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


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Report # 38   Day at Sea   February 24, 2019   Monday   Partly sunny & 75 degrees     Part #1 Of 1      13  Pictures


It sure wasn’t a typical sea day, and for sure, it was not partly sunny or 75 degrees.  The skies were so dark and dreary at breakfast time, it felt like dinnertime instead.  Not going to be a pool day, but then, we have been lucky so far, and we were due for some bad weather.  The Staff Captain had predicted exactly what happened during the course of the day.


Several lectures were offered today, and by the looks of the empty outside decks, it was obvious most folks were staying inside today.  The new shop folks take advantage of this, and set up sales throughout the ship.  Little by little, they are bringing out more merchandise, mostly HAL logo clothing.  The line is a much better quality, but also comes at a higher price.  In order to get the guests to come into the shops, they have begun having free jewelry cleaning, a beauty workshop, and an alexandrite trunk show.


Today is the end of the first segment, and we heard that about 40 people are getting off, and 50 folks are joining the ship.  The shop that sells liquor and cigarettes had a sale on 3 bottles of Crown Royal Northern Harvest.  But only those disembarking will be allowed to take these off.  We do understand that the cigarettes can be sold to anyone at any time, but the duty free alcohol has to be stored until you go home.


It was also a good day to watch the 91st Academy Awards either in the Wajang Theater or on channel 39 on TV at 2pm.  Or you could learn about New Zealand’s unique animals with the guest speaker. 


As for us, we had 2 lunches today….one with Barb in the dining room, and the other light lunch at 3pm.  Eating dinner at 8pm, and dealing with the rocking and rolling of the ship, we find it beneficial to eat small amounts, but more often.  Yes, one of us does get a wee bit seasick.  One seasick pill does help.  The seas were described as confused and angry according to Captain Jonathon, probably fueled by the 60 knots winds across the decks by 4pm.  When we noticed all of the fancy perfume bottles on the floor in the shop, and the lounges at the Seaview Pool stacked and lashed, we knew we were in for some rough sailing.


The cruise stats are in for the 1st segment.  We will have traveled 10,761 miles so far, with an average speed of 16.1 knots.  The amount of fuel used is an impressive 501,923 gallons, and for some reason, we need to know that 88,920 eggs have been consumed to date.  Now that’s amusing.


During dinner this evening, we thought the water glasses and wine would flip over a few times.  It’s always important to save the wine, a phrase we have heard multiple times.  Most all of the ladies needed help getting to their tables tonight.  And we did notice that the room was half full.  Really, the most comfortable place to be when it gets rough like this is in your room.  One good sign was that we saw the Captain and his wife dining at a window seat where they often sit.  Waving as we went by, he did not look the least bit concerned about the motion.  If all of us don’t have our “sea legs” by now, then we never will.


There was a variety show with the Sand Man and the ventriloquist, both with brand new shows.  By the way, we heard from a reliable source last night, that the singers and dancers normally on all of the cruise ships will not be regulars anymore.  They have always been a fun sort of entertainment, but we think the concept has gotten old hat, and it is time for new acts.  But that is just our humble opinion.


Looking forward to Auckland tomorrow, and we sure hope the motion of the ocean calms down once we enter into the calmer waters of the bay.


Bill & Mary Ann


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Report # 39   Auckland, New Zealand   February 26, 2019   Tuesday      Part #1 Of 4     80  Pictures


The Land of the Long White Cloud, or New Zealand, is our new stomping ground for several days now. The capital is Wellington, and we shall be stopping there soon.  The population is about 4,316,000 people that speak English and Maori, the original Polynesian settlers.  Described as a South Pacific gem, this country has alps, fjords, rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, and geysers.  The country sides are dotted with as many sheep as people, the finest wineries, and micro-breweries these days.   We have toured many of these wineries, and tasted some of the best roasted lamb ever.  And the dessert called pavlova, a favorite specialty with fresh fruit and heavy whipped cream has to be the end all.  Oh, but the best has to be their rich ice cream…namely Hokie Pokie, a must-do in every stop we make.


Where else can you see the world’s largest Kauri trees, visit the caves to see glow worms, or watch the kiwi bird in a nocturnal enclosure along with penguins at Kelly Tarleton’s.  One of our favorite activities was hopping on a ferry and exploring the smaller islands outside of Auckland.  Climbing the Auckland Bridge is a lot more affordable here, compared to doing this while in Sydney.  And we are sure, it is just as thrilling.  A short trip also takes you to see thousands of the famous gannets in a colony nesting on the face of a steep cliff.  Unbelievable.


Auckland is a city that we have agreed that we could easily live if we ever left California.  With a population of one million people, it has it all.  Especially the boats, gaining them the name of “City of Sails”.  America’s Cup Racing has been a mainstay of this community with over-the-top yachts like NZL 68 and NZL 41.  And speaking of the Kiwis love of competition, they are most proud of their All Blacks rugby team.  You’ll see the clothing line everywhere you go.


