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136 World Cruise Reviews

This was our fifth cruise on Holland America, and the longest to date that we have taken. Our previous cruises were a seven day Alaska cruise on the Volendam, a ten day Caribbean cruise on the Maasdam, and 14 day Panama Canal cruise on the ... Read More
This was our fifth cruise on Holland America, and the longest to date that we have taken. Our previous cruises were a seven day Alaska cruise on the Volendam, a ten day Caribbean cruise on the Maasdam, and 14 day Panama Canal cruise on the Volendam, and the 35 day Voyage of the Vikings again on the Maasdam.We are both in our 60's, retired, and very active. We are both avid photographers and take a lot of pictures when vacationing. For example, on this cruise we took over 8000 pictures between the two of us. For this trip we took Amtrak from Washington DC down to Fort Lauderdale, arriving on March 8. We stayed at the La Quinta Inn and was quite pleased with the hotel. Very clean and the front desk staff were very friendly. There is places to eat close by, but it does take about 15-20 minutes to walk there, so a car is nice to have but not absolutely necessary.We had rented a car for our stay, and on March 9 took off and went to Butterfly World. We have been there before, and will probably go back there anytime that we are in the Ft. Lauderdale area. It's a wonderful way to spend part of your day, with hundreds of butterflies flying around. They also have an area with various types of birds flying around. They include many species of hummingbirds, and many other very colorful birds. You can easily spend 3-4 hours there. After that we went to the Flamingo Gardens. The Flamingo Gardens is a non-profit organization that takes in birds that have been injured and can no longer fly or take care of themselves. There are many species there including bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks, owls, and many others. There is also an area where you can actually walk among cranes of all kinds, ducks, pelicans, etc. About two hours is all you really need for it as it is rather small.March 10 we went on an all day trip to the Everglades, with the folks from Eco Safari. They picked us up at the Flamingo Gardens, and drove across the state  to Naples. Along the way we made many stops to see aligators, cranes, hawks, osprey, manatees, etc. Once in Naples, we had a airboat ride, a pontoon boat ride, and a short nature hike. The guide we had was terrific and the day was well worth the price paid.EMBARKATIONWe turned in our car at noon, and was taken to the pier via the rental cars shuttle. Arriving around 12:30 we walked into the terminal and were greeting by Captain Gundersen. That was a first for us. Check in was a snap with no waiting.We had no longer got to the Lido when they announced that the rooms were ready, so we immediately turned around and went to our cabin to drop off our carry on luggage. We were assigned to D334 on Deck 2, the Main Deck. Not bad for an OV guarantee, and we were very pleased. The walk-in closets on Prinsendam are fabulous. It's too bad that when HAL refits their ships or build new ones, they don't put them in all cabins. CABINOur cabin was just outside the atrium, on the starboard side of the ship. Of decent size, perhaps just a bit smaller than what we have had before, but that wasn't an issue. The couch and chair that were in the room should be replaced. They were very uncomfortable because the stuffing was simply old and worn out. Another issue is the placement of the TV. It's in the corner by the window, but very high up. If you sit on the couch you must crane your head up to see it, which becomes very uncomfortable very quickly. Other than that we really didn't have any problem with the room.FIRST ISSUEI had rented a tux from Cruiselineformal for the cruise, and had splurged and upgraded to their better quality tux, and ordered two vests with ties, etc. It wasn't in our room when we got there, but I didn't think too much about that at the time, assuming that our room steward simply hadn't had the time to get it yet.We wandered the ship until dinner, where we met our tablemates for the cruise. After returning to our room my tux still wasn't there. Our room steward wasn't around so I went to the front desk and spoke with Candice, who we became quite close with during the cruise. I explained the situation, and showed her a copy of my order. Well, the bottom line was the tux I ordered and paid $170 for was no where to be found and they offered me a regular tux from their onboard stock. I told them that I would not accept it unless I was completely reimbursed for my original order. I was told that all they could do was either reimburse me the difference between the two (about $50) and give me a regular tux, or cancel my order and reimburse the whole amount but I would not have a tux for formal nights. I decided that we would simply not participate in formal nights and took the full reimbursment. SECOND ISSUEThe first night at sea, my wife got up around 2am and went into the bathroom, to find water on the floor. We quickly discovered that the stool had back flooded and was spilling water over the edge. We called the front desk and someone came down immediately, flushed it and went away after cleaning up the water from the floor. The second night the same thing happened again. It was obvious to me (from my extensive Navy career) the the valve that allows water to enter the bowl had a slow leak and needed replacing. However this seemed to be beyond the maintenance folks knowledge until I explained very carefully what was happening. Finally that afternoon one of the maintenance officers came, looked at it, and a couple of minutes later someone came in, replaced the valve and all was well with the world.ACTIVITIESThere is a lot more of them on a Grand cruise. Besides the usual trivia, bingo, etc., there were Ti Chi lessons, water coloring lessons, kniting classes, and many other activities. There were also the usual dam dollar events which we participated in. That was a great way to meet a lot of people and really get to know them.THE SHIPThe Prinendam is small, holding only slightly over 700 passengers, and for this voyage there were only 637 onboard. It doesn't take long to cover the whole ship. The public areas were very nice, but if you really looked she is showing her age in places. There are only two "shops", one selling the jewelry etc., and the other selling HAL products, some over priced snacks, and booze that will be held until the last day of the cruise. Really nothing special.The theater was very small, but the chairs were the most uncomfortable chairs I have ever sat in. We went to two movies during the cruise and simply couldn't handle any more. After that we waited and saw the movie the next day on the TV if we wanted to see it. The best place on the ship in our opinion was the outside covered section of the Lido. If it's not too breezy, it's wonderful to sit outside while eating your meal. Speaking of the Lido, the starboard side had a coffee pot that was broke our entire cruise, while the other one poured extremely slowly. We found out from some folks that had taken the previous cruise and they said the pot was broken when they went aboard. It seems to me that in that amount of time they could have ordered a new one and replaced it, but that's just my opinion.THE CREWOur room steward was adequate, but nothing to write home to mother about. On several occasions we had to ask for a new floor mat for the bathroom as it was picked up in the morning but never replaced, two other times we called him to come back and finish cleaning because the stool and glasses had not been cleaned. It was simply little irratating things but not enough to ruin our vacation.The front desk folks were fabulous. Always there with a smile, and always willing to go beyond to ensure your every needs were met. We became very close to Chris and Candice and both were the picture perfect HAL employee.The main dining room staff were also great. Our table server Januar was the best we have ever had. Absolutely super. The Lido staff on the other hand seemed to be new perhaps? Their overall comprehension of English seemed to be lacking, and sometimes trying to get someone to take our tray away (YES, THE PRINSENDAM STILL HAS TRAYS IN THE LIDO!!), was impossible. I don't like putting my tray on another table but on occasion I had to.PORTS AND SHORE EXCURSIONSWhat can I say about the ports. All were everything we thought they would be. Yes we did have a couple of days of rain, but when it did it wasn't that hard a rain and didn't spoil the shore time. We did not take any of the ships excursions, but booked our own with two other couples for most of the ports, or went off on our own.SUMMARYThe Prinsendam is a small ship, and there will be a bit more movement than you might have experienced on other ships. She is old, but has aged well. Some of the furniture is beyond the point of being usable and should be replaced. Overall the crew was top notch with a few exceptions. I have heard rumors that next year will be the last year for the Grand Med and Black Sea Voyage, so if you want to go you better book now. After that it will be there but as segments not a Grand Cruise. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
This cruise was roundtrip out of  Ft. Lauderdale from March 11 to April 30, 2009.  We rented a car and drove to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, a drive of about four and a half hours from our house.  We dropped the car off at the Ft. ... Read More
This cruise was roundtrip out of  Ft. Lauderdale from March 11 to April 30, 2009.  We rented a car and drove to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, a drive of about four and a half hours from our house.  We dropped the car off at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport since there is no longer a special Hertz location at the cruise port.  We spent the night before the cruise at Candlewood Suites, located at 1120 W. State Road 84 in Ft. Lauderdale.  We had no complaints about this hotel, and it is very conveniently located a short and easy drive from the port.  On previous trips we have also stayed at a Holiday Inn that is right next to the Candlewood Suites, and that was also fine.  There aren't many places to eat within walking distance of these hotels, but that was not a problem for us.The Prinsendam is a small ship built around 1988 and holds about 750 passengers.  On this cruise there were only about 650 passengers.  One of the neatest things about the Prinsendam is the Captain, Captain Gunderson.  He's been the captain of the Prinsendam for as long as the ship has been part of Holland America, so he really knows the ship, knows what he's doing, and is also pretty darn adorable.  His wife and young daughter were on board for part of this cruise.  One time the Captain and his family went on a shore excursion that we were also going on.  They waited until almost all the passengers had already gotten on the bus and then they got on the bus, which required them to split up since there were not three open seats close to each other.  I really appreciated the fact that he didn't pull rank and get three seats reserved for himself and his family.  The captain's daughter was very well behaved, and in fact we hardly ever saw her except once in awhile in the afternoon when she got ice cream in the Lido.Our room was an inside room on deck M right near the center of gravity of the ship.  We always try to get a room on a lower deck and in the center part of the ship to minimize movement and seasickness.  This worked very well for us on this cruise, as we felt very little "rocking and rolling", even when crossing the Atlantic both ways.  In the interest of full-disclosure, I do have to tell you that the inside rooms on the Prinsendam are quite small.  There are two half-queen beds (they call them twins but they are really the size of half a queen), and these beds are arranged at 90 degree angles to each other along two walls of the room.  They were originally made up with the pillow end of both beds next to each other, but we had that changed so our feet would be next to each other.  Otherwise we would have been hitting each other in the face with our pillows all night.  There is only a small amount of floor space in the room, with no table and in fact no space for a table.  There is a small chair positioned in this little bit of floor space, and on the occasions when we got room service we had to use this chair as a table.  People say you don't spend much time in your room anyway, which is what we always say too, but the truth is we did spend quite a bit of time in our room.  In spite of the small size, we didn't mind it all that much and would stay there again since this room was significantly less expensive than an outside room.  The bathroom, by the way, was very nice and had a big tub and a clothes line, both of which I used a lot.  There was also a big walk-in closet with lots of hangers, shelves and drawers, and a safe.  The room also included a small refrigerator, television, DVD player (although you have to pay to use the ship's DVDs), hairdryer, and a chest of drawers with three nice-size drawers, and additional storage space under one of the beds.  This type of room is not for everyone, but I like to tell myself it's better than camping, and I smile all the time when I remember how much less I'm paying than everyone else on the ship.The activities on the ship did not interest us too much for the most part.  Trivia seemed to be very popular with a number of people, and some of these people took it way to seriously in my opinion, even getting into fights over it.  There were lectures which we tried and didn't find very interesting.  The port lectures were particularly disappointing  because we were expecting to be given a lot of information on all the interesting ports we were visiting, as we had on previous cruises, but the information provided was not particularly interesting or useful.  Other activities included dance lessons (very popular), water color lessons (which I now regret not doing), crafts, and funny sports competitions where passengers received what Holland America calls "dam dollars" just for participating and extra dam dollars for winning.  We did participate in this long enough to get two nice thick sweatshirts, which came in very, very, very handy later in the cruise when it was really, really, really cold.There is an excellent library on the Prinsendam which includes a paperback exchange, many travel books, and lots of other books.  This was great for us since we spent most of our spare time reading.  The library also has computers with internet access, as well as three of those fantastic leather stressless lounge chairs, which were dreamy the few times were able to get them.  There is also a movie theater, and we saw a few recent movies as well as a cooking demonstration in there.  Of course there are shops, mostly selling jewelry.The crew on the Prinsendam is excellent and extremely friendly.  How they put up with some of the passengers is beyond me, since unfortunately some of the passengers were very demanding and rude to the crew as well as rude and inconsiderate to other passengers.  It leaves a bad taste in your mouth to witness a passenger chewing out a crew member for clearing dishes off his table, which is his job; or when you see a female passenger take three cups-full of liqueur from the ice cream bar to drink, resulting in there being no liqueur ice cream toppings for the other passengers; or when you get to the bus for a shore excursion and find that each member of certain families have taken a window seat for themselves forcing other couples to split up; or when a male and a female passenger come almost to blows because one of them is trying to save a seat in the showroom.  I'm sure it was just a small minority of the passengers who behaved this way, and in spite of these people the crew was unfailingly cheerful, pleasant and efficient.The best thing about this cruise, in addition to the adorable Captain, and the main reason for going on this cruise, is the great ports it visits. After stopping at St. Barts and St. Lucia in the Caribbean, we went to the Canary Islands; Gibraltar; Cartagena, Spain; Barcelona, Spain; Marseilles, France; Monte Carlo; Livorno, Italy; Citavecchia, Italy; Naples, Italy; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; Varna, Bulgaria; Sevastopol, Ukraine; Kusadasi, Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Valetta, Malta; Cadiz, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Ponta Delgada, Azores; Hamilton, Bermuda; and New York City.Where else can you find a cruise that goes to so many interesting, diverse places in so little time, and in such a comfortable, convenient way.  All the ports were well-worth visiting.  We did Holland America shore excursions is almost all of the ports.  While they are indeed expensive, they are very well done and you learn a lot about the place your visiting, plus you know the ship won't leave without you if your shore excursion gets back late, which is not true if you go off on your own.My favorite shore excursion was the one to Arles and Les Baux out of Marseilles.  Both Arles and Les Baux are beautiful, interesting towns, and the lunch we had at the Olive Mill restaurant in between these two towns was fantastic.  Another shore excursion I have to comment on was the one we took in Rome called "Vatican Sacred Scenes."  This shore excursion is obscenely expensive (I'm embarrassed to say how expensive), but we splurged on it because we thought it was a once in a lifetime chance to visit the Pope's private residence and see the bronze gate; Bernini staircase; royal room where the Pope meets heads of state; Paolini chapel, where the Pope prays; the balcony from which the Pope blesses the crowds; another balcony with a view of the nave of St. Peters; and the Papal Treasures.  We didn't see ANY of these things.  It was just before Easter, and the tour operator used that as an excuse, but our guide indicated that he could not take people to those places anymore because of security.  We still had a nice tour through the Vatican, but it was not worth the ridiculous amount of money we paid.  We wrote to Holland America about this after the cruise and they responded in what we consider a very fair way by giving us a future cruise credit for the difference in price between this shore excursion and what we would have paid for the regular tour of the Vatican, which is really what we got.  My advice to anyone thinking about booking the Vatican Sacred Scenes tour is that you verify with the shore excursion staff exactly what you will and will not be seeing before you pay for the excursion.The main dining room on the Prinsendam has two seatings.  We were lucky enough to get the early seating at 5:30, which was great because the late seating was around 8:30, which is really too late for us to eat dinner (some days we were asleep not long after that when we had a long shore excursion).  There were seven formal nights, several informal, and the rest casual.  They strictly enforced the jacket requirement for men on formal nights, but women could get away with wearing almost anything, including pants.  Some of the men wore tuxedos on formal nights, but there were just as many if not more men in suits.  The women dressed nicely on formal nights but not nearly as dressy as women used to dress on cruises, which in my opinion is a good thing.  I have a "ball gown" which I wore on a cruise years ago and it would have been totally out of place on this cruise and probably on most cruises today.  Again, that's a good thing in my opinion.  The Lido restaurant was also open for dinner, which was a nice alternative on days we got back late from our shore excursion.The entertainment on the Prinsendam was not as good as I expected.  One of the dancers said that Holland America has cut the number of dancers and singers back from ten to seven, so there was one male dancer and one couple less than they used to have in their production shows.  This is unfortunate, because as hard as the remaining seven dancers and singers tried, it's hard to put on a show that deserves to be called a production show with only seven people.  In addition to the "production shows", there were also singers, comedians, magicians, a juggler, dancers, and musicians to entertain us throughout the cruise.  My favorite was the magician, and I hate to say it, but we skipped quite a few of the other shows.If I have a complaint about this cruise (other than the Vatican Sacred Scenes shore excursion mentioned above) it would be that they still allow smoking on Holland American ships in the bars and anywhere outside.  This is a shame because it only took one person smoking to pollute the air in the Crow's Nest and Ocean Bar and drive some of us non-smokers out.  This needs to change, and the fact that at the end of the cruise we were given a survey about the smoking issue indicates that Holland American is at least aware of it and is thinking about it.Disembarkation from the Prinsendam was pretty smooth, although it was slightly delayed for some reason.  We were still able to get off in time to get to Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in the Hertz shuttle, which was sitting there waiting for us, and pick up our rental car at 10:00 for our drive home.  We only took two carryon-size suitcases each on this cruise (we washed clothes in our bathtub), and Holland America gave every passenger a nice zip-up tote bag, which we used to tote the many, many, many gifts Holland America gave us throughout the cruise, including two really nice fleece jackets, the two sweatshirts we bought with our dam dollars, two big sourvnir plates, two tiles, two clocks, two umbrellas, two neat pens with lights in them, and who knows what else.In summary, I would recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to see a lot of very interesting places in the Mediterranean and Black Sea in a very low-stress way.  I would say, though, that you should be aware of how long a 50-day cruise is (50 days in a long time) and how many sea days there are (a lot), and be prepared to relax and go with the flow.  I would also strongly recommend that you bring very warm layers and be prepared for temperatures that are much colder than you expect, as well as for rain.  March and April are probably the shoulder season in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and we were uncomfortably cold (to put it mildly) in some of the ports because we simply did not dress warmly enough.  Think layers, warm layers, lots of warm layers. We would do this cruise again and probably will some day, but we'll definitely bring warmer clothes. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
The QM2 is a very interesting and rewarding experience. Unlike today's contemporary cruise lines which are trending toward Las Vegas in their look and feel, the QM2 hues to a more subdued approach where old-world elegance is more ... Read More
