March 31, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 86

Day 86 – At Sea. We are headed southwesterly just off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea. Sea conditions are good with about 3 foot seas. Air temperature is 79 and the humidity 85%. Winds are directly on our bow at about 25 mph, and the skies are mostly sunny. The vibration in my cabin tells me we are going faster than 18 knots, the data channel confirms our actual speed of 20. There is no pitch or roll to the ship.

As usual I went to the Lido for dinner last night. What wasn't usual was the number of other passengers there. It was absolutely packed. Several factors contributed to the crowd. First I was about two hours later than my usual 5:30 time, when I am one of the first customers, last night I probably arrived at a peak time. Additionally with the sailaway not ending until 6:30, I am sure many of the passengers went to the party and then went to the Lido instead of changing for the dining room.

As we left Muscat we were accompanied by two naval vessels, one from the USA, the other from Iran. There were also three Oman vessels in port in Muscat. Maybe the entire Oman navy?

There are two speakers I will listen to today, Vivian Rowan is doing a presentation on lost treasures around the world, and Timothy Runyan will talk about Oman's contributions to early shipbuilding and seafaring including the building of a vessel to replicate the voyage of Sinbad the Sailor.

I probably will spend some time this afternoon sorting thru the pictures I have taken. At last count I have just under 5000, a ridiculous number considering I will only post about 200 on this blog when I get home. But looking at it in a positive way, maybe I will get lucky, and 1 out of 25 pictures will be worth sharing.

It has been so long since I have read anything on my Kindle, I have forgotten what book I started to read two and a half months ago. It really doesn't matter as I have a feeling I won't have any reading time in the next month either. I have remembered to keep it charged, as the battery runs down even when it is powered off.

After lunch I spend about an hour walking around. We pass a few container ships headed NorthEast, and occasionally a ship going in our direction at a slower speed. I also spotted a large school of either small sharks or small dolphins They were too far from the ship to be sure what they were other than having a fin. I'm sure there have been numerous others, but I just wasn't looking at the right spot at the right time. Surprisingly the amount of trash in the ocean has decreased significantly the last few days. I have no explanation as to why.

Our entertainer tonight is singer and pianist Donna Groom, and her drummer husband. I remember all of the songs she sings from the 60's and 70's but don't remember the group she sang with, the Skyliners.

Tomorrow is another alarm clock morning. We are expected to arrive in Salalah, Oman "when we get there" to quote the daily program On Location.

March 30, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 85

Day 85 – Muscat, Oman. We arrive early and the ship is cleared in short order so passengers are able to disembark a half hour before any of the shuttle buses are ready. The forecast for the day is partly sunny with a high temperature for the day of about 80, humidity is high but the air quality is much better than the last few days. I suspect because the nearby desert here is rock instead of sand as it was in Dubai.

This is another very modern industrial port where passengers either board a shuttle bus to the pier gate, or board excursion buses right at the gangway. Walking on the pier is prohibited. Clearing customs and security is the easiest I have seen anywhere. The bus slows at a gate and is waved on by authorities. The same when I return.

Without a ships tour, I take the hop on hop off bus. It drives around the entire city with about ten designated stops. The city is very clean and modern. All buildings are either white or cream color, the sultan's order. Another interesting characteristic I have seen several times in other cities is that certain types of stores are all grouped together. For example in this city of 600,000 with excellent roads, there are a number of car dealerships. However they are all grouped together in one area about a mile long on one side of the road, not dispersed around the city.

I get off the bus at the Murrah Souk, the next to last stop. The market here is one of the cleanest I have seen, the merchandise is similar in many ways to most other markets, and exactly the same in one regard. There is nothing I need, regardless of the price. Some products are local, while foreign sourced merchandise comes primarily from India, Pakistan, and China.

After strolling the market for about an hour, I board a shuttle bus back to the ship.

The Europa 2 was docked by the time we arrived this morning, and by the time I get back to the ship The Splendour of The Seas is docked in the next pier. There are a few small container ships in port, and several tankers anchored outside the harbor. Oil is the primary export of the country with dates and frank incense also important.

Long over due, a big THANK YOU for all of the kind comments many of you have made about this blog. I do get them, I do read them, I just can't add them to any posts. I especially thank "Anonymous", the most prolific responder.

We leave Muscat at 6:00 this evening to head to Salalah, Oman. There will be the usual sailaway party, but tonight HAL is providing free champagne, wine and beer. If I remember correctly they have only done this twice for a sailaway. About a month ago at the Jakarta sailaway, and three months ago at the Port Everglades sailaway at the beginning of the cruise.

I will try and write this in an unbiased manner. I will also refrain from using names as I know all the parties involved. A lady, that is also a knitter, brings her knitting bag to the party with a partial ball of yarn. At least three times during the party she loads her knitting bag with cans of beer, places the yarn on top, and makes a trip to her cabin and returns for another run. Total take, at least 20+ free beers stashed for future consumption. Are they really free? Or did I pay for them with my fare?

Our entertainer tonight is a ventriloquist, Kieran Powell. He uses several guests from the audience and it is a good show. Tomorrow is a sea day.

March 29, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 84

Day 84 – At Sea. We leave the Persian Gulf going back into the Arabian Sea headed towards Muscat, Oman. The air temperature this morning is 71, the humidity 92%, winds about 20 mph, and the seas relatively calm. We are creeping along at about 10 knots, not because of sea conditions, but because we don't have far to go and a day and a half to get there. The visibility is less than a mile. There is other ship traffic, but without radar eye sight I can't see any.

Our all aboard time was 9:30 last night. There were about a dozen passengers that were about 5 minutes late, and one departing passenger that left shortly thereafter. The crew started dismantling the ramps and rolling up the carpets when a delivery truck arrived. He had four large crates. No, they were too heavy to lift, a forklift would be needed. Over the next hour the cargo door was reopened, a forklift and operator summoned and the crates loaded on board. Fresh limes, I'm sure.

I don't know that anyone was missing, but the captain stayed on the pier until about 10 minutes before we departed at 11:00. The harbor pilot had been on board for 45 minutes. We departed promptly on time. Within minutes the skyline disappeared.

With a little more free time today, I'll share some additional tidbits about Dubai. My sources are primarily tour guides and other passengers so you can make your own judgment as to validity.

Most of modern Dubai has been built in the last 15 years. Everything is built to the extreme, everything in described only in superlative terms. It is impressive what can be done when money is not a consideration.

The Burj Al Arab hotel is not a 5 star hotel, they claim it is a 7 star, even though no such designation exists. I suppose with nightly room rates as high as 25,000 USD, they can claim as many stars as they want. Almost every other hotel is also claimed to be 5 star, even though a number of them are only partially completed on the inside because they are unable to fill them.

The airport is also claimed to be the busiest in the world, and they have plans to build a much larger one with ten runways that can be used simultaneously.

While the Burk Khalifa is claimed as the tallest building in the world, its observation deck is much smaller than many other tall buildings such as the Willis tower in Chicago or the Empire State Building in New York. Burk Khalifa probably could also claim it has the highest fee. The elevators are truly smooth and fast.

In the UAE most people fall into one of three categories. If you are a citizen, education, housing, medical coverage, and utilities are paid for by the government. Most citizens are multi millionaires, and all assets are kept within the family at death.

If you are a foreigner living in the country, you must be employed and have insurance. Medical insurance cost varies with age. Retirement insurance is a percentage of your income. You can either buy a home or rent. An apartment can be rented for about 1,000 USD per month, including utilities, in a "working class" neighborhood. If you become unemployed and don't find employment within a 30 day period, you most likely will be asked to leave the country. Retirement begins after 25 years of working. The retirement benefit is 50% of your last salary. There is no copay or deductible on medical coverages. The "insurance" covers all costs including prescriptions, hospitalizations, dental, eye care, and doctors.

If you are in the country as a visitor, and are injured in an accident or become ill, all medical care costs are 100% covered by the government.

