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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 #28    Luganville, Vanuatu   November 23, 2019   Saturday   Scattered showers & 82 degrees     Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures

 

It seemed strange that we were arriving an hour later to the port of Luganville, Vanuatu.  That’s when we realized the “clock setter” had forgotten the big wall clock when changing the hour back last night.  So by the time we were ready for breakfast, it really was only 6:30am.  Oops….It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last.

 

Anyhow, Vanuatu is a country of 83 islands. The largest one is Espiritu Santo, and where Luganville is located.  With a population of 13,000, Luganville is the largest city on this island, and the second largest in Vanuatu.  In the 1800’s, sandalwood was the main trade product, as well as coconuts and their by-products.  Reportedly, there are uncrowded beaches and clear waters for the divers and sun lovers.  However, you will not find either of these in the town of Luganville.

 

Actually, the town we see today was built by American troops in 1942 during World War II.  The main street in town was made extra wide to accommodate four big trucks  Again, this settlement has a “50’s” feel and look about it, as nothing is modern.

 

We paid a visit here back in 2007 while on the world cruise.  Today we both agreed the pier area had been enlarged.  The easy way out was roped off, and the guests were channeled through a string of taxi and van drivers offering independent tours.  There was no pressure when we said no thanks.  One annoying thing was that the info ladies tried selling us a local map for $5, when everywhere else we have visited handed them out for free. As we would discover later, there is a big difference with the people here compared to Samoa and Fiji.  There were no huge greetings like we heard in Fiji.  If you were lucky, you may get a smile from the younger locals.

 

Leaving the ship around 10am, we found the weather was not the best.  Despite warnings of scattered showers, it never did rain.  Heavily overcast, it was windy as heck.  The tents of the local souvenir vendors had come loose last night and half of them blew away.  One of the nicer vendors told us this story, and added that when it is this windy, it never rains.  In fact, she said the last good rains they have seen were last June.  The town folk are hoping for it since it has been too dry.  We know the feeling with the dry conditions in Northern California.

 

More than one guest that was returning from town claimed there was nothing there, as they headed back to the ship.  Even though we also remembered it was like that, we still enjoyed the walk.  Passing Sue, she gave us some good advice about coming back to the port.  Take the lower road, and it would be a shortcut.

 

So we took the long way around, because the other way was roped off.  Basic shops lined the wide road such as hardware, lumber, food, clothing, cafes, and pharmacies.  Most appeared to resemble dollar stores.  Many of these stores are owned by investors from Asia, and the local cafés reflect it.  No McDonald’s here, although we did see a few small places with free wifi.

 

Near the end of Main Street, we found Unity Park, grassy grounds that face the water of his inlet of the Coral Sea with a grand stand and numerous food stalls.  Town events are held here.  Next to the park, we located the produce market, only to find that the area was under construction, being re-modeled.  There were a small number of vendors near the road, selling coconuts, papaya, bananas, and mangoes.  Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, plantains, cassava and taro were spread on the ground.  Breadfruit and jackfruit were plentiful, and it can be boiled, roasted, fried, baked, or barbequed.  Coconut milk is used freely in most all of their dishes.  Seafood is their main protein in the form of lobster, crabs, prawns, and fish.  We did not see that market today.

 

Going a little further, we crossed over the Sarakata River, then thought this was a good place to turn around and head back.  It was slower going back, since we ran into many friends on the way back.  Many of them were searching for beer and free wifi.  We did see two places that had both, but they were already stuffed to the gills with Amsterdam guests.  By the way, the beers were $4 to $5 a can.  And their currency is the Vanuatu vatu at 115 to one US dollar.  US and Australian dollars were accepted and probably credit cards, although we did not have lunch anywhere in town today.

 

This time we did find the street that took us directly back to the pier, without taking the main road, going down the hill, and walking back.  Looking through the souvenir tents, one of us found an African print sundress for the pool.  Really looks like it came from Mombasa instead of Vanuatu. And another reason for the purchase was to use it as a pattern for other fabrics that wait to be sewn at home. There were a few wood carvings, but the vendors were not enthusiastic in selling them.  The ladies quoted prices very high, and despite the fact that we had heard they do not bargain, that was not the case here.  They were cutting their prices, but still too high for us.  And to tell the truth, our house looks like a museum already without adding more.  Now we understand why many seasoned travelers purchase only magnets.

 

Back onboard by 1pm, we had a very nice lunch in the Lido.  We have been practicing saying thank you in Thai, since we have gotten to know some of the new Thai crew members.  One young lady by the name of Som is proud that she has taught us well.  She tests us every morning in the dining room.

 

Working on photos kept us busy until the ship left the dock around 5pm.  Although it never rained today, the winds remained strong and the clouds never lifted.  The Captain warned of seas up to 12 feet, so we might be in for some rocking and rolling.

 

Dinnertime was good again, like that is a surprise.  One of us tried the barracuda, a first, and the other had the prime rib.  Both were quite tasty.  On the way to the show lounge, we ran into former tablemates, Annie and John, who we met on this same type of voyage back in 2016, we believe.  They are from Alabama and always have great stories to share. So we did not make it to the show of the singer, Lumiri Tubo.  However, with her powerful voice, we could hear her all the way to the atrium on deck five.   

 

Tomorrow’s port will be Port Vila, the capital.  However, it is Sunday, and we have been warned that most everything will be closed.  Oh well, that the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

 

Bill & Mary Ann  

 

 

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6 hours ago, WCB said:

Report #28    Luganville, Vanuatu   November 23, 2019   Saturday   Scattered showers & 82 degrees     Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures

 

 Following... enjoying cross referencing your location to Wikipedia

Safe travels. NP

 

 

 

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Report # 29   Port Vila, Vanuatu   November 24, 2019   Sunday   Scattered showers & 81 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80 Pictures

 

Sure looked like rain when we looked out the dining room windows this morning.  Actually, drizzles were occurring while we dined.  Guess we have been lucky up to now, since rain has not happened on many port days so far.  It’s not a big deal to pack the umbrellas, and if we do, that will guarantee it will not rain.

