Sea days on the Pacific December 3

As I write, we are beginning our fifth day at sea on the Star Princess. A few years ago, my lifetime friend Maryruth thought about going on this very cruise to Hawaii. I said, “omigosh, Maryruth, you don’t want to do that, there are too many sea days!”. She decided instead to fly to Hawaii and cruise around the islands with Norwegian. This is the same friend who for years tried to convince me that cruises were great. I said with that same haughty superiority that I often hear from non cruisers, “I could never go on a cruise, it seems so boring. I would rather go camping, kayaking, hiking, etc.”.

Here I sit on my fifth sea day, loving it. And those of you who know me or read this blog, know that Mo and I aren’t sit around types. We still hike and bike and kayak AND love to cruise. Somehow the forced slowdown of days at sea are especially good for type A’s who always have to be on the move. Although I do know that reading about sea days could be terminally boring. It all runs together, with a few memorable moments here and there and the delight of completely forgettable moments.

Always in the background is the sea, gliding by with the faint rumble of the ship engines and the rhythmic rush of waves against the hull. We are rocked to sleep each night and lulled by the sound of the sea all night long through our open door to the balcony. Mo has finished the two books she brought along, necessitating a trip to the ship library for something to read during these last two days at sea. I am two thirds through Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, “Flight Behavior”, good enough that I remember why she is one of my favorite authors. What a luxury, reading for hours during the day instead of a few minutes before falling asleep at night and dropping the Kindle on my nose.

We have managed some sunny deck time, watched a great movie in the Princess Theatre, “People Like Us”, enjoyed our workouts in the gym. I treated myself to a luscious manicure, and spent some time at the Crooner’s Lounge knitting with a group of women who meet daily to knit and share conversation, projects, and patterns. We enjoyed a couple of lectures from the ship naturalist, one about oceanography, and one about sea turtles.

Most often we start our day with room service coffee, juice, and a pastry, but we did go up for breakfast one morning. We have made it to dinner in the dining room on most evenings except for our one special dinner in the Crown Grill. For a $25 service charge we had truly magnificent steaks seasoned only with pepper and served with three types of finishing salts. I still can’t figure out how they could make a steak taste that good with just salt and pepper.

Our late seating has been ok, well worth the table for two that we couldn’t get at first seating. We go to the early show, then down to dinner, and then of course we have to participate in the ritual of checking out the portraits or candid photos for the day. Every other day or so we head for the casino. So far I am still ahead with $20. still on my players bank.

We have had two formal nights during these sea days, but on the last one we skipped the lobster dinner and spent our dress up time having free cocktails at the Captain’s farewell party in the piazza and checking out the last production show, “British Invasion”. It was OK, and I love rock and roll from that era, but the best thing going for the show was the over the top production aspect. Neither of us were particularly excited about any of the star singers, and after watching “So You Think You Can Dance” for a few seasons we are pretty particular about what good dancing looks like. The Princess dancers were entertaining, and good enough for a cruise ship at least. I put a couple of the dress up clothes photos in here because you asked.

I even did the formal night portrait thing. We bought just one photo out of all the candid shots taken during the cruise, but we have learned to not shy away from those roaming photographers any more. Half the fun is finding the sometimes funny, sometimes awful, and once in awhile good photos of ourselves having fun. The next two photos we took ourselves on our own deck. The other photo is my formal portrait, which I actually really like. You are seeing the iPad copy. Even if you buy photos, it is an extra fifteen bucks for EACH digital copy of a single photo. I saw people there laying down a few hundred dollars for their entire stash of photos.

Yesterday afternoon I enjoyed a middle brow wine tasting with five nice wines, including Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, a great Pinot noir, a decent Cabernet, and a dessert wine, complete with cute little Princess glass to take home. The $9. cost was acceptable. I sat next to a lady who had more than 1100 cruise days on Princess, and more on many other cruise lines. I have no clue how you do that. I think 15 days is enough unless maybe you are seeing the Mediterranean with a lot of interesting overnight ports.