The QM2 is a very interesting and rewarding experience. Unlike today's contemporary cruise lines which are trending toward Las Vegas in their look and feel, the QM2 hues to a more subdued approach where old-world elegance is more valued that surface gloss. The weak point of the experience was boarding the ship in Los Angeles when 1800 new travelers came aboard. For the fortunate, it took only an hour to board. For the later arrivals, it took up to 3. Unlike the Crystal line, where each on coming guest is escorted to their room, Cunard simply takes your mug shot for their computer, a welcome aboard photo to sell later and let's you find your own way around. Our room, a premium balcony on the 12th floor, was average for contemporary cruise lines. Materials were solid, space was sufficient for our two week jaunt and the glass walled balcony was just roomy enough, with its two chairs and single table, to allow the door to be opened even while one was on the balcony. But the suite lacked the latest amenities such as basin sinks as found on the Crystal Symphony and there was no flat panel TV. Just an old fashioned Philips CRT. Our fellow travelers, as we later learned, included 320 folks who were going all the way around (the world), 365 Americans, 350 Brits and 1200 Aussies along with representatives from various other countries. Total passenger count was just below 2500. One of our fellow passengers guessed that the average age on the ship was 75. It may not have been quite that high, but I felt I was in the bottom quarter and I'm 63. Happily we were assigned to the Brittania Grill. Nestled into a back corner of the huge Brittania dining room, it offered us our own table for the evening with no restrictions for late/early seating. We liked the flexibility to eat when we chose as it allowed us to mix the early and late show entertainment depending on our own degree of fatigue. Days are well spent on the QM2. With compelling enrichment lecturers, trivia contests, dance and bridge lessons, afternoon tea, 2 golf simulators and 5 swimming pools, we were never bored and always had something to do. Of particular note is the planetarium where 150 could be shown one of 4 shows about the cosmos. Food on the QM2 is interesting and varied. On arrival to the ship we signed up for 5 specialty events: two in the Chef's Galley where around 40 of us received menus, a cooking demonstration and compelling food; one each in two of the "specialty" buffet areas that become upscale restaurants at dinner and one in Todd English. While the food in the dining rooms is very good, Meg and I thought it was just a cut below that available on the Crystal Symphony, the specialty dinners in the buffet area were perhaps slightly better and were more varied due to their ethnic focus, Todd English served the best food we've ever had on a cruise ship. In my opinion, their regular menu is approaching a Michelin 2-star experience and their deserts have already made it to 3 stars. I should also add that the beef served in the Brittania was superb. Service on the ship is personable and one does not get the feeling that the crew's main purpose is to extract extra money from the guest's pockets but it falls a little short of the very warm experience we've had on Crystal. For a simple illustration, at a Crystal buffet, guests are not expected to find their own table or even to carry their own tray. A crew member does bothand for every guest. On the QM2, guests find their own table and carry their own tray. Other features on the QM2 were exemplary. Ball room dancing on the ship is second to none with live and recorded dance music every evening. In fact, the overall level of musicianship on the cruise was the best I've experienced. The library is tremendous. Two hall ways are filled with board games and the tables and chairs on which to play them. Beyond the main theater which seats 1100 and could be crowded after early seating, no area of the ship seemed crowded. The bars and lounges were inviting and their always seemed to be space for the next arrivals. The exercise area was ample with plenty of treadmills, stair climbers, etc. The extra cost "water spa" experience was very enjoyable and probably worth the extra cost even to a cheapskate like me. The promenade path on Deck 7 was sheltered from the wind at the ship's bow. For an understanding of its size, 3 laps of the deck covered 1.1 miles. Entertainment on the ship was a bit of a mixed bag with classical or near classical musicians, comedians, a magician, singers and large shows. One even had a 22 piece orchestra. It must have included nearly every musician on the vessel. While the main shows lacked the integration of singers and dancers that seems common on most cruises, the dancers12 Russians with 6 boys and 6 girls were clearly the best we've seen on any cruise. The 4 singers were merely OK. WiFi internet is available in all areas of the ship. I purchased 4 hours of access for about $180.00 and although it was more like dial-up than broad-band, I was able to keep up with the main issues at work while I was gone The ship made only 4 stops: Honolulu, Pago Pago in American Samoa; Auckland, New Zealand and final departure in Sydney. The available excursions, although they are probably typical of all cruise lines, were not the best we've had and one QM2 policy defied explanation. In both Hawaii and New Zealand we took 5 1/2 hour tours that did not include lunch. Instead of real sustenance, we got a bottle of water and a Nutrigrain bar. The odd part: both tour operator's told us that the tour usually included lunch but that Cunard had asked them to omit it. We finished the cruise with two great days in Sydney. We walked the old section of town (the Rocks) and took a ferry to Manley Beach on our first day. The second day we went to a wildlife "zoo", petted Koalas, fed the kangaroos, etc and then toured the Blue Mountains. It was a day well spent. On our return, our biz class upgrades on United finally came through at the airport and we discovered that seating from Sydney had been revamped and now included chairs that became completely flat beds. We liked it and jet lag has been the least we've experienced when returning from such a long trip. All in all, it was a great trip. Although not quite up to our Crystal experience, the lower cost gave our trip good value. And finally, 6 formal nights for a guy who owns three tuxedosheaven. Read Less
Sail Date February 2009
When we first heard about Azamara, it was on Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas. We have booked passage on Cunard, Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, NCL and Holland America, so we know the general drill and what to expect. ... Read More
When we first heard about Azamara, it was on Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas. We have booked passage on Cunard, Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, NCL and Holland America, so we know the general drill and what to expect. The lure of a more upscale line was just what we were looking for, but were disappointed that we just did not find it in Azamara. We had an ocean view cabin right near Guest Relations on Deck 4, which was a great location and a tremendous value. We purchased the optional spa deck package for $175 + 18% service charge and found that to be a much better way to go than booking a balcony stateroom. The balconies are very small relative to other lines, and in my opinion, not worth the money. Here is What Worked in Favor of Azamara' "Luxury" Spin: Zippered tote bag, binoculars and umbrella in our stateroom were a wonderful touch: especially for a Panama Canal cruise. The tote bag was ours to keep. The bathrobes and towels are a higher quality than other ships. I am a steak girl, and thought I would favor the specialty steak house (Prime C) over the more seafood oriented Aqualina, but I really enjoyed the ambiance in Aqualina more. Also, you can order food from one specialty restaurant (I preferred Prime C's fondue for dessert) and enjoy it with your friends in Aqualina. The Windows Cafe is fantastic for breakfast and Dinner, too! Huge assortment of breakfast food including made to order omelettes, waffles, pancakes, smoothie shakes etc. Also an impressive offering of herring, salmon, bacon, sausage as well as breads and pastries. For dinner, the cafe rotated its made to order offerings: including stir-fry (my personal favorite), pasta, and international themes such as Indian and Greek. We really enjoyed being able to swim and throw on a cover-up and have dinner on the back deck at night. We never waited for a table in the Discoveries restaurant, and you could go to the restaurant any time, with a number of people or just the two of you. The veal was an excellent choice. Loved the coffee: it was strong and fresh! The Captain kept us informed of a delayed arrival time in Aruba caused by rough seas when we entered the Caribbean from the Pacific Ocean. He also explained that, because there were guests that had flights from Miami the morning we disembarked, we could not extend our stay in Aruba. The Guest Relations Desk handled special requests really well. The shows were well-done. The Twisted TV is not to be missed. We found the caliber of the dancers to be better than on other lines. Magician and comedian were also enjoyable: Eric's "how-it's-done" regarding card tricks was my favorite shipboard activity The Cruise Director said it best: "You either like me, or you don't." We really enjoyed her. She is also a talented performer. Her show at the Cabaret is not to be missed. Contrary to other postings, I found that the absence of hovering by bar staff at the pool to be enjoyable. If you patronize them enough, they will find you. LOVED the limited smoking area. LOVED having only 2 little girls on board: though the parents are typically more of an annoyance than the children... The virtual bowling and duck hunting tournaments ala the Wii were great fun. The crew was a little more mature and ALWAYS very polite and helpful Here is what fell short of Azamara's "Luxury" Marketing Spin: 18% Service charge tacked on to Spa Deck was not warranted: Guests often left towels on chairs, and no one attended to it like the main pool area. Adding a service charge implies that there will be a level of service provided. Would have enjoyed a broader variety of excursions: ports offering mainly 6 - 9 hour "best of" bus rides should be offset with more exotic offerings (such as the Swim with the Dolphins in Acapulco. In general, the shore excursion desk staff had limited knowledge of ports and activities. The maps for each port were not to scale and lacked a basic "you are here" moniker. The shops were very limited, as many small ships are, but to not be able to offer postcards from each of the ports of call was disappointing. The enrichment lecturer was dreadful. Dry and monotonous, with a poorly designed PPT presentation. They only thing he enriched for me, was a nap... The "Butler" was really just a cabin steward in a nicer outfit. In listing these likes and dislikes, the cruise really was more enjoyable than disappointing. Azamara, by hyping itself as a "luxury" line, subsequently sets the bar higher, raising the stakes for criticism. Overall, we prefer the smaller ships to the larger mass-market vessels. Bottom line: we would book passage on them again if we found another great deal. P.S. Marty, stop lurking and post one of your own! Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
We joined Queen Mary 2 at Fort Lauderdale having crossed the Atlantic from Southampton on Queen Victoria. Some two hundred passengers had chosen this method of joining Queen Mary 2. The transfer between ships was handled efficiently by ... Read More
We joined Queen Mary 2 at Fort Lauderdale having crossed the Atlantic from Southampton on Queen Victoria. Some two hundred passengers had chosen this method of joining Queen Mary 2. The transfer between ships was handled efficiently by both ships. (The only hiccup was a delay due to a high number of German passengers trying to disembark Queen Victoria by ignoring the transfer muster instructions given them, this despite those instructions having been translated into their native language.) The two Queens were berthed on either side of a wide jetty and each had their own embarkation hall. We had had fun at breakfast in the QV's Queens Grill watching our next stateroom on QM2 being cleaned and the balcony washed. There was a wait for check-in to open, our transfer having run so smoothly, however refreshments were provided by Cunard staff. Check in for our group was uneventful despite Cunard having to undertake additional visa checks. The introduction of the ESTA Visa for non US citizens plus Brazilian Visa checks for US citizens: who are currently undergoing a tit for tat visa programme, similar to ours with India. We had again been upgraded from Princess to Queens Grill. A smiley greeting awaited us as we embarked and although we were well capable of finding our stateroom, assistance was on hand had we needed it. We were impressed by our welcome from both our new Butler and his assistant. Our speedy arrival at our suite, within minutes of check-in opening, saw the butler dispatching his assistant to expedite our luggage. My first priority was to checkout my dining table arrangements. I need not have worried. Our Maitre d' on Queen Victoria had emailed his opposite number on QM2 with my preferences and that is exactly what I got. A nicely positioned table for six at the rear of the Queens Grill. The only other priority was to register for an internet package. Cunard generally offer an additional 20 minutes bonus to their timed internet packages if you register on day one. Bingo! between us that was 40 minutes gained. With four back to back Atlantic crossings on QM2 to our credit, this was to be our first 'cruise' with her and we were excited at the prospect of 43 days onboard and to see what differences would exist between a QM2 'Voyage' and a 'Cruise'. Sailaway was delayed by just over an hour so we bided the time cracking a bottle of Cunard's Champagne on our balcony and waving farewell to the Queen Victoria who got away smack on time. Lots of sirens and high spirits abounded as we bid farewell to her. The itinerary for this cruise was what particularly attracted us to it and we were not disappointed. First stop was Grenada. Idyllic, tropical and hot. QM2 was at anchor and the tender service was just fine. We just took a water taxi to Grande Anse beach, rented a couple of sunbeds, and did what we do best. Other visits included Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, rounding Cape Horn and a transit of the Magellan Strait, Santiago from Valparaiso and Lima from Callao, Acapulco and to complete the first leg, Los Angeles. The second leg took us across the pacific to Hawaii, Pago Pago, Auckland and Sydney. Without exception every destination was a great visit. We took Cunard tours at Rio, Santiago and Lima. Without exception these were excellent tours, well guided and reasonable value for money, particularly when considering the meals and wines that were included. One particular gem that I became aware of was that wherever meals are included in a tour Cunard send a team, including one of the executive chefs and a Maitre d', to carry out a health and safety inspection of the premises. Queen Mary 2 is a big ship and it is physically impossible for her to berth at many of the ports premium terminals. Wherever this was not possible commercial facilities were used and free shuttle bus services provided. At Acapulco a tender service was provided which again was pretty efficient. Entertainment onboard was variable when compared with that provided trans Atlantic. A new production team of singers and dancers joined at Fort Lauderdale. They were all talented but, for whatever reason, managed only four full shows and four repeats over our 43 days onboard. The remainder of the 'Headline' entertainment was a variety of musicians, singers, comedians and magicians. Some were particularly good, others mediocre. Whatever ones personal choice for entertainment, there was certainly variety. Including our trip on Queen Victoria I could have seen 4 different violinists. However, the two I did watch were quite outstanding in their field. Other venues around the ship provided further variety: piano, classical strings, jazz and of course the Ballroom and G32 nightclub for dancing. Certainly I would say that the concentration of high quality entertainment is provided transatlantic. The Cunard 'Insights' programme, normally of such a high quality on Atlantic crossings, was definitely dumbed-down during the first two legs. With the notable exception of two speakers, Colonel Hellberg and Captain Haymen, who were both outstanding, the remainder hovered between pretty poor and abysmal. One American female author(!) read entirely from a script and followed that with her finger while a Sherlock Holmes expert again read his entire presentation from hand held A4 paper notes. The Royal correspondent of a down market British tabloid completely broke the world record for the use of 'uuming' and 'aarings' The internet facility onboard proved both popular and busy. There is an abundance of work stations, speeds are variable but very interestingly they became very fast around the equator areas. Timed packages were available which reduced the overall cost. Generally, the quieter the period the faster the connection speed. Wifi is available throughout the ship for those preferring their own laptops. It was great to see Cunard providing full electronic versions of British and international newspapers. These were freely available to read most days around 9.00am , both in the ships library and in the Grills Concierge lounge. Requests that they not be removed were generally adhered to though I did on one occasion spot a woman tearing out a page to spirit away: not exactly a white star passenger. Launderette facilities onboard are reasonable and sufficient if used with common sense. Three commercial washers, three dryers and two ironing boards on each deck. Detergent is provided complimentary. Alas common sense does not always prevail and logjams were experienced when people did not adhere to the simple instructions written in three languages, or when downright stupidity and ill consideration were practiced. On the 28 day first leg of this voyage Cunard instigated four 'special deal' laundry offers of forty items for $30 dollars. Not to be sneezed at when compared to the cost of even the cheapest staterooms. There were 18 Formal, 7 Semi-formal and 18 Elegant Casual nights and dress standards were in the main well adhered to. The usual 'oddball dress rebels' occasionally appeared around the ship in their 'variations': guaranteeing to lower the tone of otherwise glamorous evenings. Fortunately most confined themselves to the Kings Court eateries in the evenings. . I just guess these people want to tell their friends they've been on the QM2 but in reality they could never admit that they have 'lived' her experience. The Kings Court buffet food areas often attract criticism on this site. It is actually ergonomically well laid out, well signposted for the various food options, and should not be difficult to understand. Though never actually eating there I often passed through the area during the day and it certainly appeared to be a popular eating venue. During the evenings the different areas are very tastefully divided and decorated with a series of sliding partitions to form separate dining options. We dined at the Lotus Oriental style restaurant and The Piazza Italian section on two occasions and on both occasions the setting, food quality and service were very good. The Boardwalk Cafe on 12 Deck proved an interesting find. Easily accessible from the upper decks, Grills Sun Deck on Deck 11, and the covered pool area. As the weather improved al fresco tables and a bar increased its popularity. Queens Grill food and service were maintained to their usual high standards and nothing was too much trouble for the friendly and professional staff. The table d'hôte menu was similar to that in the Britannia Restaurant with the option of choosing alternative dishes from the Grills a la carte menu. I have on many occasions voiced my opinion regarding the poor positioning of the Grills Restaurants on QM2. With the onset of the sunnier climes my views remain extant. Due to the length of this cruise we did, on a number of occasions, take a break from dining in the Grills and arranged through the Maitre d' to join a similar size table in the Britannia Restaurant for second sitting Dinner. We met some lovely fun people, were made most welcome and enjoyed excellent food and fine service. Queen Mary 2 does not suffer from a shortage of either deck space or sunbeds. Her more traditional stepped stern areas offer an abundance of space, as well as the upper decks and Promenade Deck. Vacant beds remained available throughout the sunniest days at sea. We found the majority of staff onboard both courteous and efficient. They certainly react well to a smiling face and friendly greeting. . Cunard caters for a truly international clientele and has in recent times, certainly the past 14 years, recruited its staff likewise: it has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever recruited primarily from the Indian or Oriental countries. That is its style. On this most recent cruise, at a table for six that I shared in the Queens Grill, we had the following nationalities; Maitre d': Italian, Head Waiters: French and Turkish, Sommelier:Indian, Table waiters: Chillian, Romanian and Macedonian. Two other waiters that I recognized from previous Grill restaurants were Indian and Filipino. Our Stateroom Butler was an immaculate Indian and the cabin steward again a Filipino. Just along the corridor could often be heard the delightful Liverpudlian tones of a female butler. Hardly a hotbed of Eastern European cheap labor recently claimed on these pages. During the first leg of 28 days, and out of some 29 nationalities, British passengers were the biggest single nationality but did not form the majority of passengers. The second leg saw our numbers barely reaching third place, considerably behind both Australians, taking first spot by a high margin, and Americans. In summary the Queen Mary 2 is a magnificent ship. She is well suited to these longer legged world cruise itineraries where her sheer speed can dwarf distances. Otherwise this was a tale of two legs. We found the conviviality, so prominent on Atlantic crossings, somewhat tempered on the first leg. This changed dramatically between Los Angeles and Sydney when the Australians arrived in force. They were there to have a good time and boy did they know how to enjoy themselves. All venues came alive and the atmosphere certainly became more convivial and lively. We did miss the quality and personality of Ray Rouse, Entertainment Director on all previous voyages. The Gentlemen Hosts, all of North American origin, were not the best we had seen. No matter what though, if one activity or venue does not suit your taste, there is always an abundance of quality alternatives on QM2: as long as you have the will to enjoy yourselves. .....and finally. I noted on our final day, one particular nice touch by Cunard. During the early morning arrival to Sydney, restaurant staff were on hand on a number of open decks with trolleys serving a variety of hot drinks, Danish pastries and croissants and rolls. Thank you Cunard. We had a lovely time. Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
Our review starts with an overall assessment for the first day for this 30 day round trip cruise aboard the Holland America Statendam—San Diego to San Diego. Embarkation was in San Diego which has a good pier ... Read More
