* Iceland/Norway Explorer Cruise 2010 *
~~ At Sea Again: September 26th ~~
Yes, we are currently again at sea on the Grand Princess on our way to Bergen, Norway, having left Southampton, UK, yesterday afternoon at 4 PM. The ship is apparently full to capacity at 2600 passengers, increased by a few hundred from 3 or more per some staterooms. This is our third time cruising aboard the Grand Princess (1998), the first of the "Grand Class" cruise ships of Princess: Grand Princess, Star Princess, Golden Princess, and the larger Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, and Ruby Princess. In surprisingly good condition, the Grand Princess is due soon for an extensive dry dock to bring it up to par with the newer ships: Piazza on Deck 5, Crown Grill premium dining, International Marketplace and "Vines" on Deck 5, etc.
My Air New Zealand flight Wednesday from LAX to London Heathrow Airport (LHR) was excellent, as I have come to expect from this airline; comfortable seating on a beautifully refurbished 747-400 with individual TV screens and customized entertainment options, delicious food and open bar - VERY different from the sub-mediocre United Airlines service. The flight departed LAX at 4:30 PM and arrived in London 9 hours later - an hour early! - at 10 AM on Thursday, with only a few short periods of "Fasten Seat-belts" bumpy air: overall, a very enjoyable flight.
After a lengthy wait getting through Immigration Control - the UK has very intensive examination, I easily retrieved my luggage and passed through Customs and was ready for the Hotel Hoppa shuttle bus over to the nearby Renaissance LHR Hotel where we would stay for two nights: Thursday and Friday. This is the same hotel where we stayed before and after our British Isles cruise in August, with the view from our room being onto the north - busy! - runway: airliners from all over the world, landing and taking off every 2 minutes. Fortunately, the triple-paned windows prevent almost all sounds from the aircraft. Many 747s, 777s, and a few of the HUGE AirBus 380s, as well as AirBus 330s and 340s: quite a display!
Thursday afternoon was spent napping, relaxing and watching the action from the airport. Later on in the evening we again walked over to the nearby Pheasant Inn, which we had discovered in August; this time, however, it was pouring rain when we left the hotel but with our trusty umbrellas we arrived to a packed pub and were lucky to find an empty table. Again, the food was very delicious, very large portions, and at a reasonable price; the two pints of London Pride - for me - added to the enjoyment. By the time we finished and started back to the hotel, the rain had stopped and a full moon was visible in the clear skies. Sleep came easily - at least until around 2 or 3, but we persisted and slept in until 7 AM when the airport action resumed in earnest.
Our plan for Friday was to take the public bus (free) from the hotel back over to Heathrow Airport's Central Bus Station, descend to the Underground "Tube" station and take the train into Central London, to the Green Park Station from which we would walk through the park to Buckingham Palace for our 11:30 AM tour of 19 of the State Rooms. Our arrival was early, BUT almost immediately, due to an unexplained package left between the Palace and the Victoria Fountain, the ENTIRE area was cleared by security personnel, pushing all of the hundreds of us down the Mall for a considerable distance, until the bomb squad examined and disposed of said package. Our return to the Palace was in time for the tour, and proceeded with further complication.
The interior Buckingham Palace tours began in 1994, as a result of the disastrous fire at Windsor Castle, and the financing of its rebuilding. Now, for two months each summer in August and September, these tours have become among the most popular in London. The tour is extensive and well planned, and these formal staterooms are absolutely splendid in their lavish dEcor and art displays. The only comparison I might make would be to either the Peterhof/Summer Palace or Catherine's Palace near St. Petersburg in Russia. Buckingham Palace, however, exhibits a warmth and feeling of comfort with its superb lighting and presentation. It was a truly memorable experience to see the Queen's "home" during her summer absence.
The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent with Canadian friends of Patric, my friend and travel agent, who reside and work in the Canadian High Commission building on Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, once the home of the United States Embassy, now located in a newer building across the Square. Their apartment on the 6th floor of "MacDonald House" is spacious and comfortable and our dinner that evening was excellent, making our 10 PM departure all that more difficult. We located the Bond Tube Station, took the train back to the Green Park Tube Station, transferred to the Piccadilly Line train (very crowded) for Heathrow Airport, ascended to the Central Bus Station, and caught another public bus back to our nearby hotel. It was a long but very interesting, informative, and enjoyable day and evening in London.