 

The Amsterdam arrived to the harbor of Port Vila around 7am, and the ship was cleared by 8am.  As the tours were going off, we watched the “sticky” people (tour groups with the stickers) run for the shuttle vans.  It appeared all of the tours were using the mini vans, and not buses.  This is something you don’t always know when you book these tours. 

 

While we were catching up on yesterday’s report and photos, we had our 2 week delivery of sodas for our PC perk.  Our wine steward in the dining room, Oliver, brought them to our room with a smile.  Even though we never drink wine, he always stops by our table every evening and says hello and wishes us bon appetite.  Nice fellow.  Anyway, on with the report…….

 

Port Vila is the capital of Vanuatu, and the seat of government.  Located on the island of Efate, it is the largest city in the country.  As far as the population is concerned, we could not locate that information.  Compared to Luganville, this city was the opposite of yesterday’s port.  As well as sandy beaches, lagoons, rivers, waterfalls, and green rainforests, it has a more modern city.  What we liked best was having the choice of over 40 restaurants and cafes in the downtown area.  And despite the fact that we were told that not much would be opened today because it was a Sunday, we discovered most everything was opened.  Perhaps instead of opening at noon, the cafes opened at 2pm. 

 

Perhaps that is why the shore excursions had 29 tours here today.  Nine of them were sightseeing and culture, while 20 of them were adventure and water tours.  Many of these were the highest activity level and recommended for the younger and more agile of the guests onboard.  Horseback riding, zip lines, ATV driving, or a jet boat ride were best left for the able-bodied.  Four different scuba dives were also available.

 

So what did we do?  In 2007, we had taken a tour of the surrounding countrysides with a dugout boat trip up a river.  And we visited the set for the Survivor TV show.  Our guide swore us to secrecy at the time, because we got to see their campsite across from the small island where the show was filmed.  It was a real campsite with an outdoor kitchen and full restroom facilities. Hmmm….interesting.  Also happening on that same visit was a boycott of the taxi and van drivers, who blocked the exit of the pier, and stopped the tours from leaving.  Took an hour for the police to break it up, and allow us to proceed. Today we chose to walk to town, which was as least 3 miles from the ship to the furthest point in downtown.  We don’t have the fancy step counters, but we do have the knowledge of how many miles we walk in an hour.  With the uphill climb from the port, we estimated it took us 1 ½ hours to make it slowly to the start of town.  The weather was in our favor, because the sun had peeked out of the clouds, and there was a refreshing breeze.

 

One nice thing was that the information lady at the pier gladly gave us a map….no charge.  Not like yesterday, where they wanted $5 for the same type of map.  She also pointed out some restaurants that might be opened today.  As it turned out, some of them were opened 2 hours later, and perhaps would close earlier.  The museum and produce markets were closed, but all of their modern supermarkets and other shops were opened for business.  By the way, had we taken a taxi, the charge would have been $5 per person.  That also applied to a water taxi, which was picking folks up next to the ship. 

 

Checking out every café along the way, we had decided if we could not locate one we liked, we would go to the Ramada Resort further up the hill.  Many restaurants boasted the best pizza in town, but they appeared to be opened for dinner, not lunch.  So we made our way all the way down to the busiest part of the harbor, finding everything marked on the map.  Views across the harbor revealed a neat little island called Iririki Island.  It is a small retreat with huts on the water, a casino, and probably a restaurant.  You can purchase a day pass for 1500 vatu or about $13 USD, which would give you use of their water equipment, pool, and tennis courts.  Then the value of the day pass would apply to food and beverages there.  A water taxi would get you there and back. 

 

The water in the bay was clear and looked extremely clean.  So when we saw a sign posted saying to stay out of this water until further notice, we were surprised.  Actually, there is no beach on this side, just a volcanic rock wall and deep water.  And no one was swimming.  The only ones in this water were the jet skiers.  The recommended restaurant was a place called The Rossi, but when we looked inside, there were too many folks from the ship, most of whom were getting free wifi.  So we decided against going there, and began our hike back.  More than halfway back, we ran into Philip, our dining room head honcho, who was coming out of a nice small café on the water.  It was called the Waterfront Bar and Grill, and he said they had great beer.  Maybe the fish was not up to his standards, but we were in search of pizza, and they offered it.  We ordered Tuskers draft beer, and one large Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple.  Boy was it good.  And the best thing was it was not crowded, we had a breeze, and the dessert of coconut pie with coconut ice cream was delightful.  Can’t get much better.   But maybe it did…..

 

After enjoying this wonderful break from or hike, we walked past another place that looked promising, but was closed earlier.  This was the War Horse Saloon.  Now our friends, Denise and Howie, had opted to take the Vila Pub Crawl, where they visited four pubs and had four beverages as well as some snacks.  Since this place was on our way back, and we had time, stopping for one more ice cold beer was a great idea.  And it happened to be the final stop for the fun group of pub hoppers.  We could hear our buddies laughing when they spotted us sitting on the balcony of this country western bar.  Country music was blasting with tunes we love.  Who knew….country western in Vanuatu?  So we stayed for a while, munching popcorn that appeared, watching some of the brave ladies attempt karaoke with the guides.  Some couples were even dancing.  Someone has asked the average age of the passengers on this trip.  A total guess, we would say perhaps mid 60’s to low 70’s.  Yes, much younger than on the world cruise.  Time to move on, since all aboard was 5:30pm, and we wanted to check out the treasures being sold on the pier.

 

That’s another thing we were told….there may be no vendors on the pier today.  Guess what?  Most all of them were there, selling much of the same items as yesterday.  A new t-shirt and another sarong were added to our collection.  Back on the ship, we relaxed in our room and watched the sail out of the harbor from our veranda. 

