December 23, 2015

World Cruise 2016 – Proposed Itinerary

Our World Cruise on the Amsterdam will be stopping at about 44 ports in 22 countries on 4 continents. Most port stays are 9 to 12 hours, with none less than 8 hours in duration. At some of the major ports like Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, etc. we will be spending several days in the same port. Lots of sight seeing and shopping opportunities. I'm glad I am not a shopper else I would return with several more suitcases.

Of course between ports of call we will also be spending many days at sea without sight of land, the longest stretches being over eight days between Panama and French Polynesia, and over seven days crossing the Atlantic on our return to Port Everglades from Europe.

Many cruises are advertised as "World" travels, but I have learned this itinerary actually is a true circumnavigation of the earth, and certainly is deserving of the name "World Cruise".

The first recorded circumnavigation of the earth was Ferdinand Magellan's expedition of 1522. There have been many others since, not only by sailing ships, but more recently by planes, spacecraft, small single handed water craft, balloons and other modes of transportation.

The first of the two antipodal points we will cross will be as we cruise from Waitangi, to Auckland, New Zealand and the second as we approach the straight of Gibraltar on our way to Cadiz, Spain after leaving Barcelona.

The other requirements for true circumnavigation of the earth are to travel basically in one direction, and to begin and end at the same location. The Amsterdam will be headed more or less west for the entire cruise, and we leave from and return to Port Everglades, Florida.

There is another advantage to continually traveling westerly. Over the period of 4 months I will have 24 days during which I get an extra hour of sleep. Great, much easier on the internal clock than losing an hour. Of course there is no such thing as a free lunch, also as a result of going west I lose January 28 completely. It won't exist for me. I hope nothing important is going to happen that day, I'll miss it.

I'm sure you have noticed that I have been using words like "should" and "about". This is because sea travel in many ways is the same today as it was 100 years ago, and has similarities to most public transportation in the US today. There is a schedule, and there are plans, and sometimes things are on schedule and other times they are not.

The itinerary for this cruise was planned several years ago, and already there have been changes, and there may be more for any number of reasons. Pirates may become more aggressively active, especially off the coast of Somalia where they have taken over a number of ships in recent years for ransom. Political climates may change and suddenly the ship is no longer welcome to visit. Terrorists are causing unrest in many corners of the world, and the prudent decision may be to avoid certain ports that previously were deemed safe.

Hurricanes, typhoons and severe storms will alter our course, guaranteed. The captain will do everything possible to avoid being caught in a dangerous storm. And of course human and mechanical breakdowns may force the ship to seek the closest port, not the next one on our planned journey. We don't hope for these disruptions, and we don't anticipate encountering these obstacles, but if we do, safety at sea comes first and plans are sometimes altered. That is just the way it is.

The map shows our projected route, it may change.

Jan 5th is approaching quickly, and if all goes as planned at least until then, my next post will be from somewhere on the high seas as I begin my 115 day World Cruise 2016.

December 22, 2015

World Cruise 2016 – Preparation

I has been about 10 weeks since I made the decision to circumnavigate the World on the Holland American ship ms Amsterdam, and less than two weeks until I depart. For those of you that know me, it will come as no surprise that I have everything ready to go except for putting stuff neatly in the suitcases. Yes that is plural, I don't think I have ever cruised before with more than one suitcase. I will need two for all my clothes and miscellaneous stuff, and a carry-on for those things I don't dare trust to the luggage gorillas like my boarding pass, passport, prescriptions, camera, computer, etc.

A number of the preparations for this cruise have been interesting to say the least. How many razor blades do I need for 4 months? How much toothpaste? How much shaving cream? Questions I have never bothered to think about in my entire life are now very important.

I very rarely have ever used a "to pack" list to travel, I would just gather up my stuff and go, but the consequences of forgetting something important are just too great on this adventure. My "need to take" list has over 100 items, and a single item like "dress shirts" really means 5 or 6 individual shirts.

Some items are rather obscure, and easily overlooked, like the foam inserts for my shoes. One pair won't last me 4 months, I need to take replacements. I know from experience that 2032 coin cell batteries are impossible to find on a ship or in most ports. Better bring spares. Same with AAA batteries for my computer mouse. The list goes on....

If you have read my previous posts you may remember the difficulties I had when I tried to be proactive and replace the battery in my pocket watch. They broke the crystal when trying to put the back on. The store did the right thing, and took the watch to a jeweler to be repaired. It arrived at my house a few days after I returned from my cruise on the Vision of The Seas. The watch looked great. I set the time, and within a few minutes the watch stopped. I tried a second time, and the same behavior. Looking very carefully with a magnifier I could easily see that the second hand had been bent and was catching on the minute hand almost every minute. Reminds me of a phrase I used often during my career. Once a job is screwed up, it would remain screwed up.

