Monday, February 14, 2011

Almost over

Since we left Auckland, I think that most Aussies onboard have regarded
the cruise as basically over and have been largely marking time - this
has been especially so for those who have done the complete
circumnavigation. Many left the ship in Sydney, where we had an unusual
two day port stop. As I understand it, they were supposed to get off the
ship on the second day - but many insisted that they wanted to get off
on the first day. This introduced some problems regarding Customs
clearance - but in the end, they were able to do so. I don't blame them
for wanting to get off - I would not want to wait for another day after
arriving in Brisbane. When the party is over, it's over! Today is the
100th day of our journey and although very happy about it all, we are
looking forward to getting home.

However having said all that, we had an enjoyable stop in Sydney.
Somewhat strangely, the evening entertainment on both nights were some
of the very best we have had - in spite of the fact that many of the
passengers were off the ship. A lot of them went to the Opera House to
see "Madame Butterfly" on the first night.

I think that this will be my last post to this Blog - except that, after
we arrive home, I will attempt to answer some specific questions that
have been asked in the "Comments" section of each post. As I have
previously explained, I haven't been able to access the Blog much myself
while at sea, and when I did it was usually some time after a question
had been asked. So, I will gather all the questions together - and
answer each one individually.

San Francisco - eat your heart out!!!

San Francisco is famous for it's Bay and it's Golden Gate Bridge. But, from the point of view of the passengers on a visiting cruise ship, they pale into nothing compared to the beauty of Sydney Harbour, it's Bridge and Opera House. As ex-Sydneysiders who now live elsewhere, we are always in awe of the Harbour - and never tire of seeing it. Last night we spent some time on the upper decks - just watching the passing parade on the water and the land adjacent to the ship's berth. It is a visual perspective that many/most Sydneysiders have not seen - and can only be seen from the outside decks of a visiting ship berthed at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay. We had done this once before - but thoroughly enjoyed it again. We are looking forward to doing it again tonight - before we sail to our final destination of Brisbane at around midnight. We will arrive home two days later on day 101 of our big adventure.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quiet places of Auckland

We had a surprising day in Auckland yesterday. On the last time we were there for a day, we stayed around the city precinct - including the harbourside area that was nicely redeveloped for the Americas Cup. We enjoyed the visit - but, not being ones who like the inner parts of big cities, we wondered what we would do this time. We decided to buy tickets on the "Hop on-Hop off bus" (for $25 AUD each) - and were very pleased that we did. We made the most of it - and it was excellent value for tourists. It is actually split into two parts - one of which departs every 30 minutes from adjacent to the cruiseship berth and a second part that departs every hour from the Museum. For a number of reasons, there is a tendency for many to only do the first part of the tour - there is certainly plenty to occupy yourself on it. But - DO NOT!! - make sure you go to the effort of getting onto the second bus route. We found it to be better than the first - and goes over some beautiful parts of Auckland. We were very pleased to discover some quiet and beautiful parts of Auckland this time around - and the bus tour showed us that they were only a few of many other similar places. Auckland reminded me a little of Honolulu - in that, I thought that there MUST be some ugly parts of the city somewhere!! Every city has them - but we didn't see any in Auckland or Honolulu!! During the last time we saw a little of New Zealand (on 5 ports visits as part of a cruise), we thought that next time we travel, it MUST be a land tour of the country. Considering that we have seen a lot of other parts of the World, we have seen very little of our closest neighbour. We now once again realise that we just must plan a longer trip to NZ. This is the last foreign port for us - on our journey around the World. We are starting to feel a little sad that it is just about over - but the "Dancing tugs" of Auckland put on a show for us as we were departing - plus we had the most amazing and most spectacular sunset we have seen to date as we pulled out of the Dock. We have been very fortunate on all of our Port visits and the ending of our visit to Auckland was the cream on top of the cake.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Port Denarau - Fiji

We had another enjoyable day yesterday - on another South Pacific tropical island. I don't know how much longer I can keep up this grueling pace. The island and Port(which is really just a large Marina) of Port Denarau is a recent modern artificial creation. With a backdrop of the high mountains of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu, it has been developed from swampland - and I think it is fair to say that it is not representative of the rest of the country of Fiji. However, it is a beautiful place to visit - for a day like us or for a week or so like the many International visitors we saw there enjoying their holidays. It basically consists of a flat island with lovely tropical vegetation, a Shopping centre at the Marina site and a number (about 7) of 5 star type Resorts. The resorts have all the accommodation, bars, restaurants, shops, gardens and swimming pools backing onto a beach that you would expect from such places. We took a ride in the "Bulla bus" around all of these and had a look at most of them. The Bulla bus is a hop on - hop off bus that costs 7 Fijian dollars per day. We found that some of the resorts were fancier than some others - but all would allow a very nice relaxing holiday. From them, you could take tours to discover the real Fiji. We noticed that the restaurants in the resorts - although very nice and  wonderfully located with fantastic sea views - were quite expensive (as you would expect in 5 star resorts). But there are less expensive options in the shopping village - actually quite cheap. This is definitely a place to eat fish - of very high quality. If I were to spend a week here, I would eat nothing but fish. We had a cheap lunch on the quayside - for $10 AUD each. We had Red Emperor and friends had Wahoo - delicious.

