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Stow Away with Bill & Mary Ann for 181 days on Amsterdam's So. Pacific & 2020 WC

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Report # 112   Day at Sea   February 27, 2020   Thursday   Mostly sunny & 81 degrees   Part # 1 of 1

 

Another day at sea, and another day closer to Tonga, the final tropical island we will visit in the South Pacific for this voyage.  The skies have cleared up nicely, and the sun was shining most of the day.  The surrounding seas were about smooth as glass at times, because there was very little breeze.  Looking good.

 

Today the Maori Ambassadors offered two sessions dealing with poi again, and learning how to play rhythm sticks or Tititorea.  Shore Excursion’s team continued with talks about tours in upcoming ports, and the guest speaker lectured on the Cook Island seabed minerals.  Always something new to learn. 

 

The movie in the Wajang was a good one called Hunt for the Wildpeople.  Set in the New Zealand bush country, it is about a wayward native boy, and his foster uncle who go missing after the foster aunt dies.  Part adventure and a lot of comedy, it was worthwhile seeing.

 

The only real meal we had today was this morning in the dining room.  We skipped lunch, because we had reservations in the Pinnacle Grill this evening.  If we have a late lunch, then we have trouble eating dinner, and really enjoying it.  So we had minimal room snacks after spending the afternoon at the pool.  With the sun coming out, many more folks decided to spend some time in the pool and on the lounges.

 

We sure don’t remember that each band in the lounges took one day of the week off on previous grand voyages.  It was the Ocean Quartet’s turn to be off today.  So when we went to the lounge during Happy Hour at 4 to 5pm, there were hardly any people there.  With no music, and no dancing, the folks do not go there.  That has to affect their beverage sales.  So we are wondering why there is no “fill-in” on those days the bands are off?  We seem to recall a piano player who filled this gap on shorter cruises. 

 

Our meals were outstanding once again in the Pinnacle Grill.  We began with the rolls, one of which is about 100% garlic with cheese in the center.  Served quite warm, this is the first one to go.  A torpedo roll is also served, and that goes second.  Starters were wedge salads, but with only one slice of the clothesline bacon each.  We usually skip the presentation with the hanging bacon, lemon slice, and the pickle.  The bacon on the salad plate is just fine with us.  Both of us ordered the grilled lamb chops, the best you can find anywhere on the ship.  For dessert, we each had a small portion of the Cherry Garcia ice cream.  It was most sufficient.  A plate of chocolate truffles were a bit different tonight.  Four of the offerings were chocolate filled with raisins and nuts, almonds and walnuts to be exact.  Normally we don’t eat these, but we had to try these new ones.  They are winners.

 

Entertainment tonight was fun with a new group singing tunes from the 50’s and 60’s.   The name of the group was The Alley Cats, and they drew a big crowd at both shows.

 

We’re all ready for tomorrow’s port of Nuku’ alofa, Tonga.  Seems like we were just here, but then, we were….. last November. And while we are gone tomorrow, we had a notice that our carpets will be cleaned between 9:15 until 2pm.  It is estimated to take 10 minutes, and we need not be present.  And all the work will be done under supervision, we assume meaning that our room will not be unattended while the door is open.  If for any reason we did not want them cleaning the carpets, we could re-schedule it. 

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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We love eating in the Pinnacle Grill.  And do agree that their lamb chops are the best.  The new chocolates sound delicious.  Hope they are dark chocolate.

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Report #113   Nuku'alofa, Tonga   February 28, 2020   Friday   Partly sunny & 81 degrees   Part #1 Of 4   80  Pictures

 

Tonga is the only country in the South Pacific that has never been colonized.  It is a small kingdom with a king, where culture and tradition has remained the same for centuries.  There are 171 or 176 islands belonging to Tonga, with Tongatapu the largest.  And this is the island we will visit today, at the capital city of Nuku’alofa.

 

Captain James Cook came here in 1776, and named the area the Friendly Islands.  He arrived to islands with a 3000 year old history and 1000 year old monarchy.  Bet they were invited to share the Kava ceremony as was the norm back then as it is now.

 

Missionaries arrived here in the 19th century and converted most of the islanders to Christianity.  Even to this day, if you arrive on a Sunday in this city, you will be treated to the church choirs during their services.

 

We usually walk the town and the extensive harbor road, since we have taken most all of the tours here.  Today shore excursions offered a city and island tour, as well as a panoramic drive to see the beaches, blowholes, caves, and flying foxes.  We also took the motor launch to Fafa Island, a 17 acre resort with surrounding sandy beaches.  There were also similar boat rides to islands for snorkeling and lunch.  Prices ranged from $60 to $240 for 2 ½ to 4 ½ hours. 

 

The carpets in the rooms on our deck were scheduled to be shampooed between 9am and 2pm, so we left the ship around 10am since we had not seen the shampoo guys yet.  That was probably due to the fact they had a rather big emergency drill for the crew at the same time.  Good time to leave the ship.

 

The skies were mostly sunny, but it sure was warm and sticky once again.  And barely a breeze stirred as we left the ship and crossed over the long pier to shore.  The souvenir tents were set up, but the vendors even looked stressed today.  And there was no pressure from the taxi drivers, who usually follow you down the street promoting tours.

 

We headed directly to the two-story main market a few blocks away from the ship.  They have a little bit of everything here like toiletries, local arts and crafts, jewelry, wooden carvings, tapa cloth handbags and fans, and fruits and veggies.  Upstairs, there is a large array of clothing and even more island jewelry.  Today we just stayed on the lower level, and did purchase a pair of seashell earrings that will match the new Tahitian shell necklace.  

 

Crossing the street, we went in search of Marco’s Pizza, mainly to see if it was still in business.  It was not opened, but we happened to get lucky when the owner of this small restaurant arrived in his vehicle.   He did confirm that he would open the café at 11:30am, but this was his last week at this location.  He said he was moving to a new building around the corner and up the street.  This is a good move for him, because the old place was not the most inviting pizza restaurant we have seen, although he did have a wood-fired oven there.

 

Turning right at the next corner, we went to see where all the singing was coming from.  It was the Catholic Church, St. Anthony of Padua, and the group of young school kids attending a service there.  Their pastor was encouraging them to out-sing each other, so they were raising the roof.  Directly across the road, was the Royal Tombs, where Tongan royalty have been buried since 1893.  The surrounding grassy fields have always been considered sacred, but one tourist had entered the gates, and walked up to the tombs to take photos.  Few locals were in the area, so nothing was said. 

 

On this same street was the Centennial Church or the Free Church of Tonga.  These days it is fenced off and in bad condition.  It had sustained considerable damage during a cyclone, and it has yet to be repaired.  As old as it looked, this church had been rebuilt in 1985, after having survived for 100 years.  Hopefully they will bring it back to life someday.

 

We always walk to the newer church, where the king and his family attend Mass when they are in town on Sundays.  Close to this church are huge mango trees where we can find the fruit bats hanging upside down during the heat of the day.  Once again, like back in December, we saw none.  But then, there was no fruit in those trees either.  So when the source of food is gone, the bats re-locate.

 

Heading towards the ocean, we saw the Royal Palace, which was built in 1867 with pre-fabricated pieces shipped from New Zealand.  It is a stately white Victorian and was once the residence of the king.  These days the palace is used for ceremonial occasions only. 