I return to the battery store. Everyone remembered the watch with the shattered crystal. I set the watch carefully on the counter. It wasn't running. The clerk changed the time, the second hand began to move and then stopped over the minute hand. What could they say? They said they would take it to the jeweler to be repaired, again.

Being a little skeptical at this point, I decided it would be prudent to purchase myself a Christmas present, an old fashioned wind up mechanical pocket watch. No battery to replace, no outside vendor to rely on. I order one, it arrives in a few days, and I will take it to sea with me. Now if I only can remember to wind it each day.

A number of the preparations I needed to make were relatively easy. The IRS posted the required form to request a filing extension over a month ago. Quickly completed and sent in the mail. I don't know how long the treasury has had it, but there is now an online system where you can schedule tax payments up to a year before the payment date. Set the date, amount, what type of tax and the funds are moved from your designated bank account on the scheduled day. No writing post dated checks and hoping someone remembers to mail on time.

I needed to update my home security alarm system so it could be easily monitored by my children that live nearby. Easily done by the alarm company in less than four hours. If I have the internet speed, I can even monitor cameras inside of my house from anywhere in the world. And to think if I were taking a trip like this 50 years ago I probably would leave without even locking the front door.

The main water shutoff to my house didn't work well, so I took this trip as an excuse to replace the valve along with the 16 year old water heater since the plumber had to redo some of the pipes to the water heater to replace the valve. The plumber arrived on schedule and made quick work of the repairs. I think I can cruise for at least 10 years without having to be concerned about the water heater starting to leak while I am gone.

I only had one appointment to reschedule, a regular dental checkup that I postponed a few months. All of my other doctors I just scheduled after my return. My cardiologist was most humorous when he told the receptionist to "just make Steve's appointment for whenever he wants" a stark contradiction to most providers that want to schedule appointments as frequently as possible without being challenged by the insurance companies.

I did run into one issue that I will share so someone else doesn't get caught. Before I even booked this cruise I called my Medicare Prescription Insurance company to ask what I needed to do to get the extra prescriptions I needed for the cruise as normally I get only a 90 day supply. I was told this is a common occurrence and all I needed to do was call them before I ordered the refills, and they would enter a vacation override into my account. They also told me to be aware that they will only do this once per year. Sounded simple enough to me, or so I thought.

When I called the insurance company in early December to arrange the vacation over ride so I could order prescriptions to last me thru May 10th, I was told it could not be done. Surprise, they do not allow a vacation override to transition the end of the year, a major detail they failed to mention previously, and ordering in January doesn't allow enough time for processing and shipping! I expect this is unique to my policy or unique to United Health Care, as I know other passengers ordered extra medications without issue. Fortunately for me, this is not causing any problem as I learned many many years ago the value of maintaining a small stock pile of drugs I take on a regular basis. Over the years this has carried my through labor strikes, lost shipments, manufacturing shortages, and botched paper work. I'm saved again by planning ahead for the unexpected, or as we said in the Boy Scouts: "Be Prepared".

What about money? Credit cards are fine for major purchases while in another country, but the vendor on the street corner usually isn't equipped to handle credit cards. There was much discussion on the Cruise Critic web site as to whether or not Holland America would have a currency exchange on board. Some passengers said they did in the past. Customer Service gave many different answers depending on who you spoke to or maybe who was asking them, and HAL's printed documentation says both yes and no, depending on which page you are reading. Some passengers will believe the answer they want, I won't speculate but will know the correct answer by May. I'm not waiting that long.

Again, I take the no frustration approach and arrange to take 15 different currencies with me. I must say that the paper bills of many other countries are much more attractive than US bills.

I also call my two credit card companies to tell them of my foreign travel plans. They have entirely different approaches. The representative at card one, took notes on the 30 countries I would be visiting, and the dates that I would be there, only to discover that she couldn't enter more than a few into the system database. I suggested she have a conversation with a manager and she did, but the manager had no suggestions. The end result, the system says to read her notes if there is any question.

The second card company took a different approach. The note in their system only says I will be "out of the country" with no indication of where. I was then told if I have a problem with the card being accepted, I was to call them. Probably will work from a security standpoint, but certainly not very customer friendly for me. Fortunately this is my backup card, and I don't expect to be using it.

