Saturday, March 7, 2020

Season 10 Wrap Up

The growing number of emails I’ve been receiving is making it very clear that I have some unfinished blog business to attend to. I’m sorry for dragging my feet on this post, but it’s become obvious to me that those people who blog about their entire vacation after they return home are superhuman. They really are. Serious props to them. I get home, I get buried by the many, many things that need to be done (and, as G said, they all have to be done right now, they’re all that urgent), and once I feel kinda-sorta in control of my life again, I’m in full blown ‘home’ mode, and it’s tough to put myself back in cruise mode. 

And there might be another reason or two that I’ve been putting this post off, but I’ll get to that in a minute. 

Looking back on the past three+ weeks, I have to admit things have gone as smoothly as they possibly could after being gone nearly five months. No, I didn’t get sick- neither one of us did, many of you were concerned about that- and, frankly, that’s kind of remarkable after a 24-hour travel day and the abrupt change to very cold, very dry, very snowy weather. 

Our intention, given today’s COVID-19 world was to limit our face to face interactions as much as possible for a couple of weeks after we got home, but it was the end of basketball season, and since I’d missed most of it, I really wanted to watch McGuy play, and so I did, for three JV games, but didn’t let myself stick around for the varsity games. As soon as the bleachers got crowded, I left. 

And I did have one stay with my guys, but with their schedules, aside from making breakfast and packing lunches, we didn’t have much face to face time, and hugs are of kind of the side variety right now anyway. We all stayed well...yay!

The first full week home was busy with phone calls to resolve issues that came in the mail, filing medical claims from our cruises and even completing taxes. I abhor doing all those things, but truly kept my nose to the grindstone and plodded through them day after day. We had over $3000 to collect from a variety of sources, and that was rather motivating. 

G has been busy doing yard cleanup as soon as the snow would allow him to...over a foot of snow on top of fall leaves is not a good thing. Every few days he was outside mowing right up to the unmelted snow, a little more each time.  It feels like spring here now, and the yard looks amazing...except for that one glacier in the shade. That will melt sometime in April. 

As soon as basketball season ended, and before track and field season begins (this week), I’ve fit in multiple medical appointments, either the first of the biannual appointments or the annual ones that I wanted to get out of the way early this year. I’m very happy to report that I am fit as a fiddle and ready to travel.

Or not. Believe it or not, even before we knew that there was a thing called the coronavirus, we were already having discussions about whether we’d be cruising for an extended period of time next winter. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy this season- we loved it. Australia and New Zealand are two of our favorite places in the world- but somehow we were both getting a feeling that this season might be our last. As you know, this was a five-year plan that we extended five times, and I had often wondered how we would know when it was time to stop. I needn’t have worried; there was just a slow realization on both our parts, pretty much simultaneously. It’s time. 

We really have been living the dream, and wouldn’t change a thing that we’ve done over the past ten years, where we’ve gone or the ships on which we’ve cruised. We don’t spend a lot of time reflecting back on all we’ve seen, but when we do, it really hits us. We’ve seen a lot. Had a huge amount of fun. Learned so much more about this world and how to travel than I can get from a book or even watching Rudy Maxx or Rick Steves. Good times or bad (and there were blessedly few of the latter), we’ve had the time of our lives (play the song here). ;-) If it was 2010 again, we’d do the exact same thing All. Over. Again.

But it hasn’t been without a price. Financial, of course, that one is pretty obvious, but there’s also the price it’s taken in how we live our lives. I’ve mentioned this before, but lately we have been feeling more that we are travelers who are occasionally home than people who are home who occasionally travel. As a friend told me, it’s hard to elicit a lot of sympathy, or even understanding when I say that, but it is a fact. Two of the past three summers I’ve dealt with major medical issues where I’ve felt enormous stress to be ready to travel again in the fall. Too many times, we’d wake up our first morning at home after a season away and G would jokingly say, “240 days until we leave again”.  Countdown clocks became less something to look forward to and more a burden on our shoulders. Frankly, I want a break. 

