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Singapore

Feb 29, 2016 – Singapore

We arrive early this morning in Singapore’s cruise ship terminal. We have a day in port and then overnight aboard the ship this evening. Most of the passengers are disembarking tomorrow morning, but I’m one of the 175 who are staying on board for the next cruise segment.

I take the Best of Singapore excursion today. It is an exhausting 8 hour tour, but we cover a great deal of ground, and I take some good photos and video. Our guide takes us to the City Gallery, where there are some wonderful scale models of the city and the whole country of Singapore. It shows just how much of Singapore is dedicated to gardens and other non-developed land, including the reservoir system for their water supply.

We take an electric-powered riverboat ride down the Kallang River and into Marina Bay, past Merlion Park. The Merlion fountain statue was erected as a symbol of welcome to visitors; the lion statue is emblematic of Singapore itself. We also see the historic Fullerton Hotel, on our way to the three towers that make up the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the observation deck, 200 metres (650 feet) above sea level, perched on Tower 3 of the hotel. I manage to photograph the amazing infinity pool (reserved for hotel guests) by leaning out from the observing deck to grab a shot. The view of Gardens by the Bay below the towers, as well as the city and harbour are fantastic from this vantage point. The Marina Bay Sands hotel has one of only two casinos, and a huge number of high end shops in a vast mall under the main hotel.

Our bus takes us to the entrance to Gardens by the Bay – a 100 hectare (250 acre) spectacularly designed park, home to an amazing variety of rare plants housed in giant, innovative domed conservatories. There are several different regions and ecosystems to discover, but we only have time to explore two: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean regions, and showcases flora that thrive in these conditions. Oddly enough, cactus and succulents, as well as Baobab trees are included in this ecosystem. True to its name, the Flower Dome showcases massive numbers of flowers from all over the world. As we move into the mist-veiled Cloud Forest, we feel the climate change to warmer and moister conditions. The 35 metre (115 foot) tall mountain showcases the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and presents plant life from tropical ecosystems, and is nothing short of spectacular.

We stop for a family-style Chinese lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown, which offers us a welcome air-conditioned respite from the heat and humidity on Singapore’s streets after seeing the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The gold-domed Masjid Sultan Mosque is the centre of Muslim culture in the city, and nearby Arab Street offers lots of carpet dealers. Shopping in Little India is interesting, and there are bargains to be had here when compared with Singapore’s more upscale (and expensive) shopping areas.

We finish our day at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have a Singapore Sling cocktail where it was originally invented in Raffles’ Long Bar. Named after the British designer of modern-day Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, this property is one of the world’s finest and most famous hotels. The high ceilings and colonial architecture reflect the era of British rule (1819-1963). There is no public access to the lobby and other guest areas, however the Long Bar and shops are accessible to the public.

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Malacca, Malaysia

Feb 28, 2016 – Malacca, Malaysia

Our ship anchors for the day offshore. Malacca is a city with an interesting history. It was originally colonized by the Portuguese, and then the Dutch came in and took over. Finally, the British ousted the Dutch, in the final wave of colonial rule before Malaysia gained independence in modern times.

Dutch Square, including bell tower and Christ Church, Malacca, Malaysia

Dutch Square, including bell tower and Christ Church, Malacca, Malaysia

We need to cover very little ground with our shore excursion today Walk the Dutch Trail, since the history of this small city is concentrated within a few blocks in the centre of the city. Malacca was once a spice centre for eastern and western traders, and boasts a colourful history forged by Malay Sultans and European colonial powers, which resulted in the formation of multi-cultural communities. Each of these historical eras left its own heritage and influence, as we walk back through time to discover the great empires of Malacca: the Malay Sultanate, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Starting in Dutch Square, we see the Stadthuys, built as the official residence for the Dutch governors and their officers – an excellent example of Dutch period architecture. Christ Church, standing tall since 1753, is another contribution of the Dutch who defeated the Portuguese in 1641.

Two trishaws, Malacca, Malaysia

Two trishaws, Malacca, Malaysia

Seri Melaka, now known as the Governors Museum was the location of the head of state for this area from the Sultanate of Melaka’s time onward through the various colonial governors. Also on St Paul’s Hill are the ruins of St Paul’s Church, where Catholic missionary St Francis Xavier was briefly interred in 1553. The ruins of the Portuguese Fortress are visible as we descend the hill to tour the replica of the Malacca Sultan’s Palace. Finally, we head back to the pier by trishaw – gaudily-decorated bicycles with the back axel extended so there are two back wheels and a small seat with a canopy is rigged up.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Feb 27, 2016 – Port Klang & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas twin towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas twin towers, Kuala Lumpur

There is a giant NCL ship docked beside us this morning at Port Klang. She arrived first with 3,500 passengers aboard, so the shore resources are swamped. This delays the clearance of our ship, and the departure times for the shore excursions end up being almost an hour later than planned. We finally leave to board our buses and start the hour long drive through heavy traffic to Kuala Lumpur (KL).