Although our stay here is for one day only, the shore excursions offered 21 tours here, as well as private cars or vans for the day.  They included site-seeing, island exploring, Kelly Tarleton’s, wineries, gannets, glow worms, and adventure-type tours.  And we have done them all.


We were expecting a lousy day with the weather, but to our delight, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud to be see.  Like a miracle, after the winds topped out at 70 mph with drenching rains last night.  Of course, we did not know this until Captain Jonathon mentioned it at sail away late this afternoon. After breakfast, we left the ship keeping in mind that New Zealand has strict quarantine regulations such as no food, flowers, seeds, or plants could be taken off.  Only commercially bottled water was OK.  Quarantine officers were present with a dog to check our bags for wooden items, shells, corals, nuts, seeds and animal products.  Made sure to remove the bamboo fan from the bag, as it is made with wood.  Did not want to risk getting fined.  There was also a reminder to bring the government photo ID…..a copy would not be accepted.


We had company too, as the Oceania Insignia was docked near us.  A former Renaissance ship (R One), she is 30,277 gross tons and holds from 684 to 824 passengers.  That is a drop in the bucket in a city this size.


So once we were clear of the pier, we walked right into a mess with the streets blocked off and much renovations happening.  Seem to remember this was the case last year. There are even more cranes with all the new construction in the downtown area.  Making our way around the barriers, we went up a main street towards the Sky Tower, an icon of New Zealand.  They claim that this tower is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere standing at 1,072 feet.  Years ago, we had lunch in the revolving restaurant on the top, enjoying stunning views that can extend to 60 miles on a clear day.  People can actually “jump” from the top, or do a simulated computer jump, looking like you did.  We would opt for the latter option. 


Going up a steep street, we made it to the pathway and stairs that led to Albert Park, full of huge indigenous trees, statues, and fountains. The manicured garden plots were stripped bare of the summer-blooming bedding plants.  That’s due to the fact we are three weeks later this year, and are at the end of their summer.  This entire area is surrounded with schools, mostly colleges, so it is not unusual that we saw a lot of students.


From here, we crossed over a foot bridge that took us to another district at Symonds Street.  The old cemetery is situated down the hillside here with most interesting headstones.  The sound of the cicadas filled the tree-lined sacred grounds, competing with the cars and buses on the busy street. 


Crossing another bridge that spanned several freeways below, we found ourselves in the Grafton District.  That led to the Auckland Hospital, and the nearby entrance to the Auckland Domain, which is really a huge expanse of a park on a knoll.  On the top was the Auckland War Memorial & Museum, a neo-classical building and quite impressive.  The museum  houses Maori and Pacific history, including exhibits from both world wars. 


More impressive are the Winter Gardens with rare plants in an ever-changing display.  The gardens features two barrel-vaulted Victorian-style glass houses with a large courtyard and a sunken pool.  On the backside, is a cool fern garden that has to be 20 degrees cooler with misters and trees for dense shade.  There were flowers blooming in both glass houses, even though fall is approaching.


It was at this point we split up, and one of us went up to the memorial building for closer photos, while the other skirted the big trees all the way down to the surrounding road.


The time was flying by, and we still wanted to take in lunch.  So we headed towards Parnell Village with boutique shopping and charming cafes between many historic buildings.  A few years ago, we discovered a great place that served pizza, but they are only opened at night now.  Last year, we dined at a café named Mink, and they also served a good pizza.  So we went back there, but discovered that new owners had changed the menu, and pizza was no longer on it.  How rude…  Anyway, we substituted a chicken burger with fries and ice cold draft beers.  Dessert was not really a dessert, but a breakfast item called a pancake.  Not the same type we have for breakfast here, but a thick, crispy-fried cake.  The toppings were sliced fruit, dotted with fruit syrup, and sprinkled with broken meringue bits.  On the top, was a scoop of mango sorbet.  Needless to say, it was a real treat.  Too bad it was time to move on.


We still had some shopping to do at the local Countdown, a 24 hour, 7 day a week supermarket.  We found most everything we needed, then hiked back to the ship.  But not before stopping at the nearest ice cream stand for one scoop of Hokie Pokie.  Guess what?  They were sold out for the day.  There is no substitute for it, so we passed. 


Security by the New Zealand officials was thorough before getting back onboard.  Our stuff was xrayed as usual, and it was great to be back to our room for an hour.  All aboard was 4:15pm, because there would be a mandatory muster drill for everyone at that time.  Except for the couple of buses that were late coming back from all day tours. 


Sail away festivities were held at the Seaview Pool at 5pm, but we did not leave the dock until 6:10pm, since the buses never arrived until 6pm.  Wonder if this costs HAL late fees for staying beyond their allotted time?  Something tells us yes.  Sailing out of the scenic harbor surrounded with dozens of islands was really pleasant.  The weather gods were with us today.


