Saturday, March 3, 2018

Some BookBub recommendations for travelers

Here I am again, between seasons, recommending book deals from, where Kindle e-Books are available at greatly discounted prices for short (sometime very short) periods of time. Ive mentioned in the past that I learned about BookBub from Cruise Critic, and it is among the most valuable of all the information I’ve picked up on that site. These books are usually free, or $1.99, and I can never be certain how long they’ll be available at that price. Also, you don’t need a Kindle to read them; any tablet or even a smartphone with the free Kindle app installed works just as well.

4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon, $2.99 on July 16, 2018

655 4-Star reviews, $2.99 on May 27, 2018

Free on May 2, 2018

The Italians is entertaining, in the way that Bill Bryson books are. 
Great overview of Italian history and culture. 

I wish I’d read this before our visit to Malta. The day would have been much
more meaningful to me.  It also provided insight into what we saw in Rhodes, Greece. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

After four months of travel, we’re home!

After flying overnight Friday night, we returned home yesterday to wicked cold weather and snow. It’s a harsh adjustment...and a good reminder of why we leave for several months every winter. But for all the obvious inconveniences and the work that lies ahead (it will take us a week to feel things are somewhat under control, but we’re used to that by now), there is something innately comforting about home. 

In retrospect, we had one of our most fantastic winters ever, and everything- the cruise itineraries, the Golden Princess, the weather (mostly) and our stay in Hawaii- couldn’t have gone more smoothly, with bonus points for arriving home to not a single issue with the house. Our successful season should make us anxious to look ahead toward next year, and though we do have some very tentative plans in place, right now I just want to keep my mind in the now, and home and friends. (And getting through the mail and restocking the refrigerator and pantry!). But we know ourselves; by late March and April I’ll start putting together spreadsheets and laying out our options...and the countdown to next winter will begin. 

Thanks so much for again following along with our adventures, and for putting up with my grammatical and spelling errors, all around typing fails, photo-less posts and nightly rambles. It’s funny...when we begin our trips and I prepare those first few blog posts, I am always convinced I’ll never be able to keep it going for several months. But your encouraging emails get me past that initial hump, and once I get in the groove, it’s all good. And then, during the months we’re home, when I go back to re-read my posts with an eye toward correcting the most embarrassing errors, I am reminded, over and over again, of what a fantastic experience we had, and those memories are there to enjoy in large part because of you. Thank you!

And, as always, the biggest thanks goes to my husband. The opportunity and ability to travel is good fortune. To have a partner who wants to travel, too, is the best gift.

I am fortunate. I’ve been gifted. 

Life is good. :-)
Walt Whitman
 Song of the Open Road

Sunday, January 21, 2018

More photos from Hawaii

Greetings from Hawaii!

Thank you so much for the many, many emails I received about our experience during the Emergency Alert a week ago. I had hoped to respond personally to each of them, but there are close to 100, and there is just no way I can do that. Please know that I’ve read and appreciate all of them, and was very comforted by your thoughts. Though we had been calm in the moment, we admittedly felt a bit shaken afterward that day. However, we realized, in hearing others’ stories on TV and on the internet, that we had been very fortunate. We were in our hotel room instead of on the road or on the beach, we had no other family members in danger, and, most of all, we were together.

And the next morning we moved on. 

I have just finished uploading several hundred additional photos from our Golden Princess cruises to my blog (yay!). In my spare time ;-) we’ve been busy having fun in Hawaii. We marched with the Hare Krishnas in the MLK Jr. Day Parade (really), marched from the Royal Mausoleum to Iolani Palace to commemorate the 125th overthrow of the Hawaiian government and to honor the memory of Queen Liliuokalani (really), hiked the Makapu’u Lighthouse, Diamond Head crater, Kolowalu and Puu Pia trails, took a whale watching tour (and saw two whales breaching and blowing!), did a sunset cruise, and watched sunset every night, weather permitting.

It’s been fantastic!

