Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sydney to San Francisco on the Dawn Princess - summary

As any repeat cruisers well know, returning to a cruise ship you have already got to know well is just like returning to your own second home and also to your friends.

Jo & Garry (from our 2011 cruise) were just fantastic, inviting us to stay with them the night before we sailed.  Not content with just offering us a bed and transport, they even managed to get Queensland based Ros and Arnold along as well, plus past fellow cruisers Colin & Judy, Ken and Barbara!  Wow.  We are just so blessed to have made such great  friends and hope we can return the hospitality and generosity before too long.

There is almost a degree of ownership so when we returned this time, having pre-selected and booked our cabin almost a year ago, we didn’t exactly start off on the right foot, when “due to operational reasons”, our cabin had been reallocated to someone else and Princess had failed to notify us, either directly or via our travel agent.  The upside of this was that as we basically qualified for a lift up to Elite status five days after Beijing anyway, in an effort to appease us, they agreed to do our laundry.  Fair enough.

From then on, we slipped back into shipboard life quite easily.

We have said it a thousand times, but life on board, even on extended spells of sea days is never a problem.  There is so much going on that only boring people will be bored.

Without trying to rank any of the following, these are probably our favourite memories;

·        Dog Sledding in Alaska (albeit on wheels rather than snow)

·        The sailaway from Shanghai – a symphony of coloured lights

·        The Yokohama cruise terminal and the talented Japanese schoolgirl big band

·        Our dining companions

·        Seeing an 80ft tall wall of glacial ice calving

·        One or two top class entertainers such as vocal impressionist Tony Pace

·        Pearson and Harvey – comedy duo

·        Sarah Dyer – an amazing pianist/orchestra leader

·        Ross Maio – accordionist

·        Don Ryan - ventriloquist

·        Fellow evening dancers

·        Great dining room food (though the lobster was disappointing!)

·        Buffet staff who happily catered for the requests for poached eggs, fried onions etc.

·        Cider on board!

·        Fresh bread rolls

·        The occasional wait staff who forgot to clip our coffee card.

·        The duo of Warren and Matt on the Wake Show

·         Alan and Alana – for the “Radio Shows”, quizzes and just being themselves

·        Quizzing and generally enjoying not winning.

·        Vladivostok

·        Grouse Mountain (Vancouver)

·        Victoria (Vancouver Island)

·        Great staff – as always

·        Pier 39 San Francisco

·        Hop On Hop Off buses


There weren’t too many downsides.

·        The novo-virus was no-one’s fault and did cause the curtailment of some aspects we normally take for granted such as speciality lunches.

·        A growing number of “mobility impaired passengers” who seem totally ignorant of the delays and frustrations they cause, particularly the grossly obese, who continue to over eat anyway.

·        USA immigration...  Better than at the airports, with no fingerprint scans, but they do delay disembarking.

·        Juneau’s “Bakery Bistro”...  We can laugh about it now...

·        Entertainers who roll out the same act, word for word, song for song, year after year

·        San Francisco misplacing my luggage

·        An extra 1.5kg of me.

To those who have followed the blog, thank you for the comments and the emails.  To past and future cruisers, see you soon.  To our family and friends, UK, NZ and Australia, we just wish you could all experience life on board with us and share our good fortune.

It is of course addictive, but all I can say is that any activity that increases your circle of friends so rapidly cannot be so bad.

The next cruise blog is aimed at our 2013 European trip.

Doing a script for the spoof promo movie is now high on my agenda but I’ll need Garry’s expertise next year to help shoot it and edit it, so nothing will be circulated until after next year’s cruise.