Dinner was in the Pinnacle Grill for us, and was every bit as good as the last time.  By the way, we have heard a rumor that the menu will be changing in here sometime soon.  That might include the menu in the Canaletto too.  We’ll keep everyone up-to-date if that occurs.


The next port is Tauranga tomorrow. A much different New Zealand city.


Bill & Mary Ann


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Report # 40   Tauranga, New Zealand   February 27, 2019   Wednesday   Mostly sunny & 73 degrees    Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures


Our port of call for today, Tauranga, means “resting place for canoes”, named by the Maori tribes that settled here 650 years ago.  We have changed our minds about where to live in New Zealand, because this area of the Bay of Plenty is more our style.  Auckland would be the perfect place to visit, but here you are closer to nature.  Besides being in the kiwi fruit growing country, tall pine trees line the hillsides as well.  We understand that there is a booming lumber industry here too.  There are lakes, sheep, sheep dogs, geysers in Rotorua, and the Waitomo Caves again.  The Hobbiton movie set is located near here, where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed beginning in 2010.


Shore excursions offered 17 tours here today, most of which went out into the country sides.  They started at $120 to $290, some ½ day, and others with lunch and all day.  No problem getting back on time, since the ship will leave after 8:30pm. 


We have been here several times over the years, but it wasn’t until we got a map from the locals, that we realized the ship’s map was not where we docked.  The real Tauranga is situated across the bay, only accessible on a shuttle bus, which HAL does not provide.  The commercial dock that we are sharing, is located on a peninsula with Mount Maunganui at the end, a lagoon-like beach on the one side, and open ocean on the opposite side.  This entire peninsula is a vacation haven for many locals searching for endless beaches and warm sun. 


It is also a great place to hike, stroll the beach, shop, swim, or eat lunch.  Or visit with some locals, which we did right after we left the ship.  A nice elderly couple on holiday here approached us while we wandered out onto a fishing pier.  Asking where we were from, we got into an interesting conversation all about this part of New Zealand.  They were from Wellington, and he told us what to expect when we get there in two days.  It will be cool and windy, as is expected during this late part of summer.  That’s why they are here instead.  We discussed the draught that has been plaguing this area, and the fear of fires.  We shared the story about the fires in California this past fall, and he was well aware of them.  He added that there is the same problem here with forest management.  We are worlds apart in miles, but experience the same dilemmas.  There are sure some nice people in New Zealand.


Our walk continued along the beachfront where people were learning water sports like rowing, kayaking, and surf boarding.  The water looked cool, but it did not stop the little kids from playing in the gentle surf.


There is a walking track around the bottom of Mount Maunganui that takes 45 minutes to hike.  Or you can climb up to the summit in 40 minutes.  Since our time was limited, we did not do it.  But we did make our way to the other ocean side beach, and the seaside restaurants and cafes.  This end of the beach has the most hotels and motels.  The Italian restaurant that had pizza last year has been converted into a clothing store.  Gosh, this year we have had the worst luck with finding the perfect pizza.  So far the winner has been in Papeete, since it is the only one that has not gone out of business. 


The Main Beach on the ocean side was really pretty today.  The waves were not too high, but there still were a few surfers to watch.  We made our way to a little island called Moturiki following a small path of sand.  During high tide, this pathway is under water.  At the end of this volcanic rock is a blow hole where you will get sprayed if the tide is up. 


From here, we crossed over the center of the peninsula and discovered a street full of shops, businesses, restaurants, and cafes.  It was around 1pm, and the cafes were filling up with guests.  Most establishments were either Asian, Greek, Turkish, Indian, or fast food.  We even saw McDonalds and Burger King.  Funny, no fast food pizza chains here.  We finally came across a place called Mac’s Brew Bar Astrolabe, a crazy name for a not-so-serious restaurant.  They featured a pizza by the metre, which we really didn’t notice.  It just looked rectangular.  So we ordered a Margherita pizza and two draft beers.  The waitress gave us a flip-flop on a stand, marked with a number.  That was so funny, but you pay for your food, then it is delivered. 


Well while we were sipping the ice cold beer, the waitress came with a wooden board with a three foot long pizza on it.  Yep it was a metre of pizza, but sliced into 12 pieces.  And we polished off the whole thing.  We were happy to have located another place for our favorite lunch item, and it is always fun to try something new.


And since we missed the ice cream yesterday, we had to have some of the Hokey Pokey treat today.  One of us had a cupful and the other a small waffle cone.  Just as good as we remembered.  Hope we find this same treat in the next port of Wellington. We made our way to an empty bench along the calm beach front and finished our dessert there.  We hated to go back to the ship, but one of us had a lot of photos to process.  We were back onboard by 4pm. 


Catching the setting sun before 8pm, we went off to dinner with Barb.  She told us that the last day at sea, her team got a perfect score in trivia.  Not a surprise, they have been winning a lot, and we are proud of her.  This time the winners were gifted with a South Pacific HAL pin.  OK…..go Barbie.


