April 29, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 115

Day 115 – At Sea. We continue on our Westerly course towards an early arrival at Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. Winds are light from the North, seas are slight, skies are mostly sunny with a few light clouds, temperatures in the mid 70's. We pass thru the Bahamas, North of Nassau, and South of Freeport late this afternoon.

Many passengers are anxious to get home. Luggage was already piled high in the hallways before 8:00 AM this morning. Some passengers are scrambling to change flight plans, having originally booked planes too early in the morning on Saturday. There is a steady stream of passengers taking luggage to the atrium to be weighed, and the front desk is busy with all sorts of last minute details.

My chauffeurs, my son and daughter, are planning to meet me at the pier tomorrow morning. I am scheduled to be one of the last off the ship, the exact time depending on the speed of customs and immigration. Over a number of cruises I have learned it is best to either carry all my luggage off myself and be one of the first to disembark, or wait to be near the last, and avoid all of those that push and shove. Unlike most ships we can wait in our cabin or any public area on the ship until our group is called. Since the gangway is just a few feet from my cabin, I will probably wait there.

I listened to my last presentation this morning, a talk on the Everglades and things to do in Ft Lauderdale and the surrounding area.

This afternoon there is another concert by "Island Magic" from Trinidad playing their steel drums.

Tonight the entertainment is music provided by a combination of all the musicians on the ship.

This is my last daily post for World Cruise 2016. I hope you have enjoyed following this adventure.

In three weeks on May 21, 2016 I leave for a trip to Alaska and the Arctic, followed by a cruise back to Vancouver on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of The Seas. Follow the adventure here.

April 28, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 114

Day 114 - At Sea in the North Atlantic. The temperature is a comfortable 75, cloudy skies, with a breeze out of the South East. The seas are calm, and we are cruising at just under 21 knots to reach Ft Lauderdale at our scheduled time on Saturday morning.

My suitcases are out, and they seem to fill my entire cabin. As my daughter said to me a few days ago my home will seem like a mansion after living in this small cabin for the past four months.

Cruise Critic has its last get together this morning at 10:30 in the Crow's Nest, followed by a lecture on the history and future of computers at 11:00 in the Queen's Lounge and a Mariner Society luncheon at 11:00 in the dining room. Like every other day, it is impossible to do everything, I'll skip the luncheon.

At 4:30 there is a champagne farewell reception with words from the Captain Jonathan Mercer, Barbara the location guide, and Gene Young our cruise director. Since it is the captain's birthday, I'm sure he will have to endure a rendition of "Happy Birthday" from the passengers.

The gap between the number of passengers boarding at the beginning of our voyage and the number actually finishing it is not trivial, but expected. As always happens on voyages like this there were a number of passengers that unexpectedly passed. A larger number had to terminate their travels prematurely because of illness or other medical emergency. Others left because they couldn't handle cruise travel for one reason or another. My condolences.

Late this morning I see the first signs of other humans since we left Portugal 6 days ago. A very rusty fishing boat just drifting in the ocean. It looked to be no more than 30 feet in length, and there were no signs of people on board. Being over 350 miles from the nearest land, the passengers were skeptical that it really wanted to be here fishing. Since we made no course deviation we can only assume the bridge sensed nothing abnormal and we continue our Westerly course to Ft Lauderdale.

Batman is removed from his spot above the thermostat. My pitch and roll measuring device is dismantled, and the magnets are removed from the outside door frame. I pack one and a half suit cases, attach claim tags, and complete my customs form. Probably in less than a hour I can complete packing, but that can wait until tomorrow night.

Our entertainment tonight is another show by the group ABBA Fab, this time playing tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel.

April 27, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 113

Day 113 – At sea in the North Atlantic. Temperatures remain a balmy 75 with humidity of 77%. Winds have subsided to a very light breeze, the seas are calm except for a 3 or 4 foot swell from the North. The skies are cloudy and we are expected to have rain showers this evening and tonight.

I didn't make it to the ball last night, the clocks are being moved back faster than this mature body can adapt. I was sound asleep long before it even started.

This morning I listened to a lecture on various telescopes being used to view the galaxies. Mike Raick had some spectacular images, courtesy of NASA.

This afternoon the Filipino crew members are putting on their "crew show" that was postponed several days ago, and tonight is the last performance of the singers and dancers.

The ship has definitely become more quiet as we approach our final two days. No walkers, few people by the pool, and the Crow's Nest almost empty during the day. I suspect many passengers are busy packing. It probably takes several days if you came with 5, 10, or 12 suitcases. I'm planning to do most of my packing Thursday, hopefully leaving Friday with nothing to do. Our luggage tags and customs forms are delivered to our stateroom this afternoon. As usual the customs form asks what countries I have visited prior to arriving in the US. I wonder how I list them all in the little space provided?

About 6 weeks ago I noticed we had a number of new crew members cooking in the Lido Restaurant, and also at the Dive Inn by the pool. I didn't pay a lot of attention but did think it was strange they were having to show one crew member how to crack eggs, and to another they were explaining that the waffle iron didn't need to be watched while the waffles were cooking, it would beep when they were done. Today I was able to confirm the rest of the story. About 50 crew members quit and walked off the ship when we docked in Hong Kong. Obviously HAL wasn't too particular about the qualifications of the quickly hired replacement workers.

There was a private party in the Crow's Nest tonight. It was a 30th (wedding?) anniversary party for Russel and Steven. I didn't know many of the attendees, but both the "dog" lady and the "doll" lady were in attendance.

After dinner I saw a clue as to why the ship is kind of quite today. Many passengers were walking around with partial bottles of wine. They bought wine packages on the ship, bought wine in foreign ports, and may have "won" some playing games. They need to finish them before they board their planes for home, so they sat in their rooms working on them. Just a guess, and not a problem I have.

The show tonight with the HAL Singers and Dancers was poorly attended. Those that didn't attend were smart, it was the worst vocal performance of this group since they joined the ship. The vocalists in the guest show were better.

Just before the show I had the opportunity to talk with Judy Carmichael and learned that she is doing a series of performances in the central Florida area starting in January. I'm not sure if I will be home, but will attend if I can.

World Cruise 2016 In Review

As I am nearing the completion of this adventure I want to share a few final thoughts about my World Cruise. First, thoughts on the ship.

The MS Amsterdam was launched in 2000 and is showing her age in some areas but otherwise still a very serviceable ship. The ship is way behind the industry with technology. The internet service is a joke, the TV's in the cabins are old and display fuzzy images, there is no ability to order a shore excursion or check your room account. Though they try to broadcast movies, they are not viewable. Viewing choices are very limited. The same commercial for the Koningsdam has been showing continuously for four months. The HVAC system works very poorly in most of the public spaces. It is often way too cold, or way too hot. Some cabin area have the same problem.

For the most part the carpets and furnishings are in good shape. Personally I find access to the pools very poor with no handrails or steps. All other parts of the ship are very accessible and she is easy to get around. There is ample public space so there is no feeling of being crowded. Equipment breakdowns are frequent, and eventually they fix them, often after several attempts. The ship is kept immaculately clean. Definitely one of the cleanest ships I have ever been on.

I give the staff mixed reviews. Housekeeping, which includes the room stewards, does an excellent job. Beverage service is also excellent, sometimes even stretching the rules to accommodate the customer. Food service is a different story. The presentation of food is excellent, but the service staff and food quality is not as good as other lines. (Seafood not included in my opinions.)

Overall entertainment on the cruise was very good. The variety of show room entertainment was excellent, and the quality of individual performances mostly good to excellent.

Debby in the piano bar is a very talented musician but spends a lot of time talking about composers and artists. Personally I prefer a more energetic piano bar environment without 20 percent of each hour being a history lesson.

