Thursday, 22 December 2011

Celebrating 50 Years of Cruise Ship Visits to Dunedin

A Viking longship on Otago Harbour
It's not only cruise ships that you see in Dunedin! Couldn't resist this photo! 
   On December 23, 1961, 'ms Seven Seas' arrived in Dunedin after a long voyage from England. Since this first visit by a cruise ship, more than 600 have visited the city over the last 50 years. Today it is the turn of  'Sun Princess', calling at Port Chalmers on her round New Zealand itinerary . 
   This year's southern hemisphere cruising season will see the most cruise ship visits ever to the city. There will even be two ships in port on Christmas Day.
  It was reported in the local newspaper at the time that when the 'Seven Seas' arrived, the ship's band played, the passengers went on bus tours and spent up large on souvenirs. Not a lot has changed, has it?
  I wish you all   a very Merry Christmas and smooth seas  on every sailing. Thanks for 'cruising along' with me this year. See you in 2012!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Celebrate Christmas on a Cruise

Father Christmas on a cruise
How I would love to do that - celebrate Christmas on a cruise! Last year, that is exactly what Pamela, her husband Nick and their children Antonio and Amy did. They went on an 8 day Pacific Island cruise, on the newly refurbished P&O's 'Pacific Pearl', with 12 members of their extended family. The group included 4 children. I asked Pamela about this special time.
W: How was the ship decorated for Christmas?
P: The public areas were decorated, particularly around reception and the stair ways up around the shops.  The large areas at the top of the stairs (bow) had big gingerbread landscapes, houses, trees, animals with lots of lollies, snow and interesting bits and pieces.  We weren't sure if we were allowed to eat them or not but a lot of candy coated sweets seemed to have disappeared each time we went past!
W: What special Christmassy activities were there for the children to do?
P: They had a fair bit of practice to put on a show for family and friends. For that they got dressed up in Xmas type clothes. The little girls wore red skirts and Santa hats. The boys had reindeer antler headbands. Just before Santa arrived there were a lot of activities set out in the reception area such as biscuit decorating and face painting.
W: And what did Santa bring?
P: Each child on board got a present. They met Santa and had their photos taken with him beside the Christmas tree. The kids were delighted with their small gifts from the ship.
W: Where did you have Christmas Day - at sea or in port?
P:  We had Christmas at Lifou in New Caledonia. The children had a good day at the beach and I explored the area near where the tenders come in.
W: And Christmas dinner?
P: We all wore Santa hats at the table and had plenty to eat!
I won't be on a cruise ship for Christmas this year but perhaps next? That would really be something to look forward to!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Cruising to Darwin - What a Welcome!

Modern buildings in Darwin
If you are on a round the world cruise (and how I wish I was!) Darwin, the northernmost city in Australia, will be one of your ports of call. We went there when we were on one sector of a world cruise, the voyage between Auckland and Singapore.
  I really knew very little about Darwin, except that it was tropical, hot, had been devastated by a cyclone in 1974, and was in crocodile territory.  I was pleasantly surprised at the thriving modern city we found there.
  Darwin puts on a great welcome for cruise ship passengers. The cruise terminal at the port just down the hill from the main shopping area, was set out like a market with stalls showcasing local artists and crafts people's creations. As well as aboriginal art, handmade jewellery, printed textiles, hats and bags, there were a few surprises in store for us.
   How about a baby wallaby in a shopping bag 'pouch'; a python to drape around your neck; a black cockatoo that was very interested in everyone who came near it, nodding its head, raising its crest, and squawking loudly; and a frilled lizard that looked as if it would be quite at home in Jurassic Park.
   It was a great way for us to meet and chat to some of the locals - both of the human and wild life varieties.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Going to Cairns on a Cruise

It was when I saw this signpost in Cairns, northern Queensland, that I realised how far our cruise had taken us from home. We spent a relaxed day in the heat of this tropical city, alternating between spending time in air-conditioned shops, galleries and the Museum, and sitting out having a picnic under shady trees on the Esplanade, making the most of the sea breezes.
The Esplanade Beach at Cairns
   For someone who has spent countless hours on New Zealand beaches while growing up, it was strange to think that the locals in Cairns can't swim in the sea at certain times of the year because of nasty stinging sea creatures. Instead, they have a man-made 'beach' on the Esplanade. This was a beautiful area with a huge natural looking swimming pool, large grassy areas shaded by trees, even imported sand to give the real 'beachy' atmosphere.
  Cairns is a popular port of call on the round Australia itineraries and cruises that go between Sydney, Australia, and Asia. Many of the ship's passengers did an excursion out to the Great Barrier Reef, although rough seas made the catamaran ride unpleasant for some. We were tempted to go on a seaplane flight out over the reef - maybe next time we visit the city.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Becoming a Princess Cruises Elite Passenger: the Benefits

