Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sea Princess world cruise

Sea Princess around the world diary.



Sea Princess

Embarkation
Driving into Sydney from the north we had torrential rain for almost 4 hours, so much so, that often we were below 70kph on the freeway just to see. But by the time we got to Sydney the rain pretty much dried up and we were taken to the dreadful afterthought of a cruise terminal at White Bay. Possibly one of the most user unfriendly terminals anywhere in the world, accessible by either a 2.4k walk with bags from the nearest public transport, or an over priced taxi and an equally overprices cruise ship shuttle bus. Utterly dreadful place.

Check in OK but the usual ridiculous wait to get through the one and only security screening lane open. Once on board it was like seeing an old friend as we reacquainted ourselves with the Sea Princess, to be our home for 104 days.

Day1at sea
A bit late getting away in the dark and once through Sydney heads and turned south we had a very large swell and so porpoised our way south. Thankfully the seas abated as we made southing and became much more comfortable, but not before quite a few were able to study their meal for a second time.

Day2 Melbourne


Melbourne from port
And so to Melbourne and a very fine convenient cruise terminal. Plenty of helpful souls to show where to buy a Myki transport card to take the 109 tram into the city. We actually wanted to have a look at the port area and started walking. But eventually this went to the city and the super South Melbourne Markets. Pity we had so much to eat on ship as the many food stalls smelt wonderful. Did a bit of shopping at Aldi nearby and a peek at Southbank before walking back to the ship.

Days3,4&5 at sea
Later evening away on the 3 sailing days to Busselton. All calm and well the first day. But by second day the seas built up and by evening was getting a bit uncomfortable, with the ship having to slow a bit for safety to all and the evening song and dance entertainment cancelled for safety. Seasick tablets helped settle stomach some. I must remember tomorrow is our wedding anniversary!!
Yep remembered, but by now the ship was non stop crashing into waves and my dearly beloveds lunch returned and the romance of a wedding anniversary was totally lost.

Day6-Busselton


Busselton

On the shore of Geographe Bay, Busselton has a long and interesting history. First called Vasse after a French sailor who was left behind by his ship in 1801. While his fate is uncertain, the region is still known as Vasse, although the town was named later after an early settler John Bussel and his descendants are still in the town.
It is a spotless and super well kept town, actually now officially a city, but that does it an injustice as it has none of the nastiness of a city. Friendly, well laid out it is being further turned back to its heritage by redoing the foreshore and moving car parks to more appropriate areas out of sight. It sports the longest timber jetty in the southern hemisphere, St. Mary's the oldest stone church in Western Australia and wonderfully restored original jail, court house, butter factory and even the old fire station is now an up market bar. While it is the gateway to the Margaret River wine region, the town (city) itself is a real treat.


Day 7 Fremantle
Perth from Kings park

The short trip to Fremantle was uneventful and we spun around and slipped sideways to our berth at 0700. Warm sunshine and perfect temperatures waited us at what is an exceptionally passenger convenient terminal. Car, buses etc. can pull right to the terminal with adequate short term parking and the train station a short walk away. Add to that free buses at regular intervals for passengers and one got the feeling of being welcomed.
Friends who we had met on a cruise years ago, met us and took us to all the highlights of Perth and Fremantle. Especially good to reacquaint ourselves and was as though there had been no gap in our acquaintance. What fun we had and visited chocolate factory, wine tasting, had a superb Yum Char lunch and strolled the incredible Kings Park with not only its breathtaking views of Perth, but bush walks and endless array of regional flora.
This finished off with a cold beer at fishing Boat Harbour and a quick look at the colourful old buildings and coffee shops in Fremantle, we had to go on board again way too soon. We really must come back and really explore this superb corner of Australia.

Days 8-14 at sea.

Clear warm days with small waves and perfect sailing conditions in the Indian Ocean, with a stop and service near the wreck of the HMAS Sydney, before heading north west toward Colombo. 
Having had our exercise of what to do if pirates attacked, which was a little chaotic as the news form said go immediately to the corridor outside your cabin, do not remain in or open the cabin and sit or lie on the floor starboard side of the corridor. So most people did just that, but those who did not were checked on by floor attendants in their cabins. Then the announcement came that we could have stayed in our cabins but propped the door open just for exercise purposes. Yeah well!! To watch guests, mostly aged between 79 and 99 try and stand up having been sitting or lying on a hard floor was quite a picture.