One of the best things to transpire since the time of booking, was that about a dozen passengers got together for an afternoon just to meet each other and spend some time getting to know one another. It was a great idea, and everyone had a wonderful time. A special thanks to our gracious hosts Mel and Karen. This now puts me in the position of being able to predict with 100% confidence that I will know some other passengers when I board the ship.

Thru my travel agent I made arrangements for my daughter and her husband to board the ship as visitors on our day of embarkation. With increased security concerns, the cruise lines are not as open to visitors as in years past. The only visitors I have seen in the last few years were travel agency personnel or prospective employees.

Since Adrienne and Steve are avid cruisers themselves, it is going to be painful to board a ship, and then be asked to leave a few hours later. On the other hand, I doubt if there will be any passengers close to their age on the ship, and they may be just as happy to not be stuck with a group of mostly "mature" cruisers. These four months will probably be the longest period of time in her entire life she has spent without seeing me. We will survive.

Speaking of pain, Adrienne's gall bladder surgery took longer than expected, but "Griffin" is no more. She is still recovering, and has been released by her doctor to return to work in a few days with minor restrictions.

We will be driving to Port Everglades on the morning of January 5. Boarding is expected to begin about 11 AM, however the ship does not leave until 11 PM that night. The latest in the day I have ever started a cruise. I haven't heard any official explanation, but I assume the long turnaround time allows for late arriving passengers, more time to load the large amounts of luggage and provisions, and more time for the complex check in process with many passengers having visas that must be checked prior to boarding.

There were many other details to work out, but I think they are all taken care of and I still have time to enjoy the Holidays and hopefully to post information about the ships itinerary.
World Cruise 2016 – Preparation

December 10, 2015

Vision Of The Seas - Day 9 & 10

Day 9 - We arrive at George Town, Grand Cayman on time in mid-morning, anchor off shore and tender to the port. We are one of four ships in port, two Royal Caribbean ships, One Celebrity ship and the Zenith currently owned by a French company but previously sailing under the Celebrity and then the Pullmantur Brand of RCCL. 

Each tender carries about 250 passengers, and it appears there are at least three tenders serving each ship. The dock, tour staging areas and the local shopping area are quite crowded.

I don't remember ever having taken a shore excursion in George Town, so several days ago I selected "Land and Sea". A semi submarine boat trip combined with a bus tour of the island.

When I returned to my cabin last night there was a note on my door, and a phone message. The boat had mechanical problems and would not operate. I could either cancel the entire trip, or take just the land portion with a 50% refund. I elect to take the land portion.

The temperature is about the same it has been for days, in the high 80's, but unlike during our previous ports the wind is very light so it feels much more uncomfortable. I have about a 45 minute wait before the tour bus departs.

Our first stop is at the "turtle farm" where turtles are grown for meat. They don't export any, as their entire production is consumed locally.

After a 30 or 45 minute visit where everyone is given the opportunity to hold a turtle about the size of a dinner plate, and to browse the always present gift shop, we return to the bus for a 2 minute trip to the "Tortuga Rum Cake Factory". The samples are very good, but "factory" should have been spelled "sales store". Tortuga Rum Cake products are found all over the islands and on may cruise ships. I think it would be impossible to produce them all in the back room of this retail outlet, but maybe they are.

I may have discovered the Karma of all the "time" issues I have encountered. Possibly my time is up as I am definitely headed to "Hell" now. We drive on to our next destination. Yes, "Hell" really is the name of the town. We can buy postcards and mail them from the post office. Of course there are many souvenirs touting the towns name. Hell was pretty much as I expected, but much smaller.

The rest of our excursion is uneventful. The speakers in the bus are so distorted I don't think anyone is able to understand what the driver is saying. As I head back to the ship on the tender, I consider there may have been a reason I never took, or don't remember having taken this tour before.

Tonight, dinner is the one that many passengers have been waiting for. Finally lobster tails are on the menu. Obviously I am in the minority by choosing prime rib. The menu is quite different with only three entrees being offered. It is labeled as a Holiday menu. They have prepared a special cake for desert which is quite good. Even though this is the only time lobster has been offered in the dining room, guests may have as much as they want. It is not uncommon to see people have two or three tails.

I do have to add, that our table is seated and served correctly, again by Warren. Four of my table mates are new, while two of them I have dined with earlier in the cruise.

I learn that Adrienne's troublesome gall bladder has been named "Griffin" by her friend Amie. Griffin won't be around long as 24 hours after we return to the port of Tampa her surgeon will remove "him".

Day 10 - At Sea – We proceed north westerly around the western tip of Cuba, and west of the Florida Keys. The weather is definitely cooler, probably in the mid to high 70's and the skies are mostly cloudy. We did have a shower earlier in the morning, and the decks are still wet.