There are no "taxes" in the UAE.

Low number license plates can be purchased by the highest bidder. I saw a land rover with plate # 5. Our guide estimated that the business owner probably paid 3 to 5 million USD for the privilege of having it.

The use of alcohol is generally prohibited, but "grape" and "hop" beverages can be purchased in some venues.

Traffic is heavy and there is quite a bit of congestion. While they have built massive shopping malls, parking space has become inadequate as the population grows and there are more and more cars.

The poor visibility that we experienced while we were here is the norm.

This morning Barbara gives her presentation on Salalah, Oman, our port of call on day 87. She was immediately followed by a new guest speaker, Timothy Runyan, who talks about the advances in SCUBA diving technology and the discoveries that have been made around the world as a result. He will be with us until Greece.

The entertainment tonight is a single actor performing an abbreviated version of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The combination of the subject, the accent of the actor, and the inability to hear 30% of what is spoken because he uses no mike and sometimes is faced away from the audience, encourages me to leave after 10 minutes.

I am taking the shuttle bus into town first thing in the morning, but not setting an alarm.

March 28, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 83

Day 83 – Dubai, UAE. The sky is cloudy and/or just hazy from the sand and moisture. High temperatures are expected in the low 80's and there is a nice breeze. Visibility is lower than yesterday. The temperature is great especially when we are reminded that it can be 125 here in the summer months.

My tour today first takes me to the Sharjah Aquarium. An excellent facility showing all the marine and coral life that exists in the nearby sea from lobster to sharks, rays, and eels, to common fish like grouper and clown fish. Not the largest aquarium I have ever seen, but very modern and very well done. We make a quick stop at a local mosque. Being honest, by now they all look the same.

We travel across part of the desert, spot a few wild camels and stop at the Arabian Wildlife Center. Again a very modern facility that houses all the wildlife that is native to UAE. The neatest was the arabian leopard, an endangered species. Nearly everyone was disappointed as pictures were not permitted at all. Another detail that HAL failed to mention.

There were several other stops, and overall it was a good tour. Our guide was the best. He went to London to finish his college education where he earned his Phd in zoology, and has spent his entire career working with and studying the wildlife in the UAE. He is still a consultant for the Wildlife Center. He didn't say that he was a citizen, I doubt it, but he has spent nearly his entire life here. His name is over 20 words long, with his permission, we just called him "Doc".

I had considered taking the shuttle bus back into town this afternoon, but our tour was about an hour late returning and I just didn't have the energy. I grab a hamburger for lunch/dinner. In the future I will book fewer tours and spend more time utilizing the Hop On Hop Off Bus service that is available in many larger ports.

Rudy, one of the beverage servers, and part time bartender had some time yesterday to go ashore and meet a friend, Cookie (sp?) from the Philippines, that works here in Dubai. He met her at the mall and then went to the restaurant where she works near the end of the light rail line. Today she was on the ship as a guest in the Piano Bar where he works each night.

It appears that we took on about the same number of passengers that got off, about 60 attended the farewell party the other night, and about 80 were at the muster drill this afternoon for all the new passengers and entertainers.

Today also was a day for new provisions, six containers worth at least. The port here has some activity, but not a lot. Maybe one of two small ships in the last two days. Recently there was a car carrier from Japan as the pier is covered with about 5000 new cars. None from the US.

The Splendour of The Seas leaves port about 6:00 PM. We are scheduled to leave about 11:00. There is no show tonight, just a movie. There isn't even a sail away party tonight. I guess HAL knows their passengers well enough to realize that most of us will be asleep by 11:00. Cruising for months traveling from country to country and sightseeing is tiring work and just wears us out.

Tomorrow is a sea day as we head Southeast about 300 miles to Muscat, Oman.

March 27, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 82

Day 82 – Dubai, UAE. We arrive about an hour early. I think the last few days the captain was enjoying his personal game of cat and mouse as we tied up at the dock just as the Splendour of the Seas headed for the same pier. They are now tied up in front of us. Our passengers were disembarking while they were still awaiting clearance. The forecast today is for partly cloudy skies, breezy, with a high temperature of 81. Perfect temperature wise.

I don't know where she came from, and don't know where she is going, but the Splendour is not draped in razor wire as we are. There are two other cruise ships scheduled to be here today and tomorrow, but I haven't seen them as yet. The old Queen Elizabeth 2 is tied up at a nearby pier. I think the idea was to make a tourist attraction out of her. Whether or not that ever happens remains to be seen. The engines haven't run in over three years, which probably means they never will again. There are lots of construction projects here that have been put on hold because of the drop in the world economy.

There was a church service at 6 AM on the Lido deck, about 200 passengers attended. Religion has a strong presence on this ship. We have a Catholic priest, a Jewish Rabbi, and a protestant minister on board, all competing for time and space to hold service. Also many of the shore excursions are focused around visits to various mosques, churches, temples, etc.

Today I finally meet Leon, the passenger from California that brought 12 cases of wine with him. As I suspected his motivation was strictly quality. He feels the wines sold on board are pretty bad, and are purchased strictly because of low cost with no consideration to quality.

The tour today was pretty good overall. The guide was good and the chosen locations good, but the atmosphere is so hazy from the dust from the desert combining with moisture from the sea that visibility and picture clarity was very poor. We couldn't really see the completed Palm Islands, the ocean, our ship, or the desert from the observation decks on floor 124 and 125 in the Burj Khalifa.

The architecture in Dubai is stunning, not at all like the boring buildings constructed in the US. We did see "Ski Dubai" at the Mall of the Emirates, and took pictures of the Burj Al Arab hotel, and other neat buildings throughout the area. For you shoppers, the Mall of Dubai has over 2000 permanent stores, 3000 if you also count the aisle kiosks.

Construction of "The Universe","The World" and two of the three Palm Island projects have been put on hold. Many hotels and office buildings are only partially occupied.

Debby is very excited today. Not only does she play outside on the Lido deck tonight, her daughter is joining the cruise for our return to Florida. While on the subject of passengers joining the ship, for all you romantics, you need to known that the "Love Boat" has nothing on The Amsterdam. Barbara and Ralph met after we left Ft. Lauderdale, and were often together until he disembarked in Sydney to return to the US. Being half a world apart didn't work and today, Ralph rejoined the cruise to be with Barbara.

There are local entertainers scheduled for the Queen's lounge tonight including belly dancers and Lebanese performers. I attend despite having a tour early tomorrow. The show starts about 15 minutes late, but the wait was definitely worth it. The show was excellent.

March 26, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 81

Day 81 – At sea in the Gulf of Oman headed to the Persian Gulf and Dubai. The temperature is a very enjoyable 75, with clear skies, calm seas, and a gentle 12 MPH breeze directly on our bow from the Northwest. Humidity is under 70%. At about 6 AM we picked up speed to just over 20 knots, and my cabin began to vibrate in sync with the engines or propellers.

During the night we were shadowed by two much smaller ships. I could not tell what they were, but they were with us from just after sundown until I retired at 11. Over 20% of the world's crude oil passes thru these waters in supertankers daily. I expect we should see some, but haven't yet. The visibility today is actually good at 10 to 15 miles.

Today was another laundry day. My first bad experience with the self serve laundry. When I arrived 2 dryers and 4 washers were busy. One washer only had a couple of minutes to go, and I was the only one waiting. What I didn't realize was that the 2 empty dryers were broken but not tagged as such. By the time my wash was complete there were numerous people waiting for dryers. I eventually decide to carry my wet laundry down to the laundry on deck 3.

Only 1 dryer here is out of service, but the other 3 are busy. I need to wait nearly 45 minutes for my turn at the next dryer. Waiting is not what one passenger had in mind. She insisted that the dryer above the washer she used was "hers" and took someone's still wet clothes out of the dryer and piled them on the ironing board as soon as her washer finished. For the first time I decide I need to hang out in the laundry facility to guard my clothes. Actually a higher risk than pirates.