Tomorrow we will have a relaxing sea day, but we are certain it will be cooler the further south we travel.  By the way, we came across some valuable information concerning the New Zealand sun.  The maximum UV index value is 12, which equates to a burn time of 12 minutes.  They recommend a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF and reapply every 2 hours.  Always helps to wear a hat and sunglasses too.  At the beach today, we saw a gauge showing the intensity of the UV rays today.  It was in the medium range.  Good to know and good rules to follow.


Bill & Mary Ann


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Report # 41   Day at Sea   February 28, 2019   Thursday   partly sunny & 75 degrees


Partly sunny applied to the morning, but briefly.  Then it turned partly cloudy, windy, and rough.  The seas were confused and angry once again as we headed in a southwesterly direction on our way to Wellington.  By the afternoon, the winds had increased to 54 knots, a gale force, according to the Captain.  He warned that once we entered the Cook Straits between the North and South Islands, it would probably be rougher.  Good thing that will occur during the late hours of the night.


We had a good laugh at breakfast when Gan, or waiter, served us what he called Greek yogurt.  We call it yogurt soup, because it has the consistency of white latex paint.  Now if we had ordered the plain vanilla yogurt made in Tahiti, it was much firmer.  And to prove it, one of the guests we know came over with her glass of French yogurt, shook it, and said the equivalent of -  eat your heart out.  Then we all had a laugh.  Tomorrow, we will order that yogurt instead, since it is a staple of our daily breakfast.  The new shipment of fresh berries has kept us happy.


Walking on the lower promenade deck was challenging, because the ship would not stay still under our feet.  And besides, it had turned rather cool.  Very few people were outside today.  Even those who have the new lanai rooms.  This deck has been getting a lot of sprucing up with painting of the walls and the railings.  Then in the bow of this deck, the crew has had the job of grinding all the paint off of the exhaust grates that you see in the ceiling and the walls. Quite a big project, however the smell of solvents and varnishes can be overpowering at times.


The Maori team is in full swing with a special performance in the Mainstage this afternoon.  They happened to pass by us yesterday on deck nine (without the scary make-up) and invited us to watch the song, dance, and heritage show today.  We were glad to see the black markings were not permanent as most of them are.


Now that we are getting closer to Australia, opals are the subject of talks and promotions for future sales.  Even some good programs are on the TV about the mining of the precious stones.  We seem to recall that in the “old days” only those with a birthday in the month of October could purchase and wear the opals.  Guess that was a wives tale, right?  Although we have heard stories about the stones separating when they dry out and become brittle.


It was too cold for a pool day, so we met with Barb at lunchtime.  Always nice to have hot soup and ½ sandwich or small salad as well as great conversation.  Once again, Barb and her trivia team won with a near perfect score.  These guys are on a roll. Or they are just smart, as Barb would say.


Since the motion of the ocean increased this afternoon, we found it a great time to catch up on the computer work in our room.  So many people we know have had accidental falls, getting injured, and embarrassed too.  You never know when the ship will move sideways suddenly taking you by surprise.  That is one big reason we choose to be on Dolphin deck for the stability. 


We spent some time outside the Ocean Bar, working on the crossword puzzle and visiting with people.  One of them happened to be Christel, who shared the exploits of their day in Tauranga yesterday.  Henk and Christel love to get out on their bike for two, which doesn’t happen often enough.  They made it across the bay, through the town of Tauranga, and off into the wetlands where all the birds were.  With the nice weather yesterday, they had a fine ride and a great lunch away from the hustle and bustle of the ship. 


At dinner, the three of us are finding the new menus items so different, we are opting for the everyday options.  Barb tried a steak for the first time, and shared it with us.  We agreed it wasn’t that bad, but really good.  Both of us had the entrée salad with turkey.  You can’t go wrong with that.  Stopping to chat with Bill and Leta, they said in the morning, the posted menu had the cappuccino bombe on it for dessert.  Planning on ordering it, they were surprised to see it was off the menu.  Someone had made a mistake tonight, but we are certain it will reappear soon.  So instead, they ordered a blackberry crisp, and had to wait 30 minutes for the chefs to make it fresh.  Must have run out of them for the second seating.  Sometimes that happens since the majority of folks eat early these days.


The entertainment tonight was supposed to be the Australian cast of the Vallies, a tribute to the Four Seasons & Frankie Valli.  However, it was switched for tomorrow.  We suspect some of them may have seasickness and/or the dance routine of the show could not be done.  It would not be the first time that the performers “turned green”.


Tomorrow’s port is Wellington, a place we have not visited for some time now.


Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 42   Wellington, New Zealand   March 1, 2019   Friday   Sunny & 66 degrees     Part# 1 of 5   80 Pictures


The world’s southernmost capital happens to be the city of Wellington, our port of call for today.  The original capital of the country was Auckland until 1865, when the seat of their government was moved to here.  Situated in a magnificent harbor, Wellington is a lively city with arts, culture, restaurants, and nightlife venues built on steep hillsides.  It also has the distinction of being one of the windiest cities in the world.  Just two days ago, we were told that Wellington experienced hurricane force winds of 130 kilometers, causing a lot of damage.  That must have been when we were having the confused and angry seas on the way to Tauranga.  Today’s weather was just the  opposite with clear and sunny skies, and warm temps.  Lucky.


There is a lot to do and see here, so shore excursions offered 11 tours.  They included city site-seeing, a museum tour, beer and food stops, wildlife viewing, sheep and cattle farms, biking, and Botanic Garden walk.  On one of our first visits here, we drove 2 hours to Pencarrow Station, one of the oldest sheep and cattle farms in Wellington.  It was the first time we got to watch the working dogs on a real ranch.  Speaking of cattle, one of our buddies, Harvie, took the tour with his wife to Rotorua out of Tauranga, and actually got chosen to milk a cow on the stage with 15 types of New Zealand sheep.  He said he had an “udderly” good time, even though he had never done that before.  They’re both good sports on the ship and off.


So we left the ship by 10am and got a city map before boarding the mandatory shuttle bus to downtown.  It has been 8 years since we were here last, and we never remember taking a shuttle.  These days no one is allowed to walk any part of the working docks.  Actually, it saved us a lot of extra walking.  The ride was short, since we were dropped off at Northern Lambton Quay, right across from the famous Beehive, part of the parliamentary buildings in the central business district.  This area is surrounded with historical buildings, most all of which are free to explore.


Our plan for the day was to locate the entrance to the Cable Car, which takes you up to the Kelburn District.  Although we have done this on an organized tour, as well as on our own, we forgot how far we needed to go through downtown to find the entrance.  Whie checking the map, a volunteer Wellington City Ambassador gave us directions.  He said to look for the line up the street past Burger King, but what he really meant was look for the lane with a heavy New Zealand accent.  And we did find a line up the lane for the Cable Car with many stickered shore excursion guests from two ships.  Did we mention that he Radiance of the Seas was docked in front of us?  A 90,090 gross ton vessel, she holds from 2146 to 2542 passengers, and is suitable for large families looking for a casual trip.  So that dumped a lot of tourists into town this morning.


Anyway, the line moved quickly and we paid the $5NZ fare for a one way trip that took about five minutes.  The Cable Car opened in 1902 transporting the locals from the center of town to the residential area of Kelburn.  By 1933, electricity replaced the steam for the power.  A new Swiss design replaced the old system in 1978.  There are three stops on the way up with the final stop where the Cable Car Museum sits.  Upon exiting the car, we were treated to a spectacular view of  the city and harbor below.  The sports field was full of cheering students from the nearby college.


The upper entrance to the Wellington Botanic Garden is also up here.  This 61 acre garden was established in 1868 with the intent to import plant species and assess their potential for the new colony.  One of those successful plants was the Monterey pine, which became one of their major industries.  The hike was extremely downhill as we wound our way through the protected native forest, unique landscapes, and cleverly-planted steep declines.  We saw giant Monterey pines, redwoods, and eucalyptus that had to be the tallest we have ever seen.  The oldest pines topped out at 90 feet, making us realize how many of these we have planted at home, and now wish we hadn’t.  Oh well, more future firewood.  As we made our way down the winding trail, we passed exotic trees, hydrangea and camellia gardens, succulent and rock displays, fernery, and the fragrant beds of herbs.  We went into the Treehouse Visitor Center with info on everything in this park.  Ending up at the Duck Pond, we made our way past the bulb and flower beds, before heading up a trail to the rose garden and begonia house.


Lady Norwood Rose Garden opened in 1953, named for her by her husband Sir Charles, the former mayor of the city.  Today there are over 300 varieties of roses that bloom from November to May.  Today they were pretty, but sparse, probably due to the extreme winds they had a couple of days ago.  The Begonia House features begonias, of course, as well as bromeliads, air plants, orchids, fuschias, and a pond with small fish.  At the opposite end is a picnic café that serves breakfast and a light lunch.  And naturally, there is a small gift shop.


From here, we headed back towards the downtown area, passing through the Bolton Street Cemetery.  Founded in 1840, a walk through here gives you a glimpse of the life and times of the growing colony of settlers.  It was a harsh existence from what we read with the help of an very informative brochure.  Many of the youngest children died from scarlet fever or diphtheria in those early days.  Fires and drowning took many adults.  Those who lived to a ripe old age and acquired wealth ended up with the largest monuments.  In 1968, a new motorway was built through the middle of this cemetery, making it necessary to exhume 3700 burial remains.  Many of the old wooden markers were gone by now, so the group was interred in a large vault behind the chapel.