How to become an Elite passenger
Staying loyal to one or two cruise lines has its advantages. The more cruises you go on, the more the rewards for being a past passenger increase.
   Berni Blair and her husband have recently returned from their 40th cruise. This was a 29-night voyage on 'Sea Princess' across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney, via Hawaii and Tahiti. Having completed more than 150 cruise nights with Princess, they qualified as 'Elite Members'.
   And Berni loved it! She said she felt special and pampered the whole time.
   So what are the benefits of being an Elite passenger with Princess?
  • You never have to queue - you get priority check-in, priority tender embarkation and priority disembarkation. No more waiting in lines with hundreds of other passengers.
  • You get $200 credit towards Internet Cafe time on voyages of more than 21 days.
  • You get complimentary laundry and dry cleaning services.
  • You get a free mini bar setup (one time only).
  • You get a plate of delicious canapes delivered to your stateroom before dinner.
  • You get a traditional afternoon tea.
  • You get 10% discount at the onboard shops.
  • You get complimentary wine tasting.
  • You get invited to members-only onboard events
Some of these benefits apply to Platinum members (6th -15th cruise or 50-149 cruise nights) also. But for Berni, it was the extras, such as never having to queue and using the complimentary laundry services, that go with being an Elite member that really made this cruise special.
   Already she's planning her next cruise!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Take a Hands-on Cooking Class at Sea

Get the apron and the recipes at a HAL cooking class 
On a cruise, one of the things I like doing is attending the cooking demonstrations. It's a chance to pick up some new recipes, learn some handy culinary tips and sample the dishes prepared by the chef. Sometimes it is fun to take things one step further and be part of a hands-on cooking class.
   On one Holland America Line cruise I did exactly that. The cost was $29 for a three hour lesson  in the Culinary Arts Centre, taken by the head chef of the Pinnacle Grill. There were 10 of us in the class, ready and eager to start cooking three dishes. Once we had all donned our aprons and collected our recipe cards, the chef explained what we would be making: Stuffed Turkey Roulade, Winter Squash Risotto and Pannatone Tiramisu. Yum! 
  The staff had pre-prepared some of the ingredients, such as roasting the squash and cutting the turkey breasts into slices. Now the chef divided up parts of the recipes between us so we were all chopping, peeling, and slicing. He was kept busy going around making sure that the risotto was being stirred the right way, that the stuffing for the turkey breasts was well combined, that the egg whites for the tiramisu were whisked to soft peaks.
   Then he got a bit creative with the dishes, adding ingredients that weren't written in the recipes - finely chopped rosemary in the risotto, a dollop of cream cheese in the turkey stuffing, spreading a thin layer of mustard on the turkey breasts. I had to keep putting my knife down to pick up my pen and write the extras down.
   The chef passed on some handy hints to us keen students. He showed us how to use just the one large knife, depending on how you held it, for all cutting, dispensing with the need for vegetable peelers or cleavers. His demo of dicing an onion was an eye opener for me. I couldn't believe how I had got to be this age without knowing how to cut one properly!
   Somehow or other, under his expert guidance, all the dishes came together beautifully at the right times and at last we were ready to 'plate up' the food.
  Then we adjourned to the Pinnacle Grill, the waiters brought our food to our tables, and we enjoyed a relaxed and delicious lunch. The woman who had been in charge of pouring the Amaretto liqueur onto the tiramisu had done her job very enthusiastically! I left the table feeling as if I was breathing fire!

Monday, 7 November 2011

'Tis the Season - for Travel Expo

Travel brochures galore - read and dream about cruises!
Have you noticed all the advertisements in the newspapers this last week or so for cheap travel deals? Flights, cruises and hotels are all discounted heavily for 'earlybird' buyers. It means that you pay this year, in November or December, to have a holiday in the 2012/2013 season.
   We went along to a Travel Expo on Saturday. There were video presentations every half-hour for cruises and expeditions and excursions in various countries. I particularly enjoyed the one on Greece and Turkey, which reminded me of the time I lived in Greece.
  Many of the stands were set up advertising cruises. There was such a variety: European and Russian river cruises, holidays on barges in France, river cruises in South East Asia and China, round the world voyages, Mediterranean and Pacific and Caribbean cruises. I was in my element! In fact, I collected so many brochures that someone asked me if I was setting up my own travel agency!
   It was also a chance to talk to interesting people who had been on many cruises. One man had worked on cruise ships for seven years as part of the entertainment staff. Another had been on 40 cruises. 
   Since we got home from the Travel Expo I've been immersed in brochures and websites checking out various cruise holidays and ships. There is a wealth of information about cruising, which is one of the fastest growing trends in the vacation industry. All the brochures have seductive photos of beautiful ships with beautiful people on board sailing in beautiful weather to beautiful destinations. How tempting they are!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Spoilt for Choice - Princess Cruise Ships 'Down Under'

The Princess cruise line's logo
The 2012 and 2013 Southern Hemisphere cruise schedules are out now and here 'Down Under' we are spoilt for choice!
   Itineraries for Princess cruises include 14-day round New Zealand and across to Australia cruises; a circumnavigation of Australia; a Northern Australian Explorer from Sydney to Perth; even a special 11-day cruise to see the Solar Eclipse on November 14, 2012. There are also several cruises to some Pacific Islands to add in.
  Princess will have four ships sailing in the region - 'Diamond Princess', 'Sun Princess', 'Dawn Princess' and 'Sea Princess'. Their home ports are Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
   If you live in New Zealand, these cruises are an opportunity to 'escape' in luxury without the hassle and discomfort of long-distance flights. At the most, you'd fly for only three hours to get to an Australian port.
  We've been on 'Sapphire Princess', the sister ship to 'Diamond Princess', before and loved it. Now I've booked us a cruise on 'Sea Princess' to go on a South Pacific itinerary next February. Roll on 2012, I say!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Amusing Moments on ms Volendam