 

Hala Vuna Road begins here and goes for a few miles along the waterfront.  It is a pleasant walk, but today it was really hot.  The only people we saw, with the exception of a few friends from the ship that like to walk like us, were local taxi drivers and a few local families.  The taxi guys will park under a tree, and sit in the cars until a call comes in.  This morning the tide was up, and we did see a few shorebirds jumping on the rocks.  If the tide had been out exposing the reef, many more birds would have been here.  Also, we saw no pigs during our hike.  Local people that live on this stretch of road, will let their pigs wonder into the reef to root for sea worms and shellfish.  The first time we witnessed the large domestic pigs in the shallow water, we thought we were seeing things. 

 

Anyway, we went from one shade tree to another, looking for an empty bench.  There was a perfect bench in the shade, but a local taxi fellow was sitting there.  He invited us to share the long bench, so we did.  He was so nice, and asked where we were from.  Then the conversation went to sports when we said San Francisco was our home for many years.  Football must be very popular here, and he could name every famous quarterback that we could recall. He told us that this week was special for the school kids, since they were having competitions with all sporting games. Then his cell phone rang, and he was off to pick up a client.

 

By this time, we had made it as far as Little Italy, which is a lovely little hotel with a nice restaurant.  However, they did not open until 5pm for dinner.  It had always been on the recommended list on the HAL port guide, but now, there were no restaurants listed.  So we wisely decided to go back to the restaurant where we had lunch last December.  Once we walked into the front entrance and were seated, one of the owners recognized us, which was surprising.  Actually, she was so happy to have customers, because due to this virus, four big cruise ships had been turned away recently, and all of the tourist-related businesses were hurting.  She said one of those ships held 4000 passengers, but did not know which line it was.  They saw it arriving to dock at Vuna Pier, then it was denied entrance, and left.  In fact, we learned later on, that our entrance was a 50/50%  chance of happening last night.  The Captain said that the health officials in Tonga had to really go over our questionnaires we turned in a week ago before we would be cleared.  

 

Back to lunch.  We immediately ordered two locally-brewed ice cold Maui beers.  Excellent.  Then two more arrived.  One of us ordered the Hawaiian sandwich, and the other a Bolognese spaghetti plate.  Both came with a small side salad.  The pasta was the closest to what we cook at home so far this trip.  Topping off the meal, we shared a banana split.  Even though we sat in a screened enclosed porch, we had a fan at our table.  It was going to be difficult going back outside in that unrelenting heat, but all good things must come to an end.  

 

Back-tracking, we did not stop at many more icons of the town, and made our way back to the ship.  The air conditioning was life-saving.  So were the Cokes on ice we had while in our room working on photos.  The sail away was held at the Seaview Pool, and the brave folks came out for the slight breeze that popped up.  The local police band was in full force, entertaining us while the ropes were dropped.  Tongan dancers and singers put in another shore side show, as we sailed away from the island.  Sure is nice to see such a welcome and goodbye, as many places do nothing like this.  Truly, Tonga has earned the title of the Friendly Islands, as Cook suggested.  And searching the shoreline, we did see some of those pigs going into the water. It is always fun visiting with friends at these sail always as well.  Then the big announcement came, and changed the mood for everyone onboard. 

 

Captain Mercer had delivered his normal talk of the day, but had a huge announcement  concerning changes that had been made to our upcoming itinerary.  Due to the evolving situation with the COVID-19 virus (coronavirus), and security concerns, the ports in Indonesia, Singapore, the Maldives, and Kenya have been cancelled.  Not a surprise to us at all.  It would not be unthinkable that even more stops may be changed as well.

 

Now the new itinerary will include a stop in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, three days in Mumbai, India, a day in Praslin, Seychelles, and an extra day in Tanzania.  The one aspect about the unexpected visit to India, is that we have 10 year visas for that country, but in an old passport.  The morning that we left for the airport January 1st, we had not planned on bringing those passports with us.  But at the last minute, we decided to pack them just in case, so we did.  As for those folks who do not have visas for India, we have not heard if there will be a blanket visa for everyone.  These visas were difficult to obtain, and we have never heard of any shortcuts in that process.

 

Needless to say, that was the topic of conversation for the rest of the day, and for sure, for weeks to come.  Of course, all of the shore excursions that were booked in these ports through HAL, would be credited back to the guests.  However, there are undoubtedly many independent travelers who arranged private tours.  The question they all had was if they attempted to go on those tours anyway, they would not be allowed back on the ship.  This notice came to our rooms late last night.  To make matters even worse, there has been continuing problems with getting and sending emails again.  Or even getting online.  Well, at least we are not packing our luggage today, and preparing to go home.  At least…..not yet.   Nothing would surprise us at this point.

 

With bypassing Indonesia, that means most of the crew members will not be seeing their families and friends as they had expected.  And that is sad.  But we suspect that the crew had already been warned of these changes at least a week or more ago, and were sworn to secrecy with the guests.  And that is understandable, but they would have to abort their families travel plans in order to get to Java or Bali, as most would involve flights, cars, bus, or ferries to get to those islands.

 

There was a beautiful sunset this evening, and we caught it from deck six forward.  We agreed that it was too cloudy to see a green flash, but we sure did notice that the sky was pulsating green around the sun as it went down below the horizon.  And out of seemingly nowhere, were dozens of birds, possibly shearwaters or similar, flying right above the water around the front of the bow.  Once the sun disappeared, so did the birds.

 

So dinner was interesting as we all discussed the many changes, and the fact that this is still a developing story.  Things can turn on a dime, depending on how this virus spreads.  The best we can all do is continue to take it a day at a time, and enjoy the places we will visit….and stay healthy.  That is number one in our book at this point of time.

 

We now have two days at sea as we sail south to Auckland, New Zealand.  At least we have not been turned away from there………yet.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

https://cruisingwithbillandmaryann.blogspot.com/

 

 

Edited by WCB
Did not post all of report

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Thank you for your report, always interesting. We were in Tonga-tapu over 10 years ago, many changes in the meantime.

I don't quite understand what passengers mean by saying they may not be allowed back on the ship from private tours. If the ship is not going to those canceled ports, there will be no tours, of course. 

 

I am following the blogs of Regent world cruisers. They are in the same situation with cancelled ports and a totally reconfigured itinerary south around Australia instead of north.

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Enjoy reading your reports.

 

It is a worry about the virus and upcoming ports.  Hope all works out well for everyone.

 

Now off to see your wonderful pictures.

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I would assume what was meant is ... if you leave the ship, say in Australia, fly to one of the Asian ports, and then try to rejoin the the ship further down the line, the answer is no. I think the letter said you could not rejoin the ship at any point.

 

Susan

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Susan,

Thanks for the clarification.

I didn't read what the itinerary is. Regent and Crystal are going to the southern ports of Australia then to Sri Lanka instead of up north along the east coast of Australia. They skip Southeast Asia.

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Report # 114    Day at Sea   February 29, 2020   Saturday   Mostly sunny & 83 degrees   Part # 1 of 1

 

Happy Leap Day, the extra day in February that occurs once every four years.  If you were born on this date, perhaps you have discovered the fountain of youth, since your age is only ¼ of everyone else’s.  Would be nice if it really worked that way.

 

It was a bit cooler today with a tad less humidity.  Compared to yesterday’s heat in Tonga, it was most welcomed.  It seems that the ship has had problems with directing the air-conditioning equally throughout the vessel.  At times, it was sweltering on Dolphin deck at the stairway down to Deck A.  Then the public areas were cool, to the point that many people were wearing jackets and sweaters.  The dining room was also warm this evening, just in time for Gala night of course.