Are you bored yet? We aren’t. A couple of news channels on the stateroom tv are a bit of a connection to the mainland. My biggest peeve with it all are the exorbitant fees for wireless Internet access. I think they are into me for a couple hundred bucks so far, which is why this won’t get posted until we are in San Francisco day after tomorrow.

There are lots of things going on every day that we don’t bother doing, dance classes, line dancing, karaoke, late night parties, trivia contests, juggling lessons, bingo, art auctions. I have to admit that all those social things are a bit boring to me. I would rather watch the ocean and knit.

This afternoon we will port at Ensenada, Mexico, for all of four hours, just long enough to stretch our legs and hear some mariachi music. We will be back on board in time for another dining room dinner if we don’t succumb to some really good Mexican food at port. Our waitress, Elena from Romania, is an interesting person, very professional, but a bit strong willed. She works hard to get us to buy wine every night (which we don’t) and to get Mo to eat dessert (which she doesn’t).

The seas were a bit high when we first left Honolulu, but for the last couple of days we have felt very little movement. I put on another patch this morning, getting ready for our northern route along the coast from Ensenada to San Francisco. We have had mostly sunny skies while California has been inundated with storms. The Captain warned us that our last day at sea, tomorrow, could be rough, with rain and wind on the decks.

I took a moment this morning to check the home weather, trying to gauge what our drive home might entail. We hope to get off the ship in time to drive to Klamath Falls and arrive before 5:30 so I can pick up Jeremy from his two week adventure at the vet. With him being elderly, I felt better about the vet boarding than our usual Double C boarding place.

Yes, I can feel the type a thing returning. We have one day to get the MoHo down to Grants Pass, with emails from the contractor telling us that the RV shed is completed. We have rain predicted for Thursday with snow coming by the weekend. Often by this time of year, the MoHo would be snowed in at Rocky Point and we would have to chain up to get her over the mountain. Blind luck!

I am going through in my mind all the steps needed on Friday as I decorate my table for the annual Ladies Luncheon in Rocky Point on Saturday. The men cook and ladies volunteer to do a table for eight and there are usually close to a hundred women at the luncheon.

Then on Sunday I’ll be off once again. Sigh. I would have preferred waiting until January, but friend Bel was in the hospital for six weeks and is now home alone. Time for my annual trip to Florida and I will be flying out from Sacramento airport on Monday morning for a week in Ocala. I must say that when all this is over I will be more than ready for a quiet Christmas at home and some home down time.

Although that down time has become a bit complicated with the request by NRCS that I add 500 hours to my work schedule for the rest of the fiscal year. I cut back to a week a month in October, but will be going back to half time and a bit more. Something to do with dollars allotted for contractors and a mix up. Mo and I agreed that I should probably step up to the plate one more time. The savings will be good for future travel plans even if the work time interferes a bit. I am hoping that the MiFi is fast enough at the Grants Pass cottage that I can spend some of the work time there at least. With funds and budgets always under the gun, who knows if there will be any left for next year. So work it is.


Panic in Honolulu November 28

Have you ever missed your sailing deadline on a cruise ship? You know the drill…the ship is ready to sail and over the loudspeaker comes the captain’s voice, “Will Mr and Mrs so and so please contact the service desk immediately!” You roll your eyes and look at each other wondering just what kind of people don’t get back to the ship. We came very close to being a couple of those kind of people.

We sailed into Honolulu before dawn with the city lights sparkling on the shore. By the time we were docked the sun was rising over Diamond Head. It was beautiful and clear except for a few clouds and the temperature was already in the mid 70’s. To skip the middleman, we had previously purchased tickets and transportation to the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu’s North Shore, about a 90 minute drive from the Aloha Tower where we got off the ship.

We planned our departure with plenty of time for the 2.5 mile walk to the Ala Moana Hotel, designated pick up location for our bus to the center. When I was five, our family moved to Oahu, and I remembered the Royal Hawaiian as the only hotel on Waikiki. I knew that Honolulu was a huge city, so was tickled that I got a tiny glimpse of the famous landmark through the bus windows as we passed by.