Candyfloss for dinner?
Within an hour of boarding the ship, before we had even put out to sea, I was having a surreal moment on the 'Volendam'.
   We were berthed at Captain Cook Wharf in Auckland, close by Queens Wharf  which was a fan zone for the Rugby World Cup. From my window seat in the Crow's Nest I could see onto Queens Wharf and the performance stage and enormous screen that showed close-up enlargements of the action on stage. I was idly looking down when something white on the screen caught my eye. I couldn't believe it! It was a sheep!
   Then another sheep showed up and two men, dressed in black shorts and singlets, proceeded to shear them. 
   So there I was, in the middle of New Zealand's largest city, in the central business district, on a cruise ship, watching a sheep shearing competition. How unexpected was that? Bizarre!
   On our third night on board, we had dinner at the Canaletto Italian restaurant. Very nice it was too. The waiter served us morsels of antipasti from a platter. I had a delicious seafood soup, followed by chicken marsala. We ordered desserts, a pastry concoction for my husband and a mousse for me.
  We got a plate of candyfloss! A big plate of bright green candyfloss. "We didn't order that," I told the waiter. "No, ma'am," he replied. "It's our present from the fairy in the kitchen."
   We did get the desserts we had ordered and we, like big kids at the Easter show, devoured the candyfloss. Thank you, kitchen fairy! 
   One last thing I found amusing. The photographers on board the 'Volendam' are no longer called photographers.They have morphed into 'Image Creators'. How's that for a fancy name!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Rugby Moments on the 'Rugby Legends' Cruise

A bar on the Volendam
The passengers on the 'Rugby Legends' cruise were mainly South African and Australian. I was expecting hordes of supporters to be roaming the decks wearing their countries' rugby colours and singing their national anthems - loudly. But it wasn't like that at all on the days we were onboard. Apparently the ship was awash with green and gold jerseys on the Sunday, but by the time we boarded on the Monday, the All Blacks had beaten the Wallabies and there wasn't an Aussie outfit to be seen! All was very quiet!
   The Piano Bar was designated the Springboks bar, the Crow's Nest was for Australians and the Ocean Bar was renamed the All Black Bar. Each was decorated with banners and flags both large and small, so they were very colourful. Large screen televisions continuously showed games from this Rugby World Cup as well as matches from the past.
   The Wallabies versus All Blacks game, which New Zealand won, seemed to be replayed a lot and had some of the Australians complaining that having to see it over and over again was 'rubbing salt into the wounds'!
Famous rugby people
   On the sea day there were several rugby themed events. People queued to have their photographs taken with the 'Rugby Legends', including famous Australian players Nick Farr-Jones and Mark Ella; the coach of the team that won the 1991 Rugby World Cup, Bob Dwyer; and the veteran sports broadcaster, Gordon Bray.
  In the afternoon there was a 'Legends Panel Discussion' and early evening was the time for a competition, Rugby Trivia.
  The 'Volendam' berthed at Captain Cook Wharf in Auckland, right next to all the action of the 'Fan Zones' created round the downtown area so those passengers who didn't go to the Bronze Final game on the Friday night could easily go ashore and soak up the party atmosphere that has been such an amazing feature of Rugby World Cup 2011.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

On the Rugby Legends Cruise for the Rugby World Cup

Volendam berthed at Mount Maunganui
We are just home from the 'Rugby Legends' cruise on one of my favourite ships, the 'Volendam'. The keenest rugby supporters started the cruise on October 4th in Australia, came across to New Zealand and have been in Wellington and Auckland, staying on the ship and attending the footy games for the Rugby World Cup.
   Some of the cabins hadn't sold and were released last week for a short 4 night cruise. That's the last minute deal I snapped up!
   We left Auckland on Monday evening and cruised overnight to Tauranga. Tuesday was spent in port at Mount Maunganui. Our friends from Te Puke met us and took us for a drive to Papamoa then out to lunch. We had a lot of catching up to do as we last saw them when we were on the 'Volendam' in March.
   The beach clean-up at Papamoa was in full swing with army personnel and volunteers working hard to clear the oil that had leaked from the ship-wrecked 'Rena'. The main beach at Mount Maunganui was open as the sand there was clean, but people were advised to stay out of the water.
   We left Tauranga on Tuesday evening and arrived in the Bay of Islands on Wednesday morning. The 'Volendam' anchored in the bay off-shore from Russell. Another ship was there also, the 'Orion' I wrote about in several blog posts last month.
   To get ashore we had to go in tenders to the wharf at Waitangi. Buses for the shore tours met the passengers there and a free shuttle bus into Paihia was on hand for those wanting to explore independently.
We met friends for an enjoyable afternoon tea at the cafe in the Waitangi Treaty House grounds. More talking!
   The cruise was supposed to overnight in the Bay of Islands but that plan changed and we left there in the evening to cruise for 24 hours before arriving back in Auckland on Thursday at 7.30 pm.
   I love sea days so especially enjoyed Thursday. The weather was a bit better too, sunshine instead of the dark grey clouds we'd had the rest of the time. We had superb views of the coastline and the full length of Great Barrier Island as we cruised all the way down to the Coromandel Peninsula before arriving back in Auckland as the sun was setting.
   We disembarked after breakfast on Friday - I wanted to stay longer! Our dog whined and cried when he had to leave the kennels - a bit like me having to leave the 'Volendam'!!
   Seriously though, fine food, great accommodation, excellent entertainment, friendly crew and all the hype of the Rugby World Cup made the 4 nights feel like 4 weeks away. I am soooo relaxed!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Last Minute Cruise Deal!

