Saturday, April 27, 2013

Lines to Remember

What a mess we had on the ship at the end of our first leg from Sydney to Hawaii. For all the good times in the lead-up, the last two days have made most of us angry and annoyed.

It started yesterday when we landed at Lahaina in Maui. Because this was the first port of entry to the US, everyone aboard the ship had to be cleared through US Immigration. Government officials (especially sequestered federal folks) + Hawaii was an easy equation to solve: they didn;t show up on time and when they did, only one person showed up to process more than 3000 people.

All of which would be annoying but not much more except the ship's staff completely fell apart when dealing with thie delay. Rather than making a quick announcement that people should ignore the times they were told tor eport and wait for further announcements, they did what all bad customer service people do. Nothing.

So when we reported at our time of 8am, we found a line of people queing from one end of the ship to the other (and it's a very long ship). Oh, and then the line snaked around and continued back in the direction from which it started.

After standing around for several minutes, we finally got an announcement that the immigration officials weren't aboard yet and people should not remain in line since A) there was no reason to do so and B) the congestion was creating safety issues. So of course most of the old people remained in line.

LK and I took the opportunity to sneak down for a coffee and were halfway through when a new announcement came that it was indeed OK to now get in line because the officials had finally arrived.

This time we were even further away from our final destination.

And then it kept getting worse. The line would move a few feet and then stop for ten minutes. And then stop some more. You have to remember that one of the reasons LK and I like cruising is because so many of our fellow passengers make us feel young again. There was a line of hundreds of older people struggling with bad knees and hips and just general fatigue trying to stand in the line for what amounted to more than 2 hours. Not nice.

We had booked ourselves into a 10am whale watching boat ride and had given up on that idea as the clock ticked towards 11 when the excursion people came walking up the line telling people who had 10am excursions to follow them. Which led us to the front of this massive queue where they told us to just cut in front of the people who had been waiting hours. They then abandoned us without giving the other passengers any explanation, making us fearful that we now faced several options - being crushed by the people ten abreast trying to fit through a double door, stabbed in the back by the people who saw us cutting in front of them or being trampled as our knees finally gave out under the pressure of having to stand in line so long.

That nothing happened is testament to how tired the people behind us were.

And we finally got on the tender that took us to the dock where the whale watch boat was still waiting to take us out. And that part was great as we did see some big splashes several hundred yards away and dozens of spinner dolphins about two feet away. The dolphins swarmed our boat and sayed with us for a while. They are one of only two types of dolphins that do a 360 spin in the air when they jump out of the water, which is very cool to watch.

And although the whales were a bit distant during the boat ride, we had a spectacular display later that night when back on the ship as three or four whales which were quite close to us started jumping out of the water and generally causing all of us to ooh and aah for a good half hour.

There was some speculation that the captain had paid people to dress in whale suits just so the passengers would forget about the mess in the morning. It would hardly have been enough.

The next morning we arrived in Honolulu, ready to disembark and spend some time in this beautiful city. I would like to tell you all went smoothly, but then I would have to skip the part about how the gangplank did not fit the dock and the crew had to saw part of it off to enable people to use it. Or the fact that passengers with early flights home had to wait a long time to get off the ship because there were problems offloading the baggage (not an issue with us, of course, since we were staying on. Or perhaps I should say not an issue with us for another 12 days)

When we finally left the ship with our friend Pat, another person staying aboard all the way to Ensenada, we had planned to grab a taxi and pop into Waikiki. Which was an option if we were willing to stand in a line for cabs that looked like it could take more than hour. After yesterday's immigration mess, I suppose only standing in line for an hour sounds easy, but really it was like a dagger in our calves.

Fortunately, a perky young woman spotted that we had no luggage with us and  offered us a free return shuttle to Waikiki. All we had to do was agree to watch a 20-minute presentation on Maui Diver jewellery. Done deal. And if you would like to know about the discover of black coral in the early 50's, just drop me an e-mail.

I am pretty sure we were having our second margarita at Jimmy Buffett's before we would ever have reached the end of the taxi queue, so it was a fair trade. And then we met friends we had made on the ship to have some lunch. Because 19 days at sea with the same people is never long enough to really say everything you want to.

When we finally returned to the ship, our friend Pat - who is a seasoned traveller - knew that we didn't need to wait in lines to get our new room passes and get aboard. Which was very, very good because the lines to register were --- well, they looked pretty similar to something we had seen yesterday in Lahaina.