Day 15 Colombo


A Colombo park

And so to Colombo, which was a very pleasant surprise. We had the usual thing of being birthed as far away from anything as possible so that corrupt taxi drivers, corrupt port officials and police and last of all the ship who wanted to ensure as many as possible will book their vastly over priced tours. The walk into town actually only took about 30 min in the heat to the Pettah markets. These are vast and have various sections for fish, or poultry, or trinkets etc, but to make sense of it would take ages. Finally we grabbed a tut tut 3 wheeler for US$5 an hour (asking was up to US$50 at the port) and took in the temples, gardens, lakes, monuments and the whole thing including the once magnificent Galle Face Hotel, now looking a little sorry against the new slick monster hotels along the waterfront.
Having traveled to Colombo in the late 70's the change was dramatic. OK its a work in progress, but the vitality and pride taken is improving the place was a delight. Generally almost no litter and what there was being hastily collected, well tendered gardens and magnificent parks simply make the experience wonderful.
When in Sri Lanka its is almost a must to look at gems and rubies in particular. As markets are for costume stuff a reputable licensed shop is for the real stuff. The shop keeper and his staff were the usual high pressure sales people, but sold with a sense of humour and grace.
Colombo is a place to come back to.


Colombo historic building
Day 16 and good news
We along with a good contingent of Queenslanders, wanted to stay on board in Sydney on our return for the 2 days to Brisbane. There had been a few cabins available for very early bookings, but sold in an instant. So Princess decided to open up an extra number of additional cabins. Probably found enough Queenslanders wanted the next 15 day northern cruise to Fremantle. And so our trip will now be 106 days aboard.
Meanwhile we have joined the tramp north west around the bottom of India to the gulf accompanied by a fair mixture of empty tankers and Indian fishing boats.
Promenade deck is now off limits late night till well after sun up while lookouts try and spot pirates. So the early morning walkers and joggers use the open decks on top instead!!

Days 17 to 19
What should have been smooth sailing, became days of dodge the cyclone. A severe depression formed in the Arabian Sea and we had a rough ride dodging and weaving, at times on an almost reciprocal course until we reached the Gulf of Arabia on one engine as the other overheated and had to be shut down.

The poor old Sea Princess is to have work done in Singapore in October I'm told and she needs it. Quite bad rust painted over and leaks the spring up daily, together with lift breakdowns etc. keep the maintenance men flat out. Australia has been given 3 old sister ships, Dawn, Sun and Sea, which get crowded and becomes a bun fight for seats in the only 2 venues of interest, the theater and vista lounge. Always fun to see walkers, scooters and generally older people queuing up in lurching seas for up to 45 min just so they can hopefully cram into the small entertainment venues.

Day s 20 and 21-Dubai


Dubai

Dubai and a very hot soulless bit of real estate with the biggest of everything is for the gullible to ohh and arr and part with cash. When ever a ship is berthed in a container terminal miles from anywhere so one is forced to either take an expensive ships tour of hugely overpriced taxi's, it turns me off and unless there is something really worth looking at, I give it a miss. And apart from a stroll amount containers and cars in 45 deg C and massive heat haze we gave it a miss. We were told that a visit to the sand dunes at sunset was worth it, but otherwise it struck us as a grand plastic soulless hot heat hazed nothing and the air conditioner aboard ship was way better.

Day 22 Mina Qaboos-Oman


Muscat-south

Entering Muscat harbour

Great market-souk

Muscat, Oman is like a fairly tale. Since the early 70's when I visited Muscat, it has grown enormously, but retained its traditional style and architecture. The great Portuguese forts have now numerous watch towers added and the souk, now has beautiful cobbled paths and wonderfully carved roofs and stained glass panels. Although the men no longer wear their wonderful curved knives in the middle of their belts and donkeys no longer cart goods throughout the market, it still is one of the biggest, best and most vibrant markets I have ever seen.
Beautiful white buildings nestled around a pristine bay guarded by ancient forts with a backdrop of sharp, jagged and awe inspiring mountains is just a picture to carry for life.
We want to come back to see very much more of this historic country.

Days 23 to 27 at sea
Running down the coast of Oman still rough seas and stays that way till we cross the Gulf of Aden and get into the Red Sea, with winds at force 7 reducing to 5 in the Red Sea. Warm into mid 30's C and heat haze. Much less shipping than I would have expected and pirate watch all the way.

Day 28 Aqaba-Jordan


Siq-narrow entrance to Petra
Petra-Treasury

Southern gateway to Jordan and within sight of Egyptian Sinai and Eilat in Israel, Aqaba is also the gateway to Wadi Rum, site of many adventure movies and Petra, the ancient, lost city rediscovered in the 1800's We went to Petra and were taken by the huge number of international and local 4 and 5 star hotels, closed due to decline in tourism caused by fanatics in the name of Islam in surrounding countries. Not a rich country, this is impacting badly on the country, but they accept as they must. Totally crazy truck drivers, mostly Pakistani and commerce, mostly Palestinian, but all with a can do attitude.
Petra is gained by a mile long Siq a narrow downward inclined path, shared by tourists from 3 ships in port and donkey carriages. This comes out facing the most famous building, the treasury, which is calved out of wonderfully coloured sandstone. Here you can take a camel down into the main city centre past wonderful façades with caves tunneled behind the front doors. These caves were living quarters with carpets laid onto the earth, much like inside a Bedouin tent. Ancient sites include a large Roman Amphitheater, tombs of kings and many more houses. There is nothing quite like this place and as the sun changes angle, so do the colours, much like the changing colourers at Ularu.
I should think that Jordan would be a great country to come back to and tour, as there is much more to see.