Booking a cruise with Holland America Line
Well, I've done something I haven't done before! I've booked a cruise at the last minute. Usually I book months in advance so I can select the stateroom we want and take advantage of the early bird discount.
   This time, I saw a short cruise that is leaving soon, for a great price and couldn't resist.
   The cabins are guaranteed, which means I don't get to choose. We won't know where we will be until we check in. The weather is very unsettled at this time of year with a chance of rough seas, so I sincerely hope we'll be somewhere close to midship! I've stocked up on seasick pills, ginger and sea bands just in case.
   But booking this close to sailing has made me realise a few things. I've found that I like the months of anticipation, the time to think about the ship and what to wear and the places we'll go that you have when you book further in advance.
   Having said that, I am starting to get excited about sailing soon.  The cruise is on a ship we have been on before and really like so I'm sure, no matter what the weather, we'll have a wonderful time!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

More Towel Animals to Brighten Your Day

I've had a request for more towel animals so thought I'd make this post mainly photos. They're guaranteed to bring a smile to your face!
One of the cruise companies did a poll recently with the question "What do you want on your pillow at night?"
  62% of the respondants said they wanted chocolates.
  I can take or leave chocolate. My vote went to the towel animals!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Cruise to the Rugby World Cup!

Rugby World Cup display
What a great atmosphere there is in New Zealand at the moment! Rugby World Cup fever has well and truly taken hold of the country. Flags of all the countries participating are flying on buildings, along roadsides, on people's cars. Spectators at the matches are dressing up in colourful costumes, draping themselves in flags, painting their faces in the colours of the teams they're supporting. It's all a little crazy!
   Three cruise ships are bringing thousands of rugby fans to New Zealand over the next few days. These lucky people will use the ships as their hotels when they are docked for several days in Wellington and Auckland and as their transport to get between those cities. They'll have a choice of going to the quarter-finals, semi-finals, Bronze Final and Grand Final games.
   Also on the cruise itineraries are visits to Picton, Tauranga and the Bay of Islands to fill in the time between the rugby games.
   The cruises are rugby themed so on board it will be full-on with rugby trivia, debates, replays of classic matches, supporters bars decked out in team colours and comedy hours. Rugby celebrities such as past captains and coaches are on the cruises to share their insights and their experiences of the game.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Get Crafty on a Cruise: Make a Journal

The travel journal I made on a cruise
I love doing craftwork and so, when on a cruise, I often join in their craft classes. Give me some paper, glue, beads, wire and paint and I'll keep busy for hours!
  Paper blossoms, wine charms, earrings, ceramic painting and scrapbooking are some of the things I've tried at sea.   
  On one Holland America Line cruise I made a journal. We were provided with the actual book and a whole selection of scrapbooking papers, stickers and other bits and pieces. I didn't finish it during the class so at our next port of call I rushed ashore to a stationery shop to buy some glue so I could continue making  it.
   That journal is one of my favourite 'souvenirs' now. Each cruise I write in the funny moments and the magical ones. Leafing through the pages when I'm back on dry land after our holiday reminds me of  lots of pleasant memories. I can imagine myself being at sea all over again!
  There's quite a range of art and craft to try at sea. Have a go! Bringing home a souvenir of your trip that you have made yourself makes it extra special.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Going Up and Down at Sea

And I don't mean when the cruise ship is in stormy weather. I mean going up and down in the onboard elevators. Because funny things happen at sea in those!
   Holland America Line ships have floormats in their elevators which, very conveniently, tell you what day it is. When all those lazy days at sea roll into one, when you can't remember if it's Monday, Tuesday or perhaps Friday, you just need to go and stand in an elevator and the answer is right under your feet.
   I always imagine the placing of those floormats to be a little like the 'Elves and the Shoemaker' fairy tale. When the shoemaker went to his workshop each morning, the elves would have been in at night and done some work. I like to think that, late at night, there is a team of crew members scurrying around with bags of floormats and, on the stroke of midnight, they whisk the old ones out of the elevators and put in the mats showing the new day!
   One morning I stepped into an elevator to go up to breakfast. I was wearing a black and white top, white trousers and black and white shoes. There was already a woman in the elevator wearing a black and white top, white trousers and black and white shoes. 'Why, honey," she drawled when she saw me. "Ain't we off the same page of the catalogue!"
   Many designers of cruise ship interiors seem to think that glass-fronted elevators are fantastic. Some elevators, like those on SuperStar Virgo, are edged with lights like the mirrors in a movie star's dressing room. Others, like the ones on Sapphire Princess, have cut-out brass scenes.
   But for people like me who don't want to see the deck falling away from under them, or conversely, the deck rising quickly to meet them, glass-fronted elevators aren't fantastic. They're just plain scary!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