After breakfast I attend the captain's corner where the top officers are asked many questions from the passengers. It is obvious there are many seasoned travelers as there are few of the usual silly questions like "does the crew go back to port every night to sleep?"

As the day progresses, the seas lay down to almost perfectly flat. Since I have a credit balance on my shipboard account from the canceled tour of the previous day, I decide to have a steak from the specialty restaurant "Chops" for dinner.

There is next to no line waiting to be seated tonight. I am whisked off to the same table as I have had the last several nights. This time I am the 5th person to arrive. Within 10 minutes the last couple arrives and we soon order dinner, and all are served together. At the last dinner of the cruise it is apparent that Dan has made some progress with the dining room staff.

My tenderloin steak is perfectly prepared, and we enjoy our last dinner together. We say our goodbyes and I give everyone this blog address.

Dan stops me on the way out of the dining room. I express my compliments on the improvements I have seen in the last few days. A smile comes across his face as he confides he has kept his dining room staff every night until 1:00 AM to give them additional training. Obviously it has worked, and pretty much provides proof that the feedback of a guest can make a difference.

After dinner I go to the Schooner Bar for an after dinner drink. Adrienne, Steve and half a dozen friends are gathered to play musical trivia. I am absolutely no help, but they get many correct, but not enough to win the coveted grand prize of a plastic Royal Caribbean key chain.

I stay for a while chatting with Steve #1. This is Steve #1 because he concedes that he might be a day or two older than I am. I am Steve #2, and Adrienne's husband Steve is Steve #3, the youngest of the Steve's. There were a few other lounge guests that claimed to also be named Steve, but I am doubtful. The declarations may have been a result of the brief discussion that maybe there should be a "Steve" cruise.

Very uncharacteristic for me, but I actually did 99% of my packing in the afternoon before dinner. Shortly after 10 I retire to my cabin for the night. Tomorrow morning it is back to reality. Drive home, unpack, and begin final preparations for my next cruise.

December 09, 2015

Vision of The Seas –Day 8

Day 8 – At Sea - The weather continues to be near perfect. We are headed on a north westerly course and the wind is behind us making the apparent wind on deck very light. Many passengers decide it is a perfect day to lay out in the sun, but I am not one of them. I stay out of the sun most of the time except back home when I go to the pool early in the morning before the sun is very high in the sky.

I decide today to splurge for breakfast and have an egg omelet. During buffet breakfast hours eggs are cooked to order and brought to your table in the Windjammer. Eggs are good and I even have a couple of slices of bacon.

I take several walks around various decks just for the exercise. Something I never paid much attention to before, in addition to the regular lifeboats which are large enough to hold all passengers and crew, deck 5 aft the ship also carries inflatable rafts capable of holding an additional 1600 people. There are also more life rafts forward, but I didn't count them. Maybe some other day.

On previous cruises I have seen the crew training in the use of the rafts. As part of the exercise they put the raft in the pool, flip it upside down and the crew members take turns righting the raft and helping other members climb in from the water. I don't expect to ever need to use them, but it is nice to have a little idea how they work just in case.

During the early afternoon I make several posts to my blog including sending some pictures of Curacao. The process was very slow and time consuming. For the next few days I have free internet time, but that isn't always the case. I will learn when I return home if the process completed correctly.

Dan, the dining room manager calls me to ask how the dining room went last night. I relate that it was better, but he acknowledged that the seating process was not up to his expectations. After 20 or 25 minutes on the phone I was almost beginning to feel that he was looking for me to help solve his seating problems.

I don't know why, but 30 minutes later a small plate of cheese and fruit arrives at my room. Usually there is an attached note that indicates the who, what, and why. There is no note, and the room service delivery person has no idea. I suspect it was sent by Dan.

The usual crowd gathers in the Diamond lounge at 4 PM. It is our second formal night, and fewer people are dressed up than during the first formal night. A very typical pattern.

I am seated on the opposite side of the room with new people and a new waiter, Warren. Amazing. It finally happens, we all order and eat together! I'm almost in shock.

After dinner I go to the room to ditch the jacket and tie, and head to the main theater to catch the evenings show. My decision to go early was a good one as nearly all seats were taken 25 minutes before show time. "Horizon" is a 3 member male group that does a Motown show. Not exactly my preferred type of music, but they put on an excellent show that was appreciated by the audience.

I realize that I need to figure out a better method of naming posts. I am always writing after the fact, so to use the actual date becomes problematic. Often a single post covers more than one sea day, so sea day may not work well. Unfortunately I have no control over the date that is used in the blog index, the entry in the index is the date that the server receives the post. I will work on this, and hopefully devise a protocol that is less confusing.

