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Seek Timeless Treasures with Bill & Mary Ann - 2019 World Cruise -131 days

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Report # 74   Day at Sea   April 2, 2019   Tuesday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees

 

If ever there was a better time for a few days at sea, this would be it.  Everyone we know was totally exhausted after the activities and heat from the past two days in Mumbai, as well as the groups that went overland to the Taj Mahal.  All of our buddies had great stories to share about their excursions, whether with HAL or independent tours.

 

While we were busy in port the last two days, some measures had been taken to make our next week or more sailing in dangerous waters safer.  On the lower promenade deck four “bubble” mirrors had been installed so oncoming foot traffic could be seen before rounding the corners.  Great idea.  The fire hoses were installed permanently, stretched out, and filled with water.  Yes, this was for the anti-piracy precautions.

 

Last night, we all received a letter from Captain Mercer explaining that we would be in a high risk area of the Indian Ocean.  There has been a decrease of incidents in past years, but it would be inconsiderate not to take precautions.  What we should expect to see were the long range acoustic devices rigged and manned…ready for immediate use.  Extra security guards will be stationed on a 24 hour rotating watch, especially on the lower promenade deck 3.  And the Amsterdam is coordinating with warships in the area assigned to anti-piracy operations.  We are being tracked during our transit, and although we will not see them, warships are not far away.  Works for us.

 

At 10:30am, there was an anti-piracy drill conducted by the crew.  It was not mandatory to take part in the drill, but all were cautioned against watching from the promenade deck.  You better believe us, if there was a real threat of a take-over, we would be the first to follow directions, go inside, and stay in the corridors.  When we first began to take cruises many years ago, we never imagined that incidents like this would ever happen to cruise ships.  Obviously, they have.

 

While we are talking about the outside decks, there was in issue with continuing work ongoing such as painting.  It is not so much the inconvenience and smell (horrible) of the painting, but the closing of the deck and the lounges being folded up all day.  Many times these areas remain unusable with no work happening.  That includes the new lanai rooms with private lounges that cannot be used which makes for some unhappy customers.  There is a group of folks that set up lounges for the entire day…reading and relaxing in the shade and fresh sea air.  When they are denied this, they are upset.  Perhaps they have inside cabins, which many do.  We suspect many “Let Us Know” cards will be turned in to the front desk today.

 

We got our bi-monthly Mariner’s gifts of flowers and a beverage card today.  Every arrangement has been different, but equally beautiful.  The one today came with some peacock feathers….something we have hundreds of at home.

 

As the ship has begun sailing a bit northwest, the temperature has become more tolerable.  It was a nearly perfect day to spend some time sunning at the Seaview Pool.  We calculated that there are only a few more weeks or less left for summer-like weather.  We seldom end a world cruise in very cool weather, so this year will be a first.  Not sure how much we will like that.

 

A very tall fellow with a cigar was sitting at the smoking section near the Seaview Bar.  A new face, we recognized him as Elliot Finkel, one of the most talented pianist entertainers we have ever seen.  Turns out, he is the performer this evening along with the Mainstage Band.  Don’t want to miss this one.

 

All of us were present at dinner tonight, although we did hear some grumblings about dry ginger chicken entrees that were served last night.  Guess we chose a good time to go to the Pinnacle Grill.  One of us ordered the Jack Daniels ribs, and they were great…..seasoned just right and tender as ever.  A Greek salad without feta cheese was also a good choice.  None of the desserts appealed to us, so Slam brought us freshly-baked cookies, an assortment of peanut butter, raisin, and chocolate chip. Yes, we are so spoiled. 

 

The show was wonderful, and Elliot was as good as he ever was.  By the way, the last time he performed on a world cruise, he brought his dad, Fyvish, who also joined him on the stage, singing If I Were A Rich Man (standing ovation too).  Since then, his dad has sadly passed away, but the show goes on. 

 

The ship’s clocks went back one full hour tonight.  Perfect…..

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Report # 75   Day at Sea   April 3, 2019  Wednesday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees     Part #1 Of 1     19  Pictures

 

Our second day sailing across the Arabian Sea was even nicer than yesterday.  Much of the heavy humidity has abated somewhat, and there was a strong breeze blowing across the decks.  If it wasn’t for the toxic smell of the white paint on the promenade deck, our walk would have been perfect.   The guys will be painting the dark blue of the gutter next, so this paint job should last for quite a while we hope.

 

Making the most of our visit to Oman was the subject for EXC guide Ian’s talk this morning.  After he described the history and the layout of this country, he gave a talk all about the city of Muscat, our one and only stop in Oman.  We learned that there has been an impromptu holiday declared for a few days in the country, which means some of the regular sights will either be closed or opened for a short time.  This has happened when we arrived on a Friday, a day of prayer of the Muslim community.  Holidays are much the same, where the best places to see will have a short window to be opened.  The main one people like to see is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.  The other place is the Muttrah Souk, well known for their good deals on silver, perfumes, and all types of souvenirs.  Even if you are not going to buy anything, walking through this maze of seemingly never-ending shops is a learning experience.  If they are only opened until 12pm, we will need to be first off of the ship.

 

The morning speaker, Barry Dreyer, continued to educate us with modern day Oman, while the afternoon lecturer, Vivianne Rowan, dealt with Egyptian treasures.  Sadly, we have not had a stop in Egypt for several years now, since it has become a more dangerous place in the world to visit.  We are so glad we toured the major sights several years ago, or we may have never seen the Pyramids of Giza, or Luxor, not to mention Sharm El Sheik or Alexandria.

 

We had our usual pool day, but there were many more people taking advantage of the nice weather.  Lunch in the Lido was around 3pm, and after some computer work in our room, we headed to have a walk until the sun set at 6pm.  The sunset was actually better than the ones of this last week.  Then we headed for the Ocean Bar to listen to the music of the Ocean Band and the singer, Carrie.

 

The theme for tonight’s gala evening was the White Dinner.  The all-white clothing theme symbolized purity and elegance.  Maybe this theme should have been saved for when we visit Oslo, Norway.  We heard that there was snow there today and the temperatures were in the low 30’s.  What a difference from where we are now.  Anyway, we had company, actually two hosts…..Caspar, the third officer, and Claudia, who is the Microsoft guru in the Digital Workshop.  She is one busy girl with five computer sessions on any given sea day.  It is quite possible that she is the significant other of Caspar, who joined us already in the beginning of this world voyage.  Really nice Dutch fellow who may be captain one day.

 

Barb was a happy camper this evening, since caviar was on the appetizer list.  She had triples.  If that was all she ate for dinner, she would be happy. Caviar was once served at most every formal dinner, but not so much anymore.  As for us, we love the shrimp with the red cocktail sauce.  Entrees included duck a la orange, veal chop (the best), lobster pie, and a beef dish.  There is always a vegetarian plate, which was a ravioli, and a vegan dish with quinoa mixed with veggies.  A dessert we shared was a lemon almost cheesecake with meringue on top.  The conversation flowed nicely with the help of white and red wines, compliments of our hosts.

 

It was time to adjourn, because showtime was about to begin with a duo by the name of Dukebox.  They rocked and rolled with tines from artists like Elvis, the Beatles, Sinatra, and Simon and Garfinkel among others.

 

Tomorrow, we will be in another culture, far different from where we have just been.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Your 2 sea days sounded very nice -- love lectures.

 

I can remember many years ago when we visited Egypt -- guards on our buses.  We were sailing on Cunard back then.  We have pictures hanging in the living room of us riding our camels up to the Pyramids.

 

Hope you don't have the rough seas when you finally get to the North Sea like the Viking Sun had.

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Report #76   Muscat, Oman   April 4, 2019   Thursday   Mostly sunny & 90 degrees     Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures

 

Located on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is the most accessible country,  safer than Yemen, and more traditional than the Gulf Emirates.  With a population of 3.5 million Arabic-speaking people, Oman has a history of Bedouin tradition, extraordinary forts, and the most unique architecture.  In past centuries, the capital of Muscat was a trading post and a military point.  Persians, and the Portuguese invaded the inland tribes until the Al Bu Said took control in the 18th century. 