Instead of blogging, I’ll just upload a daily sunset photo for every day the weather and our whereabouts permit.  Since our weather has been superb until this evening, I have several to share. I hope they provide some warmth during the cold winter days at home. 

February 8

February 7

February 6

February 5
(We’ve moved, in case you can’t tell)

February 4- no sunset 😫
February 3- no sunset 😫

February 2

February 1

January 31

January 30

January 29

January 28

January 27

January 26

January 25

Another one from January 25 because...GREEN FLASH!

January 24
Look closely to see the HAL Oosterdam sailing away

January 23

January 22

January 21

January 20- no sunset 😫

January 19

January 18

January 17

January 16

January 15

January 14

January 13

January 12

January 11

January 10

January 9

January 8 
(A confession here. We missed the actual sunset into the sea that night, 
as we were so caught up in the NCAA National Championship!)

January 7

January 6

January 5

January 4

January 3

Life is good. :-)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hawaii’s Emergency Alert

We started our day in the most unexpected manner this morning when we were awakened by a loud Emergency Alert alarm on our iPhones at 8:07am. 

There was truly no panic on our parts, but there was no dismissing that alarm either. In the aftermath of what has turned out to be quite a debacle, it’s hard to remember that, at that moment, just after 8am, we were convinced it was the real deal.  G’s first comment:  “Is it this year’s Nice?”.  Yep, and a little bit more.

I wasn’t thinking death- yet- but sprung out of bed in about 2 seconds to take care of the three most important things in any emergency: contacts in, bra on and clean underwear. I dressed and put on sneakers, imagining I might eventually be clawing my way out of rubble. G joked about whether we had enough sunscreen on hand to protect us from what was coming (even in the face of a catastrophe, he can always make me laugh). People were gathering in the internal corridors of the hotel; we alternated between there and our bathroom. 

We tried to find something on TV and eventually ( felt like a lifetime since 8:07am) found a local station running a chyron across the top of the screen that confirmed the Emergency Alert we had received. 

That was when I started thinking about what would happen next. I couldn’t imagine I had come through the Summer of No Fun just to have it end like this. I hoped and hoped- fervently- that the US had some sort of anti ballistic missile that would intercept the missile, and some part of me was thinking we might survive the next ten minutes, but I also realized that this was just the start of something very bad, and the best case was that we would be stuck in Hawaii, away from our home, for quite a while. 

People were calling friends and family saying their goodbyes, which was...something I hope I’ll never see again. I squeezed G’s hand and told him we’d had a good run, and I’d do it all over again. I contemplated phoning Mom, but decided that, if the missile was intercepted, I’d be alarming her for no immediate reason. Besides, she was probably leading an aerobics class. ;-)

Someone (G? Another hotel guest?) said the missile should reach Hawaii about 15 minutes after it had been launched (the words North Korea were never spoken by anyone; they were totally unnecessary, because that’s just the reality of our world). I figured it had been launched at least a few minutes before we received the emergency alarm. By 8:25am, we were wondering what was going on, and I Googled “Emergency Alert Hawaii” and that was when I first saw three Tweets (seriously) from people I don’t know saying it was a false alarm. Could we trust them? Word quickly spread through the corridor. We returned to our room and tried to find something-anything- on TV, and at 8:28am we found this report...

...and that’s when I started to shake (and four hours later, it hasn’t stopped). G said it best: it was the first time we ever truly believed we’d be dead in just 15 minutes. 

I began notifying friends and family, but couldn’t find anything firm on the internet about what had happened. Eventually I found a Mother Jones report, then a Daily Mail report and finally it was hitting the national news, with CNN being the first to offer coverage.

We could hear people on the beach yelling “All clear” and “False alarm” and emergency vehicles going down the streets sounding a short siren and then announcing through bullhorns “All clear” and “Stand down”. Still, it wasn’t until 8:50am (43 minutes after the initial alarm) that we received another Emergency Alert saying that it had been a false alarm. 

