Saturday, November 18, 2017

Day 36: Scenic cruising Fiordland National Park

When I tell you that the Fiordland National Park naturalist said that today’s weather was the best he’s seen in his 17 years working in the park, well, you know we’ve had one heckuva perfect day.

Fiordland is the largest National Park in New Zealand and comprises 5% of the country’s land mass. The park was formed 500 million years ago by the intense heat in the earth’s core causing the crust to thrust upwards and forming jagged peaks. Over the past two million years, glaciers have periodically covered the area, gouging, deepening and rounding U-shaped valleys, many of which are now lakes or fiords. 

Fiordland was well known to the indigenous Maoris, and many legends pertain to its formation and naming. Demi-god Tuterakiahwhanoa is said to have carved the rugged landscape from formless rock. Still, few Maori were permanent residents of the region but did use the land for seasonal food gathering. Captain Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to visit Fiordland, making several trips beginning in 1770. 

I was bundled up and on the open decks shortly after 6am this morning. It was light, though the sun had not yet risen over the mountains of Fiordland National Park. The deck over the bridge was open already, and several of us braved the wind that only intensified as we cruised closer to the entrance of Milford Sound. Milford is the northernmost of the park’s 14 sounds, or fiords (the British called them Sounds because the word Fjord did not yet exist). 

Milford Sound was actually missed the first several times Cook sailed past, as it is so well hidden that he assumed it was just a small bay. The Golden Princess picked up the National Park pilot about 6:45am and the ship proceeded to find its way between the two semi-overlapping mountains at the entrance to the fiord. That early in the morning, the sun only penetrated the deep gorge walls on the west side. 

Tall peaks towered over the top decks of the Golden Princess, and the highest peaks were topped with snow (which excited the Aussies to no end; us, not so much). Though the park has had a fairly dry winter, there were several thunderous waterfalls, some nearly 1000 feet high. The water in the fiords is clear to a depth of about 40 meters, and is over 1000 feet deep in places. 

Milford Sound is a closed fiord, so, after about an hour, we reached the end and the Golden Princess circled around and sailed back out to the Tasman Sea, and then continued to sail south close to the western side of the park. Though we had temporarily left the fiord, the scenery continued to be spectacular. It was just after 9:30am then, and we joined the hoards of passengers going to the Horizon Court Buffet for breakfast. At 10am, the park naturalist, who had boarded the ship with the pilot this morning and narrated from the bridge while we were in Milford Sound, gave a presentation in the Princess Theater about the history, geography and geology of Fiordland. While it was tough to pull ourselves away from the view, we are glad we did, as it was very interesting and educational. 

11am found us in loungers on the Terrace Deck, still bundled up with fleeces, coats and hats. The day was brilliantly sunny with not a single cloud in the bright blue sky. It was actually fairly comfortable in the sun, but it was quite windy. Fiordland National Park gets 200 days of rain each year. When we had been here 11 years ago, we saw only two fiords and even then couldn’t see any of the high peaks  because of the misty rain that fell (but we had those incredible double rainbows).  But today the visibility was endless and we were able to cruise through four fiords. We were so fortunate. 

Just before noon we started our approach to Thompson Sound, and I ran back up to the deck over the bridge to watch as we entered the fiord. It was still very windy up there, but not as much as it had been five hours earlier (I didn’t have to hold on to the railing with one hand while I took pictures with the camera in the other hand). The entrance to Thompson Sound is considerably more open than Milford Sound, and it was immediately obvious that this end of the park was geological much older, as the surrounding mountains were a bit lower and less jagged. We had learned from the naturalist that the highest mountain peaks, over 9000 feet, are on the northernmost end of the park. 

Thompson Sound has several side canyons,  and it is also open to Doubtful Sound, so named because Captain Cook was doubtful he would find a way out of it.  We had been told that we would pass the Celebrity Solstice, traveling northbound through the park, as it turned from Doubtful Sound into Thompson Sound. It was an amazing thing to see that huge ship so dwarfed by the fiord; it’s hard to get that same sense when actually on a cruise ship. There was much horn blowing as the ships closely passed each other, and then the Golden Princess made the sweeping curve into Doubtful Sound. The scenery at the intersection of the two fiords was jaw-dropping. 

We exited Doubtful Sound about 1:30pm and, after another short sail down the western coast of New Zealand (and the park) in the Tasman Sea, entered our final fiord of the day, Dusky Sound. This was again geologically different than either of the first three sounds, much wider and more open, with tiny islands dotting the widest parts of the fiord. It would be a kayakers dream, and I imagine that some places would be suitable for overnight camping. I stayed on the Terrace Deck the entire time we cruised through Dusky Sound, and don’t recall the ship ever turning around, but I could feel the wind suddenly grow intense, and then we were back out in the Tasman Sea. It’s possible the fiord has two entrances. 

We had four wildlife sightings today:  three fur seals winning themselves on a rock in Milford Sound; two albatross (albatrosses?) that are so huge they look like flying dinosaurs, and spouting whales while cruising down the coast; and a pod of bottleneck dolphins while in Dusky Sound. 

It was nearly 4pm then, and I made tracks back to the cabin for the first hair coloring exercise of the season. I know the routine well: move the white towels in the bathroom, tuck the shower curtain behind the shower head, and don’t move for 30 minutes so I can complete the task without any disasters. G had retreated to a hot tub while I undertook this project, and we were both sitting at dinner by 5:30pm, enjoying the view of the southwestern coast of New Zealand outside our window. (I had eaten just fruits and vegetables all day and so had salmon and more veggies for dinner). 

