out cured meats, Jade Emperor Pagoda, the Post Office, lunch (Pho) and the Ben Thanh market. By mutual agreement we skipped the war museum to spend more time at the market and start back to the ship earlier. Only in the central square were things less hectic. We actually had a nice stroll up the square looking at various historic buildings. Then we started crossing streets with Lou. Once we even used a blind person’s crossing up the street to stop all the traffic so we could negotiate across with less stress!

 

Ever seen an UBER motorbike? Complete with mounted smartphone? Saigon has them.

 

The architecture ranges from functional but non-descript Soviet style apartments, to restored French colonial, to modern high rise to re-purposed, but neglected, colonial apartment multi-story stores. All in one mile! The people remind me of Singapore. Driven. Always a serious look on their face as they dash about their daily lives. A weekend would have been interesting to see if they transition to a more care free state like Singapore. During lunch, they do seem to let up a bit. The street corner side walk restaurants are filled with people eating lunch, laughing, talking, watching us tourists watching them.

 

Lunch was good and authentic, although I do wish the table was a bit cleaner. The plates of additional herbs of basil, cilantro, bean sprouts and other greens was great. The chili sauces were hot and spicy. I had the beef Pho, Judy had the chicken Pho. The broth was well done. Italians have their red gravy, French have their sauces, but Asian have broth down pat.

 

The market was interesting, but in order to find things of better quality, you really need to spend the time there. Good thing we opted for a longer stay at the market. I was able to find the requisite magnets and tamarind candy, but the hand fans were of poor quality and we skipped those. In the market, the outer ring of stores are the government stores that do not bargain. Inside the market are the vendors that do bargain. But not that much. Some will come down as much as 25%, but their prices are inflated to begin with. And some become pretty irate when you try and lowball them too much. The government stores have a higher quality product, but even there, and with the vendors, you need to check seams of the clothing carefully, and that takes time. (Flaws are everywhere.) Our group stuck to candy, carved figures and fridge magnets. However, given time, and a fitting room, the Vietnamese style dresses are gorgeous. Very colorful.

 

All aboard on the ship was 1730 and we wanted to time it to arrive back by 1600. However, traffic and the possibility of an accident, which happened just a few days before and closed the main highway for hours, made us want to head back earlier before rush hour. So we left Saigon about 1400 and headed back to arrive around 1530. It was a really good day in Saigon.

 

A couple of practical notes. Upon arrival we had to shuttle out to the port gates, but coming back we walked to the ship since there was no shuttle. About 500 yards from the gate to the ship. Some tours will charge to pick up and drop off inside the gates – the government charges them a fee to enter. Some will not enter at all. For mobility challenged, you should get picked up as the ground is uneven for walkers, scooters and wheelchairs. It was hot and in full sun, so sunscreen is an absolute necessity in this port. As is LOTS of water.

 

Nha Trang was a tender port. I missed getting off the ship the last time we were here. This time we were determined to see the town. Nha Trang was a bit less chaos, a bit more organized, but just a bit, a really little bit, especially around lunch time. Same tour company, John was the guide this time, Duc, different guy, was the driver. This van was a 9 seat Ford Sporter van. Lots of room for the 6 of us, great A/C.

 

We did the oceanographic institute, next to the tender dock. It was very crowded, but John took us to the end and we did it backwards and missed the majority of the crowds. The aquarium displays of fish are interesting and varied. None of the huge tanks you would see at the larger aquariums, but still interesting. A large pool held sea turtles. The aquarium is right next to the tender dock and is an easy DIY, but limited.

 

After the aquarium we went to the Long Son Pagoda, home of the giant statue on the hill and the reclining buddha on the way up. As in most Buddhist temples, your knees and shoulders must be covered, your shoes and hat off before you can enter. Gorgeous architecture and statuary. From there its 154 steps to the top of the hill, which can also be reached via taxi, to see the gleaming white Buddha. The statue’s base has reliefs of the monks whom immolated themselves during the protest against the Diem government’s crack down on Buddism during the Vietnam War. The door to the back of the statue is guarded by the evil warrior god, angry face, and the good warrior god, smiling face. The grounds around the statue contain rows and rows of burial shelves for cremated remains. Like wall after wall of post office boxes. Very good views and photographs from the top of the hill.