I was once on a flight for business from Puerto Rico to Miami that encountered hydraulic issues and we had an emergency landing. I remember getting in my car on I-95 still shaking, surrounded by vehicles whose drivers had no idea what I had just been through. That’s kind of what this feels like. It will be discussed with outrage on the news networks until the next outrageous thing happens, and then forgotten. 

By most. For those of us who went through it, it will take quite a bit longer than that. We are in our room right now, alternating between football and coverage of this event. Shaking our heads in disbelief that Trump’s first Tweet after this was about that damn book. 

And willing our heart rates to settle down. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Hawaii pics and photo upload updates

I know. I’ve been very remiss about uploading photos from our cruise. Honestly, I’ve been happily disconnected from the blog for a few days. We have settled into our beach life like we were born to it. Our days revolve around long morning walks, food gathering, if required, football (at least on the weekend), pool, hot tub, late lunch or dinner on the beach or the balcony, another walk along the beach, sunset and hot tub. 

And, on top of that, we are making up for all those nights of lost and light sleep on our last cruise, falling asleep to the sound of the waves on the beach and sleeping 8 to 9 hours every night. 

Tomorrow, for my birthday, I had wanted to hike to the top of Diamond Head crater, but the trail is closed during the week for repair. Instead, we are going to either 1.) snorkel at Hanauma Bay, or; 2.) hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail. 

It’s a tough life. ;-)

I will update photo uploading progress on this post, but, in the meantime, here are a few photos from the last couple of days. 

Friday night fireworks

January 20:  ALL blog photos from Season 8 of cruising have been uploaded!!

Happy happy joy joy!!!!!!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Epilogue to our eighth season at sea

We had an uneventful, but, for me, largely sleepless flight from Melbourne to Honolulu on Jetstar. The plane was comfortable, and we had chosen our seats with care, each aisle seat in a set of three seats in the middle of the plane. We had hoped for an empty middle seat between us and this time we were lucky; selecting seats just a few rows from the back of the plane helped. It gave us a place to put water bottles and charging cords and ear buds when not in use. 

We used Global Entry to go through immigration in Honolulu...easy peasy, with no line at all. SpeediShuttle reps were waiting for us, and we were in a shared van to Waikiki in no time at all. We arrived at our resort by 9am, far too early to hope for a room, but stashed our luggage with the bell hops and walked to the closest 7-Eleven to buy my Honolulu bus pass for the month. G has an annual pass that is even cheaper. Honolulu’s The Bus system is the reason we return to Oahu, and specifically Waikiki, instead of staying on Maui or Kauai. The cost of car rental, and then parking for a month would be astronomical. We go everywhere we need to using a combination of bus and walking, with an occasional Uber if necessary. 

We sat out by the adults only pool area (and happily noted that the hot tub and pool are hot and warm, respectively) until our room was ready.  We had chosen to stay beach front this year, in a hotel room instead of a condo, albeit one with a refrigerator in the room and a microwave and washer/dryer right down the hall.  Our room has a large outdoor balcony with a full-on ocean view at the widest part of Waikiki Beach. Oh yeah, I can handle this. 

We watched sunset from our balcony...

...and then used the hot tub until we almost fell asleep mid-soak. The bed in this room has a truly fantastic mattress, much firmer than those Princess Luxury Beds, which are way too soft for me. I slept over 9.5 hours, and awoke this morning in paradise feeling totally recovered from the flight. 

I often get asked often which vacation we prefer:  cruise or beach resort. Obviously, we love them both, for different reasons. It’s hard impossible to beat the service and food and entertainment and cleanliness of a cruise ship. And then there’s the fact that we wake up in a different place every day. But there’s a price to be paid, mostly with video options and affordable high speed, always available WiFi. And bouncy seas affecting sleep. And dressing for dinner, Most Traveled Guest events and Captains Circle parties. I could happily avoid those things; G could not. Since he’s paying for the winters at sea (and I am a very good wife), I acquiesce.  

