Monday, May 12, 2014

Apologies to readers

Internet connectivity on board Solstice has been a problem ... it's been slow, intermittent and basically, a pain in the rear end.  Added to that is the fact that on my android tablet, I have to be online to even draft a blog post.  It was so much easier last time ... I could draft a post in Notebook then cut & paste the final version into Blogger at publication time.  Bottom line is that I am not paying 50 cents per minute just to draft a post!

I am not abandoning the blog, though.  I am still drafting posts offline ... I just won't publish them until I have a decent internet connection, one that is not minute-based, once I arrive in Seattle.

Please be patient.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Over the Equator ... and a stowaway

As I write this, we are about to arrive in Honolulu after our second 4,000km sea leg of this trip.  This one took 5 days compared to 4 days for the last one ... can only assume the bump over the equator must have slowed us up a bit.

Normally, a few days "at sea" sees me getting a bit jumpy and I have to look for things to do to keep me occupied ... as a resylt, I tend to fill my days attending so-called enrichment lectures, art auctions, etc.  This time around it has been different ... it seems I am totally relaxed and have spent more time sitting around reading and watching the world go by than I ever have ... perhaps retirement and a less stressful life is the difference??

Pic of King Neptune

We experienced our second equator crossing ceremony the other day.  It is traditional in the maritime world for those who cross the equator for the first time (they are referred to as "polywogs" unlike us "shelbacks" who have done it before) to undertake an initiation ceremony at the hands of King Neptune.  Compared to our initiation ceremony on Ocean Princess, which was quite an expansive production, this was a low-key affair that didn't last more than about 10 minutes.  If it hadn't been for a Polynesian dance performance at the beginning, the ceremony would have been even shorter.  We left somewhat disappointed for those experiencing the initation for the first time ... it could have been just so much better,

In some respects, this lack of effort is typical of the work of the cruise director and his staff on this cruise.  Suffice to say, I have seen better, more varied shipboard prgrams on previous cruises than on this one ... perhaps a change of cruise director for the next 2 legs will see an improvement.  At least this guy organised an Anzac Day dawn ceremony, which was good, although it only lasted 5 minutes ... and then they opened the bar so that everyone could enjoy a beer and remember ... at 6am though most adjourned to the cafe/buffet for coffee!

A stowaway was found on board the other day ... an injured bird took refuge from the windy weather on the promenade deck.  How lucky we came along when we did ... there's not much land between French Polynesia and Hawaii on which he could have landed if we hadn't come along!

Pic of bird

Speaking of weather, we have experienced some very windy and overcast weather over the past couple of days that has kept the temperature down to the mid-20's ... while this is quite cool for the tropics, it is really quite absurd to see people walking around the pool deck in winter woolies as we crossed the equator.

We have found our spot on deck ... most days we sit by the lawn on the very top deck of the ship, enjoying the breeze and view it offers, not to mention the drinks our friendly barmen at the Sunset Bar pour for us during the day.

April 19/21 - Tahiti and her islands

Come back later to read more about the highlights of our 3 days in French Polynesia, including:

  • swimming with the sharks and stingrays (and indeed kissing a stingray) in Bora Bora;
  • the awesome beauty of Bora Bora's lagoon;
  • Papeete's food trucks
  • a long lunch on the beach in Moorea
  • the sight of Moorea's mountain peaks.
There is so much to say and so many pictures to include that finishing this post will have to wait until I have a high speed, non-time based internet connection on land.

Land ahoy ... after 4,000km of nothing

At around 0700 this morning (Sat 19 April), the people of the good ship Solstice rejoiced ... land had been sighted after 4 days and 5 nights at sea.  After a 4,000km journey from Auckland, everyone was clearly ready for some days on land.

Insert pic of Moorea is sighted

For the next 3 days, we will be enjoying the scenic beauty of "Tahiti and her Islands" as our onboard destination lecturer refers to French Polynesia.  Today is Papeete and the island of Tahiti (where we have hired a car to do a lap of the island), tomorrow is the island of Moorea, which is just 12 kms from Papeete (and where we also plan to hire a car to do the island on our own at our pace), and then the following day we will be on Bora Bora, a group of small islands almost completely encircled by a coral reef.  Here, we are joining a few other passengers for a 4WD tour in the morning and another group in the afternoon for a boat ride around the lagoon.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

April 16 ... Groundhog Day

Yesterday was ... Wednesday, 16 April, a day at sea.
Today was ... Wednesday, 16 April, a day at sea.

No, this is not Phil Connors bringing you the weather from Punxsatawney ... but it feels like it.

Last night we crossed the International Date Line and went from today to today, or from tomorrow to today, or from today to yesterday ... buggered if I know!   What I do know though is that just like in Groundhog Day, we are doing it all again today ... the only difference is that today is being called Wed, April 16B.