 

From there we crossed the river to the Cham Towers. One of those very interesting historical mysteries. Lots of interesting stuff here. The Cham Towers are Hindu, built by Indian migrants as they settled the region over 700 years ago. Abandoned or pushed out by the Buddhist expansion, the towers, and the temples, were abandoned and fell into ruin until uncovered by the French in 1938. The design and architecture is fascinating as the towers and temples were built with red brick, placed while wet, but fired in-situ to create an incredibly strong and mortar free set of buildings. Restoration efforts have to resort to fired brick, thin set mortar and steel shims to achieve the same strengths. The temples are clearly Hindu, with Vishnu, Shiva and Elephants in base reliefs. The story of these towers, unfortunately, has been lost to history or destroyed by the successive kings of the area. If the Towers could talk though…

 

Crossing the river on the Xom Bong bridge and viewing the brightly blue colored fishing boats, painted in blue whale ‘blue’ for luck, was interesting. But sadly, the river and beach under the bridges were garbage dumps with all manner of trash covering the white sand and floating in the water. Remnants of Durian fruit were everywhere and the sickly sweet smell of Durian was in the air. Not exactly appetizing or appealing when walking through the fruit vendors under the bridge.

 

We did lunch at a ‘steak house’ – Mama Moo’s. We had Pho, spring rolls, rice and salad. Excellent meal and the place was very clean. Once again the broth in the Pho was great and the plates of herbs to add to the Pho was great. Topped off with a beer! The star though was the spring rolls. Could have eaten a dozen each of those tasty little snacks.

 

We did make it to the Dam market as well. Here there did not appear to be any government stores and the bargaining was heated and intense, as well as high sales pressure, although not pushy like the pressure in the Great Bazaar in Turkey. Bargaining extremes ranged from screaming in frustration to tears. Quite interesting. Once again the fans were very low quality and we passed, but did pick up the required fridge magnet.

 

We went back to the dock to tender back to the ship. Although the line was quite long, it only took about 15 minutes to get on the tender and head to the ship. Once again though, the sun was very hot and sunscreen was an absolute necessity.

 

A whirlwind couple of days in Vietnam. And an absolute bargain in terms of costs. For the 2 of us, both ports, was $70 each. $280 USD total. Half the price of comparable Princess excursions with 1/5 as many people in the group.

 

Now its time to recharge prior to Hong Kong!

 

Later!

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April 6, 2018 – At Sea to Hong Kong

 

. . . Saigon, Ho Chi Minh, is very hard to describe except as semi-organized chaos. From the traffic to the buildings, to the street wiring, to the motorbikes, to the cars, it’s just overwhelming to the senses. The wiring in the city is such a good analogy – there are rat’s nests of power, telephone and cable on every pole – almost as if someone tried, but failed to sort it out, and just ran another wire rather than untangle the mess. Functionality overlaid on chaos – that’s what I mean by semi-organized chaos! At the basic level, it works. . .

 

 

Ever seen an UBER motorbike? Complete with mounted smartphone? Saigon has them.

Very accurate description of Saigon I was there in 2003 and did ride with a local graduate student all over Saigon. After clutching my seat for about 5 minutes I decided to relax and enjoy it. Waved at the little kids. Learned fast that the key to crossing the street is just to step out, do not make eye contact and keep a steady pace no matter what. You will, most likely, survive. A fellow tourer had to take a "honda" (they are all called that) to get across Central Square LOL. Not surprised about Uber "hondas."

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April 08, 2018 – At Sea to Osaka

 

Finally COOLER weather. Stuffy in the cabin (76F), open the door and it drops to a nice 71F. Partly cloudy this morning with a slight chop. Had a missing crewmember last night. Apparently did not show up for work at the appointed time and they couldn’t find them. Had to resort to two all over the ship PA broadcasts by the CAPTAIN to find him or her. They did, thankfully, but I’m sure that person is in big trouble. So last night’s sleep was not the best.

