Review From The Cabin

When I first heard about the Dancers at Sea (DAS) dance cruise from Hong Kong to Dubai, I thought 16 nights was longer than I wanted to be away for. I had also cruised from Hong Kong, to Thailand and Vietnam, when I did the Asia Cruise two years earlier, and had little desire to revisit the two ports on that part of the itinerary. So I decided to take the option of the 9 nights Singapore to Dubai leg. The dates fitted in nicely with my visit to Toronto to see Rhinoceros, the absurdist play my daughter was directing at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. So I was going to return to Vancouver for three days and then fly to Singapore to board the QM2.

This travelblogue will follow my journey on a 16 night cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2 from Hong Kong to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

We had booked a transfer from The Intercontinental Resort to the cruise ship pier with the Princess Cruises representative at the hotel. There were advantages to doing this. Firstly, although the recommendation for normal check-in time is after 2 Pm for speedier processing, our transfer was scheduled for 11 am and we could check in as early as 11:30 am. That gave us lots of time to get settled and still have the afternoon to explore the market and pier-side area of Papeete.

It's official - six months after spine fusion and I am back to normal. Well maybe even better than what passed for normal  for me before recurrent lower back pain morphed into incapacitating sciatica  - cured hopefully forever by the application of cutting edge (ooh  bad pun) spinal surgery.

For more pictures click the "read more" link. If there is not a picture of you in this collection that means  I did not get a good one to post.  If you have a great picture of yourself or anyone else to post here please email it to me and I will add it to the collage.

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.

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.

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.

Since my introduction earlier this year to the delights of cruise ship ballroom dancing with great dance hosts and delightful fellow dance enthusiasts (West Coast Ballroom Dancing and Wine Tasting Cruise) I have traveled to New York for theatre and fine dining (New York, New York), dance-cruised from New York to New Brunswick (Labour Weekend Getaway), from Honolulu to Tahiti (South Pacific Ballroom Dance Cruise) and most recently from Beijing to Bangkok (South-East Asia Ballroom Dance Cruise).
 

We are nearing the end of this 16 night cruise from Beijing to Bangkok. Singapore is the last stop before we disembark in Bangkok.  I spent a week in Singapore in September 2005 when the International Association for Pediatric Laboratory Medicine had its triennial meeting there. Although much of the time was spent at the conference - really,  we did get to tour a bit. I visited the Botanical gardens, and a group of us made the mandatory trek to Raffles Hotel to sit in the bar and drink a Singapore Sling. Actually I sipped someone else's Singaproe Sling just to taste it and then had white wine instead.

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.

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.

The Diamond Princess picked up the local pilot around 5:30 in the morning and was docked in the Contaiiner Terminal by about 7:30. Although it was warm and humid it was still grey outside.

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.

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.

The ship docks in the port of Shanghai but the distance from the pier to the city may vary from a half to a one hour drive depending on the size of the ship and where it has to dock. The Diamond Princess is a big cruise ship and has to dock quite far out. The city spans the Huangpu river, a tributary of the Yangtze River.

After dinner on our first night of sailing, tired though everyone was, we were determined not to miss even one evening of dancing so we headed off to the Wheelhouse Lounge to dance for an hour or so and then we had an early night. Dancing would start in earnest the next day with the first of our dance workshops in the morning, and then a full evening of dance in the evening.

It is three in the morning in Beijing, the morning after I arrived. And I am wide awake, writing! So my smugness at how I planned to avoid jet lag was unwarranted - my body defied my planning. Air Canada 29 leaves Vancouver at 12:40 pm and arrives the next day in Beijing around 4 pm. You fly almost 11 hours and move ahead 16 time zones. That meant that a couple of hours into the flight after we had been served a nice lunch and most people in the executive class cabin had reclined their seats and gone to sleep, it was really only about three or four in the afternoon Vancouver time. Although I tried to shut my eyes and doze for a bit in the latter half of the flight, I really did not sleep. By the time we arived in Beijing at 4 in the afternoon GMt + 8 hours for my chrono-biological clock it was only midnight. So I decided I would stay awake till around 9 Beijing time, sleep till 6 the next morning, and wake refreshed and in sync with the new time zone. Didn't work.