Yesterday morning at 9 AM we departed the Renaissance LHR Hotel for Terminal 3 Arrivals area, by means of the Hotel Hoppa shuttle bus, where we met Princess personnel for our coach transfer down to Southampton and the Grand Princess; our names were checked against the Princess manifest, our luggage was checked in, we were given a red sticker identifying our coach and, after a wait of about 30 minutes in this very crowded Arrivals area, our coach was called and we departed for the port, a journey of about an hour and a half.
On our noon arrival at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal - one of 4 such cruise terminals in Southampton, we encountered HUGE lines of passengers awaiting delayed check in, which was supposed to have started at 11:30 AM. Being of Elite status in Princess' Captain's Circle, however, we were ushered to a much shorter line for our Preferred Check In which proceeded without further delay, and soon we were through airport-style security and allowed on board the Grand Princess, getting to our stateroom #326 on Emerald Deck 8 at about 1:30 PM.
In view of the time of year and the northern itinerary of this cruise, we had chosen an (obstructed) ocean view stateroom near the center of the ship for stability considerations; Emerald Deck 8 is the lowest of the passenger decks which is also preferable in case of the substantial sea motion that we expect. Last evening we got our first experience of "moderate" to "rough" seas; tonight we may get "very rough" sea conditions. The "obstructed" ocean view from our stateroom is not really that bad, over the top of a covered lifeboat.
It is now raining and quite cool outside the windows here in the Conservatory on Deck 15, a mezzanine surrounding a covered swimming pool; it is one of my favorite places of recluse. The pool has been drained and its surface netted in anticipation of rough seas, but up on the upper level it is pleasant, dry and quiet. This afternoon I will finish my unpacking and then attend a 2 PM meeting of the Cruise Critic group aboard with whom I have been communicating online for the past several months; the Captain, Cruise Director, and other crew are expected to join us in the Skywalker's Lounge on Deck 17, the ugly "Walmart shopping cart handle" feature of the Grand Princess and its two sister ships.
So this is the first issue of updates on this cruise "journal" to which I will be adding periodically. Tomorrow we are due in Bergen, Norway, from noon until 6 PM; having been there before it will be a leisurely walk-about on our own.
~~ Beautiful Sunny Day in Bergen, Norway: September 28th ~~
After a rather rough ride at sea from Southampton (rough to very rough), the seas finally calmed around midnight on Sunday and our arrival at noon in Bergen was under clear skies and warm sun! Quite a change! Our docking was at a more distant pier than had been indicated, requiring a local shuttle bus through the crowded industrial dock area into the center of Bergen; the lines of passengers waiting for a bus were long, LONG, but were accommodated rather quickly.
Having been to Bergen before in 2006 at the conclusion of an 11-day Norwegian Coastal Voyage round trip from Bergen to Kirkenes, near the Russian border, there was little new for us to see or do. Our previous visit had allowed us to tour extensively. We again chose to take the "Fløibanen" funicular up to the top of mountain with a fantastic view over Bergen city and harbor. Since it was such a clear, sunny day the views were awesome! We observed a Hurtigruten boat approach and dock while we watched; this is the company that operates the Coastal Voyages. Of course, the HUGE Grand Princess was easily seen at the distant dock.
After descending back down to the city we walked the short distance to the First Hotel Marin where we had spent 4 nights in 2006; it had not changed a bit, of course. Then it was time for me to find a comfortable sidewalk table at which to enjoy a glass or two of wine while Jim made his rounds, shopping and photographing. Around 5 PM we returned to the park with a spectacular fountain in lake's center near which the shuttle buses back to the ship were located, reboarding the ship well before the 6:30 PM "all aboard." The 7 PM departure was accompanied by a local brass band serenading us from the dock.
With blissfully smooth seas again last evening, this morning we are at anchor in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland, where our 9:45 AM tour of Jarlshof Ruins and Hoswick Centre will give us a nice visit of this rather small island - complete with sights of the famous Shetland Ponies.
So it is time to wrap this up, finish my breakfast of delicious melons and fruit, and prepare for our day ashore. More later...
~~ Yesterday in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland: September 29th ~~
Except for the strong winds, increasing during the day, our visit to Lerwick on the largest of the Shetland Islands, part of Scotland, was most pleasant under clear, sunny skies - BUT chilly and dry! Lerwick is the capital and is a quaint city with architecture - primarily of stone - reminiscent of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, all of which at one time claimed the Shetland Islands. Even our tour guide Astrid was Norwegian, living in Lerwick.
Our tour of the day, from 9:45 AM until 1:45 PM, was all the way down to the tip of this Island, to the Jarlshof Ruins that were uncovered by one of the fierce North Seas storms years ago, and date back to ancient times. The main attraction to me was the coach ride down through the unique countryside and the frequent views of grazing Shetland ponies which themselves also date back to the days of the Vikings who inhabited these territories.
