Monday, January 31, 2011


Yesterday - I fell in love. I first met her 30 years ago and liked her then, but perhaps I didn't see as much of her then as I did yesterday or perhaps I didn't fully appreciate her beauty. Of course, I am talking about the island of O'ahu in the Hawaiian Islands. The Weather and Travel gods were again very kind to us and the day could not have been more perfect - mid-winter temperature of 25C, clear blue skies. We took a shore tour called "Coastal Explorer". It was supposed to be of  4 hours duration - but took 5 hours (which was good). We covered quite a
bit of the southern area of the island outside of Honolulu, including the beautiful coast and also crossed the very rugged central mountain range. Afterwards, we took a shuttle bus to the huge Ala Moana shopping
centre - and also walked to Chinatown (only to discover that the one day we were in town coincided with Chinese New Year's celebrations - how fortunate was that? !!!!) So all things considered - we got a good idea of what both Honolulu and O'ahu are all about - and we were IMPRESSED!. After traveling 3/4 of the way around the World, we finally found a place that we will DEFINITELY come back to. A plan is formulating slowly in our minds already. As we came into Honolulu Harbour, we were preceded by the "Spirit of America" - which we have been told does 7 day cruises through the Hawaiian Islands. This, combined with a stay in Honolulu would be an excellent start to a future adventure. Actually, I have to do it - because I had planned to have a beer in the Royal Hawaiian hotel on Waikiki Beach, but didn't have time (this time).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The two faces of San Francisco

We had an almost perfect day in San Francisco yesterday - 17C, clear blue skies and no fog!! -- normally unheard of in mid-winter!!! We had very calm seas and good weather on our way northwards from Acapulco, so we were hopeful of a clear arrival into San Francisco which is very well known for it's heavy fogs - especially at this time of year. We arrived early and were tied up at 6.30 AM before the sun rose. We had been warned that it would take us a long time to get clearance from the infamous US Border Control and Immigration authorities who insist on a personal and individual eye-to-eye meeting with every passenger. Fortunately, this was all VERY well organised by the ship and proceeded smoothly and easily - so it only took 4 hours for all to be cleared and for us to get off the ship!!! Fortunately, we also had a late departure of 9PM, so it allowed plenty of shoretime for us. Anybody considering cruising in the future should be of a calm and placid nature with lots of patience - especially those considering cruising to the US! I had a list of "iconic" things that I wanted to see/do in San Francisco - and was pleased to achieve two of them within the first hour of arrival - seeing the sea lions at Pier 39 and eating Clam chowder in a Sourdough bread bowl at the famous Boudin Sourdough bread bakery at Fishermans Wharf. This was washed down by me with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. We enjoyed it so much that we later had a toasted Crab cake sandwich at the same place - washed down, once again by me, by an Anchor Steam Porter. The relevance of these two beers will, I am sure, be understood by those who know about beer. Yum!We then bought ourself a day pass to allow us to ride the famous Cable car network (3 lines) - and the lesser known Heritage electric Streetcar line (F line). The cable cars go over the very steep hills and are great fun - the drivers and brakemen are obviously employed for their "character". We were amused by the way in which the cable car stops are in the flat areas right across the cross-streets, which block all other
traffic. We also enjoyed the heritage streetcars (otherwise known to Aussies as Trams) - they have a huge collection of these from right around the world including Australia - but we especially enjoyed the very large pre-WW2 ones from the US - we have never seen trams so large. Now -about my reference to the two faces of San Francisco. When we first arrived and wandered around the touristy area of Fisherman's Wharf and
took the cable car ride to "Nob Hill", we thought that the city was very clean and "nice". However, as we got closer to the downtown area of the city and went even further to the very end of the F streetcar line, we
became more and more amazed at the number of homeless/street people/beggars. We have seen western street people before - in European cities, London, Canada and even Sydney -- BUT we have never seen as many as we saw in San Francisco. We have no idea of the reason for this - but it was certainly enough to alarm us and to change our idea of what the city is all about. I think that we would still like to return to
California/San Francisco for a longer visit in the future - but we would have to rethink some things.