Come to think of it ... tomorrow will also be just like today and so will the day after.  That's what life is like on sea days ... nothing much changes around you from one day to the next  ... the view of the sea is the same, the people around you are the same, and daily routines change little ... but it is relaxing!

Today's view, when I am able to upload it ... one of the most picturesque putting greens in the world, and this week, the only putting green between New Zealand and French Polynesia.  This is the first grass lawn ever to be planted on a ship and it gets used daily for golf putting, bocce and crocquet, as well as the odd picnic.

Insert golf pic

I'm waiting for the lawn mower to come out ... now that's a photo I really do want to take!

First stop ... New Zealand

After 2 days and 3 nights sailing pretty much due east, we rounded the northern tip of New Zealand on Monday morning (14 April) and soon found ourselves anchored in the Bay of Islands, which is quite a pretty area that has some historical significance ... the British signed a treaty with all the Maori tribes here after they had come and taken over their  country in the early 1800's.

We had to be tendered ashore here in the ship's lifeboats ... for non-cruisers, this is not an unusual occurrence as many smaller ports do not have big enough or deep enough docks for big cruise ships to tie up to.  The problem here was that it seemed like everyone on the ship wanted to get off straight away with the result that it took an unprecedented 2+ hours to get ashore ... it didn't help that tendering also had to be curtailed for a little while the crew evacuated someone on a stretcher into an ambulance waiting on shore.  For us, the delay wasn't a real issue since we had nothing specific planned, but for others, it became an issue anyway ... I felt sorry for the crew who had to placate the crowds and repeatedly explain that "sometimes, shit happens!"

Once on shore, we had a quick look around Paihia, which we had previously visited, before taking a ferry across the bay to Russell, which for a short time in the 1800's was actually New Zealand's capital.  Today, Russell is just a sleepy village that doesn't have a lot going for it apart from a wonderful seaside location.  Thankfully, it had quite a few cafes along the waterfront where one could enjoy lunch ... which we did!  While Janet checked out the local shopping scene (which disappointed), I took the opportunity to go for a walk around town to grab a couple of geocaches and take a few photos ...

Insert pics

The next morning (Tuesday 15 April) saw us in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city with a population of maybe 1.4 million.  As we have been to Auckland a couple of times, we opted to hire a car this time to explore the greater Auckland area.  We traveled to the north and went from the west coast to the east coast without seeing anything worth writing home about.  Still, it was an enjoyable drive into the countryside, which actually isn't much more than 15 minutes from the city centre.  We did take time to watch the kite surfers in quite breezy conditions on the beach at Orewa, and this view of Auckland Harbour and CBD (and our ship) from Wellington lookout at Devonport is hard to beat ...

Insert pic of Auckland Harbour view

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Day 1 (Fri 11 April) comes at last

After all the planning, preparations and packing, American Adventure 2: The Sequel is finally under way ... or to be more correct, the prelude to American Adventure 2 has begun since we don't hit continental America for another month.  Ahead of us are 16 relaxing days at sea until we reach Vancouver, punctuated only by a 2-day break in New Zealand, then 3 days in French Polynesia, and 6 days in Hawaii.

Our home for the next 5 weeks as we cross the Pacific Ocean and then explore the Alaskan Coast is Celebrity Solstice.  She is a pretty large ship, over 100 metres in length with 12 passenger decks ... our cabin is on deck 8, three above where the life boats are, and we have a slightly larger balcony than most cabins, which is nice.

Pics to be added

We haven't fully explored the ship yet ... plenty of time for that in the days ahead ... but if first impressions count for anything, then I am sure it will meet our every wish and expectation.  No doubt, I will report more about what we find on the ship as the cruise progresses.

In the interim, however, I can report that Janet has already had her first surprise.  One of her very favourite cruise dining treats is escargot, something that is normally only offered on one of the formal nights at sea when everyone dresses up in their "Sunday best" and the photography department tries to flog formal photos to all.  On our last cruise on Voyager of the Seas, Janet was disappointed to learn that due to "a worldwide shortage of supply", escargot was off the menu.  Imagine how surprised then she was to find that the chefs and procurement people at Celebrity have apparently overcome this global supply shortage.  Here on Solstice, escargot is not just offered on formal nights, it is available every night as an appetiser.  Perhaps there is a snail farm here below decks?  Whatever, Janet will be enjoying them nightly for the forseeable future ... well, at least while stocks last.

I am not sure how often I will be able to post, or at least upload posts while we are on board. Inconsistent and slow internet services, per minute pricing and the fact that I have to be online to draft each post, militates against regular publication of blog posts.  I will try though.

Until next time, from somewhere in the Pacific ...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Our home for 36 nights ...