Days 29-31 Suez.


Suez

This is where we find out why shipping seemed sparse for the area. The Suez Canal is undergoing dredging and widening, which has meant ships can only travel in one direction at a time with the 1 nautical mile separation. This was causing delays of over 24 hours with so many ships queuing up to go through. At US$210,000 a transit for a passenger ship as ours, means Egypt is not going broke. We were delayed 11hours and while we did see the southern entrance to the canal at sunset, the transit was in darkness and we were well out and foot to the metal by 4am. Very sad as it was one sight nobody wanted to miss. This delayed our arrival into Piraeus.

Day 32 Athens-Greece





Our delay meant some smart rescheduling of tours, but we did see Piraeus and Athens, before being dropped off to negotiate the twists and turns of the Plaka and a tourist train ride around the whole site. Sadly much was under renovation and scaffolding with nobody working and rather disappointing to see. To see overseas born young Greeks mostly from Australia and New Zealand doing most of the work, while what we saw of local residents was sipping coffee, looking sullen was even more disappointing. We were not impressed.

Day 33 Kusadasi-Turkey

Ephesus library

Wow what a difference. The township only small, but vital, clean and friendly. This even though it was early days of Ramadan. This was the port for Ephesus which was a very large city once, pretty much destroyed by earthquakes, but you soon could imagine the once magnificent buildings, roads even ancient public loo's sewage and water systems. The Library and slaves gate remain in fair order and overall a magnificent site. Again 3 shiploads of tourists were all taken in their stride with grace and good humour. I'm told once 11 ships turned up at this little place and did stretch resources a bit!!

Day 34 Istanbul (not Constantinople)-Turkey


Hagia Sophia-Istanbul

This is a very big city without a single CBD, but rather sections of the city. Old, New, European, Asian spreading along the narrow Bosporus, with magnificent Mosques, Churches and Synagogues. The clerics of all faiths are controlled by the Government to ensure they preach only what their faith officially believes and ensures no fanaticism, political ideology, or anything that would disrupt this multi religious country. There is no Sharia law and no Huddud sentencing even though the majority are Muslims. The people were kind, especially to Australians and New Zealanders. Their founding father of modern Turkey after the war, sent a message to all mothers of fallen Anzac's that their sons were revered and were considered their sons also and to take heart that their boys were safe in the bosom of friends and family. Sort of sums up the Turkish nation.
Another example is Hagia Sophia which was originally a church, changing denominations a few times, before becoming a mosque. Muslims are not allowed to show people, landscapes etc, so rather than destroy the old paintings, mosaics etc, the Turkish Muslims simply covered them over. As it has such a heritage, the Government declared it a museum in 1935 and uncovered many painting and mosaics. This is an extraordinary building, especially when considered its age. The largest house of worship in the world until St Peters was built. The Blue Mosque with its 6 minarets is superb, by Sophia is my pick. The biggest market in the world is also mind boggling, but to see even a fraction of this country would take a fortnight.

Day 35 Anzac Cove-Turkey

Anzac Cove

How to describe looking at the beach and hills that cost so many lives. It is a very personal sensation and the excellent service carried out by the Captain and Crew and half day stationary just off the beaches was special to say the least.

Day 36 Santorini-Greece

Santorini

Santorini and adjacent islands are basically the rim of a monster volcano in the centre of which is a new volcanic island. All white houses cling to the cliff tops with winding paths to the sea at intervals. We took an old sailing ship to the volcanic island and climbed to the top passing 3 volcanic vents. One is still active with temperatures around 100C but not nearly hot enough to be of danger. There is the hint of sulphur and a dusting of yellow in that crater. Then a quick stop at another island before being deposited at Fira where a cable car can take you to the high cliffs or you can walk up the zigzag path full of donkey droppings or indeed ride a donkey up for 5Euro. Pretty and all pretty laid back. Tourists generally ignored unless they were parting with money.