It doesn’t help that what we have booked for next season, the Pacific Princess in French Polynesia, which I’ve been hoping for years for a chance to do again, is so expensive that it’s like Monopoly money. I knew it was, of course, and mentioned it multiple times to G, but I finally put together a spreadsheet when we returned home and it’s every bit as bad as I thought it would be. The per diem is more than twice what we shoot for when we plan our seasons. And, as much as we know we would love every moment of those cruises, the Pacific Princess lacks some amenities (like on demand TV, big screen TVs and high speed WiFi) that I’m not certain I want to go without. Sure, we’ve done it in the past, but we have now been spoiled. It’s like we couldn’t camp in a tent any more, and we used to love doing that. We like our creature comforts. 

And then there’s COVID-19. As I write this, things are kind of exploding in the cruise industry, and everyone seems to have an opinion about whether the virus will affect their travel. Well, I have one too:  I won’t travel- cruise or fly- without getting an annual flu shot, and I won’t cruise until this either subsides considerably or a vaccine is developed. It’s just not worth the risk. Even if we don’t get sick, our vacation could be seriously disrupted. That’s not the experience we pay to enjoy. 

However, when I turned 60 in January, I was struck by the realization that there is one more destination on my bucket list, and, if we think it’s safe to travel, this might finally be the year we get there. At least I’ll get there. G remains unconvinced and my friend Sheila, with whom I’ve traveled to South America, Australia and Asia is just as excited as I am about this one.

If I make it there, I will definitely blog about it, but otherwise this could be the final chapter of this blog that’s really become more of a book. Thank you again, so much, for following along. What started as a way to keep family and friends informed has grown to over 10,000 views every day that we’re traveling.  I’m actually no longer certain who is reading, and have often wondered if I needed to change the tone or nature of my writing, but this blog was still just my diary. In the end, I was writing it for me. And G. Some day, maybe as soon as next winter, when we‘re not traveling like we used to, we will sit in front of the fireplace and look back at where we’ve been and marvel that two kids who never even flew in an airplane until they were graduating from college managed to see so much of the world. 

Thank you God. 
Thank you G. 
Thank you for following along. 

Life is soooooooo good. :-)  

Source:  Pinterest

Sunsets at home are pretty nice too. :-)

Friday, February 14, 2020

Day 141 (and three quarters): Home!

We are home. HOME!! Why is this always the second-best day of our cruising season?  After doing this repeatedly, I still don’t know why it is, but it is. I’m beginning to think we should just have departure day (the best day of our cruising season), and return day, since they’re both so great, and skip the in-between days.

Just kidding!  I’m a little punchy after our very long day. 

The alarm went off and I was in the World Fresh Marketplace getting coffee for both of us before 5:30am. We had discussed at length whether we’d shower this morning. Part of me wanted to take one of those really long showers knowing it would be the best I’d feel for a long time. But that would have required leaving some items out when we set out the suitcases last night, and then stuffing them in a checked bag this morning, or leaving them behind. We decided it wasn’t worth it. All we’d done is eat and sleep since our showers before dinner last night. It was a good decision, saving us a lot of time. I just put on sunscreen (of course) and wore no other makeup. I was facing a 26-hour travel day, not a formal night. 

I loved getting off the ship so early today (I think we were the second group, just minutes after the ship was cleared by the local authorities). Usually disembarkation day means a nightmare in the buffet and on the elevators, but we missed all that. Before we knew it, we were on a bus driving through the streets of Sydney on our way to the airport. The day was warm and muggy, and it was hard to believe our roll aboards were packed with fleeces, jackets, hats and gloves. We’d be needing them when we arrived at our home airport. 

I know there are cheaper ways to get from the Overseas Passenger Terminal to the airport, but we had an EZ Air flight at 11:15am, and I didn’t want there to be any question of whose fault it was if we somehow missed it. Plus, we didn’t have to pay any extra charges for our four large and two small suitcases. It worked well for us. 

Our flight began boarding at 10:25am, and, by the time we made it through immigration and security and had another cup of coffee at the airport, it was time to board. I decided to leave my hard contacts in for the first half of the flight and then take them out in the bathroom...but they ended up staying in until we got home. We flew on a Boeing 797 with the two aisle seats in the middle three seat section with an empty seat between us. That changes everything. It is so nice to have a place for the water bottles, blankets, charging cords and earbuds, but it’s been very long time since we’ve had that luxury on a transoceanic flight. 

