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 were fantastic. 

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!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Day 81: At Sea

The last lunch. 

The last supper. 

Packing up the cabin and feeling temporarily displaced.

There is not usually much redeemable about the final day of a cruise; however, we got lucky today. Though we didn’t have a signal this morning (‘cause we checked for Bowl games as soon as we opened our eyes), we returned to the cabin after lunch to find the Rose Bowl on TV.  Now THAT was a game!!

We were glad, then, that we had been busy this morning, and were almost completely packed by noon. We had to inject some logic into the process, of course, because we’re not going directly home, but we had been gathering thoughts about that for a couple of days. We had pre-purchased 40kg for checked luggage each on our Jetstar flight (so, 176 pounds total), and, weighed individually or as a couple, we are totally compliant with a few pounds to spare. And our carry ons come in under 7kg each. We’d packed in October with this flight in mind. 

I also went online and booked a shuttle transfer from the airport to our resort in Honolulu. After another overnight flight, we’ll be running on empty again. It’s nice to have that covered. 

We pulled ourselves away from college football to attend this cruise’s Egg Drop Challenge at 4:15pm in the Piazza. G finally participated this time, executing a design he’s been planning for over two months. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but will admit that the Mentos gum container I almost tossed yesterday made a perfectly sized egg holder, and a plastic whistle removed from a New Year’s Eve horn made an awful lot of noise as the balloon it was stuck in intentionally deflated on the way down from Deck 7 to Deck 5. More important to G than the egg’s survival was that his design create a spectacle en route. It sure did. Plus, the egg survived, and we were proudly awarded a Princess lanyard, a Princess carabiner and a Princess wine stopper (which is really nice!). 

We went to dinner dressed casually; everything else was already packed. For my last supper:  a seafood starter with avocado, salad and barramundi over roasted peppers. Afterwards, Alona and Lydia appeared with a birthday candle in two scoops of orange-pineapple sorbet, and, along with several other waiters, serenaded me with Happy Birthday (six days early). Then Rodrigo sang me a Mexican birthday song. 

Seafood starter

Alona and G doing the chicken dance

Oh, I will miss them all!!! :-( :-(

We returned to the cabin to set out our three large suitcases, and, unless something changes, most likely won’t go out again tonight. This happens to us every year. Once we’re resigned to leaving, once we’ve packed up, and said our goodbyes, we are mentally out of cruise mode. We are now firmly in Hawaii mode.

Life is good. :-)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Day 80: At Sea

As ready as we were for sleep last night, the ship was pitching a fit, the kind of shuddering and dropping rockiness that makes it tough to fall asleep. Still, we must have, because we were awakened suddenly around 3:30am or so by items from the vanity and nightstand crashing to the floor. That’s the first time we’ve experienced that this season, and leads us to believe that last night’s seas were the worst we’ve seen. In our middle of the night fog, we simply pushed items against the walls on the floor. We didn’t want to go through that a second time in the same night. 

I think if my Fitbit could have registered negative sleep, it might have. When I awoke at 10am, it told me not just that I hadn’t slept a single minute, but also that I had done 89 minutes of exercise since midnight. Sure, some of that was dancing, but not 89 minutes worth. I think Princess should market that ‘exercise while you sleep’ concept. 

Needless to say, I don’t have a lot to report for today. We made it to the breakfast in the Horizon Court Buffet (barely) just before it was switched to lunch at 11:30am. I started the year as I intend to finish it, having just orange slices and apple wedges with peanut butter and pumpkin seeds.

We returned to the cabin and did some minor organizing in preparation for tomorrow’s packing exercise (sad!). Having just moved cabins, even from next door, will make this packing process so much easier. We have actually enjoyed this cabin even more than the one we were in most of the season. Not a single toilet issue, better mattresses (sorry to tell you this, but the new Princess luxury beds don’t have any more staying power than the old mattresses), and the sink stopper works perfectly, which is awfully nice when one is washing hard contacts under running water. These are just the kind of minor things that make life easier. 

I watched a couple episodes of Suits that I had downloaded on Netflix in Hobart (none of those videos have expired yet. I still don’t understand how that works) and we got ready for the evening early. Tonight’s was this cruise’s Captains Circle parties, and we finished our season as the most traveled passengers. We have chosen to skip receiving the new award boxes, but G took a photo of all of them that were available on this ship (they’re not destination-based, as the crystals were) and I’ll post it here eventually. In the past, we frequently gifted duplicate crystals to new friends we’d met on those cruises, particularly in French Polynesia where we’d invite honeymoon couples to join us for the parties and then give them the crystal and champagne. Since the new boxes really don’t have anything to do with the cruise itinerary, they don’t have quite the same meaning. 

I think there is one additional box that isn’t in this photo. 

The dinners are counting down, and we are going to miss them, and Alona and Lydia. A lot. Tonight I had a fruit plate, salad and sole served on top a bed of garlic spinach with a few shrimp and roasted peppers on the side. Vegetarian Subway sandwiches in Hawaii can’t even begin to compare. 