 

We think that the Maori Ambassadors are towards the end of their stay here.  This morning they performed the Maori War Dance, where the purpose was to scare the enemy with extreme facial expressions.  One of those was sticking the tongue out.  Even more hilarious, was watching Greg ad Heo duplicate this tactic at dinner tonight.  They did it well, making us all laugh. 

 

Another subject of interest for us was the talk about the endangered parrots of Eastern Polynesia.  But try as we might, we could not get the timing right to catch his lecture on TV later in the day.  We would have been curious as to how the speaker, Gerald McCormack, was adding birds with a transboundary reintroduction.  That has happened to us at home many years ago, when we accidently left a door opened to an aviary, and several wild turkey poults escaped.  Not sure if this contributed to the huge number of flocks we have in or county, but surely some of the blood line might have survived.

 

Port talks on upcoming New Zealand cities were delivered today.  That is a good indication that we will not be turned away.  And shore excursion is still selling tours in Australia, so that looks good too.   People are still talking about the changes with the itinerary, but in a good way.  As much as we love Singapore, we sure do not wish to take any chances going there.  Our biggest concern at the moment is that we may be allowed in an area that is fine, no virus, then after we leave, they have a breakout.  That might affect every port after that. We may be turned away, like what is happening to several cruise ships lately. No sense worrying about something we cannot change at this point.

 

We spent the better part of the day at the Seaview Pool, mostly due to the fact that in a few days, we will begin to cool down and no longer go to the pool.  It has been so pleasant back there, we really enjoy the quiet time.

 

During the day, we made several attempts at going online to send and receive emails.  Did not have much luck at all.  We are not alone, as everyone is having the same issues.  If this ever gets fixed, we will be surprised.

 

We are still getting notices regarding important health advisory instructions.  Today’s note was titled ”Keep calm and wash your hands”.  Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.  Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.  And void sick people.  These are things we must have learned in kindergarten.  Watching people’s habits, we would say that most of this common-sense stuff has been long forgotten.

 

Our two week delivery of sodas came through today for our President’s Club amenity.  Just in time, since we have run out.  Since we have purchased the nice long-lived flowers in Tahiti, we do not need to add that to our delivery for a while.

 

Gala dinner was Bowlers and Bumpershoots, a theme for being en-route to Commonwealth Nations.  “Bowlers” is for the top hats, and “bumpershoots” is for umbrellas.  These parasols were hung with paper clips from the ceilings in the dining room.  At times, when the ship was rolling, some of these fell to the floor.  Now we might be wrong, but isn’t it bad luck to open an umbrella inside a room?  Something like walking under a ladder used to be bad luck.  So during dinner, we kept a watch on the umbrella hanging over our heads.

 

Another funny thing happened tonight.  We had been scheduled to have a guest host, but by 8:25pm, no one had arrived.  Asep informed us that the chief engineer was slated to join us, but something had interrupted him, and he could not attend.  Not to fret, however, since they sent the wine (or soda) in his place anyway.  The shrimp appetizer was good, as were the entrees of arctic char, and rack of lamb.  The surf and turf was reportedly excellent as well.  Chocolate souffles and Oreo cheesecake was a good way to end the meal. 

 

The show was a repeat of  singer Annie Frances and Jim Hodson, a multi-instrumentalist.  At the 7:30pm show, we could hear Miss Frances all the way to the Ocean Bar with her booming voice.  There appeared to be standing room only.

 

One more day at sea, and we should be in Auckland, New Zealand.  

 

Bill & Mary Ann  

 

 

 

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Report # 115   Day at Sea   March 1, 2020   Sunday   Partly sunny & 78 degrees   Part # 1 of 1

 

We had a surprise when entering the  lower dining room this morning.  Actually yesterday, we noticed that the fellows were shampooing the carpet to the left hand side of the doors.  This morning, the entire starboard side of the room had flooded, we assume during the night.  All of the covered chairs were up in the center section, and several workers were doing a clean-up.  Hopefully, it get repaired, because the Sunday Brunch was due to begin at 11am.  If nothing else, those carpets were clean as a whistle.

 

There was no doubt in our minds that we had traveled far enough south to leave the humidity and heat far behind us.  It was still nice enough to relax at the Seaview Pool, but few people went into the water.  The breeze was strong enough to chill you upon getting out of the water.  The high clouds came and went, but there was no rain, as the Captain had warned.  We have found that the deck crew members have been most attentive with the guests that are back there.  Earlier in the cruise, a number of us would have had to wave down one of the bar staff to order a drink.  It is a far cry from the days when we sailed other cruise lines, and the fellows were enticing you with drinks of the day every 5 minutes.  That does not happen here.

 

The Maori team wrapped up their ambassador duties with a cultural performance on the Mainstage this afternoon.  They sure can sing and dance.  Later at dinnertime, they showed up on the stairway of the lower dining room, serenading all of us for 10 minutes.  Bet it was a Maori farewell song.

 

The guest lecturer gave two talks today.  In the morning, he spoke about the land birds of Polynesia, and the afternoon lecture was all about marine turtles and humpback whales in this part of the South Pacific.  Both fascinating subjects.

 

In the late afternoon, we usually go for a second or third walk around the promenade deck.   The nice part of that is running into friends, and stopping to chat. Most everyone is still wondering about the details of the itinerary changes.  And just to clear up some misunderstanding, we thought we better explain the situation with some folks that had booked independent overland tours from some of the cancelled ports.  We can only assume that not everyone insured these trips, and stand to lose their money.  So some of them figured that they could get off in another port, and fly to Singapore, for instance.  It was made perfectly clear that if anyone did that, they would not be allowed to come back to the ship, having gone to a country that was cancelled.  Hope that clears up any questions.  The other big question everyone is asking is how are those who do not have India visas going to get them?   Will the ship be able to swing a blanket visa?

 

All of us received the Voyage Log for the second segment of Buenos Aires to Auckland.  This time the miles traveled were 11,622.7 miles using 369,838 gallons of fuel.  And how many eggs were consumed in that period?  Try 93,240, which always makes us laugh.  That is one heck of a lot of eggs.

 

Dinnertime had some good selections with a dos frijoles bean soup and a smoked chicken/vegetable soup.  One of us had the regular prime rib and baked potato entrée, and the other tried the mustard-coated sole.  That plate came with the best breaded onion rings.  And both were tasty.  Desserts for us were frozen coffee yogurt with a chocolate drizzle, and the other was a mille feuille layer cake.  Kind of makes us a little guilty when one of our tablemates orders the healthy fruit plate almost every night.  But just a tiny little guilty.

 

A juggler, Steven Ragatz and multi-instrumentalist, Jim Hodson returned to the stage tonight with all new shows.  We have been staying later in the dining room, and miss most of the show time.  Sometimes it is much more fun to visit with our tablemates. 

 

All of us are looking forward to our first stop in New Zealand tomorrow.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Yes -- it is bad luck to open an umbrella in a room / house.

 

I never worry about what other people eat and have never felt guilty about what I eat in front of them.

 

It will be interesting to see if a few people will ignore the rules about going to a country that is ot allowed.  Time will tell what they do.

 

 

 

 

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Report #116   Auckland, New Zealand   March 2, 2020   Monday   Mostly cloudy & 68 degrees     Part #1 Of 3    80  Pictures

 

Located on the North Island of New Zealand, Auckland is situated between two sparkling harbors on a thin strip of peninsula.  Considered one of the nicest cities in the world, it has earned the name of “City of Sails”, due to the fact that so many locals own a boat of one kind or another.  It is said that over one quarter of the population of all New Zealanders populate this capital city. 