The three piece group in the Ocean Bar often plays for a couple of the dance hosts and a dozen guests, seldom more. In the Explorer lounge a piano player and violinist play "Sophisticated Classical Music" to a very small handful of guests, often guests that only stay for a few minutes as they await the dining room to open. The "Oasis Band" plays popular music in the Crow's nest to crowds that range from a dozen listeners at the bar and a couple of the dance hosts to a room packed with 150 guests.

Holland America as a cruise line brand faces some challenges. They recognize they need to make changes to their product to attract new younger customers. They are trying in some areas, but in denial with others like internet access. They also are meeting great resistance from a small but very vocal number of "old timers" that want no change period.

Most of the passengers were very nice, and I met many wonderful people. There is a certain amount of "snobbishness", but those became the passengers I didn't associate with. The demographics on this cruise were substantially different than previous World Cruises. For the first time in years they had a program for children. Every age group was represented from a one year old to passengers in their upper 90s. The average age was much lower than previous years. However I never in my wildest dreams anticipated the amount of disgusting and disrespectful behavior that I encountered, behavior I have never seen on any other ship, and no this bad behavior wasn't from the "younger" passengers.

Overall most passengers have been happy with the cruise. Probably the two most disappointed groups are those that had taken a similar cruise three or four years ago and were hit with all the cutbacks and deterioration in service and quality that have occurred, and a few passengers that have learned they just don't like cruising, or being away from home for four months.

Our itinerary covered four continents, 24 countries, and 41 ports. I visited the two smallest countries in the world, some of the largest, several of the wealthiest, and some of the poorest. All the ports except two I had never visited before, truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The tours HAL offered covered the best of what was available in each port. I found HAL's descriptions to sometimes be misleading by omission. I booked all my tours before leaving Florida. That was a mistake on my part. A better approach would have been to research and select which tour I might like to do in each port and then wait to hear more about other options and previous travelers opinions before booking.

Holland America did a great job in contracting for the best transportation in every port. Personally I was extremely lucky in having a window seat on every bus. I can't say I always chose the right side of the bus, but I chose the better more often than not, not by exhibiting any skill, but just by luck.

Several of my most heartwarming moments were the reception by the honor guard at the port of Semarang, Java, Indonesia, and the overall reception at our unexpected stop in Townsville, Australia. The tour guide I met in Oman that is fighting her family, friends, and country for woman's rights and equality is certainly on my list of most admired individuals that I met.

The most thrilling episode was the bus ride with police escorts to "The Temple of Borobudur" in Indonesia. Definitely a story line for a thriller theme park ride.

My most nervous moment was being approached by armed military personnel in Florence, Italy when it was unclear whether I should have my passport with me and I didn't.

The most unexpected moment, the grounding of one of our tenders on a reef.

Will I take another World Cruise? Definitely not in 2017 as I don't have the time. Any future year is too far away. I have reserved space on the Prinsendam for Antarctica, the Amazon, and South America in January 2017. I will make a final decision by September this year.

My advice to others. Exactly the same as the advice that was given to me by Pat and her husband Fred. "If you can afford it and have the time, yes do it". It is an adventure unlike any other.

April 26, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 112

Day 112 – At Sea. We are just past the half way point of our Atlantic crossing. The temperature this morning is 73, the wind about 25 mph directly on our bow as we have turned to a heading just North of Westerly towards South Florida at 19.5 knots. The humidity is 83%, yes, Florida weather. There is a little motion to the ship, but not as much as yesterday.

For any of you that have cruised for more than a few years, you recognize that the industry keeps cutting back to reduce costs. Many years ago it was common to have a very large and elaborate midnight buffet every night. This was reduced to maybe once a week, and on many lines it has been eliminated entirely. My only previous HAL cruise had the midnight buffet at 10 PM and only a handful of people showed up. I totally support this change as I don't know of a single cruise passenger that needed the extra food, and most of the food was wasted.

HAL has come up with a good solution. The Grand Buffet is presented only once on our world cruise, and that will be at noon time today. After an hour long opportunity to take pictures, the buffet also becomes lunch service for those that want to participate. As usual the presentation is flawless. No less than six ice sculptures, chocolate fountains, shrimp trees, fruit carved into all sorts of things from flowers to fish and birds in a birdcage. Caviar, lamb chops, shrimp, sardines, many breads, cheeses, fruits, cold cuts, and vegetables. The hot items were not on display, only items that could be left at room temperature for an extended period of time. I'm passing on lunch today.

This afternoon there is a reception for half of the Mariner Society members. The other half is later this evening. This is HALS loyalty group. Appetizers and beverages will be served. Their program works on star levels, one to five. Everyone that has completed the world cruise attains at least a three star level. The benefit associated with that accomplishment is infinitesimally small, the one or two glasses of wine I have tonight are about it.

Tonight is also the last Gala night, I will have the turf half of the surf and turf. There is no entertainment, but there is the "Masked Ball" starting at 9:30. I will probably only make a brief appearance before retiring for the evening. Yes, my wine soaked clothes made it back from cleaning. In fact the Pinnacle Grill manger called me to make sure.

We turn our clocks back another hour tonight in anticipation of our arrival in Florida Saturday morning.

April 25, 2016

World cruise 2016 Day 111

Day 111 – At Sea in the North Atlantic roughly 2200 miles east of Florida. This morning the wind, seas, and ship motion has subsided. The temperature is about 70 under sunny skies. Our speed has inched back up to just over 19.5 knots. Since setting our original course for Ft. Lauderdale the captain has modified our course three times, taking us further South each time. He gave us his usual weather forecast earlier today, but I was unable to hear it.

Another day of not much interesting. They try another art auction, attendance is better at about 20 guests. This afternoon there will be the guest entertainment show. Gene tells us about it, but participation was so sparse it is not even listed in the daily program. The minimum number of participants wasn't reached until this morning.

A "Garage Sale" was held for all the guests this morning. The opportunity to try and get rid of some of the junk that passengers shouldn't have bought in the first place. I shouldn't be, but was surprised, at the piles of stuff people wanted to part with. Looked great when they bought it, but not worth carting home.

The main pool and hot tubs have been drained. With the rocking of the ship yesterday, three crew members spent the entire day pushing water off the deck. I also suspect some of the water leaks in cabins on deck 7 were sourced by the pool sloshing. Crew are caulking and painting the upper border of the pool today.

The guest entertainment show is much better than I had anticipated. None of the performances were bad, and several were better than some of the professional entertainers HAL and the passengers paid big bucks for.

Tonight is the first time I remember Porterhouse steak being on the dining room menu even though it is on the Pinnacle Grill menu every day for two upcharges. (One upcharge just to eat in the Pinnacle, another to order the porterhouse steak.) Somehow I come to the conclusion we are resorting to leftovers. I had mine grilled to order in the Lido. Much better than the dining room.

"Island Magic", a steel drum band from Trinidad, is our main entertainment tonight. They are very good, and perform classical music instead of the calypso and island music usually played by an island band. Again we turn our clocks back 1 hour tonight. One more time zone and we will be in the Eastern Time Zone. I'm not sure if the time zones shown on the ship take into account daylight savings time or not. You would think so but....

April 24, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 110

Day 110 - At Sea in the Atlantic. The temperature has warmed to 68. The skies are clear, the winds out of the South West on our port bow at about 20 mph. The ocean swell is about 12 feet, and the ship is pitching, enough to make the elevator cables slap, but not enough to make walking difficult. The wind and the waves have cut our speed to about 17 knots. Seas are expected to build during the afternoon, and then subside about noon time tomorrow.

There is not a lot of activity on the ship that interests me today. I listen to the morning show "Good Morning Amsterdam". Judy Carmichael is the guest. She does about 20 weeks a year on cruise ships, using the cruise as travel between land engagements, and the free time on board to produce and edit her radio shows for NPR. She keeps a large inventory of shows ready so that she is never under the gun to meet a deadline.