The drive to the North Shore was gorgeous, with the rainy side of the island lush and green as I remembered it. We arrived at the Cultural Center just before the noon opening, and decided to explore on our own without the benefit of a guide. Since we had to be back to the ship for a 9:30 sailing, we paid for an early departure at 6:30. We would miss the nighttime performances, the fire dances, and the big dinner, but had plenty of time to immerse ourselves in what is essentially a theme park version of the Polynesian Island culture.

The day was wonderful, with visits to each of 8 different island cultures amidst gorgeous landscaping. Each area had scheduled performances and we managed to get to all of them. I leaned a lot about the various cultures, the different languages, the history, and the different styles of dancing.

Hawaiian dances are lyrical and gentle. Tonga was a big hit with a great drummer who brought up folks from the audience to perform. The dances of Figi were dramatic, especially the men, and the audience was involved and played the bamboo sticks to support the dancers.

We continued to explore the exhibit until mid afternoon when the canoe parade was scheduled to begin. Each island group was represented in the parade with colorful costumes, music and dancing. Tahitian dances are always popular because of the fast hip action, unlike the gentle Hawaiian hulas. The other interesting thing I noticed is that there were no bare midriffs or coconut bras to be seen. All very G-rated and family friendly.

What we learned as the afternoon went on is that the Polynesian Cultural Center is an LDS venture, associated with the adjacent Brigham Young University Hawaii campus. Most of the employees are attending university and this is the creative solution of the church to help the students pay for their education. The students come from 72 countries, and the dancers and musicians are native to their respective islands represented at the center. That explained the lack of bare midriffs.

The Samoan exhibit was the most entertaining in my opinion. The guy was a kick, a great low key, very dry comedian who kept us laughing as he started fire with a stick and some dry coconut husks. He was pretty impressive when he whacked open a coconut with one blow, offered the juice to a spectator, and proceeded to grind coconut and wring out the milk while he told funny stories. The entertainment climaxed with an young man skinning up a coconut palm. Pretty amazing to see, actually.

We then took advantage of the free tram tour that went out of the park to see the BYU campus and the Mormon temple that is adjacent to the campus. Interesting tidbit: the Mormon church bought more than 6,000 acres here in 1865 planning for the education of the Polynesian peoples in the Pacific islands.

We decided on a simple snack bar super while we waited for our bus departure. As directed, we waited out front at 6:15, and waited, and waited, and waited. No bus. We went back inside to the customer service desk, and no one could seem to figure out where the driver was. We were told that if we missed the bus, the taxi fare back to Honolulu was $80. The minutes were ticking by, and we started to panic while the park staff hemmed and hawed and tried to find the bus and driver.

Mo was furious, I was panicked, and finally we said, “Get us a cab!”. The problem was that there are no cabs on the north shore and if they called for a cab, it would take more than an hour to get there. We were pretty much out of luck if someone couldn’t find a bus. I said, “Surely someone here has a car to take us back?!” But we were informed that was impossible due to liability issues.

I proceeded to come very close to throwing up on their service desk, when finally a bus driver appeared. Elizabeth, the customer service representative, was great, staying calm through the whole process, and she went on the bus (operated by a different company) and convinced the driver to take us directly o the ship rather than to the Ala Moana hotel we had paid for. We actually got dropped off right at the ship with an hour to spare.

I have heard of folks missing their ship, and the usual solution is an expensive flight to the next port of call. Our next port was five days out in Ensenada,Mexico! Our passports were safely on the ship, the car key in the safe as well. I couldn’t envision a solution if we had missed the ship. I am sure we would have figured out something, but I am sure glad we didn’t have to.

Another lesson learned: take the emergency contact information from the trip insurance with you! I tried calling Princess from the number on our cruise card and got a message saying to call back during business hours! Of curse it never occurred to us to take our passports when disembarking in our own country.

Once back on the ship we dropped off our stuff in our cabin and headed directly for the bar. A stiff shot of Jack Daniels was my cure for the still wobbly knees. All is well that ends well and we are safely on the ship ready for the next few days at sea.