Steven Larkins is still on board and the entertainment tonight in the Princess Theater was Mercury Rising, his tribute to Freddie Mercury and Queen. The day just kept getting better and better...

...and better. When we returned to our cabin on Aloha Deck after the show, we could see through the glass in the door at the end of the corridor that it was still light. We went up to the Horizon Court Buffet to watch the sunset and then, when I checked Maps.Me on my iPhone, I could see that we were rounding the southernmost tip of New Zealand. There is a very small town there and I took my phone off of Airplane Mode and we actually had a good cellphone signal. If tonight was any indication, our cellular internet speed in New Zealand will be at least 10 times faster than in Australia.

It was a very good day. :-)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Day 35: At Sea

Thanks so much to all those readers who sent me photos taken from the helicopter when the Golden Princess sailed into Sydney Harbour last turnaround day!  I received the photos from the Princess Facebook page from several people, and, though I couldn’t spot me individually standing on the bridge, I know I was there.  I’ll never forget it!

Moving clocks two hours ahead in the past two days caught up with us today, and it was 9am before I joined G in the Horizon Court Buffet. It was grey and chilly this morning, and, with many passengers sleeping through breakfast in the Donatello Dining Room, the Buffet was packed. We joined a couple from Sydney and ended up talking to them most of the morning. In fact, we made it back to the cabin just in time for the morning pill taking activity before it was time to go to lunch. Yep, it was a sea day!

Lunch was light, just salads and fruit plates for both of us. G scurried off to Skywalkers for the veterans get together at 1pm but said he’d try to catch up with me later in the afternoon. I went to the Princess Theater for Wendy Fuller’s 1:15pm lecture on the ports of Picton and Napier, then stayed right there for Kane Holmes’ presentation on the Polynesian migration (right up my alley!) and the birds and plants native to New Zealand. At 3pm I followed him into the Piazza for Maori hand games (fun, but complicated). I am loving these cultural activities (and tomorrow night we have a special Maori dinner menu item). 

It was close to 4pm when I returned to the cabin and G didn’t show up until 30 minutes later. He had been talking with fellow vets the entire afternoon. We are both enjoying learning about the history of Australia in WW2, and he returned today with tales of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, people of Papua New Guinea who hid and supported Australians when the Japanese invaded their island. 

It was time then to get ready for the evening and we went to dinner before 5:30pm. The sun had returned by then (Captain D had said it would) and the Tasman Sea remains kind with just a few minor bumps. Lucky us!  I had black bean and pumpkin soup, a wonderful salad with avocado, then another wonderful salad with avocado and vegetable korma made vegan. The Indian food has been delicious, probably thanks to the influence of Indian Executive Chef Raggie Saldana. 

Tonight’s show in the Princess Theater was a tribute to Dolly Parton, starring Donna Campbell. We arrived about 40 minutes early and the theater was filled just a few minutes later. We’re not minding the waits too much; tonight it gave me some time to start this post on my iPhone. The show was fantastic. Donna looked and sounded just like Dolly Parton when she sang...and like an Aussie when she talked, which was a little disconcerting.  But she displayed that same sunny, upbeat personality as Dolly Parton which made it more convincing. 

When we walked out of the Princess Theater, we were shocked to see it was still light out. Sunset finally happened about 9pm, and, because it was too chilly to stand outside, we watched it from the Horizon Court Buffet. 

Tomorrow is a big day, as we cruise New Zealand’s largest park, Fiordland National Park from 7am to 4pm. We have cruised it once before, on the Diamond Princess, and had a balcony cabin on Aloha Deck then (in the same area we are in now). The views were so huge that we ended up out on the Terrace Deck to take photos anyway. We had full double rainbows then, the brightest and most intense I have ever seen. 

If tomorrow is half as spectacular, I will be thrilled. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Day 34: At Sea

I can already tell that this is going to be a fun cruise. Apparently, there is a term for going between Australia and New Zealand, known as ‘Across the Ditch’, and Princess has brought on board a special enrichment entertainer/ lecturer, Kane Holmes for this cruise. Kane is one of the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, called Maori, and he will give presentations and classes about Maori history and culture and there will even be Maori crafts on board. It’s a lot like the Spirit of Aloha program Princess has on its Hawaii cruises. You know that we are fascinated by the history and culture of all of Polynesia, and New Zealand is the western-most part of Polynesia and one of the last places settled during the Polynesian migration. 

We stayed awfully busy for a sea day today. After breakfast in the Horizon Court Buffet I went to the fitness center to use a treadmill to get my daily steps in. It was beautifully sunny and shockingly calm for the Tasman Sea but just chilly enough outside (low to mid 60s) to dissuade me from walking on the Promenade Deco.  I met up with G at 11:15am for Destination Expert Wendy Fuller’s presentation on Port Chalmers (Dunedin) and Akaroa, New Zealand. While she was taking about all the things to do and see in the ports, G turned to me and said, “I can picture us doing this cruise over and over again.”

The timing of that statement is unbelievable. We have been trying to get some tentative plans in place for next winter before Princess’ 3 For Free promotion expires today. We first thought about returning to the Golden Princess and Australia (we’re having such a great time), but the itineraries are very different next year. The Golden will only sail out of Melbourne and mostly do New Zealand cruises over and over. We didn’t think that sounded nearly as appealing as this year’s varied itineraries and moved on to other ideas.  In fact, I’ve had my noise in a Princess brochure for the past several days and came up with a great option which I just booked yesterday in Sydney. And then, the very next day, G thinks he might enjoy doing the Golden Princess instead.  (Banging my head against a wall here.) You can see why, when people ask us where we’re going next year, I can honestly reply that we have no idea. 