 

Frankly, we could have passed on dinner in the dining room…it had been a very vigorous day.  But they were serving trout and an entrée salad that changed our minds.  Room service just would not do.  Actually, we have not tried room service yet on this trip.

 

The entertainer this evening was Jeff Peterson and his cute little dog.  Since our dinner was served quickly, we could not stay up to watch the performance.  He will be back on later in the week, and we will see it then.  He is usually on every world cruise as well, and his comedy-magic show is a good one.

 

Tomorrow……Mystery Island, which is a mystery to us, since we have never been there.  Also, thanks for the correct info on the delivery vessel in Fanning Island.  We did not know that, but now we do.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Report #30   Anelghowhat (Mystery Island), Vanuatu   November 25, 2019   Monday   Scattered showers & 81 degrees    Part #1 Of 4    81  Pictures

 

This tiny island called Mystery Island, or Anelghowhat by the Vanuatuans, is about one mile in length, and quite narrow.  It is surrounded by coral reefs and home to parrot fish, moon wrasse, sea cucumbers, as well as corals and anenomes.  There is a legend here that in the 1850’s Australian men captured local natives to transport them from this island to Australia’s Queensland  sugar cane plantations.  During World War II, the US Army developed an airstrip so they could utilize this island as a re-fueling station.  That same grassy airstrip takes up the center portion of this island.

 

There are no people permanently living here, but when a cruise ship arrives, natives from the nearby and larger Aneytium Island come here to offer tours, island clothing, handicrafts and beverages.  Another service offered here are the massage tables like we saw on Dravuni Island. 

 

It was written in the port guide that there is no electricity, running water, and internet or cell phone service.  We would discover after we arrived there that is not exactly correct.  This was our first visit here, so we did not know what to expect.

 

The ship arrived early, and dropped anchor around 7am.  The tender boats were lowered and were ready to go.  Shortly after that, the cruise director began calling tender tickets.  The weather appeared “iffy” early in the morning as there were light showers  passing over while we ate breakfast.  It sure dropped the temperature, which was nice.  The heavy muggy humidity has left us for now.  We did hope the sun would peek out, as that makes all the difference with the color of the water.

 

There were shore excursions here like two tours that ended up at the larger island to meet the Chief and his warriors.  They taught the visitors all about survival on these islands and the history of cannibalism.  On one of these tours, they took passengers into their homes, talked about arranged marriages, and displayed their gardening and cooking skills.  The other three tours were water-related with glass bottom kayaks and snorkeling.  Fairly expensive, for one to one and a half hours, these tours ran from $80 to $100.  These same excursions would be available directly on the island, and we are certain the prices were much less.

 

So we went over around 10:30am, after all of the tender tickets had been called.  Much easier than fighting the crowd that insists on being first.  All aboard was 4:30pm, so we had plenty of time.  The ride was fairly short, and despite some wind, it was easy getting off at their new pier.  There were more folks relaxing on the sandy beaches, than in the water.  The beach was not the same as the beach in Dravuni.  Here there were huge areas of coral and volcanic rock, so unless you were prepared with aqua shoes, getting in and out of the water could be dicey.  Even those snorkelers who wore flippers had a difficult time with the sharp rocks. 

 

Once off of the pier, we saw numerous stands of souvenirs and tour offers.  A band of singers welcomed everyone with island music.  We took a right turn to get out of this crowded area, and ran right into Howard and Gyl, who said they had been here years ago.  Back then, it did not look like a mini-Disneyland.  It was laid back with a few tents of treasures….not like what we saw today.  Touristy is the word for it.  Oh well, can’t blame the locals for wanting to make a few bucks, as you can take it or leave it.  All we intended to do was take a walk and get some photos.

 

One thing that was stressed with the island was that there was no protected bay like on Dravuni.  This was open to the coral reefs and strong currents.  For that reason, some of the upper part of the island was off limits for swimming.  Unfortunately, not everyone saw these small signs.  We learned this fact by watching the lecture on the island before arriving here.  Not a problem for us, as we did not go swimming today. 

 

Now on the subject of no electricity.  This island had solar panels, water tanks, and we did see people using their cell phones.  Whether they had wifi, we don’t know.  When we reached the grassy runway of the airport, we saw two tall communication towers.  There was even a local worker climbing one of them for a repair, we assume.  What we did find were well maintained sandy walkways, clean sandy beaches, outhouses, and even small individual cabanas to rent near a few bars with drinks.  Part of the beach was covered with volcanic rocks, exposed from low tide.  Difficult to walk on, but probably not as hard as walking on the sand.  Sand that is not wet is not favorable to a knee problem.  Just took one of us longer to circle the island. 

 

As far as wildlife is concerning, we may have seen one bird.  But what we did spot were many giant spider webs with some fierce-looking spiders in the middle.  One had to be careful going through the palm trees and brush to get to the surf, because these spiders had webs everywhere.

 

Yesterday, while hiking back in Port Vila, we met a nice staff member that joined the ship the previous day.  He is the new acupuncturist, and said his contract will see him through the end of the world cruise and more.  He is from the state of Oregon, and seems happy to be onboard.  His services will begin tomorrow, the next sea day.  Anyway, we ran into him again on Mystery Island, and he said he is ready to go, and over the jetlag.  Of course, he has youth on his side, which really helps.

 

At one of the souvenir stands, we did find a very nice t-shirt that was hand painted.  Probably will have to hand wash it to preserve the painting on the front.  The rest of the items were the same as we saw in all of the Vanuatu ports, although some things said Mystery Island on them.  And near these stands was the highlight of the island…..a huge  cooking pot for cannibal soup.  If you wanted a photo taken, it would cost $5.