 

However, yesterday in Hong Kong was incredible. While we have been to Hong Kong before, and participated in a Princess Excursion, it was nothing like the personal tour we had yesterday. Annette from our roll call engaged Mandy and Apple from Hong Kong Getaway Private Tours for an 8 hour Food and Cultural Tour. It was incredible. Cheaper than a corresponding Princess Tour and so much more involved. Yes, we did a few things where we saw some Princess tours (Victoria Peak) in line for the Tram, but we bypassed all of that for some far more interesting sights.

 

We met Mandy at the taxi stand just outside the terminal exit. Apple had a similar tour for another group.

 

We started with a taxi ride to the top of Victoria peak, all 5 of us stuffed in a taxi! Negotiating steep hills. It was fun! And only about $120HKD. At the peak we did a hiking trail around the peak for some incredible views of Hong Kong harbor. Great spots for photographs. Back at the peak we were going to take the tram down, but Mandy called an audible and we headed for Bus 15 to take us to Central. Riding on the top of the double decker down those winding roads was pretty intense with a lot more views than from the Tram – which we did the last time in Hong Kong. (We did the bus down the hill, the ferry across the harbor, the metro to Diamond Hill – so a variety of public transportation options are available – and very reasonably priced.) From Central we wandered through the alleys and streets to a market in Wan Chai. A real market for locals with no blue Princess bags in sight!

 

Mangosteen anyone? (The queen of Asian fruit. Durian is the king.) A cross between a pomegranate, an orange and a mango. Indescribable. Snake soup anyone? Tastes like chicken. (Not kidding!) Lots of collagen. BBQ pork with real pork flavor? Not factory farm raised tasteless pork, but BBQ pork that tastes porky! And the Asian BBQ sauce – OMG – so good. How about a fresh out of the oven egg custard pie? All the vendors knew Mandy and unlike Vietnam were more than happy to get their picture taken with their goods. The freshest of fish, out of the tank in onto the ice, lots of pork and chicken, very little beef, black chickens, black pork – the freshest of vegetables and Asian fruits of all kinds. Even Durian!

 

Souvenir vendors, clothing vendors, shoes, dresses, electronics, you name it, it was there in the 4 or 5 square blocks of little tiny shops and booths. So much fun!

 

After all of that walking, it was time for lunch at Crystal Jade. Dim Sum, soup Dim Sum, OMG, this was WOW food. Steamed dumplings with truffle and sea food (First Kiss), Wonton in Chili Vinaigrette (First Kick), Fried Rice with Ham and Chicken, Green Beans with minced pork, sliced beef in spicy soup. The bill? 320HKD or around $40 US for 5 people. Really cheap eats and this was a mid-scale restaurant.

 

From lunch we walked down to the Star Ferry and caught one across to Kowloon. Just a quick 8 minute ride. We got a treat at the Cultural Center with a Dragon Dance parade with a series of period costumed groups representing thousands of years of Chinese dynasties. I did miss the viral shot of the month. Three period costumed ladies taking a selfie with a SmartPhone. Darn.

 

From there we went to fanciest public toilets available in Kowloon, at the Peninsula Hotel. We even got a look at one of their Rolls Royces. And the bathrooms! Very nice and perfectly spotless!

 

From there we caught the metro train red line at Tiam Sha Taul to a green line transfer at Mong Kok (off of one, onto another very quick) and on to Diamond Hill where we entered the Nan Lian Garden. This was arguably the highlight of the trip. This garden, a Chinese style garden, is simply indescribably beautiful, serene, complex, yet calming. A different view, a different sight, a different photo from every angle. The landscaping is incredible with rocks, manicured lawns, shaped trees, petrified trees, waterfalls, pagodas, koi ponds, lotus flowers – just absolutely stunning – and best of all FREE entry. In addition, they had a display of Chinese wooden architecture in one building explaining how the Chinese buildings, including the forbidden palace, stay up with no nails, only mortise and tendon joints. Fascinating.

 

And the garden skyline is framed with the modern buildings of Kowloon around the perimeter. Sights of the old and the new, the hustle and bustle of the modern and the ancient, are highlighted in stunning contrast. Absolutely amazing and a Must Do For Anyone Visiting Hong Kong. Period.