Built in 2008, Celebrity Solstice is one of the largest cruise ships operating in Australian waters.  It weighs in at 122,000 tons (which is actually a measure of size/volume, not weight) and carries 2,850 passengers and 1,500 crew.  She is nearly 315 metres long and 37 metres wide, and apparently has 19 decks, of which passengers have access to 13.  The level where the life boats are is deck 5 ... our cabin will be on deck 8 on the hump area emblazoned with an "X".  I will undoubtedly tell you more about the ship when we are on board.

I did take the opportunity to go and have a look at Solstice when she was last in Sydney, and I grabbed a few photos that show what makes Sydney one of the most beautiful cruise ports in the world ... 

Where to this time?

American Adventure 1 saw us spend time in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Diego, Mexico, Coast Rica, Panama, Colombia, Florida, San Juan and an assortment of Eastern Caribbean islands.  It was an awesome holiday, and combined Janet’s love of cruising with my wish to explore new and interesting places on land. 

The genesis of that holiday actually began with Janet wanting to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary on a cruise across the Pacific.  As it transpired, that didn’t happen.  Janet still got her anniversary cruise, but instead we were enroute to the Panama Canal, sailing from California (San Diego) to Florida (Fort Lauderdale).  I persuaded her that a cruise through the Panama Canal would offer longer lasting memories than a whole heap of days at sea sailing across the Pacific.  I was proven right ... to a point! While one of her highlights of American Adventure 1 was indeed our Panama Canal transit, Janet has continued to retain a wish to sail across the Pacific via French Polynesia.

And so, in American Adventure 2, Janet gets her wish … we will be cruising across the Pacific on our 40th anniversary!

American Adventure 2 kicks off with 36 (yes, 36) days of cruising on Celebrity Solstice.  We depart from Sydney on Friday 11 April 2014 before finally leaving our home at sea on Friday 16 May in Seattle, Washington.  

The original plan was to do two back to back cruises … from Sydney to Honolulu  via Tahiti/Bora Bora, and then from Hawaii to Ensenada, Mexico, where Celebrity would shuttle us up over the border to San Diego.  That bit seemed a bit crazy, but some dumb US law prevents cruise ships from sailing directly between Hawaii and California, hence the diversion to Ensenada, just over the border.  

After we had booked (but fortunately, before we had started doing any post-cruise planning), Celebrity changed the itinerary so that Solstice would now sail to Vancouver, Canada, from where it will begin its Alaska season.  For us, that was great news … Alaska was on our bucket list of places to get to on this holiday (if possible), and now we could do so without even having to pack up our luggage or move out of our “hotel” room.

American Adventure 2 will then take us to Seattle and Vancouver and into the Canadian Rockies, where we will spend a week climbing riding up mountains, walking on glaciers, gazing at beautiful lakes and snow clad mountains, etc etc.  We  did consider taking the Rocky Mountaineer to Banff/Jasper, as so many do, but in the end opted for a car on the basis that it offers more flexibility than a train in terms of being able to go where you want when you want. 

 Phase 3 of American Adventure 2 will then take us across to the other side of the American continent ... first stop will be Washington DC for a few days, before we head off on a road trip through small town America.  This drive will take us across New York state to Niagara Falls and into Ontario, where we will be lucky enough to share a day with a whole heap of my many Canadian cousins, most of whom I have never met.  Then it’s across to Montreal and down through Vermont/New Hampshire/Massachusetts to Boston.  

At that point, we hand back the car and get on a train to our home for the next week or so ... New York City.  Yes, New York, New York ... top of my bucket list!  The one place I regret not including in American Adventure 1.  

I can tell you ... there would not have been an American Adventure 2 without New York City.  Janet gets her transpacific cruise, I get my NYC … life is good, everyone is happy!
now we can head home.  Wrong!!  You can’t just hop on a plane and fly home … after all the hustle and bustle of NYC and all the road travel before that, surely we've got to have some R&R time before we go home.  

So American Adventure 2 concludes with a relaxing week-long cruise to Florida and the Bahamas ... time in the sun and even a chance to have a swim at the beach ... aah, the serenity ... 

Then, before we know it and all too soon ... 25 hours of homeward travel ... JFK to LAX to SYD ... but at least it will be in economy plus seats!

W'ere heading to America ... again!

Five years in the making … put together at great expense … starring the same pair of inveterate travellers as last time… taking us to so many new and exciting places … 

We'll sail the high seas ... be awe struck by the earth's natural beauty ... climb to heights that we just don't see at home ... meet up with never seen family ... see small town America ... navigate our way along the byways of America ... experience the hustle and bustle of New York life ... take in a ballgame (at Yankee Stadium no less) ... and much much more. 

Stay tuned ... American Adventure 2: The Sequel, the story of our 40th anniversary adventure, is coming very soon to a computer/smartphone screen near you!!

Enjoy it with us!