That’s All Folks


Friday, 21 September 2012

Day 53 - Home again

Long flights are never much fun but for once, I did manage a bit of sleep, but by about midnight NZ time, I’d obviously had as much as I was going to get.  So, with some decent music on the system, “Bowlers, Boaters & Bowties”, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk, which has been on the Air NZ system for three years now, I just dozed until the lights came on again for breakfast service.
We arrived to a rather wet Auckland 20 minutes early at 5:20 and as is usually the case, so did NZ1 from Los Angeles and a flight from China.  This of course was going to mean a lot of people trying to get through, so we avoided the lure of Duty Free shopping and  managed to get processed very quickly.  Paula’s case was through fairly quickly, but there was no sign of mine.
An hour later, we filed a missing luggage report and joined the rather long queue for Ministry of Agriculture inspection and scanning.  Somewhat deflated, we hopped on the shuttle for the journey home and after quick wash and change (no shave I didn’t have a razor!)  I headed off for the race track.
As I write this, I still don’t have my luggage, which was eventually located about Wednesday, but should be here tomorrow morning (Saturday).  That is a huge relief, as trying to replace stuff like camera and video battery chargers is an expensive, time consuming nightmare.
So just a summary to do now and then you insomniacs will just have to find something else to help you sleep, until the next blog.

Day 52 - Last day - Friday Sept 14th (US time)

The rather light room didn’t help the sleep at all, so once again, not the best.  We rolled out of bed not long after 8am.  We checked out the cost of the buffet breakfast in the hotel and decided that $25 was far too expensive so we wandered out and opted for the large, Sour Dough Factory, Boudins.

Paula carried on with the parfait tradition and enjoyed it.  My toasted scrambled egg and bacon sandwich was a little disappointing, but the large coffee was excellent.  Total cost was about $18.

We returned to the hotel and finalised our packing, leaving the luggage with the concierge and strolled out.  We walked up Mason St, away from the water, having a reasonable idea as to where we were heading, from the HoHo yesterday.  Part way up the hill, we caught up with the bus and hopped on, getting off at Union Square.  We knew again, from yesterday, exactly where we were and headed for Chinatown, just around the corner.

Chinatown covers about 40 blocks and is one of the largest anywhere, but we basically stuck to one long street.  Some shops had the most amazing,  delicate, ivory carvings.  Quite what the provenance is of this ivory we have no idea.  Loads of the sorts of shops you’d expect in any Chinatown, but the street we chose wasn’t swamped with food outlets.

We headed back again and waited patiently outside the Triton hotel for the bus, which is supposed to arrive every 15 minutes. Quite why we had to wait 45 minutes we have no idea.

Hopping off again at pier 39, just after the spaceship sculpture which appears to be a straight copy from Wallace & Gromit’s “A Grand Day Out”, there was no way we were going to eat at Neptune’s!  Being a Friday, the pier seemed even busier than yesterday, even though there was only one cruise ship in, as the Disney ship was still there.

Having wandered around and poked our noses into several establishments, most being either too busy or too expensive, we ended up at the small, crepes establishment.  The establishment was small.  The crepes large.  Good choice. The ham and cheese crepe combo with coke and fries was just $10.80 and the fries were extremely fresh and tasty and there was more than enough for  two.  The coke was bottomless and my crab and avocado crepe was also a good choice, though the crab was in a sort of spread form, probably mixed with mayo or similar, but it was a decent meal.

The street entertainers were out in force  - as were the beggars.  One had the honest placard “I need money for weed”.  (It could only happen in San Francisco, where the pot smoking hippie culture started 40 odd years ago.)

The English acrobats were there again with a large crowd, whilst 10 metres further along, one lonesome soul was cracking a bull whip, announcing that his show was about to begin – without an audience presumably.  We walked up to pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, which naturally enough specialises in seafood – at a price.  I never did get a crab sandwich.  Passing a lone drummer/singer, we wandered into the “Mechanical Museum” which was a nostalgic trip back in to the world of old penny slot machines - but they take quarters.

Paula’s feet were getting a bit tired so we walked up the street (away from the hotel!) and she emerged from a shop ten minutes later, clutching two pairs of shoes...

Back to the hotel about 4pm, where we crashed outside in the sunshine, shared a cold drink (99c) from the adjacent 711 store, waiting for the clock to tick-over.

We had booked a shuttle for 6:15pm ($34 total) and we rescued our luggage about ten minutes before the shuttle was due and sure enough, it arrived on time so we headed to SF airport.  About a 40 minute ride and past a dry dock where there was a Princess ship being sorted.

Check in (Air NZ Premium Economy) was speedy and easy (though I didn’t know then that my luggage was heading for American Airlines).