The weather was typically tropical - hot, clear and humid during the day with a thunderstorm developing in the afternoon. The ship's entertainment team had to move the sailaway party from the outside decks to inside the covered pool area - but after the storm and rain had passed, it was wonderfully refreshing to be out in the open air, with nobody around and the humidity gone. One of those "great to be alive" moments.
Today, the ship is putting on a "Round the World" lunch for the Aussies (well, we think it is only for us). P&O ships Oriana and Arcadia have already given RTW lunches to the passengers (mostly British) - as is traditionally done for the RTW cruises Southampton to Southampton. They forgot however that they have around 300 passengers who have also sailed with them RTW - Australia to Australia. They have finally realised after some gentle nudging. I would imagine that this particular market segment is significant to them and could be more so. It is always amazing to me how some companies do not think much "outside of the box" and just repeat what they traditionally do.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

American Samoa - Tutuila

Yesterday we had two big surprises. The first was that we didn't have a yesterday - as we had crossed the International Date line and lost a day. The most surprised were those 3 people onboard who were expectingto have a birthday on 04 Feb 2011. The second surprise was that we had heard a lot of negative things about the port of Pago Pago, on the island of Tutilia, American Samoa (even from the P&O onboard Port presenter) - but it turned out to be something of an unexplored "paradise". Just about everywhere we have been to has been over-run by tourists - but this place appears to have no tourists and almost no tourism infrastructure. It also has no industry as it's famous tuna canneries appear to have been closed down. The port is located inside a magnificent flooded extinct volcano, the water is crystal clear, the mountains are covered with jungle - bananas, mangoes, breadfruit, coconuts , papaya and other tropical fruits grow wild, ocean waves crash onto the fringing reefs or the volcanic cliffs, the locals are unbelievably friendly, the local beer is good - and did I mention that there are no tourists?? Do not believe anything that you read about this place in any tourist guide written before 2011. It is definitely no Hawaii or Tahiti - but I suspect that a couple of weeks on this island as a tourist could possibly be life changing. It is also a place where somebody who merely visits for a day could make a wrong judgement about it. We took a 3 hour tour which took us out of the Port area (which many did not) into local village areas. It was very interesting and our tour guide very entertaining. One "feature" of this island is the amazing colourful local buses. I am not sure exactly who owns them - but there are hundreds of them. They have to be seen to be believed. This ship's tour is the last of 12 that we have taken - we actually booked 14 but one was cancelled in Sharm el-Sheikh and we missed a port in the Azores. We have enjoyed all these tours -but we also enjoyed the ports which we had visited before, were vaguely familiar with and we therefore chose to "do our own thing". I do feel that those who only do their own thing in foreign ports miss out on a lot - but I also find that nothing will convince them of that.

What is needed to "Cross the Line"

Just thought I would send some pics of our "Crossing the Line" ceremony today - just for those who are in the cold in the UK or Aussies at home who are labouring at work. It's a tough life onboard Arcadia - but somebody has to do it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Which ship??"

This posting to our travel Blog is primarily aimed at the cruising enthusiasts following our progress. I was going to title the posting as "Ship comparison?" - but realised that, while it is possible to compare ships, it can only be truly fair if it is done within a definite defined context - as different ships are designed for different purposes and to use any ship for something that it was not really designed to do places it at a disadvantage when compared to another ship which is. Not being a Naval Architect, I can only guess at what the two ships we have been sailing on - Oriana and Arcadia - were designed for, but I believe that my guess agrees with many of my fellow passengers. This is that Arcadia is not as well suited for long passages as Oriana and perhaps it comes down to original design purpose. I have been told by longtime P&O passengers that both Oriana and sister ship Aurora were indeed designed for long distance passages - but don't know the truth of that assertion We have been in the company of up to around 300 Aussies on our trip across to the UK on Oriana and the return on Arcadia. Of these, we have conversed with a small percentage - and of these, we have had a regular association with an even smaller percentage. However, I would have to say that of these, the ship that will be remembered with the most affection and "preferred" is Oriana. We have definitely heard more praise of her positive aspects than we have of Arcadia's positives - and less criticism of her negative aspects than we have of Arcadia's negatives. Largely, I believe these have more to do with the basic design of the ships (for the purpose that we have experienced - long 42 day cruises across open oceans with longish periods of time at sea) than with other popularly discussed issues such as food, service, and ship decor.

Oriana's positives - her large Promenade, her unobstructed main Theatre, large cinema, tiered stern, internal access between public spaces,external access from lower decks to upper decks, forward facing external areas, access to external decks from cabin decks, large Pacific Lounge (additional to main theatre), large laundries, Al Fresco restaurant.

Arcadia's positives - very nice but underused Orchid Bar and Restaurant, lots of bars and lounges with contemporary decor, exterior lifts, indoor pool with roll-back roof. I am sure that others may see some of my "positives" as being a negative for them - for example, the matter of ship's decor. I am reluctant to quote "negatives" for the same reason. However, for me, the biggest "negative" of Arcadia is really a negative of the VISTA cruiseship class itself (of which there are many today and are obviously popular with the cruiselines). This comes from a basic "feature" of their design. There are internal and external public spaces on decks 1, 2 and 3, and then again on decks 9,10,11. Between these is a big "block of cabins/apartments" on decks 4-8. The only way to get from the upper public spaces to the lower ones and vice versa is via lifts or internal staircase through the 5 floors of cabins. The only way to also get from the lower outside deck areas to the upper outside deck areas is also via these. Hence, having a nice spacious and comfortable cabin on Deck 1, my most enduring memory of 42 days on Arcadia will be of waiting for and riding in lifts!! I have heard Arcadia's exterior lifts being praised - however even waiting for and riding in these wears thin after a while.

Last night we had an exceptionally good meal and most enjoyable time in the Orchid Restaurant (with drinks in the associated Orchid Bar) on Arcadia - possibly the best night we have had on our way around. So, you can see that this business of comparing ships is very difficult - it would probably be best for prospective passengers to ignore everything here and see for yourselves.