 

The Maoris settled here as early as 1350AD, however, due to wars and epidemics, by 1840 when the Europeans arrived, the area was almost deserted.  Happily, these days, Auckland has the biggest concentration of Polynesians in the world.

 

And this city is a favorite one of ours.  We have taken some memorable tours here, which included city site-seeing, visits to Kelly Tarleton’s Sea Life Aquarium, America’s Cup Village, and a dinner at the top of the Sky Tower at 1072 feet high. 

 

Out of town has many excellent excursions like a day at wineries, a day trip to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, a drive to see a mainland gannet colony, or a visit to a rural sheep station to watch the sheep dogs and shearing demo…..a must do.  A ride across the iconic Auckland Bridge takes you to Devonport Village, a suburb where many folks shop and have a nice lunch.  Waiheke Island is accessed by a high-speed ferry, and a fun way to spend a day at a beach, tour wineries, and have lunch.  The good thing is that we will have two days here to explore.  Oh yes, there is a bridge climb for $110, a bargain, compared to the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb, which goes for $600.   Wow.

 

The Amsterdam arrived to the dock by 7am, and the ship was cleared by 8am.  Hamish had to repeat the New Zealand Quarantine Regulations not once, twice, but at least four times by 10am.  The restricted items are the same ones in most ports we visit, but here, they are strict.  Hamish emphasized that there would be a $400 New Zealand fine for any breaches of the laws.  That computes to $253 US dollars.  Last year, one of us  had left a bamboo hand fan in the bag, and it was questioned.  Since it was not food, the official let it slide, however, it was removed when we went off of the ship the following day.   Another thing was we were required to have a “current” US ID, such as a passport or a driver’s license.    Several years ago, we had carried an expired driver’s license, and it was OK.  A few years back, one of the guards caught the expired date, and almost did not let us back into the terminal. We immediately exchanged them with the current licenses.

 

We went for our usual breakfast, and noticed that the dining room was opened for lunch.  This only happens on embarkation day, which happened to be today.  We were informed that 30 passengers left the ship here, and 23 boarded.  We know that some of the crew went home from Auckland, instead of Singapore.  So that means they will be replaced with new crew members too.  And we were told that at least one new couple reported to friends onboard that they will have their temperatures checked daily for at least 14 days.  Not sure if that is the rule for all of the newly-embarked, but it should be.

 

Then we left the ship around 10am, but were disappointed that we did not have our bag checked.  We saw no dogs either.  Looked like their main targets were the guests on bus tours, as they like to take snacks with them for the bus ride.  Only commercially bottled water was allowed to be taken off of the ship. Hamish may have mentioned it was OK to take off wrapped chocolates and biscuits (cookies) as well.

 

Last year, the streets outside the terminal were dug up, and guess what?  They still were.  This major construction job will last until the end of the year we read.  The worst intersection was Quay Street and Hobson.  We found our way around the side streets, and headed towards Queen Street.  Once we spotted the Sky Tower, we turned left on Victoria Street.  Then we had a very steep climb up the hill to Albert Park.  We found that all of the flower beds were being watered with sprinklers.  It looked like Auckland really needs rain soon, because of the grassy fields were brown and dying.  This is the beginning of their autumn, and they are expecting rain soon. 

 

After taking many photos, we walked among the dozens of students that come to this quiet park to study or eat a bag lunch.  At one end of the park, we located the footbridge, Wellesley Street East, which crosses over a busy street below.  Walking up the street, we turned left on Symonds Street, past the old church, now being restored, then past the old Symonds Cemetery.  

 

Crossing over on Grafton Bridge, we ended up at the entrance to Auckland Domain, a huge park area with a stadium and the Winter Garden.  This unique garden consists of two barrel-vaulted Victorian style glass houses, which contain a myriad of flowers and a water feature with tropical plants.  The center between the glass houses is a sunken pond with fountains.  In the back, there is the Fernery, which is a cool area that duplicates the rain forest.  It sure is a nice place for avid gardeners like us, as we appreciate the rare and spectacular plants that are grown in this part of the world.  Many of the local varieties of plants are also grown in our home state of California. 

 

Time to move on, we walked out the back of the gardens to find the impressive Auckland War Memorial on top of the knoll.  This stately building houses an extensive collection of Maori and Pacific Island artifacts.  Of the many carvings, the most memorable one was an 82 foot Maori canoe, that had been carved from one trunk of a totara tree.  There is also exhibits of WWI and WWII chronicling the years of those wars and the involvement of the New Zealanders.

 

From there, we followed Stanley Street walking under some of the largest elms, oaks, and sycamore trees.  This road led to the Parnell Village, which is full of cafes, bars, boutiques, as well as churches and small businesses.  Halfway down the road, we found the Mink Café, where we had lunch a year ago.  It was wonderful to stop and relax for an hour, as we had already walked for almost 3 ½ hours.   

 

First thing we ordered were Asashi Japanese draft beers, followed with an order of the burger of the day.  That turned out to be a grilled chicken sandwich, which we shared.  We had forgotten that it came with a side of fries, so we ordered another side to share.  Can never have enough fries, which were served hot right from the kitchen.  Since the weather was heavily overcast, but not cold, we only needed one beer each today.  And we had intended to try the WIFI, but forgot until we were almost ready to leave.  The Kindle needed refreshing, so will have to do it in the terminal or at lunch tomorrow.

 

On the way home, we made a stop at Countdown, the local grocery store.  It was in the process of being remodeled, but we did find most everything we needed.  Mostly little room snacks.  Earlier this morning, we had talked with one of the passengers we know who told us some of her friends complain that sometimes they wake up at 2 or 3am, and are hungry.   Imagine that?  So they love cities like today, where you can pick up familiar chips, candy, or cookies, or whatever makes you happy in the middle of the night.  Have to admit we have a ziplock of some soda and graham crackers in our room just for that reason. At the times we went off on the first tender boat without breakfast, those crackers were fine.

 

We made it back to the ship by 4pm, and spent the rest of the day relaxing and working on the computer.  And the nice thing was that the internet was working today.  We also took the time to make a few phone calls from our computer, but only making contact with one family member.  This is something new to us, and it is really nice that it worked.

 

All of us were present for dinner at 8pm, although every one of us was tired from the day’s activities.  All but us had gone to Devonport for shopping and lunch, which they all enjoyed.  Fish and chips was the favorite entrée, but the blue-lipped mussels were a far second.  We called it a night by 9:30pm, so our waiters could go off the ship and have some free time. 

 

The best thing is that we have another full day to explore and enjoy Auckland.  Even though the all onboard time is 5:30pm, a mandatory Passenger Emergency Muster Drill is scheduled for 4:15pm.  Sometimes the drill is only for the newly-embarked, but the daily newsletter did not say that.  Will have to call the front desk on this one.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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The good thing is that we will have two days here to explore.  Oh yes, there is a bridge climb for $110, a bargain, compared to the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb, which goes for $600.   Wow.

 

I too thought Wow!  $600 to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Maybe as a shore excursion but it's just over AU $400 for the most expensive climb if you book yourself.

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On 2/29/2020 at 11:09 AM, Krazy Kruizers said:

Enjoy reading your reports.

 

It is a worry about the virus and upcoming ports.  Hope all works out well for everyone.

 

Now off to see your wonderful pictures.

 

KK, how do I get to their pictures?

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Sounds like you enjoyed your day in Auckland again.

 

I have to admit that neither of us have ever snacked in the middle of the night.