December 07, 2015

Vision of The Seas Day 7

Day 7 Aruba – The ship arrives at 7:00 and the tours start leaving at 7:30. There are 4 bus loads of passengers taking the "Best of Aruba" tour. I am supposed to meet Marilyn in the terminal building at the staging area for tours at 7:45. I'm there about 10 minutes early. I know she is up and about as we pass in the Windjammer a little after 7:00.

The first 3 buses leave, the fourth is loading and it is now 7:55. No Marilyn in sight. Sorry Marilyn, you are a big girl, I board the bus without you. The bus pulls away to begin our tour. It would be sad if she missed the bus, but I really hold out that we just missed each other. It was a last minute decision the afternoon before for her to even take this tour, and she specifically booked this one because I would be on it. I wonder what happened.

About an hour later at one of the tour stops, I see Marilyn walking across the parking lot. When she saw the buses were starting to load, she thought maybe she had missed me and got on the first bus before I even arrived.

The tour hasn't changed much since the last time I took a similar tour about 3 years ago. Like Bonaire and Curacao, much of the island is desert. The east shore is barren rock and is constantly being pounded by the heavy surf from the prevailing easterly winds, much of the vegetation is cactus and reminds me of the Arizona landscape. The large hotels tend to be on the west side of the island where the seas are calmer and the beaches are plentiful.

Our tour stops at the Aruba Aloe factory, actually I think every tour stops here. We are presented with a short tour, a sales pitch that reminds me of the snake oil salesmen seen in the wild west movies, and of course the opportunity to make a purchase. I decline as usual.

The weather remains unchanged, warm, sunny skies, and a constant breeze to provide some relief from the sun. My tour guide is good, and I get the impression from Marilyn that her tour guide was excellent.

Besides Adrienne and Steve there are another young diamond member couple that we see almost every night for drinks. Regina and Scott are on their honeymoon, having been married only a week of so. They auditioned and were selected for the Love and Marriage show. I didn't see the live show, but as usual it is played over and over on TV throughout the rest of the cruise. There are now 2000 people that know more about them than they ever thought they would divulge. Probably some things that I would find embarrassing to even write about, so I won't.

Dan, the Maitre D' leaves me a message as he promised. He assures me that when I arrive in the dining room at my reserved time of 5:45 I will be seated properly. I arrive and escorted to a table not far from where I was seated the night before. I sit down, and quickly evaluate the surroundings. The guests are different and we have a different waiter. Four of the guests have ordered, and two others are still reading a menu as I sit down.

Is this the way it is supposed to be? No. Is it as bad as the previous night? No. Is it slightly better. Yes.

We all introduce ourselves. The lasagna is excellent, and uncharacteristically I order one scoop of chocolate ice cream for desert.

During dinner I learn several of my table mates had overhead my conversation with the manager the previous night. (Dan, not me, chose to have our discussion in the middle of dining room.) I was thanked for speaking up as they had similar problems but were too timid to say anything.

I go to the theater 35 minutes before show time to hopefully get a choice of seats. Wrong again, there are just a few scattered seats around the theater. I decide to take advantage of being a Diamond Plus member and sit in the section usually reserved for us. Wrong again, another perk for being "Loyal to Royal" has been removed, at least on this ship. There is a section for suite guests, but not for any of the Crown and Anchor loyalty groups.

I find a seat in the last row of the balcony and enjoy an excellent headliner show. Jerry Goodspeed, a comedian and ventriloquist. For those of you that are not familiar with the routine, Each ship usually has a resident show that will play every week for years. The other nights are filled in by "headliners", acts that come on board for one show. They usually join the ship at one port, do a show, disembark at the next port and then go to another ship.

I don't have the ability to put captions with images, so I will just write a little bit here. The cactus is typical of much of the landscape in Aruba and the other islands. The lighthouse is in the process of being refurbished. It is a popular tourist attraction that has been closed for many years. There are two things that should be noted. First it is Sunday, and very few people are willing to work on Sundays in Aruba. Some shops are opened just for the tourists, but most local businesses are closed. Secondly note how the scaffold is being built. Each piece is handed man to man to the top of the tower. No cranes or bucket lifts for this job.

Curacao Images

The white piles are 99.9% pure salt awaiting loading onto ship for export. The pink coloring of the evaporation pools is caused by a bacteria that only grows in water of extremely high salt content. 

The natural harbor divides the colorful city of Curacao. 

The floating bridge, originally built in the late 1800's is now used only for foot traffic. It opens frequently to allow marine traffic to pass. Dozens of tanker ships bring crude oil from Venezuela and carry finished products to the US and Europe.