We rushed to lunch in the Donatello Dining Room (two servings of the broccoli and cauliflower with tomato sauce and pine nuts vegetarian entree) and returned to the Princess Theater for Kane Holmes’ first enrichment presentation, an overview of the Maori culture. He is absolutely fantastic, part entertainer, part story teller. Some of what he talked about was familiar from our prior visit to New Zealand, but we learned so much more, including how to do a Haka, the Maori welcome ritual. 

We had just a little time for a rest before we needed to start getting ready for tonight’s formal night. Fortunately, we have only two of them on this 13-night cruise, probably because of the long string of ports in the middle, and that’s just fine by me. We stopped to have another photo taken (still looking for one that makes us look 20 years younger) on our way to another fabulous dinner with Albert and Gedde (fruit starter, roasted vegetable salad and seafood stew). 

The Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall started at 7pm, and we went to our usual spot in Vines to watch the festivities, but left before the introduction of the ship’s senior officers to grab good seats in the Princess Theater for tonight’s production show, Born to Dance at 8pm.

About 10 minutes into the show, there was a technical issue that shut it down, and we waited about 20 minutes for the problem to be fixed and the show to re-start. We were kept updated by a technical guy but before it began again, Cruise Director Fernando Cunha came out and apologized and thanked the audience for their patience and joked that a multimillion dollar technical system was brought down by a broken 50 cent rubber band. I haven’t said so yet, but Fernando is a wonderful CD. He told us he went directly from Assistant CD to CD, skipping the Deputy CD position and that this is his first contract. Something tells me he is destined for greater things, perhaps in his home country of Brazil. 

Also amusing...during the 20 minute wait, an 11-year old boy from the front row ran up on stage and started dancing and he was harious. The audience loved it, but I knew it wouldn’t last long and it didn’t. He saw a technical guy coming out from offstage to put a stop to it, and ran back to his seat,  but received wild applause from the audience. 

Because of the delay, it was nearly 9:30pm when the show finished, and we once again move clocks ahead an hour overnight.  Though there was still a lot of entertainment around the ship, we called it a night. The ship is so stable tonight I could imagine it’s docked. This is the Tasman Sea? Fingers crossed that it continues. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Day 33: Sydney

Turnaround days are always a blur for us (I can’t imagine what they feel like for the crew) but today will always stand out in my memory. An election in Australia today showed that 61% of the voters (with 80% turnout!) chose in favor of marriage equality and the Golden Princess, during its arrival in Sydney, was going to display Carnival Corporation’s support of that cause.  

The alarm went off at 5am and dutiful me leaped out of bed (well, I did the 57-year old equivalent of leaping).  I had set all my clothes for the morning out last night, so I could easily find them in the dark cabin (in case G wasn’t into leaping his morning).  I was up on Deck 16 before the Golden Princess even passed by the North and South Heads at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, but then I realized the ship was kind of stopped there. Though the sky was lightening in the east, it was still fairly dark out, and I made my way forward across the open decks of the ship. 

The Terrace Pool at dawn

Per Cruise Director Fernando, the plan was to meet at Tradewinds Bar to pick up rainbow flags and halos (I passed on a halo due to the wind). We were told that the deck over the bridge on Deck 14 was open this morning (it hasn’t been for our other arrivals), and as I walked out to the front of the ship, a large rainbow flag was being raised with the other flags at the front of the ship. Walking out over the bridge, I could see that a large rainbow tarp had been stretched over the crew pool area on Deck 8 at the ship’s bow. Very cool!

Raising the rainbow flag

The crew recreation area covered by a rainbow 

The Golden Princess slowly made its way through Sydney Harbour as the morning light increased. I knew that they were waiting for a helicopter to appear that was supposed to record our arrival. Sure enough, a helicopter started circling overhead and we all held our rainbow flags in the air. It disappeared for awhile, but then reappeared just as we got to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It was amazing to be part of that!  I don’t know if I’ll ever see photos or videos of this, but, if anyone does, please send them my way. I suspect if they are published anywhere it would be in Australia. 

A helicopter circling and taking photos 

I had prepared for the wind and cold this morning by wearing my Goretex jacket and wool headband but it really wasn’t too bad, even before sunrise. It was obvious that today was going to be a beautiful spring day in Sydney.  After our arrival, I immediately made a phone call to Mom using Vonage (For 1 cent a minute! Get the app!!). I feel like we’ve been on the dark side for two weeks, and it was wonderful to have cellular data and texting again. However, the download speed was not enough to do some app updates we simply had to complete, and I knew finding high speed WiFi was our highest priority of the day. 

We had breakfast with Leonie and Michael in the Horizon Court Buffet  before they disembarked the ship. They live in Sydney and estimated that they’d be unpacked by 11am. I can’t even imagine being able to do that after a cruise (but lucky are those who live that close to an embarkation port!).  After they left, we got realistic about our plans for the day. We wanted to do the Bondi Beach to Coogee walk, but getting there and back by train and bus, and completing the walk would have left us little time for anything else. We needed to find WiFi and we needed to get to a Cole’s supermarket. We Googled the location of the Sydney Apple store, packed up our iDevices and left the ship, turning in our Australian Entry forms on the way out of the Overseas Passenger Terminal. 

The Apple Store was on George St. further south of the Wynard Station Cole’s supermarket we went to during our first turnaround. Because George St. south of Circular Quay is so torn up for that light rail construction, we walked down Pitt St. and then cut over a block, avoiding the jackhammers and the closed off sidewalks. It wasn’t hard to find the Apple Store on that busy city street, what with that huge white Apple decal on the glass front. I don’t know what it is about Apple Stores (probably all the hard surfaces) but they are always crowded and always noisy (especially with the construction noise just outside), but they also always have air conditioned, fast, free and shaded WiFi (four of the five qualities of the Holy Grail of Cruising WiFi, along with quiet) and that was the best we could have hoped for. Actually, they offer power ports too, which offset the noise by a long shot. 