The first thing on my mind on my return to Vancouver from the South Pacific Dance Cruise: Hawaii to Polynesia was getting my visa to visit China. Beijing is where I will embark on the Diamond Princess for 16 dance- filled nights and days while cruising from  China to Thailand.  And I only had two weeks to get ready.

This is a 16 night cruise within a 21 night trip.  We start in Beijing and the north and sail south to end in Bangkok. The area and the itinerary are shown in the map above, from the Princess Cruise Lline web site.

A dream vacation, ballroom dancing , sometimes rock-and-rolling, my way across the Pacific Ocean with my favorite group of dancers and dance hosts on the Pacific Princess.  

Our South Pacific Cruise is rapidly coming to an end  and this is the part that most of us had been waiting for; visiting the beautiful islands of French Polynesia that sit like exquisite jewels in the warm blue and green waters of the Pacific Ocean.

We departed from Hilo shortly after 4:30 pm on Thursday afternoon  and set course in a southerly direction across the Pacific Ocean towards Christmas Island. The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of all the oceans and covers two-thirds of the earth's surface. Compared to the distance between our various ports in Hawaii, an average of 100 nautical miles apart, the distance to Christmas Island from Hilo is 1088  nautical miles so it was no wonder that when we awoke early as usual and went up on deck, there was only the ocean to see all around us.

The opportunity to join Wendy and the Dancers at Sea on a South Pacific Cruise from Honolulu to Tahiti came up unexpectedly while I was on the Labor Weekend Getaway Dance Cruise. A test of my developing capacity for spontaneity - something I have really been working hard to achieve - I needed to decide on the spot whether to take up an unexpected vacancy that had arisen - the only problem  was that the cruise was scheduled to start a mere two weeks after I returned to Vancouver from New York (New York, New York 2009).

South Pacific Ballrooom Dancing Cruise, Parts I to III are coming soon,  but in the interim I could not resist  posting these  two pictures of a day spent in Bora Bora and a day spent in Moorea.   On both days, we rented a car and drove around the islands.

What better way is there for a newbie ballroom dance addict to spend the Labor Day Weekend than dancing the nights away in the largest ballroom afloat with Dancers at Sea? As the smiling faces in the picture taken on the Black and White Formal night photograph attest to, there were many great minds that thought alike on this question.

I am writing to you from what the Captain of this ship joking calls "the middle of nowhere." Out somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.

Well, right now I am "living it" on the Pacific Princess en route from Hawaii to French Polynesia.  I read all about the 8.3 earthquake and tsunami in Samoa but we did not see the effects here. Apparently the wave was less than a foot high when it reached these islands.

I had a great sleep, curled up among a variety of pillows on the comfortable Sheraton bed and woke at  my usual 6 am time, full of energy.  I decided to have a leisurely breakfast and then go down to the Link cafe and take care of my on-line check-in for tomorrow before heading over to the conference centre.. This is a terrific feature that the Sheraton has - they don't charge for Internet access using the computers in their Link Cafe. Unusually for me, I did not bring my laptop on this trip, so I forgot to check wether wireless Internet access using one's own laptop is also  free.
 

Chicago is one of my favorite US cities to visit - a feast for the eyes, the heart and the mind.  Stunning architecture and man-made green spaces complement  the natural beauty that comes from its location on the south-west shore of Lake Michigan.  As I wrote on my last visit to the city in 2006, Chicago has a  theatre scene that rivals New York or London - (Why Chicago dominates American Theatre, Part I  and Part II) - and it is also a paradise for foodies. Reluctant as I was to leave Vancouver at this glorious time of year, I was anticipating my five day trip to Chicago with excitement. 