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Report #117   Auckland, New Zealand   March 3, 2020   Tuesday   Partly cloudy & 75 degrees    Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures

 

Our second day in Auckland was just as nice as yesterday.  But first, we needed to know if everyone onboard was require to participate in today’s muster drill.  The answer from the front desk girl was “yes”, everyone was required to attend this drill, or according to their warning, may be refused to sail on this vessel.  We are not aware that the warning has been enforced, but we were not going to challenge it.  It is understandable that the folks feel short-changed when our time is cut short with a drill at 4:15pm.  Technically, the all onboard time was 5:30pm, but if you adhered to that, you would miss the drill.  There was one time that we missed the drill, going off of the ship in the afternoon on boarding day.  We had failed to see the muster request.  But we did have to make it up the following day with a number of other guests that accidently did the same as us. 

 

The weather looked dismal outside, although, it was not really cold.  Like yesterday, we knew that if we were walking a long way, we would warm up in this humidity.  So after a light breakfast, we headed off of the ship by 10am, and took a right turn at the old Ferry Building this time.  This led us to the ice cream shop across from the ferry terminal.  We took a quick look at the flavors, but could not find Hokey Pokey.  Surely they have something close, and we figured we would check it out on our way back. 

 

Our destination was the marina and the America’s Cup Village, but it was not easy to get there.  The streets have been dug up, and cordoned off to partial car and pedestrian traffic.  We had to cross the street twice, but with the help of crossing guards.  Interesting how they stop the crowd from running across the streets.  They pull a tape across the intersection, holding everyone back, then walk it back, leaving the crosswalk open until the lights changed.  A few of the crossing ladies did it with a flare, which really helped pass the time of day for them, and got some laughs from us.

 

With the hotels and restaurants in this area, it can become quite crowded, but most of this area becomes traffic-free.  With the exception of the dock workers and delivery trucks, most of the traffic here is either people walking or riding bikes or scooters.  Mostly the motorized varieties.  In the America’s Cup area, there are a few yachts, the NZ68 and the NZ41, where you can take a 2 ½ hour tour to experience a ride in  one of these powerful vessels.  You are even invited to participate in the actual sailing, along with the help of the experts.  It comes with a hefty price of $200 per person, if done through the ship’s shore excursions.   

 

Many charter yachts, or party boats, are for lease here.  Then as we continued on, we crossed over a narrow draw bridge, that will lift for boats to go into Stanley Bay.  This is where the string of restaurants begin, all offering different types of food.  Most would not open until lunchtime, but there were a few coffee shops already full of customers.  Many of the big businesses and high rises are located here, so this type of dining is easily accessible to the working crowd as well as tourists.  For us, it was too early for lunch, so we continued on with our walk.

 

We came into an area of marine businesses, more industrial.  And a lot of work was happening here too.  It appeared that a new hotel was being erected, and the old silos were undergoing restoration.  A kiddie park with a water feature was here.  And the fish market was locate up another side street.  We walked to a small marina where smaller, but older sail boats were moored.  There were plackets explaining the history of each vessel.  And the nice thing was there were plenty of bench seating here.  Great spot to relax and watch the marina traffic in the bay.  Since it was Tuesday, we did not see the same activity as we did coming here on a weekend.

 

A nice boardwalk promenade has been added to the shoreline here, so we followed it for a long way with Saint Marys Bay on one side.  This opened up with another marina, reportedly the largest one in the Southern Hemisphere.  There were vessels of all sizes, a yacht club, and a few very nice restaurants along the way.  Even nicer, there were new restrooms, even some showers.  The wooden walkway ended with a sign saying it was going to continue all the way to the Auckland Harbor Bridge.  They were working on it already. 

 

But that did not stop our hike, as the old trail went on.  We did end up at the foot of the bridge, but realized that it was not a pedestrian bridge.  Right on the seawall, were benches and small cleaning stations with water for the fishermen.  We did sit on one of the benches, watching one fellow bait his hook, and cast it into the water.  The sun was beginning to peek through the clouds, and as we expected, it did warm up considerably. 

 

It was time to head back.   By now, the young locals were out and about running or biking along this set of trails, and we were not alone.  Eventually, we arrived back at the restaurants in the marina area, and found a suitable place for lunch.   We stopped at the Wynard Pavilion, and ordered two ice cold Stella beers on tap.  Fish entrees were the biggest selections, but they also had a list of pizzas.  Perfect, we ordered a Margherita pizza to share, and also one apple/berry cheesecake with a scoop of Hokey Pokey ice cream.  The real stuff.  While sitting at the comfortable high chairs, we remembered to try the WIFI.  It worked well, and the Kindle got updated.

 

Taking our time, we made it back to the ship by 3:30pm.  And we did stop at the ice cream place, but they only had a flavor similar to the one we love.  Sharing a small cup of the caramel/vanilla ice cream, we were glad we at least had a scoop of the real thing at lunch.

 

The muster drill went off as usual at 4:15pm, then we spent an hour at the Seaview Pool when the ship left after 5:30pm.  The real sail away was held in the Crow’s Nest.  It was windy, and still rather overcast, so not too many folks were back there.  And it was the start of dinnertime, so many guests were busy doing that.  We all showed up at the table, despite the fact that all of us were really tired after another day in Auckland.   Our dinners were pork schnitzel and tuna, but cooked almost well.  Both were good. 

 

The fellows left at 9:30pm, to attend the show of the Alley Cats, but the rest of us had other plans.  Mostly going back to our rooms to get enough rest for tomorrow’s port of the Bay of Islands, the last of the New Zealand stops.

 

Bill & Mary Ann  

 

  

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Report #118   Bay of Islands, New Zealand   March 4, 2020   Wednesday   Chance of rain & 76 degrees       Part #1 Of 5    80  Pictures

 

The native Maori people lived in these scattered islands of the Bay of Islands, fishing in the sheltered waters.  Then Captain Cook arrived in 1769, followed by missionaries, and European whalers, sealers, and traders.  In time, the Maoris ceded rights to the land over to the British, a move that is still questioned today.  This signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place with the British Crown in 1840. 

 

And we have been lucky to have visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to see the Meeting House, Treaty House, the world’s largest war canoe, and the huge flagpole that marks the spot. 

 

Various tours took the passengers to historical Kerikeri, where two of the oldest buildings are located.  The Stone Store and the Kemp House were built in 1819 for the Missionary Society of London. 

 

Also interesting was a ride to walk through the Puketi Forest where the ancient kauri trees exist in a subtropical rainforest.  Some of these giants are over 1200 years old.

 

There were catamaran rides to Cape Brett, a drive to another glow-worm cave, or a chance to go fishing for blue cod, terakihi, trevally, and snapper.  However, the catch would have to be left with the boat crew, and not allowed back onboard the ship. 

 

For the adventurous ones among the guests, there was a parasail trip or kayaking to Haruru Falls.  Tour prices ranged from $60 to $190, and ran from one to five hours.

 

The bad news was that it was raining shortly after the ship’s anchor was dropped.  The good news was that it was raining, and the locals were thrilled, since everything here also looked dried up.  And even though we doubted it would clear up, the weather did improve by the time we left the ship around 10am.  Just in case, we did pack the umbrellas, and this time it was a good thing we did.

 

It was a long ride from the ship to the pier at Waitangi, but there were shuttles buses running everyone to the town of Paihia, the resort destination of many New Zealanders.  Since we enjoy walking, we took off to the road to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a 15 minute walk uphill into the forest.  We have toured the grounds on an organized tour, perhaps twice, so today we did not enter the facility.  Making our way further up the hill, we were getting wet from the trees dripping from the recent rain.  At the far end of the property, is the Waitangi golf course.  We did see locals lugging their clubs over the crest, following the course.  Our friend Sue loves to play golf in every port that has a course, but she figured the rain would have closed it for the day.  Do we dare tell her it would have been fine?