The trail led to the Dennis McGrath Bridge that crossed over the motorway, and brought us back to the Beehive once again.  We had gone full circle, but were not ready to go back to the ship yet.  After a most welcomed stop for a bench rest across from the Beehive, we continued the walk back to town passing all of the stores, shops, and restaurants of the central business district.  We ran into our buddies that had done the cow milking a few days ago.  This time they had large department store bags with treasures they could not resist.  Harvie showed us a pair of dress shoes with blue and black tapestry designs on them.  He says they will match his blue tuxedo, and he can show the shoes off while dancing with his wife.  Like we said, they are fun people.


Taking a left turn towards the harbor, we came out at Frank Kitts Park on the waterfront promenade.  It was a short hike from here to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, passing by several kids that were high diving into the ice cold waters of the harbor.  This museum is one of the few that is free, but since we were short of time and running low on energy, we continued onward.  We have toured the museum twice, and it was very interesting.


After such a long hike, we were ready for our reward of a nice lunch and something cold to drink.  Remembering a nice place we went to in 2011, we hoped it was still there.  Our wish was granted, as not only was it there, they still served great pizza and draft beer.  By now it was nearing 3pm, so the restaurant was almost empty.  Of course, we had excellent service and we were not rushed.  We even added a slice of cheesecake to share…we needed the extra energy to get back to the bus stop…right?


Double-decker shuttles were waiting at the pick-up point, and we climbed up to the top and got seats together.  Traffic was getting heavy by now, and the short ride turned out to be 30 minutes.  There was no particular rush to get back since we had until 10:30pm to be onboard.  Back by 4pm, we relaxed in our room working on hundreds of photos and taking notes from the handful of brochures we were given.  This city has to be the most people-friendly so far.


Since there was no sail away before the sun set, we went to deck nine and took the last of the pictures.  Dinner was at 8pm, and the three of us shared our activities of the day.  We are all in agreement that the dinner menus have become stranger by the day.  Some of the entrees are so different, we don’t even recognize what they are.  So we ended up with French onion soup, shrimp cocktail, and the alternate chicken or steak.  A chicken Caesar salad is also a perfect substitute for an entrée.  We did split a serving of lasagna, which tastes better these days.


Tomorrow port will be Picton, but only until 2pm.  Too bad since it is a nice, small town and not a bustling city like today.  It will also be our final stop in New Zealand.  Too bad.


Bill & Mary Ann 


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Report #43   Picton, New Zealand   March 2, 2019   Saturday   Mostly sunny & 71 degrees     Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures


The Amsterdam arrived to the sheltered port of Picton, located on the South Island of New Zealand.  It is such a pretty place, it is a shame we have such a short visit.  We are only here from 7am to 2pm, enough time to take a walk and perhaps eat an early lunch.


Picton is small compared to Auckland and Wellington, with only about 3000 residents.  It is the gateway to the Marlborough region, which is famous for their wineries and sheep farms.  When we went to breakfast in the dining room, our waiter said, “Look, we are in Alaska!”  Sure enough, this town at the end of what resembles a fjord reminded us of Skagway, with similar forested mountainsides.  And it was as cool as an Alaskan summer can often be.  We refuse to give up wearing our shorts, however, since we usually keep them on until November.  Today, as the day advanced, the temps warmed up considerably. , and all we needed were the light sweatshirts we wore.


Today we were docked near the Interislander Ferry Terminal, which is fairly close to the town’s center.  We were surprised to see the Radiance was also in port, but docked at nearby Shakespeare Bay.  For such a small country town, this sure is a busy port.  Picton is also known for commercial mussel farming, as well as stomping grounds for back packers, vacation trailers, kayaking, boating, and wine tasting.


We figured that today is our third time to visit Picton.  The first time we took a tour out of the area to a farm house for a lunch and sheep shearing demo.  We stopped at a bee and honey facility, and got to see some stunning views from the mountain tops.  The second visit, we stayed in town, and did a walk-about….a very long hike on a peninsula overlooking the marina and harbor.


So today, with limited time, we left the ship around 10am.  At the bottom of the gangway, two local ladies were handing out small pre-made corsages with a pin.  What a nice welcome gift.  One other passenger said we should learn more about a gracious welcome like this.  We all followed the blue line which led to the town’s center. There was a wait to cross over the railway tracks, where an engine was pushing rail cars into the extra-long ferry.  That stopped the car traffic as well, so guess we missed 20 minutes of our time already.  By the way, the folks from the Radiance of the Seas had shuttles to town, since their ship was further away.  And even worse, they were staying until 5pm, lucky dogs.


Many passengers took one of the eleven tours offered through shore excursions.  They included a walking city tour (which we did for free), a coastal drive, a Queen Charlotte Sound walk, scenic cruising on a catamaran, wine-tasting, cycling, kayaking, and finally a visit to Blenheim with a farm visit, a winery, and a lunch.  Tour prices ran from $60 to $300. 


