With this cruise covering 16 days, and ten of them being sea days, Robert, our dance instructor, had scheduled a series of dance workshops covering the gamut from waltz to west coast swing. Each workshop was supposed to last an hour but several times they were going so well that we ran over time. Because none of our group are beginners and we are all pretty much at a similar level, each session has been really enjoyable and we have been able to pick up new skills in each individual dance, while continuing to focus attention on posture, frame and movement.
Amazingly everyone turned up punctually for the second workshop at 9:30 am, even my cabin mate Linda, who is not known for coming to the dance workshops on these cruises. We joked that after a week of rooming together I might actually “sleep in” to 7 am and take a nap in the afternoon, while she might actually get up in time to attend all the workshops.
Friday, January 1st, 2010 Dance workshops while cruising back through the East Caribbean
Last night we had a raucous and fun-filled New Year's Eve party. Despite only a couple of hours sleep I was as energetic as usual when I woke up - though I was really craving coffee. i think Mike got to bed about the time I usually wake up at home so I didn't think he would make it to the workshop at 10 am. When our coffee and breakfast did not arrive at the expected time I called to find out where it was. Apparently some yoyos had taken the room service card off our door - it later turned up outside the door of an empty cabin further up the corridor.
Jeoffrey however worked his magic with the kitchen staff and a tray of coffees arrived quickly. We poured cups of coffee, expresso and cappucino down our throats - and "presto- we were dancing fools". That's a great quickstep number by the way - "Dancing Fool" by Manilow - the version I have is really nice but a very quick quickstep!
By the time we had to assemble for the workshops we were all ready to go. Surprisingly considering last night was a wild party, almost everyone turned up for the workshops. And they concentrated.
Here are some of the guys learning their parts.
Wendy had scheduled Robert to teach a tango workshop first. He showed us the sequence, dancing it with Wendy.
Starting in promenade position it was a walk to a ronde, fallaway to two pivots and then - tango close. Huh! I think I actually used correct terminology. I also wrote down the timing because that makes it easier for me to think about it.
So it is
SQQS(ronde with right foot)
QQS& (thats the fallaway- step pivot)
S& (that's the next step pivot)
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands)
By around 8 am we were docked at the pier in St. Thomas, one of the three main islands (with St. Croix and St. John) that comprise the US Virgin Islands. Once part of the Dutch West Indies the islands were taken over by America after the first world war and the islanders are now American citizens. Charlotte Amalie is the capital and main port.
We had decided not to book any excursions - a decision that actually worked out fine. However Joelle, who used to livd in St. Thomas , told us that we should really get out and see around the island as it is quite beautiful. We had every intention of doing so and went ashore early to do a bit of shopping and then get a cab to do some sight-seeing. But the heavens decided otherwise. We had just finished our shopping when It began to pour - a heavy pounding rain - and within minutes we were all soaked through to the skin. So, shivering despite the soggy warmth, we splashed back to the ship and did not get up to the mountain to see the reputedly famous views. We decided to relax for the rest of the afternoon, read and make the best of our free time.
By six thirty we were dancing in the Club Savoia. The music alternated between the band and Wendy's music when the band is on break, which gives a lot of dance variety. Then to our frustration the cruise staff came out to play games such as bingo and took over the floor. That meant we had to move to Club Verde and its much smaller floor until dinner time.
Because we were in an upgraded cabin, a mini-suite, we were given an invitation to have dinner in the Club Ristorante so at 8:30 when the group went off to dinner in the Michaelangelo Restaurant, Mike, Amanda and I went up to Club Ristorante on deck for our special invitation dinner. It was the best meal we had on the ship
We had a nice sized table for three and the service was as good one would expect in a better level restaurant. Although I tend not to drink much wine on these dance cruises (I don't want to fall over during a quickstep or Viennese waltz, right?) we decided a good bottle of wine would complement this special occasion nicely.
We chose a bottle of Elena Walch 2008 Gewurtztraminer from Alto Adige, Italy. I was quite intrigued at the idea of an Italian Gewurtztraminer as I associate the varietal more with Germany or the Alsace region of France , as well as our Okanagan region in BC now of course. But later, when I did some research I remembered that the varietal was actually named after the Italian town of Tramin - the full name in German, Gewurtztraminer, meaning spicy Traminer. And the Trentino Alto Adige region is in the North East part of Italy, bordering on Austria; German is as commonly spoken there as Italian.