 

After the gardens, our tour came to an end and we had to say goodbye to Mandy. She dropped us off, after a short walk, at the shuttle stop at Diamond Hill where we caught the shuttle back to the ship. Two shuttles ran that day. One to the Heritage Center at the waterfront in Kowloon, the second to Diamond Hill. Quite frankly though, I would recommend a combination of public transport and taxis to the Princess Shuttles. They are very full, infrequent and with long ques. You will spend valuable touring time waiting in line rather than seeing the sights. When a ship is in town, the normal tourist spots, The Peak, Stanley market, Heritage square, fill up quickly with blue Princess bags. However, we ran into no crowds of tourists on the hiking paths around the peak, none in the market and none in the Gardens. Yet these are prime, or at least should be, must sees. Much more so than what we saw on our first Princess tour.

 

So, for those of you going to Hong Kong for the first time. Consider seriously hiring Mandy or Apple for an 8 hour tour. You will get far more bang for your buck than any ship’s tour and you will not regret the personal interaction, stories and histories a local can provide. For those of you that have done Hong Kong before, the combination of public taxi, busses, metro lines and ferries are far more time efficient, and not that expensive, than free shuttles. Our total transport costs for the day were $15US each. Saving $30 per couple, but wasting 2 hours in lines and on ‘free’ shuttles is simply not worth it.

 

I cannot recommend Mandy and Apple enough. The tour was fantastic, personal and informative. The selection of sights just right, the pace about perfect, the food incredible. Want to tour a market like Josh Gates, or Andrew Zimmern, or Tony Bourdain? Taste everything in sight? Watch the vendors smile as you photograph their wares and Mandy translates? Order lunch in Chinese? Go where the locals go to shop? Stay away from the crowded tourist traps and see a part of Hong Kong you will not see from a ship’s tour? This is the one for sure…

 

Now Judy and I have some really aching sore muscles to deal with!

 

Later!

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April 11, 2018 – Osaka

 

Cool, cloudy, rainy type weather for Osaka today. We did have a full day taxi tour of Kyoto planned, but that went out the window yesterday. It appears that while Diamond docks at 0700, so we planned our meet at 0830, but Japanese immigration decided to Murphy us. We now meet at 0935 to begin the immigration process. Now planning a 1000 meet in the terminal. This throws Kyoto out the window for the day. So we have decided to do Nara, Osaka Castle and possibly another temple in the Osaka area.

 

The delay is really throwing off a lot of plans. I can see why. Being familiar with US immigration, I never plan an early departure from a US port that requires immigration inspections, but I am not familiar, nor were most people, about Japanese immigration – but Princess should have warned us that while the docking was at 0700, immigration may take a while – three hours is a big deal! Although I think even they are a bit perturbed since the ship’s tour’s were scheduled to meet much, much earlier, especially the tours to Kyoto.

 

This will also be important for the September Coral cruise (oh Pam!). First port into Japan will require similar inspections which will delay effective arrival time beyond the scheduled docking time.

 

Now I suspect, but am not counting on, the ship’s departure being delayed in order for the later Kyoto tours to get their full time in Kyoto. But no way to confirm that, nor should anyone count on it. Just another advantage ship’s tours have over DIYs.

 

I caught my cruise cold in Vietnam. I do this on every cruise. So we haven’t been doing that much during the sea days. But a couple of things of interest you all might be interested in hearing.

 

First, apparently the Captain caught heat, or a lot of complaints, about his missing crew announcement over the general PA the other night. Oh come on! There is a protocol to follow and the last, desperate, stages of the protocol require general PA announcements in all cabins just in case the crew member is visiting a passenger cabin. (They are allowed to sleep in unoccupied spare passenger cabins.) When a crew member doesn’t show up for shift, can’t be found using the normal means, extraordinary means are required. And in this case it worked. They found the crew member – after the 2nd general broadcast. Now I guarantee you that that crew member is in deep doo-doo, if for nothing else, getting the Captain up early in the morning, not to mention having to make him do broadcasts into passenger cabins at O dark thirty in the morning. BTW no one on the crew is talking about what happened. They are pretty tight lipped about it!

 

So the bottom line is – shut up, quit griping about it, here’s your free muffin from the Horizon Court.