This is the index of postings to my Travelblogue that documents my ballroom dancing-focused West Coast cruise in the Sapphire Princess from Los Angeles, California to Vancouver, British Columbia. I traveled with a group of ballroom dance enthusiasts led by Wendy from Dancers at Sea. With three hours of dancing every night,a dance workshop, excellent food on board and excursions to wine country en route, it was the perfect trip for a gourmet food and wine-loving , ballroom dance addicted, travel writer.

Since dance is what this cruise is about,  at least for most of the members of the Dancers at Sea Group, the idea is to dance non-stop from after dinner till midnight. On various evenings some folks may choose to attend the song and dance shows which are at 8:30 or 10 pm in the huge Princess Theatre or hit the casino or whatever but dancing is on for anyone in the group who prefers to dance.

My son is driving me to the Cruise Terminal. We turn it into a family outing so my grand-daughter can see what a really big ship looks like. It's a short 1 hour drive along the highway to the cruise ship terminal at San Pedro from which the Sapphire Princess is to sail. We made excellent time until we got to the last turnoff to Harbor Boulevard where somehow we missed the turnoff. As, far too late,  I yelled "go right, go right" we found ourselves driving onto a very very - yes very - long bridge to the opposite side of the harbor. I looked back with dismay as the Sapphire Princess rapidly receded into the distance.

Well here I am back in Vancouver after a fantastic 7 nights of dance, food, wine and meeting new friends on board the Sapphire Princess. The cruise was a great success - I had a blast! My feet may need a week to recover from dancing till midnight most nights. But on the other hand, despite eating great food and not stinting on the wine, i did not put on any weight! Ballroom dancing is the key!
 

It is six am on a bright California morning. Tomorrow my family will drive me up to the cruise ship terminal at San Pedro where I will embark on the Sapphire Princess for a seven night cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver. With shore excursions for winery tasting and a gourmet food and wine tour in San Francisco, this cruise promises to provide most of my favorite activities - fine supping, great sipping and a different travel experience. But here is the number one reason I decided to try it - Ballroom dancing.

Since I often seem to be travelling when Dineout Vancouver and A Taste of Yaletown are on, I was pleased to note  that  Orange County has a Restaurant  Week  in Orange County - a similar program, it seems. Although the dates on the web site indicated that it  officially ran during the last week in February, a number of restaurants extended the program by a week, till the 7th March.  Our decision to go out for a nice meal on Saturday, meant that we e caught the tail end of the program.  We went to OPAH Restaurant in Aliso Viejo, which was one of the places that had extended their Restaurant Week special.   

When you live in Vancouver and your children live in Ontario, New York State and California, geometry and physics begin to loom large in your thoughts. As I sat at the departure gate at San Francisco airport, watching the activity outside and munching on my avocado and cheese on sour-dough bun from Bourdin (my favorite way of dealing with the stop over at SFO), I thought about distances, direct flights and trapezoids, and learned something interesting.

We wanted to check out the Paradise river raft and set off along a sand path winding through more luxuriant jungle vegetation. En route to the river we stopped off in the huge greenhouse where they cultivate a variety of orchids and other exotic plants. The pictures say it all.

Xcaret (which means small inlet in Mayan) was once an important port for the Yucatan Peninsula and also served as a Mayan ceremonial centre. Today it has been developed into an aquatic recreational park where you can float down underground rivers, swim and snorkel in pools and lagoons, and see turtles, dolphins and even sharks up close and personal. While one can drive to the park and just pay the admission fee, from the hotels it makes sense to sign up for one of the tours which gets you ground transportation in an air conditioned bus and admission to the park.  For US$110 we took the XCaret Plus package which also includes a buffet lunch at one of the many restaurants, a locker, snorkeling gear and a towel.

We still have not figured out how it happened but we were chatting around 10:45 when the Brio Spa called to tell us we had missed appointments for massages. How do three compulsive detail oriented individuals do that? We were all completely bamboozled and somehow had 2 pm in our heads instead of 10 am. We are feeling very stupid and also deprived as we were anticipating getting our stiff muscles kneaded and stretched.