In fact I overheard a very angry man berating one of the staff, saying he and his wife had been waiting for more than 2 hours, they were still a long ways from getting aboard, they had had no lunch (and obviously no margaritas) and there was no one telling them a blessed thing.

The three of us who had been on the earlier leg of the cruise knew the reason. The ship had had an outbreak of norovirus, qualifying it officially as The Ship of Stools. It was undergoing a top-to-bottom sanitization before anyone could come aboard. It also had to be inspected by the CDC, and given the sequestration I wondered how promptly their (short) staff showed up.

As we listened to this new passenger's tirade, I commented that he was starting his cruise pretty much the way most of the people had left it this morning.

Pat asked, "Yeah, and given how happy he is already do you think we should tell him the ship has had an outbreak of norovirus?"

I offered that since he already had the shits with them, there was nothing to be gained.

And then - because we were returning passengers - we got to walk past everyone in line and cut in at the front and go aboard.

This time, I definitely didn't look around and, yes, I walked a little faster than normal.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Trophy Life

One of the many benefits of cruising with this line is that they reward you for being on the ship when it does something more or less significant.

The reward, mind you, is not particularly lucrative. In fact it is nothing more than a pre-printed sheet of light brown paper with your name filled in announcing that, in yesterday's case, we had crossed the equator and the international date line. I wouldn't necessarily consider it suitable for framing, but obsessive scrapbookers would find a page for it I am sure.

Since LK and I have crossed the equator and the international date line many dozens of times, this feat wasn't particularly exciting to us. Nowhere near as nice as the sheet of paper we got last year telling us we had crossed the Arctic Circle. Or the year before allowing us to prove to one and all that we indeed had gone through the Panama Canal.

Nonetheless I'm not complaining. For one thing, I am pretty sure that many aboard this ship - either through age, alcohol, or a complete inability to understand the PA announcements of our Greek capatain - may not have known we were crossing the equator yesterday. It would have been hard to miss the dateline, since we had two Saturdays aboard last weekend, which is a fairly unique way to have a four-day weekend.

These aren't the only mementoes they give. On an earlier cruise I won a trophy for beating the captain and some crewmen in a poker game. I've since seen duplicates given on other ships to winners of blackjack and slot machine tournaments. The trophies are about 3-inches high and made of genuine metal alloy on a plastic base. I am pretty sure someone at cruise line headquarters cleaned out the warehouse of one of those dollar stores that went bankrupt. But the casino hosts keep insisting it is the thought that counts, which I had learned was what the recipient was supposed to claim, not the giver.

And then there's the verbal accolades. On our wine cruise last November, I was told by more than a few staff members that I was surely the top person when it came to getting best  value for their Unlimited Drinks Package purchase. I may not have worn it as a badge of honor, but I was just a little proud to be recognized as a leader in my field.

In the meantime, we are still two days from land. The long time at sea is having the curious effect of turning all of us into super-mellow, mushy-brained lazy folks as we all seem to have embraced having nothing to do with a passion. But of course, there is plenty to do - trivia quizzes, history lectures, casino games, fitness classes, cocktail hour, art appreciation seminars.  There's so much to do I've only done every other one. I'll leave you to figure out which ones.

Hawaii in two days, then more ocean on the way to North America. We're slowly getting there.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sails of the South Pacific

The more you travel - and the older you get - the more you change the way you do things. This trip is the longest we will have ever been away from home but it was also the one where I did the least preparation. In part this was because LK took on the very arduous task of checking out and booking hotels, leaving me with only a very few things to do to get ready.

Basically all I had to do was get three months worth of prescriptions, get a cortisone injection in my hip and have my prostate checked.

I did mention that I am getting older, didn't I?

Anyhow, the good news is that the scripts are doing their job and my numerous lifestyle diseases are under control, the injection worked for awhile but not as completely as I was hoping, and the prostate is not a problem.

That has allowed us to relax completely on this trip. Well, that and the fact that there is just about nothing to do. It is a re-positioning cruise from Sydney to Hawaii and on to Ensenada Mexico, lasting almost a month.

The first 2 1/2 weeks are being spent chugging through the South Pacific with only a couple of stops - first in New Caledonia, and right now in Tahiti for three days first at Papeete, then Moorea and today at Bora Bora. There really isn't a lot to do here - well, I should say that there really isn't anything to do here except look at the beautiful scenery.  And the islands are very hot and very humid so it was easy to stay on the ship today and avoid one more set of stands selling t-shirts, seashells and black pearls.