Our review starts with an overall assessment for the first day for this 30 day round trip cruise aboard the Holland America Statendam—San Diego to San Diego. Embarkation was in San Diego which has a good pier for cruise ships and the best part is the pier is in downtown, not far from the airport or city attractions. We stayed at the Marriott Gaslamp Hotel which is a short cab ride from the pier. Expect to pay around $12 for a short trip in the downtown area. At the pier was a Carnival ship and the Statendam. Our cab was permitted to cross security and pull along the ship terminal. Unloading was a snap as many porters were present. Holland American never mailed us baggage tags thus we had to ask a porter and then take the time to complete filling them out. When I offered $10 for the two baggage tags and the porter service, I was rudely told I would have to pay $20.Inside the building we went through security and got in line to get our cabin assignment. The lines moved very quickly. There is a separate line for handicapped and the wait was even shorter. Suggest if you are handicapped, look for that line. Once documents are given to you, the walk to the ship is short. There is an elevator for the handicapped. You may wonder why I am often mentioning the handicapped. There were many handicapped aboard this ship including many in wheelchairs. We were in our cabin within minutes. This was a very quick embarkation. It could not have gone easier. DINING—Let's start with the one subject that is most often heard in a conversation aboard a ship. Eating! We were greeted with a new dining concept aboard the Statendam, called "As You Wish Dining" The Main Statendam Dining Room as many will recall who have sailed on this ship earlier, is two decks. The top deck (Deck 8) is reserved for early and late fixed dining time seating. The bottom dining room (Deck7) is for "As You Wish Dining". You can make a reservation the day of dining for seating at various times. Unfortunately we never found open times available other the 5:30PM and 8:00PM. Perhaps you can have better luck. You can also "walk in" and ask for seating, however from the long lines we saw and the unhappy passengers who were turned away while we were dining at 5:30, it is difficult to see how this is going to work to everyone's satisfaction. We were told it was better to ask for late seating as late times were plentiful. For " walk in" dining you will be seated at the next vacant seat thus you may sit at a table for 2,4,6 or 8.After a few days it appeared this system begin to break down as many people including ourselves sat at a specific table. We noticed many people doing this and less and less dining reservations were noted in cabin mailboxes. It's day number four and I need to update the "As You Wish Dining" process. A call for reservations this morning was not successful. I was told that all reservations were taken except for 8PM. I checked with a fellow passenger and she was told the same, nothing available until 8PM. It may be a coincidence, on being told there was no reservations available and then seconds later getting a call from the front desk wanting to know if there were any problems and was there anything the front desk could help with. I declined any help and decided we will try the "walk in" approach this evening. If that doesn't work we will head for the Lido Deck dining area. You also have the option of eating at the Lido Dining which has just been renovated with new serving area and new seating. It is very nice. You may not be able to serve yourself as almost all the food is behind glass window dividers and you ask the server for the item. Perhaps some of this separation was brought about due to health concerns. Now the passengers cannot get directly to the food. No more touching food with your fingers, coughing or sneezing over the food. The serving area is broken down into theme type foods (Asia, beef, Italian, fish, etc ) This makes it rather easy to go directly to the items you desire. Breakfast , Lunch and Dinner are all served in this manner. Remember the times you have had to wait for a passenger who could not decide what slice of bacon they wanted and the line backed up and backed up. Now they get the next two pieces of bacon. If that is not your thing then you may not like this expedited serving process. We also noticed that portions offered are smaller. In fact everything that is served seems to be in smaller portions. Juice glass, coffee cups, etc are all smaller than we found in the past. The Pinnacle Grill is open for both lunch and dinner. There is an additional charge of $10 for lunch and dinner $20. We never saw many passengers dining in this restaurant. The food at dinner is steak and seafood. It is excellent. Lunch includes a hamburger-remember you are paying $10 to $20 extra per person to dine in this restaurant. Several passengers we found out had been given complimentary seating from their travel agents. If you like hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza or tacos, the Terrace Grill is on the same deck as the Lido Restaurant. Service is slow as each item is cooked after you order. We tried this snack bar several times and the slow service never changed. Your burger is not cooked until you place your order and cooking will take several minutes. The process never seemed rushed so expect ordering to take several minutes. If you drink cokes, then a drink card is available for $25 for 20 cokes. HOWEVER we learned that the card does have limits. For example my wife asked for a diet Sprite. Sorry but diet drinks are not available from the auto dispenser, only in cans and guess what, cans are not included for the card. We went to three bars one afternoon before we found a bartender willing to let us have two glasses of Diet Sprite poured from a can. There is no refill and the drinks show up in a small glass. You can also purchase from the bar cans of drinks. There is also a coffee card available for $20 for 10 coffees. Look at the prices as you will probably be better off purchasing individual coffees as you desire rather than buying the coffee card. In fact the bartender told us we might rather purchase individually than purchase the card. There is free coffee in the Lido Restaurant. Specialty coffees area available at several places on the ship at an additional cost. CABIN LOCATION-This is a small ship thus cabin location does matter. We've had cabins, on other Statendam cruises, in several places throughout the ship. Trust me-don't get too close to the front and aft ends of the ships as you will feel the ship's motion all night long and even more so if you are in rough seas. Some travel agents assist you and you decide which cabin suits you best. If you have a long cruise don't settle for anything less than what you want. ICE CREAM BAR-Contrary to other ships we have recently sailed this ship has an ice cream bar where you can get soft serve and hard frozen ice cream until 5:00PM without charge. You can make your own sundaes, get the ice cream in a dish or waffle cone. Several toppings were available. PHOTO SHOP-We continue to believe the cost of snap shots on cruise ships are way too much and this ship we found no different. The quality of the snapshots left a lot to be desired. Purchase your own quality digital camera and either print them off your computer or have a quality shop print them when you return home. The quality will be much better, plus you can all the photos you want to print. TIP—notice where the ship photographers go with their equipment, both on the ship and off the ship. Then take photos of your traveling companions at those locations, just like being at Disneyworld where there are many signs that read "photo spot". You will be dollars ahead. Photos sold as portraits aboard ships are just snapshots made with a medium price digital camera. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Prices on photo supplies are high aboard cruise chips, so make your purchases at discount store before you leave home. SPORTS ACTIVITIES-There is a basketball count on the top deck and ping pong on deck 11. Traveling on the Holland America Statendam will usually provide you ample opportunity to play. There is also golf putting, golf chipping, shuffleboard, basketball and volleyball aboard the ship. You can ear "Dam Dollars" if you win and later exchange those dollars for prizes. WHO ARE MY FELLOW TRAVELING PASSENGERS?-Traveling on the Holland America Statendam is certainly a far cry from traveling on a Carnival or Princess cruise ship. There were a large number of handicapped passengers and a great number that are social security age. We only saw one grade school child on board and two small 1 year old children. We would strongly urge young passengers, honeymooners, and families with children to consider a cruise other than this one. While the destinations are great, you should expect to sit at a table with seniors rather than people of their own age. Do you really know what to expect for table talk? You'll hear about the stock market, global travels, social security, Medicare, grandchildren and politics. Unless my observations are all wrong 90-95% of the passengers would easily fall in the 70-85 year old range. WANT A GREAT VIEW-The Crow's Nest is great for relaxing and seeing the world go by. The days we visited it was obvious a lot of smokers had "camped out" in the area. We found the smell of smoke too much to stay a long time plus on many days they kept the area very cool. Wear a sweater just in case you go there on one of those days. There was free coffee, tea and cookies on some days. There are many bars throughout he ship however we never found any of them very busy. Each morning the cruise director has a coffee chat with an entertainer. We found the chats interesting and informative. Some of the entertainers also participate in lectures aboard the ship. Time and locations vary. ART AUCTION-As with most cruise ships there is an art auction. If you want to buy a print or painting wouldn't you really be better off going to the local art dealer and discussing such a purchase? It's difficult to believe quality art work , in such scarce quantities, could be found aboard a cruise ship a thousand miles out in the seas. Think about it. FUTURE CRUISE PURCHASE-We are always amazed to see large numbers of passengers talking with an onboard Holland America future cruise person. There is the offer of $100 ship board credit or a room upgrade if you just put a down payment today for that cruise next year. The cruise industry is like so many other businesses in this day and time. There are good buys and even great buys to be made on future cruises. Are they aboard a cruise ship? You be your own judge. We get so many e-mails advertising discounted cruise that we have always been hesitate to purchase a cruise while at sea. INTERNET ACCESS OK—I am an internet junkie and this is most often the way I stay in touch with family and friends. The service aboard this ship was equivalent to the old dial up service that I ditched 10 years ago. There was one big difference as the cost was $100 for 250 minutes. I could even live with that however just getting onto the internet sometimes took a full 10 minutes with each minute costing 40 cents. I update this review on day four. The internet is said to be working so I head for the internet area. After 15 minutes I finally log on to the ship's system however it will not let me go to the internet. I ask the attendant for assistance and she told me I didn't know my name and password needed to log onto the internet and that I should call my provider (sbcglobal) when I get to Hawaii. This is strange since I have been using this service and have maintained my "login name" and "password" for many years. I ask the person next to me if he has been able to log in and he advises that he is on the ship's hookup but can't get to bank account to pay a bill. Almost thirty minutes have passed and I started to try to reach various providers and sites. Finally by going to Google and them to SBCGlobal I have able to at least get to my provider's web site. A few minutes later I am on my site and I get into my e-mail. The fellow next to me is still trying. One thing I noticed, once you log onto the ship's system you will find various Holland America links. DON'T GO THERE AS IT IS DIFFICULT TO GET OUT WITHOUT LOGGING OFF. That will be having to go back and try the process all over again thus wasting many, many minutes. I figured sending a simple e-mail was costing me many dollars each time. I have experienced far faster connection time aboard the Princess line. The person on duty was friendly and helpful thus it was not her fault. Library and Internet Rooms I plan to rethink my internet experiences aboard cruise ships. I will no longer sign up for the ship's internet service unless the ship is reasonably close to land. No more open sea "lack of internet service" for me. The quality of the service is poor even in the best of times. You have a far better chance of getting a reasonably good quality hookup when docked. Another tip-take a minute to meet the person in charge on the ship's service. If she/he does not appear proficient or willing to help you, then pass up the high internet fees and wait until you are on shore. Thus far I have been unable to use my own laptop on this cruise as I hookup one minute while being disconnected the very next minute. Asking for help on this cruise was certainly not even close to the excellent service we received on a recent Princess cruise. I have been unable to use my laptop in my cabin. I ask some other passengers if they can get on the internet in their cabin and neither have they. I was able to use my iPhone even in the cabin to connect to AT&T and download my emails. The phone worked great in all ;ports in Hawaii. RETAIL STORES-If you can find poorer retail stores in the cruise industry please send me an e-mail as the stores on the Holland America Statendam have some of the poorest quality merchandise we have ever seen. In addition some stores had very little merchandise. One store advertised everything in the store at a $10 price. We thought we were at the local dollar store. My wife had always purchased perfume aboard cruise ships, but not this one. The selection and quality was extremely poor. Holland American needs to address this immediately. VAN GOGH LOUNGE- This is the entertainment area for the on board singers and dancers as well as other invited entertainment. It is worth a visit to the area during the day time just to view this very nice theater area reminiscent of eras gone by. Looks a lot like the movie theater I attended in the 1940s. Seating is comfortable and the theater is small, compared to the big mega ships. The entertainment is one star level therefore don't expect much and therefore you won't be disappointed. Movies are sometimes shown on a small screen. Sound is not the best. Limited amounts of popcorn may be available for free on days movies are shown. Movies were also shown in the Wajong Theater. CASINO—One of the smallest casino we have ever seen on a ship. One roulette wheel, five or 6 tables for various card games, one crap table and one table for poker. There are a limited number of older slot machines. The staff is far more friendly than we have experienced on recent cruises. This is certainly not a place where you go to win money. It is just entertainment. Don't worry, they will take your money just as quickly on the older slots as the newer electronic machines. One of the best gambling bargains is the Texas Holdem Poker Tournament. Buy in for $30 and the winner of the tournament gets $200 with the runner up $50. Great hour of fun and play and not too expensive. On our ship the first time players seemed always to beat out those who thought they were pros. Be patient with the players and dealers as this is not a professional tournament. SPORTS ACTIVITIES-Most days there is some type of competitive sports taking place. Shoot basketball and golf putting are two such activities where you can win cruise dollars that if you get enough you can win a prize. Kind of like going to the fair or carnival. SHORE EXCURSIONS-As with many other items you may purchase you may find shore excursion prices beyond your budget. Shore excursions can cost you far more than the price of the cruise, therefore I suggest you be very selective. Cost range from $59 to $599 for such excursions. If you are not the adventurous type, don't like to go off on your own and don't much like driving in an unfamiliar area then the ship's shore excursions may be your only choice if you want to get off the ship and see the sights, let me suggest some alternatives. In Kauai there is a helicopter ride of 1 ½ hours that sells for $265. By doing a little research on the internet we found an equivalent helicopter tour priced at $350.40 for two passengers, thus we saved almost $180.00. We were fortunate in that our son is a pilot and he had flown on the helicopter we booked, thus we got a great recommendation. The price of the ship's helicopter could have been purchased for around $200 on shore on the identical helicopter, thus there was a mark up of approximately $65 per passenger for the ship's tour. In Hilo the ship's tour office has a variety of tours costing $51 to $219 per person. Find another couple and rent a car for around $50 and head for some of the same tourist spots at a fraction of the cost from the tour office. By splitting the cost of the rental car and gas, you can see the exact same sights on your own time and save a bundle. It takes a little internet research and a few reservations before you arrive. One couple at our dining table made reservations with a tour company that will meet them at the dock and take them to the same places as the ship offers with the really big difference being the price which was less than 50% off the ship cruise prices, plus don't forget the freedom that goes with such a tour-stop when you want to and stop where you want to. TENDERS Like many passengers we are not always excited when we have to "tender in" at a port. The tenders on this ship ran quite well when it came to passenger pickups, transportation and drop offs. Car Rental TIPS-We rented cars at Hilo,Kailua,Lahaina & Honolulu. Check and double check that you understand where the cars are located and how you will get there. For example we were told by Alamo Rental that we could walk to their office in Honolulu. Upon arrival we found the office to be about 6 miles away or a $30 taxi ride. Most rental car companies will pick you up at the dock at no additional charge. Make certain that you know what the closing hour is for that location and if you can turn a car in after closing hours. In Honolulu the Hertz office was close to the cruise terminal, however they did not permit car turn ins after 4PM. Parking in Honolulu was $30 to $50 for overnight. Plan your traveling route well before you arrive at the port. We found that even though we were at Honolulu for two days, one day rental was plenty as traffic was a nightmare. Also determine the kind of vehicle you really need. Unless you are going "four wheeling" don't opt for a Jeep Wrangler on the islands. These are not the most comfortable vehicle to drive or ride in (I own one thus I write from experience) and they will cost an arm and leg at most locations. Going down the highway in Hawaii in a convertible is a picture of fun. Maybe—maybe not, as we hit rain quite often thus time after time we lowered the top only to have to raise it an hour later. Otherwise the convertible was quite fun. Leave all you "stuff" in the cruise ship cabin as it will be exposed for the easy heist at you next unattended stop. Do you really need that extra insurance for collision and theft? You need to review the terms of your credit card AND your personal insurance policy and then make your own decision. Many articles and guide books stated that car reservations should be made before leaving home. While that is a good suggestion, we found prices to be the same or in some cases lower at the location than prices quoted before leaving home. LIBRARY-A very good at sea library offers many books and CDs (cost $3 to rent) that can be viewed in your cabin. All need to be checked out at the desk and returned by the due date. There is a section for paperback exchanges which is free. Just leave the book that you have read for another passenger and pick up a paperback of your choice. Some of these books were in French with most being English. SPA & SALON—Located on deck 11 is a very nice Spa and Hair Salon. Depending of what part of the country you live in, expect to pay highly inflated prices. WAJONG THEATER-The movie theater has been renovated and is now a theater with movies being shown several times a day. It also serves as the location for the Culinary Arts Center where cooking and food demonstrations are given. Seating in comfortable theater chairs type seating. Popcorn is available for free at the movies. Get there early if you want free popcorn as it goes fast and there was never enough for the entire crowd. QUEENS ROOM & EXPLORATIONS CAFÉ—Lots of internet locations in this area and several good areas to relax and read a book. EXPLORERS LOUNGE-A great place to relax, watch the world go by , have a drink and read a book. Comfortable seating throughout the room. OCEANS BAR-One of the places we found to be the busiest aboard ship. Good seating where passengers can have a drink and chat with friends. HALF MOON ROOM & HUDSON ROOM These rooms are next to one another on the Promenade deck. They were being used by private groups much of the time and were also used by some of the ship's lecturers. POOL AREAS -Located on the Lido Deck is the Lido Pool which can be covered by a sliding glass dome when weather is adverse outside. The area is very nice and there are new lounges, chairs and tables throughout the area. Plenty of towels are available for those who want to take a swim or get into one of the hot tubs. Just one deck below is a small outdoor pool. We did not find many passengers using that pool as the weather was windy and cool. There are a couple of ping pong tables located close to the indoor pool. DECK 6-This deck offers a walking area completely around the ship and there are plenty of lounge chairs along the way. On the days "at sea" this area was heavily used by the passengers. Deck 6-Deck Around The Ship. 4 trips Equals a Mile BARS & LOUNGES-If you are one of those that don't mind expensive drinks aboard ship then head for one of the six lounges or bars on this ship. There are four on deck 8, one on 11 and one on 12. We never once found a bar or lounge full and could always find a seat. Service is sometimes slow as there were few attendants during some hours. PORTS - I will not try to list all ports. The reason we found most passengers taking this cruise is for the unusual ports in the South Pacific, the cost of which to individually by air would be astronomical. We found that a few hours at each port only whets one's appetite for future visits. Raiatea French Polynesia-A most interesting port with modern port facilities. Rent a car and take a tour of the island. It can be covered in about an hour, thus a four hour car rental would be sufficient. There is a Eurocar Rental office not far from town and we found a representative at the dicks offering a ride to the office. Roads are decent and not a lot of traffic. You can stop often and take in the sights. Check your travel book for those places the author feels a "must to see". There are vanilla plantations on the island. Take a tour. Rentals will be about $100 for four hours. Bora Bora-Here we rented a car at the city docks (Avis). Takes about two hours to circle the island. Suggest you take a slow leisurely trip and use the four hours you are paying for the rental car. About $100 for 4 hours. There is only one road around the island and it is a good road for most of the way. Don't hesitate on a car rental as there is little traffic and driving is easy. Bloody Mary's is located on the southwest side of the island. It is a great tourist destination. Traveling on a cruise to the South Pacific can be an adventure of a lifetime. Island stops were too short as we would liked to have stayed longer at some of those islands that are not on the regular tourist beat. The opinions and observations expressed in this review are those of this traveler and we recognize that with 1200 passengers on the same trip there will be different opinions and observations and we respect that. We are in no way connected with the cruise line industry. I would be pleased to try to answer any question anyone may have concerning this posting. Just send me an e-mail to texaswillie@sbcglobal.net. Would we travel again on this same ship yes we would. Would we want to take this same destination cruise yes we would. Have a great cruise-wherever you travel! Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
My husband Greg and I, both age 52, cruised for 32 days aboard the Dawn Princess, traveling from San Francisco to Sydney. I am a deputy district attorney and he is a retired sheriff's deputy. The trip was great. It was relaxing and ... Read More