 

The clouds were beginning to move over the area again, so we decided to go back before the tenders got too busy.  Back on the ship by 2pm, we went to the Lido for our salad and pizza lunch.  No dining room or Pinnacle lunch once again.  At least that gave some of the crew a chance to stretch their legs and go swimming for a few hours.  The ride back took a little longer, because we had to wait for another tender to off-load their guests.  The wind was blowing good by now, and transferring to the ship was slower.  Better safe than sorry.

 

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing on our veranda, and working on photos.  There was a sail away gathering at the aft pool, but we went up to deck nine to get some better shots of the islands.  Once the ship turned around to leave, we knew people might blow off of the Seaview pool area.

 

Dinner time had yet another fish entrée called opakipaki or something close to that.  One of our waiters said it was OK, but not all of the early diners raved about it.  Then Tama said it was good, so he did bring the chicken Caesar salad, but he also brought the fish dinner.  Turned out to be excellent…more like a seasoned mahi-mahi.  Dessert was a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream with one small but rich chocolate cake.

 

Something we have just recently noticed was that the after dinner treats of mints, dried prunes, ginger, and dried apricots are no longer manned by the uniformed “yum-yum” person by the dining room entrance.  Tama said he may be there on the lower level, but now they wear the dining room vest like the assistant waiters.  Another longtime tradition has bit the dust.

 

The ship has traveled as far west as it will go on this trip.  So tonight, we began the first of the clocks ahead for one hour.  We really don’t like this, but what they gave us with hours back, they are taking them away now.   

 

With a couple of days at seas, we will be re-energized for the ports in Tonga.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Report #31   Day at Sea   November 26, 2019   Tuesday   Mostly cloudy & 76 degrees  Part #1 Of 1

 

It was noticeably cooler this morning, as the Amsterdam has taken a direct course to the east.  Our position is 20 degrees below the Equator, and it seems we have lost much of the sticky humidity we experienced in Samoa and Fiji.  And we aren’t complaining either.  If it stays this way, we would be surprised.

 

Last night, we hit some pretty good swells and strong winds.  Around midnight, there was a really loud bang, that woke us up with a start.  It must have been hitting a wave wrong, or a wave hitting us.  We listened for any announcement like we hit a coral reef or something, but thankfully, it never came.  We have friends onboard that were on the  Prinsendam several years ago when it was hit with two rogue waves around the bottom of South America.  Now that was something to talk about with damages and injuries.  These same friends were with us on the Volendam when we had 55 foot seas in the Dutch Harbor area of Alaska.  Despite these scares, we still keep coming back, don’t we?

 

Anyway, by this morning the seas calmed down, but the winds stayed.  When we went to the Seaview pool, we literally had to clamp down the towels, shoes, and bags to keep them from going overboard.   When the sun did come out of the clouds, it was warm, but not enough to go swimming.  In fact if you weren’t careful where you sat, the water from the pool would blow out and get you rather wet.

 

The ports of Nuku’alofa and Vava’u  were the subject of the lectures today.  Since we have visited these cities several times, we know the area well.  And now that we have used the last of our free internet minutes, we purchased the premium package to last until the end of the cruise.  Now we have the freedom to look up anything and everything online, and not ration the minutes. That is, if it is working good. The first thing was checking to see what pizza places we can find in both Tongan cities.  What surprised us was the fact that the megabyte internet speed was so much faster than the old minute plan.  We’re still trying to figure out why they have two such systems in operation, and we wonder if this same situation happens with other cruise lines as well? 

 

When we got our documents for this cruise, we found that there were four gala evenings.  Thinking that was a small amount, we discovered today that there will be a total of seven galas.  They usually occur about once a week.  Anyway, tonight was # 4 gala, and many folks dressed for it.  So nice to see when the dining room dresses up their tables and chairs for the occasion.  There have not been any dining room decorations this trip, but we have not really missed them.  We do miss the flowers on the tables however, and will be surprised if they do not show up on the Grand Voyage. 

 

Dinner was the special gala menu with shrimp cocktails (no caviar yet), soup, salad, and petrole sole and surf and turf without the turf.  The fish was especially good, and had no bones.  Unlike the Dover sole that so many people rave about, it usually has many bones that don’t get removed.  When Philip and chef Peter came by, as they often do, we complimented them on another success with the seafood.  Philip said he is still working on the swordfish we missed the other night, and we promised to bring him a banana leaf to use with its steaming.  Of course we are joking, because it is fun to tease them a bit.  Years ago, we had a maître’d that would say how was your meal, then go to the next table without listening to any comments.  Not so with Philip.  If you have questions or a request, he whips out his pad and pen, and writes everything down.  And he always has an answer for you within a day. Doesn’t get much better than that.

 

Tonight should  have been another one to put the clocks ahead, but there was no card left on the bed to do so.  Technically, we have entered the new time zone that was 2 hours ahead of Vanuatu.  But the Captain can choose to do this in two or three days instead of going ahead 2 hours all at once.  It must be better for the crew and the guests we suppose.

 

We checked out the show of That’s Life with the singers and dancers.  Energetic and colorful, they did a fine performance, even if we have seen it a few times…or more.

 

One more day at sea, and we will be in another South Pacific country – Tonga.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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I'm so enjoying being able to take this cruise with you - as I always do.  So many thanks for taking time out of your "vacation" to do your detail posts.  Please continue to enjoy!

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Always like sea days to rest up for the busy port days.

 

You are right -- many of us have experienced very rough seas (I got thrown out of bed in the Baltic one time and another time we were all sent back to our cabins at 9 PM and the elevators were all tied off another time) but we still continue to cruise.