Days 37-39 Venice-Italy


Venice

A day at sea, then Venice 2 days. Slowly winding our way into Venice from the sea is by far the best way to see this incredible city. As the ship has to creep past St Mark's (San Marco) there is plenty of time to admire the square, entrance to the Grand canal and see the frantic antics of water taxi's and boats of all types. The berth is near the railway station and bus terminal and so, as we had seen San Marco before, we decided to discover as many alleys and squares and we could winding our way to Rialto Bridge, which was under renovation unhappily. Then using our phone GPS we found even more devious route back to the ship. Its almost impossible to describe the tiny, twisting cobbled paths with every possible type of shop and tavernas as well as market stalls. While the overall picture is near perfect, its the small often almost hidden little carved or painted gems that make it unique.
The only thing that spoilt it for me was the ship automatically billed a shuttle ferry to San Marco to every passenger. Some felt they had to use it, but as it was way over the regular price, I felt it was a liberty and not appreciated. AUD$29 was charged per person for a 7Euro trip and no choice as it was San Marco or nothing. Its not a big city and by adhering to the expensive no choice Princess ferry, people missed out on so much that Venice has to offer. We took our tickets back and expect full refund, an imposition that should not have been necessary.

Day 40-Croatia-Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik and old city

What can I say? Approaching Dubrovnik by sea is a treat. Surrounded by rugged range of mountains, the new city of around 48,000 is 4th largest in Croatia, but probably the most picturesque. Dominated by a large bridge across the inlet the harbour was full of small boats and a few monsters. We opted for a bus trip about 1 hour to Konavle down the coast, to a farm house that once housed over 30 members of one family, but now only 4, so feeding 4 bus loads was not a space issue. The house itself rambled as bits were added over the last 400 years and we were welcomed with shots of home made brandy. At 40% proof was close to rocket fuel, but easy to get a taste for. Then a lunch of home made prosciutto, breads, olives and cheeses, then pork sauce pasta and apple pie all washed down with an endless supply of a local rough red wine which was extremely drinkable and accompanied by a guitar and accordion for beer hall type merriment and song. It doesn't get much better tan this.
Our return trip took us to the wonderful old walled city of Dubrovnik. At one time its own principality it had the good sense to lock the gates at night and elect a Governor or protector every month so that there would not be time for any corruption to take hold and do damage. Not such a stupid idea me thinks.

We could only see the bottom end of the over 1200 islands ranging up the coast, but looked to be heaven for yachts.

 Days 41 - 42 Italy


St Peters

A day free sailing down the east coast of Italy and through the very narrow straits between Sicily and the mainland then next day into Civitavecchia, which was a lot smaller port than I expected. There we hopped onto an old train carefully refurbished with comfy seats for the hour run into Rome and deposited at St Peters Station.
This became the hardest day foot slog we have done so far. Quick look at St Peters and onto Castel San Angelo, where we saw a guy with electric violin playing magnificent classical pieces, then over the Tiber via the bridge of angels and zigzaged down a maze of little lanes till we burst out into Piazza Navona with its wonderful grand buildings and famous statues including the 4 rivers statue. Not far but again zigzag route to the Piazza Rotunda and Pantheon. Still one of the greatest domes in the world with superb paintings and statues and with grand columns out front.


Then on down to Piazza Venezia and its grand folly and the beginning of the ancient ruins finally leading to the Colosseum with hordes of people milling around aimlessly. Through the arch of Constantine down the Via di Gregorio and past the Circo Massimo, the great circuit where once the great chariot races took place.


By now we were tired and took a rest at San Alessio park for 30 min, before we started back along the river past Tiber island and up the west side of the river till we found a the very small bridge café and had espresso, slice of pizza and a cold beer and where we found the owner grew up in Sydney and went to Forte Street High.
Finally the slog back to St Peters square which by this time was packed and cordoned off for a Friday afternoon concert. Back to the station and so to the port and the ship. Altogether 6 hours walking plus the 2 hours on the train. Early night and didn't see us leave for next port of Livorno.


Day 43 Livorno_italy
We were so tired from Rome that we only looked at Livorno from the ship. A big port with lots of yachts and actually looked pretty industrial. Good jump off to Pisa and Florence, but we had been before and could do without the crowds.

Day44 Cannes-France

Cannes
Always a lovely town with mega yachts and casino's every block. Great shopping and grand hotels. It was a really nice place to just wander and no schedule. Found an excellent chemist open Sunday who were most helpful.
Big boats, fast cars, gold chains and a nice place to sit and watch the passing parade.

Day 45 Barcelona and Montserrat-Spain

Barcelona

I love this city, with its great parks, lookouts and well planned tree lined wide streets with beautiful buildings. Its a big city, yet it all seems to work well, with well behaved drivers and space. Just love it,

Montserrat




It had been over 50 years since I had been to Montserrat and while it has changed dramatically, the main church and awe inspiring hills and valleys remain magnificent. Obviously it has been enlarged to a huge extent, but in a tasteful way and didn't detract from the magnificence of the place. Didn't get to hear the choirs echoing through the valleys like last time, but is still a place once seen, never forgotten.