The landscape is unique in its stark absence of trees; they just refuse to grow in the severe weather conditions with the North Sea on one side of the Island and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The prevalent strong winds, and the salt spray they carry, are not conducive to the growth of trees. Although North Sea oil is a main contributor to the area's wealth, heating oil on the Island is still quite expensive and peat is still cut from the loamy soil and burned for heat. It is not a very friendly climate, that's for sure!
Our drive was first through the small city of Lerwick and then along the rugged coast of the North Sea, until we approached the bottom tip of the Island where we crossed over and proceeded down the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. At the very tip is the airport that appeared to be quite busy, considering the location; our roadway actually crossed over the end of the runway. On our return trip we had to stop for a plane to take off.
Midway in our journey was a stop at the Hoswick Centre, a very nice, modern visitors center with clean bathrooms, hot coffee, tea and wonderful scones - a welcome stop. Also in the Centre were numerous photos and artifacts denoting history of the region.
Arrival at the Jarlshof Ruins and the large old hotel located nearby, the bright sunshine disguised the cold wind and chilling temperatures, and the hour visit of the Ruins was quite sufficient for viewing this organized display of ancient rocks. My choice was an early exit back to the warm hotel and a glass of wine.
Back on the bus, returning to Lerwick, we saw more Shetland ponies with their thick coats and sturdy, short legs; our route back was on the major highway, in contrast to our transit on the way down on very narrow - many times one-lane - roadways. The scenery was spectacular and especially enjoyable from the comfort of our tour bus.
Back in Lerwick at the pier, we encountered an already lengthy line of passengers waiting for a tender back to the ship and I chose to join the line even though it was only 2 PM. Jim wanted to further investigate the city, photographing and shopping; he would be on the last tender at 4:30 PM for our 5 PM departure. Even standing there in the tender line for that short time I was chilled to the bone and return to our ship and our WARM stateroom was very welcome. Of course, we were well prepared for the cool weather with our sweaters, leather jackets, and earmuffs, but it was still COLD!
Today we are again at anchor at Tórshavn on one of the Faroe Islands, part of Denmark, and the weather forecast is for much cooler temperatures and the possibility of rain, so yesterday might have been a "treat" weather-wise. I'll report later on our experiences.
~~ A Day at Sea in Route to Iceland, September 30th ~~
Today, Thursday, September 30th, we are at sea headed for our first Icelandic port of Akureyri tomorrow, which is on the north shore of this island nation. The seas are "moderate" with some motion although not enough to be of concern. With our stateroom location on Emerald Deck 8 and near amidships, the sea motion is at a minimum; the most we feel are the large swells, up and down, and a little of the rolling motion: not nearly as bad as we had anticipated. So all is fine - so far! There are many more days at sea, yet to come.
Yesterday, Wednesday, we were at anchor in the harbor of Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, Denmark, and our tour of the day was by no doubt THE MOST SPECTACULAR of ANY tour I've had on ANY of my 34 previous cruises! After tendering ashore in midmorning, we went by bus from the moderately sized town of Tórshavn up to the northern part of this Faroe Island, Streymoy - one of 18, to a small port village of Vestmanna where we boarded a good-sized launch for our "Cruising of the Vestmanna Cliffs." We wisely chose to sit on the upper, open deck despite the cold wind and threat of rain, and are we glad that we did.
Our cruise proceeded past several fish pens where salmon, primarily, are "farmed," and the large fish were jumping wildly, much to our delight. Then we passed near the very steep hillside on which multitudes of sheep were precariously grazing. I concluded that instead of grass on these hillsides they were using Velcro to keep the sheep "attached" to the steep hillside. Seriously, the problem of sheep venturing too close to the rugged shoreline and falling into the surf, and being unable to climb back up, is of constant concern, partially addressed by short sections of fencing along such precipitous edges along the slopes.
Farther on we came upon increasingly steep, shear cliffs, soaring upwards to over 600 meters, formed by volcanic activity eons ago. If any of you have toured the Napali Coast on Kauai, Hawaii, you will have a "partial" feeling of the immensity and verticality of these cliffs that are inhabited by scores of wild birds. Unfortunately for us, most of these nesting birds have departed for the year but we did get to see many, many puffins (sea parrots). The waters near the base of these cliffs is a beautiful, medium turquoise blue and is, of course, very deep even at the water's edge.