 

Modern Muscat, with a population of 1.4 million people, has an economy based on petroleum and porting.  The sultan’s son, Qaboos bin Said disposed his father in 1970, sending him into exile to London.  This move brought Oman into the 20th century, and out of the dark ages as far as their citizens were concerned.  The result of the booming tourist trade and the discovery of oil was a success story.  This capital city offers tours of forts, palaces, grand mosques, as well as upscale shopping and luxury hotels and resorts that feature diving, windsailing, and snorkeling.

 

What do they like to eat here?  Their specialty is called “hares” which is steamed wheat, boiled meat, preferably chicken, fish, beef, and mutton.  Even camel meat.  Lime chilies and onions can be served with dried shark.  Their favorite drink is camel’s milk. 

 

Tours here included city excursions, the Hop on Hop off bus ($75), tea at the Bustan Palace Hotel ($140), or out of town tours to see forts and fresh water springs.  These ran from $70 to $200, the most expensive ones included lunch.  They ranged in time from 3 to 8 ½ hours.  They also came with a warning:  modest, loose-fitting clothing, knees, shoulders, and midriffs covered, ladies heads covered in a mosque with shoes off.  Also going into a mosque there shoud be no legs or arms exposed, and men must wear long trousers (no shorts).  One overland left from here which was the Best of Jordan for 7days, 6 nights for $4300 (double) and $5500 (single).  

 

There had been a mixed message regarding the holiday rules here today.  Much of which we were told did not happen.  The grand mosque was opened in the morning, but closed to the public during the prayer time.  The main museum was opened all day, and from what we saw, the Mutrah Souq was still operating after 2pm, although we were advised it would close at noon.  This did cause many folks to amend their plans, when they probably did not have to.  As hard as they try, sometimes they get it wrong.  We do know that all pharmacies were closed, and a few shops in the souq never opened.  Alcohol definitely was not sold anywhere today.

 

We have been here more times than we can count, and of course, have taken about all of the tours.  The Amsterdam arrived to the harbor and was docked by 8am.  We had company…..the MSC Splendida, almost 138,000 gross ton vessel.  This ship was built in France and launched in 2009.  It holds from 3274 to 3900 passengers, who are mostly European. Their currency is the Euro.  It is advertised as a family-friendly ship with tasteful and elegant décor.  Although we are not certain, we were told that all of their announcements are made in several languages.   So there would be a whole lot of tourists in town today.

 

We left the ship around 9:30am, and upon leaving the gangway, we were handed a landing card.  This would need to be turned in when we returned to the ship. Climbing into the small port shuttle, we expected to stop about 100 feet away to go through an xray check in the small terminal.  Since there were already four large buses waiting to send their passengers through the checkpoint, our bus keep going.  We did remember we did the same thing two years ago.  What the point was of a check for some and not for all was a mystery.  As far as security was concerned, they may have well done nothing.

 

The 15 minute ride dropped us off in front of the Mutrah Souq in the center of downtown.  We figured that the majority of the guests on both ships would be on tours, and this was the best time to explore this massive market.  The Mutrah Souq can best be described as a fantasy of an Arabian bazaar come-to-life, glittering with silver, gold, and copper mixed with clouds of incense.  And that is just what we found today….and much, much more.

 

Some of the items sold here are silver jewelry, daggers called khanjars, perfumes, fabrics, camel bone and jeweled boxes, Omani clothing for everyone, and frankincense wine the burners to let it smoke.  Trinkets were sold here by the thousands, as were pashminas and Omani hats for the guys. Every accessory known to man was a bargain here.  And by the way, they readily accepted US dollars.  The rate of .38 Omani rials to $1.00 USD, is not a bargain for us, especially if you are interested in real gold and authentic gemstone jewelry.  The only savior is the fact the vendors will try to make a deal, even though they say their prices are fixed.

 

Visiting the nicest fabric shop in this maze of shops, we bought a 2 meter length of an Italian silk print.  The seamstress among us will be cursing when sewing it, but with the correct needles and thread, it should work.  Then we located the narrow small shop where we bought one of the black shawls with rhinestone designs on it two years ago.  We ended up making a deal with buying two of them, one made with a black lace.  These weigh almost nothing and pack well…no wrinkles.

 

Job complete, we continued going uphill, taking scores of photos, until we reached the far end and the exit to the street.  This is where the locals do business like barber shops, the butchers, and their daily clothing shops.  Kitchen stalls offered a variety of spices from opened gunny sacks.  At this end of the souq, the ladies are dropped off by taxi, then picked up once again to go back home.  It seemed like every short block had a mosque.

 

We back-tracked and elbowed our way back down from the now really crowded souq to the main street where the Mutrah Corniche is located.  It is a waterside promenade around the old part of the city, with the sidewalks covered in tiled designs, and the walls made from granite.  It went on for a few miles.  At the very least, strolling the waterside of the harbor had a breeze which helped to keep us cool…..for a short time. 

 

The tide was up so keeping an eye out for stingrays or sea turtles did not pan out.  But we did see schools of  tropical fish like triggers, damsels, and an assortment of transluscent tiny fish.  Out of the blue, something bigger was out there……it was a 4 to 5 foot shark.  We watched as it came into the shallows, working the pylons along the edge.  Never expected to see that, but the locals have a habit of throwing old bread into the waters here, attracting the smaller fish.  The shark was visible for a couple of seconds, then it disappeared as fast as it had surfaced. 

 

Continuing on our hike, we enjoyed the backdrop of the dramatic jagged mountains that almost hid the historic forts that are scattered throughout this city.  Beyond this desert oasis, is what they call the Empty Quarter, an expanse of desert that includes a major portion of Oman and Saudi Arabia.  Never knew that the average temperatures in that desert can get to 124 degrees F.  Hard to imagine.

 

We always walk the Corniche, this stretch of the seawall, but since it was level and not too hot, we continued until we were way past the big Incense Burner that greets travelers arriving from the sea. Passing by parks with fountains and shade, we ended up at a dead end where a few condos were perched on a small beachfront.  At the very end, a private gated park offered umbrella-shaded picnic tables and green lawns.  Hoping that there was a hotel or shops nearby where we could purchase water or sodas proved fruitless.  It was going to be a long walk back.

 

Good thing there were several spots along the way to get some shade.  The decorative fountains appeared to be on timers, going off on the hour.  At least they give the impression of coolness, an oasis in the desert, so to speak.  The local birds, mostly large crows, seem to know this is the place to get fresh water.  And since it was sort of a holiday, many families were out and about having picnics in the parks.  There is also an amusement park with rides for the kids at this end.  And somewhere in or out of the city, there is a golf course, because we saw a group of folks we know heading off earlier in the day with their golf bags. 

 

We kept an eye out for another sighting of that shark, but it never came back.  Reading the port guide, we read that there is an offshore island called Fahal, two miles of the coast.  It is known as shark island for the residents of its waters.  We wonder if the two fellows snorkeling at those condos knew there was a shark nearby?

 

Arriving back at the Mutrah Souq, we boarded a waiting shuttle for the ride back to the ship.  However, there were still a few seats left, and we were not leaving until they were filled.  No fair, the large buses for the Splendida guests were only half full, and they left.  The good thing was that the driver, who had left the coach, kept the engine running for the air-conditioning. 

 

We were back to the pier by 2:30pm, in time to go to the Lido for lunch.  Bet we consumed a gallon of ice tea there and more sodas and water in our room later.  Seriously, we will never leave home without taking at least two bottles of water.  We had a little time to cool down while downloading photos and catching up on Oman’s facts and history.  Before we knew it, sail away was about to begin.  Once again, the Muscat sail away was held in the Crow’s Nest with drink specials. 

 

Thinking the Seaview Pool would be empty, we were wrong.  By 6pm, the deck filled with passengers who figured out it had gotten much cooler outside, and a wonderful breeze had popped up.  The ropes were dropped, and we were off about 6:22pm, just when the sun was setting behind those jagged peaks.  It was nice watching the city lighting up as we sailed out of the harbor.  By the way, when we came outside, we noticed the MSC ship had already left the port.  Asking our friends, they said it quietly left after 4pm or so.

 

With police-escorted vessels, several local fishermen and a few of the wooden Arabian dhow boats on dinner cruises glided by us.  Taking photos of the path we walked surprised both of us at how far we had actually walked today.  Now our friends that had taken the hop-on hop-off bus (same local price as the HAL tour of $75) said they saw so much, and did not have to walk at all in the heat.  Perhaps they were the smart ones, but they missed the shark.