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Report #32   Day at Sea   November 27, 2019  Wednesday   Mostly cloudy & 75 degrees    Part #1 Of 1     17  Pictures

 

The seas have remained rocking and rolling as we get nearer to the Tongan islands.  Temperatures have stayed comfortable, and at times chilly when the clouds covered the sun.  The folks that have the lanai rooms on deck three were using towels over them or wearing light jackets.  In fact, most of their reserved lounges have been empty recently.  Today while walking, we noticed a sign on one of the deck three windows to please not wash their windows early in the morning.  We certainly do remember having  an upgrade to one of those rooms while on a 14 day Alaska cruise.  One of the downsides had to be the window washer, who appeared every morning before the sun came up.  First you heard the hosing, then they  followed with the squeegee going squeak-squeak-squeak.  We sure didn’t need an alarm clock to wake up.  And we never took a complimentary upgrade to that deck again. 

 

There was a bunch of mail outside our door before we headed for breakfast.  Normally, all we get is a newspaper.  But today we had the paper, plus our reservation for dinner in the Pinnacle, a fat envelope with our shipboard account statement, a letter explaining that we needed to make corrections, and finally, an invite to yet another private party for the President’s Club members.  This one is a Crazy Day Sliders-n-Sides Carousel, or a cocktail party with finger food in the Lido Gazebo on Friday, the 29th at 6:30pm.  Should be fun.  We had a similar one on the world cruise, and most everyone that went to dinner afterwards ordered light.

 

Finally caught up with downloading photos and creating reports, we just had fun researching things online, now that we have the best internet plan.  And hopefully this good connection lasts until we get back to San Diego. 

 

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent at the pool.  Windy again, we stayed clear of the pool spray, and laid low.  Did not notice anyone going into the pool, so it is either cold, or if you got wet, it would be cool upon getting out. 

 

Lectures are into Alofi, Niue and Rarotonga, Cook Islands now.  For these ports coming up, they are selling New Zealand dollars and Central Pacific Francs for French Polynesia.  Currencies for Tonga will be available on the pier when we get to Nuku’alofa.  In all of the times we have been to Tonga, we never got their money, since they gladly accepted the US dollar.  And certainly credit cards are taken, but not all of them. 

 

Before dinner, we went to the Mainstage to listen to Strings Alive, a duo of musicians from Australia….one playing the piano and the other the violin.  High-energy was a good description, but they should have added that it really, really loud too.  Keeps the folks awake for sure.

 

This evening’s dinner was in the Pinnacle Grill at eight o’clock.  One of us has grown accustomed to the earlier dining time of 7:30pm, and do hope they keep this for the grand voyage.  There has been a few new items added to their menu since the year began, so one of us tried the braised short rib.  It was tender, but also crispy on the outside.  Our guess is that it is put under a broiler right before it is served.  There was a gravy over it, with a pile of macaroni underneath.  Next time, ordering the gravy on the side might be wiser.  This dish was well-seasoned and quite tasty.  The lamb chop entrée was equally as good.  Both of us had the small slice of key lime pie served on a huge plate. 

 

With two days of relaxing, we are ready for some walking in Nuku’alofa tomorrow.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Report #33   Nuku'alofa, Tonga   November 28, 2019   Thursday   Partly cloudy &76 degrees     Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures

 

First and foremost…..Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

There are 176 islands in the country of Tonga.  And this is the only country in the South Pacific that is still ruled by a monarchy…..King George Tupou I in the 1800’s and his many descendants.  The present day ruler is King George Tupou VI, and he recently turned 60.  Captain James Cook arrived here in 1777, finding the natives to be among the friendliest of the Pacific Islanders.  Eventually, missionaries came here, converting the locals to Christianity.  So Tonga has many types of churches. 

 

Most of the population lives in the capital city of Nuku’alofa on the island of Tongatapu.  It is a walkable city, and easy to locate the points of interest within a two mile walk around downtown.  Maps handed out on the pier were excellent.  One nice thing is that most all of the city folk speak English, and they drive the British way as well.  Good thing they drive slow, because it takes us tourists a while to get used to the opposite flow of traffic.  

 

Outside the city, you can find beaches, snorkeling, sailing, and swimming.  Going out to some of the islets are great places for water activities.  There is an area of water-spouting blowholes (when they are working), and trees with fruit bats, called flying foxes.  Traditional food is cooked in the underground ovens, and kava ceremonies also happen here.  Shore excursions included many tours to see some of these sights and activities.  

 

On past visits, we went on an island tour, as well as took a boat to  Fafa Island for the afternoon.  The best reason for the small island visit was that we were here on a Sunday, and most everything was closed.  However, Sunday church services are well worth seeing and hearing, as the church choirs are pretty good.  The one time we strolled to the newer Free Wesleyan Church, we ran right into the King and his family exiting the parking lot in their limo.  He rolled down the window and said hi, while waving to the crowd.  Good timing. Truthfully, we were really there for the sighting of the fruit bats that hang in the huge tree next to the church.  We got to see both the king and the flying foxes.

 

So today, there was a welcome group of singers and dancers at the spacious pier, Vuna Wharf.  Years ago, we used to share the commercial and ferry dock, which was much further from the center of town. We followed the map and went directly to the produce and handicraft market called Talamahu Market.  It is a huge 2 story building quite close to the pier.  Half of the lower section has the Tongan arts and crafts, baskets, and tapa cloth items.  The other half is a produce market, while upstairs has clothing and island jewelry.  We took photos, but bought nothing today.  Some of the wood carvings, tapa products, and woven baskets can be pricey, although they are willing to bargain here. 

 

Many historic buildings are in this section such as three churches, government quarters, the Royal Tombs, and many shops and cafes.  Doing some internet searches, we found a new pizza place has opened at the beginning of the year.  The name was a funny one…..Fatty Boys Pizza.  That should not be hard to find.  On the way to the produce market, we had passed by Marco’s Pizza, but it looked totally closed.  It is still on the ship’s map, but these are not always reliable.  Like for instance, Little Italy, a lovely small hotel and restaurant, is recommended on HAL’s list.  However what they fail to mention is that is opens for dinner at 5pm.  No lunch.