We stayed there for nearly four hours, first updating several financial apps that we could longer use until we did (I wish that app developers wouldn’t do that) so we could pay our credit card bills. Once that crisis du jour was resolved, we updated all the other apps (over 70 for me, thanks to the release of the iPhone X) and then I got busy replacing the Netflix videos and Amazon Prime music that had expired since we arrived in Australia. Yes, Netflix allows downloads in Australia on US accounts, but certain videos (the TV show Blue Bloods, for example) are not downloadable. Still, I was able to find plenty of content to download, and did the same with music and library books and Audible books and Texture Magazines (People!  I’ve got the four most recent issues of People Magazine to read!). If I had been an unselfish blogger, I would have uploaded photos to this blog, but instead you get bupkus (except for these few I uploaded once I got back on the ship).

I think that, once a month while traveling, we need to just spend a day getting things caught up. I know our collective blood pressure dropped when we were able to once again take care of financial things. We’ll have to plan to do it again before we leave Australia. 

At 2pm we packed things up and were going to walk back to the Wynard Station Cole’s when G spotted. Cole’s sign catercorner from the Apple Store. Of course, we couldn’t see the store; it was underground. Are all big city supermarkets like that?  We had several items we needed, among them gum, toothbrushes (after my slight cold), nasal decongestant (ditto), and hair color. They had only four colors of the hair color I use, but, happily, one of them was Dark Golden Blonde. That’s a sea day project for this cruise. After completing that task, we walked back up to The Rocks historic area and returned to the same ATM by the Holiday Inn Old Sydney that we used when we first arrived. We needed some more cash, though we’ll still need to use an ATM in New Zealand on Saturday for some of their currency. 

Walking through a narrow alleyway in The Rocks 

We walked back on the ship not long before the on board time of 3:30pm, and once again used showers and and hair dryer to cover up the noise of muster drill (and also the playback of the welcome aboard message from the Hotel General Manager that causes our message light to blink on every embarkation day). We were up in Skywalkers for what will be our final Sydney sail away of the season (that happened too fast, didn’t it?), which was way more bitter than sweet. It felt a lot like our last sail away from Bora Bora. 

One last view (weep!)

We met our new waiters when we went to the Bernini Dining Room for dinner (Albert from the Philippines and Gedde from Indonesia) and a new headwaiter (Dian from South Africa), but dear Rodrigo “traveled a long way” (his words, from the Canaletto Dining Room in the back of the ship) to come see us and bring me a piece of tamarind chili candy. What a sweetheart he is!  We are quite spoiled. 

I was already starting to fade a little, but we sat in the Piazza to listen to the Golden Princess show band play jazz (and saw drummer Giovanni from Italy who had just arrived today. We know him from the Pacific Princess.), and then listened to pianist Olga in the Promenade Bar but that was the end of my day. G is out watching the Welcome Aboard show with a comedian we’ve already seen this season; I will publish this post and enjoy reading my People Magazines. Or watching The Good Place on Netflix. Or listening to an audiobook. Or Amazon Prime music. The opportunities tonight are endless. 

Life is good. :-)

Cruise #4: New Zealand

Three ports aren't new for us, but Fiordland National Park is a highlight of the cruising world we could repeat again and again. Besides, who can resist those friendly Kiwis?!?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Day 32: At Sea

As far as sea days go, this one was one of the best. It helped that our weather (keep in mind that we are now in the Tasman Sea) was perfect. After our last two experiences in this area (in 2004 and 2006), I would never have believed the (relatively) very calm seas we are enjoying this year. In fact, Captain D, in his noon navigational update from the bridge, said he wishes he could have this weather every day for the remainder of his sailing career. So do we (because we work hard st this!).

We slept well last night, without needing to secure the cabin at all. G was up and out early and let me sleep until about 7am when he re-entered the cabin. I haven’t yet figured out how to sleep through that ‘key card in the door lock’ click sound, unless I am wearing earplugs, but I haven’t needed to in this cabin. That was fine though; even after publishing my blog post last night I had gotten over seven hours of sleep, which was a good thing, because we have an especially important early wake up tomorrow in Sydney (more on that later). 

I joined G in the Horizon Court Buffet (our usual meeting place is a table above our cabin) and we were soon joined by Leonie and Michael, whom we met at the Most Traveled Guest luncheon and had talked with half that afternoon. Apparently we hadn’t exhausted the list of conversation topics because we sat there after we ate breakfast and talked for another two hours. 

It turned out to be a rather social day. 

At 11am I was meeting company performance manager (aka cast manager and dancer) Rachel for coffee. I don’t think that I’ve yet mentioned Rachel on this blog, so I’ll remedy that right now. The first production show we saw on board was British Invasion, and the female dancers all wear wigs in that one, so no one in particular stood out as recognizable from past cruises. And then, during whatever the next production show was, we spotted a dancer who looked familiar from two of our Pacific Princess seasons but they all move so quickly it was hard to tell for certain. In the third production show the dancers were ‘introduced’ by name toward the end of the performance and when we heard Rachel’s name we realized it was her. Then the very next day we were on a tender with her and there were big hugs and she immediately snapped a selfie with us and sent it to the rest of the cast members who had been with us on the Pacific Princess.