 

Off of this road, is the hiking trail to the Haruru Falls, but the sign warned it would take 2 hours.  With the last tender back to the ship at 3pm, there would not have been enough time.  We have seen the falls while on a tour years ago.  So we hiked back and across the narrow bridge to Paihia, the resort town filled with beaches, trendy cafes, arts and crafts, and plenty of ferries to take you to the other nearby islands. 

 

We could have taken the shuttle bus, but it was so nice, despite the sticky humidity, a walk was better.  Once across the bridge, we cut down to the beach, and srtolled among the oystercatchers and gulls that use this area for a feeding ground.  Piles of small seashells littered the sand, and were a foot deep in some parts.  We did see at least two people swimming in the bay, but it looked cold.  One of them had one a wet/dry suit.

 

Towards the end of the beach, we made our way up to  the road to walk over the crest and down into the city of Paihia.  The waterfront was full of hotels and vacation properties.  The population increases significantly during the summer months with the vacationing families and fun-seekers.  We did hike up the main street and alleyways checking out the souvenirs.  But when it began to rain, we decided it was a good time to find a place for lunch.  The better pizza place up the street was not opened for lunch, so we ended up at Zane Grey’s Bar and Restaurant, built right over the water.  We ordered local draft beers and one cheeseburger, New Zealand style, to share.  It came with plenty of hot steak fries.  Hoping to update the Kindle further, we had trouble getting online with their free wifi.  The waitress said that when it rained, it affected the connection.  Since it was raining rather hard, it never did connect.  With all of the passengers here, we probably crashed their internet. 

 

When we left, the rain had stopped, and we definitely wanted to find some Hokey Pokey ice cream.  Directly across the street was a gelato shop, and they had exactly what we wanted.  One of us had a cone, while the other prefers a cup.  Way better than yesterday’s ice cream, this was the rich, creamy vanilla ice cream with the honeycomb bits of crunchy candy in it.   Doesn’t take much to make us happy.

 

The weather looks promising enough to walk back to the pier, instead of taking the bus.  And besides, we still had NZ coins to spend.  There was a 7-11 type of shop on the way back, so we bought two bags of chips.  Then while we were heading back, the sky opened up, and we got big rain again.  The umbrellas helped keep the upper half dry, but the rest was soaked.  Actually felt good, cooling us off. 

 

There was a tender boat waiting to leave, so that was good.  One thing we did not like was when they closed the doors, and it became unbearably hot and steamy inside the boat.  Made the ride even longer.  We hung all of the wet stuff up in the bathroom to dry, then worked in or room until 4:30pm. 

 

The sail away had been moved to the Crow’s Nest, even though it did not rain anymore.  Several folks did go out to watch the sail of the bay, and were treated to sightings of jumping dolphins.  We now have two days to cross the Tasman Sea to reach Sydney, Australia.  And they may be rough, according to the Captain who warned about some significant swells this evening. 

 

Dinner was fun as everyone had stories to share about their day here.  One thing we could share was the news we got from our travel agent this morning.  We had asked her to check into a possible overnight trip from Hambantota to Colombo, Sri Lanka.  The news sent to her from the tour company was not good.  It seems that the health department of Sri Lanka has forbidden any passengers or crew from disembarking a ship in the entire country.  We wonder when this is going to be announced?  And we suspect there will be more countries with similar restrictions.  Time will tell.

 

The show tonight was a fellow named William Caulfield, an award nominated top Irish comedian.  Only the guys went, and the rest of us stayed behind to chat.

 

And speaking of time, the clocks went back one hour tonight…..very welcomed by all.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Just got caught up with both wonderful reports.

 

Too much rain -- hope your weather improves.

 

Will look at the pictures later.

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Report # 119   Day at Sea   March 5, 2020   Thursday   Moly cloudy & 65 degrees   Part # 1 of 1

 

It sure was not going to be a pool day, as we began the crossing of the Tasman Sea last night.  Just as the Captain mentioned, we began the rolling with the deep swells, a residual affect from a storm very far away.  But with the reputation of the Tasman Sea, we would be disappointed not to have some rough sailing.  Back in 2000, we made this very same crossing on another cruise line.  The winds were so ferocious that a canvas cover of an outdoor patio on the aft deck was ripped to shreds.  Anyway, we knew it could have been much worse, since every single lounge on deck three had been removed and lashed to the railings.  Even the private ones belonging to the lanai cabins.  All of the chaise lounges at the pool had been stacked and lashed under the overhangs on deck eight.  They can never be too safe.

 

Since we had a lot of catching up to do on the computer, we spent some of the morning in our room.  Before we knew it, Captain Mercer was delivering his PM talk.  It was his usual info, but then he mentioned he would be back with an important message after Hamish did his talk.   We sort of guessed what was next…..more cancellations of upcoming ports, and we were correct.  Blaming it on travel restrictions and port operations, the following calls to Sri Lanka and India were cancelled.  We already knew that Sri Lanka issued a health advisory, because our travel agent informed us yesterday afternoon.  Even if the ship was allowed to dock for services, no one would be let off.  Even that got cancelled.  Two problems happened with India.  One was an unsurmountable issue with obtaining visas for those who did not have them.  The other reason could be that the coronavirus is there as well., although not advertised. 

 

So we are still good with Australia, thank goodness, and the scheduled ports of Sydney, Townsville, Cairns, and Darwin will remain the same.  After Darwin, we will head for Broome, Exmouth, Geraldton, and two days in Freemantle (Perth), all in Western Australia.  Then we will have a 7 day at sea sailing to reach Reunion on April 2nd.  The rest of the trip will remain the same, unless, things change again.  The end of the segment will be in Freemantle instead of Colombo, for those few segment folks.  And we assume the crew members that are due to go home, will leave from there also. 

 

And with all of this news, we can firmly say that this has been the craziest world cruise ever.  And with that said, we can be thankful we are still free of the dreaded virus, and hope that continues.  Every day there seems to be a new cruise ship with cases of the virus.  Today the Grand Princess revealed a few possible cases of the virus with guests that just  got back from a short Mexico trip.   Of all places, the ship was denied docking in our hometown of San Francisco.  Currently, we heard the ship is out at sea, waiting it out.

 

The Captain’s Gala Dinner was held in the dining room this evening.  For the first time since 2008, there were two fixed seatings for the guests that chose to attend.  The first seating was at 5:15pm, earlier than usual.  Curious to see the folks going to the dining room, we hung out at the Ocean Bar, while listening to the tunes of Diane Slagle playing the piano.  She also sings, and we found her performance a nice change from the four person band.  There were few people there, but perhaps that was due to the rolling seas, making dancing difficult.  By the way the Ocean Quartet was playing in the orchestra pit in the upper dining room at both dinner seatings. 

 

The only alternate restaurant opened was the Lido, but that closed at 8pm.  Only one side of that restaurant was opened this evening.  Apparently, half of their staff was needed for the main dining room.

 

Our time slot was at 7:30pm, and our entire table was intact, meaning that none of us got moved to a different table.  But there was a huge problem when we tried to get out of the elevator on deck four outside the lower dining room.  The lobby was jammed full of waiting guests to enter the room.  We had to wait 15 minutes for the remainder of the early diners to clear the room.  The longer that took, the more backed up the guests got.  No one was getting out of any elevator, and with the rolling of the ship, we thought some folks would keel over.  Barb found us, and we went in together, eventually to be joined by Woody.  No Susie , Greg and Heo.  They were trying to get in on deck five, but they kept the doors closed even longer up there.  