Several times our boat would enter what looked like a large cut in the rocks extending far into the mountain, surrounded by these towering spires, and the boat guide's narration would reverberate from the surfaces. Those of us on the top deck were required to wear bright yellow hard hats in case of any falling debris. (None did!)
The farther we proceeded up the coast the more spectacular became these towering rock spires. Our last entrance into one of the "cracks" mentioned above found many seals or sea lions playing in the calm waters inside, and our exit was by a different route, this time passing through a huge arch in one of the rocks. I quickly ran out of superlatives to express this awesome experience! I had NO IDEA that such raw, rugged beauty was in store for us when I randomly booked this cruise.
When it was time to finally head back to the dock at Vestmanna, our return was much more rapid, farther out from the cliffs, and the strong winds were blessedly shielded by our earmuffs, scarves, and watch caps - besides our heavy coats and gloves. Those inside on the lower deck had no idea of the splendor and grandeur that they had missed; our outside discomfort was well worth the sensation of looking directly upward at these towering citadels of rock. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!
After our return to the dock and disembarking our cruise boat, there was time for bathrooms and a cup of hot chocolate that, for whatever it cost, was a welcome treat. Then back on our WARM bus for our hour-long trip back to Tórshavn and the long LONG line of passengers awaiting return to the ship by tender. Fortunately, the line moved rather rapidly, there being two tenders at a time, and shortly we were soon back aboard the wonderfully comfortable Grand Princess by mid afternoon. Rain had commenced just after we reboarded the buses in Vestmanna, but had subsided by the time of our arrival at the tender dock. We were quite lucky with the unpredictable weather in this remote place in the North Atlantic. The departure of our ship at 5 PM was on schedule and we are now headed for Iceland.
Tomorrow we are on tour for the majority of the day so my report may have to wait until day-after-tomorrow when we are again at sea for our second Icelandic port of Reykjavik.
~~ Our Day in Akureyri: October 2nd ~~
Today we are again at sea, headed for our second Iceland port of Reykjavik on the southwest corner of this Island nation. Our route is to the west of Iceland and to the east of Greenland. There is a gentle motion of the seas presently due to large ocean swells but so far our only really rough seas were on the first sea day out of Southampton. After tomorrow we will be at sea for three days in route to Nova Scotia, Canada.
Our day started early since the report time for the tour, "Best of Akureyri," was 7 AM. We encountered a HUGE line of passengers checking in for tours of the day and were assigned Bus 7 (of 8) for the 7:30 AM - 3:30 PM, 8-hour tour. This would leave little time after our return to the ship with 3:30 PM being "all aboard" for a 4 PM departure.
First we were given a nice tour of the city of Akureyri, the second largest in Iceland, by Tristi our tour guide, a very blond, young "Viking;" his narration in English - without notes - was excellent throughout the day. What impressed me most about this city was its spotless cleanliness and complete absence of graffiti; the dominant architecture was very Scandinavian in style: Norwegian, Danish, etc. ... , and we were told that great care is taken to ensure the integrity in style of the buildings and homes, many of which are centuries old. The newer buildings were quite modern in contrast, and public facilities were everywhere: schools - elementary and high school, junior colleges & universities, sports centers - gymnasiums, swimming pools, sports fields & arenas, medical facilities - hospitals & offices, civic centers & meeting halls. The Vikings in ancient Iceland were the first to establish a parliament, as a matter of fact.
Our journey then took up and across the upper end of the fjord which forms the excellent harbor of Akureyri, near the city's international airport, one of three in Iceland, then back along the opposite shore through lush farm lands with pastures dotted with many sheep, cattle and horses, first brought to this Island by the Vikings. This fjord is over 65 kilometers in length and is a calm refuge from the North Sea beyond.
The highways - mostly two-lane - are excellent and we soon turned inland into a wide valley between high smooth, tree-less mountains, up and over a high pass to another such valley, similarly dominated by lush green farm lands streams and rivers. Many stacks of large "marshmallows" - mown hay wrapped in white plastic - were visible everywhere, as well as some "mint-flavored" marshmallows wrapped in light green plastic: words from our very clever guide, Tristi, who said these were treats for the Icelandic trolls who live in the hills.
The first stop was at the famous Godafloss Waterfall whose photo most dominates any you might have seen of Iceland. It was here in the year 1000 that Thorgeir Thorkelsson and the Icelandic parliament decreed the island would convert to Christianity. At the Falls, Thorkelsson commemorated the event by hurling his pagan idols into the cataract. The strong, cold wind made our visit brief and we soon were back on our warm, comfortable bus. Fortunately, the partially overcast skies did not produce any rain during the day.