One of the reasons the laundry was so busy is that three of the guest entertainers were doing their clothes, including costumes. HAL doesn't even provide laundry for them. How cheap.

I also learned yesterday that on this ship HAL is eliminating the library and the librarian. Also the position of Culinary Arts Center Host is being eliminated. It has also been speculated that Barbara's position of "Location Guide" will be eliminated and her functions taken over by the shore excursion staff. Just more "Carnivalization".

Barbara gave her talk this morning on Muscat, Oman. I no longer have a tour scheduled there, but there will be a shuttle bus into the center of town.

The starting times of various entertainment has been changed for tonight. Not by a lot but by 15 or 30 minutes. Debby is scheduled for two shows tonight instead of her usual three. The change is made to accommodate a disembarkation party for those passengers leaving the ship in Dubai. The main show entertainment is again another repeat show, this time the "The Fly Rights" are performing again, but at the usual time of 8:15 and 10:00.

The crew party must have been a great success last night. Today the dance floor in the Crow's Nest had to be scrubbed with a buffer instead of just the usual mopping. Or possibly it was just time for an extra heavy cleaning. The crew party was not funded by HAL, or by the crew, but by a passenger that has done this for the crew each year for the past few years. Yes, there are very thoughtful and generous passengers on board.

We are scheduled to arrive at Dubai before 8:00 AM, I set my alarm for 6:30

March 25, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 80

Day 80 – At sea in the Arabian sea. The air temperature this morning is 79, the skies mostly clear with a 20 MPH wind out of the North. The humidity is 70%. The seas are about 3 feet and we are cruising at 18.5 knots, the fastest we have run the entire voyage. The ship has negligible pitch and roll, but occasionally gets hit broad side by a larger wave that makes everything rattle for a few seconds.

I was scheduled to have dinner with the captain tomorrow night, but received notice this morning that dinner has been canceled. The captain is required on the bridge to meet minimum manning requirements as we travel thru the piracy threat area. I suspect this change in his schedule might be the result of an officer departing the ship in Mooloolaba.

Since I first checked, razor wire has now been installed around the stern of the ship. We also have some additional security personnel on board. How many, I have no idea, but at least two that wear a "Security Guest" ID nametag.

Barbara gave her presentation on Dubai this morning. No question, we will not be there long enough. I will have some time after my excursions each day, but I know it won't be enough. Tall buildings, ski slopes, aquariums, gold markets, floral gardens, Atlantis, just too much to see in two days.

One of her most interesting comments was that beyond a chance encounter with a stranger in the mall it is very unlikely we will encounter any UAE citizens. Most workers are foreigners in the country on temporary work permits, and have zero to little chance of becoming local citizens.

Last night after sunset the skies became clear. Two of the navigation officers could be found on deck ten "shooting the stars". They were using modern versions of ancient maritime instruments to calculate the ships position using star sightings. They do this on a regular basis, just as they still plot our course on paper charts. Who can predict if someday something disables all the GPS satellites we all have become so dependent on. Solar flares? Terrorists? Political foe? Software error? There are many possibilities of the unimaginable.

Last night I learned another trick to get booze on board. Befriend a passenger that is leaving the ship. Have them buy a case of Scotch, and when the ship returns the case to the passenger the night before disembarkation, transfer it to your cabin. I must admit this is so simple I am surprised HAL hasn't caught on. I was told it occurs very frequently on the long cruises with multiple segments. So many passengers knowing each other just makes it easier.

This afternoon I listen to Revell Carr talk about the history of tea from the time seedlings were stolen from China and taken to India and eventually other parts of the world, to the multitude of unfounded health claims being made today that echo claims made hundreds of years ago. I stay awake, but there were several others that don't.

Tonight we have another performance by Graffiti Classics. They will play different songs, but the style will be a repeat of their previous show. I wasn't impressed last time, but it's about the only game in town tonight, as there is a party for the crew in the Crow's Nest. I'll probably go. I did, I left after 10 minutes. I'll look for a movie on TV.

Again it is time to set our clocks back another hour. Dubai time is 8 hours ahead of Florida. Port Everglades is approaching too rapidly.

March 24, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 79

Day 79 – A sea day in the Arabian Sea. The air temperature is a little cooler at 82, humidity 76%, wind out of the Northwest at 15 mph. The skies are partly cloudy and the seas mostly calm. We continue on a Northwesterly course towards Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at just under 17 knots.

There was a "pirate" drill for the crew this morning. Passengers were not allowed on deck three to watch, but I could see the "water cannon" in action from deck 9. The spray of water from the nozzle was blown away by the wind before it reached the water even though the nozzle was aimed straight down. Since they are temporarily bolted to the railings they are not maneuverable or portable. In my opinion if pirates were climbing up the side of the ship, under one of the "cannons", if the water even reached them it would probably just cool them off a little.

The only areas razor wired are where there is an open railing on deck three. The parts of deck three that have a solid railing height wall, instead of an open railing, have no razor wire. None is installed around the entire stern of the ship either. Reminds me of TSA screenings at airports, makes the politicians feel good to say they are doing something, but not very effective against the determined terrorist.

Barbara was scheduled to tell us about Dubai this morning, but after the program was printed someone realized the timing conflicted with the drill and the presentation would have been stopped half way through the program. (All guest services cease for the duration of major crew drills.) It has been rescheduled for tomorrow.

Jeremy, one of the bartenders in the Crow's Nest, often only makes one or two drinks all day on sea days, resulting in lots of idle time. He usually spends it making "stuff" out of the corks, wine tops, cans, and bottle tops he collects. Yesterday he made a Tuk Tuk, today he is working on a four passenger, three wheeler bike. During past sea days he has made numerous motor cycles. His only tools are a small pair of scissors and a pair of needle nose pliers. Some he sells, others he gives to pretty ladies.

Another beverage department employee, whose name I won't reveal, recently told me that many crew members that depend on tips for the majority of their income refuse to work on the long voyages like The World Cruise, as transportation and incidentals cost them more than they make. He has already decided he will never do it again.

I make a quick trip to the medical facility to get one of my medicines they are holding in storage. They are very busy with numerous patients confined to rooms in the medical facility.

I am going to try and listen to Kate Ross presentation on Muslim art and architecture this afternoon. During the previous two presentations of hers I was put to sleep by her monotone reading of a script from her laptop. Hopefully today I will do better. (I didn't, 45 minutes of monotone voice is just too much.)

Last night Amy, from the shore excursion desk, left me a message that she had looked over all my excursion choices. I changed the one where she was concerned about the walking terrain and I also looked into changing my tour in Monaco.

Two tours in Monaco are nearly identical except one stopped in Nice and the other stopped in Eze Village for about an hour of free time. When I asked which anyone preferred, Amy liked them both, Nyron had never been to either, but luckily another passenger at the counter had lived in Monte Carlo for several years, and said that definitely it was better to spend free time in Nice, and the walking is easier there. My decision was made for me, thanks to the experience of a well traveled fellow passenger.

As we have lost and gained some passengers, and others have been traveling for almost three months, some of the passenger dynamics have changed. There are more passengers going to the casino every night. One Asian man is there every time I walk thru whether it is 10 AM 6 PM or 10 PM. Definitely a big gambler. Many of the flexible dining passengers now eat in the Lido every night or have switched to fixed dining. A classic setup for HAL to think passengers don't like flexible dining when the real reason the passengers aren't going is because of such poor service.

The Crow's Nest is also becoming more popular during happy hour, whether it is at 4, 6, or 9 PM, or for some, all three times. Surprisingly the bartenders allow people to "bank" drinks. Pay for two during happy hour, have one now and the second tomorrow or any other time. Of course water is always available and soft drinks or higher priced drinks don't qualify.

Tonight Tony Pace, a Las Vegas singer and comedian, is our main entertainer in the Queen's Lounge. I will be there. Good or bad, the entertainment is at least different every night.