Gene shares that over 150 crew members are leaving the ship in Florida. He remains thru San Diego, Seattle and for one round trip to Alaska. He then has three weeks vacation time before returning to the Amsterdam.

We already have had one crew show, another is scheduled sometime before Florida, and Gene is now pleading for guests to participate in a "guest show". 15 guests volunteer.

I spend the afternoon sorting pictures. Tonight I attend a "Captain's Dinner". This was scheduled for about a month ago, but was canceled when it was required that the captain be on duty on the bridge. On short cruises, dinner with the Captain and other officers is reserved for the best customers. On the World Cruise, all passengers have the opportunity if they wish.

Calling it the "Captain's dinner" is a little misleading. There are over 50 people in attendance. I am seated with two other passengers and the future cruise consultants Joanne and Michael. The captain is in attendance somewhere in the room, but not where I can see him. A few passengers are inappropriately under dressed.

First we were served champagne, followed by white wine with our soup and appetizer, and then by red wine with the main course. Dinner presentation is excellent. The main course of beef tenderloin was good, but the portion was smaller than a chicken egg. While clearing the table after the main course the waitress knocked over a full glass of red wine. The glass shattered and I was soaked from head to toe. She cleaned up the broken glass and brought several dry napkins with barely an apology.

About five minutes later someone dropped a large tray of dishes at the back of the room. The sound of breaking china guaranteed many won't need to be washed. If you asked me this morning I would have said that dining room service is definitely the low point of this ship, now that I have had the opportunity to experience the Pinnacle Grill my opinion has only gone lower. My clothes have already been sent to dry cleaning. I hope my clowns survive.

The show tonight is comedian Buzz Sutherland. He travels more than we do, having performed in 46 countries in the last year in addition to TV shows. He does a lot of shows for military personnel. I was not impressed, but having just changed out of a wet suit I probably started with a bad attitude.

The ship is definitely rocking more tonight, a few guests are beginning to complain, as if anyone can do anything. We again turn our clocks back an hour, after which we will be two hours ahead of Florida.

April 23, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 109

Day 109 – At sea in the North Atlantic. We continue on our westerly course towards Florida at a little over 20 knots. The seas are calm, the skies partly cloudy with patches of blue. The winds have subsided to less than 20 mph from the South. The air temperature is a crisp 62. Our course has been altered further South to avoid a storm several hundred miles to our North.

The activities these final days are different than during our first long stretch at sea. It is the cruise lines last opportunity to separate us from our money. They are trying hard this week. There is "luggage service" available much of the day in the atrium. You can purchase bubble wrap, boxes, packaging tape, and even arrange for Fed Ex shipping of boxes or suitcases. Some how you need to get all that junk you have purchased back home. Of course you have to carry everything through customs, items for shipment are accepted only after you and your luggage have cleared customs. I brought an empty suitcase with me, and it most likely will go home empty, or just with saved paperwork and "gifts" from HAL.

At 11:00 there is one of the ever present "Champagne Art Auctions" where you are given the opportunity to purchase overpriced art reproductions. Even free drinks don't entice this crowd, nine people attend even though they have set up seating for over 75. I don't attend. I have no guess as to whether they sold anything.

At 2:00 there is a presentation on future cruises to South America. I attend, but manage to fall asleep.

At 3:00, the Indonesian crew members do an "Indonesian Cultural Show" in the main theater. It is the first time I have seen every seat in the theater occupied, and people standing at the back. HAL spent more on costumes and stage decorations for this show than they spend on many of the main shows. The show was good, and of course the passengers now know many of the participating staff. The costume investment is amortized over many years as they do this every year.

Clean clothes. We don't need many more, laundry and dry cleaning services are being suspended in two days.

Ultimately HAL offered foreign exchange for currencies needed in the majority of countries we visited. Today is the last day it will operate. I'm just taking mine back home, as I have some currencies that HAL didn't handle and need to go to the bank anyway, or actually my daughter Adrienne does.

I will start to think about packing, but that is as far as I will go. Most likely I will pack next Friday. It shouldn't take me more than a few hours. Actually the hardest part will be getting the suitcases out from under the bed. I'll ask Agung, my room steward, for help.

We again set our clock back 1 hour tonight. The captain is predicting that the seas will be a little rougher tomorrow because of the storm to our North. The Filipino crew show scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed until calmer seas.

The show tonight is a special treat that I'm sure that was scheduled just for me. Some of you are aware that jazz is my favorite music. If I have the radio on either at home or in the car, I am listening to a jazz station. Tonight jazz pianist and NPR radio personality Judy Carmichael will not only be performing, but her second show will not be a repeat of the first show as every other entertainer has done the entire cruise. I attend both shows, maybe that will hold me until I return home and resume hearing her regular program.

April 22, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 108

Day 108 – Funchal, Portugal. We arrive in port and the ship is cleared by 7:00. There is a large double rainbow as I head to breakfast, but of course I don't have my camera. By the time I return with it, the rainbow is gone. The temperature is as expected, about 63 with a stiff breeze. The sky is blue with passing clouds. The P&O "Aurora" berths behind us a short time later.

My tour bus is waiting right next to the ship. It is as full as they make them with about 40 to 45 passengers. We drive around the island with several stops for photos. Funchal really is a picturesque island. The weather basically cooperates. No rain, but being a mountainous island, as we climb we sometimes find ourselves in the clouds with very limited visibility.

Our last stop is to be near the highest point on the island where on a clear day it is possible to see the ocean on both sides of the island. There is only one very narrow winding road leading to the viewing area. For the last two days Funchal has experienced very heavy rains, and a number of large trees have fallen across the road. Workers are working to clear them, but traffic is one way, stop and go. We sit for 30 to 45 minutes making very little progress. Many of the passengers are grumpy and restless, some start complaining to the HAL escort, others just want to go back to the ship, and of course many didn't avail themselves of the last restroom break because it would cost them fifty cents. The tour guide checks with her office, there is a place the bus can turn around about a mile ahead.

She asks if anyone wants to continue on to the viewing point. I raise my hand, and eventually a person behind me raises theirs as well. I'm definitely outvoted, the majority just want to return to the ship. The tour guide announces we will continue to our destination, but we will be at least an hour late returning to the ship. She asks for another show of hands of those wanting to continue, we don't waiver in our position. I learn that if anyone wants to complete the tour as advertised, they will continue. Just like American politics it is not necessarily the majority that wins. I ignore the nasty stares and we move on to arrive at our destination in 15 to 20 minutes.

The view is spectacular even with some of the low hanging clouds. The restrooms are clean, and free, and there is a large cafe and shopping area, and the local people are very nice. We stay for half an hour, and then board the bus for the trip back to the ship. Just as we leave, a passenger near the front stands up and yells: "Thank you to those that wanted to continue the tour." The entire bus applauds. Did they learn a lesson, probably not.

Back at the ship I grab a hot dog for lunch as it is too late for the Lido. Today we have our last sailaway party of the cruise. Tapas, music, and free drinks for an hour and a half around the pool. I often say "free" but in reality it would be more accurate to say "prepaid".

We get under way about 30 minutes late. There should be no problem making up those minutes over the next 7 days as we cross the Atlantic to Ft. Lauderdale 3,313 nautical miles away. We are cruising West at 21 knots, fast enough for the harmonic vibration. The wind is out of the North at 25 mph, the resulting seas giving the ship a gentle roll. Tonight we set our clocks back another hour. The next seven days we are at sea.

April 21, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 107

Day 107 – In the North Atlantic sailing towards Funchal, Portugal. The skies are partly cloudy, temperature about 60, with occasional rain showers. The winds are about 20 mph blowing against our Port side. The seas are slight but there is a swell that is causing a little roll and pitch to the ship, not enough to be uncomfortable, but enough to make the ship emit its characteristic moan and groan.