Next port - Honolulu

Saturday, January 22, 2011


We had an almost perfect day in Acapulco yesterday. I had a feeling that we were going to enjoy our visit. Photos that we had seen looked good - and were supported by what we saw as we approached Acapulco Bay. BUT - we had heard some negativity about the place from a few passengers who
had been there before and I suspected/feared that the shore tour we had booked (which included a visit to the famous La Quebrada cliff divers) may be a disaster with too many people. But none of this negativity came to pass and we had a very memorable day. From the sea, the approach to Acapulco and Acapulco Bay is quite spectacular. In fact, I can't think of any place we have been to that
equals it - perhaps Honolulu will, as I vaguely remember it to be spectacular also (but haven't seen it for over 30 years). Once ashore, it became obvious that the city has "character". I cannot explain this
"character" here - except that it includes such things as great wealth alongside poverty, mountain and beach beauty alongside one another, hustle and bustle, foreign-ness - a mix of an established tourist resort
with an underlying economic tension. During our journey, we have seen many armed guards and Police in different countries. The first one of these places, where our tour buses had an armed Police escort was in
Manilla - not a place that I would necessarily have expected to see such a thing. But, in Acapulco, they are not only armed -but HEAVILY armed!. It is not every day that we see a truckload of Army/Police, all armed
with automatic weapons including a mounted heavy machine gun, patrolling up and down the main street!! It actually appeared quite surreal to me - as much as it would if such a thing happened in Surfers Paradise on the Australian Gold Coast. Our shore tour lasted around four hours - after which our heads were spinning. We covered quite a large area of Acapulco and the surrounding area and got a good idea of what it is all about. The highlight of the tour was our visit to the cliff divers. It was well organised and we had a good view from the terraces of the Mirador Hotel. ( Note to myself - check out the room rates of this hotel on the Internet when I get back home)  So far, our cruise through the Caribbean, Panama and Mexican waters has
been very enjoyable - we have never been to this area before and I don't know many Aussies who have. Of course, you only get a brief exposure to the ports visited on a cruise. Cruising itself is a wonderful and
pleasant experience - but not the way to see parts of the World in any more than the lightest detail.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Canal Heresy

I have heard many many people say that, compared to the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal is boring, boring - a mere "ditch" (in the words of somebody famous - Churchill???) This seems to me to be the prevailing Orthodoxy of those who have traversed both.
There is no doubt that the Panama Canal is an extraordinary piece of Engineering and human effort - even more so when you consider the history of it's building and the failures that preceded it's final completion. To pass through it now, although impressive, is very deceiving.You really have to look at what lies below the surface of the water in the locks and the Gatun lake between them to understand. The ship has been showing documentaries of the building of the Panama Canal on the ship's TV system for the past couple of days. It is not until you see these, which include old original movie footage of the work carried out in the later part of it's construction (old steam shovels digging out the Calebra Cut - very early 20the Century) that you realise the enormity of the task and the brilliance and determination of the men who built it.Our North-South passage started around 6AM at the entrance to the first three locks - the Gatun locks. It took about two hours to pass through these, before entering the huge Gatun Lake (created by damming the Chagres River.) This dam was the secret behind the completion of the Canal system - removing the original need to dig a canal along the entire 80 klm route, and providing water to power the locks. This was followed by a rather leisurely passage through the lake and through the Culeba Cut before arriving at the final 3 locks of Pedro Miguel and Miraflores, which lowered us into the Pacific Ocean.  It was a wonderful experience for us - something that we had never dreamed we would be able to do - and we are very happy to have been able to experience it. But here is my Heresy -- if we were given the chance to repeat either the Suez transit or the Panama transit, which one would it be?? For Christine and I, the answer is immediate - SUEZ! I cannot explain here why we say that - too complicated for this short Blog. But we still recommend that anybody who is able do so, should do this transit of Panama - a fantastic experience.

You can watch a Youtube video of some Panama Canal pics here

First time for 34 years

Last night we had another Formal night - this one with a "Black and White " theme. This theme leaves a lot of room for some personalization of everybody's dress - from the traditional "Black Tie" to all combinations and permutations of black and/or white jackets, ties, and shirts (Talking about men's dress here). For the past 34 years, I have been carrying around a white "tie it yourself" bow tie - which I have
never ever worn. It has " Property of the Royal Australian Navy " on a tag on the back of it - I never did know why it was issued to me as we only ever wore black bowies way back in my old Navy days. Anyway, I had packed it with a number of other ties - as I was well aware of the large number of Formal nights we would have on these cruises. Most men onboard are wearing modern ready tied bows - except for one of my table companions who insists on tying his own in the traditional manner. Following a challenge from him, I decided to drag this old white Bowie out - and discovered that I still remembered how to tie one. It isn't rocket science - if you can tie your shoelaces, you can tie a Bow Tie. I have been asked to describe what the differences are between a P&O UK cruise and a P&O Australia one. I have previously described the food differences - and the obvious Passenger Nationality differences - but there is also quite a difference in the nature of the nightly entertainment in the main Theatre. Last night, we had a Violin duet as the main entertainment. I was a bit ambivalent about it as we entered the theatre - and prepared for an easy and quick exit if needed. I cannot imagine such a thing being presented as the main entertainment for the night on a P&O Australia ship. But WOW!!! - this young married Polish duet were absolutely fabulous!!! In fact, I would say that they were the best entertainers/performers that I have seen since leaving Brisbane and I am looking forward to their next performance. There are good reasons for Aussies to try out different nationality cruiselines - other than the usual reasons floated on the Internet cruising Forums.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Aruba - in the Caribbean