 

We did have an officer as our host, Harry Drabbe, the Chief Engineer.  He greeted us as we were seated, then we invited him to sit with us, as we did not know when the other three were coming.  By 8pm, we were all present and accounted for.  Greg remarked that most everyone was dressed to the nines for this special occasion, much like what they would see on a Cunard sailing.  Much more formal there.

 

At each place setting, we had a trio of amuses.  They consisted of tiny servings with cucumber, mousse, crab, and a mystery mojito grape-look alike clump.  Still not sure what was in the gelatin clump…some kind of alcohol?  A drink of a pear-infused vodka topped off with a splash of sparkling wine was at each person place setting.  We are not fond of vodka, so we donated ours to Greg and Heo.  And since we did not drink the wine, Edmond, the beverage manager, automatically brought us cocktails of Jack Daniels and one rum and Coke.  That was so nice of him.  Of course with that, two of our tablemates also asked for a cocktail as well.  It helps to be President’s Club members, as this was not questioned at all.

 

Starters were tiger prawns or a very small beet salad. Individual French bread baguettes were served on the side.  They were the best.  A soup of edamame and pea was served to those who ordered it, then the mains followed.  There were three choices….one was a fish plate, the second was the lamb plate, and the third a vegetarian choice.  Everyone by us ordered the fish.  We can say the lamb was good, although the cuts were unusual.  Desserts were a choice of a meringue custard and something else, we cannot recall.  If that was not sweet enough, they followed up with trays of chocolate gormandizes, like we used to get every formal night many years ago.  Red and white wines flowed throughout the dinner and well afterwards. 

 

So we asked our waiters what held up the first dinner.  Apparently, the dinner plates they used for the first seating came from the Pinnacle Grill, but the stainless steel covers did not fit. So therefore, every dinner had to brought in one at a time, as they could not be stacked. And for that reason, our entrees were served on the regular white plates with no hold-ups.  Funny that glitch was not figured out ahead of time. 

 

When the Captain greeted everyone from the orchestra pit, he sort of explained why this dinner was done this way instead of having smaller groups in the Pinnacle Grill.  He said that to accommodate the full world cruisers, around 30 dinners had to be held.  With just so many officers to host tables, the repetitive dinners were getting to be too much for them.  And with the Pinnacle Grill tied up so many evenings, the chance for them to make money was gone.  Now they were free to add more specialty evenings that attract more customers.  Can’t say we blame them.

 

So back at our room, we found two gifts.  They were ceramics boxes, suitable for jewelry or small change on a dresser perhaps.  Resembling a gift box with a blue ribbon, they are from Royal Goedewaagen, matching many other similar items we have at home.  They will have to be packed very carefully to make it home in one piece.

 

We are counting on the seas to behave better, but so far, we are still rolling quite a bit.  And the clocks went back one hour again.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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The captain's dinner sounded great.

 

Yes, now the Grand Princess is getting tested for the virus.  Feel sorry for all the passengers.

 

Hope the Amsterdam doesn't get the virus.  

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Report # 120   Day at Sea   March 6, 2020 Friday   Showers & 69 degrees   Part #1 of 1

 

For a while this morning, it seemed that the seas had decided to calm down a bit.  But that did not last very long, because as the day progressed, so did the swells.  And it was heavily overcast and sure looked like rain.  The lounges had been set up once again on the lower promenade deck, but there were few takers.  It was not cold, but slightly warm and humid.  Good walking weather if you could maintain a straight line.

 

At breakfast, we heard some interesting stories about last night’s Captain’s Dinner.  We knew that the doors on deck 5 had been closed until almost 8pm, but what we did not know was that someone had taken ill, and the medical staff had been called.  It might have been due to the fact so much alcohol had been available with the meal.  Starting with the vodka/sparkling wine cocktail, then copious wine that was poured, a few guests may have over done it.  We figured that since this was the first Captain’s Dinner that was done this way, we were sort of the “guinea pigs”, like a test run.  The next time, the staff will have worked the kinks out of the affair.  And perhaps, back off on the amount of the booze served.   And we are sure not everyone would agree with that.

 

There are two new speakers that joined the ship.  One is Captain Thomas Anderson, who spoke about the Southern Sky, and Andy Fletcher who lectured on the theories of Isaac Newton.   Also new to the Amsterdam was a guest chef by the name of Scott Webster.  Bet he specializes in Aussie cuisine.

 

With the addition of the new Australian ports, the shore ex group gave a talk on the upcoming ports.  There will be plenty to see and do with more tours added. With all of the recent changes in the itinerary, we are certain that the shore excursion folks have been extremely busy with refunds and re-bookings.  And we have a feeling that this is not the end of the changes.  Watching the news, it has been almost shocking with the cruise ships being refused docking or turned away in many places around the world.  Wonder how long our luck will hold out?

 

By our lunchtime, the rain had gotten heavier, and the decks wetter.  We spent most of the afternoon not doing much, but relaxing for two hopefully busy days in Sydney.  At dinner time, we all discussed our plans for tomorrow, which will depend on the weather.  But first we all have to go through the Australian passport check in the cruise terminal at White Bay by 10am.  It will be a zero count, where everyone, including crew and staff, will go off of the ship, get cleared, then wait to go back onboard or go to town.  And this afternoon, we got a message concerning the African Swine Fever that the locals want to keep out of Australia.  This means that we have to be truthful with the declaration cards we filled out to be turned in tomorrow.  This warning specifically refers to all pork products that are not allowed anyway to be brought off of the ship.  This also includes any shoes or clothing that has been in contact with farms, farm animals, or even soil in our shoes.  Penalties will apply for any infractions.

 

We went to get some Aussie dollars after dinner, but we did not know that they stopped selling foreign currency after 8pm.  Will either do that in the morning, or do it somewhere in Sydney. Then we did take a peek into the show lounge to see Brett Cave, with a show that blends Elton John and Billy Joel’s high energy.  Expecting a piano concert, all we heard was a whole lot of talking, so we did not stay.  And by now, the promenade deck doors were lashed closed and the rolling and rain continued going strong.

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

 

 

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Sorry to hear that someone took ill at the captain's special dinner party.

 

Hope the weather improves for your time in Sydney.

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Report #121   Sydney, Australia   March 7, 2020   Saturday   Scattered showers & 71 degrees   Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures

 

Our port of call for the next two days is Sydney, Australia.  We switch from the New Zealand Maoris to Australian Aboriginals now.  This hardy group of natives survived in Australia over 50,000 years ago.  Then 759 British convicts, their jailors, and the Rum Corp settlers arrived to the Rocks in 1778, a historic enclave of Sydney.  History was changed forever.  

 

Sydney is hands down the largest and oldest city on all of Australia, and one of the world’s most scenic and livable cities.  Just ask our tablemates, Greg and Heo, who proudly call it home.   All of us have had an education of what is like living here, as far as the culture and expense that is involved.  And we have heard firsthand about the recent bush fires that devastated so  much of the countrysides.  

 

Tours offered through shore excursions are limited for city site-seeing.  A few of the tours will take people to see the Rocks District, the Sydney Opera House, and Bondi Beach.  There are two tours to  see the Taranga Zoo, or have dinner at two different venues.  There was a Bennelong Opera House restaurant tour for $260. 

 

Out of town, there were trips to see the Blue Mountains, or an extravagant seaplane flight over the Hawksbury River and National Park with a lunch.  Wonder if there will be any takers at $800 per person. 