Amanda and I hit the gym first thing so we felt thoroughly virtuous as we took a cab into Playa del Carmen to stock up on food for breakfast and lunch. Our unit has nice kitchen facilities so our general plan is to eat breakfast and lunch in our unit and go out for dinner. The taxi in to Playa is a flat 195 pesos. The drivers are happy to wait while you shop and then drive you back. I guess it’s a guaranteed fare for them so it’s worth it.

The Mayan Palace and Grand Mayan  Resort is one of a sequence of hotels and resorts that line the Caribbean Sea along the eastern coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula. The resort is  south of Cancun  near Playa del Carmen. In the five years since I last stayed here the resort has changed a lot.  It is roughly divided into two areas, the Mayan Palace and Grand Mayan, with a new section of ultra luxury suites called the Luxe, to come next year. As well as the mega pool  I remember from my last visit they have added two really nice pool areas that are restricted to Grand Mayan members and guests.

Dire warnings from Environment Canada greeted me when I woke up the morning before I was to catch a plane to Toronto and then later to Cancun. “Snowfall overnight, expect delays on your morning commute.” Hmmmm, I thought. With an early morning flight I did not want to find me and my taxi in a ditch while my plane took off into the clouds. The scene adjacent shows my destination - you can see why I did not want to be delayed getting there!

Vancouver, BC: At first glance it would seem that a story set in early 1980s Northern England, about preparing a class of grammar school boys to write university entrance examinations for Oxford and Cambridge would provide little target for heated debate on the way home. However as I and my companion for this evening, a teacher with a life-time of experience in special education,  have previously had many intense discussions on the pros and cons of standardized tests, school report cards and the politics of education politics, I was anticipating his take on the play with great interest and indeed there was much to discuss.

This will be the index of postings to the Travelblogue that documents my visit to London and Cape Town. The nature of blogging results in the latest posting appearing first on screen, so that later events appear first. This Travelblogue index will list the postings in chronological order from leaving Vancouver to the termination of the trip, as a guide to your reading. Until the index is complete note that the story commences with this post.
 

As I planned this trip I really did not know what to expect in terms of my emotional reactions. The thought of returning alone to Cape Town, ten years after my last visit there with Bob, engendered a real concern that I would find the experience very painful. And perhaps because of that, uncharacteristically I did not do my usual meticulous preparations, bring my family research files, make lists of people to see, and things to do.

A pattern of travel seems to be developing for me. Fortunately most of my journeys away from home are uneventful, but something generally complicates the trip home. The problem on my trip to France was the nasty ankle, knee and shoulder sprains I sustained the day before I was due to travel home. There as I wrote in my blog, miraculously total strangers materialized seemingly out of nowhere to hoist my suitcase onto trains, and up stairs for me.

On Monday morning I took a Rikki down to the Waterfront from 10-12 to pick up some gifts and then off to dance class at Camps Bay from 3-5. The weather has been almost unbearably hot. Reading about commuter chaos in Vancouver because of snow seems quite surreal. I think I prefer cold to heat because it is so much easier to warm up than to cool down.

As I have may have mentioned, I have been doing genealogy research and documentation for many years and one record type is gravestones. My brother asked me to photograph the stone of our father who had died 24 years ago, a decade after I had moved to Vancouver. So Barry, Carole and I stopped at the Pinelands Cemetery on our way to Muizenberg and I searched for the grave. We had been given the wrong location – it turned out the plot they gave us was the grave of one of his brothers – so we ended up spending a long time there.

This morning I had brunch at the Waterfront with an old friend, Majiec, and his wife, Sandra. I met Maciej about 40 years ago when he and Bob joined IBM. Shortly after we were married, I was still in med school and Bob was working as a chemical engineer when IBM SA advertised for new recruits. Bob ended up joining IBM in sales and Maciej became a systems engineer.