 

So we happened to walk by what looked like an ice cream stall with the sign, Fatty Boys Pizza on the outside wall.  Boy, this sure did not look like what we saw on the internet.  So we asked, and they said yes, this was it.  Perhaps they sell the pizza by the slice, but there was no café attached to it.  So we changed our minds, and went for our long walk as usual.

 

This hike took us past the bat tree and the newer Wesleyan Church.  We did see a few bats hanging, but nothing like we usually see in February.  Perhaps when the fruit is gone, so are the bats.  Across the road from the church is the Royal Palace, used only for official functions.  Built in pieces shipped from New Zealand, it was erected in 1867.  It sure makes for a good photo, even if the king and his family do not live there anymore. 

 

Continuing up Vuna Road, the seaside road, we followed the path for a few miles.  At least the weather was not extremely hot today, and there was a saving breeze. Hoping to see the swimming pigs, we only spotted two small piglets.  Seems that the adult pigs were gone, probably turned into bacon and ham by now.  What we did see were more dogs than people.  They seem to be attracted to people along this street, because many locals will come here for a picnic or lunch break.  And they feed the dogs.  Most of the wandering dogs today were females with puppies.  We only saw a couple of males, and hoped they stayed clear of us.  Remember, a friend of ours did get bit here several years back, through no fault of his own, other than the dog did not like his bike.

 

We went as far as the mangroves, watching some of the locals walking out in the low tide to gather the sea worms.  Some shore birds were working the sand and rocks for these delectable treats.  The few boats that were in this shallow surf seemed to be stranded until the tide came up.  One nice thing about this hike is that there are many benches along the way.  And we gladly utilized them even if it was for only a couple of minutes.  

 

Turning back once we reached the now-closed Little India, we made or way back to the Seaview Restaurant and Lodge, which faced this same area of the ocean.  A few years back, we also stopped here for beers.  Today they had plenty of space in their screened dining room, so we took a table inside, and ordered the local beer, Maui.  Cold and refreshing, we really needed to re-hydrate.  Although we had water, it was not enough.  Then we ordered two interesting open-face sandwiches of toast, ham, pineapple and cheese.  A side salad came with it, and it was a perfect lunch ending with a shared dessert of ice cream and fruit.   The original owner had sold this property a year ago, and the new locals have taken it over.  In our conversation with the waitress, we found out that the closed Little  India was sold to the Chinese, and they would be developing it soon.  Instead of Indian and pizza, they will serve Asian cuisine.  Anyway, spending an hour here was most relaxing.  Or maybe it was the beer…..

 

Downtown has hustle and bustle, so we were happy we had left town when we did.  Back on the pier, we checked out all of their treasures and added one more t-shirt to the collection.  Coming back around 4pm, we never left the comfort of our room and veranda.  Watching the sail out of the harbor, while listening to the local singers, was really nice.  We caught the sunset before we headed for dinner.  

 

The dining room entrance was dressed up with a real cooked turkey displayed on a platter.  The chairs were decked out with gold and orange covers, and the wait staff were wearing long sleeve shirts and aprons.  One of us had the traditional turkey dinner, while the other one had the fish entrée of arctic char.  The comment was it was excellent…again.  Dessert was pumpkin pie and one cranberry clofoutis.  Then our assistant waiter brought an extra dessert of pecan pie with ice cream.  We had not ordered it, but shared it anyway.  

 

We even had time to watch some of the show, Abba Fab, four singers that sure sounded British.  They sang the familiar Abba songs from years ago.

 

One more Tongan port tomorrow……Vava’u.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

 

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Report #34   Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga   November 29 ,2019  (1st)   Friday   Mostly sunny & 81 degrees   Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures

 

Our port of call for today is Neiafu, the capital of Vava’u. It is located in the northern group of 61 Tongan islands belong to Vava’u.  By the looks of it, this has to be their yachting playground, thanks to their many sheltered coves and atolls.  There is deep-sea fishing for blue marlin, as well as sea caves and shipwrecks to explore while snorkeling.

 

But their biggest attraction is swimming with the humpback whales from June to November.  They arrive here from Antarctica to calve, raise their young, then breed for another generation.  Unfortunately, we think the season has ended, and the likelihood of spotting whales is slim.

 

We calculated that this is our fourth time to visit here.  On our first visit, we took a tour of the island which took use to a vanilla plantation as well as the Ene’io Botanic Garden.  The second time, we actually walked to the plantation, although there are two tours that took folks snorkeling on a ten acre motu, Nuku Island.  Then there was a boat ride to Swallows’ Cave and coral gardens for snorkeling.

 

Doing some research online, we found a good restaurant that was not on the ship’s port guide.  That would be our last destination today. 

 

The Amsterdam was early to sail into Koko Bay, and as this was a tender port, the ship was positioned within a 20 minute ride to the city.  The tender ticket pick up point was once again in the Ocean Bar, but since we had arrived early, those who were in line were allowed to go down to deck A, and board the boats.  Then there was a window, where those who were ready to go, could do so immediately.  After that, the tickets were handed out like usual.  As for us, we were in no hurry.  Nothing opened up that early, so by the time we were leaving around 10am, many people were already coming back to the ship.  

 

This can be a tricky tender process, because of the tides.  But now that we are using the newer tender boats, access to these piers have been a bit easier.  Once ashore, we walked to the produce and craft market near the dock.  There we saw the usual fruit and veggies, but we also saw something different.  It was a massive root, similar to taro, but four feet long, and really thick.  Turned out to be hearts of palm, although you would never recognize it the way we see it when served.