About the MV Orion Expedition Cruise Ship

mv Orion
Lynn and Brien loved their time aboard the Orion which was built in 2003. They liked the smaller size of the ship. The five star Orion carries 106 passengers in 53 exterior suites and staterooms on three decks, with 75 crew. This high crew to passenger ratio ensured the excellent service that so impressed Lynn.
   The top deck of the Orion has an observation lounge with wraparound deck. This is the prime viewing site on board. On deck six there are the Galaxy Lounge, health spa, lecture theatre and sundeck with jacuzzi pool. On deck four are the hairdresser, boutique, reception, library, Leda lounge and outdoor cafe. Deck three has the Constellation Restaurant.
   Because it is an expedition ship, Orion has a specially strengthened hull for cruises that go into Antarctic waters, and the latest technology in communications and onboard engineering systems. Safety features exceed international standard requirements.
   Two tender boats, 10 inflatable Zodiac craft and several kayaks are carried on the Orion. These allow passengers to explore further afield, away from the ship, up rivers, in shallow waters, and to land on otherwise inaccessible shorelines. It's all part of the service on an Orion expedition cruise adventure!
   Many thanks to Lynn and Brien for answering my questions about the cruise, and for their photographs. They had a great time.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Typical Day on Board Orion

Delicious food on board Orion

On the Orion Kimberley expedition, Lynn told me about a typical day on board. "There was a choice of three venues to have breakfast, all of them excellent. Freshly baked muffins and brioches were put out on the bar to have with coffee throughout the day. There was usually something on in the morning, either a shore tour or exploring in the Zodiacs. Then back to the boat for a sumptuous buffet lunch and another activity in the afternoon."
   The afternoon's activities could be: another shore excursion; a lecture about the history, environment, art or wildlife of the area; a presentation such as cake decorating and sugar craft, about mineral make-up or Paspaley pearls where passengers were shown how the pearls were grown and the shells opened; a tour of the navigational bridge or the galley.
  4 p.m. was afternoon tea time, followed by a game of trivia. Passengers met in the Leda Lounge before dinner for a drink and a briefing about the next day's destination.
   After dinner, which was a degustation menu, different every night, there was music and dancing to while away the evening.
   No wonder Lyn and Brien enjoyed themselves so much on the cruise! Eating all that wonderful food, visiting all those interesting places and being looked after by the friendly, knowledgeable and helpful crew.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

On a Kimberley Expedition with Orion Cruises

On Orion's Kimberley Expedition
Lynn and Brien chose the Kimberley Expedition in Australia's northwest because they wanted to see more of the region. By going on this Orion adventure cruise, they were able to access some of the most remote and scenic places in Australia that would not be possible to visit on larger cruise ships.
   Their 10-day cruise started in the town of Broome and leapfrogged up the Kimberley coast, to Yampi Sound, Raft Point and Montgomery Reef, Talbot River and the Horizontal Waterfalls, the Hunter River, Vansittart Bay, King George River, and the town of Wyndham. Then they sailed across to East Timor, and back to Australia to end in Darwin.
   At each day's destination area, they transferred, in small groups, to Zodiac craft (inflatable rubber boats) to go ashore or stay out on the water to explore rivers, reefs or waterfalls. Some days they landed on deserted beaches and hiked to see ancient Aboriginal rock art. At other times they could go on a fishing tour, or a flight over the Bungle Bungle ranges, an area of great natural beauty, or on a helicopter flight to Mitchell Falls, or walk to see the wreck of a World War II transport plane. 
   Another aspect of the cruise was the opportunity to see an interesting array of bird life and, sometimes at very close quarters, crocodiles and snakes. Some great photo opportunities there!
   I asked Lynn if passengers needed a certain level of fitness to go on this Orion expedition cruise as some of the activities involved walking up steep hills and over uneven ground, as well as getting in and out of the Zodiacs.
   She replied that when she booked the cruise, she was told very specifically about what passengers needed to be able to do physically and what they would need to take in the way of clothing, but also that help would be available from the Expedition Team.
  Lynn thoroughly enjoyed all the shore tours, especially the treks to see Aboriginal rock drawings and the scenic flights over some really interesting rock formations. Out on the water, one of her favourite experiences was seeing the Horizontal Waterfalls - "a real adrenaline rush."

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Small Ship, Big Excitement on an Orion Cruise

Going ashore by zodiac on a Orion cruise
My friends, Lynn and Brien, are recently home from a small ship expedition on the Orion. They cruised the Kimberley region of northwestern Australia, from Broome to Darwin, an area of dramatic red rock formations, waterfalls, and Aboriginal rock paintings.
   Lynn kindly agreed to answer my questions about the Orion cruise. After talking to her, I want to put it on my bucket list! 
W: What made you choose an adventure/expedition type cruise rather than a 'lie in a deckchair and sip cocktails' one?
L:  We had previously been on an ordinary cruise and enjoyed it. Friends were going on the Orion cruise and it sounded like something we would like.
W:  Orion has several itineraries. Why did the Kimberley Expedition appeal to you?
L:  We'd been to Broome before and thought we'd enjoy an extensive look around the region.
W:  Orion is a five-star ship and the crew to passenger ratio is high; 75 crew members to 106 passengers  Tell us about the level of service on board.
L:  It was superb. The crew pride themselves on helping you.
W: What were some of the highlights of the places visited?
L:  I especially enjoyed the Horizontal Waterfall at Talbot Bay, the plane ride over the Bungle Bungle Ranges and Montgomery Reef. The waters cascading over the reef were spectacular and the added bonus was that we had a drink there at sunset! 
W:  Which of the shore tours did you like the best? 
L:  The visits to the towns of Wyndham and Kununarra were interesting as were the treks to see Aboriginal rock drawings. 
W:  What was your overall impression of the cruise?
L:  All in all, it was a great trip. We liked the smaller ship and the friendliness of the crew. 
   In my next post, I'll write more about Lynn's experiences on Orion's Kimberley Expedition.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Convicts and Kangaroos - Shore Tour From Hobart