My husband Greg and I, both age 52, cruised for 32 days aboard the Dawn Princess, traveling from San Francisco to Sydney. I am a deputy district attorney and he is a retired sheriff's deputy. The trip was great. It was relaxing and fun, and overall the staff was wonderful. We really got to know the staff on a cruise this long the maitre d' and waiters, the gym trainers, photography and excursion staff, and even the shop girls. If I had it to do all over again, I would: 1. Take along my own blow dryer. The old hotel-type blow dryer in the room was terrible. 2. Bring binoculars!!! We missed a lot by not having any. 3. Ask for an egg crate mattress topper the first second of the cruise. The beds were terribly hard. 4. Bring my own laptop. I spent an obscene amount of money at the Internet Cafe just to write home. With one's own laptop, one can compose off-line and then log on to send the emails. The Internet Cafe computers will not let you compose off-line. 5. Never, ever, ever leave a valuable wedding ring out on the table in the cabin. Mine disappeared the last day of the cruise. Following is a series of "Cruise Reports" I sent family & friends during the trip. ********************************************************* CRUISE REPORT No. 1 - Day 2, DAY AT SEA At the Internet Cafe for the 1st time. It costs an arm & leg of course, 250 min for $100, which works out to 40 cents per minute. Much cheaper than pay-as-you-go for 75 cents/min. I managed to nab the last entry blank for the free drawing for up to 500 minute, but there were no more for Greg; the Internet manager said "no more entries", which is bogus. Greg marched off to the Purser to complain. The Net is pretty fast at least right now. Impressions so far: 1. Ship is very small compared to others we've been on, particularly the only other Princess ship we've experienced, Diamond Princess. 2. Our fellow passengers are mainly geriatric, as expected. We are definitely in the minority age-wise. There is a handful of babies/kids, so scarce you rarely see them. This a.m. we were wondering what happens if someone dies on ship? Is there a morgue in the infirmary? LOL. 3. We were the ONLY diners at our Table-For-8 last night. Nobody else showed up. Perhaps it was due to many people not yet receiving luggage and the Oldsters falling asleep early? Hopefully more will turn up tonight; if not the Dining Manager said he'll move us to another table. I do like our waiter, a friendly Filipino named Rolly, and assistant waiter, Percy. Most of the crew is Filipino, including our steward Edwin. 4. The cabin is small, especially compared to the one we had on the last cruise we took, Carnival, with the kids. But we managed to find places for everything. The beds were in twin formation and I at first wanted them put together, but Greg talked me out of it. There's more room as twins. If we want to get 'friendly' he'll visit (don't read that line, kids - lol - NOBODY wants to think about their parents 'doing it'). 5. We're celebrating our 15th anniversary tonight. There were balloons on our doorway this a.m. 6. The food is variable in quality: good turkey yesterday at the welcome buffet; dinner (prime rib) was basically tasteless; mushroom soup, grainy. Fettuccine wonderful, but I only ate a little as to not fill up. Not used to so much food any more. Had a good omelet this a.m. Coffee and juice - blah. 7. Tonight is first formal night and captain's cocktail party. 8. The ship is rocky and it's on the coolish side. 9. Show last night that we managed to attend (sleepy as we were) was dancers and a comedian who was not terribly funny, but all right. We had a group of folks from Perth behind us. They were fun. I signed up for a 'bulk pass' for spin classes in the gym. That will ensure that I go because I already paid! ==================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 2 It is the 3rd day of the cruise, 2nd full sea day. We are making our way slowly toward Hawaii.... takes 5 days to sail there. The ship holds 1,950 passengers, compared to the Diamond's 2,670. It seems a lot smaller. A smaller ship is easier to navigate through, although we enjoyed the 'big ship' atmosphere of the Diamond. Latest impressions: 1. Last night we were STILL the only diners at our Table-for-8. The Maitre 'd said that two couples changed to 'anytime dining' and the 3rd never materialized. So he spoke to 2 couples at another table who have agreed to come over tonight. Hopefully we'll hit it off and we'll have some dining mates. It's very lonely eating alone every night. Particularly last night, when we celebrated our anniversary. The ship gave us wine (not very good wine, lol) and a little cake and we had nobody to celebrate with except the wait staff. :-( 2. Bad stuff: I'm going to turn the computer over to Greg for this part: ******** I arrived at the Venetian restaurant waiting for Karen and thought it would be nice to have a table next to the window. I asked the Head Waiter for one, and he said there was none available. I asked if he would mind if I looked. I went around and found an empty table by the window. I looked for the Headwaiter, caught his eye and pointed to the table with my hand. He quickly walked over to me, pointed at me and said, "I run this floor, not you!" I was horrified that he would talk to me in such a manner and I said, "Excuse me?" Then he said in a demanding tone, "What is your cabin number!?" I asked why he would need that and he said, "Obviously you are not happy with my service, so I was going to make a report of the incident." I told him that there was no need for that, because I was going to report him immediately, and I walked out. I told the front desk, who then directed me to the maitre d'. I accidentally interrupted a meeting he was having with some other staff. He and the staff were appalled that the waiter had said that and told us he would take care of it. I also met the maitre d's boss, the head of food and beverage. A nice "commander", white uniform with bars on her shoulders. She was from the Netherlands (like my grandfather). I told her about the incident, too. I hope the headwaiter is doing dishes for the remainder of the cruise. (Karen now: We ended up lunching at the Italian specialty restaurant for pizza, where we had a charming waiter who taught us a few words of the Filipino language. That helped offset the terrible experience above.) ************ 3. The beds are SOOOOOOOOOOOO hard. Hardest beds I've ever slept on!!! But I guess one gets used to most everything. As for the cabin being cool, that's partly due to the thermostat, which we need to play around with. 4. Eating: Ate TOO much. Greg says he's going to stop because he doesn't want his paunch back. We took gobs of formal portraits last night and he looks great in his 'monkey suit' tux. I am still too zaftig :-( Today we're going to walk the Promenade Deck and I have spin (bicycle) class again at 4. 5. The shows last night were 'Piano Man' and a comedian, but after dinner we took off our formal gear and decided we were too tired to enjoy a show, so we just crashed! =========================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 3: Latest impressions: 1. We finally got Table Mates! Neville, the maitre d', came through and brought over 2 young couples from a table for 10 where 6 people were no-shows. Both were very nice. One couple. Antoine and Stacey, is from Canberra, Australia. They can't be more than 30, if that. He's in I.T. and she's a security & exchange advisor. The second young couple - Greg & Anne - are newlyweds from New Mexico. Greg was a stenographer for the White House until recently. He got to ride on Air Force One with the president. Also, a couple originally assigned to our table finally appeared, an older retired couple named Howard and Donna. So we had a full house last night, lively conversation, and a much more pleasant dining experience. Hope everyone continues to show up. 2. Last night we saw 'Piano Man' in the Princess Theater which was pretty good, and later the same comedian who was at the welcome show. He was good, not great, but good. 3. We bought a couple of formal pics that came out very nice. 4. Greg walked 10 laps around the Promenade Deck yesterday - 3 laps is 1 mile. Later he walked 4 laps with me, after I did my 2nd spin class. My butt hurts from that hard bike seat; wish I had brought my padded bike shorts, darn it darn it. 5. Right now we're eavesdropping on the Photoshop class being given here in the Internet Cafe. We're thinking of signing up for classes because the teacher seems very good. It's pricey, $25 lesson, but you can buy a package for somewhat less. (1 free if you buy 3.) 6. What's on tap for today? Free digital photo class given by one of the photogs (you can buy future classes...always a sales pitch, lol). Game of scrabble with the game we nabbed from the Game Room. My 4 p.m. Spin class. Lying around. Ah this is the life..... ============================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 4 Back on the Internet after 2 days away. Here is my latest cruise report: We are now sailing toward Christmas Island aka Kiritimati. It was originally planned as a port call, but the captain announced a few days ago that we would simply cruise around it (he called it 'scenic cruising') because the ship would get stuck in sandbars if it tried to dock. Ergo, we are beginning 5 sea days in a row before we reach the next actual port, Bora Bora in French Polynesia. We took the cruise mainly FOR the 'sea days', so we don't mind. That said, we did enjoy our two days in port in Hawaii. Yesterday we were in Kona. We "tendered" into the small port along with the Tahiti Princess. We were very excited about our excursion, which was advertised as below: "Big Island Spectacular Helicopter Tour: A 2-hr helicopter flight will introduce you to some of the most spectacular sights on the Big Island from the air. Discover the Big Island's beauty & volcanic fury on this extensive aerial tour. Fly over Kilauea's most recent eruption sites & follow the surface activity down to the devastated village of Kalapena. View lava flows, the Puna Forest & black-sand beaches formed of lava that has been cooled by the water & ground smooth as glass by the sea. Explore the lush rainforests of the Hamakua Coast. Pass through the deep & immense tropical valleys of the Kohala Mts with waterfalls tumbling 1000's of feet - the perfect ending to your Big Island spectacular." The only part we got to do was the italicized portion, the rain forests! NO volcanoes to view, no lava! We were quite upset by the way it came about: we were met at port by the helicopter co., Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. We were all weighed to ensure we were under the 250# maximum (even with a week's of cruise food under our belts, we made it easily lol). Then a 50-min van ride to the helicopter site. Then a safety briefing, orientation, and fitting with safety devices. THEN an announcement: due to weather (rain), we would not be flying over the lava sites. They said we could either cancel completely and receive a full refund, or pay 1/2 for the "Kohala Coast Adventure" to see the rain forest and waterfalls. The latter cost was $250. We reluctantly agreed because we'd come all that way and would have wasted most of the day at port. The flight was just ok, not worth that much money for sure. We later complained to the Excursions Desk and just now found out that we're being refunded an additional $50 so the total cost is now $200 each (rather than the $439 originally paid for the whole trip). So, no lava, no volcanoes. That was the sole reason Greg wanted to do the helicopter tour. We suspect they knew when we were at the dock that they couldn't fly the lava part but didn't want to tell us then, because everyone might cancel and they'd lose all the $. A German couple we met from the Tahiti Princess wasted ALL day because they were told to delay their 10:45 a.m. flight to ours, and then were carted all the way in to the heliport, and then told 'no lava flight'. They canceled and forlornly drove back to the dock with us. Back at the dock, we visited the local Wal-Mart. I bought a $13 travel hair dryer because I hate the hair dryer in the cabin; it's an old flat hotel type that takes frickin' for-ever to dry one's hair. Wish I'd brought my own. $13 is a small price to pay for not having to hassle with that crummy ship blow-dryer. Also bought some souvenirs WAAAAY cheaper than on port. Back on ship, decided to dine at the Sterling Steak House. It's $15 per person. We were the only diners at 6 p.m. Even had a personal visit by the Maitre d', Neville. I have seen more of this Maitre d' on this cruise so far, than all my other cruises combined.....I barely knew WHO the Maitre d' *was* on the other cruises. He is a very nice man. The steak at the Sterling was wonderful. We both had 'butterflied' filet mignon, medium. It was perfect. Melted in one's mouth. You cannot get that good a cut of meat anywhere else on the ship. Dessert, raspberry crème brulee and chocolate dipped strawberries (which I got to go in a tin foil swan). The soup (clam chowder) and salad (Caesar) were just so-so. Unfortunately our dining experience was marred by something dumb that I did - during dinner, I accidentally 'formatted' my 4-gig photo card inside my camera, effectively wiping out a week's worth of cruise photos! Suddenly it said 'no image' when I tried to go back. I panicked and Greg told me that there is recovery software out there. After we ate we high-tailed it to the Photo Desk where the kindly photogs began a laborious process of recovering what they could with a SanDisk recovery program on their computer. (Apparently I'm not the only numskull who's done this.) For $9.99 they put my images on a CD...it took two. They saved most of my pictures. Some were lost and some were corrupted. I have a 2nd 4G card, so I'm not going to use the original card because Greg might be able to recover more at home. Lesson learned: NEVER mess with the formatting control when there are pics on the disk! (Note written to my 18-year-old daughter Stephanie....Oh Stephanie! I promised you to "G", the nice 27-year-old Hungarian photo dude, if he saved my photos....he has a lot of land in Hungary....he asked this a.m. if I'd called you! I showed him your picture and he likes you. LOL!!!!) The Wal-Mart shuttle driver in Kona told us something startling: someone on our ship died and was carried out in the a.m.! He said that was why all the police cars were on the dock. He said they call our cruises "for the newly wed and the newly dead". Remember I was wondering if they have a morgue in the infirmary for people who die on the cruise?! I guess they do! What a way to go.... Today's plans: at noon we are meeting Derek's parents' friends for lunch. (Derek is Greg's lifelong friend, best man at our wedding; his parents' best buds from Toronto are on this cruise! We've spoken on the cabin phone w/them and will meet them at last today.) Then at 1 p.m. I am taking a photo class from Will, the ship's Cockney speaking photog (who assisted the Hungarian in recovering my photos....but I have just one daughter to offer, lol). At 4 is my Spin class with the good looking sexy Aussie/Brit trainers, and tonight is 'Contemporary Country' singing and a comedy hypnosis show (probably one of those fake hypnosis things)! ============================================================ Addendum to CRUISE REPORT No. 4 Just realized I never reported on Honolulu! We assembled in the Princess Theater at 8:30 a.m. for our tour. I've certainly enjoyed the 1-hr time turning back for 3 nights in a row; that gave us the sleep we needed. We were herded out of the ship (like Dad said, with a smaller ship it wasn't like a small invasion of a country) and onto buses. Our driver-guide who called himself "Cousin Goodlooking" from Roberts Tours was very funny and informative. He used a conch shell to call us back to the bus each time we stopped. He narrated the entire trip which took us nearly 3/4 of the way around the island of Oahu. We stopped at a scenic cliff where warriors were forced to their death. Then the Dole Pineapple Factory for 1/2 hr, long enough just to roam the gift shop (I got a lovely turtle necklace). Next stop, Sunset Beach, the famous surfing beach. I wandered into the water planning just to get my feet wet, but the waves kicked up and I got soaked to my crotch. It was nice and warm! I stopped at the restroom; by then everyone else was on the bus; Greg talked the driver into driving forward and making me think I was being left. (!!) Hmmph. Then we headed to our destination, the Polynesian Cultural Center. It's smack in the middle of Mormon Town. The Mormon missionaries settled in this town called Lanai (sp) and built a large Temple and Brigham Young University, Hawaii. The cultural center belongs to them and is staffed by work-study students from the university. They're actually from Tonga, Samoa, and the other villages represented. They get room, board, a free education, and a stipend to work there; not a bad deal. It was hot hot hot there, esp during the canoe show where I sat in the blazing sun. But quite interesting. The BBQ lunch was so -so very tough chicken. We hung out at the cultural center with a young couple from Switzerland, Francesco & Silvia (or something like that) who live across the hall from us on the ship. He's a police officer and she works at a bank. The ride back was similarly narrated. We made one stop at a Kona Coffee House where we got free coffee and macadamia nut samples. Back at the dock, we roamed the nearby shopping area. Greg wanted to go to Waikiki but it was getting late so we skipped it and went back on the ship. Dinner and then we collapsed exhausted into bed! ======================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 5 Today is the 2nd of 5 sea days as we meander toward Bora Bora. Tomorrow is 'scenic cruising' around Christmas Island. The weather has changed to *muggy*. Greg walked/ran 4 miles this a.m. & came back dripping wet from the humidity. While we ate breakfast a short time ago, it was raining outside. The weather report said 80's with 80% humidity. Yesterday we had a nice day; lunched with Derek's family friends the Irwins from Toronto, whom we found very nice. Then we watched "Kung Fu Panda" in the Princess Theater (I fell asleep during the middle...I seem to do that at movies, lol). I missed the Photo class due to lunch running long, but it's being repeated today, so I will go then. I did my Spin class/workout in the afternoon. and at 7 p.m. watched the country show (without Greg). Then dinner. Then we went to a "comedy hypnotist" show where I volunteered to participate, and from what everyone's told me, I was the life of the party! I was determined not to get kicked off like I was on Carnival for smiling. Well, I played my role very well! And believe it or not, towards the end I believe I *was* hypnotized because I was totally energized afterwards, felt 'high', and was running like the Energizer Bunny til about 1 a.m.! Today I'm the cruise celebrity with tons of people coming up to me and telling me how funny I was, and asking if I was really hypnotized. Good thing I was energized, because we ended up doing laundry til 1:30 a.m. (by then I was tiiiiiired). The dinky Laundromats here are very inadequate for the number of passengers coupled with this being a very long cruise where doing laundry is necessary. Each laundry room, just one per floor, has just TWO washer-dryer stacked combos. The Diamond had quite a few more, as did the Carnival ships we took. That room is stuffed from dawn to late evening. It's supposed to close at 10 p.m. but we used it long after that. Using the ship's laundry service would be very expensive as they charge quite a bit per piece, not per bag as Don and family enjoyed on Holland-American. At dinner we had just one couple joining us, the older couple originally assigned to our table. No sign of either young couple. The Australians have been missing in action for 3 nights. We have fun with whoever shows up. This a.m. we joined a "police & firefighters get-together" in one of the lounges. About 30 retired cops/firefighters turned up from the US, Canada, and Australia. Everyone was retired but me. I was the only deputy DA there, and only woman! We enjoyed the gathering. Most fun was a retired Jewish NYPD cop telling us about working undercover among the Hasidim. He's from Queens so was happy to hear my family hails from there, at least once they made it to the U.S. The retired NYPD cop was working for the railroad when the 2nd jet flew into the 2nd World Trade tower....he watched it happen. The ship's captain inspired cheers yesterday at lunch when he announced over the P.A. that we will now receive Fox News on the stateroom TVs. The rest of the cable is still 'out' but at least we can get some news. So we heard about the Senate vote for the bailout yesterday. No ship newspapers any more....one passenger told me she was told they cause too much 'paper waste'. I don't remember if I mentioned that we received an add'l $50 off our truncated helicopter ride, for a total of $200 each, which is a bit more palatable. Complaining apparently does work. Another lazy day today; my photo class, Spin at 4, and I guess watching the VP debate on the stateroom telly. Comedy show tonight. It is so wonderful to just relax when my usual life is so hectic and go-go-go all the time. ======================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 6 We just finished a 2-hr 'scenic cruising' around Christmas Island, part of the Line Islands between Hawaii and French Polynesia. The captain explained that there is little to see and the prettiest way is from a distance. Apparently a lot of WW II litter remains on the island and they're not so nice up close. Also since there's so little to do people would tender over, wander about for 10-20 min. and then demand to be tendered back, but would have to wait an hr or more in the hot sun because others were still being tendered over. Also they could only bring about 60 at a time (rather than the usual 100) to avoid being stuck in sandbars. We had a great view from our own cabin. Wish we'd brought binoculars. Neighbors loaned us theirs a couple times. Hoped to see sea life but did not, other than a large sea turtle that made a couple of brief appearances. Now we begin a couple more sea days until our first port in French Polynesia, Bora Bora, where we are taking a 2-tank scuba dive. We booked tours in Papeete and Moorea as well. Yesterday was lazy....took the photo class, did my Spin class + a circuit class, had dinner and watched a comedy show (Don Ware, black comedian from L.A. - he was just ok...spent a lot of time insulting Germans and old people, lol). Tonight they're showing "Swing Vote" which we haven't yet seen, so we'll attend. People came up to me all day yesterday exclaiming about the hypnosis show and how funny I was. I was a minor celebrity! I read in a cruise review that the ship has 'egg crate' mattress toppers! I immediately asked our steward. He said he'd do what he could. At bedtime we had pillow top mattress toppers, not exactly egg crate, but they do soften the hard mattress quite a bit. We're happier. I wish I had read that particular cruise review earlier! One needs to ask for the topper immediately, apparently. A very little known fact. I'll know for next time. CRUISE REPORT No. 7 I am having a hard time keeping days/dates straight. Hmm, according to the Princess Patter it's Sat. Oct. 4th. We have been on this ship for......10 days! The big 'activity' today was crossing the equator. The ship had a big ceremony featuring King Neptune on the deck. We skipped it. I saw it on the Diamond Princess in '05-'06 and recall it as crowded, hot, and noisy. Ran into some of our dining mates later and they confirmed it as being crowded, hot, and noisy. Instead, Greg and I took a Photoshop Basic Tool Box class from the Internet teacher, part of Princess' 'Scholarship at Sea' program. It was an excellent class. Basic, but I learned a lot and Greg learned things too. We've signed up for 3 more Photoshop classes to learn things like Layers. I've used Photoshop but only know a fraction of things about it. Now it's another of those wonderful lazy, hazy sea days. Greg already did his 4-mile walk around the Promenade Deck (Deck 7). I'll attend the 4 pm Spin class and then work out afterwards. Had some excitement during Spin the other day. A passenger, an elderly German, walked into the Spin room about 1/4 of the way into the lesson. He climbed onto an unoccupied bike in the back of the room. Our instructor asked if he was joining the class & told him it cost $10. He said something I didn't understand. Then the other gym instructor, Stephen, walked over to him and explained that it was a fee class. I was directly in front of the man and couldn't see him, but heard him arguing with Stephen. It seemed he did not want to pay the fee. There was more discussion and I heard Stephen say, "You don't need to shout at me, Sir." Ultimately they walked into the main gym. I heard later that Security was called on the guy. I also heard that the passenger grabbed Stephen. However, I did not see that as they were behind me. I was later asked to give a statement to Security, as the man had complained all the way to the captain about Stephen. I felt Stephen acted completely appropriately. Apparently the guy was a millionaire German lawyer.....the Germans have a bad rep on this ship, as demanding and obnoxious. Last night we saw "Swing Vote" in the Vista lounge (they play recent DVDs...quality isn't so hot but you can't beat the price, free). Great movie and very timely at the moment. Tonight is the 2nd formal night. Entertainment is a dance show or 'Passenger Feud'...we'll probably attend the latter. ============================================================ CRUISE REPORT No. 8 This will be a short one! Fifth straight day at sea. Amazingly the days go quickly, even when one is doing basically nothing! Today I attended the 2nd of the 4 Photo classes. Learned a little about composition. Greg and I started a Scrabble game in our room that we tabled, when I had to go to class. He did his 4-mi walk around the Promenade deck while I was in class. Tomorrow is Bora Bora with a scuba diving trip planned. We have 3 ports in a row after Bora Bora is Papeete, then Moorea. We have tours scheduled in each port. Then onto Samoa, Fiji, and then New Zealand.... Last night we dressed up again for formal night. I actually enjoy the formal nights as long as they're not too frequent, lol. It's nice to get dressed up and see everyone else that way. We had a group pic taken at our table. It's nice to have a full table again. Ohhh, we have gained weight....inevitable....even with Greg's walks and my Spin classes and workouts... Skipped the shows last night.....the shows here are nothing to write home about, lol. Tonight is the black comedian who insulted the Germans and old people, with the promise of 'all new material' - we'll go see him. =============================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 9 As I type this in the Internet Cafe, I'm