It’s fun to see people we know on board! Rachel was with us during the infamous shipwreck and that was certainly a bonding experience. We met for coffee in the International Cafe and talked and talked and promised to do it again soon and it was wonderful to get caught up. 

We kind of did the same thing last evening with bartender Iryna of Ukraine (also from two seasons on the Pacific Princess), hearing about the many changes in her life after we last saw her in French Polynesia. When we had finished chatting, Iryna said she needed to “go pretend hard work”. We had first heard her jokingly say this three years ago, and enjoyed it so much that it is now a phrase we often use with each other at home (said in our best Ukrainian accents). When she said it last night, we both burst out laughing and had to tell her why we did. It’s fun having her onboard too, and we often route ourselves past her lounge (it’s the Martini Bar) just to wave. 

By then it was noon and all I had done all day was sit and eat and talk. I left G a note in our cabin and went out on the Promenade Deck to listen to an audiobook while I walked. It was a perfect day for it. The sea was a bit cellulitic (with small dimples and bumps) but there was no swell at all, and, as Captain D said, it was the best weather of the entire cruise. Better late than never, though I really can’t complain about this cruise’s weather too much except for on Mystery Island, Vanuatu, and we’ll get a repeat of that in just three weeks. 

G caught up with me and we went to the Donatello Dining Room for lunch (salad Nicoise, but I gave him my hard boiled egg) and had another long meal conversation with another Australian couple. We are getting significantly more educated about Australian places, and when people tell us where they live (usually relative to Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane), we can say, “Oh, near Newcastle?” or “West of Woolengong?” and feel quite chuffed (aka proud in American English) about it. 

That reminds me to add a couple of stories to the end of this post, so we’ll see if I can remember them long enough to do that. 

At 2pm in the Piazza was the Egg Drop Challenge, and if you’ve never seen or participated in this, it is good fun. Raw eggs are encased in various contraptions and configurations (constructed from items found on the ship) and dropped from Deck 7 overlooking the Piazza down to Deck 5, where a large piece of plastic is taped down to protect that gorgeous stone mosaic floor. It’s always interesting to see what our fellow passengers come up with, but their plans almost certainly include copious amounts of Princess toilet paper and Princess tissues (though I can’t much see how the latter help at all), balloons and plastic garbage can liners or shopping bags. Oh, and today a few passengers used small rocks from the planters in the Piazza to ensure a particular end landed on the floor first. 

Last time we watched this, most attempts were unsuccessful but today nearly all eggs survived intact. The audience really gets into this and their reactions are as much fun as the Egg Drop part of the competition. After that, it was 2:30pm and I finally returned to the cabin to decompress a little (and start this post, which is why I’m so chatty today). 

We enjoyed our final dinner with our wait team from this cruise, Rodrigo and Ronaldo.  They were both prizes. Rodrigo wants us to come visit him in Isla Mujeres and said we have to stay with him and his parents, but to make sure he is there when we do, because he will need to translate. ;-) Honestly, we are so lucky with waiters!  Maitre d’ Carlos Justina rotates his wait staff every cruise through the three dining rooms, so next cruise we’ll have waiters who were in the Donatello Dining Room this cruise. On one hand I want to keep them all for the entire time we’re on board, but it’s getting awfully fun because we know more and more waiters each cruise. 

For dinner I had fruit, a salad, and then a seafood starter and a baked sweet potato. We had lunch with someone yesterday who also has very specific dietary requirements and she mentioned that it’s funny when she is in the Horizon Court Buffet and her headwaiter from dinner sees her and scrutinizes her plate to see what she is eating. I have noticed the same thing; it’s like I have a whole team of people keeping me on track. The galley mistakenly gave Rodrigo a scoop of ice cream for me one night at dinner instead of the sorbet I requested and poor Rodrigo almost became unhinged, telling the cook he could have killed me. Well, not quite, but Rodrigo is dramatic that way. Like I said, I have a team of people watching everything I eat. That kind of support is invaluable. 

Once again, dinner was followed by the usual Baked Alaska parade, but also the (only in Australia) Chicken Dance (I took a great photo of G and Rodrigo arm in arm twirling around) and, of course, Waltzing Matilda, sung with great gusto and followed by two rounds of “Aussie Aussie Aussie Oy Oy Oy”. We are making progress with Waltzing Matilda and now know the first two verses as well as the chorus. Gosh, things are fun down here. 

G is out watching the finals of Voice of the Ocean but I am not feeling it tonight. A good book is just more appealing. Part of it, I think, is because the ship really only feels crowded on two days each cruise- the first day and the last day. More people are inside the ship- shopping, buying photographs, playing Final Jackpot Bingo, gambling- and almost no one is on the open decks. The quiet calm of even an inside cabin is very appealing after that. 

As for the stories I promised you...

We have inadvertently been keeping our fellow overwhelmingly Australian passengers entertained since we first arrived in Sydney. It started before we even boarded the Golden Princess with the whole ‘Tap On, Tap Off’ with the Opal cards for the Sydney Transportation system (we were clueless about that), but our opportunities to embarrass ourselves continue nearly every day. First there was the WeetBix debacle. I saw packages of WeetBix (I think that’s how it’s spelled) in the Horizon Court Buffet at breakfast and brought one to our table to check it out. We opened it, and it looked like two pieces of flatbread so we were each taking a bite out of one when everyone around us started laughing. Apparently WeetBix is not flatbread and is not meant to be eaten like that, but is instead a cereal like our Shredded Wheat, and is meant to be broken up in a bowl and covered with milk. And now we know. 

