Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shore tours - on the way home.

The available shore tours for our cruise home on Arcadia have finally arrived on our "Cruise personaliser". It looks like we will only take a tour in six places - not quite as many as we will take on Oriana, and all of them much shorter in duration. However, on our way home we will stop in ports which are a little less "exotic" and we will be able to walk around in many of them, which isn't the case in many of the Asian ports. For example, we are intending to get a day pass on the heritage trams in San Francisco and will spend most of the day riding them all over the city - that is, when Barry is not stuffing himself with the famous crab cakes at Fisherman's Wharf  and his favourite US West Coast Ales.

These are the ones we have booked

 Ponta Delgrada (Azores) - Fire Lake and Mountains 0930-1300

Description:Visit the oldest town in the Azores, Ribeira Grande, then drive up to the summit of Pico da Barrosa for the views of Fire Lake.
Leaving Ponta Delgada, you’ll head northwards along pleasant country roads, bordered by flowers. Green meadows stretch away into the distance until you reach Ribeira Grande. This is one of the oldest towns in the Azores and the only one of any size in the north coast. You’ll have time with your guide to admire the pretty little town square and the church, or do some independent sightseeing. Notice the interesting architecture, typical of the island; buildings constructed in basalt with original windows and decorations.

Pico da Barrosa is in the centre of the island and the Fire Lake occupies the crater of an extinct volcano, from where you’ll have magnificent views. Surrounded by some of the original vegetation of the island, this is an enormous lake with transparent waters, located in an atmosphere of great calm and beauty.

A short stop will be made at the Pineapple Plantation for you to witness the various growth stages of the pineapple.

Barbados (Bridgetown) - Coast To Coast 0945-1315

This scenic drive has been specially designed for those who’d prefer an overview of Barbados with little walking.
The original building of St John’s Church was erected in 1660 and the present gothic structure is situated on a cliff 800 feet above sea level. Step inside to see the double staircase of cedar leading to the organ gallery and the traditional high-backed pews. The frangipani trees in the yard lead you to some magnificent views of the east coast.

The views from the Highland Centre are also spectacular. Situated at the heart of the island, 1,004 feet above sea level, the picturesque landscape sweeps down to the east coast. You’ll be served a welcome refreshment of a rum punch or soft drink whilst you take in the surrounding views.

You’ll pass by sights such as Heroes Square (formerly Trafalgar Square) and Gun Hill Signal Station as you head towards the rugged Atlantic coastline. Travel inland up to the Highland Centre, where you'll have spectacular views. You’ll see St Thomas Church, and pass through Holetown for a photo stop at the monument to commemorate the place where the first settlers landed in 1627. Enjoy viewing the opulent Sandy Lane area before returning to the ship in Bridgetown.

Aruba (Dutch Antilles) - Scenes Of Aruba 0915-1215

Take in the scenic delights of this unusual island and see the unique features of Aruba.
Enjoy a scenic drive along Eagle Beach, past the resort hotels to the oldest lighthouse on the island – the California Lighthouse. From here you can admire great views of the island. See the Alto Vista Chapel, where Spanish missionaries are said to have converted the island’s Indians into Christians in 1560.

The route then takes you along the north coast to the Baby Natural Bridge, situated next to the former Natural Bridge, which was Aruba’s premier attraction until its collapse in 2005. This spot demonstrates the powerful forces of the sea, which over the years has carved through coral and limestone.

Your return journey takes you to the Casibari Rock formation, a group of large diorite and granite boulders. Head to the south coast to see the world’s largest water desalination plant before returning to Oranjestad.

Essential information. This tour involves walking over rough and uneven ground. Flat, comfortable shoes are recommended. Passengers are advised not to climb on Casibari Rock or the Baby Natural Bridge. The road to the Natural Bridge ruins can be very bumpy. At the Natural Bridge and Casibari there are toilet facilities available for a small fee of 50 cents.