A modern high arched bridge carries vehicle traffic across the channel. 

The Vision of  The Seas in Curacao

Vision of The Seas Day 4 - 6

Day 4 - I spend part of the second day at sea writing the last post. Then I decide to work on some model train stuff. I am in the process of writing documentation for the Club's sectional layout. It basically exists in scattered bits and pieces, but needs to be cleaned up, consolidated, and printed for member use in the years to come.

Since I find the Concierge Lounge to be a comfortable place, I stay, planning to leave about 3:30 to get ready for evening activities. About 2:45 Jeannie, Tom, and several others come into the lounge. Within 5 minutes the lounge is full, and a waiter comes over and asks what I would like to drink. I politely tell him that I will wait an hour or so until cocktail hour, when Jeannie says it is cocktail hour. I look again at my computer and it isn't even 3:00 yet. Then it dawns on me that the "time" karma has struck again. Since I have not connected to the internet, my computer is still on the last time zone. I pack up my computer, order a drink, and apologize to others for not being properly attired for the Concierge Lounge cocktail hour. I'm forgiven, the lounge host either doesn't see that I am wearing shorts or chooses to ignore the fact, and cocktails begin.

I have dinner plans with Adrienne and friends at Chops tonight. We enjoy a good but not exceptional dinner. The appetizers were excellent and creative, the tenderloin only so so, and the deserts ran the full range of tasteless to excellent. None of us left hungry.

Several of us decide to go to see the magician "Puck" at 8:30 in the main theater. Just the same as the previous night the theater was at capacity. We find one seat for Marilyn, Steve and I stand along the back wall in the balcony. Puck was good, but he was upstaged big time by the two lady volunteers he randomly picked from the audience. All he could say was "I picked them."

Day 5 – We arrive in Bonaire on schedule. The skies are partly cloudy with temperatures in the high 80's with a nice breeze. The majority of passengers get off the ship. The shopping area here is small, but very convenient to the ship. I am taking a tour, "Bonaire Highlights", a little later this afternoon. All aboard is 6:30, the same time as my tour returns. No cocktails before dinner tonight, but I have no concern that the ship will leave without me, one of the benefits of booking tours with the cruise line.

Second thought, maybe cocktails when I board, but no dinner. That might be a better plan. I check out the evenings menu, it is confirmed, cocktails and Park Avenue for a snack – no dining room tonight.

Our tour guide is an American transplant from Iowa that moved to Bonaire 35 years ago to operate a dive shop. Eventually he graduated to technical diving, and today only dives occasionally. Diving is still a major attraction of Bonaire. Most divers dive directly from the rocky shore. Until a few years ago there was a world class pink sand beach on Bonaire, but all the sand was washed away during a rare storm.

Cruise ships began to bring tourists about ten years ago. Now about one ship per week, but occasionally as many as four per week visit the island. The smallest of the ABC islands with 18,000 people, the tourist infrastructure is not very extensive. The island offers few jobs that pay more than the minimum $5.00 per hour wage. Salt production, operated by Cargil is still a major operation, and the only export of the island. Much of the island is national park land with goats and donkeys running where ever they want.

The highlight of our tour occurred at a stop at a small cultural museum. While the 20 tourists, the tour guide, and the bus driver were off the bus, it began to roll down a hill. The driver was in fast pursuit and quickly brought the bus under control before there was any damage. Such things can't be planned, they just seem to happen.

December 5, day 6 – After a very slow cruise, we arrive on schedule in Curacao. I quickly learn the floating bridge has been in operation for two weeks after a major repair project. This actually is a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. Another gorgeous day for the tourists. 85 degrees, mostly sunny with the normal brisk prevailing winds from the East. This time of year should be the rainy season, but fortunately for the tourists and unfortunately for the locals, rain has been very scarce this year.

Many passengers are taking one of the dozens of tours offered here, there are several shopping areas within easy walking distance of the ship. With departure not scheduled until 9:30 tonight, I expect many passengers will dine and/or drink in one of the many local establishments.

Tourism is the biggest contributor to the local economy. This is followed by oil refining of crude from Venezuela and exporting refined products to the US and Europe. There is also a major dry dock operation here, repairing over 400 ships every year. On my last vist, they were working on a very large oil platform, this time an ocean floor cable laying ship.

As with the other Dutch islands, all of the buildings are painted brightly colored pastels. The story goes this was dictated by a government official that just happened to have a major interest in a paint company. Regardless whether or not this is true, the result in a colorful palette of building colors.