 

Now, my turn to gripe a bit. My normal live froms, including the latest from last October on the Island, usually contain raves about dishes or meals on the ship. You’ve probably noticed not too much, if at all, on this series of cruises. Well, that’s because the food has been pretty blah on this series of cruises. DIY things like salad bars, or scrambled eggs with cheese and salsa or yogurt and granola, or my infamous vanilla sauce over chocolate chip cookies! (Far better than the vanilla sauce over what it was intended for like pudding or over cooked rice or half cooked cobbler.) But quite frankly the food has not been up to par and Judy and I are not that hard to please. Even the pizza, especially the crust, has been pretty bland.

 

So yesterday we went to lunch at the HC, expecting the standard blah, and it was good. Very good actually, both in selections and flavorings. Crispy fish and chips, nice cold potato salad, a very nice pasta salad, tasty BBQ chicken legs, what looked like an entire beef haunch being carved to order. (I ran up to the pizza place to try the pizza as well, and while not as good as some ships in the past, it was far better than it had been.) Last night the sushi rolls in the elite lounge were not fishy smelling, the rice held together well, the shrimp the night before was very nice, freshly thawed without any odor whatsoever. We sat down with Barbara and Peter yesterday to replan our Osaka day and Peter mentioned how fantastic his beef wellington was the night before. Unprompted. So that got me to thinking – always a dangerous event.

 

My conclusion to date – even with this limited data set - we got a new executive chef in Hong Kong. Paulo, whom we’ve sailed with before for 62 days on the Ruby in the Med. IMHO one of the best chefs in the fleet because of his leadership skills. On the Ruby, he and his executive sous would make the rounds of all the kitchens on a continual basis, tasting dishes, examining presentations – but more importantly he and his sous would pitch in and help if a particular kitchen was backed up and needed extra hands. Very personable as well. So I am hoping that the food issues have now been resolved and that cruisers coming on for the Japan season will be getting some good eats.

 

That’s it for the morning.

 

Off to Osaka!

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Thanks for the heads up. First Japanese port on Sept. Coral cruise is Kushiro. No tour planned there. So, whatever happens will happen. So, now you can join my Kyoto Tour since you missed it!

 

Enjoy.........

Pam

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April 12, 2018 – Shimizu

 

Last day, and packing day. We have avoided it for the last two times, but not this one. Tomorrow we disembark and head for Tokyo for a few days before flying home. If yesterday’s introduction to Japan via Osaka was any indication, this is going to be an adventure.

 

Weather is still overcast, cool, not chilly. Rain showers appear to be in the area, but if it doesn’t break we won’t get to see Fuji from the port.

 

Yesterday’s immigration was very confused and confusing. Times for immigration were allocated on a sheet delivered to your stateroom, and Lynn made a plea to stick to your times to avoid congestion. So Barbara and I changed plans to go to Nara instead of Kyoto, leaving an hour and a half later with our taxi guide. When we arrived in the Atrium for coffee we met Bill and Annette, and they had a late time as well, but when pressed, the front desk told them to go out with the first group around 720.

 

I have not found out whether or not they fared any better, but Nara, the Giant Buddha and the deer made us very happy anyway. We used MK taxi and hired a Toyota Alphard and an English speaking guide/driver (Ria) for 8 hours. She was fantastic and the vehicle was incredibly comfortable and spotless. She was unaware of our change of plans. (We wanted to plan to get back to the port with an hour to spare, and leaving 2 hours later pretty much killed any chance to see Kyoto in any reasonable depth.) However, she grew up in Nara and knew the area well. We decided on the Giant Buddha temple and another temple close by, not realizing the deer were there until we actually walked into the area.

 

These are the deer that supposedly bow to you for treats. Well, yes, sort of, but they also bite, butt, kick and shove to get the goodies as well. We were surrounded by several aggressive types more than once and had to learn “NO” in Japanese quite quickly. They can be so delicate as well, and cute, especially the younger ones. Older ones, once they are full of crackers, will lay down and let you get very close for pictures.

 

The temple area was incredible. The ancient architecture, no nails, wooden though it is, has withstood earthquakes that have brought down modern buildings. The statuary of the gate guardians, in Japanese cedar, were fantastic, and of course the giant buddha itself, was awe inspiring. The area was crowded, but respectfully quieter than you would expect. And such a mix of cultures viewing the statues as well.