For an early lunch (included) we stopped at a large restaurant near Lake Myvatn, a huge lake in an area of extensive volcanic activity at one time. Nearby was "Skutustadir," a group of large craters known as pseudo or rootless craters, formed when lava overflowed the lakeshore's sodden ground. Several of our tour buses were being accommodated but we had our own dining room and were seated at tables of 6. On each table was a large bowl of hot, delicious tomato soup of which we served ourselves a bowl - or two, along with slices of wonderful bread and butter. Then came to each table a platter of trout fillets - seasoned and steamed to perfection, together with a Cole slaw and small boiled potatoes, which we also served ourselves. I've never before tasted such delicious trout!
Earlier our guide Tristi had mentioned that the lakes alongside which we were traveling were teaming with brown trout that made our lunch even more special. When I asked later as to the origins of the trout in these lakes, he said that no one really knew.
Next we stopped at "Dimmuborgtir" which in Icelandic means "Twilight Castles," or the "Dark City" as we were told by Tristi our guide. As this former lava lake cooled and receded, weirdly shaped lava formations were left exposed in its bed.
Driving on farther around Lake Myvatn, and up and over a large round, smooth mountain, we came to an active geothermal area "Namaskard" with many steam vents and boiling mud pots, reminiscent of those in Yellow Stone Park. After walking among these phenomena for a while we boarded our bus for the return trip to Akureyri and our ship.
The hills here looked to me like those near the summit of Moana Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii: barren, smooth and multicolored. We were told that some of the US Astronauts had visited here years ago in preparation for their visit to the moon; I can now see why!
The ride back found many passengers on our bus napping, as did I, with the warm sunshine flowing in as we traveled back toward the west. Again, the bus rides coming and going were highlights for me with their varied and interesting landscapes: such contrasts to behold.
The Grand Princess was waiting at dock for our return and I think we were the last bus; shortly after our reboarding the ship pushed away at 4 PM and set sail back down the long fjord to the ocean and our day at sea today towards Reykjavik, our last port of call tomorrow in Iceland.
~~ Last Port in Iceland, Reykjavik: October 3rd ~~
We have just pulled away from the dock in Reykjavik, Iceland, and are now headed for our next port of call: Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, after three days at sea. Our captain announced that he is expecting rough seas as we travel west and south, especially tomorrow; there is a low pressure system which he is trying to avoid by veering farther north, near the tip of Greenland. So the next three days may be somewhat of a challenge. We have been SO LUCKY thus far with the weather and sea conditions that our good luck could not last, I guess. The low-pressure system in question is most probably the remnants of a hurricane traveling up the Atlantic coast from the Caribbean.
Today's full day tour was excellent, although it started very early - 7:30 AM, as did our tour day before yesterday from Akureyri. Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland as well as its largest city and our ship was at dock at quite a distance from its city center. Our initial journey was first to a unique geological site, the junction of the North American Tectonic Plate and the Eurasian Plate, and the gradual parting of these plates is dramatically evident from the "riff" that we saw and through which we walked: on one side, the North American Plate whose opposite edge is the San Andreas Fault in California, and the Eurasian Plate. The parting of these plates has caused a noticeable lowering on one side as they drift apart.
Nearby is the ancient location of Iceland's first parliament meeting place and the current location of the (female) prime minister of Iceland. A dramatic waterfall spilling over the edge of the North American Plate created an active river into a nearby lake.
The next stop on our tour was at the Gullfoss Waterfall, another HUGE waterfall over two cataracts - each formed by a different lava layer, fed by an enormous glacier - the largest ice field other that those at the poles - and containing heavily sedimented water, on its way down the river into the fjord and the ocean beyond; it had a distinctive grayish color from the glacial sediment. My earmuffs, gloves and scarf were certainly of valuable use today in the clear, cold air!
Next was an active geothermal district with many steaming mud pots and vents, along with an impressive geyser that erupted with regular frequency and was most exciting to observe. Not quite an "Old Faithful" geyser, but never the less impressive. Nearby was a resort hotel and restaurant where we enjoyed our early lunch: hot broccoli soup followed by poached salmon with small boiled potatoes, a delicious rice stuffing along with Cole slaw. The salmon was WONDERFUL! Strong, flavorful coffee followed which was a fitting end of an excellent meal in the warm, comfortable dining room.