We had a very nice day in Aruba yesterday. The weather was perfect (if a little hot for our liking), the scenery was varied and interesting - for once the place visited was not "Third World" and it was all so well organised as far as tourism goes that the visits of three cruiseships on one day was not a problem. We have come across a small number of cruiseships during our cruising so far. We were in company with Aida Aura in Kuala Lumpur, another Vista class ship (Costa) in Sharm El Sheikh, and the five that were with us in Southampton. But yesterday, after we berthed in Aruba, we were pleased to see Regent Seven Seas Mariner and Holland America's Zuiderdam come into port to join us. During our sailaway "party" yesterday, I spoke to a few passengers who have seen quite a few of the Caribbean ports, and they all expressed surprise at the high standards we found in Aruba. It has a lot going for it as a tourist destination. Good weather out of the Hurricane belt, a good standard of living with low unemployment and hence a low crime rate, an unusual scenery (lots of cactus), great beach resorts. If it wasn't so far away from Australia, I could easily see an enjoyable week there some time in the future. We are now headed for the Panama Canal - for transit through it tomorrow. We have been assured by many that it is far more interesting and spectacular than the transit through the Suez Canal (which we thought was a wonderful experience). We are however concerned that this ship Arcadia does not provide good unobstructed upper deck space for a large scale passenger viewing experience. It has no forward facing upper deck space (unlike Oriana which was very well designed in this respect). We are often asked which of the two ships we prefer so far - but an answer to that question is not easy. I guess that transits through the Panama Canal are not foremost in the mind of cruiseship designers (except in making sure that they can fit through!) - but it does go to show that there is more to answering that question than what first appears.

You can view a Youtube video of our day in Aruba here

Friday, January 14, 2011

Los Barbados - the land of the Bearded ones

It is said that travel is educational - today we did learn a number of things about Barbados that we probably would not have known if we had not landed there yesterday. We learned that the name is pronounced by the locals as "Bar-bar-dos", and not as we have always pronounced it. We saw the original "Trafalgar Square", complete with statue of Horatio Nelson, both built/erected before that other one in London. We learned that the local monkeys (Green monkeys - actually brought to the island with slaves) are the source of most of the world's supply of Sabin Polio vaccine. And we discovered RUM PUNCH!!!! We also rediscovered something that I have been aware of for some time. And that is - that the more experience you have of something, the more critical you become of it and the more blase you become about it. This applies to travel experience as much as anything else. And hence, we came away from Barbados with a slight feeling of disappointment. We took a 3.5 hour tour of the island - which got us out of the Capital city of Bridgetown (where we were docked) and took us to the higher interior part of the island and to the rugged east coast. Apparently the most touristy part of the island is the west coast - which is famous for it's calm beaches and incredibly blue water. We saw only a little part of this side - and the water colour certainly lived up to it's reputation.
We later walked into the city. It is probably a little unfair to make a judgment in such a short and limited exposure to the island - and I am fairly sure that a week in one of the resorts on the west coast with some longer and more relaxed tours around the island (by the very extensive and inexpensive local bus network) would be very enjoyable. As Aussies however, living a long way away, and also as Queenslanders who
noted that much of the island was very much like a cross between the northern tropical area of Queensland and the New South Wales coast, we are not sure at this time that we would go to the effort and expense of
coming back.  We are on to Aruba tomorrow - with today at sea! We are looking forward to Aruba - as it seems that it is very different from what we are accustomed to at home.

You can view a Youtube video of our visit to Barbados here

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

0 to 25C in 6 days!

We have seen a steady improvement in the weather since we left Southampton - including a substantial increase in the temperature. It is hard to believe that a mere six days ago, we were nearly freezing on the
Promenade Deck - but now we are in T-shirts and shorts! Yesterday, for the first time on this cruise, the Brits have emerged out into the sun - laying back on the sundecks. The Aussies however continue to do what Aussies do - sit in the shade!  Because of our inability to reach the Azores, we will have been at sea for seven days by the time we reach Barbados tomorrow - but it is surprising how the time flies onboard. There is as much or as little to do as you please - but longer cruises allow onboard friendships to build. This is even more so for us - as there are passengers onboard who we have known now for over two months, and we are enjoying their company. The "Happy Hours" we had on Oriana have gone by the wayside (as there are none on this ship) - but other aspects of the ship make up for this. The Rising Sun pub has much more "atmosphere" than the Lords Tavern on Oriana, so we are gravitating to that for afternoon/evening drinks - and as I said in another post, the Belvedere Buffet has also much more "ambiance" (especially at night) than the Conservatory on Oriana, so we are using it more at night. Last night was "Curry night" in the Buffet - so a group of us attended that. The food was great - absolutely genuine - and definitely wasn't for sissies. They played Indian music all night and the staff dressed in Traditional costume. I am starting to like this ship - after a slow start. It's just a shame about the outside Promenade Deck - Oriana wins that competition hands down!

You can view a Youtube video about our first week on Arcadia here