Then, one evening during this cruise, we had just left the Princess Theater after watching the impressionist perform and the first part of his show was largely imitating Australian politicians which the audience found incredibly funny but which we didn’t understand at all. No matter; he moved on to do George W. Bush and Trump (perfectly, too, and totally harious) and then did impressions of American singers, so we did really like the show overall. 

Getting on a crowded elevator afterwards to return to our cabin, I must have said something innocuous, like asking which floors people needed pressed (which is all it takes for everyone to know I’m not from around here) and a man said, “I bet that show didn’t mean a lot to you”, and we assured him that we had actually enjoyed it very much. And then the doors opened and as he was getting off the elevator he said, “Well, some of it cut rather close to the bone,” and then he was gone and the doors closed. After a second’s pause, G said, “But we have absolutely no idea what that means,” and the rest of the passengers burst out laughing. 

And don’t get me started on holding out a handful of coins and asking a store clerk, “Is this enough to pay for it?”, which makes everyone else in line snicker while the clerk patiently picks out the right coins. Only in Australia can you do something like that and not get ripped off. 

I like to think that we are not idiots but instead are simply adding a smile to people’s days, small payback for all the wonderful fun and hospitality we have been shown while we’re here. 

Cruise Director Fernando mentioned at the close of last night’s show that tomorrow in Australia, the results of a general election about Marriage Equality are going to be announced (I hope I have that right) and that Carnival Corporation (which Princess is part of) has publicly announced that they support Marriage Equality. During our arrival in Sydney tomorrow morning (at 5:40am), a rainbow flag is going to be displayed from the front of the ship and small rainbow flags handed out to passengers who gather by the Tradewinds Bar on the open deck so that the Golden Princess will proudly support the cause as it sails through Sydney Harbour and arrives at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Fernando implied that there might even be some media coverage and we are very excited and proud to show our support. The alarm is set for 5am. (Ugh.) 

And finally, I’ve said many times in the past that, while we are cruising, we don’t generally dwell on the whole of our adventures; we simply take one day at a time and then the next day and then the one after that. But every so often it does hit us, this amazing opportunity we are enjoying, and tonight at dinner was one of those times. We were formulating a plan for turnaround day tomorrow when I suddenly realized that this is not a Fort Lauderdale runaround (though God knows we enjoy those too). This is Sydney! Sydney, Australia! And we’re discussing where to go and what to buy and how much internet time we’ll need like it’s the most ordinary thing in the world. 

We are so grateful. 

Life is good. :-)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Day 31: At Sea

The sea was a bit rough overnight (Captain D had warned us it would be), but we slept hard in spite of it. My rubber band lashing system kept the nightstand drawers closed all night, we stuffed washcloths in the refrigerator to keep the soda cans from rolling around, and threw towels over the empty wooden hangars to stop their rattling. We didn’t have to resort to tucking in the bedding around us, though. We’ll save that for our Tasman Sea crossing in a few days. ;-)

G was up and about early today, and returned to the cabin raving about how beautiful the day was starting out to be. However, though I joined him in the Horizon Court Buffet shortly after 7am, it seemed a lot chillier to me than he had indicated. However, it was sunny, and, after breakfast (a salad today, with sardines and kimchi...really) we walked all over the ship and then settled in loungers in a sunny area protected from the wind up on Deck 16 aft, by those two hot tubs (only one of which has ever been opened at a time). We stayed there until about 10am, watching the sea, when I went down to the Future Cruise Consultants desk for a couple of cruise brochures (we are trying hard to put together a plan for next year) and G checked out the garage sale in the Bernini Dining Room, but returned empty handed (shocking!). 

He went to the veterans get together in the Wheelhouse Bar and then together we went to the British Pub Lunch in the Crown Grill where G had fish and chips and sherry trifle, and then down we trooped to the Donatello Dining Room for lunch #2 where I had a seafood salad and G had ice cream. Two hours spent eating two lunches...sounds like a sea day to me!

I was freezing then, and we returned to the cabin where I turned the thermostat up to bake and we started watching one of our favorite shows, American Greed on CNBC. And that’s where we stayed until we were ready for tonight’s formal night, which is an extremely shorthanded version of what it actually takes for two of us to get cleaned up and made up (just me for that) hair done (that one too) and dressed up with the correct jewelry and studs and bow tie and then, when we were halfway down the corridor to the midship elevators G realized he had forgotten his cummerbund and pocket square so we finished dressing him in the hallway. Frankly, you would think we’d have this all down by now. 

Dinner was typical last formal night fare. I had a salad and lobster and prawns without any butter or potatoes but with broccoli and asparagus. We also had champagne sorbet for dessert but it took just a couple of bites for me to realize that it probably really did have champagne in it and it was best left alone. 

Production show British Invasion was performed at 7:45pm and it occurred to me that we have heard a lot of Queen this cruise, which is fine with me. And then, once again, we had a second, different show option with Bradley McCaw performing again in the Vista Lounge. His show tonight was the same show we saw on our first cruise, with This Thing Called Love (yet more Queen), then something something, then Jailhouse Rock, then something something something... which is actually the fourth time we’ve heard it (rehearsal while in Cabin D123, then the first show, then hearing the second show performed while in our cabin, and again tonight. It’s great, but that may be our limit. 

And finally, I have a few stream of consciousness things to share that I’ve been meaning to mention but forget in my haste to write blog posts each night. 

Fiji truly had some of the most friendly and welcoming people we’ve ever met. We were greeted with “Bula” (welcome) by everyone we encountered, kids and adults alike. Many men’s wear (and also school uniforms for boys) consist of a shirt and a solid colored wrap skirt, known as a sulu, usually accompanied by fishermen-type sandals. We had seen similar attire in Samoa and American Samoa, except there they are known as lava lavas, and are generally in a tropical print and accompanied by sneakers or flip flops.