Gibraltar

Africa
Days 46-47 to Lisbon, Portugal
We were delayed leaving Barcelona and add headwinds and currents, we slogged through the Straits of Gibraltar and landed a bit late into Lisbon.
It was a sight to go through the Straits just before sunset and to see Europe and Africa so close and impressive both sides seen through a sea mist.
Lisbon




Lisbon is a beautiful city spread over 7 hills and sprawls over a vast distance. Lovely parks, green lung bushland, statues and old buildings with mosaic fronted walls and cobbled streets and footpaths. The city was all but destroyed in a massive 9.7 earthquake and tsunami in 1755 (I think) and so most has been rebuilt since then. It has a copy of the Golden Gate bridge built by the same contractor and 98m longer and a copy of the Christ statue same as Brazil. People are friendly and simply a lovely place to visit. Home of Port wine and baked egg custard tarts, the best maritime museum anywhere and with many large squares and beautiful buildings, the city varied and just a great place to visit. Plenty of tut-tuts, motor scooters and public transport would make it a superb holiday destination.

Days 48-50 at sea and le Havre



Honfleur

A bit bumpy till we reached French waters and calmed down. In le Havre our dear friends who we had not seen to 12 years, drove all the way from Paris to pick us up for what was an incredible day out. We drove down a way to get an idea of how extensive the waterways are at le Havre and then over a huge toll bridge to the south side and on to Honfleur. Wow what a beautiful old port this is. Lots of yachts and superb old buildings around 4 floors high very narrow, cobbled streets and happened to be market day and every square meter taken with local produce stalls, Cheeses, wines and ciders, fruits of all types and many varieties we had never seen before, home made sausages and cured meats, food to go, bric-a-brac and everything with load voices and laughing crowds. We sampled almost everything and stopped for pear cider before our friends treated us to the most lavish and memorable lunch imaginable.
Later we drove through countryside, seeing wheat crops being harvested and all types of crops being grown ending up back at the coast north of le Havre with magic white cliffs, black sand beaches and stone cottaged villages.
This is an extraordinary part of Normandy and not to be missed.

Day 51-52 Southampton-UK

Hamble

Hamble



We were so looking forward to Southampton to see our daughter, but also her partner and very close friends. What a day we had with a whirlwind trip to our friends home and the catch up and stories started.
Lunch we headed to the wonderful King & Queen pub in Hamble. The Hamble is now wall to wall boats, mostly yachts, and is a sight to see.
While the King & Queen is renowned for its steak pie, it was Sunday, which is roast day or giant burger. Each oversized plates are stacked with enough wonderful food for 3. We were joined by our friends extended family making up 4 generations and we noisily had our food washed down with large quantities of drink. How good was all that?


Later more story telling before we headed back to Southampton and a tour over the last big steam ship still in operation in UK. The SS-Shieldhall actually was commissioned in 1955 as a sewage dumping ship, that also took day trippers out for a sail. It no longer dumps sewage, but does take day trippers for sails. To see the boiler, great pistons and hundreds of valves was a real treat. A wonderful day before creeping out and around the Isle of White the long way for a slow trip at sea for Cobh the following day.



Day 53-54 Ireland


Seeing friends these last days has been wonderful and in Cobh we were met by more friends who we had not seen in 4 years an daughter who we had not seen in about 8 years. Sight for sore eyes and we stopped at the Commodore Hotel with its memorabilia of the Lusitania on our way north via Cork and The Hook criss-crossing to see the sights. There was a drizzle to start, but didn't take away from the beauty of Ireland.

We stopped for lunch called The Hollow. I have no idea where we were, but the pub looked so yucky that we almost decided to try another, but then we were in and the Guinness was good. Then came the fresh pan fried cod fillets cooked to perfection. I have never had better and can still taste that wonderful meal.
We then stopped by an old monastery, given to our friends family by Henry VIII and lived in for 400 years. Now regrettably Tintern Abby is now mostly ruin, but the old kitchen gardens (Colclough Walled Garden)with acres of high walled gardens painstakingly being restored to original beauty and bounty is a fantastic work in progress.

Day 55 Greenock-Scotland




Home for James Watt and his incredible steam machine that changed the world and port for Glasgow. Not so very big, yet has a huge number of supermarkets, one pound stores, churches (kirks) and magnificent old stone buildings. This includes Old West Kirk built 1591 and moved to current site 1925 and is the oldest protestant church in Scotland after the reformation. It is an easy walk around the town and a camera shot every few paces. The Clyde valley is beautiful and the distant hills and mountains a superb backdrop.
I got waylaid by a team selling famous Glengoyne single malt which could not be resisted. A product of Dumgoyne near Killearn Glasgow and I settled for a 12 year old, which I will savor.