watching Bora Bora fade away into the sunset. What a wonderful day we had today!!! Awoke at 6:45 a.m. to Bora Bora approaching and sat on our deck as the lush green hills came into view, along with the thatched roofs of a mega expensive hotel. We ordered room service for breakfast to save time (coffee, juice, fruit, cereal and milk.) At 7:45 a.m. we assembled in the Princess Theater along with others on tours & were seated with the 7 others signed up for scuba diving. After quite some time, our group was called & we boarded the ship's tender for the ride to the island. Immediately upon arrival we were greeted by the dive boat captain who ushered us onto his boat. Nemo Diving was their name and they were fantastic. The crew consisted of the captain (and owner) whose name was Ivan (I think) & Jean-Paul & Elise. They were French. Most charming, esp. the lissome Elise, aged 29, who had every male on the boat staring. We suited up in shorty wetsuits, put on our buoyancy vests and weight belts, and were helped with our tanks. Then we fell backwards off the boat into the water. I was more than a bit terrified about doing the latter, but they talked me through it. Elise was assigned to our group of 4 and she was great. She took special care of me and made sure I was ok. We almost immediately met up with a group of lemon and black tipped SHARKS. Yes, actual sharks, not 5' from us. They had sucker fish hitchhiking with them, which was funny. We saw many clownfish (Nemo!), a lion fish, Morey eels, and sea cucumbers. We got to pet the cucumbers and hold a big anemone. The water was warm and it was so clear. We went 65' on that first dive. It was better diving than we had ever done, including the Great Barrier Reef. We returned to the boat, had tea and cookies, and then went on a FAST motor boat ride to another spot where we suited up again and went back in (this time I wasn't so afraid of the free fall, but I did forget to hold onto my mask LOL). Back down and saw different critters including sting rays, but from a distance as to not scare them away. Lots more to see and the water was still clear. I accidentally went up too fast but we were only 35' down so it wasn't too bad. We had so much fun.......the crew was great......we saw so much...it was awesome. We hurriedly signed up for another diving trip in Moorea. We had planned to dive just once because it's pricey, but the diving in Tahiti is so awesome we can't pass it by. (We were going on a 4 WD jeep ride in Moorea...traded in those tickets for diving tickets.) We dive only on vacation, and who knows when we'll have such great opportunity again. We regretted not having an underwater camera. Another passenger took pics with his and says he'll email some to us. We bought a $20 underwater camera from the photo shop which we will use on the Moorea dive. As for the rest of the Bora Bora visit, the ship officials had warned us that the place is PRICEY. They said a coke costs $10! We didn't buy any food/drink but just a plastic ashtray for Steph's collection and some postcards and stamps set me back $25. Incredible. We looked at black pearls but definitely didn't buy any. We returned to the ship because we were grubby and hungry and had lunch at the buffet. Once back, I realized I forgot Travis' sand. He's asked for sand from each island. So as to not let him down, I went back a 2nd time on the tender about 3 p.m. I was the only one on the tender going back out that late, & got some great pics of the ship and island. They packed on the people going back to the ship.........I got my sand and got right back on. It's 6:25 p.m. now - we showered the muck off and took some departing pics. Tonight I think we will sleep VERY well. Tomorrow, we will be in Papeete. We booked a 'leisurely tour' of the sights...no diving offered. Then it's Moorea. ========================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 10 Today we are in Papeete, which is in Tahiti. I always assumed Bora Bora was Tahiti but it isn't it's French Polynesia. Tahiti is an entire separate island. Papeete is a 'big city' compared to Bora Bora, and Moorea as well I hear. It's not that nice of a place. It's crowded, full of cars, and the downtown business section is like being in Mexico. We went to the flea market. Prices are much too high, and every stall pretty much sells the same stuff as the next. I did manage to get a nice shell necklace for $5 at a souvenir shop at Lighthouse Point. Saw the same necklace elsewhere for $20-30. (The dollar is not doing well next to the Tahitian franc, apparently.) We went on a bus tour called "Leisurely Tahiti" where we saw the main sights, including Lighthouse Point (the highest northern part), the Araphne (sp) blowhole, One Tree Hill, and other points of interest. Then we went shopping and returned to the shop mid-afternoon. Because we didn't actually dock at Christmas Island, we gained time so the captain decided to 'overnight' here in Papeete. But we didn't even like the town, so no way are we going out there at night - especially when food and drink costs an arm & leg & it's all free on the ship, lol. It was hot and muggy, and this is the DRY season. Glad we aren't here during the wet/humid season! We heard today that the German passenger who scrapped with the gym trainer was ousted from the ship yesterday in Bora Bora. The captain put him off! Glad to see he backs up his staff. The guy had no right to abuse the trainer. Tomorrow Moorea and diving, yayyyyy! ========================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 11 We were in Moorea yesterday, which is a GORGEOUS island. The coastline is breath taking. We were lucky and our side of the ship faced the pretty part. I got some wonderful photos. We tendered to the shore bright and early (7:30 a.m. had to meet in the Princess Theater) with our diving tour. We were met by the dive staff and piled onto their boat, which was quite a bit larger than the Bora Bora outfit's boat. Once again the crew was all French perhaps it's a requirement in French Polynesia to be French to run diving outfits! We were once again divided into groups of 4 per guide. The diving was good but not as great as Bora Bora. The water was clearer in Bora Boar and the sharks were bigger. In Bora Bora, we saw huge lemon sharks; here there were just the small black tip sharks. Also the 'shock factor' of being with sharks had worn off and these little 'uns didn't look scary. We did 2 dives just like in Bora Bora, both about 60' down. My rustiness was showing on the 1st dive because I swam around too much and went through my air quickly. I tried to tone it down the 2nd dive. I guess when you only dive every 2 1/2 years, it's easy to be rusty. We got to stroke the back of a Moray eel. I tried to pet another one and Greg says it almost bit my hand off. I was just trying to pet its silky head! We bought an underwater camera from the Photo Shop on the ship for $19.99, free processing included. On the 1st dive we couldn't get it to work. Ernie, one of the port excursion guys, came along on the 2nd dive and got it to work by opening the case and advancing it. We used it down below and wondered if anything would come out. Lo and behold, they did - we got some good pics from the dive. We also purchased the video that the Dive Staff produced to prove that we really did dive in Tahiti! We didn't do anything else on Moorea but dive; I wanted to go to Belevdere (the lookout mountain) but Greg wanted to return to the ship so that's what we did. We left Moorea at 4:30 p.m. Today we spent much of the day in Photoshop class. We both learned a LOT. (Layering, photo retouching, saturation, enhancing, hue etc.) The ship computer teacher, Stephen, is really good. We were in class from 9 a.m. til after 2 p.m. with just 40 min for lunch. We had stayed up late last night and had to get up early, so once class was over we went to the room and crashed. I slept right through my Spin class time first one I've missed! But hey, isn't that what vacation is all about doing nothing if you want! Tomorrow is Raratonga, a territory of New Zealand. We have a Circle Island tour scheduled. It's another tender port, aughh....hate those tender ports.... ======================================================= CRUISE REPORT No. 12 Yesterday we went to Rarotonga. That's in the Cook Islands, which is midway between French Polynesia and Samoa/Fiji. It's the largest & by far most populated Cook Island, but I think our ship doubled their usual population, lol. Someone once quipped, "Rarotonga is like Tahiti without the French". It's a protectorate of New Zealand. Rarotongans have dual NZ citizenship and NZ pays a crapload of money to help run the place. It's a pretty island with some nice beaches. We took a Circle Tour which went around the entire island in 3 hrs with numerous stops. Much of the tour was interior so we saw loads and loads of trees! A highlight was a coconut cracking demo. Greg volunteered (well, I volunteered him lol) and learned to crack one open. So if we get stranded in the jungle some day, we won't starve. Prominent throughout Rarotonga is their fertility god. He is a squat little thing with a GIANT male member. He's everywhere! We photographed that statue numerous times. We even posed holding the local paper in front of a biggggg statue; wonder if our family paper will publish it? He graces the $1 Rarotonga coin, with Queen Elizabeth's mug on the other side. I read in my Frommer's guide that Queen Liz was none too happy to share billing with the large phallis-ed fertility god. I made sure I got one of those coins to take home! Our tour stopped at the "Perfume Factory" where they were giving out samples of a nasty herb drink called "Nana" and of coconut liquor. The former tasted nasty. The latter was very good, esp mixed with milk. Greg bought a small bottle the bottle was in the shape of that ubiquitous god - and we smuggled it onto the ship. Weather was nice. Sunny and not too hot. We wore bug spray as precaution, but did not notice any biting bugs. Dinner last night, I had filed of sole. Both times I've had sole it's been delicious, melting in my mouth, and I usually don't like fish. Last night there was a movie in the Princess Theater, "Dark Matter". I fell asleep and missed the end (just like falling asleep at home on the couch lol). Greg said it was depressing. Today we got up and raced to the Computer Cafe to attend Practice for the Photoshop classes we took. Learned some new stuff. It's fascinating. Tomorrow we'll be in Pago Pago (pronounced "PaNgo PaNgo"), America Samoa. Then on to Fiji. Greg managed to nab an empty washer and is doing our wash. It's dog eat dog to get the laundry done in the inadequate Princess laundry rooms. Happily our diving photos came out!!!! ========================================================= CRUISE REPORT No. 13 We just left American Samoa, after spending the day here. It was a bad day to visit because (1) it's Sunday and most places close on Sun. because everyone's in church there are TONS of churches here, and (2) it's White Sunday, a big day, which means anything that wasn't already going to be closed, was. White Sunday is Children's Day....like in Mother's Day or Father's Day. The kids dress in white and get gifts and don't have to do chores. (I remember as a kid asking my mom why there wasn't a Children's Day. She said, "EVERY day is Children's Day." Hmmph.) The only shopping was a sprinkling of booths behind the ship and a variety store across the street. I think the whole ship was in the variety store when we went there. We bought a bar of Irish Spring deodorant soap because our one bar is almost gone. Prices were very reasonable here, unlike Tahiti where the prices were INSANELY high. It was cool to see the U.S. Flag flying. We stopped in at the Seaport Police HQ and Greg got two patches. He's going to send SBSD patches to the Chief. We also visited the Police Dept and arranged to swap patches. Too bad Greg didn't think ahead; he could have bought a bunch of patches from the uniform store and exchanged them out throughout the world. (All cops seem to love trading patches.) Samoa is divided into two: Independent Samoa and American Samoa. We visited the latter. The Samoans are very, very friendly. On our bus tour, most everyone waved to us. Samoan men are big on the main! Shirts go up to 4XL for good reason. Most men wear skirts called lani lani. We took a bus tour through town, stopping at "Flower Pot Rock" (a big rock in the ocean with vegetation that resembles a flower pot, ergo the name). I collected sand for Travis at that beach. The bus was a primitive affair with wooden benches and open windows. I heeded the ship lecturer's advice to take a towel to sit on. Weather was on the hot & humid side in the a.m. and was more pleasant in the p.m. They warned us to expect rain, and I schlepped along my packable REI raincoat and umbrella, but there was nary a drop. We've been super lucky with weather throughout this cruise. Our main stop was for an "Ava" ceremony with dancers in native costume. Greg drank from the coconut shell the Ava drink, which he said tasted like soapy dishwasher. Perhaps it was? The captain announced that at 2 a.m. we will cross the International Dateline and lose an entire day! It's Oct. 12 right now and tomorrow it will be Oct. 14. Oct. 13 will disappear. Oct. 13 is the Canadian Thanksgiving and there are gobs of Canadians on this cruise, so the captain promised we would still celebrate their Thanksgiving tomorrow with turkey, etc. We have been turning back the clock many nights; I think tonight is the 5th time. Love that extra hour of sleep. It would stink the other direction, losing an hour each time! ===================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 14 I'm watching the city of Suva recede into the distance as we sail away from the Fiji Islands. This was our last stop in the South Pacific. Now we're heading to the more temperate climate of New Zealand. Two sea days ahead, and then we'll be in Auckland, NZ. We were warned by the port lecturer Ronelle Adams that Suva was not a pretty place and one needed to get out of Suva to see Fiji. She was definitely right. (Janelle, btw, is an excellent port lecturer the best of any I've heard on the numerous cruises I've taken. She is independent, meaning she doesn't work for the ship, so her talks are not slanted toward shopping & spending money at 'approved' places. She gives useful advice, like to take a towel for the hard wooden benches we experienced on the bus in Pago Pago, and to not wear jewelry or flaunt money in Suva.) Our tour today was "Countryside Drive & Firewalking". I'd give it a C-. The drive took about 45 minutes through pretty countryside, with very little narration by the 'guide' whose English was hard to understand. We whisked by the local jail & prison too quick to get a photo (ok, I know that most tourists aren't into jails & prisons, but we are!!). The firewalking was in Pacific Harbor at a little village made up to look like Fiji of old. We were given 45 min. to shop in the little stores (reasonable prices, esp compared to the ridiculous prices in Tahiti). Then we were herded into an amphitheater to watch the firewalking. But we were quite far away from the 'stage', separated by a lagoon, and it was hard to see the coals you had to just accept they were 'white hot'. There was steam and such, but we expected close up viewing of RED hot coals. Then there was a lot of dancing and booty shaking and that was it, back to the buses and back to the shipyard. Not worth $79 pp. (Saw much of the same poverty we saw in Tahiti & Samoa rundown shacks with tin roofs and laundry hanging everywhere. Makes you realize how well off we are the "first world".) A better tour was of Parliament, etc. taken by Donna and Howard from our table. Greg and Anna from our table took a similar tour but paid very little because they did it from the port. Pat & Tom Irwin, our new Canadian friends, paid a buck each to ride a city bus through town. Tom said he paid less than a dollar to call home wish I had known we could do that. Once we returned to the ship, we had lunch in the Horizon Court and set out to explore downtown. A shuttle deposited us at the priciest dept. store which we quickly abandoned and walked around the various streets. Shopping was disappointing - all I bought was some sunblock - and we headed back to the ship. (I noticed that the police and the merchants all seem to be Indian. They are the "merchant" class in Fiji.) We've started playing the afternoon Trivia game with the 2 younger couples from our table, Greg & Anna and Antoine & Stacey. We lost (again). Try, try again. It's currently "half price" Internet time between 4 and 6 p.m. Nice to get a discount, esp. since we've paid (hold onto your hat) $500 so far in Internet charges, just to keep you people informed, lol. Ship entertainment lately has been pretty lame two different Australian comics. The one night before last spent the whole show doing yo yo and spinning top tricks. Greg & I always sit right up front. So naturally we get chosen.....or at least Greg does. He went on stage and helped the comic by pretending to pump up a giant top (he made faces behind the comic's back). The comic told him to cheer and "run around the audience, rip your shirt off" well, Greg did just that, to the delight of the audience. Many people commented later that he was hilarious and the best part of the show. Last night was a 'comedy magician' , Steve Hart, who did lame tricks but he was better than the yo yo/top fellow. Tonight we can choose between an Australian singer or a film I've never heard of ("Married Life"). Yesterday we celebrated the Canadian Thanksgiving with turkey dinner & the worst pumpkin pie I've ever eaten. We are now a day ahead of the North Americans and catching up to the Australians. CRUISE REPORT No. 15 - Auckland We are cruising along the coastline of the North Island of New Zealand, on our way to Wellington, which lies at the southernmost tip of the North Island. It was chosen to be the capital of NZ due to its location in the middle of the country, at the bottom of the North Island and just before one gets to the South Island. Auckland used to be the capital, but it was switched to Wellington to be more fair to the Southerners, such back in the olden days it took several days for South Island lawmakers to make it to meetings in Auckland. We learned that fact, along with zillions of others from Barry, our bus driver for our excursion yesterday in Auckland. He was great. He's been driving tour buses for 39 years after a gig as a carpenter. He talked (while driving!) almost nonstop for the 250-mile round trip drive we took from Auckland to the Waitomo caves and back. I learned all about NZ history and politics from him. Yesterday was awesome. We arrived around 7 a.m. to the large port of Auckland, parked directly alongside a luxury condominium and hotel - one could literally see inside people's living rooms in the condo complex. We boarded our tour bus at 7:50 a.m. after being cleared by NZ customs. They had a cute little beagle 'sniffer' dog to sniff your hand luggage (purses etc) to make sure you didn't smuggle food off the ship. We were also warned to bring only commercially bottled water with seal intact, which turned out to be something they didn't care about. But Greg thinks we shouldn't take chances, so I had to buy another bottle for tmr and not just fill up my bottle with ice & water from the Horizon Court like I usually do. Then we drove out of the city and into the country. NZ countryside is stunning, all green with rolling farms with lots of cows grazing bucolically (dunno if that's really an adjective, lol). Finally (about 2.5 hrs later) we reached the Waitomo caves The caves were formed 24 million years ago by the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that created NZ. They are covered with crystal stalactites and stalagmites, discovered in 1887 by the Maori, the indigenous people of NZ. The caves have been a tourist attraction since 1889! Back in the olden days people snapped off stalactites for souvenirs; thankfully nobody can do that now. The coolest of all is the glowworms, insect larvae that gives off light to attract flying insects for food. They look like sparkling little stars in the walls and ceiling of the caves. We took a silent boat ride thru the glowworm cave (so as not to scare them off). It was so so so so so cool. Naturally you can't take photos but I bought postcards. We also walked thru one of the caves. Once we were done, we crowded the tiny souvenir shop where I bought a photo of us emerging from the cave along with an info CD on the glow worms ($20 US, cheaper than ship photos, lol). Then we drove to a country farm where we had lunch served by the family. It was excellent, meatloaf which I liked - lamb which I didn't, lol - potatoes, salad, kiwi, and a decadent chocolate cake with ice cream and berries that rivaled deserts on the ship. The 11-year-old son of the family helped clean up. He was a very polite boy named James. He let us pet his 3-mo-old pet lamb. Just as I snapped a photo of Greg with James and the lamb, my camera battery went out! It's a Canon rechargeable so I was out of luck. NO photos for the rest of the day! I felt like my hand was cut off. Greg had a perfectly wonderful camera left behind in the cabin!!!! So photo less, we toured the nearby Otorohanga Kiwi House native bird park, where we saw the 2 captive Kiwi in a nearly dark area since the birds are nocturnal. We learned that their eggs are huge, weighing about 1/5th of the females' body weight. The birds are covered with shaggy plumage that looks like fur, and they don't fly, which means they were nearly wiped out by imported predators. The rest of the preserve had other birdies. Greg had a duck nearly take off his ring! And we saw a mom and her 3 babies which would have made an awesome photo, waah. (Note to self: ALWAYS bring a 2nd charged battery, 2nd scan disk card, and maybe a 2nd camera with you!) After the bird park we headed back, accompanied by Barry's informative monologue. He dropped some of us off near the Auckland Sky Tower, which is 1,076' high, taller than the Empire State Bldg and the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. For about $22 U.S. each we took an elevator to the observation deck, which commands sweeping views of the city and outlying areas. We saw the cruise ship parked at the dock. Greg found out they have a Skyjump where you wear a harness and unlike a bungy jump, you're not falling by your ankles. But it was already closed (a secret yay from me, cos it was like $150 NZ....subtract 25% for US!) Since we had no camera we enlisted a couple of passengers to photograph us. Hopefully they'll not lose the scraps of paper with my email addie on them and will remember to email the photos to us. The Sky Tower has clear glass parts of its floor where you can see to the bottom. It freaked me out but Greg gleefully walked and jumped ! on it. After we finished, we walked back to the ship. We bought water at a convenience store and I got shiny coins for my collection and to give Travis. We were the only ones at our table for dinner. We were both exhausted after the long day, so we turned in fairly early. Great day!!!! Today is a sea day and tomorrow we begin a 3-day marathon of NZ ports: Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, one after the other. We have a short city tour in Wellington, a wonderful train trip booked in Christchurch, and a tour in Dunedin that includes the Larnach Castle. It was cool yesterday, long sleeve weather definitely. I wore my hoodie for the first time. Today it's cool out and quite windy. Most of the deck chairs are empty. (Guess what - I have NEVER laid out during this entire cruise....neither of us have ever swam in the pools, and we've been in the Jacuzzi just once!) ======================================================= CRUISE REPORT No. 16 - Wellington The ship has just departed the harbor at Wellington, which well earned its famous name "Windy Wellington" today. We arrived around 8:45 a.m., 45 minutes later than expected. That messed up the tour schedule, compacting ours, making us lose out on climbing the bell tower at New Wellington Cathedral. :-( We chose "Uniquely Wellington" which featured the cathedral, Parliament, and Te Papa Museum. Parliament was really interesting. We were given a guided tour by a very knowledgeable & articulate young guide. We sat in the VIP viewing section for Parliament, which was not in session due to it being election time. Our guide explained the system which is similar to the UK's. Then we sat in the Maori small session room, decorated with symbols of the local Maori tribes. After a whirlwind tour of the Cathedral, we had a quickie walk thru of the Te Papa Museum which was interesting but