SF airport is a pleasant one and 1000% better than Los Angeles, but the security screening was the toughest yet.  Remove belt, remove shoes, empty pockets – normal.

Full body scan, where they weren’t happy with my body image.  (I haven’t been too thrilled with it myself for about 25 years...)   A query on what was in my left pocket (nothing), so they put it down to the embroidered logo triggering the machine.  Funny that my stainless partial denture never sets off the scanners.

The biggest surprise here was that the price of the (large) coffee in the deli was only about $3.50!  That summarised SF in terms of pricing.  There were plenty of reasonably priced options wherever we looked, even in the tourist areas. 

Our seating on the 747 was upstairs where there are three seats on the left, two on the right so we had selected seats on the right.  Having flown back from the UK and LA on the 777, the old 747 is showing its age, even in premium economy.  No USB port or mains power and narrow, hard armrests.  I can’t quite understand why you stow the handset into the side of the armrest, exactly where your hip bone catches it and alters the channel, whenever you move. A slight chuckle here as even Humpty and Dumpty from the ship would find it difficult getting comfortable.   

However, a 9:45pm flight after a full day means that a little sleep might just be possible after the meal, so we’ll see.  We arrive in NZ September 16th as we cross the date line – again.  An extra August 31st on the way up, no September 15th on the way back.  

The holiday is over and I’ll blog again for the arrival in NZ, then just a summary of the trip, before we start looking at next year – or more work on the “Twilight Princess” video project.      

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Day 51 - San Francisco - Sep 14th

It was Sept 13th for us, but we thought we’d better get used to NZ time again.  Arriving in San Francisco passing under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is one of those things that is on many bucket lists, so staggering out of bed really early wasn’t a problem.   What was a problem was the fog.  The ship was constantly sounding the fog horn and as we approached the bridge, we couldn’t even see it.  Even travelling underneath, we could hardly see the road up above.  As we approached our pier (35), we could definitely hear seals barking, somewhere around pier 39, though we couldn’t see any.
An early breakfast was essential as the 8.00am appointment (not 8:20am) with US immigration was set in concrete.  However, seated in the theatre, awaiting the call for the interview, meant a 45 minute wait and waste of time - and the natives were definitely getting restless.  If NZ can put a couple of people on board to do all the processing on sea days, then I see no reason why the US can’t.
We were eventually sent down to the opposite end of the ship to the vista lounge for the face to face.  No fingerprints, no eye scans, just a face to face with a pleasant official who stamps the passport and clips the departure card to it.
We walked off just after 9am and caught a taxi for the short ride to the Sheraton.  Only a few blocks from pier 35, but too far to drag the cases.
We had our travel agent email to say we’d be early and as we are in the Starwood loyalty system, they had a room ready, which was great.  We just chucked our gear in and walked out the door a matter of 75 yards/metres to the Hop On Hop Off bus terminus.  Perfect!
We bought a 2 day pass each as they were just $10 more than a 1 dayer at $35.  We headed up top and looked behind us, only to see Alex and Terri and several other cruisers on the bus immediately behind!  As the Disney ship was also in, the bus company had the sense to add extra buses first thing, so our bus was full as was the one behind.
It was still rather cool and the mist was still hanging around in places.  The HOHO took us around parts of the City that included one area where the number of street people (ie drop outs etc) was very high, including the park.  We noted that Union square was on the outward and inward routes, so made a mental note to hop off tomorrow, the on again around the corner.
The bus headed out across the bridge and it was freezing!  Well, not as cold as Alaska maybe, but cold enough.  The mist seems to hang around the bridge only, as the approaches on both sides were in sunshine.  Quite strange going across the bridge and not being able to see the top!  In the background of the pic Paula took of me, you can see Alcatraz.  Incidentally, those who wanted to visit the old jail and hadn’t booked in advance, were disappointed, as the tours were full until Monday or Tuesday.
Alex & Terri were still behind us as the buses headed back into town and we noted Chinatown for later too.  As the ship was at pier 35, several got off the stop before us including Alex & Terri.  It was now lunch time and we headed for Neptune’s restaurant overlooking the inner harbour – and about 150 seals lazing around on 3 of about a dozen pontoons.   We had to wait a short while for  a table and in hindsight, we shouldn’t have bothered.
Paula’s chicken & pesto pasta wasn’t brilliant but my crumbed fish and chips were not good at all.  The crumbed fish was cheap and overcooked and the chips were not exactly pleasant either.
Wandering back we bumped into – Alex & Terri!   I grabbed  an excellent large, hot coffee from a stall (Biscoff?) that came with a fresh, wrapped malt biscuit.  It was quite cheap too at around $3.
The pier 39 shops are very attractive and although some are expensive (the Irish place for example), others were quite modestly priced, so much so, that Paula bought a fleece jacket for around $14.  We sat with A & T and watched the seals for a while, then we effectively went our separate ways.
We watched a very good street entertainer, an English guy and his sister, doing various acrobatic stunts but he had a great patter and there was  a large crowd standing around and enjoying it.   
As both our camera’s seemed to have run out of battery power and I have no spare, I bought one for a fair $35.
We ambled back to the hotel until we headed to pier 39 again to watch the sailaway at 7pm.  It was getting a bit chilly by then and we soon accumulated one or two others from the ship, including one of the dancers.
The sailaway was great as the sun disappeared and the clouds rolled in but the ship was too far away to recognise anyone but no doubt Mal was on the binoculars and we jumped up and down and waved anyway, until we were cold and hungry.  We’d spied a place selling baked potatoes almost alongside the hotel so we headed there , but were 5 minutes too late!
Back next door then to Subway...  We took our purchases back to the hotel and thoroughly enjoyed them.
We crashed quite early, but the room wasn’t as dark as I would have liked.
So far, San Francisco has been a pleasant place to be.  The cruisers will be heading on to warmer climes but when I looked into the mirror, I found that the wind and sun had had an effect on my face.  Better than pasty white I suppose.  One more day then off back home - then I suppose it is countdown to next year. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Day 50 - The last sea day - Sep 13th