 

There were only three of us at dinner, and once again, we were stumped for choices to order off of the creative menu.  Sometimes Slam, our waiter, has a hard time describing food items that are foreign to him.  Barb had the fish entrée, sauce on the side, and we had one pasta and one entrée salad.  All was good, and some of the fancy names turned out to be the regular stuff anyway.  Wanting a little something sweet for dessert, Slam brought us a plate full of warm, freshly baked biscotti.  We had asked for two cookies, but he brought a dozen.  It’s really hard to keep the calories low, but have been pretty successful on this cruise. 

 

A few extra notes are worth writing about.  One has to do with anti-piracy prevention.  Starting tonight, all of the drapes in the public rooms and curtains in the cabins have to be drawn and closed.  The center section of lights on the lower promenade deck were turned off, with only the bow and aft sections lit.  Even though there was supposed to be a 24 hour watch on the outside deck, we did not see the guards there at 10pm.  Or maybe we just couldn’t see them.  Sure gives one an uneasy feeling when walking outside.

 

The other message we got dealt with supply loading in Muscat that never happened.  Multiple 40 foot containers with general food and beverage supplies never arrived.  Local supplies were purchased, but not everything was met.  In the next ports in Jordan and Italy, the rest should arrive.  The funniest statement was that we still have enough toilet paper!  Hmm, good to know….

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Interesting walk and seeing the shark.  Hope the person sewing the silk has done it before.  Years ago I worked with a piece of silk fabric -- I think that is what caused by hair to turn grey early.

 

One of the things I liked when we sailed on Cunard, at each hot port, like Egypt, each person was given a liter of water as they left the ship -- no charge.  Oh, those were the days.

 

Glad you have lots of toilet paper.  Hope you get other supplies.

 

I bet those guards were around somewhere on the deck.

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Report # 77   Day at Sea   April 5, 2019   Friday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees

 

We have a few days at sea, five to be exact, as we sail south down the coast of Oman.  We will pass by several countries without stopping on our way to Jordan.  To say it is a most sensitive place in the world is probably putting it lightly.  The security measures taken so far have been sobering, although, this year, we do not have the razor wire installed below the lower promenade deck.  One factor we did not mention is the fact that this ship is capable of maintaining a fast speed.  Currently we are fairly close to the coast of Oman and doing a speed of about 20 knots.  If needed, that can be cranked up to 25 knots according to Captain Mercer.

 

Spending a most relaxing day at the aft pool, we were joined by buddies Leta and Bill.  The temperature was not too high and we had some cloud cover, so they felt it safe to venture outside for a while.  Always concerned about burning, they tend to stay out of the direct sun for a long time.  There has been more than once that both of them got sunburnt while talking to us.  The new lotion we bought in Australia has worked really well for both of us.  We never go out without using it. 

 

Captain Jonathon delivered his PM talk as usual, but he added something that we had forgotten about.  To begin, last night after dinner, we strolled the outside deck in the dark.  But we did notice that looking towards the land side of the ship, there was a glow of lights, much like you would see if we were passing a coastal city.  However, there was no city here.  So what were we seeing?  Turned out it was a phenomenon that occurs in a few places in the world in tropical seas.  It was a glowing illumination coming from the water from a type of plankton, tiny animals and plants floating in the water.  It actually created a glow that mimicked a nearby city on the horizon.  Now we remembered seeing this several years ago and probably in the same area we are now sailing.  Pretty cool experience.

 

We heard from a reliable source that the morning pastries that have traditionally been passed to everyone in the dining room at breakfast has stopped on the Rotterdam. Wonder if this is the same on the other HAL ships?  Now we are curious if the afternoon tea time will continue, as we also were told the participation has been low.  Time will tell on both counts.

 

It took the rest of the afternoon to catch up on Muscat’s reports and photos.  But it is always nice to have the time to do it, now that we have sea days and more time.  Before we knew it, the time for our Tamarind dinner in the Pinnacle Grill had arrived.  This venue has caught on with the restaurant being almost fully booked.  Our appetizers were shrimp tempura, a Thai salad, and hot and crispy spring rolls.  So good.  While we snacked on shrimp crackers with three sauces, our mains were brought.  Both of us ordered the wasabi-crusted filets with asparagus and breaded onion rings.  Cooked perfectly, we added a bowl of Hainan rice and sauteed mushrooms. There was a tad bit of room left for dessert of a bowl of fresh berries, and one chocolate-dipped fortune cookie.

 

Speaking of dessert reminds us of a very funny mistake printed in the daily newsletter today.  Here is the message:  Dessert sand fine and soft as silk will be blowing on board regularly until we have gone through the Suez Canal.  We will best attempt to wash this off the ship regularly, but please know that it blows on board incessantly and continuously.  Now can you spot the misspelled word???

 

A vivacious singer, Helen Wilding, was the entertainer this evening.  She is credited with a career spanning 20 years which included theater, opera, film and TV.

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

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It should be "desert" sand -- don;t want to eat dessert sand.

 

Interesting about the plankton and looking like a city of lights out on the water.

 

I burn very easily as well and have to watch how long I am out in the sun.

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I understand it to be very low calorie but very expensive for dental care if you chew the sand.

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Report # 78   Day at Sea   April 6, 2019   Saturday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees    Part #1 Of 1

 

The calm seas and the pleasant weather has remained with us as we sail in a southwesterly direction down the coast of Yemen.  Even though we will not be making any stops along the way to Jordan, we feel it appropriate to include some info with the countries that are in this area.  Perhaps most everyone will recognize the names of these Middle Eastern countries, since they have been in the news for many years as most dangerous.  And that is putting it lightly.

 

The country we are passing by now is Yemen with a population of over 24 million people.  Their capital, San’a, is 2500 years old and happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Yemen has been dubbed the Arabian Peninsula’s poor cousin since it has none of the  oil wealth of its nearest neighbors.  Unless something has changed since 2012, their most precious commodity was frankincense.  The history here is biblical because Noah reportedly launched his ark from here, and the Queen of Sheba once ruled the land. Today, you can find fortified villages made with stone walls or mud villages.  Or visit Aden, Yemen’s most modern city with some of the finest beach resorts. 

 

Their favorite food is a meat stew with lentils, beans, and coriander. Tea scented with cardamom or coffee with ginger are their traditional beverages. 

 

In recent years, modern Yemen has had much internal conflict when the country was divided into two countries – South and North Yemen until 1990. Conflicts continue, even when we passed this area a few years ago.  For safety reasons, we have stayed clear of these shores.

 

During our morning walk, we did see some tiny flying fish. Sightings of these little creatures have been few and far between this trip.  Although, like we always say, if you don’t stop long enough and watch, you can miss a lot of things.  This is always the best excuse one of us uses to stop at the railing and take a break while on the lower promenade deck. Maybe we will see more later in the day.  Yesterday, there were several boobys flying alongside the ship, even right at the Seaview pool railings.  They stayed all day, then were gone by the morning.

 

Around 2pm, Barb paid us a visit at the aft pool, and she brought some good luck with her.  While we were chatting, a school of fish began jumping in the wake several yards behind us.  They were not quite big enough to be dolphins, but could have been tuna.  Once again, we have seen few sightings of these performers on this cruise as well.  Barb needs to visit more often since she brings the luck with her.

 

We had a note on our mail slot with the announcement of a special event for the Grand Voyage Mariners (everyone onboard) for an evening at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Holland on April 26th.  It will be an opportunity for a private tour of the highlights in the museum which will include all of the works of Rembrandt.  We will see as many as 22 paintings, 60 drawings, and 300 engravings, as well as his most celebrated masterpiece – the Night Watch. 

 

As President’s Club members, we will be transferred ahead of the crowd at 6:30pm, with exclusive early access in the Gallery of Honour.  The main event will be from 7 to 10pm with complimentary drinks and dessert.  Of course, shuttles will be provided for all.  And we suppose dinner for the late seating guests will have to be much earlier than 6:30pm that night.  No RSVP needed unless we decline.  If this affair is anything like the cistern gathering in Istanbul in 2008, or the Ephesus party in Turkey in 2015, we think, it should really be special.