At the Bonorong Wildlife Park
With the southern hemisphere cruising season about to kick off next month, many ships will be calling into Hobart, Australia as part of their Pacific intineraries. I thought I'd tell you about a Princess Cruise shore tour we did from Hobart.
   History and native animals - two of my favourite things - combined on this bus trip that went to the convict-built town of Richmond and the Bonorong Wildlife Park.
   Richmond was beautiful. The little town was built by the earliest settlers, convicts exported from England in the early nineteenth century for often petty crimes, to a life of hard labour in the young colony. They quarried the sandstone with pickaxes to construct the Richmond bridge in 1834, and many of the town's buildings. In the sunlight, the sandstone has a golden glow which reminded me of villages in the Cotswolds in England.  Pete toured the tiny jail and learnt more about convict-era history while I browsed the craft and gift shops. I would liked to have spent longer in Richmond.
   The Bonorong Wildlife Park was a chance to get up close and personal with some Aussie natives. The kangaroos and wallabies roamed freely and were unafraid of visitors. A koala bear posed for photos. The Tasmanian devils were fascinating to watch. About the size of cats, they were hyperactive, chasing each other around and scrapping over food. With their jet black fur, ears that glowed red and ultra-sharp claws, they looked like vicious little beasties. Perhaps they could be hired out as extras in a vampire movie! 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Which Cabin Shall I Choose?

This is a question I hum and ha over every time I'm planning a cruise. We love to cruise but we also have a budget to stick to so ....Which type of cabin? Which deck? Where on the ship? How much will each grade cost? Is the extra, significant expense worth it for a balcony cabin?
   I look at the itinerary, check out the number of ports of call versus number of sea days, and hum and ha some more.
  But so far, on the cruises we've been on round the Pacific and Asia, we've been perfectly satisfied with an interior cabin, midships, on a lower, rather than upper deck. There's less chance of seasickness then and we hardly spend any time in the cabin anyway.
   I don't choose the cheapest option, but make the position of the cabin the deciding factor. Close, but not too close to the elevators; not near the laundromats; not underneath high traffic, possibly noisy areas such as restaurants or music venues. It's great that cruise lines put deck plans on their websites. You can really do your research before you book.
   And I know I should be calling them 'staterooms' not 'cabins', but I'm the one who calls 'gangways' 'gangplanks'! I think I read too many books about pirates when I was a child!
   Mind you, finding our cabin each day can be a challenge! Take me out of an elevator, put me in a long, long corridor lined with doors on each side, and I totally lose my sense of direction! I can't tell where I am, which way the 'pointy end' of the ship is, where on earth our cabin might be.
   Except on a Pacific cruise last year. Just along from us, someone had stuck a giant paper bird with a fat stomach onto their door. I always knew where our cabin was on that cruise - four doors past the pregnant parrot!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Temptations Galore: Food on a Cruise

Cakes, cakes and more cakes on the Volendam
Look at those cakes! Could you resist them? All that sugar, butter and cream, you're thinking. But don't they look delicious. Aren't you tempted? You'll have just one. But when the waiter puts two on your plate it would be rude to refuse, wouldn't it?
   Every day on a cruise the food temptations are there. In the buffet, in the restaurants, out on the deck at the barbecue, beside the pool at the pizza parlour, at a themed dinner, during a formal high tea, not to mention the afternoon cookies and ice cream. What would you have?
   Some people go on a cruise and pile their plates high at every meal, determined to get their money's worth. Others are more choosy, picking the healthier options at the salad bar and declining cooked breakfasts in favour of fresh fruit and cereals. Still others eat more or less the same amount as they do at home, with a few extra treats gobbled up along the way.
   The enjoyment of food is a huge part of a cruise. You may be watching a culinary demonstration, taking a hands-on cooking class, perusing the menu at dinner, or lying in a deck chair thinking about your next meal.  But you can be sure that the chefs, the bakers, the pastry makers and the kitchen staff have all been working very hard to produce delicacies to enhance your cruise experience.  
  Now, which cake shall I choose? 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