G slept on and off the entire flight, but encouraged me to buy the internet for the day for $19. I always say that this blog is my diary, not a travel guide, but let me offer this one piece of travel advice: if you want 14 hours to fly by (haha), opt for the WiFi. I simultaneously surfed the net and watched five movies on the IFE (In Flight Entertainment, or seatback) system, and finally, about ten hours into the flight, after the midflight snack was served, set my iPad aside and dozed for an hour or so. That refreshed me enough to watch another movie, do some more interneting, eat the breakfast that was served and, boom, we were in LA. Easiest transpacific flight ever. 

Going through immigration at LAX is never fun, but our Global Entry made it as painless as possible. And let me offer one more piece of travel advice (two in a single post!): renew your Global Entry the minute you can do so, which is the day after your birthday, 12 months before it is due to expire (it’s good for five years). I waited four months, not realizing there was such a backlog with renewals, and G phoned me one night when I was visiting Mom and said I had to renew it right then. I thought he was overreacting to an article he had read about the renewal backlog, but he was absolutely right (again, but don’t tell him). I heard nothing back until just before we left in September, and then, when I did, I was informed that I needed to go through another interview. The first available interview at our home airport was in May, which was four months after my Global Entry was due to expire. Luckily, they extended that for everyone, first by six months and now by 12 months, since they are so backed up (but the nation’s billionaires thank you for their tax cuts). 

I wasn’t sure if I’d have an issue using Global Entry today at LAX but I didn’t, and G’s hasn’t expired yet, but he is required to have an interview, too. We had hoped to take care of that at LAX today (walk in appointments are allowed only when you’ve just arrived into the US), but we only had two hours between flights and our flight from Sydney was late arriving, so there was no opportunity to squeeze that in. In fact, we were given orange cards to display when we got off the flight in LAX, highlighting that we needed priority processing.  And perhaps we are in the minority, needing an interview for a Global Entry renewal. I don’t know why we both would be, except for the fact that we’ve been in 53 countries in the past five years (that’s one of the questions in the renewal application). But, if your Global Entry is due to expire, renew it as soon as you can. 

Once through immigration and customs, we re-checked our suitcases and walked down to our next terminal, which then required another trip through security. And since we were on a commuter flight, we had to take a bus to the airport’s hinterlands, carry our roll aboards up the stairs to our aircraft, and squeeze into the most uncomfortable airplane seats ever designed. And that was when my energy finally started to sag. However, stepping out into the frigid air at our home airport and summoning a Lyft was like a bucket of ice water in the face. 

And, finally, we were rolling our suitcases up to the front door (thank you Steve and Linda, a hundred times over, that we didn’t have to roll them through the snow)...there is no place like home, even when it’s been left in disarray, even when the cupboard is bare, the refrigerator is warm and the water is cold. It is heaven. 

I was immediately struck by two things: 1) I was really laid up when we left home in September. There were crutches (a second pair) in the foyer and my knee scooter in the dining room, and a chair in the master bathroom where I could sit and take care of my ablutions, because I couldn’t stand. That seems like a different world now. And 2) I slipped off my sneakers at the front door and walked barefoot through the house. I haven’t been able to do that in 27 years. I haven’t been able to use a pool without water shoes, shower without flip flops, and I certainly haven’t been able to walk across the tile floor of the bathroom for middle of the night potty breaks without slipping something on ‘that foot’. This is life changing; our aestas horribilus was so worth it. 

Life, even if we hadn’t just spent 140 days cruising, is very good. :-)

I’ll publish a wrap up post in a few days. Meanwhile, I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s time to dream about our season’s travels in the comfort of our own bed. 

Life is good. :-)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Day 140: At Sea

The last day. No matter how many last days we’ve encountered in our cruising career, I simply haven’t found a way to make them easy. Or fun. Not when there’s almost five months of life to be packed up, and especially not when there’s an impending 24-hour travel day that stands between us and our snowy home.