Our last stop on this "Best of the Golden Circle" tour was at a new geothermal processing plant which captures the super-heated waters from deep wells, uses it to create electricity as well as transporting the hot water into the city of Reykjavik for heating. This enormous plant appeared to be quite new and the modern reception center was splendid! An impressive staircase of finely crafted woods lead to the second level, as well as twin elevators to the third level where informational videos explained geothermal energy and how it was being harnessed to provide electricity and heating for the populace of Iceland. Views into the gigantic workings of this plant were available through large glass windows; the plant is almost totally automated. Outside, the distinctive aroma of sulfur is inescapable!
The return to Reykjavik included an informative city tour featuring universities, hospitals, senior citizen housing, sports facilities, libraries, theaters and other educational institutions, along with an impressive business district and spectacular churches. Everything was SO CLEAN! How dare ANYONE drop so much as a gum wrapper! The Icelanders are great readers with many published authors - some Novel prizewinners. Languages are emphasized: Icelandic (of course), English, Danish, etc. Iceland's history has experienced domination by both Norway and Denmark until their independence.
The guide for our tour was an older gentleman whose extensive knowledge and polished presentation made our day a virtual learning extravaganza; he is retired from Icelandic Air and is currently involved with tourism as lecturer on cruise ships and in local educational institutions. We could NOT have been more fortunate as far as a tour guide. The Icelanders are very literate and educated people, I learned.
Now we are cruising out of the long fjord into the North Atlantic towards Greenland and shortly we expect the sea motion to increase. So our next few days at sea may be a little "bumpy" to say the least!
~~ Third Day at Sea: October 6th ~~
Today is Wednesday, October 6th, our last of three days at sea after leaving Reykjavik, Iceland, two days ago. Tomorrow we are at dock in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, for the day before another three days at sea on down to Fort Lauderdale and the end of this cruise. Hopefully we will NOT encounter any hurricanes on their way north along the Atlantic Coast!
The seas have been rough after leaving Iceland and our Captain diverted our route westward towards the tip of Greenland to better avoid a low-pressure system to the south. Even then, Monday evening was quite rough, becoming more moderate yesterday morning. Yesterday was "moderate" with the Captain cruising at FULL SPEED throughout the day towards the Belle Isles Channel between Newfoundland and Labrador, again to avoid a second low pressure system in the Atlantic. This morning the seas are quite flat and I think our bumpy cruising is now in the past. The position of our stateroom E326 on Emerald Deck 8 has helped a lot in minimizing the sea motion: "the lower the better; the more midships the better."
Last night was the second formal night with the first of FOUR Captain's Circle parties; with over 1900 Members aboard (of 2350), there are now required 4 different parties to accommodate all of us previous Princess cruisers. (We were told that there are now in excess of 10 million Captain's Circle members worldwide.) The top award on our ship went to a couple with over 100 Princess cruises and over 1200 days at sea! My measly 18 cruises and 241 days at sea only rank me at #73 on this cruise.
Yesterday was also the fourth in a series of lectures, "Only Way to Cross," by John Maxtone-Graham, a noted author on maritime topics - more specifically famous ocean liners; his "standing room only" lectures and first person experiences have been outstanding! He is a very interesting and entertaining speaker. Of course, his lecture about the Titanic was a highlight of the series and the best I have heard, and his personal interviews with many of the survivors were "ones of a kind." At the rate he is selling his several books, he should be paying Princess to be aboard instead of the contrary!
Day before yesterday we enjoyed a special "Pub Lunch" in the specialty dining room, 'The Painted Desert' (once named 'The Sterling Steakhouse', until Carnival took over Princess and has since tried to erase any reference to Lord Sterling, the former CEO of P&O and Princess); my menu choice was "Bangers & Mash" (sausages and mashed potatoes) along with a Bass' Light Ale; it was quite good, a nice change.
Days at sea are usually very relaxing with lots of time for doing little, or nothing, and I have gotten quite a bit of reading done; Frederick Forsyth's, The Cobra, is turning out to be a very topical and excellent historical novel. References to our current President, drug wars, and spy technology are well researched, as is typical of Forsyth. I am reading it on my iPad, of course.
Through our "obstructed view" window (not all that obstructed) right now I see blue, clear skies with sunshine streaming in, and smooth, flat seas. A pleasant change from the last couple of days!
That's about it for these last few days at sea; internet access has been spotty until this morning, and CNN is not always available on TV, but this morning things seems to be returning to normal.
~~ A Rainy Day in Sydney: October 7th ~~
Yes, it is WET today here in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, and our tour of the day, "Sailing on the Bras d'Or", a large inland sea forming the heart of Cape Breton Island, was canceled last evening by the tour operator because of today's predicted inclement weather. The tour was to have been from 7:30 AM until 1:30 PM, with the ship's departure at 2 PM, so I didn't fret that much over its cancellation.