 

The back half of this building was set up with craft vendors selling tapa cloth and mats.  Tapa cloth is made from the mulberry bark, and  is considered a very important traditional gift.  They offered fans, artwork, paintings, and even boxes or purses made with this cloth.  Another part of Tongan crafts are the woven mats. The mats are woven by women that gather in small groups, and are treasured possessions.  They can be presented at births, weddings, funerals, and any special occasion.  And there was jewelry which included blister pearls, which look like a buried pearl that did not develop correctly.  They fuse to the shell, and are covered with nacre, mostly creamy white.  They had many pearl and shell jewelry sets, which were quite affordable.  The more you bought, the cheaper they got.  And of course, later in the day, the prices fell.

 

We got to talking to one of the nice vendors, who explained about the whale migration.  She said that most of the whales will hide from the tourists, because they really don’t like to be bothered, especially when they have their young.  There are green turtles here, and the locals are allowed to harvest them.  And finally, when we asked about the kids, she said they were out of school today, and off for the entire month of December.  It is the beginning of their summertime.  Ended up buying three sets of shell and pearl jewelry for a really good price, then left before we did any more damage.

 

Going up the steep road, we walked to the church of St. Joseph Cathedral.  It is the landmark of the city.  From there, we followed the road, going in the same direction we always walk.  We must have had at least 10 offers of rides from the locals.  Yes, they are that friendly, and no one walks here on this island.  They think we are crazy to walk in the hot sun.  Actually, today was pleasant, and there was a wonderful breeze coming off of the water.  

 

Going about half of the way we usually go, we made it to the high school before turning back.  Our time was limited, with all aboard by 2:30pm.  And we did want to stop at the seaside restaurant on the way back.  Taking enough island photos, we found the sign board for the Mango Restaurant, which was accessed by a steep driveway, or a flight of stairs.    It would be worth it for the cold beer and breeze that blew through the open-air restaurant. The Mango was far from fancy, but the food was really good.  Can’t go wrong with their Hawaiian pizza and Maui draft beer.  It was nice watching the yachts and small boats in the bay right at our feet.  We ended the meal with sharing a banana split.

 

Walking back to the pier by the way of the main street in town, we saw their fire and police departments.  Straight down the road was the pier once again.  This time we checked out the souvenir tables set up on the dock area. We found much the same items we saw yesterday in the Nuku’alofa market, only some things seemed to be much higher here.  There were more things for the ladies, and very few t-shirts for the fellows. 

 

We were back to the ship by 2pm, and stayed on the veranda until we sailed out of the harbor. The scenery was beautiful here as the island has many coves and bays, all covered in jungle-like foliage.  We even saw some tropic birds with their long tail feather streaming behind them.  Spotting a whale or two would have been nice, but that did not happen.

 

At 6:30pm, we were invited to a small gathering of the President’s Club members in the Lido Pool area.  They had cordoned off the grandstand where the band plays, since our group only numbers 12.  Henk wisely set up two stand-up tables, since he knows that Howard and Gyl and the two of us prefer that to sitting in chairs.  That way, the officers can move freely and easily join us.  The Captain was the first to arrive, and shared some info about the cruise.  When he moved on to the rest of the group, we had Thomas, the new Food and Beverage manager join us.  He is from Germany and was fun to talk with, as he shared photos of his family and his two big dogs at home.  He admits that he is not missing the cold weather at home.

 

We were served drinks of our choice, and three different types of sliders.  They were like mini burgers, but quite filling.  After the party, we did go to dinner in the dining room, but had one appetizer and the entrée.  The marlin they served tonight was excellent again, and the small chicken Caesar salad was good as always.  A little dessert, and we were on our way.

 

Showtime was a performance by the singers and dancers with “On Tour”, which we have seen on past cruises.  It seems that this group has been onstage way more that on the grand voyage.  Their shows are still popular with the crowd.

 

Tomorrow, will be a repeat of today, meaning that we will cross the International Dateline on our way to Niue.  So the date will be November 29th, the second time around.  Confusing, huh?

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Surprised you did not walk up to Mt. Talau, a nice hike and an amazing view.  We did this last January.

 

 

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Edited by DCCruiser57
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Report #35   Alofi, Niue   November 29, 2019  Friday ( 2nd )   Cloudy & rain & 80 degrees     Part #1 Of 3     75  Pictures

 

The day began with a nice sunrise as we sailed towards the island of Niue.  The seas had been rolling during the night, but not so bad that it made walking impossible.  And it sure did not look rough when we approached the town of Alofi, located on the milder side of this coral atoll.  Actually, this island is possibly the world’s largest raised coral atoll gaining it the title of “the rock of Polynesia”.  This oval-shaped island is 40 miles in circumference, and houses less than 1000 residents.  Alofi is the smallest national capital city in population, and consists of two main villages…..the north and the south.  The name of Niue literally means “behold the coconut”, probably because the entire island is covered with them. 

 

The island of Niue (pronounced new-way) was first populated with Polynesian sailors from Samoa in 900 AD.  More settlers, probably invaders, came from Tonga in the 16th century.  And as is the case in most of these islands, Captain Cook sighted the island in 1774, naming it Savage Island, since he may have gotten a less-than-friendly reception. Missionaries arrived in the late 1800’s, and eventually Great Britain took over.  In 1901, the island was turned over to New Zealand, who ruled until 1974, when it became a sovereign nation.  So today, the locals are citizens of New Zealand as well as Niueans. 

 

So what does one do in Niue on a day visit?  We have read that the coral reefs make for great snorkeling and diving, although there are no real stretches of sandy beaches.  Mostly rocky cliffs are on the shoreline, with pounding waves that have created interesting caves and hidden pools.  During the right time of year, there is whale-watching and swimming with dolphins.  Inland offers many hiking trails, and there are a few restaurants in town.

 

And to truthful, we have never done any of those activities on our previous visits here.  Access to the water is not easy, as you have to negotiate steep stairs and cliffs.  Once down at the water’s edge, there are coral beds and no sandy beach.  You can swim, but you must be mindful of the crashing waves from the ocean swells.  And we have always missed whale season.  But what we have enjoyed is talking to the locals, and taking one very long walk.  We did see a lot of the damage that Cyclone Heta caused back in 2004.  It had destroyed much of the infrastructure.  It is understandable that many of the residents migrated to New Zealand during that period.