Captain Tony was absolutely right when he said he were in for some rough weather after we left Hobart early yesterday. In fact, it was one of only two times on the Majestic Princess that we’ve really felt the motion of the ocean. This ship is stable. And though things had calmed down by this morning, our sleep last night was that fitful kind, punctuated by frequent awakenings as the ship shivered and shook. 

When I woke up and G was already out and about, I sprung into action, opening a suitcase on one bed and folding all my hang up clothes on the other. Since nearly all of my clothes get hung up in the closet (even shorts and Ts), when I had finished that, my packing was 80% complete. Go me! I held off packing my swimwear, thinking we might possibly use a pool or hot tub today (we didn’t), but left just enough toiletries out to get me through the day and tomorrow morning. That had me 90% packed while G was still out of the cabin. It’s so much easier that way. 

We eventually met up in the World Fresh Marketplace where I had brunch... it was too late for breakfast and not really lunch time yet. I tried to do the online check in for our flight tomorrow, but what was I thinking?  There is no way I could scan and upload a jpeg of our passports. Still, I could see that we had an empty middle seat between us. Fingers crossed that it lasts. 

We returned to the Princess Theater for today’s matinee performance of Fantastic Journey. I guess we just needed one more fix. But the Taylor Swift Shake it Off portion of the show always reminds me of a YouTube video of the USAFA parachute team throwing themselves out of planes to that song. Just search on USAFA Shake it Off to see our country’s best and brightest getting jiggy to T. Swift. Harious. 

By dinner time, G had most of his packing complete, though we don’t set out our suitcases until the stewards’ carts are out of the corridors in the evening, regardless of what they say in the disembarkation talk. That gave us a chance to tuck a bag of those last minute dirties in a suitcase before setting it out. We skipped all the entertainment tonight and were in bed by 9am. I know I say this every year, but once I start packing, I’m quickly out of cruise mode. I’m never ready to go home until it’s time to. And then I cannot wait. 

Day 8 dinner menu, page 1

Day 8 dinner menu, page 2

Day 8 dessert menu

The alarm is set for 5am tomorrow, and we are meeting in the Princess Theater at 6:40am for our shuttle to the Sydney Airport. There’s a story there, but I’ll just sum it up like this: despite filling out the disembarkation form and noting our early Princess EZ Air flight from SYD, and then hand delivering the form to Guest Services, we were assigned a disembarkation time in the middle of the pack, at 8:20am with passengers with independent arrangements. Grrrr.  I’m glad we stayed on the ship yesterday in Hobart; at least I didn’t have to wait in a long line to get that fixed. That would have added insult to injury. 

One final sleep, our 140th in a row on a ship, one long day and then we’re home. Right now, it’s hard to imagine what that will be like, hard to remember how it feels to be at home. But 48 hours from now, our cruising season will seem a lifetime ago.  It’s funny how that works, that whiplash of emotions we experience every year. But after ten seasons of extended cruising, it won’t be a surprise. 

Ten seasons.

Life is good. :-)

Day 8 Princess Patter, page 1

Day 8 Princess Patter, page 2

Day 8 Princess Patter, page 3

Day 8 Princess Patter, page 4

Day 139: Hobart, Tasmania

I was up and off the ship early this morning. We didn’t sleep long, but sleep, when the ship is at a berth, is the best ship sleep there is. My objective in getting off early was not to start sightseeing, but to use the high speed WiFi in the Hobart Cruise Terminal. It’s extremely fast, especially so if few others are on it, but is limited to only 30 minutes per device per day. Still, 30 minutes is enough time if the speed is good. 

G stayed on the ship and just used cellular data, which must have been beefed up for the Royal Hobart Regatta, as it was pretty good today, too. But for downloading videos to watch on the flight home, I needed WiFi. I downloaded the maximum number of Netflix videos I could, spread between two iPads, and updated apps while I was doing that. We’re have plenty of entertainment on hand for the hours of travel home, and 40 minutes later I joined G in the World Fresh Marketplace. 