Two elevator repairmen have finished work on one of the forward elevators. I expect changing the large pulley that was moved to deck 10 several days ago. The repairs took about a day and a half, and really had no impact on passengers as many use the stairs and the ship is only about 65% full.

Tomorrow is going to be a day of mixed emotions. It is our last port of call before returning to Florida. The last port where we get off the ship and then back on. The last chance for seeing new sights. The last chance for shopping in a foreign land. The last chance to visit an old church or do something silly like ride in a wooden sleigh as it is pushed down the road.

There are a few passengers that are very excited that this is the last port. They are the ones that are still asking themselves why they even took this cruise. They can't wait to go home.

For another few, tomorrow is just another port of an endless stream. They do not end their journey in Florida, but in San Diego or at a port yet to be determined some time in the distant future, maybe not for months.

For the majority of us a little bit of sadness is beginning to sink in. The end is in sight, we have to return to regular life. We don't want to face the reality, but the lifestyle we have become so used to will suddenly end. Enough about that, just thinking about it could be depressing.

This morning Barbara gave her presentation on what to do and see while visiting Funchal. The last time that I will go to one of her talks, I don't need to hear about Ft. Lauderdale.

A few minutes after Barbara finished there was a presentation by the CEO of the company that produces the Faberge eggs created by world renowned artisan Theo Faberge of St Petersburg. He also had a dozen or so "eggs" on display. Yes, they are available for purchase on the ship. Yes, they are beautiful, individually crafted of gold, crystal, glass, wood, and ceramics. No, I don't want one. And no, I won't even guess at the price tag. They must sell, otherwise they wouldn't be here.

One of our new guest speakers gives a presentation on America's Journey to the moon. He starts with the development of rockets in the 30's and 40's and covers many of the highlights through the years. Being one of those that was fascinated for hours listening to "beep", "beeb", "beep", from Sputnik in the 50's, I find his presentation interesting even though I have heard it all before.

As usual I listen to Debby from 7:00 to 8:00 before going to the main show in the Queen's Lounge at 8:15. Tonight, Debby, with help from the audience, sings half a dozen verses of "99 bottles of beer on the wall". Draw your own conclusions.

Tonight our entertainer is Mike Price, a world champion Juggler. The theater is only about half full, but the show is good and his humor and technology including laser lights makes the show different than the usual juggler performance.

The wind has increased to about 35 mph on our port side making the ship rock and roll a little more. Good sleeping tonight except for those few prone to motion sickness. My tour tomorrow is late enough that I don't need to set my alarm. The forecast is for a high near 60 with chances of rain decreasing during the day. We are expecting to dock before 7:00.

April 20, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 106

Day 106 Cadiz, Spain. As we head into the port it is an hour before sunrise and still dark except for the flashes of lightning from the passing thunderstorm. The temperature is 55, and the forecast is for a "chance of rain". We dock at the best possible spot, directly across the street from downtown.

By the time I leave on my tour, the rain has stopped, but the clouds are heavy. We tour Cadiz and then Jarez which is known as the sherry capital of the world. Our last stop is at the Fundador winery for a brief explanation of the sherry making process and the opportunity to taste several of their products. For the bottles each of us liked, drink is a more descriptive word than taste.

I think that all tour guides go to the same school regardless of what country they are from. Today when someone asked where the best olive oil came from we were told Spain, and that the Italians import the Spanish olive oil and sell it as their own. When we were in Athens and then again in Olympia, Greece we were told with exactly the same words that olive oil from Greece was the best and that it was exported to Italy and sold as Italian olive oil. And of course in Italy we were told Italian olive oil was the best.

While headed back to the ship, the sun comes out. Once back at the dock, Spanish security is similar to the TSA process for boarding a plane. Nearly everyone was hand scanned after going thru the metal detector arch. All bags and jackets were x-rayed. A nail file was confiscated from one passenger. Interestingly they did nothing to check or verify ID. So, if a known terrorist wants to get on the pier, he could as long as he isn't carrying a nail file.

I go to my cabin to leave anything I don't need and head for the gangway to go back into town. By the time I get there the sun is gone and it is pouring, I decide I have seen enough of Cadiz for this trip.

I am sure all of you heard of Carnival's "poop cruise" a few years ago. Well this morning I was beginning to have my concerns that we might be in the same boat. Sometime during the night my toilet stopped functioning. When I stopped at the desk on my way to breakfast to report it, I was told they were aware of the situation and none of the toilets on the ship were working. Fortunately by the time I returned from my tour five hours later the problem had been resolved.

There are several other cruise ships that arrived in port after we did. The MSC "Splendida", the AIDA "AIDAblu", the "Deutchland" which I believe is a "college at sea" ship, and "The World". There is at least one other one which I couldn't identify. The World probably shouldn't be classified as a cruise ship because you can't book a cruise on her. For many millions you purchase your suite, and just like a condo you then pay for its decoration, operation, and up keep. Last I knew subletting was not permitted, and all new owners have to be approved by the governing board of residents. You do have input as to where she sails. Generally they will cruise the world to attend major events like yachting races, tennis tournaments, the Olympics, carnival in Rio, etc. Space is limited to less than 200 units. The World may be more exclusive, but we have the better docking space.

Being in port with some free time, I visit the scales in the fitness center. Bad idea. I have gained several pounds since early in the cruise. Probably was the bread and wine this morning.

We leave port about half an hour late today because some scheduled maintenance is still being completed. Tomorrow is a sea day, and tonight we set our clocks back an hour. After the change I will only be five hours ahead of Florida time.

Our entertainment tonight in the Queen's Lounge is Stephen Clark, a world class solo Flutist born in Scotland. Probably about 30 years old. I think his flutes say it all, they are made of solid gold. My guess is that the scrap metal value is near $100,000. Debby doesn't think being made of gold gives the flute any special technical advantage, but he does play well.

Gene Young, our CD (cruise director), has a personal issue he is struggling with. He has a birthday coming up in a few days, but his contract prohibits him from divulging his age. I believe this came about because some of the older passengers didn't want a "young" CD, and this was HAL's way of hiding his true age. Actually Gene does a good job, a job that most CD's don't want because it is so much more difficult than doing 7 or 14 day cruises.

April 19, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 105

Day 105 – At Sea. We are in the Mediterranean Sea headed towards the Straight of Gibraltar at 18.5 knots. The skies are partly cloudy, and the air temperature this morning was 59. The ship is riding quite steady even with a 40 mph wind and following 10 to 15 foot seas directly on our stern. We should be going thru the straight about 2:00 AM tomorrow morning, way past my bedtime, and too dark to see anything anyway.

As we slowly move west, at about noon time today we will enter the Western Hemisphere. Of greater importance, about 11:30 tonight we will pass the second antipodal point of the cruise. 78 days ago we passed the first antipodal point near Auckland, NZ. These are points on the globe that are exactly opposite each other, and are important in meeting the definition of circumnavigating the globe. Other requirements for circumnavigation are simple, to travel primarily in one direction, and to start and end the journey at the same location.

A few weeks ago a reader asked if there have been any changes to the Amsterdam in recent years. There does not appear that any material changes have been made in a number of years, if ever. However, in 2017 the Amsterdam is scheduled for a major refurbishment which will include upgrades to staterooms as well as a complete redo of many of the public spaces. At this time it is expected that many of the features and the looks of the recently launched Koningsdam will be brought to the Amsterdam. I did not visit the Konsingsdam, so I can't be more specific. A few people that did, described it as being very modern.

Besides the information about refurbishment a few other tidbits I learned from a Q&A with the Captain, First Officer, and Engineer.

We can cruise for four months without refueling.

The Captain disembarks in Fort Lauderdale, and then leaves two days later for several weeks of training in Amsterdam. The Engineer goes a week later. A certain amount of training is required of all officers every year.