Monday, December 28, 2009 Sea days - Dancing from Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas
Today is the first of two days at sea and we have 2 hour dance workshops scheduled on both days; These will be on the 4 most common social dances - rumba and foxtrot, and waltz and chacha . On the return two days at sea, Wendy has scheduled bolero (one of my favorites), salsa (not my favorite), tango and swing. We were asked to be at Club Verde by 10 am.
As far as our cabin goes it is very comfortable and well designed, with adequate storage space so that we are not tripping over each other's stuff. The balcony has two long pool chairs and a table. It has the best view of any office I have worked in except maybe my "office" on the Pacific Princess, traveling between Honolulu and Tahiti.
Thursday November 19, The second to last day of just cruising at sea and the third formal night for dinner
We were quite tired after the long bus rides yesterday and the humid weather did not help. We decided to go the breakfast in the room route before heading up to the Wheelhouse lounge for 9 am.
Greg was doing a hustle workshop first. Then instead of the planned West Coast Swing class by Brian, they decided that Greg would review some of the things he had taught, and on the next sea day, Brian would do the WCS class and review his lessons with us.
I was quite pleased that Greg reviewed that chacha pattern - I think I got the swivel parts - although I did not always feel the lead into that step but the "da da", swivel, swivel timing had me confused and it is a really cool move. Anyway by the end of the review I think I had the timing right on it. Now I need to have a chance to put it into practice.
November 17 to 19, 2009 - Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
Unlike Hong Kong which I had visited on several occasions, where I found that most people could speak some English and many were fluent, Vietnam was an unknown for me. I had never visited the country before and did not feel comfortable trying to get around by myself. As well the ship was to dock quite a distance from the places we were to visit.
So Joan, Bernie, Raoul and I had all signed up for a tour in Nha Trang. Later Jeane and Carol decided to take the same tour.
The ship anchored off shore from Nha Trang, a small town in the south centre region of Vietnam, with fishing as its primary industry. The warm waters and white sand beaches also make Nha Trang a favorite holiday destination.
Tuesday November 17, Nha Trang
Our group met at 7 am in the Princess Theatre as the tour was scheduled to start 7:30 and we had to tender ashore. Our "sampler" excursion itinerary included the Ponagar Cham Tower, the Buddhist Shrine at Long Son Pagoda and a visit to see how Vietnamese silk picture embroidery is made.
Nha Trang was originally the centre of the Kingdom of Champa that ruled the area from the 2nd century to the 15 century AD. They were defeated by the Ly Dynasty who founded the independent state of Vietnam. The south, central and northern areas of Vietnam are now one country with a population of over 83 million people, and governed from Hanoi in the north.
After we tendered ashore we got onto buses for the short drive to Nha Trang. We stopped off to see the Long Son Pagoda with its massive white statue of Buddha. We were inundated by hordes of people selling everything from postcards to fans and prints. It was actually quite uncomfortable as they get in your face, begging you to buy stuff. I actually ended up buying some really attractive prints.
I find it fascinating that though Buddhism is supposed to be a non-theistic spiritualism, Buddha has almost it seems been elevated to a god and places seem to vie to see who can have the largest Buddha statue. Something seems a bit odd with this picture. Not my photo of course!
Next we stopped at a beach restaurant called something like Nha Haru Bia Tua Louisiana which translated into Louisiana Brewhouse!
This was a refreshment stop where we were presented with coconut milk in a coconut shell. For me it was sour and astringent and I just had a few sips.
There was lots of time for us to walk along the beach and we enjoyed the fresh sea air. Raoul got to demonstrate his skill as dance partner.
Then we piled back into the buses for the drive to Ponagar where we were to visit the Cham Tower.
The bus let us off on the far side of a bridge over the Cai River Estuary which we walked across in single file. This gave us an opportunity to look down on the fishing boats in the bay before we followed our guide up to the Towers.
Thursday, November 12 Keelung, Taiwan -scheduled to arrive 9 am and leave 6 pm
The Diamond Princess traveled from Okinawa on a west-south Westerly course through the East China sea to the place where she would board the pilot who would take the ship into Keelung. The port of Keelung is about 18 miles from the 100 year old city of Taipei.
The first thing that struck me about the island of Taiwan was how green it was. Taiwan is a large island, just under 14,000 square miles, lying in the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles east of mainland China. Previously known to the Portuguese seafarers as Formosa (the Beautiful Island), Taiwan is densely forested and subtropical, one of 79 mostly volcanic islands that are now claimed by China to comprise the province of Taiwan. A Central Range of mountains, with several peaks rising over 10,000 feet, runs down the island. Most of the 22 million inhabitants live to the west and south west. Farming, mainly rice but also sweet potatoes, peanuts, soybeans and sugar cane, is an important part of the economy, although Taiwan is noted for its industrial activity and manufactured exports. Made in Taiwan!