like most museums, you can only see a fraction in the short time allotted. Then the driver dropped us off downtown. We shopped a bit and then came upon the city cable car. For $5 NZ we bought a round trip, for the 3 1/2 minute ride up the slopes from Lambton Quay to Kelbum where there is a cable car museum and the botanical garden. We looked at the museum but passed on walking thru the large garden. Then we walked around some more and caught a shuttle back to the ship. By now it was 3:45 p.m. and we hadn't eaten since 7:30 a.m. we thought we'd die of starvation. Cruise ship passengers aren't used to going without food for more than 2 hrs at a time, lol! At the port, we learned that we could buy a low cost phone card to call home. We put off eating long enough to buy the $5 NZ ($3 US) card and call Travis. It was great to hear his voice after so long. We talked to him for a while and also to Kathy, the housekeeper who's watching him. Glad to hear all is well. Then a late lunch and to the cabin, where Greg promptly fell asleep and I watched the middle-end of "Son of Rambow" on the cabin TV. (Just ran outside to try to see the pilot of the pilot boat leap from the ship to his boat missed it by a second, again! - yaaargh. Omigod it's freeeeezing outside, so cold and windy! What a change in weather from the South Pacific! Yesterday the ship's boutique was having a run on warm weather clothing by people who packed for the first part of the ship the warm part forgetting about the chilly last part. All that excess Alaska inventory got put to use.) The ship is passing these 2 really cool lighthouses, one on top of a hill and the other on the beach - saw those when we sailed in this a.m. The Internet cafe is on the opposite side of the ship from our room so that's why I'm seeing the scene in reverse now. Tomorrow we're in Christchurch.We booked a train trip that is touted as one of the top 10 train rides in the world. Will let you know if it lives up to its billing. Re ship happenings: Last night was an excellent performance by an Australian singer. Best show we've seen yet on the Princess. Tonight is a new comedian. ======================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 17 Been very busy going from NZ port to port, so this is the 1st opportunity I've had to sit and write. Right now we're doing 'scenic cruising' through the 'primordial landscapes of Fiordland' along the west coast of the South Island. There are 14 fiords (openings) and we're cruising through 4 of them. As I type this at the Internet Cafe I can see amazing scenery outside. At 8 a.m. the captain awoke us with an announcement that we had arrived and Greg & I sleepily went to our balcony and gaped at the amazing scenery complete with waterfalls and small islands. We even saw dolphins cavorting, although mainly all I saw was the splashes WISH WISH WISH we had brought binoculars, darn it!!! We are not getting off all the sightseeing is from the ship. Commentary is being provided by a retired park ranger (Fiordland National Park is one of the largest parks in the world.) We are SO GLAD we have a balcony cabin. Starboard side has turned out to be very good for sightseeing. Now for a quick rundown of the past several days, where we visited Christchurch and Dunedin: CHRISTCHURCH: The morning began poorly. We were supposed to meet on the pier at 8:05 for our train trip, so we got up early, met up with Donna & Howard from our table who were also going on the tour, and headed to the gangway. We found an enormous queue of people there. We got at the end of the queue which snaked around into the cabin area of Deck 5. There we stood for 25 min. The Australian customs folks came on board with their 'sniffer' beagles. As we shuffled forward, we discovered that people were blithely cutting in line from the stairwells, elevators, and opposite side the end of the line became meaningless. It took forever to disembark. We complained to the Shore Excursion office for whatever's that worth. It would have been lots better to meet in the Princess Theater like they did when we arrived late to Wellington. We boarded a bus for a 2-min ride to the train station where we got on the TranzAlpine Express train. It was a special train reserved for the ship. That also began poorly because we ended up with lousy seating squashy 4-person tables where we were seated backwards. Donna wanted her and I to be at opposite sides where we could photograph each side and share pics, a good idea that didn't work out. The couple we ended up with at our table were cranky people from Florida. The woman's first comment to me was 'watch your feet, my shoes have no toes' and I hadn't even stepped on her &*^^%$# feet. No 'hello, where are you from', etc etc. Greg ended up sitting alone for some time at a distant table. There was a great table open, but it was marked 'crew area' and they refused to let us sit there, even though the crew used it for nothing more than their duffel bag-jacket storage. In the end it didn't really matter because I discovered the open area at the end of the train where the photo taking opportunities were terrific. Donna joined me and we spent 2/3s of the 2 1/2 hr train ride out there. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, rolling fields, sheep. I was very glad for the $48 jacket I had bought the day before at the boutique. Once we disembarked, we boarded a coach for the rest of the tour. Greg raced ahead and nabbed the front row seats for the 4 of us, which turned out to be wonderful we got a great view ahead and to the side. (He had to fight people off who tried to take the 2 seats he was saving for D & H). We stopped at a gorgeous country home for tea (or coffee) and homemade cookies. The garden there was beautiful. Then we went to the barn area where the husband of the family demonstrated sheep shearing. First we got to watch the family dog expertly herd the sheep, and we were allowed to hold and cuddle a 3-week old lamb. Its mom bleated frantically as she ran around looking for her baby. When baby was finally released, it ran to her and suckled and then tore off together to the other end of the pasture. The drive back was as beautiful as the train views, if not more so. The interior of the South Island is breathtaking. I took so many photos my battery wore out! We drove past an area where a scene from Lord of the Rings was filmed, with broken rock tops on top off a cliff. Our visit to the actual city of Christchurch was unfortunately really truncated as we ran out of time. The driver basically drove quickly through, narrating what we were seeing, and we never were able to get out. We need to return to see the town! DUNEDIN The very next day we arrived in the Dunedin area. Like Christchurch, the ship docks about 30 minutes away at a nearby port. Christchurch's was Lyttelton and Dunedin's was Port Chalmers. Our tour was city drive & Larnach Castle. The castle was built in the late 1800's by an Australian for his wife. We found out later that other tours got to see the whole castle but we were only shown the first floor - need to chat with the Tour Desk about that. It was very interesting although it's hard to see with 40+ other people crowded with you. Then we went through the outside gardens. An extra treat (?!) was watching ducks in a pond copulate! It was basically a gang rape! Greg filmed the whole thing on his camera. The girl duck did not look like she enjoyed a bit of it - small wonder, with her neck being bitten while the male wrestled her onto the shore, did his quick business, and then sauntered off without even asking if it was good for her, lol? We piled back onto the bus and toured the city. Then the driver let us off and Greg and I literally raced to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory where for $18 NZ each we took the factory tour. (Much cheaper than what the ship's tour cost!) It was interesting and we got free samples. Then we walked to the courthouse and for watched for about 2 min a civil trial (boring). Then we ran into a Dunedin police officer who wound up giving us a private tour of the police station! He was really nice. We spent about 40 minutes there. He even let us tour the lockup and take pics. Then we went back to town and shopped briefly, and then boarded a city shuttle back to the ship. Dunedin is Gaelic for Edinburgh and has a Scottish flavor. Robbie Burns' statue is the middle of the city in the 'octagon'. A treat for me was seeing scads of school youths in their uniforms. They all look so cute. Several let me photograph them. BACK ON THE SHIP Filet mignon last night. I didn't like it my steak was kind of tough. The steakhouse's filets are much better. Entertainment was a crew talent show that was very cute. Greg was tired and skipped it. The other night there was a comedy magician. Attendance for the 10:15 p.m. show was light as usual, which seems to unnerve the entertainers. I was called onto stage to help with a card trick. I was a bit embarrassed because I had dashed to the room after dinner, torn off my clothes to add to the laundry, and was wearing whatever was handiest: jogging capris and a sleeveless top, and my Crocs. But, oh well, lol. The magician was selling DVDs demonstrating tricks; he autographed one and gave it to me for free for helping him. That really good Aussie singer is on again tonight. We will be at sea for the next 2 days. Then we're dumped out at Sydney and the cruise is over. We are looking forward to our 3 days visiting the Carters. Then it's a looooooong (17-hr or so) flight back to LA. We are looking forward to coming home, though I'm not looking forward to gong back to work! OK, that's it for now cos I want to see the fiords! =============================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 18 It's almost over! Part of me is really sad, and part of me is glad. We are tired of living in a shoebox and not being able to move past each other in the tiny cabin. Looking forward to our BIG home again and all our own things. And not having to fight for the washer/dryers. It was a lovely day yesterday for the fiords. They are stunning. I love NZ!!! The fiords make up 5% of NZ. We heard that last year, the weather was terrible and it rained and was overcast during the scenic cruising. The captain had to bypass Milford Sound completely due to weather - and that's the prettiest one of all. We were super lucky with weather this entire cruise. Hardly any rain at all, and never during the port excursions! The ship ROCKED & rolled all night last night. It was so bad that the late show featuring 'physical comedy' was wrecked - the performer couldn't do his handstands, juggling and unicycling with the ship going every which way. Greg went to that show and I went to Lisa Crouch's 2nd performance. (She's the awesome Australian singer I wrote about the other day.) Greg left the physical comedy show and joined me at Lisa's show about half way through. He said he felt so sorry for the performer who couldn't do his act. The rocking is soothing for sleeping. Dunno if we'll be able to sleep once we get off without the rocking! Greg said, "I am not going to rock the bed for you"! Tonight is the final formal night. No way are we having photos taken not when we're fat at the end of the cruise. We had all those taken in the beginning when we were still slim. Also tonight is "New Year's Eve" even though it's not even Halloween! It sounds like we did on the Diamond Princess, when it really WAS New Year's Eve. Maybe we'll go, maybe not. It features a champagne chandelier, champagne and dancing. Wonder if you have to PAY for the freakin' champagne like they made us do on the Diamond? We went through Australia immigration this a.m. Everyone was given a time to show up. Ours was 8 a.m.! Greg went 15 min early to get in line. We got through in 15 min. All they did was glance at our cards, write Q (for quarantine) if you checked 'yes' for bringing in wood/shells/food, and stamp our passports. They didn't want to look at the wood/shells/food; that comes at disembarking. =========================================================== CRUISE REPORT No. 19 This will be short as I have only about 14 minutes left of Internet time!! Packing like crazy to get off ship tomorrow....I hate packing....trying to cram it all in especially the stuff I've collected. I love papers, brochures, etc etc. We did the final trivia contest just now. Tanked like usual. Those questions are hard! We do it with our younger table mates though sometimes Donna helps out. She's good on medical Qs, as she was a nurse. Bought the 2nd Ports of Call DVD because Greg and I are in it! Walking out of a observatory in Wellington and holding a lamb in Christchurch! Also on the train in Christchurch. One hour back tonight and we are on Sydney time. Amazing to be on the other side of the world. Jeff is picking us up tomorrow. Hope he finds us in the crowd. It 's been nearly 3 years since we've seen the Carters. We're looking forward to hanging out with them for 3 days. Gotta get back to the *&&^%$ packing they want our bags out before dinner. Love to all, =============================================================== POST CRUISE REPORT Hi all! We have safely arrived in Sydney and were off loaded from the ship this a.m. (As one comedian on the ship remarked, "You go in as passengers and go off as cargo".) It took longer than expected because the Australians want small groups which is better in the long run, because there is less commotion in the terminal. I had yellow 'quarantine' tape around one of my bags, which is ironic because that bag had very little of the 'contraband' they're interested in. The inspector checked the bags, rinsed my sea shells, and passed me on. I was worried that Jeff wouldn't recognize us but he noticed me right away! He had been there since 8 a.m. and it was 10 a.m. so he'd had quite a wait. Some unhappy news: I lost my wedding ring last night. I had taken it off in the afternoon so as not to snag it while packing. I had put it on the small shelf ledge by the bathroom in the cabin. Greg noticed it there and I said I left it there on purpose. I forgot to put it on before dinner. When we returned around midnight, it was gone. The steward said he never saw it. So it either fell into the trash bin, or................? The trash is all incinerated. The purser sent security, who did a thorough search of our cabin - they found my sewing kit and Greg's coffee card under the bed but no ring. They prepared a report but that's not going to help anything. The only hope I have is somehow it fell into my suitcase. [POST SCRIPT: The ring never materialized. Gone forever.] Speaking of rings, Greg discovered that he's lost a couple of diamond baguettes on HIS ring. Hope these are not signs of anything untoward! So now it's 3 days in Sydney and then we fly home on the 29th. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
I embarked on a "one world cruise - three ships" adventure with Cunard in New York on January 13th. I started out on the QE2 and transferred to the Victoria in Sydney, then took the QM2 back to New York from Southampton (107 ... Read More
I embarked on a "one world cruise - three ships" adventure with Cunard in New York on January 13th. I started out on the QE2 and transferred to the Victoria in Sydney, then took the QM2 back to New York from Southampton (107 days). Since I live within driving distance of New York, I booked no hotels, flights or cars through Cunard. Here, I am only going to review the Victoria, which has been the subject of much bad publicity and reviews. I was on the Victoria from Sydney to Southampton, - 59 days. Accommodations - I occupied an A3 cabin with balcony, midships, portside. My first impression was - it looks exactly like the cabins on the QM2 - and it did. Virtually the same dEcor and colors - very attractive. I did not think it small, especially when one takes the balcony into consideration. I admit that I was alone and so did not want for closet space, despite the fact that I brought 6 suitcases!!! But a couple traveling with 6 suitcases would have had plenty of room. When my steward arrived, I said: "So the rumors are true - there are no drawers!" We had a laugh. Well, there were two shallow night table drawers and two in the desk - containing information and a hair dryer. So, yes, it was true - nowhere to stash the lingerie!!! Shelves? Yes, one for the two life jackets, which I stashed under the bed; one over the large closet; one with the safe; and one other. My steward offered me a set of plastic drawers on wheels, which I squeezed into the lower hanging space in one of the closets. If you have read previous reviews, you will know that all these drawers, plastic or cardboard, were those purchased by the world cruisers in New York and Ft. Lauderdale in January whilst ashore. All of these drawers stay on board and are stored when passengers disembark...so you have to ask for them. We were told that the closets would gradually be retrofitted with drawers. When we asked who made such an outrageous mistake, the answers were too confusing to go into. I saw other cabins, inside and outside, with and without balconies - nothing to criticize, in my view. Bathroom was disappointing - shower is about half the size of the QM2 and woe betide anyone who drops the soap. The shower curtain is not going to stop your fall backwards. Storage consisted of two small shelves and one long open shelf under the counter. Very odd that. No cupboards as on QE2 and QM2. Sink is tiny and there is no soap holder. Again, what were the designers thinking? Some people went up to the spa to take showers. After my initial shock, it didn't bother me. Public Rooms - Beautiful, even if the wood isn't always real.... or the marble, or the decks. Hey it's the 21st century! The pub is the best I've seen. It's like a real pub building rather than an open space. The Queen's Room is very nice, but does not compare to the QM2 or even theQE2. The traffic flow is not good at all - a problem especially on port days when everyone meets there for excursions. This is also the main venue for concerts and the space is terrible for that. The Theatre is spectacular...like a West End theatre. Boxes look inviting and, for special events, one can book them for the night, complete with champagne and truffles. However, the glass is curved and one does not get a clear view. Britannia two-level dining room is very nice - a sort of scaled-down version of that on the QM2. The Lido is very long and narrow, more like the King's Court on the QM2 (which I still find very confusing), and not as welcoming as the Lido on the QE2. The bars are all good, but the best is the Commodore Club which occupies the entire forward section of deck 10. Great place, with great bartenders, day or night. To my mind, the Chart Room, which has always been a favorite venue on the other Queens, is badly located. It is right outside the Britannia and people start lining up almost 30 minutes before the doors open. (You'd think they hadn't eaten for 24 hrs!) Not a good place for a quiet drink before dinner. Library is beautiful, but how many people want to go up and down a spiral staircase - think of the average age - and the upstairs checkout desk is rarely, if ever, manned. Hemispheres, the disco, is absolutely gorgeous, but underused. It is not easy to find and opens late. Probably does better on shorter cruises when average age is lower. The overall dEcor is splendid, especially the carpets - beautiful. And the red rug for port, blue for starboard in corridors is most helpful. Dining - The food is virtually the same as on the other Queens, but no truffles unless you really insist! (It was tough making the transition from the Caronia dining room on the QE2!). Todd English is superb - same menu as QM2. Alternative dining in Lido for dinner - I tried Carvery, Fondue, Indian and Italian. Indian was outstanding, as good as anything I had in India and the dEcor was wonderful. Carvery was excellent. Fondue was, too, and it was fun! Italian was, to my mind, barely Italian at all. Lido pool grill has the best hamburgers and onion rings I've had in years. Cafe Carinthia is great for elevenses and snacks. Room Service has a good, but limited menu - the Queen Victoria club sandwich is wonderful and comes with salad and fries. Oh yes, the fries are great ion this ship! Shops - No comparison to other Queens, but adequate. Lots of space for those "cruise specials" outside the shops. Way too much space allocated to jewelry and fancy gifts. Missed the great selection of casual clothes and the $10 shop on the other Queens. Pools/Spa/Fitness - Two large pools with Jacuzzis and bars. Great. Spa pool very disappointing. - gave half of my package to a friend. Did not do any treatments. Area with saunas, steam rooms, aromatherapy etc. very nice, especially the warm tiled chaises lounges grouped in a semi-circle in front of picture windows. They were wonderful as long as quiet reigned! Beauty Salon, no better no worse than others. A treat, though, to have a pedicure in front of a picture window! Gym takes up entire forward section of Deck 9 - divided into two areas - one for machines, mainly treadmills and the other for exercise classes. Also, an array of bicycles for spinning. Some classes had an extra charge attached, but Zumba didn't and it was great - but not enough room. Disappointed in lack of variety of machines. Great view over the bow from the treadmills Entertainment - Excellent all around. I saw many of the same shows and entertainers as on the QE2, but that was fine. Some of the shows date back to 1999, but that's OK - they are still gorgeous. The Caribbean band - Lido pool at lunch, Hemispheres at night and theme nights in the Queen's Room - really terrific. Good concerts, despite the venue. String quartet and Harpist - the usual Cunard suspects, and very good. Great bands in pub and Queens Room. Activities - All the usual choices. Any Cunarder would recognize the list. One could take lessons in just about anything all day long. The lectures were top-notch, as usual. Can't imagine better: an astronaut; a Great Barrier Reef pilot; the current Afghani ambassador to the US; biologists, authors, linguists.... and more! Great first-run movies plus the Academy Awards live and the first-ever satellite broadcast to cruise ships from the Met in New York - Zeffirelli's "La Boheme". Staff/Crew - Friendly and smiling, as always, except for the Purser's Office where the customer is usually wrong on Cunard ships. Not enough Lido or Britannia staff. Tours - Excellent staff. Terrific selection of shore excursions. Only one caveat - we went to so many container ports which involved hours of driving before reaching a "real destination". So, for example, a 4-hour tour of Bangkok involved a 12- hour day!!!! As for overlands, Cunard does them in style. I did two and one was a 6-day trip to Bhutan and India. We were accompanied by a member of the Tours office, a full-time Indian guide and we had local guides in every city. 5-star hotels were gorgeous; food was excellent; service was of the highest order. We never once touched our luggage or even got our own boarding passes - we were very spoiled. They are expensive, but, if you are traveling alone, they are ideal. Plus, the ship will wait for you if there are delays!!! Overall impression - I love the ship and have booked for a segment in 2010. While one inevitably makes comparisons, especially to the other Queens - can't be helped. But Cunard isn't Cunard any more (though some vestiges remain!) and the Vic is not the QE2. Nor should she be. She's young, she's flash, she's got some warts, but she is a keeper. Any specific questions? Just ask. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
This was my 22nd cruise with Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines and was a sector of the "Black Watch" 2008 world cruise. I flew from London (Gatwick) on an exclusive charter operated by ThomsonFly. I was in the economy section but, despite ... Read More