March 23, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 78

Day 78 – At sea. We are cruising just off the coast of the southern tip of India headed Northwesterly in the Arabian Sea towards Dubai. The air temperature is 86, and humidity 80% with a very light breeze directly on our bow. The seas are calm, the skies are cloudy and the visibility only a mile or two due to a heavy haze. No change is expected in the weather for the rest of today or tomorrow.

The razor wire has been strung around the ship just below the bottom of the railings on deck three. Since I can't send you a picture, it is about 18 inches in diameter with about one quarter inch barbs. It is quite rusted, obviously having been used a number of times, then stored for the next need. I certainly wouldn't want to try and climb over it, but for that matter I don't remember ever wanting to be a pirate on the high seas either.

A reader questioned about what I meant several days ago when I mentioned that one of the gals from the Lido staff was "robbed". Did I mean physically robbed, or taken advantage of robbed? In this case it was physically robbed, only the second such incident that I have heard of so far. The other was in Papeete where a young passenger carrying a laptop in a shoulder bag had it ripped from him as he walked down the street.

Robbed in the context of of being taken advantage of has been very common in many of the ports of the less developed nations. The most prevalent tactic is being quoted a price for a taxi, cyclo, Tuk Tuk or other service and then the provider demanding a much higher payment. Probably Sri Lanka has been one of the worst for several reasons. They have very few, if any, local laws and regulations. If you want to operate a bus line, all you need to do is find a bus and start driving it down the street charging passengers whatever you want. The same goes for the Tuk Tuk taxis. Just get one and start charging people. The country has little tourism oversight, and has yet to learn how a good or bad reputation will effect future tourism spending. Vendors sell chunks of colored glass as gems, and shiny zinc as silver. Many have no moral or legal reason to be honest. Certainly a buyer beware environment.

Tonight the singers and dancers perform their second show since boarding the ship. Three or four of the ten performers are from Russia, several from London, and the others from western Europe. The show is very energetic, especially for a HAL audience. I took my earplugs just to be prepared, but didn't use them.

Here is a short version of the additional anti-piracy preparations we have been told about. In addition to razor wire, four long range acoustic devices are set up and are being manned 24/7. Water hoses are installed around deck 3 and ready to use. Extra security guards are on 24/7 anti-piracy watch. Our ship is also being tracked and monitored by an international coalition of warships patrolling the area.

In the unlikely event of a piracy incident an alarm will be sounded. In the event of such alarm all passengers have been instructed to vacate exterior state rooms, stay off all outside decks, go to interior corridors or spaces and sit on the floor as the ship will heel considerably as it maneuvers at maximum speed of 25 knots to evade any pirates.

Most passengers seem to be taking this information in stride, I have only encountered a few that openly have expressed they are scared and apprehensive.

Tomorrow is another day at sea.

March 22, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 77

Day 77 - Colombo, Sri Lanka. This is our second, and last, day in Colombo. At sun rise the temperature is already 90 and the humidity 75%. There is no breeze.

This is a very busy deep water port with numerous container ships loading or unloading. The ship's data screen says the sea depth is 120 feet, certainly more than enough for any ships being built today. There really isn't any sort of cruise terminal, we are just docked with the container ships, and the tour buses drive right to the ship. The only security check point is about a mile away at the entrance to the entire pier area. Several piers away another cruise ship docked this morning, the Europa 2. Most likely related to the Europa that we saw in Melbourne.

Local vendors have set up a dozen or so booths on the pier selling the usual stuff, tee shirts, local crafts, and jewelry and gemstones of questionable quality. I walk thru the area, but do not see anything I can't live without. It's great to not be a shopper otherwise my stateroom would be overflowing with junk.

With no breeze at all, I expect it is only going to get warmer as the day progresses. I have a short two hour "Panoramic Colombo" tour at 11. It is basically a bus tour with possibly a couple of short stops. It is all I care to do in today's heat. Tonight we head to Dubai, 2000 miles to the Northwest, where it still will be hot, but the humidity should be lower.

A number of passengers left the ship yesterday to head to India for 6 days to visit Delhi, the Taj Mahal, and other sites, before returning to the ship in Dubai.

I made a stop at the Spa this morning after breakfast, not for any treatments, but to use the scale. I'm amazed, I have not gained any weight since I first weighed myself there a week or so into the cruise. It never occurred to me to weigh myself when I boarded in Ft. Lauderdale, I should have. Weight control is a major issue for many passengers. One gentleman, that will remain unnamed, confided that he can no longer get into most of his clothes.

As we leave port this evening there are about a dozen ships anchored outside the harbor. I suspect they too are the victims of a slowed international economy.

Debby has been sick for the last three days, she returns to the piano tonight, but really should still be in bed recovering. Our main show tonight, "The Fly Rights" from London, sing songs from the 50's and 60's.

While we were in port with the ship free of movement, some razor wire was installed in preparation for sailing thru areas where pirates are still active. The captain said we will be given written instructions tomorrow night, and the crew will be holding anti-pirate training drills over the next several days.

Tonight we set our clocks back 30 minutes.

March 21, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 76

Day 76 - Colombo, Sri Lanka. I leave for my tour to the Pinawella Elephant Sanctuary at 8:00 AM. The sky is mostly cloudy and temperatures are in the upper 80's at departure time. It is supposed to be about a 15 minute bus ride to the train station, and then about a two and one half hour train ride by private train followed by a 15 minute bus transfer to the park.

The Colombo train station is very busy, there are at least 10 platforms and we wait over one and one half hours for an available platform for our train. Probably a train arrives or leaves about every minute or so and as expected scheduled passenger traffic has priority over private trains. Motive power is mostly Chinese with a some Indian locomotives. The track is not welded rail, but is in excellent condition with concrete ties. Part of the delay is caused by a failure of part of the signal system, and trains are being controlled by flagmen stationed at strategic locations for the first 10 miles or so. I only see one freight train, consisting mostly of automotive gasoline tankers, and that was sitting on a siding.

The regular passenger trains are packed with people hanging out the side of the trains at the entry platforms. Cars are all open windowed and look pretty rough with lots of rust, peeling paint, and some broken windows.

Our buses, after dropping us at the train station, travel ahead to meet the train and take us the final 5 or 6 miles to the sanctuary. Yesterday the same buses drove from Colombo to Hambantota, a distance of over 100 miles, to do tours offered in Hambantota. Just an indication of the limited infrastructure in Sri Lanka.

Our private train consists of very old coaches restored to some of their original elegance and with the addition of some air conditioning, a much appreciated surprise, and free Internet. We are served tea, coffee, and soft drinks. I don't know how fast our train traveled, but it was much faster than many of the restricted speeds signs I saw along the way. The engineer managed to cut over 30 percent from the scheduled transit time.

The Sanctuary has over 100 elephants. Visitors may interact with them and have pictures taken. Rides are not an option here. A few are restrained by fences or leg chains, but the majority roam free unless being handled for bathing or hand feeding. Our buffet lunch was at a hotel overlooking the river and the elephants playing and being bathed by their handlers. We return to the ship about 5:45, only a few minutes late, thanks to our engineer. The bus drops us off within 10 feet of the gangway.

A passenger that has been having some eye problems went to the local hospital for treatment today after 3 attempts by the ships doctor produced no results. She learned that she has an relatively common eye infection and was given a prescription and several procedures to control it. The other advise was to change doctors as the three prescriptions that had been prescribed were not only ineffective, but probably made the infection worse.

Several of the Lido staff had some time off and took one of the 3 wheel motor bike TukTuk taxis into town. Unfortunately they were robbed by the driver of about $40. This is always a risk when traveling, and just demonstrates it can happen to anyone despite their best precautions.

We are staying in Colombo overnight tonight with the only entertainment being a movie in the theater. My tour tomorrow doesn't leave until 11:00, so I do not need to set an alarm.