The steering control of one of the azipods has failed twice in the last week. It is hoped that engineers will board tomorrow to figure out the cause. There is total redundancy in steering control, and the one system has now been shut down awaiting repair.

Many of the newer ships being built (by all companies) are being designed to use LPG as the primary fuel source. It is much cleaner than the bunker fuel now used by the diesel engines. There are already ferry boats in service that can only use LPG.

There is an industry wide concern in finding the skilled staff for upper level positions in the maritime industry.

For the 2018 World Cruise, the head office sent four proposals to the captain, hotel director, and cruise director, for their selection. They chose parts of each to arrive at the final itinerary. Their selections were influenced by feedback from passengers. Seattle approved it a few weeks ago.

The older ships have a different hull configuration than the newer ships, and handle rough seas much more smoothly.

Two diesel engines are running at all times when we are not tied to a dock. If we are moving at a slow speed, because the next port is close for example, the engines are running way below maximum efficiency.

There were more, but these are the ones I remember that may interest someone.

One of the unique features of the World Cruise is that in many of the countries we visit, local entertainers are brought on to share local local traditions and customs in music and dance. The entertainment tonight is "Flamenco Show" performed by local entertainers from Seville, Spain. During the day they gave a guitar recital, and dance demonstration. If I knew Spanish I would have enjoyed it more.

My tour, "Panoramic Cadiz and Jerez with Sherry", leaves fairly early in the morning, so I do need to set my alarm clock. The weather forecast is for a high of only 60, and a chance of rain. I won't complain, the weather has been so good for nearly four months.

April 18, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 104

Day 104 – Barcelona, Spain. Our ship is cleared about half an hour late. The temperature is 55, and is predicted to reach a high of 65 later in the day.

There is a notice in the "Today on Location" bulletin that we must carry our passports today. This wasn't the case when I checked four months ago, but things change. Just as I enter the Queen's Lounge to gather for my tour, Amy announces there was a misprint, and passports are not required. Being on a tour I feel quite confident in getting back to the ship, and return my passport to the room safe.

I head for the bus which is about half full, and we leave the port to begin our "Panoramic Barcelona" tour. Within 10 minutes there is an outcry from several rows behind me. "I'm sick, please stop the bus." The escort checks with the gentleman and then talks to the guide. The cries continue. "Let me off the bus, I can't take this." "Let me get off and pick me up on the way back." The guide explains that we don't come back on the same road, and there is no place to stop. We continue on our way. The escort sits with the upset passenger.

We arrive shortly at our first stop, Montjuic Hill, the "sick" passenger gets off the bus, and surprisingly returns at the proper time. It is the same passenger that yesterday was taken back to the ship. Several of us that were with him yesterday have concluded he has some mental issues, and of course HAL can't refuse him if he wants to take an excursion, and also must take him seriously if he says he is sick. He allegedly is traveling with his wife, but no one has ever seen him with anyone. I guess I know how to pick the most interesting tours, or maybe they all like this?

The tour is OK. Except for our stop at the top of Montjuic Hill, pictures are nearly impossible. That's why I take a lot and maybe I'll get lucky with one or two.

At the conclusion of the tour, I have time to take the shuttle back into town, but elect to do my laundry instead. Several days ago, probably in Rome, I hurt my knee, and its hurts slightly to climb stairs. Doing laundry is a wiser choice. No one else is there, not even a comedian in distress.

Barcelona is a large port. There are at least 4 other cruise ships that arrive after we do, the Croisiere De France Zenith, the Viking Star, the Costa Favolosa, and the Costa Diadema. Large ferries run routes throughout the med from here. Cargo ships are loading grain for export, container ships are loading and unloading general cargo, and tankers bring in oil and refined petroleum products. Sitting on the pier across from us are two 46 wheel trucks each carrying a steel ring about 12 feet in diameter, 2 feet long and 18 inches thick, probably for a bearing. I don't think we take on provisions, but we do take on fuel, and unload some garbage.

Today we lost quite a few passengers, I expect more than will board the ship. We are the last cruise ship to leave tonight at 8:00 PM. Tomorrow we will be at sea all day headed towards the straight of Gibraltar and then on to Cadiz, Spain the following day.

There is no show tonight, just a movie. I will retire early.

April 17, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 103

Day 103 – Monte Carlo, Monaco. We arrive in Monte Carlo with cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 50's. The high is expected to reach 62. We are berthed at the only pier, and there are no other cruise ships here, but many large private yachts. Some of the largest have been anchored for years and never move.

My nice easy tour today will take me past Eze to the nice French town of Nice as well as around Monaco. (I just had to use those words in one sentence.)

There are about 35 of us for the tour. The bus is sitting on the pier, and we are the last tour group to leave the ship. We are given our stickers and head for the bus early, giving everyone plenty of time for the long 20 foot walk from the gangway to the bus. We sit until the designated departure time, and we sit, and sit some more. There is one more passenger on the way, she arrived at the gathering place on the ship 20 minutes late, but we wait for her.

We are on our way. Monaco is very small, and within 15 minutes we are in France. There is a frantic voice from the escort at the back of the bus. A passenger is sick, and she asks that the bus be stopped. The driver pulls over as soon as possible. After several consultations and phone calls, the decision is made that a cab will be sent for the ill passenger, and the escort will take him back to the ship. We begin the wait for the cab arrival.

After about 30 minutes we learn that Monaco cab drivers will not go into France to pick up a fare, and there are no French cabs in the area that are working today. The bus heads back to the ship. An hour has passed and we are sitting back on the pier where we started. The shore excursion office and the tour operator adjust the tour ending time as needed. We start again.

Roads are very narrow, and the area very congested. Being Sunday most businesses are closed and the traffic is reasonable. Our guide has a very soft voice, and the speakers are turned all the way up. The couple behind me can't hear him. I suggest that they could hear better in the front of the bus where there was less engine noise. That didn't interest them, so they just talk to each other much of the trip so several other passengers can't hear the guide either.

Just as we arrive in Nice for one and a half hours of "free time" it begins to rain. The first rain while I am in port in 103 days of travel! The guide and driver agree to spend the time showing us other areas of Nice from the bus. The passengers appreciate it.

We stop at public washrooms for a restroom break. As is the case in much of Europe, there is a small fee. Despite being told many times to carry some Euros for incidentals like washrooms, at least a third of the needy passengers have none. Between the guide, myself,  and several other properly prepared passengers being generous, everyone that needs the bathroom gets in and we are again on our way.

Shortly later the sun comes out and we then enjoy our free time. I grab a quick lunch. The return to the ship is uneventful, but I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to travel with inexperienced travelers if these are the ways of seasoned ones.

Last night turned out to be a very sad evening for most of us. Everyone was given the "Fort Lauderdale Disembarkation Questionnaire". This is the starting point of the disembarkation process at the end of our cruise. I have no guess how long it will take to clear customs, but I doubt there will be many passengers carrying off their own luggage.

Tonight Rita Rudner does another comedy show. Having gotten to know her and her husband this past week makes the show even more enjoyable.

In order to meet our scheduled arrival time in Barcelona tomorrow, we need to average over 19 knots. At present we are going 20.6 knots, with a 20 mph wind almost directly on the bow. The ship is riding smoothly but the speed means harmonic vibrations in the stateroom most of the night. My tour doesn't leave until 10:00, so there will be no need for an early alarm clock.

April 16, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 102

Day 102 - Livorno, Italy. Livorno is the closest port to both Pisa, and Florence. As we dock this morning the temperature is a cool 57, but the skies are clear and sunny. By late morning the temperature in Florence is about 70, we couldn't ask for it to be nicer.

Livorno is mostly an industrial port. The "Silver Wind" is here and the "Moby Wonder" along with many ferry boats. The Wonder has the most colorful paint job I have ever seen on a ship. She looks like a cruise ship, but someone says she is a gambling ship. I can't waste my precious internet minutes to research it.