This was my 22nd cruise with Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines and was a sector of the "Black Watch" 2008 world cruise. I flew from London (Gatwick) on an exclusive charter operated by ThomsonFly. I was in the economy section but, despite this, there was adequate room even for a 13-hour flight to Lima with a refueling stop in Barbados.The catering and cabin service was good. Clearance through immigration and customs at Lima Airport was swift and trouble-free. We were quickly transported to the ship at Callao and boarding procedures were efficient and friendly. Unfortunately, my cabin was not ready but I could use the ship's facilities including the dining rooms and bars until all was prepared. The ship is getting on in years but still looked relatively smart. The refit carried out in 2006 had certainly made the interior more attractive. I still have regrets, however, that the library which was previously on the Marquee deck is now on the Lido deck with much reduced views. As I had been wait-listed for a single cabin and this was allocated at a fairly late date I was given an inside cabin for the first time. It was adequate, no more. The catering was excellent. I think this improves over the years. On most evenings I dined in the Glentanner restaurant. The menu is not extensive but I enjoyed every meal. I normally had breakfast in the same location but occasionally tried the poolside. The latter didn't impress me as much of the food was often cold. I lunched in the main restaurant on most days but occasionally enjoyed the excellent fish and chips in the Marquee cafe.The theme nights with Indian , Thai and Chinese meals were first rate but you had to be up early to book as they were usually over-subscribed. As ever, the service in the restaurants was very good. The Thai and Filipino waiters were attentive and always cheerful. The same could be said of the bar staff in the Lido and Observatory. I was a trifle disappointed in the cabin stewardess who on most days didn't manage to service my cabin before the afternoon. I suspect that she had to look after too many cabins. The reception staff were efficient but less passenger-friendly that the rest of the staff. The entertainment on board the ship was probably the weakest point of the cruise. The cabaret acts were mostly pretty poor, notably the so-called comedians. The resident dancers and singers were good but underutilized. It was very disappointing that there wasn't the normal classical group to give afternoon concerts. The exceptions were the lecturers who were both interesting and informative. Sandy Gall was very good as was the port lecturer. The itinerary was interesting but, as on any cruise, there were highs and lows. It was disappointing not to be able to land on the first two islands, Easter and Pitcairn because of sea conditions. There was marginal compensation at the latter as some of the residents came on board. The French Polynesian islands were attractive with Fakarava Atoll the pick. Raratonga in the Cook Islands was lovely and, in my mind, the perfect South Sea Island. The visit to Tonga was a shambles as it coincided with the call of the QE2 on its final world cruise. Although we berthed alongside and the QE2 anchored off there was an undignified squabble over the limited availability of buses. New Zealand, as ever, was the star attraction with calls at four ports on both islands and a day's cruising in the fjords. The cruise ended with a roughish ride from Milford Sound to Sydney. There we had just over a day in the city before the seemingly endless flight on Qantas back to Heathrow via Singapore. Luckily this was problem-free and the flight landed on time. One thing I should add is commendation for the Master of the "Black Watch" on this cruise. He was very high profile and was seen around the ship in a daily basis. His "star-gazing" sessions in the South Pacific were high points in the entertainment. In all it was a good cruise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
My parents did a World Cruise in 1990 on the Royal Viking Sun, the top class ship of her day. Ever since then I have wanted to go myself, and when I saw the itinerary for Crystal's 2008 World Cruise on Serenity, I knew it would be ... Read More
My parents did a World Cruise in 1990 on the Royal Viking Sun, the top class ship of her day. Ever since then I have wanted to go myself, and when I saw the itinerary for Crystal's 2008 World Cruise on Serenity, I knew it would be perfect! I chose this cruise based on the destinations, the ship, service, food, and my previous experiences sailing with Crystal. Over the course of 108 days I would visit most everyplace on earth I had never been, but had always want to see. Out of 45 ports of call, thirty eight were new to me. From Tahiti and French Polynesia to New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, India and Egypt, this voyage had everything I was looking for. Serenity is a state-of-the-art vessel that is rated the best in class with six star food, service and accommodations. I had last sailed on this ship in 2006, when I did a circumnavigation of the British Isles. I knew and loved many of the officers and crew. When I stepped aboard this January, it was like coming home. Serenity is very luxurious, but understated. My stateroom was a deluxe outside on Deck 7, which is the Promenade. This is the standard category of cabin, but is very spacious at 225 square feet. There was plenty of room for me and all my belongings for this extended voyage. For this year's World Cruise, over 100 of us would be sailing solo, due in part to Crystal's very reasonable single supplement. Everyone on my hallway would make the full voyage with me. This was Crystal's largest and most successful World Cruise to date; fully one third of the ship's capacity of 1,080 were on for the duration. The cruise was divided into eight segments ranging from 11 to 17 days each. Some passengers were only on for a segment or two, so there were always fresh faces coming and going. When we embarked in San Pedro, CA on January 19th, the ship was almost full. Later segments became progressively lighter with fewer than 600 passengers as we neared the end of the World Cruise. The service never varied and each passenger was treated as a most valued guest by the crew. Many of the passengers were repeat World Cruisers, some on their tenth such voyage. Some of the older passengers never left the ship as they were here only for the onboard experience. Others, myself included, went ashore in every port exploring and doing excursions, some of which went overland to destinations such as the Taj Mahal. Crystal Cruises offers an unmatched onboard experience. Destination lecturer Jay Wolff made presentations almost every sea day for the entire cruise. Special interest guest lecturers, celebrities and entertainers changed every segment. Financial advice was offered by Jane Bryant Quinn and Dr. Bob Froehlich. World affairs information was provided by the likes of anti-war activist Scott Ritter and retired General Nick Halley. A WC Olympics program was headed up by Cathy Rigby and Mitch Gaylord, with competitions ranging from putting to paddle tennis. Onboard entertainment was offered every night by the resident dancers and singers supplemented by stars such as concert pianist Hyperion Knight, singer Michele Belle, flautist Gary Arbuthnot and Broadway dancer Tommy Tune. This is in addition to college level computer courses, Berlitz language lessons, Yamaha piano lessons, and the Chorus, which I sang in. Highlights of my experiences included a return visit to Maui, discovering Bali Hai on magnificent Moorea, marveling at the Fjords of New Zealand and making a long awaited visit to Australia. My return visit to Hong Kong was long overdue and was where I acquired my favorite souvenir of the journey; an incredible custom made silk dinner jacket. Southeast Asia brought many revelations, not the least of which were exposures to Hinduism, Buddhism and the Muslim world. My best day was undoubtedly spent on Kata Beach in Thailand. My least favored destinations were Oman, India and Vietnam, but all were incredible learning experiences. The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon was the most incredible of sights, right up there with the Temple of Luxor. I savored visiting Krete, Sicily and Valencia for the very first time. A World Cruise is an incredible experience that is a huge investment of time and capitol. Serenity was the perfect choice of ship to carry me safely around the World in comfortable luxury. While I met many wonderful people onboard and ashore, some of my fellow passengers were most unpleasant company. As with any cruise, the people can make or break the experience. Fortunately the positives outweighed the negatives, but it took some getting used to the selfish and demanding attitudes of some of the older, repeat World Cruisers. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been able to take such an incredible journey while I was still young enough to participate in the most demanding of excursions. My only regret is that I did not have a companion available to share my experiences. What a wonderful World we live in! Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
Background This was our sixth cruise and our third with Holland America. It was our first experience with one of the longer "Grand Voyages." We are both 60, but in good physical shape and consider ourselves open-minded and ... Read More
Background This was our sixth cruise and our third with Holland America. It was our first experience with one of the longer "Grand Voyages." We are both 60, but in good physical shape and consider ourselves open-minded and willing to try just about anything once. At 68 days, this cruise was three times as long as anything we'd done before. Within the "cruising community," that makes us relative "neophytes" but we are more eclectic in our travels and don't concentrate solely on cruising. But even though we consider ourselves "well-traveled," we were awed by the travel experience of most of our fellow passengers on Prinsendam. Many had logged 20 or 30 cruises and a surprising number had done HAL's Grand World Cruise more than once. (Clearly they have a bigger travel budget than we do!) We were pleasantly surprised to find that, rather than making them more critical and more likely to find fault with things, the vast majority of our fellow passengers had learned that everything can't be perfect all the time and sometimes you just need to exercise a bit of patience and understanding. We were pleasantly surprised at how few smokers there were. I'd estimate there were fewer than 10 total, out of a group of about 700! Getting There & Back One of the big advantages of the "Grand Voyages" is the round-trip format. No long international flights! We had a routine flight from SEA to FLL and back. The check-in procedure was quick and painless. The was some kind of "communication problem" between HAL, our travel agent, and us which kept us from being able to ship bags in advance. This may have been a blessing in disguise as we met quite a few people whose bags didn't catch up with them until we got to Lima! On the way home, we did use the service and it worked perfectly. Yes, they collected our passports, which made us a bit nervous until we figured out the reason. We hadn't realized that the Customs people actually came aboard and stamped every single passport. And we were halfway through the cruise before we found out that, once the officials were finished with them, we could "check out" our passports and take them ashore with us. In some countries, money exchanges required the passport (not a copy) in order change even minimal amounts of money. The Ship We liked the smaller size of Prinsendam. Don't think that having 700 passengers versus 1500 or 2000 on larger ships is going to make the ship's common areas less crowded because, of course, those common areas are proportionally smaller as well. But we never found this to be a big problem. There were times when the Lido restaurant or the gym were quite full, but you simply learned when those "crunch times" occurred and avoided them. We really noticed the smaller size was when the ship arrived in the various ports. In those places where we didn't book shore excursions, we found that everyone dispersed quickly and we often wandered the town for hours without seeing any of our fellow passengers. It did seem that Prinsendam is showing her age just a bit, despite her 2007 refit. Examples include stains on the carpet here and there, elevators that broke down a lot, and the closet in our stateroom that had come apart and been sort of "jury-rigged" back together. But none of those sort of things in any way caused us discomfort or difficulty. The only thing that did cause some grief was a temperamental air conditioning system that quit working a couple of times. But the maintenance people responded with reasonable promptness and got it fixed. HAL even gave us an extra $200 shipboard credit by way of apology. Certainly we couldn't complain about that! Dining I'm always amused by reviews in which the writers complain endlessly about how horrible the food was. Apparently these people employ their own gourmet chefs and formal wait staff at home and consider anything else to be beneath them. We saw a few of them on the ship, including one lady at a nearby table who routinely sent her entire dinner back because it wasn't prepared to her standards. She even sent her coffee back! Give me a break! We found the food, both in the main dining room and in the Lido, to be, at worst, "good" and, at best, "excellent." There are always going to be situations where you don't like what you ordered. But it's not the chef's fault that you don't like squash! We did get a bit tired of the formal dinners, even though they reduced the number from the publicized 19 down 12. On a week-long cruise, you don't mind dressing up once or twice. When you have to do it a dozen or more times, it gets old. It's the 21st century. How much longer do we have to pretend we're all the Astors and Guggenheims sailing on Titanic during the Gilded Age? (Look what happened to them!) I'm quite surprised at the number of reviewers who say they really enjoy dressing for dinner and that formal nights are their favorite times. I suspect these are women. I talked to very few men who thought stuffing themselves into a tux or a wool suit and strangling themselves with a tie in tropical heat and humidity was the best way to enjoy dinner. And in most cases, the menu wasn't any different just because the dress code said "formal," including one night where spaghetti was on the menu. Getting into a tux to eat spaghetti? A lot of our fellow passengers seemed to agree with us. Dining room attendance dropped off noticeably on formal nights toward the end of the cruise and the Lido became more crowded. We are VERY pleased to see that HAL has finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern age and is now offering the "As You Wish" dining option. We don't begrudge the folks their "dress up dinners,' if that's their thing, but we dislike having it forced on us. Service Service was up to the standards we've come to expect from HAL. The crew was invariably friendly, courteous, and helpful. Naturally, the length of the cruise meant that we got to know many of them and they us. Though we tried to keep our onboard bill down by not ordering too many bar drinks, the bartender in the Crow's Nest quickly learned not only our names, but what our favorite drinks were. By the end of the second week, half the servers in the Lido knew us by name. Stateroom We booked an outside cabin without a balcony (Category FF). We'd had this category on our Panama Canal cruise and found it more than adequate for our needs at that time. On shorter cruises, we never felt a balcony was worth the added expense. The least expensive balcony cabin on this Grand Voyage would have cost us an additional $20,000 and we just could not justify that expense. But oh, do we wish we could have! Our cabin was comfortable and large enough for our needs, but... The most annoying problem (don't laugh) was that the salt spray on the window made it difficult to see out much of the time! It certainly wasn't worth another $20K to have clean windows, but being able to open a slider and get some fresh air would have been really nice. Fitness Facilities The gym was a minor problem at times. As a devout runner, I was a member of a very small minority on this cruise. The ¼ mile Promenade Deck was off limits to runners, ostensibly because of the staterooms located directly below. The "running track' was located on the exposed top deck and, in my opinion, virtually useless. Besides being a scant 1/10 mile per lap, there were bocci ball courts, putting greens, etc. that had to be negotiated—perfect for tripping or turning an ankle. And, of course, there was always the potential for coming around a blind corner and encountering an oblivious octogenarian tottering along right in front of you. That left the treadmills in the gym, of which there were only five. At certain times, it was difficult to get on a machine because the walkers had them tied up. Yes, I know they had just as much right to use them as I did, but sometimes it got frustrating. After all, THEY could go out and walk the Promenade Deck in nice weather. I had no choice but to use the treadmills. But as I said, a minor problem overall, usually solved by getting up a few minutes earlier. HAL "Gifts" An established tradition on HAL's longer cruises is "gifts," which appear in your stateroom at random times. On this Grand Voyage, some of these were pretty big items, including parkas, suitcases, binoculars, Delft dishes, etc. This became a source of controversy as everything tended to be in the "official cruise color" which was lavender. Lavender parkas? Great for the ladies and gay men. Not so exciting for us straight guys! Also, we had brought parkas and binoculars with us and getting additional ones just meant more stuff to pack home. Same goes for the suitcases. With some airlines now allowing only ONE checked bag, another suitcase was more of a hindrance than a help. It seemed somehow "unkind" to complain, but a lot of us would rather have the price of the cruise reduced and forego the gifts. Entertainment HAL offered an eclectic mix of acts, ranging from classical pianists to jugglers. On a cruise of this length there's bound to be a range of quality but there were only a couple of shows that we thought were "duds." Sure there were some we enjoyed more than others, but that's just a question of personal taste. Some of the acts we didn't particularly care for received raves from others and vice-versa. The ship's orchestra was a phenomenally talented group. We talked the cruise director into setting up a couple of shows that just featured them. All were established professionals in their own right, and we were amazed to discover that they'd never played together before this cruise. Overall, we thought the entertainment was excellent. Shore Excursions In reading reviews on this site, I've noticed that people tend to skimp on information related to their shore excursions. This is always the biggest gamble on any cruise and I'd like to devote a little extra space to it. One significant complaint we had right off the top was the on-board video descriptions of the shore excursions. On other ships, these have included video of the actual excursion. On Prinsendam, all we got was one still image with narration--the voice of the shore excursion director reading the written descriptions straight out of the printed brochure. To make matters worse, she was a poor reader, routinely stumbling over words and mispronouncing the Spanish names. It was painful! But we've become pretty adept at "reading between the lines" of the descriptions and, for the most part, picked some pretty good trips. So here we'll present a short description of our impressions of the various ports and our critiques of the shore excursions we chose. It's pretty long because this was, after all, a 68-day itinerary. For the shore excursions, I've included a "star rating," with 1 being "Don't Waste Your Money" and 5 indicating "Outstanding," along with the length of the excursion, and the cost. Georgetown, Cayman Islands We found Georgetown less than impressive. We'd seen it in '03 and it hadn't changed much. Lots of the typical "cruise-ship-backed jewelry stores" and the usual souvenir shops. We spent a couple of hours ashore and went back to the ship to go swimming. No doubt the rest of the island(s) are beautiful but I suspect that if you want to visit the Caymans, you should go there for a week, not a six-hour stop on a cruise ship. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica "San Jose Town and Country" (*** , 9 ½ hours, $89 pp) This was a nine-hour bus trip to the national capital. A lot of folks wouldn't want to deal with the long bus ride, but we sort of enjoy just watching the countryside go by and seeing how folks live in other countries. In San Jose, we visited the Teatro Nacional and the National Museum. Both were interesting, but we didn't have enough time at either. We also had a quick stop at an area of artisan shops where we could buy locally-made handicrafts. We were literally the last ones back aboard ship. They were pulling in the gangway behind us. Panama City, Panama The Panama Railway - Domed Car (*** ½ , 3 ¼ hrs., $199 pp) After transiting the Canal, the ship spent the night anchored off Port Amidor, giving us the chance to go back and see the Canal from the shore side perspective and some of the country. We opted for the more expensive dome car seats, which we felt were worth the $70 pp extra cost. The train ride was about an hour long, taking us back along the Canal to Colon, where we visited the Gatun Locks. Seeing the locking operation from the shore side was entertaining and interesting.. The trip ended with a 90-minute bus trip back to the ship. Overall, we felt we got our money's worth. Manta, Ecuador No shore excursion. We just wandered the streets and a couple of local mercados. Typical of many such stops, free shuttle buses were provided to take us from the port area to the middle of town. This early in the trip, the mercados were fascinating and seemed to offer more local handicrafts. Later, most notably in Brazil, we got a bit tired of them and they seemed to be filled with a bewildering and incomprehensible mass of "stuff." More on that later. Guayaquil, Ecuador No shore excursion. A longer bus ride into town—half an hour or so. The ride gives you a good chance to see the outlying areas, which are decidedly "third-world" looking compared to the more prosperous downtown. Guayaquil is located quite some distance up the Guayas River and the riverfront is attractive and interesting. There were surprisingly few people down there. Most everyone seemed to be crammed into a huge indoor mercado where most stalls appeared to be selling cheap Chinese-made knockoffs of popular American brands of clothing and shoes. Salaverry/Trujillo, Peru We arrived here in thick fog which, we understand, is fairly common along this section of coast because of the proximity of the cold Humboldt Current offshore. Salaverry is the port for Trujillo. The dock area was surrounded by miles of flat sand. From certain vantage points on the ship, it looked like we were stranded in the middle of a desert! Some local vendors set up kiosks right on the dock, but we found them expensive and not particularly interested in bargaining. Again, free shuttles were provided to transport us into Trujillo. Trujillo has an attractive central plaza and we found the locals to be friendly and more than happy to talk to the turistas. Few spoke much English and I'm far from fluent in Spanish, but everyone was patient and seemed to enjoy the challenge of communicating. Callao/Lima, Peru "Lima Highlights" ( ***, 3 ½ hrs., $47 pp) Some might argue with my "three-star" rating above, but part of what I'm rating is "bang for the buck." This was a short and comparatively inexpensive tour and I felt the content was reasonable considering the low cost. It was accurately described as being primarily a bus tour. The main stop was at the Plaza Mejor, the city's central square. There, we toured the huge cathedral designed by Pizarro and in which Pizarro is entombed, and had a chance to watch the changing of the guard at the government palace. We also visited an old monastery. There was nothing particularly dramatic or spectacular, but it didn't cost much, either. Callao was the end of the first phase of the cruise so the ship stayed overnight. A few people got off; a few got on. The second day, we visited the upscale beachfront suburb of Miraflores. While this cruise didn't push jewelry like others we've been on, the H. Stern Company was much in evidence from this point on. They routinely provided shuttle service from the ship to their stores and, to be fair, we must note that there was no pressure whatever to buy anything from them. It was the "Stern Shuttle" that took us to Miraflores. This is a nice area which, we are sure, is NOT typical of Peru in general. We saw all the "usual" American establishments, e.g. TGIFridays, McDonald's, KFC, Starbucks, etc. It reminded us a bit of the ocean front south of the Cliff House in San Francisco. A word here about the Machu Picchu trips. We chose not to do this, based mainly on the cost, but talked to several others who did take them. When all was said and done, we were glad we didn't do this one. The first problem was the transportation system. One of our dining