March 20, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 75

Day 75 - Hambanota, Sri Lanka. We arrive at port precisely on time at 8:00 AM. Skies are mostly clear with an air temperature of 86 and a slight breeze. Humidity is 70%. In the shade it is bearable, but being just North of the equator, in the sun it is just plain hot. So far we have traveled 21,111 nautical miles, and I suspect we have about 13,000 to go before reaching Florida.

Clearing the ship takes about an hour. The major holdup was not any questions about paperwork or passports, but local officials bargaining for ship tours and and other perks like free breakfast and lunch. Some people may see that as extortion and bribery to get the ship cleared, others see it as just the way things are done in some parts of the world. At noon time there were an extra 25 to 30 people dining in the Lido.

The port here is very new, having been built with Chinese help after the area was completely destroyed by tsunamis in 2004. Probably with room for a dozen ships, we are the only one here. There are several wind generators for producing electricity. Five hundred to a thousand cars on the dock and nearby gravel fields obviously waiting for distribution around the country. Probably one car carrier ship load. I can only count about 10 shipping containers, and I suspect they might be left over from the port construction and not from any container shipping activity.

The town center is about a 25 or 30 USD cab ride away. Local officials would not allow HAL to contract a local shuttle bus like they do in many ports. The end result is very few passengers go into town. Some have taken tours, everyone else, like me, just stays on the ship. There is absolutely nothing within walking distance. Those that went to town say there is nothing there either.

Another unusual twist here is that government officials have brought a post office and a money exchange onto the ship. The exchange rate is excellent with a spread between the buy and sell rate of about 2%. At most banks it is about 10%. The post office is a nice idea and many people are taking advantage of it. In many ports it is time consuming and difficult to find the local post office.

The A/C in the Lido is partially fixed by this morning. It is cooling but not as well as on the other side.

I do have to say that the crew does a fantastic job of keeping this ship clean. Every day the elevators, all railings, all doorknobs etc are washed and sanitized. All carpets are vacuumed and high traffic areas are shampooed. All interior hard floors like the Lido deck are scrubbed. The outdoor area on deck 3 is washed down every few days. When I started the cruise my shower had a brand new shower curtain, since then it has been removed and washed twice. Every week all the walls in public areas are washed. Daily all the brass railings and trim are cleaned and polished. Definitely a much more aggressive cleaning program than takes place on most other ships.

There is very little activity on the ship today. That is normal for a port day. I could read, but in the last 10 weeks I have only managed 30 pages. A different movie is shown each day, usually with a tie to the area we are in. So far I haven't seen any, today will be my first as I don't even remember what I started to read and would just have to start over. The movie is a nature documentary "Monkey Kingdom", I believe filmed here in Sri Lanka.

There is only one show tonight, billed as a variety show which essentially is a combination of the performers from two previous shows performing about 20 minutes each. Since I have to set my alarm for 6:00 for my tour in the morning I will skip the show.

Debby is not playing in the piano bar tonight. She has been sick for several days and she has been given/taking the night off. HAL expectations are strict, and in my opinion unreasonable, on many of the staff. Debby is expected to play every night for the entire cruise without a day off. Every night she does a different show, and some days she has additional duties besides her 3 evening performances.

We are expected to set sail about 7:00 PM tonight headed for Colombo, Sri Lanka, about 140 miles away. Our arrival time is projected to be tomorrow, Monday, March 21, at 7:00 AM.

March 19, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 74

Day 74 – At sea in the Bengal Bay of the Indian Ocean. At noon time under partly cloudy skies it is 82 degrees, warmer than forecast, but still cooler than it has been recently. The humidity is only 70%. The seas are calm and there is a very light breeze from the North. Our speed continues at about 17 Knots in a Westerly direction towards Sri Lanka.

Language and customs sometimes create funny results. The woman in front of me at the Lido ordered bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast. When handed her plate she asked if she could have an extra plate for her husband as they were sharing. The cook prepared two more eggs, bacon, and toast and handed her another plate. I saw the humor, she didn't.

The A/C is still broken in the Lido on deck 8, and also in the front office and excursion desk area of deck 4. The word is that something needs to be replaced. I don't know if that means in the next few days, the next port, or during the next refurbishment. Though it is disappointing that there are mechanical failures that can't be quickly fixed, when one considers the complexity of all the systems on the ship the overall reliability is pretty good.

I carefully went thru the rest of the excursions I have booked looking for gotchas that would make any of them very difficult or uncomfortable for me. I found one, a lunch in the Jordanian desert where we sit in a tent on the ground. The brochure doesn't say that, but when it said something about authentic carpets I became nervous. The shore excursion desk confirmed my suspicions, the carpets are for sitting on for lunch. I will cancel the excursion.

Nyron also apologized for never getting back with me as he promised. He now has passed the buck to Amy to see if there are other excursions I have signed up for that may not be compatible with my abilities.

While I am on the subject of excursions I will make a strong recommendation to other travelers. Don't book your excursions ahead of time. Make yourself a priority list for each port, but wait until you hear the shore excursion presentation before booking. In some cases you can visit the same things that are on an excursion by walking a few blocks from the ship, in others you will learn that the tour is not at all as it is described in the brochure. I now know better and doubt if I will ever book excursions early again. I will make a list of what I think I want to do, but wait until several days before the port to book.

Today we are given a questionnaire about our desired itinerary for the 2018 World Cruise. HAL does listen to some extent, India was dropped from this cruise based on customer feedback last year.

Our entertainer tonight was a male vocalist Michel Bell accompanied on the piano by his wife Catherine Matejka. Yes I spelled Michel correctly. He had a very strong excellent voice, and gave a good performance.

We anticipate an arrival in Hambantota at 8:00 AM. I am staying on the ship, no excursion for me.

March 18, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 73

Day 73 – At Sea. The seas are calm, sky partly cloudy, and the air temperature 86 as we head West towards Sri Lanka. It is a little over 1000 miles from Phuket to Hambantota, and we are expected to arrive at 8:00 AM Sunday morning.

This morning Barbara gave her talk on the next two ports. Sri Lanka was devastated by civil war and then by a Tsunami, and is slowly rebuilding its infrastructure with a lot of help from China. The big draw for cruise ships are its national wildlife parks. Short of taking a tour, there is not going to be much to do in Hambantota. I probably will be staying on the ship.

This afternoon is another laundry day. Not a single machine is in use, but one of the dryers has an out of service tag on it. There is a bag of laundry hanging on the wall that was there last week. Someone is going home without some of their clothes, or maybe already did.

After laundry I spend several hours going thru pictures to select a few to post on the blog after I am home. My intention at this point is to add a couple of pictures to the blogs for each port day. Like many plans, they may change before they are executed.

The A/C is still not working in half of the Lido. Last night there also was no A/C in the Crow's Nest. Staff hinted that the cause was a lack of electrical capacity to run it, not a malfunction. I tend to accept this as we are running at 17 Knots, about the fastest the captain has run this ship in the last 70 days. All the engines are not running, and the captain indicated a reluctance in the past to start up an additional engine because of the additional fuel cost. I'll never know for sure, but it certainly is uncomfortable when there is no A/C, the temperatures are above 80, and the humidity very high.

Tonight is a gala, or formal, night. I think I will dress appropriately, but still go to the Lido to dine. I am there often enough that the cooks and servers all know me better than any of the dining room staff ever did. Well almost all. We had several short order cooks in the Lido join the ship in Singapore. I'm sure they had cooked eggs and made waffles before, but they sure hadn't done it very often. The other staff had to show them how to crack eggs quickly and teach them to make waffles. They will be proficient in a few more days.

The entertainment tonight was a quartet of strings called "Graffiti Classics". Most of the entertainers work for HAL on a pretty consistent basis, and perform on the World Cruise year after year. It has been several years since this group has been here. I can see why, but I am only one customer.

Tonight we set our clocks back again. Not an hour, just 30 minutes. Tomorrow is another sea day, and the forecast is for a high of only 79. Almost a freeze warning!