Days 56-57 At sea and Reykjavik-Iceland





Tours to various parts of Iceland were outrageously expensive and even a shuttle bus for a 3 mile trip there and back at US$12.50 pp is stupid. So we did nt do any tours and although we walked to town and back, we spent nothing as attempts to rip of tourists go down like a lead brick with me.
Having said that, Reykjavik is a pretty town, with statues and squares, and expensive shops. There is a quirky sense of humour in some building designs and sculptures, which delight. The mountain backdrop is beautiful, but the best of Iceland for us was Yohanna and her backing band. They were seriously fantastic. Remember that name.


Days 58-62 at sea.
We had a hiccough about this time as we had to sail way east and south of Newfoundland Grand Bank due to sea ice, that it became impractical to double back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was sad as so many were looking forward to seeing this supposedly beautiful bit of country. Sad but Canada was missed altogether and so onward to the Big Apple.

Days 63-65 New York- USA




So we arrived a day early into New York and were rewarded by berthing at the prestigious pier 90 Manhattan.
To enter this great harbour in daylight is to be rewarded with a great sight. The bridges, islands, boats, buildings and ballyhoo. Idiot helicopters, ferries, yachts who not only had questionable sailing skills but seemed to wanted to be run down buy a cruise ship. Then followed over 5 hours clearing customs/ immigration as 100% ships company had to disembark into a great hall and have the fingerprints of both hands and mugshot recorded by big brother for posterity. How the officers retained their efficiency and good humour was awesome and having arrived at 1900 hours we were back on the ship by 0030 next day.
Big Bus New York is just fantastic. While the ship was selling Big Bus tickets at A$115 pp for a 2 day ticket, in the terminal Big Bus had discount tickets for US$56 pp for exactly the same thing. Very easy to calculate Princess mark-up up on this one hey. Big Bus gave us 2 days of uptown and downtown tours with exceptional commentary via earphones that plugged into each seat, plus a dedicated Brooklyn loop, a night tour of all the lights including a trip over to Brooklyn and back, but also an hour on a harbour ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and skyline from the water. Exceptional value.

One can never forget the sight of lovely young women crouching down to hold the testicles in both hands of a great bronze bull for good luck while men eagerly looked on at the partially exposed posteriors of the crouching ladies.
One thing that is very obvious, is New Yorkers have yet to come to terms with the 911 atrocity. All become very emotional and its understandable why. However when in 1978 one did not really feel safe in New York, in 2015 one did feel safe and it was a lot more pleasant by comparison. Generally NY is expensive especially where they can rip off tourists, however we spent a Sunday half day in Chinatown and not only got fabulous food and tropical fruits, but bargains in shops and watched music, cards , mah-jong, and chess in the park by Mulberry Street. Mother could not resist 8 fun NY T-shirts for US$22 and a chance to speak in Cantonese, Mandarin etc.

We sailed out of New York with a very much better understanding of the people, geography and the ring in our ears of a 1000 superlatives used by passionate New Yorkers in love with their town. I will miss New Yorkers where ever second word starts with a T and must grab their upper thigh and crick their neck at the same time for emphasis after ever sentence.


Days 66-67 Charleston USA

After a nice sea day down the east coast of America, we reached the lovely and usually quiet college and acadamy town of Charleston. Steeped in American history, especially American civil war, it is quiet, clean, beautifully kept, friendly and polite. Cars insist on waiting for pedestrians and time appears to pass in a most civilized way.

Its grand southern homes and buildings and very long and fun market all within short easy walk from the ship. A free motor tram does the town circuit and horse and donkey drawn coaches of the 1800's horse bus style, plus some Trisha available for those not wishing to walk.



Harris Tweeter supermarket and CVS Pharmacy (in America more like a general store than a chemist) and their friendly staff were well patronised by ships passengers. There are maritime museums and civil war sites, but most preferred to soak up the downturn atmosphere.

There had been a dreadful shooting of 8 people by a 21 year old lunatic 2 weeks earlier in Charleston, which seemed so against the peaceful nature of this town.

Days 68-71 at sea to Curacao (Dutch Antilles)

We sailed south through the Sargasso Sea, Bermuda Triangle, Windward Passage and squeezed between Haiti and Cuba before reaching Curacao only a short distance off the Venezuela coast. Home of the famous blue, orange flavoured liqueur, this very colourful island has an incredible port inland via a canal, swing bridge and a second very high bridge to a virtual inland sea. Actually looking at a map shows a number of narrow entry canals opening to large internal ports. Quite unique and makes for a very camera happy place.