Despite our good sleep, neither one of us was a ball of energy today. After all, we’ve been in Hobart several times this season, and the only thing that really appealed to us today was a historical display on the Regatta grounds, but apparently it wasn’t appealing enough. Furthermore, Captain Tony Draper had made an unwelcome announcement yesterday evening as we were leaving Port Arthur. Due to a significant storm and the resulting rough seas that we are going to encounter en route to Sydney, and in order to arrive on time in Sydney (rather important to us with an 11:15am flight), he was moving our departure from Hobart up by three hours. Instead of leaving at 6pm, we would be leaving at 3pm, with a 2:30pm on board time. Several shore excursions were cancelled as a result. 

Instead of leaving the ship, we lingered over breakfast and then returned to the cabin where we began the task of sorting through paperwork, photos, menus, maps...all the flotsam and jetsam of nearly five months at sea. We hate dumping all that trash on our cabin steward on the last day. While we were at it, I packed away a few things I knew were no longer needed. 

By 2pm we were getting hungry, and, wanting to avoid what we knew would be a crush in the World Fresh Marketplace as everyone came back on board, we once again split a pizza at Alfredo’s. This left us not very hungry for dinner, and it was the 999th formal night of our season, too, but we dressed not too formally and went to dinner anyway.

We really don’t need to eat for at least a week after we get home, which is a good thing, because there is no food in the house anyway. 

Day 7 dinner menu, page 1

Day 7 dinner menu, page 2

Day 7 dessert menu

We sat in front row seats for tonight’s performance of Fantastic Journey, knowing this was not the show to view from there, but wanting to try it anyway. Fantastic Journey kind of wraps around the front of the Princess Theater, and utilizes the two side stages, and one misses all that extra activity if sitting too close. Still... we did it. We do enjoy seeing the singers and dancers up close (and hearing their voices without a mic, too). 

I know I’ve said it before, but we have really enjoyed the production shows and musical entertainment on the Majestic Princess. 

Those drones...I’m still impressed by the technology in this show. 

These costumes. Amazing!

We had some energy tonight (doing nothing all day has its benefits), and listened to some of the live music around the ship, finishing the evening with Acoustic Rush in the Crown Grill. They (and the Majestic Princess Orchestra) have been our favorite of all the fantastic musicians on the ship. 

And then it was bedtime, our second last on the ship. I really lucked out, and had great mattresses on both the Ruby Princess and the Majestic Princess this season. And my silk sleep sack has worked out perfectly. But these pillows...they were too puffy when they were first delivered on the Emerald Princess several years ago and haven’t calmed down over time. But I’m already bringing my own sheet...liquid soap, bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, Q-tips, etc, because what is offered on Princess doesn’t appeal. Do I really need to add pillows to that list?

Nah. I’ll just get into my chiropractor as soon as I get home. I’ve gotten by without being able to turn my head to the left for weeks now, but it might come in handy when I start to drive. 

Day 7 Princess Patter, page 1

Day 7 Princess Patter, page 2

Day 7 Princess Patter, page 3

Day 7 Princess Patter, page 4

Day 138: Port Arthur and Hobart

This was one of the best days of the entire season. One of the longest days of the entire season, too (until we face our travel day home, at least). There is much to tell you about a day that started in one port, moved to another port and finished with fireworks and drinks along the water in Hobart during the Royal Hobart Regatta. Very fun!

The day was rather overcast, and I know it was in the high 90Fs here just a few days ago, but where did that weather go? Instead we were faced with temps in the low 60s that felt even chillier along the water. And we spent our entire day along the water. 

We started with a quick breakfast in the World Fresh Marketplace, returned to the cabin to dress in jackets (and I had my wool headband around my neck, but it quickly moved up to my head once we were in the tender), and went to the Harmony Restaurant to collect Elite tender tickets to go ashore. Whether due to the wind or the ship size, the Majestic Princess was anchored quite a bit further from shore than the Ruby Princess had been. And despite the fact that there were five ship tenders being used to shuttle passengers ashore, it was a time-consuming process. Port Arthur conducts its own boat tours of the area, and their large catamaran took up one pier. It seemed like two Majestic Princess tenders could squeeze in along the other pier, but that wasn’t often done. Instead, we sat in the tender for at least 30 minutes waiting for dock space to become available. As I’ve said before, these Royal Class tenders are great... but there are a lot of people on these ships. 