I take a bus to Florence which gives me free time all day to explore the city on my own. Being Saturday the traffic and crowds are relatively lite. The bus driver risks a fine and drops us off within a block of The Church of Santa Croce. Normally we would be dropped off outside the city and have to walk in. When it is time to leave we are all gathered in two groups, one for the front door and the other for the rear door of the bus, the guide calls, the bus arrives, and we all board within a minute and he drives on before he can get a ticket for stopping.

Our group is well behaved today, the guide even tells us it is the first group she has had in many months where everyone was at the meeting place on time. True or not, she had an easy day, even if I don't have any new bad behavior to write about.

I find the walking on the well worn uneven stones a little challenging, but manageable. I am just careful to look where I place each foot for every step. This leads to a moment of becoming a little nervous. There are numerous armed military personnel at all the major plazas in Florence. They walk side by side in pairs, and are watching the crowds for any suspicious behavior. I look up, there is one at 10 O'clock, another at 2 o'clock, looking and walking straight towards me from about 7 feet away. I don't flinch and they walk by on each side of me within inches, automatic rifles in hand.

Maybe it is because I had taken a picture of some of them earlier, or maybe I just fit the profile of a terrorist, I'll never know. I do wonder which message they received about foreigners carrying passports?

I see the outsides of many of the major attractions. I have already had my fill of church interiors and dead popes. Tickets for the better museums need to be purchased days or months in advance. I have lunch at one of the dozens of little restaurants. Pizza was excellent but I have Coke Zero instead of wine. I must find my own way back to the bus meeting place, no guide to lead me. Later I have a gellato.

There was a photo shoot of several models with various outfits taking place in the middle of one of the streets. Extra subjects for a number of the tourists. I have no clue what it was for, there were about 6 or 8 professional photographers there and two or three men directing the whole thing.

Martin Rudner, Rita's husband, lived in Florence a number of years ago. They tried to find the apartment where he lived, but were unsuccessful. He says Florence has changed a lot since he lived here.

When we are ready to leave port, the wind is blowing directly on our starboard side at about 35 to 40 mph. The space to turn the ship around is very tight and the captain has called for a tug to assist us. We normally do our maneuvering with bow thrusters and the azipods, but today he feels the need to be sure he doesn't touch the dock. The channel is only about 50 feet wider than the length of the ship, not a lot of room for error.

Once out in open water our speed is about 11 knots and the strong winds are directly on the port side. There is the usual creak and moan to the ship but rolling is minimal.

Tonight we cruise to Monte Carlo, Monaco, expecting to be ready to disembark about 7:00 in the morning. Originally Monte Carlo was scheduled as a tender port, but this has changed and we get to tie up at the only pier. Tendering is OK, but it takes a lot of extra time, being docked is much better.

In case any of you are wondering, we went on the outside of the island where the Costa Concordia's captain chose to take the ill fated inside passage.

Tonight's show is a short performance of two previous entertainers. I attended for a few minutes as I don't need to set my alarm until 8:00 tomorrow morning. The female singer is the worst I've heard in years, I leave and return to my cabin.

April 15, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 101

Day 101- Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy. Civitavecchia is the closest port to Rome, about an hour and a half away by bus. As we dock the temperature is 58, the high for the day is predicted to be 68. The skies are clear and sunny with just a few wisps of clouds. This morning I get a little clarification on carrying passports. According to David from the shore excursion office, "we continue to receive conflicting information from the Italian government on that issue". I elect to leave mine on the ship.

There are five cruise ships in port this morning. The Celebrity "Constellation", HAL "Koningsdam", Croisiere De France "Zenith", The MSC "Fantasia", and our ship the "Amsterdam", plus a number of ferry boats. There is no checking of bags, or ID. We just leave the ship, board the bus, and go. It appears that the majority of our buses leave before those from the other ships. That will good for us later in the day.

My tour is a panoramic tour of Rome, passing by most of the "must sees" like the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, The Roman Forum, The Borghese Gardens, etc. We spend over two hours in the Vatican City and St Peter's Basillica and of course see Michelangelo's Pieta. Our arrival time at St Peter's was perfect, the line for security clearance was only about 15 minutes. An hour and a half later it had increased to at least an hour. I will guess the temperature in Rome to have been about 70. I took a jacket to be safe, but it stayed on the bus all day. In the direct sun it was a little warm, in the shade, perfect.

We actually have two guides today. The main tour guide, Barbara, is on the bus the entire time until we return to the ship. Once we are in Rome, we pick up another guide that stays with us until we head for lunch. She is the "expert" on Rome. Personally I think it is a case of padded work force to create more jobs.

We have lunch at a local restaurant, the lasagna was much better than what they serve on the ship, and we properly washed it down with numerous bottles of wine. I didn't say anything at the table as the son of the Amsterdam's head chef was with us. There were only 15 guests on the tour, and we tried to convince Barbara to take us somewhere else after lunch instead of back to the Vatican City as everyone felt we had enough. We were unsuccessful, but it did give me the opportunity to purchase chocolate "gelati" which I didn't need.

We returned to the ship just in time to watch the Koningsdam leave. The captain received special permission from the port authority to sound a farewell salute on the ships horn. The port has a noise abatement ordinance which normally prohibits such fun. The captain also shared with me that he has been talked into working an additional year. He will now be doing both the 2017 and the 2018 World cruise before he retires. He has been taking every available opportunity to turn control of the vessel over to other staff members. They should get experience, and the captain gets to enjoy his last few years before retirement a little bit more. His wife and her niece are both on the ship, and they do many shore excursions.

Over the next two hours all the other cruise ships and several ferry boats leave. We are scheduled to leave at 8:00, but don't. We are missing two passengers. With 155 miles to the next port, and less than 10 hours to get there, the captain only delays the ship about 10 minutes before raising the gangway and casting off. I have no idea if the missing passengers made the ship, I didn't see them. I wonder if they have their passports with them?

Rita stops me in the hallway as she and her husband are on their way to dinner. She informs me that she has made arrangements with Barbara for the three of us to visit the Vatican City all day tomorrow. Yes, she is a comedian.

The temperature drops into the 50's as the sun sets over the Mediterranean. After having so many days with hazy skies or sand in the air it is nice to see a colorful sunset.

I am going to skip the show tonight as I have another 9 hour day starting early in the morning tomorrow. We will be docked in Livorno, Italy. I will take the bus to Florence for the day, Pisa will have to wait for another time.

April 14, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 100

Day 100 – At sea. The temperature is in the upper 50's this morning, by mid day it has warmed to 61. The seas are choppy and the skies are dark with clouds. We pass between to "toe" of Italy and the island of Sicily around noon time. The wind on our bow is in excess of 50 mph, the captain tells us this is quite common for this area. Within an hour or so the wind has dropped to 25 mph from the west as we continue on our course to Civitavecchia. The seas are relatively calm.

HAL's newest ship, the Koningsdam, is currently on its maiden voyage. Tomorrow we will be sharing the pier with her in Civitavecchia and arrangements have been made for passengers to visit the ship in the morning, but I, like many other passengers, will be on a shore excursion. I expect the majority of visitors will be crew and staff.

One of the forward elevators is out of service today, the crew is changing a large pulley at the top. It is about 2 feet in diameter and about a foot wide. I would guess it weighs at least 300 pounds. Workers struggle to maneuver it up the stairs to the mechanical room on deck 10.

All of the equipment is now operating at the "Dive In" on the Lido deck. The last solution, an extension cord run across the ceiling to power the taco ingredients warming station.

This morning Barbara and Nyron give a presentation on all the shore excursions for the rest of our voyage. How depressive, they are talking about tours in Ft Lauderdale.

An hour later Barbara gives her presentation on Barcelona. I will watch it later on TV when we are closer to Spain.