Today was Saturday, so an arts and crafts market was set up near London Quay, an area with a small sandy beach and an expanse of lawn.  There was a lively country band playing for the locals and guests alike.  This waterfront park is surrounded with some nice cafes and restaurants.  They were all full of ship people eating pastries and sipping coffee, while taking advantage of the free WIFI.  Few people were having conversations, since they were deep into the internet work.  We can assume from this that many folks did not purchase the ship’s internet plans as they were quite expensive.  You can get by without a package, and search for free sites in the ports.  But it does take time, which we choose not to waste.  But that’s just us….we are not all that “connected”.


After checking out the souvenir tables, we headed for Picton’s version of the Coathanger Bridge.  It’s really a mini one that leads to the marina, a nice place to stroll.  Continuing on, the trail begins for the hike to the Snout Track and eventually to the Snout at the tip of this peninsula.  If we had time, we may have attempted the walk, but with one of us favoring a troubled knee, it wasn’t in the cards today.


Back over the steep foot bridge, we navigated our way up the streets and to the main drive, High Street.  We had accumulated some New Zealand change, and wanted to spend it before we left the country.  Going into their supermarket, Fresh Choice,  we found a few snack items for our room.  Wandering in and out of shops on the way downhill, we came across the restaurant where we dined the last time we were here.  It was called The Barn, and was serving lunch at noon.  No pizza, but they did have a good burger and fries, which we shared.  Beers were Tui, and good.


Crossing the street to spend more change we got from lunch, we bought some cookies.  Then we came across an ice cream shop, and asked if they had Hokey Pokey. Yes, they did, so we indulged one last time, since this was our final port in New Zealand.  Funny thing, we ended up with more coins, so we stopped in the pharmacy, and found low dose aspirin, something we could not find since we left Panama City.  Go figure?  Finally ended up with 20 cents, and a few coins that had been out of circulation for some time.  Must have brought them from home, saved from previous New Zealand visits.


The time had flown by quickly, and at 1pm, we started back to the ship with Wendy and Steve, former hosts.  They are deep into Geo-caching and actually revealed one they had located today.  We can see why they have so much fun figuring out the clues they are given.


The line to get back on the ship was long and moving slowly. One of the longer tours must have just arrived, so it took time for all to pass through the security xray on the ship.  Sail away festivities began at 1:30pm, where we stayed visiting with many people we knew for two hours.  As hard as we looked, we did not see one dolphin today.  But there were some birds, such as a  pied cormorant and several gannets as we sailed several miles through the sound.  The skies had gotten rather cloudy, and the winds were downright chilly. 


The rest of the late afternoon was spent warming up in our room and doing photos.  Dinnertime was fun as always, but the menu is getting more strange by the day.  Guess we are creatures of habit, and really like basic combinations with our entrees.  Meat and potatoes with veggies would be nice, but unless you put it together yourself, you will not find it on the menu.  Slam does not mind putting together combinations that will work for all of us. 


Besides the clocks going back one hour tonight (hurray), we received gifts of two power banks, probably most suitable for cell phones or small tablets.  Useful for those that spend hours using their phones.


We are now headed towards Australia, crossing the infamous Tasman Sea.  Hope she behaves for the next two days…..


Bill & Mary Ann



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Report # 44   Day at Sea   March 3, 2019   Sunday   Partly sunny & 75 degrees


It’s what we all needed……a relaxing day at sea, and an extra hour on the clock last night.  In fact, it will happen again tonight, the extra hour back, which will put us on Sydney time.  Fine with us.


The day turned out to be a pretty nice one, despite the fact that the ship is rocking and rolling somewhat.  The Captain has put the pedal to the metal, keeping up a good clip all day. He plans on arriving to the entrance to Sydney’s harbor in the wee hours of the morning, so we need to be speedy with our sailing.


It was Sunday Brunch day once again, but since we don’t do “brunch”, we went to our usual breakfast.  The three course set menu, sampler-style, has too many “fish” items for our taste, so it would be a waste of food for us.


Taking our morning stroll, we spotted a large lone bird, which might be an albatross.  Too far for a photo, we hope to see more of these ocean-going birds as we near Australia.  Then we saw some large fish or dolphins jumping away from the wake of the ship.  Again, too fast and too far to really identify them.  Hoping to see more would have been nice, but it did not happen.


The Maori Ambassadors are still onboard conducting workshops and how to make and use poi, the Hawaiian treat.  However, they do not eat it.  All of this happens in the Crow’s Nest, and not the Lido Pool area like it used to.  Bet when we get to Australia, we will have new ambassadors.  And now that a new country is coming up, Ian, the port guide, is talking all about the Australian Outback.


And as promised, the opals from Australia have arrived and will be presented at a grand unveiling in the Mainstage this morning.  The opal expert, Kate, will debunk the myth that surrounds the mysterious opals.  And to entice the guests to attend, there will be a drawing to win an opal pendant.  Brings them in every time.


While all this was happening, Barb and her “smart” team were winning once again in the Trivia contest.  Since the Ocean Bar is full to capacity with players, this makes their win even more impressive.  As for us, we were enjoying the outdoor fresh air at the aft pool.  Not exactly swimming weather, it was comfortable in the partly sunny and cloudy skies.