 

Lunch in the Lido found a change, and a good one we hope will continue.  Instead of the “noisy” side of the Lido being opened for sandwiches and salads, the opposite side (starboard), was opened instead.  This way, we avoided the increasingly noisy Arts and Crafts class in progress.  The loud speakers and the “artists” in there have been so loud that the servers cannot even hear the orders for sandwiches or salads.  On the opposite side, we cannot hear any of the class instructions or the chatter of 100 or more people who participate.  Much better.

 

Tonight’s theme for the evening was Speakeasy in both the dining room and the Crow’s Nest later.  All would be invited to let the good times roll from the depths of the Prohibition Era.  Not that we remember these times in America’s history, but we sure recall the clothing of that time.  So we went to the Ocean Bar around 6pm just to see how the folks were dressed.  A few of the ladies wore flapper-type dresses and feathers in their hair, while the fellows wore what they always do.  The staff were the ones that dressed for the occasion.  When we began to see some of the early diners coming to the show lounge, we did notice that some of the ladies were wearing black felt hats with a felt flower, and the men wore a typical black-striped hat from that era.  Also, the women had strings of pearls around their necks and white long gloves.  Obviously, these had been handed out during the dinner service.

 

Although this was not a gala evening, the waiters were dressed nicely with dark gray vests and white top hats at dinner in the dining room.  They seem to like the changes of the outfits, except for the hats, which tend to be quite warm.  The menu was not too exciting, but the spring rolls were very good.  One of us pre-ordered the room service chicken “noodle” soup except without the spaghetti in it.  Recently, we found out that all of the pasta is made onsite with a real pasta-making machine.  So all it took was asking Slam if the chef can substitute linguine, and the answer was a definite yes.  And it was so good.  Both of us had turkey salads with a tasting of the Korean kalbi ribs.  Barb had the fish entrée, but also tried the ribs and liked them much better.  A small dessert of one scoop of rocky road ice cream with a small plate of cookies finished our meal. 

 

The Crow’s Nest Speakeasy Soiree Party had begun at 8:45pm, not convenient to our late seating time of 8pm.  Guess the majority rules when it comes to these evening events.  The roaring 20’s music would go on for quite a while, but the $2 drinks would cease by 9:45pm. 

 

Taking a walk outside was once again eerie, as it was dark with all of the curtains drawn tight in the cabins.  But that gave us an opportunity to gaze at the bright stars in the night sky….a real treat indeed.  Barb mentioned that her group went to the Seaview Pool late last night, and sat talking back there also taking in the star show.

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

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Report #79   Day at Sea   April 7, 2019   Sunday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees      Part #1 Of 1     75  Pictures

 

Today we would be leaving the Arabian Sea, and venturing into the Gulf of Aden…. making an entrance into a very sensitive part of the world….namely sailing around the tip of Yemen on the starboard and part of the coast of Djibouti on the port.  There is a narrow sea passage where both countries come very close.  It is named Bah el Mandeb, or Gate of Tears for the tragic history here.  And it happens to be a place where ships can be in trouble in relation to pirate activity, for instance.  Although we have not heard of any recent take-overs, it does not mean these things are still not happening.  For that reason, the Captain kept the speed of the ship at the max of 24 knots, we suspect. 

 

The timing on this passage was originally happening around 11:30am, but Captain Mercer seems to get a jump on the distance if he can, then slow it up.  So by 10am, we went up to deck nine and began snapping photos of the islands we were approaching on both sides of the ship.  Yesterday, we described Yemen, so today we can give some info on Djibouti, the country on our port side.  With a population of 516,000, Djibouti is located at a point of three diverging tectonic plates.  They have fumaroles that spew steam from the center of the earth.  The lava flows resemble a lunar scene in the desert.  It is a place to see whale sharks and manta rays.  The local tribesmen and nomads eat roasted goat and fish suppers.  It is served in newspaper. Djibouti has salt lakes, $5.00 cucumbers, as well as French and American military presence.

 

Here is an unusual fact:  There is a national obsession with a substance called “qat”, a mild narcotic herb, where up to 40% of a family’s income is spent.  It’s estimated that two months of productivity is lost yearly due to the side effects. 

 

The only one we know on this ship that has actually stopped in the capital of Djibouti City is our former host, Tom.  He said many years ago, a ship called on this port and there was one paid tour to a modern shopping mall.  Then we were tablemates with the minister and his wife on a cruise 20 years ago.  They also went to the capital city, and wished they had not at the time.  Lots of poverty.  These days we have not seen this country on the safe travel list, at least not from a cruise ship.

 

Many ships either passed us going the opposite way or we passed them doing 25 knots.  Of course, they are probably on their way to and from the Suez Canal or Jordan, where we are headed.  We spent much of the morning and early afternoon taking photos as we entered the Red Sea.  We sure do not remember the weather being as hot and even humid as it was today.  But then, we have to remind ourselves that we are three weeks later than usual.

 

While we were occupied outside, Ian, the port lecturer, had a fun time with travel trivia.  He put on a slide show of places he has been, and turned it into a guessing game….like where in the world is Ian now?  Great idea.

 

Today was Sunday, and the brunch sampler day in the dining room at 11am.  Advertised as all your grand favorites served as a 3-course set menu, sampler-style, and sparkling wine specials until 1pm.  It has been such a hit, that the dining room was full to capacity, we were told.

 

As far as the jewelry sales go, we were invited to a private showing of the newest collection in one of the suites on deck seven with sparkling wine as an enticement.  They must have invited a select group, since the suites are not that large.  However, this type of event was not up our alley, so we declined.

 

Lunch service in the Lido was back on the noisy side, darn.  But we switched to the opposite side to eat.  Much quieter and cooler.  On the port side of the Lido, where the doors go out to the Seaview Pool, we have noticed that one of the glass doors has been removed.  That leaves the hot air to enter from the outside.  The only reason we see for this has to be for the walker and wheelchair access to the back deck.  That is one thing these older ships do not have is easy wheelchair access to the lower promenade deck and the aft pool.  Newer vessels have automatic doors, making access much easier.

 

The live entertainment with the bands and the lounges take turns with a day off each week.  So tonight, the Ocean Quartet was taking their break.  We took our seats there anyway, enjoying the silence for a change.  Our form of entertainment is working the daily crossword puzzle, but verbally.  Before we knew it, the time for dinner had arrived.

 

All five of us were present, and we were happy with our meal choices of potstickers, sweet and sour shrimp, and a shredded beef salad, most likely prime rib.  Profiteroles, all two of them, were shared by us, while everyone but Barb (she never eats dessert) was happy with plates of fresh fruit, and one small slice of Dutch apple pie. 

 

There was a curious note left with our nightly turn-down mail.  It was regarding the new internet system on the ship, which apparently has caused some grumblings among the guests.  Depending on the type of plan purchased, you are allowed a specific amount of megabytes.  And since there is no way to track the usage on our end, people have been exceeding their time.  The best suggestion that was advised was to log off, and don’t keep the wifi on.  Our experience has shown that when the time reaches the limit for your plan, it cranks down to extremely slow, and ceases to send or receive anything.  And perhaps the guests have been debited for overtime, but we are not sure of this.  Since these plans are pricey, no one wants to have added charges to their shipboard accounts.

 

There was a duel variety show in the Mainstage….Elliot Finkel and Helen Wilding…piano playing and singing.  Both did it quite well.  By the way, now that we are in safer waters, the outside lighting on deck three has been turned back on.  The 24 round the clock security guards were not present on the promenade deck this evening also.

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

 

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Just got caught up with the latest 2 reports.

 

They are wonderful and informative.  Smart that the captain is keeping a good speed to get the ship safely through the troubled waters.

 

You have a lot to look forward to.

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Report # 80   Day at Sea   April 8, 2019   Monday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees

 

The days seem to be racing by as we continue our voyage towards Jordan.  So far, the weather has remained quite nice, even still warm and humid.  Knowing these balmy days and evenings are numbered, many more folks are coming out of the overly air-conditioned ship to relax on the outside decks, and take advantage of the swimming pools and spas. 