But here we enjoy wearing quick dry board shorts, Ts and sandals all day every day. A blow dryer? What’s that?  Makeup is sunscreen and mascara and nothing more. We look out our sliding door to see waves breaking on the beach and sailboats going by. However, along with not dressing for dinner is the fact that we have to find dinner...and breakfast and lunch. (I should blog about finding affordable vegan food in Waikiki. I miss headwaiter Sean. Badly!) Hunting and gathering are part of each day. 

The bottom line is that if I was told I could never cruise again, I’d be very unhappy. If I was told I could never stay in Hawaii again, I’d be very unhappy. A combination of both, especially when they fit together hand and glove like they did this year, is perfection. 

Setting aside the Pacific Princess in French Polynesia seasons (which will never be matched), this was our favorite season at sea. It was the best larger ship cruise experience we’ve ever had. The crew was beyond excellent, and ship was perfect for both warm and cool itineraries. We loved our fellow passengers. And the variety of itineraries was fantastic:  hot, cold, beaches, mountains, cities, wildlife...we enjoyed it all. 

We are grateful to an exponential degree to everyone who made this season possible, and it really took a village of people, many of whom will never realize the impact they made on our lives. We are so blessed. 

Thank you so much for cruising along with us, and for your encouraging emails. I write because you read. It’s really that simple. 

And to my husband, who during those many years we lived apart due to jobs (his and mine), would tell me to “Hang in there. The good times are coming” were right. Oh so right. Absolutely right. 

And it didn’t even pain me to say that. ;-)

Life is good. :-)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Day 82: Melbourne to Honolulu

We had set the alarm for 6am this morning, but I’d been up since 4am and G was not long behind me. I guess our early bedtime plus the two hours we’d gained over the past two nights were the culprits, but that’s fine with us. Hawaii is actually 23 hours behind New Zealand, so our bodies remaining on New Zealand time is a good thing. 

It was a beautiful morning in Melbourne, and we enjoyed the weather as we ate our last breakfast on the Terrace Deck. We were out of our cabin by 8am, said some final goodbyes and were off the ship about 9am. We had purchased Princess transfers for $34 AUD each to the airport. We had looked at the combination tram to Bourne St. and then walking to the Southern Cross Railway Station to catch a SkyBus to the airport option, and it was only $10 per person cheaper than the Princess shuttle. Plus it involved pushing our luggage about two blocks between the tram and railway station. Easy choice. 

I can’t say that Melbourne has the most user-friendly airport I’ve ever seen, but we eventually found where we needed to be when the check in counter opened at 3pm, and settled nearby for the five hour wait. Que sera sera. Power ports would have helped, but there were none to be found until we went through security. 

We did re-weigh our luggage and did some minor re-shuffling. Our checked baggage is only 0.4kg (about a pound) less than our limit, but it’s like our ‘seldom early, never late’ credo. ‘Less than our limit’, regardless of how much less, is all that matters. 

We are currently plugged in and charging our iDevices by our departure gate. G is off in search of sustenance. Is there any more stark reality adjustment after one gets off a cruise ship then to pay airport prices for crap food?  I don’t think so.  We have another hour before boarding begins, and want to take food with us on the plane. We are flying Jetstar for a great price, but everything (even water!) costs extra. We plan to eat, take our Ambiens and hopefully sleep our way to Honolulu. We’ll be on a new 787 Dreamliner, the same plane we flew on between Papeete and Easter Island, and I know we’ll be comfortable. 

Somehow, a 10 1/2 flight seems relatively short right now, and we will have the unique experience of arriving in Honolulu before we left Melbourne. Suzan sent us an article about a New Year’s Eve flight from Auckland to Honolulu that left in 2018 and arrived in 2017. Cool stuff, that. 

I will publish a Season 8 wrap-up post in the next day or two. I won’t be posting a lot from Hawaii, but if I take any good sunset pics, I’ll share them to keep you all warm. Plus, I have a lot of photos to upload to the blog posts from our days on the Golden Princess. It will be so much easier using high speed WiFi and charging at the same time to keep battery levels up. That part of reality is easy to adjust to!