tablemates booked the multi-day trip, which departed from Manta and rejoined the ship in Callao. He reported his flight was some four hours late at one point, with no explanation as to why. He had paid for "deluxe" train accommodations later in the trip and the delays ultimately resulted in his being placed in "standard" seats. I never heard whether or not he got any refund. But the biggest problem seemed to be the weather. Most everyone reported that, having spent big bucks and enduring a long, difficult trip to get there, they arrived at Machu Picchu to find it completely enveloped in clouds, making it virtually impossible to see the sights they went there to see! Bottom line: these trips are a crapshoot. You might have a great time and clear skies or you may see little or nothing. It's a lot of money to spend to see clouds. Northern Chile We didn't do any shore excursions at Arica, Coquimbo, or Valparaiso. We found it immediately obvious that Chile is much more prosperous than either Peru or Ecuador. Arica has several streets closed off as pedestrian malls. They were clean and well patrolled by the Policia Turistica. Again, the people were extremely friendly. We stopped into a little restaurant/bar for a beer and found they didn't accept US dollars. But one of the patrons gave us directions to a nearby money exchange and, when we returned for our beer, he and the lady behind the counter welcomed us back and wanted to talk about where we were from, how we got there, etc. When we finished our beers, the gentleman walked down the street with us to introduce us to his wife, who was operating a cart on the street selling various herbal medications. (We had to chuckle over the fact that SHE was out working while he was sitting around drinking beer with the tourists!) Coquimbo has a wonderful seafood market and an equally fascinating produce market across the street, all within easy walking distance of the ship. Valparaiso is the country's largest port and the gateway to Santiago. The shore excursion to Santiago would have wiped out the entire day so we made the choice to stay in Valparaiso for the day. They have a very modern rapid transit train that runs past the port and on into the city itself. Like many such systems, it makes perfect sense to the locals, but is virtually incomprehensible to strangers. Then add the complication of a foreign language. Fortunately, one of our fellow passengers, far more fluent in Spanish than I, helped us buy tickets to get us to an area called Vina del Mar and back. But in a scene reminiscent of "Charlie and the MTA," we arrived back at the port to find that our fare card wouldn't let us OUT of the terminal! We ended up paying more money to get through the "exit" turnstile. Puerto Montt, Chile "Petrohue Falls, Lake Cruise and Chilean Countryside" (****, 8 hrs., $148 pp) The trip began with a hour's bus ride to Lago de Todo Los Santos, where we took a short cruise on one of those big power catamarans. The cruise itself wasn't all that wonderful—it just went out around an island and back, but the scenery was spectacular. (There was another, similar excursion titled "Osorno Volcano & Petrohue Rapids" that appears to be identical but omits the cruise. At $126 pp, it might be a better value.) Next we visited Petrohue Falls. We weren't there at the right time of year to see the falls at their best, but it was still quite beautiful. We stopped for lunch at a German-influenced restaurant on the shore of another lake. They were obviously accustomed to dealing with busloads of tourists because the service was very quick and efficient and the food was excellent. Finally, we stopped at the little resort town of Puerto Varas. Again, the stop wasn't long enough, but hey, you can't do everything on one trip. We both agreed that Puerto Montt and "Lake Country" would be worth a return trip someday. Puerto Chacabuco, Chile Puerto Chacabuco won't appear on most maps. It's just a tiny village in the midst of the spectacular fjords. A larger town, Puerto Aysen, was about an hour's drive away. The taxis at the port dock wanted $40 each way so we opted to skip that. Walking around Puerto Chacabuco (which has a nice hotel and not much else) we noted a bus which ran to Puerto Aysen and cost about $2. We were tempted but, not knowing anything about the schedule, were nervous about getting stranded and having to fork out the $40 taxi fare to get back. As it turned out, the bus seemed to run every half-hour or so. The waters between Puerto Chacabuco and Punta Arenas are a mind-boggling stretch of glaciers and fjords. It is reminiscent of Alaska but somehow more rugged and spectacular. Punta Arenas, Chile "Patagonian Experience - Otway Sound & Penguin Reserve" (****, 4 hrs. $79 pp) This was another example of a not-too-expensive shore excursion that, we felt, delivered pretty good value. The bus ride through the pampas was interesting and the penguin rookery lived up to the descriptions. These were Magellanic Penguins, one of the smallest species. They nest in burrows, sometimes quite far from the water. Humans were confined to wooden boardwalks and, at the beach, to a sort of "viewing blind." While you couldn't get pictures of yourself surrounded by hundreds of penguins, you could get close enough to get some good shots. The trip left us enough time to visit the city itself. It was a Sunday so most of the shops were closed. Apparently the arrival of several hundred tourists on a cruise ship wasn't sufficient incentive to violate the Sabbath in the interests of making money, but there were a few open and a number of craft stalls set up in the central plaza. We talked to folks who did the "Antarctica Flyover." This was too pricey for us at $1755 per person, but those that forked out the bucks said it was spectacular. Everyone got a window seat on the chartered 737 and they got down to a low enough altitude that you could really see a lot. Ushuaia, Argentina Ushuaia is a fun place. It reminded us of a bit of Juneau and of ski resort towns we've visited with the added feature of a marine waterfront. It was blowing 50-60 knots which, we gathered, is pretty common. It was also surprisingly dry and dusty. Despite the area's reputation for foul weather, they apparently don't get a lot of precipitation, at least in the summer. One of the more interesting examples of bureaucracy in action took place after we left Ushuaia. Ushuaia is in Argentina, Cape Horn is back in Chile. We were required to stop at Puerto Williams, Chile, and anchor while the Chilean authorities cleared the ship BACK into Chile and the Chilean pilots came aboard. This despite the fact that we were only sailing past Cape Horn, not going ashore. We have little doubt that the most important thing that occurred during this stop was the payment of some type of fee. Next morning, it came out that the pilots had decided it was too rough out at The Horn for them to transfer back into their small boat for the trip back to Puerto Williams. As a result, we had no pilots aboard and were therefore required to maintain a minimum of three miles distance from Cape Horn itself. I don't imagine that HAL received any refund of whatever fees they paid! The weather was pretty bad and the wind was screaming so few people ventured on deck anyway. Antarctica Once we left The Horn, we had incredibly benign weather for the trip across Drake Passage and, indeed, our entire time in Antarctica. Two of our three days there featured clear skies and sunshine. Oh, yes, it was cold. Temperatures were in the low- to mid-thirties plus wind chill, but that didn't stop anyone from being out on deck. The tiny bit of Antarctica we saw was beyond description. Our only regret is that we couldn't go ashore. There is a treaty that prohibits ships above a certain size from landing passengers. We'd love to go back on one of the myriad of smaller ships that are allowed to take people ashore. South Georgia Island. South Georgia is important historically. It was a major center for the South Atlantic whaling industry and figured prominently in the legendary voyage of Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton himself is buried there. Access ashore is strictly controlled and we were only allowed ashore in tightly monitored groups. It sounds restrictive, but really wasn't. We saw everything we wanted to see. There was one rather irritating disappointment at South Georgia. We landed at Grytviken, leaving there about 4:00 p.m. and cruising past some of the other bays and abandoned whaling stations. Dinner came along and we dutifully reported to our assigned seat at the assigned time. It was then that we realized that the commentary that was being broadcast through the ship's common areas was NOT being piped into the main dining room. (Can't interrupt people's dinner with something as trivial as information about what's going by outside!) It was only when I saw lots of people running around outside with cameras that it dawned on me that we were approaching Stromness, the station that was an integral part of the Shackleton story. I left dinner to run back and get a coat and a camera and, by the time I got out on deck, I'd missed much of the commentary about the place. The Falkland Islands "Falkland Battlefields" ( ** ½, 4 hrs, $89 pp) We were one of the few ships that made it to the Falklands during the summer of 2008. The anchorage, such as it is, is wide-open and exposed and the wind blows unceasingly. But we did get there, thanks to the superb seamanship of Prinsendam's captain and crew. The Falklands are a pretty stark and desolate place. We had booked the shore excursion to the Volunteer Point penguin rookery to see King Penguins (8 hrs. $349 pp), but we were delayed in anchoring due to the wind conditions and the trip was cancelled because there wouldn't have been enough time to get there and back. We substituted the "Falklands Battlefields" tour. I had studied the history of the 1982 war prior to leaving home and choosing between the battlefields tour and the penguins had been a real dilemma. In some ways, it was a relief to have the choice made for me. This tour wasn't nearly as comprehensive as I would have hoped, but it wasn't terribly expensive, either. I would have liked to have seen the area where the British forces landed, near San Carlos, but we couldn't do that for the good and simple reason that there are no roads that go there! The tour we did take consisted of a trip out to Fitzroy, to the inlet where two anchored British supply ships were bombed by the Argentines, then a retracing of the route the British commandos took from there as they attacked the Argentine forces in the "mountains" south of Stanley. Buenos Aires, Argentina "Iguazu Falls" (* ½ , 12 hrs, $989 pp) Our biggest (i.e. most expensive) shore excursion was the trip to Iguazu Falls. It also proved to be one of the biggest flops. There was some unexplained delay in getting the ship cleared by Argentine customs, resulting in our being something over an hour late leaving the ship. It was clear that, from that point on, the main objective was to make up that time and we knew right away that they were going to do it by cutting our time at the Falls. It's a 90-minute flight from BA to Iguazu. Far from being out in the wilds, Iguazu is now a huge tourist attraction. It has its own airport and several large luxury hotels. There are no private cars allowed in the park itself. You are transported to the various points of interest on a narrow-gauge railway. And you won't be alone. There were literally thousands of others hiking across the metal catwalks to the "Devil's Throat" and, once there, jostling for position to get a picture of themselves and the Falls. There are commercial photographers there, too, who kept telling the rest of us to move so we weren't in their shots. Very annoying. Lunch was included and it was pure chaos. The restaurant was poorly organized for dealing with large crowds. The "salad bar," such as it was, was ROUND. Wherever you tried to get to it, people complained that you were "crowding in." But there was no way to form a line and take turns. Like I said, chaotic and stressful. After lunch, we were told we'd have "about an hour" to see the upper part of the falls, which was within walking distance. But after walking through the first section of the trail, which took maybe 15 minutes, we were directed back to the bus! Had to make up time, remember! They carted us back to the airport, where we sat cooling our heels for over an hour! Time that could have been spent seeing the rest of the falls. All in all, we didn't feel this one gave a very good return for the amount of money it cost. "Buenos Aires Highlights" (***, 3 ½ hrs, $53 pp) Buenos Aires was an overnight stop so we were able to do this basic city tour the second day. This was a good, general tour of the city which included the Ricoleta Cemetery (mausoleum of Eva Peron) and "La Boca," the older part of the city. It did not stop at the Casa Rosada, the Presidential Palace, but we had time to walk back there later in the afternoon. Montevideo, Uruguay Easy walk to the center of this interesting city. Many of the buildings seemed somewhat run down, but the businesses in them were thriving. We heard a rumor that tax rates were based on the exterior of the buildings, which would provide little or no incentive for maintaining the facades. Rio De Janeiro Brazil Corcovado & Rio City Tour (*** ½, 4 hrs, $72 pp) Rio is huge, sprawling all over the place, and we had no decent map. It was confusing trying to figure out exactly where the ship was relative to downtown, Corcovado, and the famous beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema. This tour took us by bus to the base of the funicular railway that ascends Corcovado. Visibility at the top was poor, which we understand is not unusual. The tour description accurately indicated the possibility of long lines and crowds. Overall, about what we expected and a reasonable value. The H. Stern people provided transportation to their store in Lincoln Town Cars and we used them to get out to Ipanema on our second day. Nice area with lots of people and lots of shops and restaurants. Salvador and Recife, Brazil No shore excursions. In Salvador, the shuttle from the port took us to the Pelourhino district—a zillion little shops and restaurants. We walked back to the ship since it was downhill, using the Lacerda Elevator to do most of the descent. Recife is an attractive city, known as the "Venice of South America" because of the many waterways and bridges. We might have gotten a better look at it via one of the few shore excursions, but we had to draw the financial line somewhere. Fortaleza, Brazil "Cumbuco Beach & Buggy Ride" (***, 5 ½ hrs, $79 pp) By this point, we were burned out on wandering the streets through the shops which seemed to sell mostly flip-flops and kids' backpacks festooned with Disney characters. We decided to try something completely different. The dune buggy ride was much less thrilling than we expected. I think someone told the operators that they had a bunch of decrepit old farts from a Holland America ship coming and to "keep it tame." Consequently, we got the "A Ticket" ride rather than the high-speed "E Ticket" version. That was disappointing in that almost everyone who did this excursion was younger (by HAL standards) and in good physical shape. We'd hoped for a thrill ride and, instead, got a relatively mild trip. Belem, Brazil "Amazon River System Adventure by Riverboat" (****, 5 ½ hours, $73 pp) We started with a bus ride of about 45 minutes. The bus's air-conditioning didn't work so it was pretty hot and sticky. But, to the credit of our fellow passengers, no one complained. While we were off on our boat trip, the tour company got another bus so the trip back was fine. The riverboat trip was fun, taking us to a small tributary of the Rio Guana where we took a short walk ashore. Some of the locals demonstrated native techniques for climbing trees and showed us some of the native flora and fauna (the latter in the form of a satisfyingly large and horrible-looking, though harmless, spider). Santarem, Brazil No shore excursions. A relatively small river community that was easy to explore in a relatively short time. More shops selling flip-flops and backpacks. Boca da Valeria, Brazil I have to editorialize (pontificate?) a little on this stop. Billed as a "sleepy village in the Amazon Basin," we thought it was little more than a pageant for the benefit of tourists. As such, we found it somewhat disturbing. There were a few stalls set up to sell handicrafts, but mostly it was like a sort of "Halloween in reverse." Instead of going out after treats, the treats came to them. As we got off the tenders, the kids were lined up with their hands out, waiting to be handed money (preferably) or whatever else the fabulously rich American tourists had brought ashore for them. We took some t-shirts ashore, hoping to trade them for something. No way. They fully expected us to GIVE them the t-shirts, but the idea of giving us anything in return was clearly foreign to them. They even pointed to the clothes we were wearing and indicated that we should give them those! Kids dressed in "native costumes" lined the path, with parents standing by to collect the expected payment if you took a picture. The kids all spoke exactly ONE English word: "dollar." It was also obvious that people came from miles around to get in on the "booty" whenever a cruise ship stopped. We left feeling that we'd done more harm than good—reinforcing their belief that (a) all Americans are fabulously wealthy and (b) all you had to do was hold out your hand and someone would give you something. Quite the incentive to go do some actual work, huh? Manaus, Brazil "Alligator Spotting and Piranha Fishing: A Night in the Amazon Overland Adventure." (***** + , 2 days/1 night, $399 ppdo) Far and away the best of all our shore excursions, this one is not to be missed if you have a bit of an adventurous spirit. The destination is the Amazon Village Resort on the Rio Negro, a three-hour boat trip from Manaus. The description warns that there's no hot water or air-conditioning and limited electricity. This was enough to keep the whiners away and the people who did this excursion were a great group that was ready to try anything and everything. Lunch was ready when we arrived and was the antithesis of "primitive." Food was excellent and plentiful and featured lots of locally-caught fish as well as beef and pork. The piranha-fishing expedition included a stop at the home of one of the resort's neighbors who eked out a living raising manioc root for tapioca. We got to see and hold a small boa, a sloth, and a strange, prehistoric-looking turtle. It poured down rain but no one cared or complained. Piranha are NOT easy to catch. Amid many jokes about "just stick your finger in the water" we only caught a total of four. They tend to "nibble" at the bait (raw meat) rather than just glom onto it. After dinner we went back out on the river in search of alligators (more accurately, "spectacled cayman"). We kidded the guides that they had pet caymans stashed at known spots but, regardless, they DID find a small one. And cruising along the still waters of the river in the pitch darkness was great fun. The lack of air-conditioning made for a long, hot night but we knew it going in so, again, no one complained. They shut off the battery-powered lights about 11 p.m. and it was DARK. Half an hour later, I tried the "hand in front of the face test" and literally could NOT see it! Next morning we did a jungle walk. They offered two versions, one easy and one more difficult since, even in our gung-ho group, some were less capable of dealing with uneven trails than others. Once again, a very interesting and educational experience with a guide who had grown up in the area and was a wealth of information about native plants and how the indigenous peoples used them. Parantins. Brazil The big hype at Parantins was the "Boi Bumba" show. Everyone said it was a "not to be missed" spectacle. We gathered it was a sort of "Carnivale" in a small arena, from which you can deduce that we did NOT attend. Why not? What they didn't mention in all the hype was the cost. How about $101 US per person? Lots of people went anyway. Personally, it would have had to include Kirsten Dunst, Scarlett Johaansen, Jessicas Biel and Alba, and Gillian Anderson all performing stark naked before I'd spend that much money on an unknown show...and maybe not even then. We didn't hear anyone raving about how great it was afterward, either. Perhaps someone who actually attended can post a review? Devil's Island, French Guiana Trying to figure out just why we stopped here, we concluded that the answer was simply, "Because we could." First of all, you don't go to Devil's Island, you go to its neighbor, Isle Royale. No big deal, just a technical detail. It's interesting and historic so I guess as long as we were in the neighborhood, it made some sense to stop and see it. Be warned: there's a gift shop there that will make the high prices aboard ship seem like absolute bargains. Example: a simple post card cost SIX U.S. DOLLARS! Barbados "Barbados Turtle Encounter (****, 3 hours/ $59 pp) We went our separate ways here. My wife did this one. She had a great time and felt it was a good value. In addition to swimming with the sea turtles, they had the opportunity to ride various inflatable water toys towed behind a Boston Whaler or some similar fast boat. "Barbados Yacht Racing Challenge." (* , 2 ¾ hours, $99 pp) The description said, "Go head to head with a full match race to the end. Join experienced crew and be involved as much or as little as you like." I have cruised and raced sailboats most of my life and was looking forward to a "full head-to-head match race." The boats were as advertised: 80-foot maxi boats, veterans of the Whitbread 'Round the World race. The "race" was something else. It was only a race in the sense that there were two boats sailing in relatively close proximity. Yes, it was a nice ride on a big powerful boat, but the "heart pounding, exciting match race," was a joke. As for being involved "as much" as we wanted, four of us were allowed to man the big coffee-grinder winches and mostly we just stood around hoping that we'd get a chance to actually crank them. The rest of the paid guests were simply used as "human ballast." The skipper's instructions for tacking consisted of telling them how to move from one side of the boat to the other. We were never asked how much sailing and/or racing experience we had. They seemed to assume that we didn't know the pointy end from the blunt end. No one but the skipper was ever allowed to touch the helm and the paid crew did all the trimming of sails. And there was precious little of that as the "course" consisted of a beam reach out and back. We had to tack exactly twice to get to the turning mark and then gybed around it. Other than that, we just sat there while the skipper steered the boat, saying nothing and generally giving the impression that he was incredibly bored with the whole enterprise. The "other boat" was "crewed" by guests from a local hotel. They started behind us and to leeward and anyone who knows sailing would know that, from that point on, we should have dominated the "race." Instead, they sailed right through our lee and ended up "winning" by over a minute. The skipper and crew couldn't have cared less. Overall, this was the most disappointing of our shore excursions and pretty much a waste of a hundred bucks. Mayaguez, Puerto Rico No shore excursions. A few kiosks on the dock which offered little of interest. Getting to town required a taxi and since we were, technically, back in the US of A, they were expensive. Half Moon Cay HAL's private island, which we'd visited before. Nice spot to just relax on the beach, but the weather was cool and showery so the most important event of the day was lunch. Conclusion Overall, this Grand Voyage was an incredible adventure. We like traveling to places that not everyone else has been to and this cruise certainly delivered that. Given the 68-day duration, friends ask if we were "glad to get home." We reply that we weren't so much "glad" as just "ready." We'd had a great time, it was over, and it was just "time to go home." Would we do it again? No, we've already done it. We don't need to do it again. But we would like to go back and revisit Patagonia, Antarctica, and Buenos Aires. Would we recommend it to others? Absolutely and unequivocally. Would we do a similar cruise? Yes, and we've already put a deposit down on the 2010 Grand Asia & Pacific Voyage. By then, we'll be ready for another cruise. Meantime, we have other types of travel in mind. Read Less
Sail Date January 2008

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