As expected the passenger manifest for this cruise is heavily biased towards retired seniors. I have heard there are about 6 little kids, and would guess less than 10 percent of the passengers are under 55. This is just to help me adjust my expectations for my world cruise next month where I expect to be one of the youngest passengers.

I have learned an advantage of the more mature passenger demographics. I am not as likely to be the slowest walker in the tour group. This is the first time in my life I have ever experienced this. I now walk faster than half the other passengers instead of being slower than 99 percent of them. There are advantages to maturing. (We try to never use any word that begins with old....)

The downside of having two hip replacements is that I can't even get near a security checkpoint without setting off the alarms. Every time I board the ship I am pulled aside for special attention. I get used to this pretty quickly. I don't know if it just this ship, or the result of some of the recent world events, but a number of passengers have been asked to remove their shoes. I have escaped that, which is rather surprising considering the size of my left shoe. Probably could hold a quart of gin if hollowed out. Maybe another way to sneak booze on board.

The "my time dining" is experiencing major operational problems. After again being seated with others that are served their main course before the waiter even takes my order, I decide it is time for a conversation with the manager of the dining room, an Assistant Maitre D' that formerly was on the Monarch. I hold little hope that he will be able to fix any of the problems before the end of the cruise, but if he is not told he can't even begin to address them. I learn that I am only one of many that have brought the problems to his attention. From what I hear the main dining room is working better. He promised he would be back with me before dinner the next night. Time will tell.

December 06, 2015

Vision of The Seas Day 1 - 4

Day 1 - This is my last cruise before I depart for 115 day around the world journey in January. My first and only opportunity to test the process for maintaining a blog from sea where internet connections are often marginal at best. Obviously if you are reading this everything worked, or maybe I will have posted it after I return home. I will let you know later. (Worked as expected, some editing done after my arrival home.)

This cruise is also unusual for me in that my daughter Adrienne, her husband and several or their friends are also accompanying me. Well I should turn that around. Technically I am accompanying her as she booked the cruise first and after I saw where it was going, I also decided to go along. The quick version, our third stop will be Curacao, my favorite port in the Caribbean. More on Curacao in a few days.

We all meet at Adrienne's house 30 minutes before our agreed upon time. The luggage is loaded in my van, and then had to be rearranged and reloaded again as the tailgate just wouldn't close. The second attempt was successful and we were on our way a few minutes before our planned departure from Clermont.

After an easy drive to Tampa we park off site from the terminal at a small lot aptly called "Park4Cruise". They load our luggage and shuttle us off to the pier, less than a 10 minute process. Check in is very smooth, much easier and better organized than I often encounter at larger ports.

Since I hadn't bothered to make my "My Time Dining" reservations beforehand, I go to the dining room to take care of that little detail. There are a dozen or so other people waiting, and I soon overhear several conversations about what day it is. One woman was thinking it was Saturday, while another was trying to correct her and explain that it was Monday. The discussion continued and soon several other people entered the conversation with varying views. I was pretty sure it was Monday but didn't feel I could add much to the deliberation. As the conversation carries on I discover the issue arose because the "Cruise Compass" schedule printed for all passengers included a few errors. The dates were correct, and the port of calls were correct, but the day of the week was listed incorrectly as Saturday instead of Monday.

This confusion continued as there was another reference to departing Barcelona, and announcements were made from the bridge that referred to us leaving "Key West" and sailing out under the Sunshine Bridge.

As usual on nearly every ship I board I soon run into a number of fellow passengers that I know. The muster drill is efficient and well organized. There are about 400 Diamond and above Crown and Anchor loyalty guests. The lounges will be quickly overfilled, so I go early to secure a seat. I am successful, and enjoy a few beverages with friends before dinner.

Tuesday morning's announcement had us arriving in "Tampa". I'll just attribute these mistakes to time warp when traveling. All said and done it doesn't really matter what day it is, the ship just goes where it goes and gets there when it does. The day of the week really isn't relevant.

I have never sailed on The Vision of The Seas, and didn't expect to know any of the crew or staff. I was soon surprised that Tito, whom I have known since my days on the Monarch of the Seas, is my room steward. Actually he remembered me quicker than I remembered him. The memory and recognition of passengers by the crew is a phenomenon that has always amazed me.

The Vision was refurbished about a year ago and several venues popular on newer ships were added. The added venues carry the same name as used on other ships, but due to physical considerations are often located in different decks and different areas. To add to the confusion, signage is not always updated to reflect changes made during refurbishment. Add these factors to my aging memory, and I have the right to be confused for the first day or so, but I manage to easily find the important stuff like my cabin, the Schooner bar and the Loyalty Lounges.