 

Here are a few more countries that we are passing along the route.  One that we got close to, but stayed well clear of, was the north coast of Somalia.  Perched on the tip of the Horn of Africa, Somalia is an unstable war-torn country with the capital of Mogadishu and a population of 10 million.  Seriously, it is a no-go area despite the fact that there are huge archaeological treasures and world class beaches here.  First thing that comes to mind is the incident of October 1993 and the Black Hawk Down disastrous combat mission.  And more recently, pirate attacks that occurred with the Maersk Alabama and Captain Philips in 2009.  So if you travel here, according to some sources, you may be the only tourist in the entire country.

 

Eritrea is another country we are passing on the port side.  With the capital at Asmara and a population of 5,600,000, it is a country like no other.  It has a wealth of culture and history with beautiful volcanic deserts and coral reefs of the Red Sea.  Their fight for sovereignty and clashes with Ethiopia have brought on hard times.  But it still remains a diver’s paradise, as well as a place of monasteries, mosques, and temples.  Best known for macchiato and a snack of deep-fried dough balls sold in newspaper cones.  And another country we have never visited.

 

Sudan is also on our port side as we head north in the Red Sea.  Khartoum is their capital and the population is around 45 million.  This country stretches over part of the Sahara Desert to the shores of the Red Sea.  Again, there are relics of ancient civilizations from pre-Pharaohic Egypt.  It is also torn from civil war, now divided by the north and south.  They are known for the hammerhead sharks in the Red Sea reefs, and the confluence of the two Nile Rivers – the Blue and the White where they meet in the capital.  It is a place of pyramids more numerous and older than Egypt’s.  The locals eat “fuul”, a stewed brown bean dish eaten with flatbread, eggs and cheese.  The favorite drink is sweet tea or coffee with cardamom and cinnamon.  And again, a place we will not stop.

 

Happenings of the day included three lectures.  What to see and do in Italy, Spain, and Portugal was discussed by Ian, and Barry Dreyer deal, an appropriate subject dealing with the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia, perfect for our upcoming visit to Jordan.  But of course, you would have to visit Petra and Wadi Rum to see the setting for this true saga.  Then Miss Rowan spoke about the pyramids and how they were built.  Too bad we will not have the opportunity to see them on this trip. 

 

The HAL Chorale group has been meeting on some sea days since the onset of this cruise.  One of our friends sure enjoys this easy group activity and we look forward to hearing their performance later in the voyage. 

 

For a change, there was a gala night port wine tasting held in the Crystal Terrace at 7:30pm.  However, instead of the usual $5 wine charge, it was $14.95.  We had been relaxing in our chairs close by, but we left shortly before it commenced. 

 

As we indicated, this was another “dress up” gala night with the theme of 1001 Arabian Nights Dinner.  The majority of guests dressed much the same as any other formal evening, but some did dress the part of exotic Arabia.  But none could match the exotic headdress of our tablemate, Greg, who came to the table with a royal blue and gold lame Tutankamun hat.  He even added a very bushy black mustache over his real one. Good thing our host for the evening happened to be the hotel director, Henk, who knows all of us very well. Good thing. When our laughter died down, we got through the evening just fine.  Greg did catch the attention of Philip, who is the head of all culinary operations now. He insisted on taking a cell phone photo, as did another buddy Jane, who ventured down to take a tablet photo to capture the moment.  All in good fun.

 

And to answer a recent question regarding theme nights, we did receive a Know Before You Go booklet well before the cruise began.  Every special event and theme dinner was included in the list, as well as the specialty wine pairing, Tamarind, and Sel de Mer evenings in the Pinnacle Grill.  That way, we can come prepared with the assorted costumes.  Or these items can be purchased along the way, which many guests do.

 

The entire lower level of the dining room emptied out, leaving us the last to leave.  But that is normal.  We all like it when it gets quiet.  It did give us the opportunity to go directly to the show, which was a dance and song performance by the singers and dancers of the Amsterdam.  For a change, they played the music we like….country western, folk, and country rock.  This group has got the moves and the voices to go with them. 

 

And once again, the clocks went back one hour, which was fine for all.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

PS   Love the comments about the “dessert” sands, as we still chuckle about that.  And yes, there are no calories in those desserts.

 

 

Report # 80   Day at Sea   April 8, 2019   Monday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees

 

The days seem to be racing by as we continue our voyage towards Jordan.  So far, the weather has remained quite nice, even still warm and humid.  Knowing these balmy days and evenings are numbered, many more folks are coming out of the overly air-conditioned ship to relax on the outside decks, and take advantage of the swimming pools and spas. 

 

Here are a few more countries that we are passing along the route.  One that we got close to, but stayed well clear of, was the north coast of Somalia.  Perched on the tip of the Horn of Africa, Somalia is an unstable war-torn country with the capital of Mogadishu and a population of 10 million.  Seriously, it is a no-go area despite the fact that there are huge archaeological treasures and world class beaches here.  First thing that comes to mind is the incident of October 1993 and the Black Hawk Down disastrous combat mission.  And more recently, pirate attacks that occurred with the Maersk Alabama and Captain Philips in 2009.  So if you travel here, according to some sources, you may be the only tourist in the entire country.

 

Eritrea is another country we are passing on the port side.  With the capital at Asmara and a population of 5,600,000, it is a country like no other.  It has a wealth of culture and history with beautiful volcanic deserts and coral reefs of the Red Sea.  Their fight for sovereignty and clashes with Ethiopia have brought on hard times.  But it still remains a diver’s paradise, as well as a place of monasteries, mosques, and temples.  Best known for macchiato and a snack of deep-fried dough balls sold in newspaper cones.  And another country we have never visited.

 

Sudan is also on our port side as we head north in the Red Sea.  Khartoum is their capital and the population is around 45 million.  This country stretches over part of the Sahara Desert to the shores of the Red Sea.  Again, there are relics of ancient civilizations from pre-Pharaohic Egypt.  It is also torn from civil war, now divided by the north and south.  They are known for the hammerhead sharks in the Red Sea reefs, and the confluence of the two Nile Rivers – the Blue and the White where they meet in the capital.  It is a place of pyramids more numerous and older than Egypt’s.  The locals eat “fuul”, a stewed brown bean dish eaten with flatbread, eggs and cheese.  The favorite drink is sweet tea or coffee with cardamom and cinnamon.  And again, a place we will not stop.

 

Happenings of the day included three lectures.  What to see and do in Italy, Spain, and Portugal was discussed by Ian, and Barry Dreyer deal, an appropriate subject dealing with the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia, perfect for our upcoming visit to Jordan.  But of course, you would have to visit Petra and Wadi Rum to see the setting for this true saga.  Then Miss Rowan spoke about the pyramids and how they were built.  Too bad we will not have the opportunity to see them on this trip. 

 

The HAL Chorale group has been meeting on some sea days since the onset of this cruise.  One of our friends sure enjoys this easy group activity and we look forward to hearing their performance later in the voyage. 

 

For a change, there was a gala night port wine tasting held in the Crystal Terrace at 7:30pm.  However, instead of the usual $5 wine charge, it was $14.95.  We had been relaxing in our chairs close by, but we left shortly before it commenced. 

 

As we indicated, this was another “dress up” gala night with the theme of 1001 Arabian Nights Dinner.  The majority of guests dressed much the same as any other formal evening, but some did dress the part of exotic Arabia.  But none could match the exotic headdress of our tablemate, Greg, who came to the table with a royal blue and gold lame Tutankamun hat.  He even added a very bushy black mustache over his real one. Good thing our host for the evening happened to be the hotel director, Henk, who knows all of us very well. Good thing. When our laughter died down, we got through the evening just fine.  Greg did catch the attention of Philip, who is the head of all culinary operations now. He insisted on taking a cell phone photo, as did another buddy Jane, who ventured down to take a tablet photo to capture the moment.  All in good fun.

 

And to answer a recent question regarding theme nights, we did receive a Know Before You Go booklet well before the cruise began.  Every special event and theme dinner was included in the list, as well as the specialty wine pairing, Tamarind, and Sel de Mer evenings in the Pinnacle Grill.  That way, we can come prepared with the assorted costumes.  Or these items can be purchased along the way, which many guests do.

 

The entire lower level of the dining room emptied out, leaving us the last to leave.  But that is normal.  We all like it when it gets quiet.  It did give us the opportunity to go directly to the show, which was a dance and song performance by the singers and dancers of the Amsterdam.  For a change, they played the music we like….country western, folk, and country rock.  This group has got the moves and the voices to go with them. 