Finally we were ashore, and we first went to the Port Arthur Visitors Center to book seats on the free boat tour over to the Isle of the Dead (the Port Arthur cemetery) and Point Puer, the site of a boys reformatory in the mid-1800s. There is a nice narrative that goes along with this, and we gained some additional good information from it. 

We next spent a bit of time on the lowest level of the imposing Penitentiary building, where the most hardened criminals were housed. The remains of the cells show how extremely small they were, with the only light coming in a narrow window at the back. No, thank you. 

These pics are just because I loved the flowers. 

Great hiking weather

Port Arthur Historic Site from the water

The lowest level of the Penitentiary housed the most hardened criminals 

The ruins of the building, which was gutted by fire, have been shored up with bracing and wire. 

Very small cells

Note the anchors for shackles in the walls

The guard tower

And then we set out to walk the opposite direction we had walked two years ago, to Carnarvon Beach on a path through the woods along the waterfront. This was such a fun walk. We encountered very few other people (a real plus at this point in the season), the path was wide and very obvious and fairly flat. We made it to Carnarvon Beach in the next bay south of Port Arthur, and continued on the Point Puer Road along the water to the Point Puer Trail. We looked long and hard for an echidna in the undergrowth, like we had seen two years ago, but weren’t so lucky this time. We were dressed appropriately, the day was never hot, and it was perfect afternoon of walking. 

We hiked right along the water

A beautiful walk

Carnarvon Beach

Does anyone know what this is?

As soon as we reached the end of the Point Puer Trail, we needed to turn around and start back. The last tender from shore to the ship was at 4pm, and we had been keeping track of how long we had walked so we wouldn’t get left behind. Not that that would have been a disaster; the Majestic Princess sailed to Hobart, arriving there at 8:30pm for an overnight stay. Hobart is less than two hours from Port Arthur by road, but if our tardiness had resulted in the ship arriving in Hobart late tonight, we wouldn’t have been very popular with anyone board, crew and passengers alike (there was a spectacle awaiting us in Hobart- read on- and the crew loves their overnights in port). 

Once back on board, I was going to get showered before dinner, but G pointed out that we’d most likely be going out again after dark in Hobart, so it didn’t make sense to get too cleaned up. Besides, we were more hungry than dirty after our 19000+ step day, and instead shared a pizza from Alfredo’s, leading me to offer that comment that gets said at least once a season: Hurry up and finish eating so we can go to dinner. ;-)

We limited dinner to just one course each, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery from our window-side table as the Majestic Princess cruised along the steep rock cliffs of Tasman National Park. I love overnights in Hobart for several reasons, the biggest one being the beautiful scenery between Hobart and Port Arthur that gets missed if the overnight isn’t scheduled. 

Day 6 dinner menu, page 1

Day 6 dinner menu, page 2

Day 6 dessert menu

We watched from the Hollywood Conservatory as the ship entered Hobart Harbour. It was finally cleared by the local authorities for passengers to proceed ashore about 8:30pn, but we didn’t leave the ship right away. Today was the middle day of the three-day Royal Hobart Regatta, and there was a large fireworks show scheduled for 9:30pm over the water next to the Regatta grounds, just beyond the port terminal. It was chilly, and we chose to watch from the Open Deck Behind the World Fresh Marketplace as it felt a little warmer there, despite the fact that the Harbour Control Tower blocked a tiny bit of the view. I love fireworks (and am missing the Friday night fireworks in Hawaii), and this was a great show. 

Royal Hobart Regatta fireworks with the Tasman Bridge in the background

After the show, we walked off the ship and along the waterfront to a pier where there are several restaurants and bars with outdoor seating. The area was packed; Regatta weekend is obviously a very big deal. We finally returned to the ship just after midnight. It had been a fantastic day, and there are lots of Regatta activities scheduled all day tomorrow. They will give us nice options for our fourth visit to Hobart this season...assuming we have the energy to even get off the ship, that is. I think if I was boarding a flight from Sydney to LAX right now, I’d sleep the whole 14 hours.🥱

Day 6 Princess Patter, page 1

Day 6 Princess Patter, page 2

Day 6 Princess Patter, page 3

Day 6 Princess Patter, page 4