Although I had intended to revert to a light breakfast, I decided to make the most of what was on offer and hang the consequences. 
Paula failed to win the Bingo jackpot after Zumba, and predictably we failed to win the quiz again too, with our usual 13/20.  Even though I relaxed my economical web usage by doing a bit of catching up on a couple of websites, I still had a balance of over 400 minutes from the 1,000 we started with.  Composing off line is one good reason for taking a laptop on a cruise, even though the extra 3kgs makes it a bit awkward though only at the beginning and end of the trip.
Breakfast may not have been light, but lunch was, though the pastry chefs excelled themselves once again, now that normal food service has returned. 
On leaving we saw Alex & Terri playing table tennis so we joined them.  I am not too keen on doubles, but we did have some laughs  – especially when I smacked my left hand against the table when trying to get to one of Paula’s demon cross table smashes.  Others were still catching a bit of fresh air but no chance of a sun tan.
Our final afternoon quiz was once again in the crowded Wheelhouse Bar – well, in the corridor anyway.  At least we were consistent, with another 13/20!  We have decided that we need to brush up on Roman and Greek mythology.
A determined spell of packing and putting out the case for collection took up the remainder of the afternoon.  Apart from the Alaskan jacket and a book, plus a pile of Princess Patter’s, I haven’t bought much on this trip.
Our final evening meal was the full 7 of us and the the famous bomb Alaska parade, then on to singer comedian, Dan Riley.  He also played a mean guitar.  Another good entertainer.
We made our way to the atrium for our farewells, with rather heavy hearts, as we have once again made extra friends there.  Never a pleasant experience saying au Revoir and we now have our fingers crossed that Alana and Alan will be on next year’s cruise, but several of our new friends will be on next year.  That is the great thing about cruising on the same ships from the same area, you keep making new friends. 
On returning to the cabin, 2 black cards awaited us, signifying we have hit the top of the loyalty system.  Not really much use on this cruise now, but at least any future cruises have us on the top status – until such time as they lift the qualifying level anyway and create a new one.
So that is it as far as the cruise goes, but with two days in San Francisco to look forward to, the trip (and the blog) isn’t yet over.
Bed 12:15 and to our last sleep on the Dawn for a while.   

A slight hiccup

I left my heart in San Francisco – but my luggage is also still there - or doing a world flight of its own.  