On SuperStar Virgo: What to do When the Sun Goes Down

Lido show lounge on Superstar Virgo
Once the sun goes down, the music, dance and magic come alive on SuperStar Virgo. There are several venues for evening entertainment and I wandered between them, enjoying the contrast between Broadway-style shows, piano music and dance parties.
   The Grand Piazza was the setting for pianist Shunmin to play oriental ballads on the grand piano. On the next night, the Santinig Trio entertained with 'Evening Melodies'.
   In the Galaxy of the Stars things were hotting up on the first night of the cruise with an Adults Only 'Hot Strip Off' party at midnight, promising that you could 'go crazy, feel sexy and be naughty tonight'! Hmmm!
   At other times in the Galaxy, there was a dance party with the Sound Clippers Lounge Band, easy listening music in the wee hours of the morning with the Elan Show Band, ballroom dancing, game shows and bingo.
   The Lido is the huge show lounge, seating over 850 people. I saw two of the best shows I've seen at sea there: a magic show and a Broadway-style production of song and dance.
   The magician was Philippart and his assistant, Anja. Direct from Monte Carlo, they combined comedy with tricks that were amazing. Colourful, kooky costumes, lighting and sound effects made their act quite a spectacle.
   'Reflections of Russia' was a stunning show with performers from Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine and Brazil. Acrobatic performances of skill and strength, and classical and modern dance numbers were all performed with grace and high energy. Add to that the visual effects beamed onto a huge screen background, the fantastic costumes and the rousing music. It was truly a spectacular performance.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Does Your Cruise Overnight in Singapore?

Central Singapore at night
If you are in port overnight in Singapore you are in for a treat. There is a stunning, free, laser light and sound show that is well worth a 10-minute taxi ride from the cruise terminal to Marina Bay Sands to see. Every evening at 8 pm and again at 9.30 pm, the night sky around Marina Bay explodes in a dazzle of coloured beams of laser lights, music soundtracks and fountains. It's fantastic!
   And if you're in Singapore on the day of a festival, you can be sure of night-time fireworks as well.
  An overnight stop in Singapore is a great chance to see South-East Asia's cleanest, greenest city in all its after-dark blaze of lights and colours. I'm sure you'll be surprised.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Singapore as a Cruise Port of Call

A statue in Chinatown, Singapore
Singapore is an exciting city-state, small enough to visit the most interesting areas easily on a day in port. Cruise ships dock at the Harbourfront Terminal, right next to Sentosa Island. In fact, cable cars taking people to all the attractions on Sentosa pass directly over the ships at the wharf.
  Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam are the ethnic areas, full of colours, exotic sights, attractive architecture and appetising smells. The Colonial District on the bank of the Singapore River has beautiful old buildings and gardens.
  Shopping is the national 'sport' of Singapore! Huge, airconditioned malls line Orchard Road and the newest, in the Marina Bay Sands complex, even has canals (like Venice but with sampan rides instead of gondolas) inside it. If you find the heat and humidity too much outdoors, then going to a mall is like being in a cool oasis.
  In Singapore you can choose the kind of shopping you want to do - from high-end luxury stores or roadside street stalls or a mix. And it will be only a short, cheap taxi ride back to the ship. In fact, the cruise terminal joins on to the biggest shopping mall in Singapore - VivoCity - so if spending money is your game, you mightn't get further afield than that!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

SuperStar Virgo: The Grand Piazza

The Grand Piazza on Superstar Virgo
Statues in the Grand Piazza on board
The Grand Piazza on Deck 7, is aptly named - it certainly is grand, and enormous. Colourful stained glass ceilings glowed brightly and glass-fronted elevators rimmed with lights rose and descended on one wall. Sweeping staircases led past huge statues of a man and woman dressed as in ancient Rome. There, on the landing, was a stunning centrepiece - a trio of larger-than-life carved horses, frozen in mid-gallop with manes ruffled and nostrils flared. All very dramatic.
  On boarding the SuperStar Virgo, I was escorted into the Grand Piazza by a crew member and offered a choice of a glass of champagne or fruit cocktail as a welcome drink.  He then proceeded to go through the information sheet, point by point, with me. But all I wanted to do was look around and soak up the festive atmosphere.
   Cameras flashed, passengers raced up and down the stairs to have their photos taken in front of the horses, the band was playing - all was light and noise and colour. It was great!
   Those glass-fronted elevators gave me the heebie-jeebies though. I made sure I always stood close to the door, with my back to the transparent wall so I couldn't see us going up and down. Have I told you I'm scared of heights?!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Where did, or didn't, SuperStar Virgo go?

Port Klang, Malaysia
The two night cruise I was on from Singapore to Malaysia was called the 'Malacca/Kuala Lumpur Cruise'. The itinerary said that the ship would be in Malacca from 7 - 9 a.m. then would sail on to Port Klang, the nearest port to Kuala Lumpur.
   I knew that passengers would not be allowed off the ship in Malacca but I thought that at least I'd be able to see the city from the observation deck.
   Nope! We didn't go there at all. Some passengers who had booked an all-day shore tour to Malacca and K.L. were taken off the ship by tender when we were in mid-stream. They'd rejoin SuperStar Virgo at Port Klang that night.
   We kept sailing up the Straits of Malacca; Indonesia on one side of us, Malaysia on the other. I hadn't realised how narrow this waterway is. We were in sight of land the whole way.
   Port Klang is huge; miles of wharves, hundreds of ships. This photo is of the cruise ship terminal there. It's literally in the middle of nowhere. From the terminal it's about a 40 minute drive, depending on traffic, into Kuala Lumpur.
   I didn't want to spend five or six hours on shore tours to enormous shopping malls or rush around in K.L. so decided to stay onboard, seeing the cruise was so short, and enjoy the ship's facilities for the rest of the day. But I did go ashore at one point to walk around outside the terminal, just so I could say I'd been to Malaysia!
   One woman was highly excited about the chance to shop at one of the biggest malls in Asia. She left the ship, clutching her husband in one hand and waving his credit card in the other, shouting, "Bye. I'm going to make him poor!"
   From the look of her when she arrived back onboard, carrying armloads of shopping bags, I'd say she certainly did.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Food, Food and More Food on SuperStar Virgo