March 17, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 72

Day 72 - Phuket, Thailand. We arrive in port earlier than expected. I think the captain was allowing extra time for having to back into the harbor, a maneuver that did not take as long as expected. But if it were windy, or foggy which many mornings it is, it would have been a different story.

The forecast for today is partly cloudy with highs in the 90's. My 5 hour "Panoramic Phuket" tour on an air conditioned bus would have been excellent if the air conditioner worked. I don't know how hot it was in the bus, but with no windows that would open, it was definitely much cooler outside.

A surprise stop that wasn't listed in the brochure was a stop at a Cashew factory. No, I know cashews aren't manufactured, but the harvesting, packaging and sales area is called a factory none the less. They had cashews in about 25 different flavors from chocolate to chili to butter and salt. Being my favorite snack food that I have been deprived of for over two months I just had to buy a few bags at approximately double what they would cost in the US.

Thailand is much cleaner than Cambodia or Vietnam. Phuket has many resort hotels, and numerous smaller rental units. There are several very large nice white sand beaches which were very busy. Phuket, the only island we visited, is almost 100% dependent on tourism. Natural rubber is still harvested, but the market has been almost entirely displaced with synthetic rubber products.

Pineapple, bananas and a number of other tropical fruits are also grown. Interestingly coconuts, are harvested by trained monkeys which are capable of harvesting 1000 per day, many more than a person can, because they go from one tree top to another and don't need to climb up and down each tree.

I gambled and took my old camera today, it worked just fine. Now I have a spare. But please realize that if I hadn't purchased a new one I wouldn't have been able to repair the old one. Murphy controls things like that.

Last night we were again given information on the Zika virus which has spread to this part of the world. Fortunately I haven't heard or felt a mosquito yet on the entire trip despite a considerable amount of time in the tropics. Actually there are very few passengers of child bearing age on the cruise, a larger number exists within the ranks of the crew, staff and entertainers.

Wayne had shared with me a month ago that a lot of passengers really don't like the fact that his two grandchildren are on the ship. It is not that the children are doing anything wrong or disruptive, it is just that they don't like any children on the ship. On the bus this morning I heard first hand a number of passengers venting about how terrible it is that HAL allows children on this cruise. I suppose none of those vocal people were ever children themselves, and maybe if their parents had exposed them to a little more as children they would know how to behave now that they are retired. Of course that would deprive me of much material to write about.

We are scheduled to set sail about 6:00 with a sailaway party from 5:30 to 6:30. This is St. Patrick's day so the bars and lounges are all decorated in green, and corned beef is on the dinner menu. In addition to the normal entertainment, tonight there is a "pub crawl". I don't participate but do go to the crow's nest and have a sprite zero after the 8:15 show. There is hardly anyone I know there. When the "crawl" arrives I understand why. I know just about everyone in the pub crawl. I'm not quite sure what conclusions should be drawn from that.

Tonight we set our clocks back one hour. The next two days are sea days as we head towards Sri Lanka.

March 16, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 71

Day 71 - Headed Northerly towards Phuket, Thailand. The air temperature is a manageable 86, but the humidity is an uncomfortable 80%. Winds are very light and the seas are calm. Until about 1 PM today we are still in the controlled shipping lanes of the Malacca Strait. Early this morning there were numerous ships around us, but by noon the traffic had thinned out considerably. I actually suspect the ships are just a little further away from us and the limited visibility from the heavy haze prevents me from seeing them.

I spend the rest of the morning salvaging my wet camera. Several Q Tips and the selective application of a hair dryer, and it appears I have been successful. This probably only worked because I already had purchased a non returnable replacement. So be it.

Nyron and Barbara give a quick presentation on all of our upcoming ports and excursions for the next two weeks. I learn a few details that have led to me cancel a couple of my intended shore excursions. For example a boat ride where we have to sit on the floor, no seats, no cushions and no standing. Impossible for this mature passenger, and most others also.

Last night I hear about a few of the mishaps that occurred recently on various shore excursions. 5 passengers were left somewhere in Singapore when the bus left without them. They were about 20 feet from the bus when it drove away. Obviously no attempt to verify the presence of all passengers. Four of them found a taxi, I didn't hear about the fate of the fifth person.

A private (Not HAL) tour that was described as a factory tour where Chinese medicines are made turned out to be a handful of bottles set on a card table in an otherwise empty room of an old abandoned factory. The risk of booking dockside, a classic tour excursion scam.

A lady walking up and down the hills of the Orchid Garden severely injured her knee and can barely walk today, even with a brace and the aid of a cane.

Another person on a different tour was sent back to the ship in the middle of the tour because of medical issues.

This cruising life isn't as plushy as you may think.

During his noon address the Captain's weather forecast for tomorrow is temperatures in the low 90's with partly cloudy skies. Warmer than today. He also shares that the turning basin in Phuket harbor is silted in to the point we can't use it. He will back all the way thru the harbor to the pier, a process that he is expecting to take an hour and a half.

This afternoon I will listen to Kate Ross talk about very early Global trade that took place centuries before Columbus sailed. I don't make it. Kate's monotone voice reading her presentation puts me to sleep. I return to my cabin and continue my nap. I must have needed it.

At 5:30 I go to the Lido for prime rib. One of my favorite dinners. Before I am half finished the Manager comes and asks me if the meat is tough. I reply that yes it is, not a result of how it was cooked, but the result of purchasing low quality meat to begin with. After dinner we chat a little more and he thanks me again. I relate it is just another example of the "Carnivalization of Holland America". He laughs and indicates his total agreement.

Our entertainment for the evening is Mel Mellers, a magician and comedian from London. He is hilarious. My alarm is set too early, at 6:30 in the morning for another day of excursions.

March 15, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 70

Day 70 Singapore. We are in Singapore all day today, with an 8 PM all aboard time, and an expected departure at 10 PM. The temperatures are forecast to be a little more reasonable with highs in the mid 80's, again with a slight chance of rain.

My tour today is to the Jurong Bird Park. As is my usual pattern, after I shower I stop by the ice machine on deck 8 to make sure it is turned on. (half the time it isn't) I have a quick breakfast in the Lido, return to my room to gather whatever I need for the day, then go to the ice machine by the Lido pool to fill my water bottle with ice on my way to the tour gathering point in the theater.

After boarding the bus, I remove my camera from my shoulder bag, and it doesn't work. Further investigation revels the water bottle has leaked in addition to producing lots of condensation that sits in the bottom of my waterproof bag with my camera.

The bird park is well done, and very clean just like the rest of Singapore, but I have no pictures. Our tour guide is the same one I had two days ago, but this time he does a much better job.

On the way back to the ship, several drops of water drip from my camera. I suspect I have less than a 50% probability of ever getting the camera to work again. I make the quick decision to replace it here in Singapore. Of all the ports we are visiting, this is probably the one I would trust the most to make an electronics purchase. There is a very large mall adjacent to the pier.

While in the mall I also get a haircut, ensuring that I have been "clipped" here in Singapore. I hope it is only the hair, I won't know about the camera purchase until after I am home. The manual is only available on line, but most of the settings and it's use are intuitive enough that I should be OK.

After dinner, I go outside to "test" my new play toy. Definitely much better than my old camera.

The Oceania Insignia leaves port about 7:00. We loose the passengers that were scheduled to depart in Singapore plus several more because of medical emergencies. There have been so many medical departures I have no idea what the total count is. We also gain 20 new passengers, some going to Dubai, others to Florida.

With having to replace my camera I never did get to take the cable car or the subway system which I planned to do today. I understand the system is excellent and it very inexpensive. I could have purchased an unlimited 3 day pass for something like $20. Just another reason I may have to come back some day.

Last night our main entertainment was scheduled to be a group of singers and dancers from Singapore. About an hour before show time it was confirmed they were going to be no-shows. A movie was played instead. Tonight we have a Polish pianist Filip Wojciechowski. I will leave it to you to figure out the pronunciation.