Tonight’s Princess Theater performance was Neil Diamond tribute artist Peter Byrne back for a second show. We enjoyed it...and then went to bed. I think it’s apparent that we can still do five parties on New Year’s Eve, but it takes us a day or two to recover. ;-)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Day 79: Fiordland National Park

Happy New Year (as it is here in New Zealand, one of the first places on the planet to greet the New Year)!

Happy New Year’s Eve (as it is nearly everywhere else)!

We had the best day, but it is nearly 1:30am, so this post will be a placeholder until tomorrow morning. Or afternoon. ;-)

Stay safe on New Year’s Eve!!

11am on New Year’s Day now, and I will continue this post...

The day began as so many of our New Zealand days have begun:  overcast, foggy and rainy. The Golden Princess entered Dusky Sound at the southern end of Fiordland National Park around 8am...or so the Park naturalist who had come on board told us. We really couldn’t see a whole lot out of the windows in the Horizon Court Buffet, and standing outside in the rain wasn’t an attractive alternative. The Buffet quickly filled to overflowing as so many passengers camped out there to see what little there was to see. After breakfast, we gave up and returned to the cabin. We’ve seen the park on a stellar weather day; today was no comparison. 

When the announcement was later made that we would miss Doubtful and Thomson Sounds altogether due to the weather, I gave up, and packed away the camera that I had fully charged for the day. How silly of me!  Haven’t I learned by now that rain is simply the way New Zealand greets each day?  Apparently not. By noon, the sun was out, the sky was clearing and the southwestern coast of New Zealand was looking spectacular. I dug the camera back out of the suitcase. We passed by the openings to Thomson and Doubtful Sounds and, around 2pm, sailed into the narrow entrance of Milford Sound on the northern end of Fiordland National Park. 

When we did this itinerary in late November, we did it in the opposite direction and entered Milford Sound at 7am. The sun was shining only on the highest peaks, and the fiord, though spectacular, was full of deep shadows. Not so today; our afternoon arrival meant that the steep mountains were in sun, and the rainy morning resulted in (literally) hundreds of waterfalls of varying lengths and strengths. I skipped the ‘bow of the ship’ experience this time and chose instead to view it all from Deck 16 aft, crossing the ship from side to side to take best advantage of the views. 

Also different today: all of the other small boats providing tours to travelers who had arrived in Milford Sound by road. These small boats- often fishing boats re-purposed for the day- can sail right up to the waterfalls, as their passengers stand on the decks and get sprayed. That has to be cold water, and I was happy for my dry and (relatively) warmer viewing position in the Golden Princess. Just before 4pm we disembarked the National Park pilot and naturalist, waved our goodbyes to both and returned to the cabin to get ready for New Year’s  Eve. 

I know it was the fact that the day had been a quasi-sea day that allowed us to make it to all five (!!Yes us!!) parties on board last night. Dinner was very special - a seafood starter, salad, intermezzo of raspberry sorbet with candied ginger, and lobster (hold the butter) and broccoli as the entree- accompanied by a glass (or two) of the bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne from our first Most Traveled Guest award this season. Though we’ve returned all of our other award champagne for the drawings at the Captains Circle parties, we held on to that one specifically for New Year’s Eve. 

The Princess Theater entertainment was New Zealand vocalist Russell Harrison, and we went to the 7:45pm performance. We then listened to piano entertainer Juan Carmelo Escobar play in the Promenade Lounge until he finished at 10pm, which is when the various parties began. We started in the Vista Lounge (best combination of seating and dance floor) listening and dancing to Blue Jade from Argentina. Just after 11:30pm, we made our way back to the Wheelhouse Bar to listen to the Golden Princess orchestra (the dance floor was packed), then to Explorers Lounge for the family New Year’s Eve party with a DJ (cute to see the kids dancing) and finally to the Piazza where party band Soul Vacation from Bulgaria had been playing. It was predictably packed, SRO and no room to dance, but we stayed for the countdown and big balloon drop. These Australians know how to party; within 5 minutes after midnight, I was kissed by at least 20 men I don’t know. Oh, the germs that were swapped last night!

We backtracked then, to the Wheelhouse, to the Vista Lounge and finally up to Skywalkers where the late night/early morning party was being held. I don’t know what was more exciting: the New Year, the music and dancing, or holding on for dear life as the ship tackled the South Tasman Sea. The only thing that kept everyone from falling to the floor was how tightly we were packed in and the fact that there were railings around the dance floor. There was safety in numbers as we’d all shift side to side, front to back in unison as Skywalkers shuddered and shook. It reminded me of that old commercial (dating myself here)...weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. ;-)

 We left Skywalkers shortly after 1am, though the party up there on New Year’s Eve usually continues to 7am or so. The Horizon Court Buffet was open until 1:30am with a special late night Buffet and our waiter Alona was working. We had promised her we’d stop by to say Happy New Year, and, while we were there, had beautiful fruit cups I topped with walnut halves. It had been more than 6 hours since dinner and we were hungry. 

I don’t believe we’ve ever made it to every party on a cruise ship on New Year’s Eve, at least not for a few years. It was a fantastic night made all the better because there was no drive home in bad weather with scary drivers on the road. Though I may always have mixed feelings about Christmas on a cruise, nothing can top a New Year’s Eve at sea!

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2018 for all of us!