It obviously has a substantial oil processing industry, but also has its liquor making industry, tourist rip-off outlets ( I say this as its an immediate multiple by 4 whenever a tourist shows his face, so don’t bother taking money to buy anything as its cheaper to buy made in China at home). Plus a rather grubby looking poor man Macao with casino's clustered in a group thankfully a little way from the main old town and fort.
Nice, but like Iceland, I wouldn't bother to go again by choice.


Days 72-73 At sea to Cartagena, Colombia.

I had never heard of the place, but its a very large town with enormous amount of history. As usual we were berthed in a container port and we took the expensive Princess tour, when we could have got a better tour at the gate for US$10 pp instead of A$70 pp. But anyhow, we did see the old fort, which was built in bits over 140 years and looks more like a bunker than a traditional fort, but no doubt did its job well. We saw the old walled town with its wonderful and colourful squares and houses with overhanging balconies, churches, excellent museums, inquisitors chambers and torture implements, street sculptures, folk dance and emeralds. Yes we bought an emerald in silver setting. 



The locals still talk about Drake when he was a buccaneer, attacking the town. Must have been tricky as there looks to be easy entry to the large bay, but in fact only one rather narrow deep channel with fortifications either side on the channel.
We had too short a stop and restricted what we could see, but independent tours also saw a hilltop monastery and new town. A fun place and would have enjoyed more time.

Day 74 Panama Canal.



Well this was a highlight. It took all day to transit the three locks from the Atlantic side up to the central lakes, rivers and canals, then three down to Panama City and the Pacific. Panama City we could only see in the distance, but looks huge.
Approaching the canal it looks too narrow to fit the ship, but it does fit with about 50cm clearance both sides and held firmly in place by very heavy weight “mules” with sensors and cables. The locks are being duplicated with much wider locks and ability to reuse most of the water, as the current system can badly deplete water in the lakes. A number of ferries cross and when lock gates are closed, locals can dash across, but there are also 2 huge bridges over the narrow western canal. A serious experience.

Days 75-76 At sea to Manta, Ecuador.


What a delightful town. Manta is the Tuna capitol of the world and Ecuador produces the famous Panama Hats. The hats got their name as most hats were sold via Panama in the old days, but are actually made in Ecuador. Watching the specially prepared Bamboo slivers being woven into the famous hat, one can see why they are not cheap, but also why a good hat will last indefinitely and their ability to be rolled and abused, yet pop back to the original shape.

The markets had some of the most beautiful clothes, especially Alpaca shawls and knitwear, beautiful paintings, jewellery and hats. Food simple and delicious and a lot similar to stall food found in Asia. It has become a place for many expatriates to retire to with very affordable housing and utilities and like Asia almost cheaper to eat out rather than cook. Supermarket however were well stocked and much like you would find anywhere and well priced goods. Loved the place and looking forward to a return trip.

Days 77-80 two days at sea and two days in Lima, Peru.


Lima is a huge port city and it sprawls over a vast area. Very little in the way of spectacular things to see, but shopping varies from Super up market malls to Indian and “Inka” Markets. The pick is the “Inka” Markets with excellent knitwear, bags, leather goods, including super soft Alpaca leather. The silver however I found suspiciously light in weight, although it looked good and prices higher than one would find in say Thailand. This is a shopping port rather than a sight seeing port. This is also were the Princess Machu Pichu tours started. The over A$2500 pp for this tour we found hard to justify for the hour and a half there and will go another time when not rushed and take in more venues as well.

Day 81 san Martin, Peru

This out of the way very small port in the desert is mainly for Princess Machu Pichu tours to get back to the ship. It also sported some ridiculously expensive ship tours to very ordinary sights. This was a non event.

So now we head into the Pacific aiming for Easter Island with hopes the sea will be calm enough to shuttle ashore.


Days 82-86 at sea and Easter Island

Initially the sea was up with winds to 30 knots, but as we got closer to Easter Island the weather calmed and we were set for a good landing at the minute harbour near Hanga Roa.


There had been much confusion as we gather the Islanders had a dispute with the Chilean Government and were refusing to collect the US$60 park entrance fee...but then it was announced fees would be collected....in the end they were not collected. Add to that the port authority kept our ship changing position for an hour till we could drop anchor, plus only one tender allowed alongside the jetty at a time. Took all morning to ferry all 1950+ passengers ashore and crew excursions were cancelled.
So OK the island is small and very expensive, but it was a treat to see the Moai statues and sacred sites. Island people were friendly and life style very laid back. One suspects that there may be some Government hand out, as one fails to see how islanders would survive otherwise. Could be wrong. Tick off the bucket list.

Days 87-89 At sea and Pitcairn Island.