It looks like we will be viewing the five movies that won the most awards at the Academy Awards show recently.  Today’s feature was The Bohemian Rhapsody with the male award winner.  When these flicks come to the TV, we will watch them.


A new favorite activity is the guest chef sip and savor hour in the Crystal Terrace (deck 5 atrium).  The chef provides a tasty appetizer along with a $5 glass of wine.  Barb has attended two sessions, and looks forward to more.  Knowing a few of the wine stewards helps to keep her glass full.


Tonight was another gala evening, but no one had hosts at their tables, since there was yet another Captain’s Dinner in the Pinnacle Grill.  We all customized our entrees, which worked well.  Lamb chops, chicken Caesar salad, and surf and turf were the choices.  We shared one cappuccino bomb, the chocolate-covered ice cream treat.  Only it was a different brand.  The bottom was a chocolate wafer, and the ice cream was not coffee.  More like marble fudge, it was still quite good.


The Vallies, an Australian group, was onstage tonight with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tunes from more years ago than we care to admit.


One more day at sea, and we will have two great days in Sydney, a most fun place to explore.


Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 45   Day at Sea   March 4, 2019   Monday   partly sunny & 75 degrees


Even though a few days ago, the Captain mentioned rain in the forecast, we were happy to see that today turned out even nicer than yesterday.  Even the outside air had the feel of more humidity to it, something we have not had since we left the north island of New Zealand.  The forecast for Sydney is much warmer with temperatures in the mid 80’s and the UV factor at a 10.  Considering that Tauranga was a 4 (moderate danger), we can assume that 10 is quite dangerous.  Actually that is what the Captain warned during his afternoon talk.


In preparation for our arrival to Australia, we had a request to pick up our passports at the Explorer’s Lounge between 11am and 1pm.  However we did not see that notice until after lunch.  Not a problem, we signed for them at the front desk (without the long line) after our lunch.  Tomorrow we have a letter, incoming landing cards, and in-transit cards to present to the immigration inspectors onshore.  We have received the letter “S”, which we know applies to a select group.  Asking Barb a long time ago what S means….she said SPECIAL.  Really, it applies to deck seven folks and President’s Club members, and it means that we can go off for the face-to-face inspection anytime between 7 and 10am.  It will be a zero count, so each and every passenger and crew member has to be cleared.  No one will be allowed back onboard until this exercise is complete.  This will occur in a few of the major ports, especially the ones where segments end and begin.


Besides the usual activities, today was sort of turned around.  “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras will occur tomorrow, while the ship is in Sydney, and spending the night.  Many folks will be out and about the town, even attending a performance at the Opera House.   So, the entertainer slated for tonight’s show, Bayne Bacon, a man of music and laughter, will perform at one show at 2pm.  Then, “Party Gras” will happen from 8 to 10pm with music and dancing in the Mainstage.  Guess that leaves the second seating folks out of luck, unless they can eat fast.  The Ocean Bar Party Band and singer will get the party going, and the buy one drink - get one for $2 will apply.  More food will be served at 9pm.  While we sat in our favorite chairs on deck five around 5pm, we spotted lots of guests already decked out in the gold, green, and purple colors for the festivities later.


Shiv, our most favorite housekeeping officer, stopped by for a chat with us and Barb, who also stopped by.  He said that under 40 guests were leaving the day after tomorrow, with almost the same amount joining.  He added that over 1100 passengers are sailing on the entire cruise this year.  That has to be a record number.  The good news from his point of view, is that the nasty virus has run its course, and all looks good now.  All of the extra efforts with the sanitizing helped ward off large numbers of cases.


The big promotion of the day was the sale of opals with the treat of free mimosas in the Shops.  Also their photo department is pushing the videos (on a USB stick) of the different areas of this particular world cruise.  There will be 10 of them at the price of $19.95 each or $150 for all of them.  Obviously, they are probably mailed to you after the cruise is final.


It was a surprise to see entire dining room decorated with purple, gold, and turquoise chair covers, and the tables set with matching hats, beads, and coins.  The dinner menu had all sorts of Mardi Gras type appetizers and entrees.  And the wait staff were decked out with sparkling vests and matching jester hats.  They have to be good sports to wear these get-ups. But due to the special event in the Mainstage at 8pm, the room emptied out before 9:30pm, with the exception of a few larger tables.  At the very least, the passengers would have the opportunity to eat and drink more…..like they really need it?  We did not bother to go, but stayed instead to sample the first-time-ever Hokey Pokey ice cream sundae.  Slam said they had a 5 gallon bucket of the special New Zealand treat, and we simply had to try it.  Even Barb sampled one for a change.  Except for the added chocolate discs, caramel, and whipped cream, she did like the rich vanilla-based ice cream with Manuka honey bits treat.


Bill & Mary Ann


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