Having been here before - with better weather, and in view of the early departure of the ship, we decided to just walk into the nearby downtown area with umbrellas, etc., and look around. I found a nice, busy, warm and dry Tim Horton's Coffee Shop on Charlotte Street, the main street, and spent my "visit" with a large hot chocolate. It was such an interesting place, sitting there looking out onto the wet street, and observing the primarily local clientele inside the Shop. So, of course, I decided to have a SECOND large hot chocolate!
The rain was not heavy but came in sporadic showers, with relatively dry sessions in between. After finishing my hot chocolate, the rain seemed to have let up so I made my break back to the ship, almost making it there before the rain again increased; it was only a distance of a few blocks.
This afternoon our ship sails for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the conclusion of this 16-day cruise. The next three days at sea may at first see some rough seas as we travel from Nova Scotia across to the Maine and Boston area, where there is now a large storm in progress. With luck, our last two days at sea will be on smooth seas as we near Florida. Just as long as no eager hurricanes decide to venture northward along the Atlantic Coast.
There is one more formal night aboard, the night after tomorrow, I think, so then it will be time for serious packing and preparation for leaving our cozy stateroom we have inhabited for the past couple of weeks or so. Even with the "obstructed view" our ocean view stateroom has been quite satisfactory; no need for a balcony stateroom in this weather and with this itinerary across the North Atlantic.
In Fort Lauderdale we are spending one night after disembarking the Grand Princess on Monday, October 11th, at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel - hopefully warming up! - before flying back to Los Angeles on Tuesday, October 12th, via DFW and a plane change. I am looking forward to warm sunshine and sandy beaches!
~~ Final Day at Sea: October 10th ~~
The end is near! The end of our 16-day Iceland/Norway Explorers Cruise, that is. Early tomorrow morning we arrive in Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades and our scheduled late disembarkation from the Grand Princess is at 9:30 AM - since we are not flying out until Tuesday, remaining at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel overnight. We will actually have the better part of two days in Fort Lauderdale with our early arrival and late departure on Tuesday; our American Airlines flight #1031 is not until 6:40 PM with our arrival in Los Angeles at 11 PM (via DFW).
Today's weather forecast is for another beautiful and warm day at sea with temperatures up in the 70s; yesterday was almost as perfect, with smooth seas and balmy breezes - quite a change from the cold, strong winds of two days ago after leaving Sydney, Nova Scotia, and the moderate to rough seas we experienced as a result of the rain storm over Nova Scotia and Eastern Canada.
Yesterday on deck it was as if another ship-load of passengers had appeared: shorts, sandals, swim suits and sun glasses replacing parkas, earmuffs, scarves, gloves and umbrellas. "What a difference a day makes..." There will be many sunburned bodies even before arriving in Florida!
Last night was our final formal night accompanied by the Captain's Farewell Party (FREE drinks!) and the last of the productions shows in the Princess Theater, this one entitled "The British Invasion."
There have been several such production shows presented during the cruise - all excellent - with two lead male and female singers, along with 7 female and 4 male dancers; it was really a great ensemble and the shows were fresh, new, energetic and challenging with many and varied costume changes as well as elaborate sets. This last production show was the pinnacle and surpassed anything I have yet seen aboard a cruise ship. Some shows were presented during our "bumpy" evenings and the cast is to be congratulated for carrying off the show under less than ideal conditions: the Princess Theater is at the very front of the ship.
Dinner menus offered lobster tails served along with Tiger Prawns (I was served TWO EACH!), finalized with yet another delicious Princess' dessert soufflE, this one Warm Citrus with Vanilla Sauce: wonderful!
Today will be a lazy day for me with packing lurking in the very near future. This afternoon at 2 PM there is a final get-together for our Cruise Critics group aboard, the "Nordic Explorers;" it has been a very active group. Today's meeting in the Skywalker's Lounge on Deck 17 will be quite different than our first meeting there on the first day at sea (rough).
So there is not much more exciting news to report today from the Grand Princess; my final journal entry will most probably be on Tuesday morning from Fort Lauderdale. Until then...
~~ Fort Lauderdale: October 11th ~~
Fort Lauderdale! We have arrived in Florida, now at dock in Port Everglades along with many other cruise ships; this has become one of the busiest of cruise ports on the East Coast. It is still only a few minutes after 7 AM and the sun has not yet made an appearance. The visual quiet scene outside disguises the beehive of activity going on as 2400 passengers - on this ship, and thousands of others on other ships, clamor to disembark, collect their mountains of luggage ashore, and proceed on - most to the airports: Fort Lauderdale as well as Miami, traveling home. Since we are staying the night here before our own flight back to California tomorrow, our departure from the ship will be among the last, and hopefully accompanied by the fewest; let the "herd" go first!