Acapulco (Mexico) - City drive and cliff divers 0930-1300

An opportunity to see the famous cliff divers and enjoy a panoramic drive of Acapulco.
No visit to Acapulco would be complete without seeing the famous death defying cliff divers at La Quebrada. See the select few men who are willing to risk their lives as they plummet past the jagged rocks into the surging ocean below. Just before they take the long fall, they kneel at a little shrine to say a prayer. Hold your breath and watch in wonder as they spring out in a perfect flying arch, piercing the water at exactly the right moment. After the diving display a refreshment will be offered.

During your tour you’ll also enjoy a panoramic drive taking in Acapulco’s main boulevard lined with hotels, bars and restaurants. You’ll head as far as Diamond Acapulco, where new properties are rising and past the Black Lagoon, where Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) was filmed back in the 1950’s.

A short photo stop will also be made at the stunning Acapulco Bay Vantage Point. Snap the shot that should feature in everyone’s photo album - the spectacular blue-ringed bay, fringed with luxury hotels and beaches.

Essential information. After the divers’ show it is usual practice for them to congregate at the exit for tips (optional). There are approximately 70 steps at La Quebrada, although there is a lower terrace entrance. Flat, comfortable walking shoes are recommended. The order of highlights may vary. Acapulco’s main boulevard can be very busy and delays due to traffic may occur.

Honolulu - Coastal Explorer 0845-1245

Enjoy an introduction to one of Oahu’s most visited districts combined with views of some of the island’s dramatic scenery.
Drive through the bustling city of Honolulu to Diamond Head Crater. Standing directly in the middle of this now extinct volcanic crater, your guide will explain the history of this famous landmark. From this natural wonder you’ll travel through Oahu’s southern coast, to Hanauma Bay, this incredibly beautiful spot provides magnificent photo opportunities.

Continuing along the beautiful coastline, you’ll pause at the famous Halona Point Blow Hole. If the tide is right, you will see an impressive waterspout show.

Enjoy the splendid Makapu’u Lookout as your guide describes the fascinating volcanic origin of this area, home to many bird and plant species. Notice the dramatic change in the island’s topography as you continue towards the scenic windward coast. A stop will be made at a Hawaiian archaeological site and former war temple.

Before your return to Honolulu, a grand finale awaits. The final stop of this spectacular day will be at the Pali Lookout, located high in the Koolau Mountains; the views from here are simply awe inspiring. Take a moment to enjoy the sights and absorb the very special atmosphere of this magical island.

There is around 300 yards of walking over uneven terrain on this tour so please wear flat, non-slip footwear as ground at the War Temple may be slippery. For calls on a Tuesday, Hanauma Bay Park will not be included as the park is closed for maintenance.

PAGO PAGO (American Samoa) - Island Delights 0930-1230

Tour the south-western shore of Tutuila for a great combination of island scenery and traditional Samoan entertainment.
Experience a wealth of breathtaking landscapes, as you drive past little bays dotted along the coastline whilst heading inland through this luxuriant island paradise.

Known as ‘Flowerpot Rock’, Fatu-ma-futi is situated at the mouth of the charming Pago Pago harbour and is one of the island’s most famous landmarks.

You will have an opportunity to photograph historic Leone, the one-time capital of American Samoa and site of the first missionary landing in 1830.

Proud of their heritage and customs, the Samoan people work hard to preserve them. The simple idyllic beauty of island culture can be seen as you are treated to a traditional Ava Ceremony. The ceremony is usually only performed when VIP’s visit the island; enjoy authentic island entertainment, including Samoan songs and dances performed by the local cultural group.

Your island-style bus will wind along the coastline of scenic bays, inlets and picturesque villages. Pass many notable landmarks such as the Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Centre, the quaint Nuuuli Village, Lava Lava, Samoa's 18-hole golf course and Futu-ma-futi Rock.

Monday, September 20, 2010

SAD. SAD. SAD!! - Shipspotting.

I have always felt that the uniquely?? British hobby of trainspotting was a bit sad - apologies to those who do it - but I can't get too excited about trains, especially when taken to the point of watching them and recording what you have watched. But to each their own, I suppose.