Assuming you have read earlier posts on my blog, you may remember that there was a certain karma that appeared to be in force to direct me to book the world cruise departing in January. On this cruise there is a different karma, but I don't know the meaning yet. Basically it is something to do with "time".

I haven't worn a wristwatch in over 30 years, and as a result I usually have a good sense of time. Many times it would be a game with my children to see how accurately I could sense what time it was. To their astonishment it wasn't unusual for me to be accurate within a few minutes. However when I travel I do carry a small quartz pocket watch as that is the prudent thing to do.

Trying to be proactive, several days ago I decided it would be a good idea to replace the battery, otherwise it would probably run out while I'm at sea with no way to replace it. I took the watch to the battery store that advertises watch battery replacement. They popped the back off, installed a new battery, and tried to put the back on. Tried is the key word. Not only did they shatter the crystal, they bent the watch casing. Fortunately the watch was quite inexpensive, and they insist they have someone that will repair it and send it to me. We will see. At home I find an old wrist watch without a band, and after a quick trip to the store I replace the battery myself. At least I have a time piece for this cruise. I suppose if I were a shopper, this could give me a shopping mission while in one of the ports. I really doubt if that will happen, I hate to shop.

I also always bring a LED display alarm clock when I cruise. This provides a little bit of night light in my cabin, and most importantly I can set the alarm if I need to catch an early shore excursion or something. Well for the first time I forgot my alarm clock. I moved it off the dresser, and I will find it on my bed when I return home.

With two instances of "time" not working, I wouldn't think much about it. However the Captain during his noon time message just a few minutes ago apologized to everyone for the ships time malfunction. We had a time change at 2 AM as we traveled East. This morning some of the few public clocks around the ship were observed running backwards. Also in the process of changing ships time, all wake up calls were canceled from the system. I didn't need to be up early this morning, but the captain was late for his first meeting of the day.

Maybe by the end of the cruise I will figure out the "time" karma. I can think of several possibilities, but won't go there now.

Day 2 - Our first port was Key West. The people that control such things moved our birth from the usual cruise ship dock to the pier at the Navy facility. Many passengers were grumbling, but personally I found it to be a great advantage. The shuttle tram pulled right up next to the ship and took us to the center of town. About a 15 minute trip during which were were given the usually talk from a tour guide.

Key west looked unchanged from the last time I was here about 18 months ago. Duval street has several bars in each block interspersed with local shops selling tee shirts, cigars, and souvenirs. If you haven't been to Key West in recent years, my memory finds it much cleaner and less seedy than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Since our ship is docked at a naval facility, there is an additional security checkpoint on our way back to the ship. Everyone was reminded, at least several times that we would have to have photo ID and our sea pass card to return to the ship. As expected several passengers didn't get the message. They endured an embarrassing lengthy grilling before the tram was allowed to proceed. I would like to think this wouldn't happen again, but I can assure you there are always a few in every group.

Day 3 – at sea. The weather is great, party cloudy skies, temperatures in the mid 80's and seas under 10 feet. The ship is steady as a rock as we head south east along the northern coast of Cuba headed for arrival in Bonaire on day 5.

Day 4 - Our second day at sea. The Skies are partly cloudy with warm temperatures. The seas have built some to probably about 15 feet. I expect the captain has the ships stabilizers out, but I have no way of knowing for sure. The wind has begun to whistle around Deck 11 where the concierge lounge is located, and there is a little pitch and roll as we continue on our journey, expecting arrival at Bonaire about 11 Am on day 5.

I meet with my daughter Adrienne at the future cruise desk to book two additional cruises this morning. First is Alaska in May of 2016, and the second is an 8 day on the Freedom in 2017. The Alaskan trip I actually have been working on for several weeks and already have part of my air, train reservations, and some hotels booked. I need to make all of my arrangements now as waiting until after my next cruise will be too late.

When I first see Adrienne she doesn't look well. A little pale, that greenish look, and certainly not here usual bubbly smile. She has had several gall bladder attacks recently, and is scheduled surgery the day after we return. (Yes Adrienne's surgeon gave the OK to take this cruise.) 

The gall stones combined with a touch of motion sickness and maybe an extra beverage or two and a heavy dinner last night and she isn't doing well. She asks her husband to retrieve more sea sickness medicine from the cabin.

After the bookings are complete, we go to the Windjammer and she eats a small bowl of cereal. The comforting food, fresh air, and visual sight of the horizon, she soon begins to look and feel better. Marilyn, Amie, Adrienne, and Steve head off to sun on the deck, and I head to the Concierge Lounge to write.