Display at The Samurai Restaurant on Superstar Virgo
Food is always important on a cruise. Life seems to revolve around meal times and snack times and fancy afternoon tea times. Not to mention supper times and party food times and chocolate extravaganza times.
   On SuperStar Virgo there are 12 eateries. Three of them are free; at the others you have to pay for your meals.
   The Bella Vista is an enormous (free) restaurant, with seating for 586 people and serving European food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
   A 330 seat Chinese family-style restaurant called The Pavilion is also free for those meals. As its menu featured double-boiled pig's stomach and fish head curry for breakfast, I decided to stick to my yoghurt and muesli at the Bella Vista!
   The Mediterranean Buffet is the free, serve yourself restaurant with a wide range of dishes that are pork and lard free, catering for the religious dietary restrictions of many of the passengers.
   If you want to, you can pay a la carte and eat at more intimate venues. The Taj is an Indian, certified halal buffet. Or choose Noble House for Chinese, the Taverna for snacks, Blue Lagoon for Asian fast-food open 24 hours, or enjoy an ice-cream sundae at the Gelato Cafe. The Samurai, with this eye-catching display at the entrance, has Japanese food served by kimono-clad waitresses.
   At 11 p.m. on the first night my taste buds were tempted by the 'Choco Madness Party'. Luscious desserts were set out by the Parthenon Pool and we munched on chocolate treats while the band played at Sail Away.                                                       
At the Palazzo
   The Palazzo is a stunning, Italian, fine dining venue, done out in red and gold with a genuine Picasso painting hanging in pride of place. I got talking to the maitre d'. When he showed me the menu, I gulped at the prices. He didn't mind that I couldn't afford to eat there. "Come in and have a look anyway," he said. 'Sit down and I'll take your photo and you can pretend." So here I am, pretending to be champagne-drinking, caviar-eating rich!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Amusing Moments on SuperStar Virgo

Lots of fun on Superstar Virgo
There were 2,000 passengers on SuperStar Virgo - about 70% Asian (Chinese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Korean), over 25% Indian and about 50 couples from Australia and South Africa - and me! As the only person travelling alone, I felt as if I stuck out like a sore thumb. Asian people kept coming up to me and asking if I was by myself. When I said I was, many of them would pat my arm in sympathy! It seemed as if they couldn't understand what it would be like to travel without being part of a family gathering.
   The next query was usually, "How old are you?" They certainly weren't shy about asking the personal questions.
   There was a large group of Herbal Life consultants from around the region as passengers. They were parading round wearing brightly coloured T shirts with 'Have you had a shake today?' emblazoned across their chests. Everytime I saw one of them I felt like shouting, "No!"
   The cruise director and his staff were called the 'Fun Bunch.' They were all very frenetic and rah, rah, rah with microphones at full volume. To warm up the audience before the evening shows they'd launch into the Chicken Dance. People rushed down the aisles to join them at the front, all flapping and wiggling and clucking. Very strange!
   And something I found even more strange -  a sign at the gangway when we were docked at Port Klang, Malaysia, said you were not allowed to bring on board nunchucks or ninja stars, but you were allowed handcuffs and night sticks. Now that's bizarre!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cruising in Asia with Star Cruises

On Superstar Virgo
Yes, I know it's not 'cruising the Pacific'! But I've been in Singapore for two weeks and while there, took the opportunity to go on a two night cruise on SuperStar Virgo. This is Star Cruises' largest ship, based all year round in Singapore. What a difference this cruise was from the other cruises I've been on.
   I think the average age of the cruisers would have been about 40. Most of the passengers were Asian and Indian, travelling in large family groups, from toddlers to grandparents. There were also many young Singaporean couples with babies and pre-schoolers. About 50 Australian and South African couples were on board - and me, on my own!
   The crew were great. Several took me under their wing, calling me 'Madam Wendy', putting me at the front of queues (despite my protests that I was happy to wait in line) and seating me by the window in the dining room. One even rushed over and gave me a hug as I was disembarking.
   The public areas of the ship were quite grand, with an enormous Grand Piazza (I'll write more about that in another post), two huge dining rooms and several themed smaller restaurants. There were the standard cruise ship features such as a show lounge that seats hundreds of people, bars and disco. But this ship also had private karaoke rooms, rows of slot machines for gambling in places other than the casino, and hardly any deckchairs. I think people in this hot and humid part of the world so close to the equator love to be inside in the cool air conditioning. Not many walked out on the promenade deck.
   I found the cruise fascinating for people-watching! Many cultural customs, family interactions, and senses of humour were different from what I am used to. I was glad I'd gone on this cruise for the experience of cruising with people from Asia and India. But would I go on one again? Probably not.