But here I am - equally sad - waiting waiting waiting for the 6 November 2010 to roll around (my mother always told me that I shouldn't wish my life away) - and what am I doing ?? Ship spotting! Perhaps it's a little bit different - in that I can say that it is all part of the excitement and buildup to our big cruises that lay ahead of us. But also perhaps others will still stay it's still sad!

But for those who would like to do a bit of ship spotting (of course in a non-sad way - that is, as a buildup to your next exciting cruise to some far flung exotic destination - which makes it all far more understandable than trainspotting), this is how you can do it. Go to this website and type in a search for the vessel of your dreams. It is all reasonably self evident how to use it. The ships have to be in range of a certain kind of radio receiver to be able to do this - there is no point in looking for a ship that you know is somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  So, depending on where the ship is, you may or may not be able to play this little game a bit further. I knew that P&O's Oriana was approaching Lisbon - a port we will be visiting - so I was interested to watch her come in. The aforesaid website yielded this picture

Most of these cruiseships have a webcam on them - pointing usually in their forward direction - so a bit of "Googling" will find it for you. These webcams are a bit "hit and miss". Some cruiselines do it good and others do it bad. Like a lot of Corporations - some really understand the Internet and what is involved/required - while some just do a token gesture. So the pictures you can get from these webcams will vary in quality - some make you feel like you are really there - while others are not much more than a fuzzy image. This is where shipspotting can become sad. In this particular case of tracking Oriana, this is a screenshot of her berthing in Lisbon. She has just arrived from a few days in the Atlantic between Gibraltor and Portugal - so it seems like she has salt spray on her webcam lens.

I am quite pleased that I did this little exercise over the past hour or so - because it has made me realise that I was mistaken about where Oriana will dock in Lisbon. I thought it was going to be at the berths just east of the big bridge - which wasn't a real good place to walk into the city from. But now I can see that it is well east of this - and at a place where it should be quite convenient to walk into the old town after we get back to the ship from a morning shore tour.

So - when all is said and done, shipspotting isn't sad at all - and is really quite a smart thing to do.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

We need help!! We're out of control.

Just recently, we received an email from a Travel Agent - basically saying that our cruise had been booked and please pay the deposit by a certain date. "What's this then??? We've already paid for our cruise to the UK (and return) in full!!"  Well, yes - we had. But Barry had forgotten that about 15 months ago, we had put our names down on a list with the said Travel Agent - because there was talk of the possibility of Cunard opening up a short 6 night sector between Sydney and Auckland, NZ as part of her 2011 World Cruise. At the time it was really only a remote possibility, it wasn't shown in the Cunard glossy brochure, probably would only happen if they found that some cabins were empty during the cruise  - and as internet based conversation regarding it had cooled to the point of almost nothingness, we had thought that the idea had died. "Probably just as well .... There is every chance that when we finish the homeward bound cruise from UK on P&O's Arcadia, after a total of 12 weeks at sea over the preceding nearly 4 months, we may feel that we never want to see another cruise ship again."

BUT - after the email arrived, how could we refuse this opportunity???? We have heard all about Queen Mary 2 - it is considered by some cruisers to be the Mt Everest of cruising, the Mona Lisa of cruising, the Eifel Tower of cruising - and it rarely comes to Aussie waters. We just couldn't let it pass by. SO - less than a week after we arrive back home in Brisbane, we will fly down to Sydney and join her. It will be mid-week - but she will be in Sydney Harbour overnight, together with the new Cunard Queen Elizabeth on her maiden World Voyage. The way that Sydneysiders turn out for these special events on their Harbour - it should be a spectacle even before we set sail.

Here is a photo of Queen Mary 2 - taken by us on a special visit we made to Southampton in 2008, just to see her alongside. We had never seen her before and, when we did, we never dared to dream that we would ever sail on her. The photo was taken from the Hythe to Southampton passenger ferry