 

And once again, the clocks went back one hour, which was fine for all.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

PS   Love the comments about the “dessert” sands, as we still chuckle about that.  And yes, there are no calories in those desserts.

 

 

 

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The countries that you talked about are definitely ones we would never want to visit.  Too dangerous.

 

Glad that they do send you the booklet so that you can make plans before you get on the ship.

 

Great report.

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Love the pictures.

 

Not certain if I would want to pass so close to the islands and all those freighters in that dangerous part of the world.

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Report # 81   Day at Sea   April 9, 2019   Tuesday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees     Part #1 Of 1    18  Pictures

 

Today at sea was not the typical one….not by a long shot.  Beginning with a very light breakfast in the dining room, we took a short walk outside to discover that it was a bit cooler than yesterday.  And some of that sticky humidity was gone.  We do expect a sunny, warm day two days in Aqaba, but after we leave and transit the Suez Canal, it will change even more.

 

Our breakfast was light, because we had been invited to a Cabaret Brunch on the upper level of the dining room at 10:30am.  It was a mixed affair with the Pinnacle and Neptune suite guests and the President’s Club members.  We guess there were around 114 people present.  The printed title of this brunch was “Carried Away”, which made no sense.  Barb thought our food would be carried away in a bag….like fast food.  Then it dawned on us when we read closer that the music of this cabaret was featuring “Carrie” & the Ocean Band, along with the duo of Adagio.

 

Not wanting to chance sitting with total strangers, the two of us with Barb and Don included two more friends and asked for a table for six.  No problem, we would be escorted by the dining room manager to our (silently) reserved table. However, just yesterday two very good buddies Mike and Pauline, new to the President’s Club, had asked if we had room for them.  Had we known sooner, we would have saved two seats for them. As it turned out, the two ladies that were to be seated with us were whisked away to a different table, and Barb hunted down our buddies, and brought them over.  It worked out well anyway. 

 

Several tables had been removed in the center, and two platforms were set up for both bands.  The program included twelve pieces of music, mixing familiar songs with classical.  It was a real cabaret show, not backround music.  Conversation among the guests was impossible due to the higher level of the music.  While we listened, we were served a glass of champagne, a little jug of orange juice, and eventually, a glass of rose wine.  Appetizers were a choice of a fruit plate, parfaits, pancakes, and a cheese/meat plate.  Mains were lobster benedict, croissant with foie gras, steak and eggs, and a vegetarian tart.  Desserts were apple crisp, oreo cheesecake, or a fruit sundae.  The pancake appetizer was really enough for a full meal, and the steak and eggs were delicious.  Apple crisps were our desserts.  All in all, it was a really nice event appreciated by all.  It was a wrap by 12pm, just in time for the lunch service down on deck four.

 

The best thing to do after such a meal, was go to the pool and relax for a while.  Like we said, it was still warm, but when we exited the door to the Seaview Pool, it was the first time we were not hit with that oppressive heat.  By the time we set up our lounges, it actually began to drizzle rain.  It had to be isolated clouds passing over, because it never amounted to anything. 

 

Before 4pm, we shared a small salad and a sandwich in the Lido, then found our seats later in the atrium across from the Ocean Bar to listen to the band.  It’s also a good spot to visit with passing friends. Those that know us well know where to find us this time of day. 

 

Dinner for us tonight was with friends Leta and Bill at their table for four.  Barb had been invited to a birthday party dinner, so the fellows went upstairs to dine with more friends.  That gave our waiters a night off, since most of their tables would be empty by 9pm at the latest.  As always, we enjoyed some quality time visiting with them.  It had been a long day, so we missed the show of Celli, two of Europe’s leading cellists.

 

So, there is one more country to address before we arrive to Jordan.  We have been passing close to Saudi Arabia, with a population of over 28 million people.  It’s capital is Riyadh, with Mecca and Medina being among Islam’s holiest cities.  Saudi Arabia is a reclusive country, the birthplace of Islam, and one that is pulled in two directions at once…..into the future and into the past.  Tourist visas are almost impossible to get, even though millions of Muslims take a pilgrimage into the country from all corners of the earth.  They have Nabataean cities that rival Petra in Jordan, ancient fortresses, as well as modern architecture in the capital. You can dive and snorkel the Red Sea, see the world’s most famous deserts, the Rub al-Khalil and the Empty Quarter.

 

They eat a dish called khouzi or lamb stuffed with a chicken that is stuffed with rice, nuts, and sultanas.  They love to drink cardamom-flavored coffee.  Trademarks are oil-rich sheikhs, Bedouin nomads, and vast shopping centers.

 

Random fact is during the Bedouin feasts, excessive conversations among the usually boisterous Bedouin is considered a sign of bad manners.

And once again, this is a country we will probably never visit.

 

No doubt about it, the guests and crew members that are going to see Petra the next couple of days are so excited, you can feel the anticipation on the entire ship.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Great idea to remove a few tables for the bands.

 

Well I goofed -- looked at all that delicious food before having breakfast.  

 

Cute -- first sunflower has bloomed.

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Report #82   Aqaba, Jordan   April 10, 2019   Wednesday   Sunny & 83 degrees    Part #1 Of 3    80  Pictures

 

After five days at sea, it sure was nice to see land in sight early this morning as the Amsterdam docked in Aqaba, Jordan.  With a population 0f 6,400,000 people, Jordan has the reputation of being a country of remarkable stability in the toughest of neighborhoods. It borders Iraq, Israel, and Palestinian Territories.  The capital is Amman, a very hip and sophisticated city, it is written.

 

It is best known for Petra, crusader castles, Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum, and diving or snorkeling in the Red Sea.  Or if floating on the incredibly salty waters is for you, a visit to the Dead Sea will work. 

 

Their favorite food is mensaf, a Bedouin specialty of spit-roasted lamb basted with spices and served with rice and pine nuts.  Their everyday drink is tea, their symbol for Jordanian hospitality.

 

Aqaba, where we are docked today, is the country’s only seaport, a beachside oasis and a place for vacationing Jordanians to get away from the bustling city of Amman.  It is also the gateway to a number of important sites.  There was a warning that we saw repeated in many places….women need to dress modestly.  Especially if they want to see the mosques.  Heads, shoulders, arms, and legs must be covered.  And swimwear is only appropriate on the beach, unless you are a local, then it is not allowed at all.

 

The tours offered today were many.  Some were local with Aqaba highlights, or a resort stay, and even a sunset cruise, since we are over-nighting here.  But the biggest most visited area had to be the rose red city of Petra, the ancient Nabataean city of red rock temples and tombs - a 3rd century BC trading route of 400 square miles.  It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.  Equally of importance is Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon, a desert landscape with fresh water springs surrounded by 1000 foot mountain ridges.  The stunning backdrop of this desert was the scenery in the epic 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia.  TE Lawrence participated in the Battle of Aqaba in the Great Arab Revolt of 1916. Under the leadership of the Hejaz Kingdom, British and French forces fought the Ottomans.

 

Anyway, the tour to see Petra was 9 hours for $300, or a combo Petra/Wadi Rum was 13 hours for $310.  Most folks opted for the long one.  For the first time that we can remember, there was a very long warning in the tour book describing conditions and reasons NOT to go.  Slippery unpaved paths with a 5 to 6 mile walk each way could be expected in possible temperatures of 105 degrees.  And there is limited shade….that much is true.  They advised that the horse-drawn carriage rides, the donkeys, camels, or horse rides can be done at your own risk.  Nothing is insured.  We heard that the round trip carriage ride to and from the Treasury could be as high as $150.  Will definitely follow up on that rumor.

 

In addition to this, there were four different overnight tours added.  They ranged from $600 to $700.  And finally, there was always the local hop-on, hop-off bus for the sum of 20 dinar or $30 USD.  We need to add some info on passports and visas.  Many of the guests going over night or traveling independently out of Jordan, were concerned about having their passports with them.  They made it clear that an overnight stay would not require passports shown at the hotels.  Only a copy of the passport was needed.  However, if you were going to Israel, for instance, you would need to obtain a passport stamp from Jordanian Immigrations for about $100 USD. Always good to check this out well ahead of time to avoid complications.