When we left Lautoka, Fiji, there was a DJ on the pier playing music and cheering on the passengers on their balconies and the open decks. Over and over again we heard the cheer “Aussie Aussie Aussie!” and the response “Oy Oy Oy!” Aussies get quite fired up by that!

We knew that Americans would be in the minority on these cruises, but are we ever! Americans and Canadians together make up about 200 passengers on a 2600 passenger ship, but we are loving our fellow passengers. Aussies are incredibly friendly and easy going and simply cruising with them has really made this season special. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Day 30: Noumea, New Caledonia

When it’s 9:55pm before I type the first word of this post, you know it’s been a wonderful day. We loved Noumea, New Caledonia. Loved it. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect of this city (population of 275,000), the capital of New Caledonia. Was it like Papeete?  Suva?  Well, it reminded me of a cross between the French side of St. Martin and Waikiki Beach. We get to return to Noumea one more time this season, and we can’t wait. My only concern is that there is no way we’ll have better weather than we had today: cloudless blue sky and mid-70s temperature. 

The alarm went off at 5am (ugh) and we were up in the Horizon Court Buffet when the sun rose and the beautiful reefs surrounding the main island of New Caledonia, Grand Terre began to appear. After breakfast, we finished packing for a day where we really weren’t sure what we’d be doing. The Port of Noumea is a freight port, and cruise ship passengers must ride free shuttle buses from the ship to the port terminal.we were on the second one. 

Once we arrived at the terminal, we were met by tourist center reps who asked us what we were interested in doing and then escorted us inside to the appropriate booth to make arrangements. Our tentative plan for the day was to go to Duck Island (Île aux Canards), an island about a five-minute boat ride from Noumea where we could enjoy some beach time and snorkeling. For 2000 XPF (French Polynesian Francs, though we could have used AUD too) per person, we purchased all day passes on the Hop On Hop Off bus, which took us to where we could catch a water taxi to Duck Island. The water taxi ticket was included in that price. Sold!  I used a credit card (which always gets us the best rate) and we boarded a beautiful bus right in front of the port terminal. 

G has been jonesing for potato chips (the one thing that’s tough to get on a cruise ship) and was hoping to buy some at the grocery store right by the terminal (thank you Cheryl!) but it was Sunday and the store was closed. Luckily we left the ship with a couple of protein bars each, because the restaurants in Noumea were $$$. Yes, it is French Polynesia!  

The HOHO bus drove north past marinas filled with expensive yachts and long stretches of beaches (coarse sand or broken coral) until we reached Anse Vata.  We disembarked there and boarded the waiting water taxi for the short ride over to Duck Island. The island is beautiful, with a sculpture garden and puffin nesting area and a restaurant and bar and lots of wicker loungers with large umbrellas (3000 XPF for a set). We were among the first people there today, and had our choice of lounger location, so we chose two on the side of the island with a great view of another nearby island where we were able to watch kite surfers all day long. 

I can’t say the beach on Duck Island is great -it’s largely broken coral with a few sandy areas- but the setting is fantastic and there is also an underwater snorkel trail that reminds me of Trunk Bay on St. John. I swam it over and over, and saw the largest parrot fish I’ve ever seen, and two other types of large fish that, though I later found them on a fish chart, the chart was in French so I still don’t know what they were. I flew my kite and we enjoyed the island until 1pm. When we first boarded the water taxi, we had to tell them what boat we’d want to return on. Since we had no idea about what was on the island, and also because we wanted to see a bit of Noumea, we chose 1pm, but we could easily have enjoyed the entire day there. 

When we returned to the mainland, we got lucky and immediately caught another HOHO bus. We finished taking it around the loop back to the ship, but stayed on it until it got back to Lemon Bay, a long, gorgeous stretch of beach with a beautiful boardwalk along it and several restaurants with outdoor seating along the opposite side of the street. This is the part that reminded us of Waikiki Beach. There were actually concrete lounge chairs along this beach and we enjoyed some time in them before we walked the length of the boardwalk. The last HOHO bus was coming by about 3:30pm and we took it back to the port terminal; where we connected with the free shuttle bus back to the ship. 

We had just enough time to shower (and rinse and wash out gear) before watching a few minutes of pierside pre-departure activities from the Promenade Deck and then a 5-minute preview of tomorrow night’s British Invasion production show in the Piazza. We went directly into the Bernini Dining Room afterward, and were pretty hungry tonight. (Lunch at the restaurant on Duck Island was about $55 USD per person; therefore, we had dined on protein bars). I had a salad and then salmon and veggies but was still hungry enough that I grabbed a bag of popcorn on the Lido Deck before the evening was over. 

Steve Larkin of Mercury Rising did a totally different second show of Queen classics tonight (except he repeated Bohemian Rhapsody- yay!), and, once again, he was phenomenal, and received a standing O.  I really hope we see him again this season. We went from the Princess Theater down to the Vista Lounge for 50s and 60s music trivia followed by the Rock and Roll Night party. The most entertaining part of the party was a little 4-year old girl who danced her heart out through the whole thing. So cute!

And that’s how it came to be so late before I started this post. Between hours of snorkeling and hours of walking, I think I’ll get this post uploaded and be asleep in minutes.  But it doesn’t matter. Tomorrow is a sea day without a single obligation or commitment, and the alarm clock is turned OFF. 