 

Then if you have your heart set on climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge, it will set you back $600 a piece, but it also includes a walking tour the Rocks.  First of all, you must be in good condition, and have no fear of heights.  No loose items of clothing are allowed to be worn, as well as no cameras, cell phones, or video equipment.  And all of the participants are required to have a breath test, and if you fail, you will be banned from going on the 3 ½ hour climb.  We have friends who rave about accomplishing the feat, but then they did the climb when it was still affordable. And we are most happy for them, but it has never been on or bucket list, since there are so many more things to see and do, and so little time.  And yes, one of us has problems with heights.

 

We woke up in the wee hours of the morning to see the ship enter between the Heads of the bay, even though it was barely daylight.  There was narration of the scenic sail in, but it began at 6am.  The outside decks, Crow’s Nest, and channel 41 on our TV’s had the live narration.  At one point, Glenn-Michael had to cease speaking due “noise pollution” for the locals.   We have sailed into Sydney many times in the past, but it was later in the morning, and we did get some fantastic photos.  But in the dark?  Not us. 

 

But at breakfast we had a nice surprise with two Opera Rolls served to us.  Of course, these are the familiar Panama Rolls, and baked to perfection.  Then around 8:30am, they began to call the numbers for the groups to present themselves onshore for the mandatory Australian Immigration Inspection.  The number “S” was called first, which was our letter for President’s Club and deck seven members.  We also had the choice to leave at any time we wished, so we did not leave until closer to 9:30am. 

 

It was not so crowded as last year’s check.  The line moved quickly with plenty of officials scanning our passports and collecting the declaration forms we signed.  Once that was completed, we handed our passports back to our front desk staff for safe-keeping on the ship.  From there, we left the building, and lined up for the shuttle to Darling Harbor, at the most, a 25 minute ride.  Since the Amsterdam is among the average size ship these days, we can fit under the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and dock at White Bay.  We have done this for more than a few years now, and have gotten used to it.  There were three coaches parked there, but they filled quickly, and we had to wait, but not too long.  It was still early, and we were in no big hurry.

 

Once we got dropped off near the Aquarium at Darling Harbor, our serious walk about began.  The skies were heavily overcast, but we figured it was still warm, and perhaps the sun would come out. The first job of the day was to exchange some NZ and US dollars at a money exchange.  We ended up getting a better rate than doing this on the ship. 

 

Sydney’s Light Rail system is finally completed.  For several years, we have had to negotiate torn up streets and detours.  Now these new trains connect the Central Station to the Haymarket, Darling Harbor, The Star, Sydney Fish Market, and the Inner suburbs.  It is as easy as tapping the Opal Cards, which are sold almost everywhere.   

 

From there, we took in Circular Quay, which was full of people as well as passengers from a cruise ship docked there.  This one was the Voyager of the Seas, and appeared to be at their turn-around point. Always present in the ferry terminals are street artists.  Among them were musicians, one playing sticks covered with beer bottle caps, something we have seen while in Portugal. Then there was a gold-painted character enticing little kids to come forward for a sweet treat.  Dozens of tourists and locals were enjoying breakfast at the many cafes along the waterfront.

 

We made it to the Opera House, where part of it had been under construction.  Now it is complete, and as expected, tons of people were touring it. At the Man O’ War Jetty, another RCI ship, the Spectrum of the Seas, was tendering their folks to shore.  Obviously, there is little concern about the virus here.

 

We entered the Queen Elizabeth Gate that brought us into the Royal Botanic Gardens. Besides the 9000 plant species, we were happy to see the ibis, assorted ducks, sulfur-crested cockatoos, and even one kookaburra. We did not see one fruit bat anywhere, since they have been removed a few years back.

 

There were two wedding parties in progress in the Farm Cove Eatery and the Lion Gate Lodge, as well as brides and grooms out for photo shoots.  After covering the entire garden grounds (30 hectares), we made our way to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, passing the staging area where spring and summer theater is shown right off of Farm Cove. It is called Handa Opera on Sydney Harbor.  Even this area is getting a facelift.  Music was blasting in Farm Cove from a number of catamarans that congregated in a circle to have fun in the sun.  We think there may have been some alcohol involved as well. 

 

The Main and Waterlily Ponds are near to here, so we walked around them to see the two different varieties of cormorants busy making nests in the grove of trees in the center.  Some different types of ducks were grazing nearby, and the ibis were rooting everywhere for worms and insects.  Up in the tallest of the trees, were more cockatoos climbing on the branches.  They sure do make a lot of noise at times.  The Choo Choo Express, the little train that takes the folks around the park was re-filling the cars and ready to resume the tour.

 

We back-tracked to the Opera House and Circular Quay to the Rocks area.  Every single café and restaurant was full to the max now.  Our destination was a well-earned lunch at Caminetto’s, where we ordered a Hawaiian pizza, two Victoria Bitters beers, and a shared dessert of strawberry cheesecake.  We were most lucky to find a table for two, since the entire area of cafes and restaurants were busting at the seams.  With two large Royal Caribbean ships in port, the Voyager and Spectrum of the Seas, we estimated that at least 12,000 guests and crew could be exploring the city today.  One thing for sure, the government of Australia is not turning away any cruise ships, so we do expect to see our upcoming Aussie ports busy with other ships in those ports.

 

On weekends, there is an arts and crafts market, which further attracted a large number of the tourists, including us. Numerous tents went up and down several of the streets in the Rocks.  The items sold were clothing, jewelry, soap, leather products, and tons of Aussie souvenirs.  Food products were available, with jars of Manuka and local honey for sale, as well as jerkies and cheeses.  Some of the nicer handmade jewelry was rather pricey.  So we took a lot of pictures, then headed for our last destination of the day.

 

The Queen Victoria Building, built in 1898 as a monument to Queen Victoria, this colonial marvel was used as a fish and produce market.  These days, it has been converted to high end shopping and cafes.  Across the street at one end of the QVB, is a Woolworth’s, where we had fun shopping for some much needed items, which included the Aussie sweet treat – Tim Tams. 

 

Following Market Street brought us back across to Darling Harbor, and a waiting coach for the ride back to White Harbor.  Lugging our purchases,  we were back to our room by 5pm.  Needless to say, we stayed and worked on photos and reports.

 

Shortly after 6pm, the Amsterdam was re-located, moving one berth backwards to make room for another ship.  The gangway went back at the tented area after 7pm.

 

By the time dinnertime arrived, it had begun raining.  A number of folks had booked the ship’s tour to the Opera House, and many went out for the evening to dine in the fine restaurants.  Greg and Heo had gone home to spend the evening with family, so there were only five of us.  Although all of us were tired, we still had energy to share the day’s adventures.  Then out of the blue, Presty, the dining room manager, came to us and Barb and said there were two people visiting onboard that knew us. We all drew a blank, until he pointed out former tablemates Stuart and Pamela, from Adelaide.  They had joined our table in 2015 for ½ of the world cruise.  And we have kept in touch ever since then.  What a nice surprise.  They had been invited by a Canadian couple they knew, and were dining with them this evening. Instead of going on long voyages like this one, they have been doing some of the exploration type trips in Greenland and Iceland.  Zodiac boat outings replaced the bus excursions, and they seemed happy with the change.  Sure was nice to see them, and we hope they change their minds and try another world cruise someday.

 

There was no entertainment this evening, but there was a big screen movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  Best to get some rest before another full day in town tomorrow.

 

Bill & Mary Ann  

 

   

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