 

Another cruise ship was in port when we arrived……the Mein Schiff 4, we assume the newest of the Tui line.  If this is a sister ship to the Mein Schiff 3, then it is 99,300 gross tons with a capacity of 2500 to 2790 passengers.  It appeals to the younger German-speaking families who are looking for a casual setting.  They ended up leaving their berth around 7pm tonight.  And while we were gone this morning, another ship docked behind us….an Aida vessel, but we could not see the name on her.

 

Since we have seen the marvels of both Petra and Wadi Rum many  times, we decided to stick close to Aqaba.  With the amount of buses on the pier, we figured a lot of folks were going on tours today.  Some of these same excursions will also be available tomorrow as well.  There were shuttle buses that took the passengers to the center of town, mostly due to the fact that no guests are allowed to walk in the port area.  The service began at 8am and would end at 9pm.  Even though it said the ride was 25 minutes each way, it was half that time.

 

At the bus stop, there was a trailer with the best info that could be provided of Aqaba and the outlying areas.  Better maps and detailed info is always appreciated.  From here, we navigated or way through town to see the shops and restaurants in town.  We did locate the big souk up high on the hillside by climbing a series of stairs up to a park.  At the souk, there was a combination of Arabic clothing, as well as western-style jeans and t-shirts for the locals.  It definitely is not set up for tourists, but for vacationing Jordanians with families.  Much of the merchandise was for kids.

 

With the help of the local map, we located the central vegetable and meat market that snakes its way through a few city alleyways.  It is here that we could see the outdoor tables of fresh veggies, like gigantic radishes, cilantro, and herbs.  Following the aroma, small shops displayed their fish selections, while further up the road, freshly-butchered goats hung in the windows.  The heads were still attached, so you know what you are buying.  They were the Nubian type of goat, which out our way in California, these are raised for milking as well as the meat.  As we passed by the produce sections, we spotted discarded boxes showing that the bananas came from Ecuador, and the table grapes were imported from Afghanistan.  

 

Next we made our way downhill, past the gold souk streets, to the seaside and the Great Arab Revolt Plaza.  We had noticed that the 449 foot flagpole was missing the 65.6 foot by 131.2 foot flag was not flying today.  Once we made our way between the ruins of the Aqaba Castle, museum, and the home of Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, the great-great grandfather of the current ruler, King Abdullah II. That’s when we found the reason why the flag was not present.   This entire area was under construction and the plaza was totally dug up and fenced.  The next time we visit here, we expect to find the area re-modeled and tourist-friendly.

 

A long stretch of Aqaba’s sandy beach begins here.  Many local families were enjoying the banana boat and tube rides, although it was still early for the jet skis, canoe rides, a submarine ride, and water skiing.  There were several wooden glass-bottom boats to see the coral reefs full of tropical fish.  We must have been asked one dozen times to take a harbor ride from the vendors.  But the most interesting sight were the local ladies, dressed in the black chiffon robes and headdresses floating in the rubber tubes in the surf.  Yes, completely dressed – perhaps not wearing shoes.  We can say from previous visits, that some of the younger Muslim ladies, accompanied by the husbands, will wear swimwear, but only at the private resort hotels.  

 

It was getting close to lunchtime, and we headed towards the Royal Yacht Club, which was a short walk from here.  This marina area is most civilized and upscale.  It came as a surprise to see a row of newly-built small restaurants and shops on the marina grounds.  There were a few customers, but for the most part, we think people dine later here, and much more on weekends.  We went to the Romano Restaurant located at the hotel across from the marina.  Although they did not open until 12:30pm, we relaxed for 10 minutes on their outside patio.  The owner said that a sand storm had hit the area, and they were still trying to clean the sand out of the property.  Guess we are lucky that the winds are not that strong today.

 

The food and drinks in Aqaba are not cheap, mostly because the dollar is only worth 70 cents here.  And anything alcoholic, is taxed even higher.  The beer we ordered was Amstel draft, and ran about $10 USD each for a pint.  So worth it though.  And their pizza is very good here, so we ordered one Margherita to share, of course.  Same goes for the apple crisp with vanilla ice cream we ended the meal with.  In the end, we spent over $50 USD for lunch, but we expected to pay as much….no surprise.  Yes, we could have gone to nearby McDonald’s, which is priced-right, but spending 1½ hours in a very uncrowded restaurant with the service of very friendly waiters was wonderful.  

 

It was close to 3pm by now, so we walked back to the bus stop which was right up the street.  Tomorrow, we will explore the high-end hotels and resorts on this end of Aqaba.  The ride back to the ship took about 15 minutes, since the driver waited until our bus was mostly filled.

 

The rest of the afternoon was spent working with photos, taking more notes from the info materials, and snapping more pictures of the Aida ship docked aft of us.  The last time we were here, dozens of golden eagles could be seen flying in a canyon, aptly named, Eagle Hills.  A new housing complex has been developed, and perhaps they drove the graceful birds of prey out of the area.  The only birds we saw were pigeons, a few gulls, and swifts.

 

Dinner tonight was in the Pinnacle Grill featuring their new menu and revised dishes.  All of our favorites were still on the menu, namely the filets and the lamb chops.  Only the presentation had changed and the sides usually served with those entrees were different.  Caesar salad is no longer made tableside.  And the prawns with cocktail sauce were served on a rectangular plate instead of in the glass.  And only three shrimp were given for us to share.  Breaded onion rings came with the steak, and the sweet sides were gone with the lamb chops.  Missing from both plates, were the “greens” sticking out from under the meat.  So much better.  Guess what dessert has been eliminated?  Their signature chocolate volcano dish.  Two new desserts we tried were tres leches cake and Key lime pie….both excellent.  And if anyone had a huge appetite, extra entrees would set up back $15 each.

 

When the ship is overnight in a port, there is never a live show in the Mainstage.  But the scheduled movie, Green Book, could not be shown due to their inability to obtain a licensing extension for the movie.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) had been substituted.  Interesting what goes on behind the scenes that we do not know.

 

The seaside city in Israel, across the Gulf of Aqaba, was lit up and sparkled like gold.  With the crescent of the moon shining brightly in the sky, it sure made for great view from our room window.  Have to rest up for another day of walking in town tomorrow. 

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

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Glad you had a wonderful walking day in Jordan and got to have your favorite pizza.

 

A friend was on the Nieuw Amsterdam about 3 weeks ago and experienced the new Pinnacle menu and told us all about the $15 charge for an extra entree.  I am sad that the chocolate volcano cake is gone -- I had that many times over the years.  I am not a fan of key lime pie or tres leches cake.

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On 4/9/2019 at 4:22 AM, Krazy Kruizers said:

The countries that you talked about are definitely ones we would never want to visit.  Too dangerous.

 

Glad that they do send you the booklet so that you can make plans before you get on the ship.

 

Great report.

Been there on business for Uncle Sam. You don't want to go.  Trust me.  Ethiopia is good, Kenya and Tanzania are great for the critters. Your life will be better not going to Djibouti Somalia or Eritrea 

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Report # 83   Aqaba, Jordan   April 11, 2019   Thursday   Sunny & 82 degrees     Part #1 of 3     80 Pictures

 

 

Well, the Amsterdam finally received the much needed delivery of food and supplies this morning.  Watching from deck three, we spotted beverages such as soda and beer, which will make a whole lot of people happy.  Every box of produce was inspected very closely, giving us the idea that if everything was not up to snuff, the delivery may have been rejected.  This shipment may have been a partial delivery, because more will come in Naples, Italy, we heard.  Hope the regular salad dressings are among those supplies received.  Lately, the ranch, Caesar, and Italian have been different, because the chefs are trying to duplicate Ken’s Dressings, which are the normal salad toppings.  Remember, it’s not nice to “fool” Mother Nature…….ha-ha.

 

Today we left the ship a little later, like around 10:30am, since most everything was not opened in the city yet.  Our destination was really hotel explorations on the north shore of the gulf.  From the bus drop off point, we walked across the roundabout (carefully) and headed towards the avenue of the hotels.  At least, these are the largest and most elegant of the local hotels and or resorts. 