By 9:30 the gangway is stored, but about 30 passengers have not returned their passports for inspection by Singapore officials. It takes about half an hour for everyone to resond to the numerous pages and we are underway by 10:20.

Tonight we set our clocks back an hour. Tomorrow is a day of at sea as we head North to Phuket, Thailand.

March 14, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 69

Day 69 In port at Singapore. At sunrise the temperature is already above 80. It is partly cloudy. I decide to forgo either a rain coat or an umbrella for today's tour. This turns out to be the right decision.

My "Singapore Highlights" tour takes me past several areas that I had seen last night. A stop at the Orchid Garden is pretty and fragrant but the three "H's", hills, humidity and heat makes the tour excruciating. It is actually more humid here than it is in the inner city or harbor area.

We visit several ethnic neighborhoods including the Arab section, Chinatown, and a neighborhood occupied mostly by expatriates from India. We also make a quick photo stop at the Raffles Hotel, reported originator of the very popular Singapore Sling drink.

Singapore is very modern, and very clean. The architecture is very modern, especially compared to Hong Kong. Most of the world knows that chewing gum is banned in Singapore. According to our tour guide this is because when the mass transit system was started up, pieces of gum would be stuck on the edges of the sliding doors preventing the trains from starting. After an unsuccessful campaign asking people to dispose of their gum properly, sales were banned and anyone caught spitting out gum is subject to arrest and fines. Private use of chewing of gum is permitted.

We return to the ship about an hour and a half late. The pier next to us is now occupied by an Oceania cruise ship. I decide to remain on the ship for the rest of the day. I again have a tour in the morning.

For the nerds and mathematicians in my audience – Happy Pi day!

World Cruise 2016 Day 68

Day 68 – Arrival at Singapore. The temperatures are in the mid 80's, skies mostly cloudy with a slight chance of rain today. With winds from the North East at 15 MPH the seas are calm. Singapore is just above the equator and we are expecting it to be hot and humid.

We are required to carry our passports and visa documentation with us at all times, so our passports are returned to us this morning at the front office. Laws here are very strong and strictly enforced. Counterfeit goods are banned from being brought into the country to the extent that passengers were warned not to wear their knockoff Rolex watches.

The other day Kate Ross, one of our guest speakers, was on the same tour with me. I learned she is a retired high school history teacher from Utica, NY. (For Steve: she knows the New Hartford area well.) She will be doing a number of lectures as we travel between Hong Kong and Dubai. She learns which lecture she will be giving, and at what time, when she reads the daily program printed each evening for the following day. Unlike most other speakers, she was first contacted directly by HAL that heard of her through a friend of a friend.

The sea depth has been fairly shallow for the last 20 miles approaching the Malacca straits, less than 100 feet. We pass hundreds and hundreds of anchored ships. Tankers, bulk carriers, freighters, oil rigs, container ships, etc, all just anchored in the ocean because of a lack of business. If there is anyone that doesn't recognize that business activity has dropped in Asia only needs to look at the shipping industry. Billions of dollars of capacity sitting empty.

At 4:00 I go to the sports deck to watch our arrival in Singapore. Within two minutes the "slight chance" of rain turned into a torrential downpour. I retreat to the Crow's Nest where visibility does not exist past the window panes. At 5:15 I go to the Lido to grab a bite to eat before gathering for my 6:15 tour. Water is coming out of many of the light fixtures, the galley side of the serving counters are covered with numerous buckets catching leaks, and in some places the carpet is soaked from all the rain that is leaking thru the ceiling. I think this is the heaviest rain we have had on the entire cruise, but I find it hard to believe these leaks just suddenly appeared.

The A/C is not working, and the lido is jammed with passengers that have to eat here tonight because of scheduled tours. The line goes out to the stairwell, the longest I have seen any wait on the cruise. I'm glad I went 15 minutes before they officially open at 5:30.

By the time my tour leaves, the rain has stopped, and over the next few hours the skies clear and a sliver of the moon comes out. Temperatures drop to a reasonable 80 but with 99% humidity it feels very uncomfortable.

The Crystal Serenity shares our pier on the other side, but she leaves at about 5:30. There is also a Celebrity ship in Singapore, but at a different port.

My night tour touches on some of the Singapore basics. A ride on the "Singapore Flyer", a boat ride on the Singapore river, a stop at the Bugis Village night market, and a 30 minute ride on a "Trishaw". I find it of interest that My Trishaw driver used to work in DaNang driving Cyclos. He said he likes Singapore much better. By the time I get back to the ship I am exhausted but need to set my alarm for 6:30 for tomorrow's tour.

March 12, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 67

Day 67 At sea. We continue heading South in the South China Sea towards Singapore at about 14 knots or 15 MPH. The temperatures are in the low 80's, with mostly cloudy skies. The wind has picked up to 15 mph from the East producing 3 foot waves. Enough wind and waves that the ship rolls just a little, but I doubt enough that the captain is using the stabilizers.

We continue to pass small fishing boats, commercial freighters and tankers, and of course the ever present garbage. This morning we also passed a number of oil platforms in the Malaysian Oil Fields. The sea is relatively shallow with a depth generally less than 200 feet. I don't know at what depth it would be considered deep sea drilling. If I had the internet, I would find the answer quicker than the time it took me to write this.

About noon tomorrow we will be entering the Malacca straits, the most congested shipping lane in the world. The captain has told us that the super tankers and larger vessels have priority over little ships like us. In some spots the channel is less than 2 miles wide. He expects marine traffic to be very heavy as we head towards Singapore for a 6 PM arrival.

Yesterday was shoe repair time. I use cushioned foam inserts in my shoes. They also have a replacement leather insole that were installed at my shoe repair shop. I decide to start with the worst pair. I came prepared with replacement materials. What I didn't come prepared for was removing the glued in remnants of the old insoles. I decide to borrow a set of silverware from the Lido. With the aid of a fork, knife and spoon I was able to remove the residue. The knife handle even served as a hammer to reseat a few nail heads that were beginning to come thru. One pair of shoes now good for another 15000 miles of travel, and no damage to the silverware. I'll wear them for a few days and then tackle a second pair.

This is just to reinforce my kids perception that they think I have too much time on my hands. When getting on the elevator the other day the question crossed my mind as to how far will I likely travel in an elevator on this trip. My quick guesstimated calculation: about 25 to 30 miles! Yes I do some stairs, more down than up.

There is a silent auction today to raise funds for the charity "A Helping Hand Sri Lanka". Many of the articles have been donated by passengers that took any of the various arts and crafts classes offered on board. Other items have been donated by HAL and include items such as: a shore excursion; two drinks; a DVD of the cruise; free casino play; a cook book; and a signed nautical chart of the world. I bid on a few items, not necessarily because I would like them, but only because it is for charity. I am successful, I win nothing but did drive up the price on 4 or 5 items.

Most of the day tomorrow is at sea, as we are not scheduled to arrive at Singapore until 6 PM. I don't know what I was thinking, but I have a 4 ½ hour tour that is scheduled to leave at 6:30.

March 11, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 66

Day 66 Sihanoukville, Cambodia. This is Cambodia's only deep water port. It is not very busy, there was only one freighter that I could see this morning. Temperatures are expected to rise to the low 90's, skies are partly cloudy. The tour buses drive out on the pier right next to the ship. There is nothing at the port for tourists, the town center is about a 25 minute shuttle bus ride away. There is no immigration or customs checkpoint to deal with.

This morning I witnessed the worst passenger behavior I seen so far. Passengers taking tours are assembled in the main theater, and are called by tour name where bus number stickers are given out as you exit the theater. Several people were knocked to the floor behind me by a couple pushing and shoving.