Will continue with San Francisco shortly to wrap up this blog. Just as a taster, we loved it.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Day 49 - Victorious Victoria (Vancouver Island)

For our last port, the beautiful Vancouver Island, we were doing our own thing, but with a 12:30pm back on board deadline, we opted for a prompt start after a hearty breakfast.  With fine weather and just walking straight off the ship and out, an 8:20am on land was easy and we opted for the coastal walk to town.   With a slight detour due to a closed footpath (gardening work being done) the estimated 40 minutes to town was cut back to just 35.
There was a Model A Ford Rally and several cars arrived at the Empress Hotel just as we passed.
A 9am start is too early for many shops as they open at 10am, but the attraction of “Murchies Cappuccino Bar” was far too good to resist.  Unlike the Juneau experience, this was one of the best establishments ever, anywhere.  With a massive range of teas and coffees down one side, the coffee bar was doing a roaring trade down the other.   The cake cabinet was one of two and even though breakfast had only been completed an hour or so earlier, their warmed up blueberry Danish was just heavenly and the coffee was excellent too.  Total cost – just $10.80, which is cheaper than the Juneau dive.  Very pleasant service too.
By the time we left, the queue of customers stretched right to the door and there must have been getting on for 20 people in it.  Bear in mind that Victoria appears to have an abundance of decent places to refuel, the long queue tells the real story.  We wandered outside and straight into M & M.  Meg was looking for a Post Office (as usual) so I hope the grandsons appreciate the effort she goes to, just to make sure they have a card from each port.
We wandered a bit further up the street and Paula did a bit of souvenir shopping but had to use US money as she only had $20 Canadian.  Pity, as the exchange rate was very much in favour of the shop keeper and I had wandered off to an antique and collectibles shop with the credit card.  Their prices for Dinky toys made me realise that maybe I had sold some of mine off too cheaply and he had a separate cabinet with some really good ones.
We returned to the ship via James Bay village but that was a bit of a let-down, especially when we found out that Thane and Tony had bought fish and chips at the attractive harbour-side, the loop we’d missed out on our morning walk. (See first pic)
Several cruisers took the horse and carriage option and others, one of the three Hop On Hop Off buses circulating the city.  Someone also took the Daimler limousine from the ship
We needed far more time here and this ranked as one of the nicest stops on the whole cruise.
We set sail (well, departed anyway) at 1pm and having talked about it often enough, Paula and I opted for the Pizzeria and left the others on the back-deck as the pizza place shuts at 2pm.
On the next table were three American ladies of mixed sizes, we hadn’t seen before and later on that night, we saw them again.  On stage...
We didn’t do too well in the quiz again (there we were too many Aussie questions) - 13/20.
Six of us for dinner and we cracked the bottle of champagne, well, fizzy wine, enjoyed the company and a somewhat lighter meal than normal.  I managed to avoid the dinner rolls; opted for the thinner of the two soups and only ate the meat from the main.  I can’t justify the large Italian calzone, a large breakfast and a large dinner.
Off to the theatre and an act brand new to the cruise circuit.  Billed as “The Wonderelles”, on first sight, with 1950’s pink skirts, white blouses, and what can be best described as not exactly a stunning looking quartet, they turned out to be an excellent act doing 1950’s/1960’s songs.  (Three of them were seen in the pizza bar earlier.)  The orchestra’s guitarists, drummer and Sarah on piano, had a lot to do, but in the background, trumpeter Bob didn’t, so he was cheerfully echoing all their hand movements.  Funny to us. 
The group also managed to grab a couple of guys out of the audience and by often referring to their names in their act, they really did endear themselves to the audience.   Well worth seeing.
No dancing for us and bed about 11:45.
A day at sea now before San Francisco, so this blog will get wrapped up when we get back, so for a few days, this will be the last post.
As mentioned before, often the table talk is of the regular inconveniences and hiccups caused by one or two passengers.   One well known awkward couple, referred to as Humpty and Dumpty by the knitters and natterers, apparently were on a Princess tour and as they are wide, they didn’t sit together, so whoever had to share got jammed into a smaller space.
As Paula said, “They couldn’t put Humpty & Dumpty together again...”  Funny girl.