Life is good. :-)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Day 29: At Sea

I don’t know which we enjoyed more today:  that it was a sea day or moving clocks back an hour overnight. We’re back on a normal schedule, waking around 7am, and we move clocks back another hour tonight.  Yay!  We met up for breakfast in the Horizon Court Buffet but not before G had discovered that minute steaks were on the breakfast menu in the Donatello Dining Room. When he couldn’t find them in the Buffet, I knew that, after I finished my fruit and cereal, we’d be going to breakfast #2 in the dining room. While I had tea, G had a lumberjack-sized breakfast that seemed designed to add another wing to a cardiologist’s house. 

We were seated with a couple who lives in Sydney (no surprise there) but also one who lives just ten miles from us, and the odds of that on this overwhelmingly Australian cruise is rather staggering. We all talked so much that we probably overstayed our welcome in the dining room, but still managed to wrap up our chat by 9:45am. 

That gave us an hour to return to the cabin for the morning pill taking activity and then head to the Neptunes Reef pool for the Veterans Day Remembrance Ceremony. Princess does this every year on their ships, and we really appreciate that they do. Aussies and Kiwis honor their military’s’ sacrifices better than just about any other country and so to commemorate this day on the Golden Princess was especially moving. The flags of several countries were hung from the Deck 15 railing and programs with prayers and songs were distributed. Staff Captain Jonathon led the remembrance but Captain D spoke and several Deck Cadets read prayers. Decks 14 and 15 around the Neptune’s Reef Pool were packed; I bet at least half of the passengers attended. and, naturally, I fried a little, because of course I did. 

I was getting hungry by 11:30am (because I had eaten just one small breakfast around 7am), and so we met up in the Horizon Court Buffet where I had a huge salad topped with Mexican black bean salad. I should have gone to the fitness center for a workout, but the seas grew increasingly bouncy, and I elected instead to just work out in the Terrace Pool (in which the water level had been lowered to avoid water splashing out) and ended up feeling slightly disoriented from the water sloshing so dramatically around me. 

While the day remained sunny, the ship definitely got bouncier and we showered for the evening using the ‘one hand on the safety bar’ method (which makes shampooing hair kind of tough). At 4:35pm we we met outside of the Vista Lounge and were escorted in for this cruise’s Captains Circle party. We were honored to be this cruise’s Most Travel Guests, and, I think that #2 has 730 days though I’m uncertain of #3. 

It was Italian night in the dining room and I loved having penne arrabiatta with just a little penne and a lot of arrabiatta and having it put on top of a lot of broccoli. Production show Let Us Entertain You (love that one) followed at 8:30pm and I have no idea how the cast got through it. The ship is really rocking and rolling tonight, and I was a little nervous riding up from Deck 6 to Deck 12 in an elevator that clanged and banged. Once again, I’ve used the rubber band method to attempt to hold the nightstand drawers closed; I nearly broke my neck this morning when I got out of bed and ran directly into one that had opened last night. 

Though there is a Tropical Island Night party tonight, we’re skipping it in favor of an alarm set for 5:30am tomorrow. Captain D said we’ll be cruising through some beautiful scenery on our approach to Noumea, but mostly while it is still dark. We want to be up early just to try to get a glimpse of any part of it that we can. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Day 28: Lautoka, Fiji

We arrived in Sydney four weeks ago today, and have been dragging a bit.  Yesterday’s heat and humidity in Savusavu compounded the issue. As a result, we enjoyed a quasi-sea day today, which will make this very brief.

We walked off the ship this morning after breakfast in the Horizon Court Buffet and into the onslaught of tour operators and taxi drivers on the pier, all offering excursions to a  handful of places: the Hindu temple, the orchid gardens and sleeping giant mountain profile, the mud baths, the landing spot of the first European explorers and various beaches  by boat or road. That we weren’t in the mood for any of them (not even the beaches!) told us that it was time for a day off. We returned to our cabin and slept for another two hours. 

I love being on the ship on a port day. It’s stable, it’s empty and uncrowded and it’s quiet, all things that are nice to experience after nearly four weeks at sea. After we awoke from our nap, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the Horizon Court Buffet and then went to the fitness center for a nearly private workout. 

Sail away was early today, at 4pm, and our plan was to be in one of the two hot tubs on Deck 16 on the back of the ship which have phenomenal views, but when we changed into swimsuits and went up there,  those hot tubs were closed off. So were four of the other six hot tubs on the ship. It irritated me enough that I did later write a “to let you know” letter and dropped it off at Guest Services. Instead, we sat in two shaded loungers on Deck 16 overlooking the views off the back of the ship until it was time to get ready for dinner.  

Dinner in the Bernini Dining Room with Rodrigo and Ronaldo was fantastic. My starter was a pumpkin curry soup made vegan (honestly, one of the best things I’ve had yet), followed by a salad and then an incredible vegetarian (and vegan) entree of garbanzo beans and carrots in a tomato sauce with tofu. The flavors and textures were perfection. Dessert was lemon ginger sorbet (don’t see that one very often) and it was delicious, start to finish. 

There was one primary show tonight, pianist Bradley McCaw. We had seen him two cruises ago but his was a different show tonight and he is quite good. Afterward, we walked out on the Terrace Deck to look at the wake and then turned around to look at the several decks of aft terraces. This ship is just gorgeous at night. 

Tomorrow is a real sea day, and, combined with the extra hour of sleep we’ll get from moving clocks back tonight, should finally have us feeling rested for the final port of this cruise, Noumea, New Caledonia, the next day. 

Finally, we did discover today why China is currently pouring so much money into Fiji. The port of Lautoka is undergoing an expansion with a large warehouse facility right on the pier, also financed by China. Fiji exports a lot of bauxite to China, where it is used in the production of aluminum. And now we know.