 

Along the way, we passed by the site of the first Islamic city built in this area called Ayla.  It was the original port and the stopping place for Egyptian pilgrims on their way towards Mecca.  We could see the remains of the city’s gates, walls, a large mosque, and other buildings.  Compared to the city of Aqaba, it was relatively compact in size.

 

Then we ran into friends that gave us the rundown of their day in Petra and Wadi Rum yesterday….all 13 hours of it.  Although they did visit both sites, they wished to have seen more of Petra, as there was not enough time to make it from the Treasury further into the canyon.  Maybe next time.  We figured that would be a lot to jam into one day of touring. 

 

We walked past the Movenpick Resort & Residences, which was connected by a bridge across the road.  It appeared that there was a swimming pool on that bridge, but we’re not sure.  We could have taken the time to go into this hotel, but it was located across the busy road, and we did not want to jay walk here.  The cars don’t always stop or even slow down.

 

Continuing on, we went past the Kempinski Hotel, which was nice the last time we went inside.  But our first stop was going to be at the Intercontinental Aqaba Resort, a very scenic property.  To gain access here, we asked the gate guard if we could pay a visit to the hotel.  The first thing he asked was if we were guests.  Of course not, but we wished to view the hotel for a possible visit in the future.  He said OK, and we walked up to the front entrance.  Here we had to put our one bag through xray, and pass through the scanner before we would be admitted.  Much the same as we did at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. 

 

We have been here two years ago, and we knew our way around somewhat.  But right in the lobby entrance, we ran into Allan and Sandra with Hazel.  They had also made their way here for cocktails and lunch.  It really is a beautiful property, and we suggested the pool area was even nicer.  It was still too early for lunch, which is served closer to 1pm.  So we went down to the seaside swimming pool, lounge area, and beachfront.  Many local people were there, but at the poolside, they were dressed a lot more casual than on the outside in town.  Not so covered up and having fun.  There was also a group of guests from the Amsterdam with sticky bus numbers on their shirts.  So this must be the resort they would spend 5 hours using the pool or the beach with lounges and towels.  Food purchases were not included with the $100 shore ex fee.  Bet the hotel would have a day use fee for a lot less, then all you had to do was walk here from the shuttle bus stop.  Easy peasy.

 

Since it was still too early for lunch, we continued on to the next hotel, which is brand new.  It is called Al Manara, a luxury collection hotel at Saraya, Aqaba.  And we mean LUXURY.  Two years ago, we saw this hotel and surrounding property being developed.  We knew it would be something special.  We passed by the security building that sat directly in front of the gates.  There is a guard that will drop the barrier for the vehicles going up their driveway.  Obviously, there was no problem with us walking in without a security check.  But that happened once we entered the hotel, where we went through the same xray process as the previous hotel.   Once through the checkpoint, the hotel greeter said welcome back.  We answered thank you, as if we were guests there. 

 

Then we were on our own, and wandered through the lobby, checking out one restaurant on the way to the back.  Outside on the patio presented a view to die for.  It was a scene that we would expect to see in Dubai.  A large opening to the gulf had been directly cut into this property, creating a bay with sandy beaches here and there. It was full of fish, which could be seen in the crystal clear waters.  Directly across from the water, there was a city of condos or apartments rising up out of the ground. One day, these will all be sold, and a new area of the city will exist. They even thought to add a moving river with waterfalls that wove in between the condo buildings. 

 

As we walked around a massive patio, someone was waving from two lounge chairs on the edge.  They happened to be the Tai Chi instructor, Ray, and his wife Gillian.  Funny thing, we have talked to them for several years now, and did not know until this year, that he was the instructor onboard.  We have never attended a class, and they never mentioned it.  Most times, we have seen them on their bikes while we were hiking in many different places.  One thing led to another, and we ended up chatting for quite some time. While we were busy talking, a golden eagle soared by quickly, chasing a pigeon.  Too fast to snap a photo, at least we saw one.  We still had enough time to continue checking out the swimming pool area with the best views of the gulf.  We considered staying for lunch, but we would have had to dine poolside, and it felt a bit intrusive to us. So we left, and headed back to the yacht club.

 

The waiter we had yesterday at the Royal Yacht Club did not seem surprised to see us back.  We ordered about the same items as yesterday, with the exception of dessert, which was two scoops of pistachio ice cream in crispy waffle cone cups.  Today we stayed until almost 3pm.  We did leave our waiter a nice tip, since yesterday he swiftly returned a wallet, which had dropped on the chair unknown to us.  This has never happened ever, but we certainly appreciated his honest gesture, as it could have been a huge problem.  Money and credit card……yeah, huge problem.

 

The ride back was quick, only taking 10 minutes.  That gave us plenty of time for our homework on this port.  By 6pm, we took the camera out to deck nine to snap photos of the sunset and the AIDAvita.  There were four feral dock dogs that were keeping the rope pullers busy.  When we saw the largest male dog wagging his tail, we knew that one of the workers had some food for him.  When the happy dog consumed his treat, the worker gave him water in a plastic cup.  Lucky dog, but he was in good condition, so this must happen almost every day.  The fellows poured the last of their water on the ground, and the smart crows came down to suck it up.  It’s survival of the fittest here.  Anyway, the AIDAvita left the pier shortly after 6pm, and headed south to parts unknown.

 

The sun disappeared behind the Israeli mountain range, giving a red hue to the jutting peaks on the Jordanian side.  Walking back through the Lido, as we often do during the dinner service, we found the Arabian Dinner with cuisine from the region being served by waiters dressed in Arab-style garments.  There was a quarter of a roasted lamb on the cutting board, and many specialties food selections brought onboard from town today.  We decided to test-taste some of these at our dinner tonight.

 

After some of us being gone for two days, all five of us were present tonight, although Barb was late in arriving.  We learned from Greg and Heo that Barb had another major leak in her room today.  The most frustrating thing is that when she reported it to the front desk folks, they had her room stewards check it out.  Twice, they said there was no leak.  But the carpets were wet, so there was a leak somewhere.  Barb went directly to the housekeeping office to talk to Shiv, the Head Officer.  He was not there, but his trusty assistant was.  He followed up immediately, and discovered the leak had been coming from the walls or the windows in between the cabins.  Not sure if she would have to vacate her room, but for sure, the carpets would have to be cleaned, and dehumidifiers would be added.  Needless to say, she was not a happy camper, since this is the second time her cabin flooded on this cruise.

 

Dinner was a mixed bag, with our orders of Arabic dishes.  We have always wanted to taste falafel, which is balls of fried mashed chick peas, served in a pita bread.  Ours came flattened with small slices of pita chips.  It was rather bland and dry, and according to the fellows, not seasoned like it should have been.  One of us ordered the shawarma, with sliced chicken, peppers and onions, but wrapped in a burrito shell.  Once again, the seasonings were light, and it should have been served in a pita shell.  The dessert was the best, however.  The plate of baklava had three pieces of the filo pastry dough filled with ground pistachios and walnuts, and drizzled with a sweet sugar-based syrup, probably including honey. Greg had ordered a plateful, but then admitted that he snuck a serving of the treat while passing through the Lido earlier. Good for him. The ricotta/blueberry tart was really close to a cheesecake, but it missed the mark.  Guess it is difficult to please everyone all of the time.

 

During dinner, Ian announced a change in the 9pm promised Mainstage show of the traditional Arabic Dabke dances, as performed by a local group.  They had been denied boarding for some unknown reason, and their dance had been cancelled.  Instead, other entertainers on the ship substituted a show of some kind.  Oh well, sometimes these things get sticky when it comes to getting clearances.  That makes us even happier that we made it onboard the Ovation with a last minute notice.  But that was Mumbai, and not Jordan.

 

The Amsterdam left the pier at 11pm sharp, slowly turning around, and sailing silently out of the Gulf of Aqaba towards the Red Sea once again.

 

Looking forward to a day at sea, and also getting an extra hour back on the clock tonight.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

PS   If some of these reports show up more than once, it is not our doing, but a problem with the ship’s internet…..one of many problems we’re afraid.

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Wonderful report.

 

Glad you enjoyed another lunch off the ship.

 

Too bad about the local dancers being denied boarding the ship.  We always enjoy watching the local shows and dancers.

 

Don't worry about posts showing up twice or even three times.  It had happened to many of us here on CC and we don't know why.

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