Winds over 30 knots, rain squalls and confused sea had us all unsure about Pitcairn Island, but as we neared and got into the lee of the Island, there was the Pitcairn longboat with 31 of the Islands 47 permanent residents with their wears to sell. Who has not hear of “Mutiny on the Bounty” there they were including Fletcher Christians descendants to the 8th Generation, Emily, Ryan and Shawn who make 3 of the 5 kids in school on the Island.

Wonderful jewellery, woodwork, world sort after honey and honey cosmetics to fridge magnets with Pitcairn Island stamps on made and sold by the Christian kids to T shirts made in New Zealand, but we are told printed on Pitcairn Island. Doesn't mater as lots of stuff was sold on board the ship. Also a wonderful introduction by a 14 year resident and farewell songs from the group. Something magic and very special.
When one can see the size of a longboat and look at a map to see how far away was Batavia (Jakarta), can it be appreciated just what an exceptional seaman was Capt. Bligh to have navigated the way back with bare essentials and without loss of life.

Days 90-93 Tahiti

After a couple more days at sea we reached Papette in French Polynesia. A beautiful place with friendly people. However it is dreadfully overpriced on almost everything. Crazy prices for pearls and the sort of things tourists are interested in. As a consequence we found very few spent any money at all and those who did confined it to T shirts and trinkets.


M5-247ft long. Tallest single mast yacht ever

Nice to visit, but not to stay and definitely not to spend money. Only the super rich would find it a place to stay, like the owner of the 247 ft yacht M5 which is the largest single masted yacht in the world. This Ron Holland designed monster, complete with float plane and multiple toys sits as a giant along the pretty waterfront. I should add the water front is beautiful with wonderful gardens and pathways to amble and enjoys the tropics.




Next was Bora Bora even more beautiful and small population, just as expensive except for Chin Lee's supermarket, where prices were reasonable and a good variety of goods and with speciality items a fraction of the price in the tourist traps.
One feels the island group needs a lesson in marketing.

Days 94-96 American Samoa- Pago Pago (pango pango)



What a difference to Tahiti. Just as beautiful but super friendly and helpful, prices very reasonable and as a consequence a great deal of cash was left behind on the island. This is a place to come back to to enjoy the great food, great beer ( the local brew US$2.50 a 750ml bottle at the supermarket) and a huge range of wonderfully printed bolt of cloth. Just loved it and its crazy buses with cheap rides. Fabulous fun and sad to leave.

Days 97-99 At Sea
Bounced our way south toward New Zealand. Finally crossed the international date line and totally lost a day. Its a weird feeling going to sleep on Friday and waking up Sunday without having a drink!!

Day 100 Auckland New Zealand.
And so we are almost back where we started. Had a wonderful day with our friends, who introduced us to a Malaysian restaurant with genuine real Malaysian food. This followed by a superb home cooked chicken dinner. The rain and wind was a mear distraction and while it meant we could see very little, it was our friends we wanted to see and we had such a wonderful day.

Days101-104 at sea for Sydney.
We had a very bouncy ride up the New Zealand coast, before turning west for Sydney. We have been warned that bad weather is on the way and to take our sea sick tablets and tie everything down! Sounds ominous, so I will reflect on the trip as a whole.
Would I do it again, answer Yes. Were there things that annoyed, answer Yes. But there is no such thing as perfect. The ship is old and is due foe some renovation and while it leaks like a sieve, generally is still quite nice. Crew excellent, entertainment with few exceptions most enjoyable. Food is better in the buffet than the dining rooms and the dining rooms insist on using pretentious named dishes in every language but English, which is annoying in the extreme. Frankly all at our table agreed that we attended the dining room for he company and service and most definitely not for the food. When possible we would take all 10 of us to other venues, such as the buffet, steak house (lousy steak, but lamb and pork OK) or the very good pizza restaurant.
Photographers are pretty much in your face way too often and their pictures starting at A$20 each over priced for what they were. Shore excursions vastly over priced and the destination lectures often stretched the facts to favour Princess excursions over being independent. With few exceptions, the independent was a fraction of the price for in most cases the same thing. But you learn.
The destinations were well thought out and planned. Sometimes places you may have never heard of, yet once there were fun and exciting. While Suez was a pity and missing Halifax sad, to be able to land on Easter Island. Stop at Anzac Cove, spend day with Pitcain Islanders to name a few all helps to make it most memorable.
Passengers in the main on these long trips were repeat travellers and while the average age was around 77 they didn't always behave their age and could still party. Patience is needed with lifts and passage way clogged with walking frames, scooters, wheel chairs and very slow walking sticks, but on the plus side no yobs and screaming ankle bighters.
Yes we have booked our next long voyage.