Today HAL returns our passports. Italian law says we must carry our passports at all times in Italy. Being the law abiding person that I am, I may or may not comply. HAL tells us we just need photo ID. Actually I have felt uncomfortable at times over the past three months being in a foreign country without a passport. Not that it is likely, but if something were to happen and I missed the ship or had to return to the US by means other than the ship, travel may be difficult without a passport. I'll decide what to do in the morning. If I don't post anything else to the blog after this, you can conclude I was detained in Italy for not having a passport.

Our show lounge entertainer tonight is Ruben Vilagrand presenting a combination of mime, magic and comedy.

April 13, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 99

Day 99 – Katakolon (Olympia), Greece. We arrive on time. At 9:00 AM the temperature is a cool 57, it is expected to reach a high today in the low 70's. Skies are sunny and the air is clear and crisp with a negligible breeze. This part of the Med is like glass today.

Since one of our lifeboats grounded on a reef in Roratonga, Cook Islands about 75 days ago, lifeboats 9 and 10 have not been located in their designated position on the ship. Today the captain has decided it is time to switch them around, so lifeboat 9 was launched before we reached the pier, a partial switch made during the day, and when we leave the pier later tonight, lifeboat 10 will be hoisted aboard to its proper position.

Katakolon is a small picturesque seaside village of about 500, with shops and cafe's within easy walking distance of the ship. We share the pier with another very small cruise ship, the "La Belle De L' Adriatique". I know nothing about her. There are no cargo facilities here, all the piers are for private vessels or cruise ships.

During dinner last night, shortly after we left port, there was a loud bang and the ship suddenly rolled several degrees towards one side then the other. As always is the case, passengers are given no definitive information by HAL. The rumor mill has it that there was a major mechanical failure, but I am doubtful. Obviously we have multiple engines, etc. It will be interesting to see if any information is forthcoming.

While waiting on the ship for my afternoon tour, I watch a steady stream of about ten crew and staff members that remind me of worker ants. They were going to the nearby duty free shop, picking up 2 cases of bottled water each, and then returning to the ship. A few minutes later they would return and repeat the process. I don't know how many cases of water they bought, but it was many. With the ship having been resupplied yesterday, I can only guess that one container didn't make the ship on time.

I forgo the ancient ruins of Olympia to visit a small farm where they grow olives, press olive oil, and run an agri tourism operation. Our buses and guides came from Athens, many hours away, where they were doing tours for us yesterday. Because of the economic situation in Greece, the garbage hasn't been picked up here in over a year, large piles are found all along the roads. The tour guide refused to say anything about the economics of Greece and would not answer any questions on the subject. Ignoring these limitations she was vary nice and did a good job. She even pitched in and helped the staff at the farm.

The "Agri Tourism" farm is done very well. Looking at their visitors log it appears they are visited by cruise ship passengers every few days. The tourism part of the business definitely generates more revenue than selling olive oil. First we are given a sample of wine, then after a 20 minute presentation on how they harvest olives, we are given more wine and appetizers for lunch. Of course this is followed by the opportunity to purchase any of a variety of merchandise from wine to olive oil, jewelery, tee shirts and souvenirs. Being a good shopper, I leave only with camera images. Some passengers leave with multiple bags of stuff.

We return to the ship about 30 minutes before boarding time. Plenty of time for me to get key # 11 so I can enter my cabin. The first time this happened, I probably did hold my Kindle close to the key, and the magnet erased the encoding. This just has not been the case since. The strongest magnet in my pocket since yesterday is the magnetic stripe on my credit card, and I kept my room key about two feet away from it and everything else. In my opinion this is just another result of the "Carnivalization" of HAL. Buy the cheapest key stock they can, even if they don't work well.

Some of the passengers that went to Olympia today got an extra treat. They were rehearsing the lighting of the torch for its journey to the next Olympics.

The entertainment tonight was "The Lomax Brothers" two piano players. An hour of Debby, and then the show, and I had enough piano for the night. Just for something different I decide to listen to the music in the Ocean Bar after the show, but on arrival I find they had to cancel tonight because of an injury to one of the 3 musicians. Maybe some other night, I head back to my cabin.

Tonight we set our clock back another hour. Tomorrow is a sea day as we head to an arrival in Civitavecchia the next day.

April 12, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 98

Day 98 – Piraeus (Athens), Greece. During the night the seas became calm, the captain slowed the ship, and the creaks, moans, and vibrations ceased. We arrive on time and the ship is cleared by 9:00. The temperature is 59, but is expected to rise to the high 70's. Skies are mostly clear with scattered clouds and lots of sun. There is a light westerly breeze.

Probably half a dozen different ferries operate out of the port, primarily with routes to other Greek Islands. There is one other cruise ship here, the Costa Riviera. There are also freighters and tankers in port, and many more anchored outside the harbor.

Fortunately there are about a dozen trucks with containers to resupply our ship. I don't know about any of the food items, if they are out of something, they don't put it on the menu, but the beverage department has run out of numerous beer and liquor brands. Also, nothing was said, but four or five days ago the several extra rolls of toilet tissue disappeared from my cabin. I suspect it was desperately needed elsewhere.

My tour today is panoramic Athens, a leisurely bus tour of Athens and the surrounding areas. The security process is painless. No checks at all when leaving the ship and entering the city, and all we do when we return is shown our sea pass card, walk thru a metal detector, and have any bags scanned.

I don't understand it, but the buses I'm on seem to be in a mode of good samaritan. Today two passengers that missed their bus at the Acropolis joined us and we took them with us back to the ship. No drama, no fanfare, they just boarded and rode along and the guide and escort acknowledged that we had two more in our head count.

The only indication of refugees I saw was a tent city on the dock about 100 yards across the harbor entrance from where we were docked. I guess there were about 200 tents. We were told there are other areas around the harbor where more refugees are being held. The harbor area is pretty secure as there are only two entrances to the dozens of docks and piers, and the area is generally isolated from the local residents.

Once back on the ship I decide to do laundry while many of the passengers are still on tours but first I must get a new key, probably # 10. The only other person in the laundry was Rita Rudner, our comedian entertainer for tonight. She just boarded the ship a few days ago, and this is her first trip to the laundry because "her husband needed some clean clothes". I help her with the process, a delightful person.

I know I told you about the "dog lady" two months ago. While waiting for my tour this morning I was reminded that we also have the "doll lady" on board. She also pushes a carriage around the ship, but with her "doll" in it. She holds it, talks to it, and yes pretends to feed it. I can't say she does this in the dining room, because I seldom dine there, but she does in the Lido at dinner time. No, this is not a youngster, but a woman definitely over 50 that otherwise appears to be normal.

Speaking of youngsters, there are now at least 6 youngsters in the youth program, whatever HAL calls it. One detail that I find of interest is that the staff person working with the kids is a strapping 300 pound 6 footer. None of the kids are going to give him a rough time.

There is another mandatory muster drill today before we sail. The captain has changed the procedure a little. At the first alarm the crew begins to go to their assigned positions. At the second alarm, all guest services are suspended and passengers are specifically told to go to their state rooms and not their muster stations, and then when the general alarm is sounded all passengers are to go to their muster station. Once there, passengers are accounted for by doing a roll call. A relatively slow process. Lifeboat 4, my assigned lifeboat, was missing 2 passengers. The last several drills all were present and accounted for.

We leave port about 45 minutes late as we had to wait for the harbor pilot to board. Seas are calm, the temperature has dropped to 61, and the wind is directly on our bow at about 15 mph. Cruising at 18.5 knots, the harmonic vibration is present.

Rita Rudner is an enjoyable comedian. She was on the Amsterdam about a year ago, and a number of passengers remember her from then or from her varied career including a 15 year comedy run in Las Vegas, award winning screen writer, actress, Broadway dancer, playwright and New York Times best selling author.