 

However, today tendering ashore was an impossibility, which the Captain announced before 8am.  Even if they were able to bring guests over early, they may not be able to bring them back by the afternoon.  So the decision was to cancel the port, and take a 4 hour ride around the entire island.  All of the boats had been lowered, so after they were lifted, we began the circumnavigation.  Many were disappointed, but for us, we really enjoyed the sight-seeing tour.  This was the first time in all of the four visits here that we saw the other side of this island.  And it was just as we expected…….there was nothing there but steep cliffs, high surf, and green hillsides covered with jungle growth and coconut palm trees.  Talking to Christel this morning, she mentioned that we were the fourth HAL ship in a row that failed to connect here.  This was our second miss.

 

We ended up going out on deck six forward, and watching the bird life. That was a real treat for us as we saw many white terns, brown boobys, and even the pretty tropic birds.  At one point, we spotted a feeding frenzy as hundreds of birds gathered and picked off a shoal of small fish.   We even saw something jump about the size of a sailfish, but were not fast enough to get a picture.  We do remember that the locals have a deep sea fishing contest, where people come to compete.

 

The next best sighting had to be the numerous blow holes that spewed water like a fountain.  They put on quite a show as they exploded up the 30 foot cliffs.  We did keep a sharp lookout for some whales or dolphins, but they must be long gone by now.  And by 2pm, we were also long gone.

 

The When & Where was revised with “day at sea” activities added.   No need for anyone to be bored.  And to brighten up everyone’s day, there were Christmas decorations beginning to appear everywhere on the ship.  The “elves” had been busy during the night we think.  Even a train scene was added to the atrium on deck three.  When it is complete, we will take some photos for all to see.   

 

This evening, one of us was promised an entrée of swordfish wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked with spices.  It had appeared on the menu one evening that we were dining in the Pinnacle.  So tonight, it was served and it was totally appreciated.  The other entrée was meatballs and spaghetti, a favorite dish for one of us.

 

The entertainer this evening was Dick Harwick, a comedian we met several years ago.  Catching some of his show, we do think  it was similar to his original act.  The show lounge was full to the brim with the early diners.  

 

And we had to put the clocks ahead one hour to put us on the right time for the next port of Rarotonga, Cook Islands on December 1st.  But with another tender port, we never know for sure it will be a go.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Report #36    Day at Sea   November 30, 2019   Saturday   Cloudy & light showers   78 degrees    Part #1 Of 1     7  Pictures

 

It was sure quiet in the dining room for breakfast this morning.  Putting the clocks ahead an hour has begun to take its toll on the guests as well as the crew.  In fact, there were far fewer folks that even showed up for breakfast this morning, even in the Lido we heard.  We don’t have too many time changes now as we are getting closer to Pacific time as we sail directly east.

 

There was a huge change in the weather today with total overcast, and also a few showers.  Many people were wearing jeans and sweatshirts while on the lower promenade deck.  And we can say that those folks that have the lanai rooms were not using their private lounges.  If this keeps up, we will see folks using their new blankets again.

 

More Christmas decorations have appeared here there and everywhere.  The neatest display is the one they created around the Astrolabium clock in the atrium on deck three.  Tables were put up surrounding the clock, and they were topped with several different styles and sizes of gingerbread houses.  Train tracks were woven in between the houses, but the train has not appeared yet.  Anyway, the ship is looking quite festive and most merry now. 

 

It sure wasn’t a day for the Seaview pool, although we did go back there to attempt a reset on the GPS satellite watch.  If there is a signal, it will set itself to the correct time.  Or we have to wait until we are on shore, and try it there.  Anyway, it began to drizzle, so we went back inside.  The biggest crowd back here today had to be the smokers, who use the starboard side of the deck near the bar area.  It is never empty.

 

Today was a good one for walking the deck and visiting with friends.  The ship has been rolling and pitching, so we are really concerned that tomorrow’s port might be cancelled.  In fact, yesterday we saw a notice that all of the HAL shore excursions in Rarotonga have been cancelled.  There was a problem with the tour providers not being able to supply insurance on any of them, so HAL had no choice but to cancel and refund the charges back to the guests.  Frankly, this is the first time we ever heard of this happening.  Now we have learned that most of the restaurants will be closed as well, because it is Sunday.  So, why are we stopping here?  Guess there are times when the scheduling lands us in some places on a bad day.

 

And here is something to chuckle about:  the refunded port charges for missing Niue was a whopping $2.10 per person.  Not a whole lot, but better than nothing.

 

The internet has been spotty with it taking four hours to send emails that were not large files.  Good thing we were using megabytes instead of minutes. Hard to figure, there really is no good explanation on why sometimes it works and other times, it does not.  Even the digital communications manager was guessing at the problem.

 

We took our special seats in the atrium once again and listened to the band play in the Ocean Bar.  Despite the movement of the ship, many couples danced to the tunes.  And we have noticed that the speed of the songs depends on the ship’s motion.  The band knows what is safe and what is not when it comes to the more intricate dance moves. 

 

Dinner was good again with one entrée of halibut and kingfish brochettes on a skewer.  Almost put off by the description, Tama, our waiter, said it was very good.  Trusting his advice was the right thing to do.  The carne asada plate was equally as tasty, as Mexican cuisine is one of our favorites.  They don’t cook enough of it in our humble opinion.

 

We are ready for tomorrow for whatever it brings.  Experience tells us that it will be a surprise if we make it ashore once again, but we will think positive.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Just finished looking at a couple of days worth of pictures -- love them.

 

Enjoying your reports.  We have gotten use to HAL making stops at ports on Sundays when nothing is open.  That's life.

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