Not that we're getting jaded but several of the group we have drinks with during the cocktail party each night agreed when LK noted that we were looking at "just another lush volcanic island in the South Pacific".  OK, we are getting jaded, but you cannot force yourself to get excited about seeing one more place pretty much like the last one.  (And yes, the more observant will have noticed how I casually slipped in about having a nightly cocktail party.)

Then again, we will probably wish we had walked on land today even if it was hot and steamy, for tonight we head
northwest (yep, a little bit of backtracking) to Maui and Honolulu. That will take more than 5 days - by which time we will have either developed great sea legs or be covered in bruises from falling against the walls whenever we walk around on the ship as it rocks across the waves.

Of course, I've noticed that even when the ship is docked, I've knocked against the walls a few times. Usually, soon after the cocktail party.  But I doubt that there's any connection.

Really bad internet connection here on the ship so no pictures with the blogs until we get to Hawaii and can catch some good links.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lost and Lost and Lost and Lost and Lost and Found

Our last trip was a bit of a lost and found tour. Actually, it was exclusively a lost tour.  

Even the usually ultra-reliable LK joined in the fun most often reserved for me, as she began losing things left and right. It started with a sleep-deprived layover in Bangkok during which she failed to see that she left her iPad on the table next to her chair in the lounge. 

On our wine cruise I somehow managed to lose my Kindle while on the ship. This one is still a mystery since two factors are at work here. First, 5-year-old Kindles simply aren't worth stealing or keeping if found. And secondly, I am 99.9% sure I had it in our cabin. My only conclusion has been that I somehow threw it in the trash can when I was discarding the mountain of paper that cruise lines feel they have to give you every day.

On the Caribbean cruise, I must have forgot to pack the camera when we were leaving - which is why there aren't a lot of Christmas pictures from last year.

And that same day, one of our suitcases was lost by the cruise line when we disembarked and they were supposed to deliver it to the airline.  After more calls than I would have had the patience to make, LK ascertained that A) neither the airline or cruise line could find our suitcase and B) we were both pleasantly surprised to see how much our travel insurance was going to pay for our used tennis shoes and dirty t-shirts. 

Losing the bag almost looked like a profit center. That is, until a rather exuberant young lady from the cruise line rang to tell us they had indeed finally located the suitcase and were fed-exing it to us. Never have two people been so sad to reclaim their dirty laundry.

Even more so, I should add, when we discovered that someone had stolen a bottle of Johnny Walker Black from the suitcase during its unintentional journeys. Talk about adding insult to injury.

There is an upside to all this lost technology, of course. It must be replaced. Which means that LK and I are travelling with new iPads and a new camera. We are getting a new Kindle when we land in the US (much cheaper than in Oz) although I am not getting one since the iPad is plenty for me. I've even upgraded with a few accessories so I don't have to bring my laptop along and we have a cable that lets us get pictures from our camera to the iPad and - best of all - a wireless keyboard so I can write really long posts for the thousands who have the time and inclination to read them. OK, the 4 or 5.

But all of the above is just a prelude to the real story of this post. We left Hobart on Monday at noon, flew to Sydney and have boarded the Solstice to sail our way across the Pacific Ocean for 29 days. More on this trip in future posts, but I have to share what went on as we sailed out of Sydney Harbor on Monday night.

Watching the lights recede along the coast, I was fortunate enough to still get a signal so I could call the phone company and tell them that LK had lost her mobile phone during the travels from Hobart to Sydney. Given that it was on, active and missing, it was good news when the very attentive young man offered to suspend service and disable the handset rather than come home to thousands of dollars of someone else's calls.

And it was even better news ten minutes later when I still had a signal and got another polite customer rep - a young woman this time - who happily took the five or six minutes it takes to restore LK's mobile phone service since she had found the phone after a little more looking.

It happened, as you might suspect, because for better safety she had put it in a place she never uses. And it was only dogged determination that led her to keep looking even after service was suspended.

It would be nice to tell you that this place was also where the iPad, Kindle, camera and Johnny Walker were, but unfortunately it's only a good story not a great one.  But it is encouraging as we depart for the longest time we have ever been away from home. For now I am pretty sure that while we may lose stuff, we're just as likely to find it again if we keep on looking.