We are scheduled to arrive in Katakolon (Olympia), Greece tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM.

April 11, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 97

Day 97 – In the Mediterranean Sea headed to Piraeus, Greece. This morning the temperature is 59 degrees under mostly sunny blue skies with scattered clouds. The air is crisp. We are headed west north westerly at 18.5 knots, and there is a 30 mph wind directly on our bow. Seas are about 10 feet and the ship is riding smoothly. The forecast is basically the same for the rest of the day and tomorrow morning. After our arrival in the morning, highs for the day in Athens are expected to reach the upper 70's.

This morning Barbara gives a presentation on Monaco. The biggest surprise is that we will be docked, previously this was listed on our itinerary as a tender port.

I think I have passed a significant milestone in my travels. As we were completing our transit of the Suez canal the other day I found myself in the Crow's Nest attempting to take pictures through the dirty windows while sitting at the bar drinking ice water. How lazy could I get. Maybe better described as a low point, not a milestone.

There have been a number of mechanical failures on the ship over the last few days. Four cabins were flooded after a waterline broke. Unfortunately it wasn't discovered for several hours. Fortunately there are many empty cabins and all those affected were relocated. It could have been worse, a sewer line.

Yesterday, as we do in most ports, we disembark the ship from the forward gangways which may be on deck A, 1, or 2 depending on dock and sea height. Yesterday morning just as we were approaching the dock I found two of the four forward elevators out of service and none of the elevator call buttons on the port side of the ship workable. When I told the front desk, they were unaware of the problem. Sometimes I think they tell every guest this whenever anything is reported. Actually this is a situation that the crew, staff, or officers wouldn't have seen as they use stairs or the staff elevators 99% of the time. All was fixed when I returned to the ship later in the day.

Last night I had to get another new key, as mine quit functioning and I couldn't get into my cabin. I think I am on key 9. The magnetic stripe becomes corrupted way too easily. Many passengers have the same problem. I don't know if the issue is the card writers or the blank card stock, but there is definitely a problem.

I can't imagine a common cause but both grills, the heated buffet stand and the ice/water dispenser at the "Dive In" on the Lido deck by the pool are not working. There is a temporary solution. Orders for hot dogs or hamburgers are taken as usual, phoned to the Galley, and then carried to the Dive In where the guest is paged to pick up their order. Several technicians have been working on the problem since last evening.

The ship that was so nicely cleaned on the outside just a few days ago has a new coating of sand following our stay in Israel. The Crow's Nest windows lack the previous bird droppings, but visibility is pretty poor.

The razor wire has been removed and presumably rolled up ready for use the next time the ship is in pirate territory. The four extra security personnel have also left the ship.

There had been no reception on the sports channels for a number of weeks. Today sporadic reception has returned. Maybe some customers will return to the sports bar.

By late afternoon the captain has altered our course slightly West to head more directly into the 30 mph wind. He also has increased our speed to 19.5 knots, but the ship is beginning to pitch, roll, moan and groan a little. I suspect the seas may have become higher. The air temperature remains cool at 60.

Tonight is another Gala night. There appear to be no decorations as there often have been for previous gala events.

The Singers and Dancers return to the theater tonight with a production centered around Blues and Jazz. Being a Jazz fan, I will certainly be there. Starting at 9:30 there is a "Toga" party in the Crow's Nest. I will make a short, uncostumed appearance.

By bed time the wind has increased to 35 mph. With the roll, pitch, creaking and moaning combined with the magic fingers resonate vibration it should be a good sleeping night.

It is hurting my fingers to type this, but in less than three weeks I will be home in Florida. On the positive side, one of my first tasks after I am home will be to finalize any details for my trip to Alaska, the Arctic Circle, and another cruise a few weeks later. My fingers are better.

April 10, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 96

Day 96 – Ashdod, Israel. We arrive at port about 6:30 and the ship is cleared before 7:00. Our "one on one" screening of yesterday covers today also. We just need to show our landing permit and passport, walk thru the terminal building, have our bags x-rayed and board our bus.

Is is about 70 in the morning, again with heavy overcast skies. I think the overcast is as much sand in the air as it is moisture. The sun peeks out for a little while, and about 20 drops of rain do fall at one point during the afternoon. By the time I return to the ship, the temperature has dropped to 66 degrees, and there now is a 20 mph wind.

My tour today is a leisurely tour of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Not having much interest in religion, I don't take the tour for the religious significance of the sites, but to see the countryside and the old buildings, The bus windows are very dirty. The driver is asked to clean them before we leave the port. Many other drivers do this while they are waiting for passengers to board. He ignores our initial request.

The tour guide relays our concerns as we leave the port and the driver then tells us he will clean them at a gas station, our first stop for a rest room break in about an hour. When we stop he announces they won't let him clean the windows at this stop, but he will do it at our first stop in Jerusalem. Well you can guess the rest of the story, he never does clean them. I am sure this was reflected in his tip by most other passengers also.

Over the course of an 8 hour day we visited many of the religious sites around Jerusalem. I swear there were some places that we drove by 6 times as we went around and around in circles. Traffic is heavy and congested. There are tour buses everywhere. Parking spots for buses are scarce, so he stops and lets us off, drives around in a circle and then comes back to pick us up, only making traffic worse. If more parking were available, traffic would be reduced 75% or more.

The lunch buffet was almost identical to yesterday, but the beef was better and I was told the fish not as good. The real surprise was the reception hall itself. The floor sloped about 5 degrees. This was less costly than leveling the site. It didn't feel as strange as I thought it would, in fact there was an advantage. By rotating my plate the juice from the beef ran under my serving of rice. How convenient.

The biggest entertainment for the day was Alexandra. She lost her group and couldn't find her bus. Our guide took pity upon her and allowed her to board. As she walked thru the bus every time there was an empty seat she asked if someone was sitting there. At least 3 people in front of me said yes, there was, even though the seats were empty. I should have paid attention, but didn't. For the next hour all I heard was how nasty her tour bus guide, and HAL escort were and that they just ran off and left her, she wasn't going to get to see what she wanted, it was all their fault, etc, etc. She also left her purse, passport, money, credit cards, and all identification on the bus. And yes that was the guides fault also because he told her it was safe to leave items on the bus.

When we arrive at lunch she is able to get back with her group. Thank God!

Then I learn the rest of the story. Her tour guide was the same gentleman I had yesterday, and he and the escort spent 30 minutes looking for her and couldn't find her. He then contacted his office which notified all the other buses to be on the lookout for her.

From the other passengers I learned she has done this several other times, the most recently, several days ago, and it took the guide and the escort 45 minutes to find her. I now realize how perceptive I was 10 weeks ago when after telling everyone at the dinner table how sick she was that day, that I decided to put her on my mental "passengers to avoid" list.

Once back on the ship I take some pictures of the port. A ship in front of us is unloading 50 foot long 8 foot diameter iron pipe. The one behind us unloads rebar. There are numerous container ships, several grain ships, a roll on roll off car carrier, several oil tankers, and many other ships I can't identify. I only see one military ship, but just before sailaway three or four fighter jets and several military helicopters fly overhead. There also are about 30 ships waiting to enter the harbor.

There were quite a few armed military in one area of Jerusalem where there have been some stabbings. And at various bus stops there were hundreds of individual military personnel that were headed home for the weekend, a common occurrence on Sunday.

Tonight's entertainer was Francisco Yglesia from Paraguay playing a harp. He left London about 10 days ago to board the ship in Aqaba, but his harp didn't arrive with him. Fortunately it showed up at 10:30 last night, about 90 minutes before we sailed. Different, but fun.

We are sailing at 18.7 knots tonight. That means the "magic fingers" are at work in most of the cabins, no quarters required. Tomorrow is a sea day as we head towards Piraeus (Athens), Greece.