Within a few minutes I settle into a bus with the most legroom I have seen on a tour bus. A few minutes later a couple gets on and bitches at everyone because they don't like the availability of empty seats. They expect someone else to give up a window seat so they can sit together. Nobody feels sorry for them and their profanity and name calling just hardens the resistance. They finally settle into the seats reserved for the handicapped at the front of the bus. Maybe mental issues qualify.

After about an hour, the same couple start complaining to the HAL escort that this was not the tour they had signed up for. I quote; "We would never sign up for a tour of a fishing village and a stop at the local market." After some verification of tickets I think it was confirmed they presented themselves for the wrong tour when they left the theater. After the theater, HAL employees and the tour operators just look for the bus number sticker.

After a few phone calls, two scooter taxis arrive to take them to catch up with the correct bus. As we drove away they were complaining about that, and were refusing the transportation arranged for them. I hope they don't suffer heart attacks before the end of the day, they are working on it.

People that have never seen otherwise often ask "Will the ship actually leave passengers behind that don't get back to the ship on time?" The simple answer is: yes. Several days ago we left a couple in Da Nang that had to find their own transportation to catch up with us in Phu My.

Cambodia is another very poor country, beggars everywhere. When the bus stops, it is surrounded by peddlers hawking everything. The fishing village was interesting to see. The fishing fleet goes out about 5 in the afternoon, returning about 5 in the morning.

At the tourist center which is adjacent to the ever present "market" police stand at the door to the bus to help protect the passengers from the peddlers. I initially planned to take the shuttle back into town this afternoon, but changed my mind after our tour stopped at the market for 30 minutes. I am sure there are some good bargains somewhere in the market, but I'm not a shopper in need of anything.

Last night when I logged onto the internet through the ships satellite internet connection I was surprised to see that I was connected to Google Hong Kong instead of the US Google I have been connecting to for the last two months. It works, but I wonder if the Chinese government is listening.

With free time this afternoon, after I shower, I do laundry. I'll pass on lunch as I had a good breakfast this morning in anticipation of being off the ship the most of day. Yes, the second attempt at the water system repairs appear to be successful. Rusty water for a few minutes, but there is now hot water in my cabin.

Sailaway is after sunset, there is not much to see, but I attend after dinner. The entertainer tonight is Annie Gong, an accordionist originally from China, but now living in New Zealand. Again a show I enjoyed but would never purchase a ticket to and drive 30 miles.

Tomorrow is a sea day as we head South to Singapore, our next port of call. We also turn our clocks ahead one hour tonight.

March 10, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 65

Day 65 – At Sea. We continue on our way to Cambodia. The seas are absolutely flat, the only waves are our wake which can be seen for several miles. We are currently in the South China Sea and will be entering the Gulf of Thailand this afternoon. Temperature is in the low 80's and the skies are slightly cloudy.

With no alarm, no shore excursion, and nothing I had to do, I sleep for almost 12 hours. I must have needed it. I miss Barbara's talk on Singapore in the morning, but will be able to watch it later on TV. There are no lectures this afternoon as the singers and dancers are rehearsing for their first performance this evening. I will take a walk on the outside deck.

Henk, the Hotel Director left us a message last night that they would be doing maintenance on the water system between midnight and 6 AM. At times there may be no water, and is always the case when a water system is shut down, there may be discoloration (rust) in the water when it is first turned back on. I fill my water bottles with clean water just in case.

All that was predicted took place as planned, but what wasn't planned is that when I went to shower this morning the hot water was at best 90 degrees. By mid afternoon there still is no hot water and I report the problem to the front desk. I was given the impression that mine was the first report of the problem.

While I'm in the office area I stop at the shore excursion desk to change one of my tours to one with less walking and shopping, and no lunch. On the way back to the cabin half an hour later I pass a staff member on his phone telling someone that he has confirmed a cabin down the hall from me does not have hot water. Time will tell if this is just another botched "maintenance" job, a cost reduction step, or a temporary situation.

As we round the southern tip of Vietnam we pass a large fleet of small fishing vessels. I have no way of telling if they are working together or if 35 fishermen independently determined the same location was a good fishing spot.

At 3:30 we pass a cruise ship several miles off to starboard. With my naked eye I think it is a princess ship by it's shape. Borrowing a pair of binoculars from a fellow passenger on deck I am sure it is a Princess ship because I can make out the logo on the stacks. Then, overhearing our discussion about which ship she was a gentleman joined the conversation with his Nikon camera. The optical zoom was so good he could fill the entire frame with just the ship, and by zooming in we not only could clearly read the name, Sapphire Princess, but we could see people on the upper deck. My old canon point and shoot doesn't look so good anymore, but it still easily fits in my pocket.

I have mentioned in several posts about the amount of trash in the ocean. It continues here, and probably is worse. In addition to the numerous small pieces of floating debris there are 55 gallon steel drums, logs, and many larger plastic items such as coolers, plastic drums, fishing net floats and boat fenders. If there were any floating parts from the missing airliner of two years ago, they would be very difficult to spot amongst all the other debris. I would think the logs and steel drums are large enough to damage even our large propellers.

There were not a lot of passengers that joined the cruise in Hong Kong, but I think the number of children under 12 more than doubled. As I was walking thru the Lido to get to the aft deck they were all lined up with one of the staff leaders to get ice cream. We also will be loosing a number of passengers in Singapore. More than a few are staying in Singapore a few days and then boarding another HAL ship to eventually wind up in Vancouver in a couple of months.

The new singers and dancers do a good job. Perform this show twice tonight, and then start rehearsing for the next show. At least they don't have to contend with scenery. There is no scenery, just leds in the back curtain.

When I return to my room, I still have no hot water, but I have another notice from Henk that they will be shutting the water off again tonight. The few other passengers I spoke with aren't experiencing the hot water problem, just my lucky section of deck 2.

Tomorrow we dock at 6:00 AM and my tour leaves at 8:15. Another alarm clock morning, but not too ridiculously early.

March 09, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 64

Day 64 Phu My & Ho Chi Minh City. No retired person on vacation should be required to set an alarm clock for 5:30 in the morning as I did this morning for my tour of Saigon.

Phu My is an industrial port. As was done in Da Nang, they move a portable office on to the pier to use as an immigration checkpoint. The buses are located less than 50 feet from the end of the gangway. We board the bus at 6:45, just after the start of the eclipse. I think the only people that were aware of it were those that I told. A 50% coverage was not enough to reduce the light level a noticeable amount. Between the heavily tinted bus window and my tinted glasses I was able to see the partial eclipse. On a TV at the hotel where we were having lunch the headlines were about the excitement created in Indonesia by the full eclipse.

I don't know what it is, but there is something jinxing my tour buses. Today as we boarded our bus after a stop in downtown Saigon the bus driver was cited by local police for something. We weren't told what it was about, but the driver and 3 or 4 police officers were engaged in a heated argument for half an hour as we waited. We were beginning to wonder if we might be stranded without a driver. Eventually the driver boarded and we were on our way. No explanation was given by the driver our our English speaking guide.

The guide was the worst I have experienced. He would tell us we were going to do one thing, and then he would do something else. He would not give us guidance on where or when to meet or find the bus even when specifically asked. Some people would stop to use the restroom pointed out by the guide, and the guide would just walk away leaving a number of passengers wondering where he went. At one point he led us on a 12 or 16 block non-stop walk to board the bus exactly where we started.

Probably the guide contributed to my opinion, but I was unimpressed with the tour, and with Saigon. Streets were crowded with motor bikes, pollution was significant, and living conditions for most residents was very poor. On the plus side some new hotels have been built and they are making a major push to attract tourists. At a museum stop we encountered about 100 young army cadets. They were very friendly and enjoyed meeting and having their picture taken with the Americans.

I did learn that earlier in the week there were four cruise ships in the same industrial port of Phu My where we were. Their problem was there were not enough buses for the tours.

Tomorrow is a sea day. Our course will take us Southwest around the southern tip of Vietnam, and then Northwest to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It was hot today, and I am tired. Sleeping late tomorrow.