 

After the giant buddha area, we walked down to another, even older, Buddhist temple and pagoda that were hundreds of years old, yet essentially undamaged in all the earthquakes that have shaken the area over the past several hundred years. The strength, yet flexibility, of old growth dimensional lumber! Only modern engineered lumber could duplicate it today.

 

From Nara we went back to Osaka to visit Osaka castle. Definitely a major tourist trap, but still some very interesting sights to see. For me, the huge stone blocks that make up parts of the walls of the castle were the most fascinating. The largest - 102 tons. The castle area itself, within a double moat system, had several interesting shops and eateries. We had to try the green tea ice cream. In fact, the shop had everything green tea including beer, Kit Kats and other assorted sweets including every variation of green tea itself. Some trees were blossoming and traditionally dressed Japanese were out in force and willing to get their picture taken with us.

 

We did get back to the port around 1730. All aboard was 1830 and only one couple had to be called on the PA system. We did wander around the Tempozan shopping area. It’s a great little shopping mall with a food court that will blow you away. And fast, free wifi. There is a convenience store in the first level with an international ATM that spits out 10,000 YEN notes. No problems with our ATM card. Now we have a backup to 7-Eleven.

 

So some practical observations. Traffic in the port area was pretty congested. Once out into the eastern part of Osaka, traffic was better. Getting back into Osaka and Osaka castle was really painful. Several major intersections do not have turn arrows or lanes – so only a few cars or busses can turn on the yellow light. This really backs up traffic.

 

Traffic in Nara was light. Haven’t talked to anyone that went to Kyoto yet. If you are going to do Osaka proper, use the metro system and public transport. That was the best way to avoid street traffic congestion. Going to Kyoto requires a vehicle, or a series of metro and trains, from Osaka to Kyoto and back, then public transport or Taxi in Kyoto. I have not researched Osaka to Nara on trains, but I’m sure there are some.

 

Based on the time we spent in Nara at one temple, I am not sure we could have done more than one or two places in Kyoto. Dashing through them and taking a few photos, yes, but not taking in the experience and ‘smelling the roses’ as they say. Even the touristy Osaka castle requires at least a few hours. But the deer and the temples in Nara have to be on your must do list at least once. And actually, there are enough temples, and shrines (Shinto), in the area to make it a full day. Plenty of quaint shopping streets, parks, food and Japanese culture everywhere to make Nara a very worthwhile visit.

 

Needless to say, we did not get a chance to see downtown Osaka or experience the nightlife or food. Just not enough time. The Coral, in October, spends a lot more time in port (0700 to 2300) and should require much less immigration time since it would not be the initial Japanese port of entry. A different plan will definitely be required.

 

Well, time to enjoy my last coffee with the girls this morning. They will probably be moved to other areas next cruise. Time to say goodbye to a lot of special people with a lot of hugs and not a few tears. We’ve made some new friends, ate a lot of interesting foods, saw a lot of awesome sights – visited places that we never thought we’d ever see. Halfway around the world. Just sitting back and thinking about it you know – ITS PRETTY FREAKIN AWESOME!

 

Thanks for riding along!

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Thanks again for the live from Diamond, great stuff. Enjoy the rest of your adventures and safe journey home.:cool:

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Thanks so much for bringing us along, I have definitely enjoyed this :D

Have fun in Tokyo and safe travels home.

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@ccrain - thanks for the great post #41. We normally cruise but haven't been to Hong Kong before and Qantas were doing cheaper fares from next week. So we are heading there next week (and a few days in China) for 2 weeks. Even though we'll have plenty of time, you have given some great tips through your post and the Food and Cultural tour is now on our list. I love seeing the usual tourist things but even better is getting in to the local scene as much as we can. Cheers.

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Can't wait to hear what happens in Tokyo! Six of us will begin our journey there and do 12 days to Singapore then jump over to Hong Kong for a few more days. BTW we are traveling 12/3 to 2/26 2018. Thanks for the journey!

 

E

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Enjoyed your posts very much. Sorry to hear the Diamond still has air con issues. We were in a mid aft mini suite a couple of years ago and had similar issues. She's a great ship except for the air con. Princess must be very aware by now.

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