Our baggage was placed outside in the hallway last evening and now awaits our collection - at the appointed time - ashore in the terminal; the few remaining things we will carry along this morning, clearing our stateroom for its next occupants, due to be checking aboard around noontime for their Caribbean cruise. Lots of baggage coming and going, staterooms being cleaned and readied, ... A busy morning for the ship's crew.
Around 8 AM we will go down to the Botticelli Dining Room on Deck 6 for breakfast and then to the Vista Lounge (for Elite and Platinum Captain's Circle Members) just above on Deck 7 to await our 9:30 AM call for disembarkation. By that time the great majority of passengers should have already departed. In the Vista Lounge there will be juices, coffee, tea, Danish pastries, yogurt, etc., for our pleasure whilst waiting. It is nice to be Elite! "Noblesse Oblige."
This will probably be my final email for this cruise since the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel may or may not have internet access available; we shall see.
This has been quite a different cruise experience for me, the 16 days with many (8 total) at sea, the Trans Atlantic crossing, and the spectacular sights of new places: Iceland, Faroe Island and the Shetland Islands. I am not ready to do this again, at least for quite a while, but it was a great experience. Now it is time to go home and stay there for a while!
~~ Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel - WOW! October 11th ~~
That's all I can say about our 10th floor room in the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel: WOW! Without delay we were checked into our room on arrival at around 10:15 AM and have late checkout tomorrow at 4 PM, so that gives almost two full days to enjoy Fort Lauderdale.
Ours is a corner room on the 10th floor, with the beach and Atlantic Ocean in full view to the east and Port Everglades - with a full view of the Grand Princess at dock - to the south. Floor to ceiling windows give a virtual panoramic view! It is really breathtaking! As I may have mentioned, this room is being paid for with my Starwood's Preferred Guest "Starpoints" (7000) which I earn by using my SPG American Express card; these points can also be transferred to any of my airline frequent flyer programs. How can I loose?
This hotel has recently been substantially remodeled and the appointments in our large room are quite modern: flat panel TV, wireless internet access, Starbuck's coffee service, wonderful air-conditioning, and ultra modern furnishings - desk with chair, large overstuffed chair and ottoman, credenza and HUGE pristine bathroom. Not bad for free!
I think my choice of accommodation in Fort Lauderdale was a good one! http://www.starwoodgp.com/gsp/connections/home.do?CNURL=https%3A%2F%2Flogin.globalsuite.net%2FIndex&PID=664&CNTD=no&TP=&RT=
~~ Adios, Fort Lauderdale! October 12th ~~
As the sun begins to rise in the east, beautifully visible through the large, floor-to-ceiling windows here in Room 1080 at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, the final day of our journey is at hand with our American Airlines flight back to Los Angeles this evening at 6:40 PM, arriving at 11 PM. The Hotel is granting us late check-out until 4 PM which is just about the right time to leave for the nearby Fort Lauderdale Airport, so all has worked out splendidly! This Hotel has been a delightful treat: the spectacular views from our windows, the spacious modernly furnished room, the exquisitely comfortable beds, and the convenient wireless internet - have all contributed to a pleasant visit, and for FREE!
Yesterday afternoon while enjoying a Margarita at the Beach Bar & Grill, I happened to look out just in time to see the Grand Princess edge past the buildings, out to sea, turning slowly to the south on its way to the Caribbean; apparently it sailed around 5 PM. It was a beautiful sight: brilliant white ship against the blue and turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the fading light of the day. "Bon Voyage!"
Last evening we walked up Seabreeze Boulevard a few blocks to Bubba Gump's Seafood Restaurant for dinner, adding yet another location of this chain to my growing list of those visited: Lahaina, Maui; Long Beach, CA; Cancun, Mexico; Victoria Peak, Hong Kong. The original location is in Monterrey, CA, yet for me to visit.
Today we are going to take a local Water Taxi around the area's inland waterways which should give a nice overview of Fort Lauderdale's substantial waterfronts: residential and commercial. With the current overcast skies, perhaps it will not be as hot as it was yesterday. Just so long as the rain stays away.
So this is AT LAST my final email to you for this trip that started all those weeks ago on September 22nd with our flights from Los Angeles to London; it has been a long one, and it is now time to go home.
~Ron Read Less