It was actually quite fascinating watching the Diamond Princess dock. There was what seemed to be a very small space between two large ships that this mega-ship had to get into. I thought it was a great example of parallel parking and sent a picture to my theatre buddy to tell him that his place as world champion parallel parker had to be ceded to the captain of this ship.
But then he pointed out that the captain was probably aided and abetted by a tug boat which nudged the ship into position. So his title is still secure.
Impressed by the greyness of the weather, while I was reading about Taiwan on the web and in the great brochures from Princess, I got distracted by the terms monsoon and typhoon. I had this vague idea that the terms were interchangeable and meant big wind with lots of rain. But no!
With apologies to those of you who paid more attention in geography class than I did, it seems that - to quote Wikipedia - "A typhoon or hurricane is a regionally specific term for a tropical cyclone." So a tropical cyclone that arises in the NorthWest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline is called a typhoon. If it arises in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean, it is called a hurricane.
And what is a tropical cyclone you may ask? Well to paraphrase - it is a storm system with a large low pressure system that forms over tropical or sub-tropical waters, with thunderstorms producing strong winds and heavy rains that cycle counterclockwise in the Northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. A monsoon on the other hand is a seasonally reversing wind that reverses direction and degree of rainfall with the season.A simpler definition is that of a wind from the southwest or south that brings heavy rainfall to southern Asia in the summer.
I knew that! Somewhere inside my brain that information lurked but my retrieval system is faulty.
Wednesday, November 11 Okinawa, Japan. Scheduled arrival 7 am and departure 2 pm
The picture is from formal night. it has no connection to Okinawa but it's a nice picture and I have no pictures from Okinawa. Here's why...
Five days into the cruise and I find myself less than enthusiastic at the thought of getting into yet another shuttle bus or excursion van with a crowd of people. Realistically, at home I normally have a lot of quiet time to chill out by myself, andnon-stop "togetherness" is something I am no longer used to. In fact I must confess that I have come to value times ofsolitude in my apartment - me, myself and I looking out over the waters of False Creek, reading, writing or just thinking about life.
That's a long winded way of getting to the fact that I really had no interest or energy in going ashore in Okinawa and in fact made a positive decision to stay on board, have a dance lesson with Brian, get a massage in the Spa and just relax. I know that Okinawa was of historical importance during the war and have avgue idea that there was a major battle there between the Japanese and the Americans but it had not much relevance to me.
I had my usual breakfast, fresh fruit with low-fat yoghurt, coffee with a little cream, and then went out onto the balcony of the cabin and worked for a bit.
I had a lesson with Brian scheduled for around 11 am. Greg had found a small carpeted bar area down the stairs at the back of Club Fusion that no-one seemed to use and it was ok though not great for lessons so we went down there. We worked first on West Coast Swing swing, then briefly on the hustle and then Bolero.
With WCS the things I was really trying to get right were the right arm hold,so that the tension/connection feels right; and not letting my other arm droop or flail. I guess that's what you call styling - I don't get it!. We also worked on a couple of new steps. He showed me one which if I have it right is step, step, point right leg, step back, step, step, triple step, which I kind of liked, and then a few more patterns. Hopefully if I get a chance to dance a WCS - it is pretty random with such a variety of dances - I will be able to follow a lead through these steps. The problem of course is that if you dont get a chance to repeat these things they dont stick and each time it is like starting again.
Dancing at Sea: Dance and Workshops
Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
Tuesday was the only day when the ship did not call in at a port and we were at sea all day, sailing to Astoria, in Oregon. According to the ship's log - "throughout the day the Sapphire Princess steamed various northerly courses paralleling the coast of California on her starboard side at a distance of approximately 30 nautical miles." The sea is described as being "moderate" versus "slight" out of Santa Barbara, and "calm" on most of the other days.
What "moderate sea" translates to in practical terms is that the ship was noticeably rolling a lot more than on other days, and on the dance floor, a step could quite easily turn from a graceful sway into a Frankensteinian lurch.
Wendy had arranged for dance workshops in the morning, so we assembled at 10 in the wheelhouse lounge for a rumba lesson from Piero followed by a lesson in cha cha from Brian. It was good to learn some new and different dance sequences. We rotated partners but since more of the ladies turned up (naturally)than the men at each change a couple of people were partnerless. The sequence Brian introduced included a double spin which led to some interesting "new" moves when the ship rolled just as one was spinning. And one really needs a strong and steady lead for spinning, so it is hard to practice it on your own.