The first stop on today’s shore excursion is a Hindu shrine, the Batu Caves. It is built into a huge Karst rock sticking up in the small community of Gombak, just north of KL. I take both video and lots of photos of the stairway of 272 steep steps up to the cavern containing religious temples and statutory. Using HDR and my fisheye lens are both helpful to capture this place. There are monkeys everywhere, and people are feeding them bananas of all things! Guess where the monkeys leave the peels…right on the steep steps! The caves at the top are interesting and well-lit, and have some shrines for the faithful.

Since we had a late start, lunch is our next stop: a sumptuous buffet in a local upscale hotel, the Concorde Hotel. We then make our way to the KL Tower, where we have to wait in what seem to be endless lines to take the elevators to the observation deck. Once there, the views of the city are spectacular!

By this time, we are running very late, so we make a quick photo stop at the Petronas twin towers, and can only stop at the Muzium Negara for a half hour. There are some very interesting historical artifacts in the museum, but we really don’t have time to appreciate them. Our last stop of the day is Independence Square, which offers us obstructed views of quite a few colonial buildings, as well as a cricket field, and other old buildings we have no time to explore.

Our tour is supposed to end at the cruise ship terminal at 4:30PM, but is is a full hour later before we finally arrive after battling traffic congestion most of the day. Not that it matters much to us as passengers, since the ship is not scheduled to depart until 10:30PM.

Warisan Seni Budaya are a Malaysian dancer troupe who come aboard the ship this evening and perform some fascinating dances reflecting the mixed cultures to be found in Malaysia: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sarawak, and Sabah. A young dancer struts around the stage in a peacock costume, and their performance ends with a combo of all the ethnic groups dancing together.

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Langkawi, Malaysia

Feb 26, 2016 – Porto Malai, Langkawi, Malaysia

Bats sleeping in their cave in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi, Malaysia

Bats sleeping in their cave in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi is a lovely island, which is a destination for tourism and a duty free area in Malaysia. I can see why Australians in particular come to this SE Asian destination. My shore excursion today involves bats in caves and exploring a mangrove for eagles.

After driving to the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, we board small boats and zoom around the mangrove channels to see a fish farm (setup for tourists), the Langkawi Eagles (brown colour) and Sea Eagles (black and white) taking food in the channel, and exploring the bat caves. The little bats are asleep during the day, but they do a great job of keeping the bug population down. There are Long-tailed Macaque monkeys lurking around the entrances to the caves, where they try to steal tourists’ water bottles, since their only other source of water is to climb to the tops of trees for the fruit to be found up there.

Other than getting a headache from the fumes of the outboard motors, I had a great day!

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Myanmar (Burma)

Feb 21, 2016 – Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma)

The Volendam is docked about an hour’s drive south of Yangon in the port city of Thilawa, which is as far up the shallow Rangoon River as ships dare go.

My shore excursion into Yangon takes most of the day. Our bus is a bit dodgy, but our driver and guide are great, and the driver has a helper, so we are well-served, and we are offered lots of bottled water in order to stay hydrated in the heat. The drive from the port to the city takes almost two hours each way through very heavy traffic. As we leave the port through Thilawa, we encounter early preparations for a pagoda festival. There are circus rides, lots of food stands, and people everywhere despite the festival not starting for several hours. We cross the Rangoon/Bago River over the bridge into the city of Yangon, where we pick up a police escort. So for the rest of the day, we arrive at each location like rock stars!

Our guide explains that the change in spelling for the city of Yangon (from Rangoon) and the country of Myanmar (from Burma) was done by the past military government to correct historical misspelling of the two place names into English. She tells us land is very expensive in Yangon, development is sporadic, and is dependant on foreign investment and (in the past) sponsorship by the military regime. There are lots of homeless dogs, who obviously have to scrounge for food, however some are fed and adopted from the Buddhist temples, so they are referred to as “wat dogs”, after the Burmese word for temple.

Street vendor beside Mahabandoola Garden in Yangon

Street vendor beside Mahabandoola Garden in Yangon

First stop is the Sule Pagoda, which is right in the center of the city. We don’t actually go into the pagoda, but we get to hang around Mahabandoola Garden for a few minutes, where there are lots of street food vendors. Next is the Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market, where we have some time to shop or just look around this massive market right in the centre of the city. There are clothes, shoes, precious and semi-precious gems and jewelry, inlaid wood, fabric, cosmetics and all sorts of handicrafts.

I’m glad to get out of the market, and go for lunch at the very elegant downtown hotel, the Sule Shangri-La. We are served (family style) a lovely Chinese meal with our choice of beverages, including beer or wine. I have a very nice lager-style local beer, and dine with several of my fellow passengers at big round tables. After lunch, our police escort takes us to the National Museum for a quick look at several interesting exhibits, including the 8-metre-tall golden Lion Throne used by the last Burmese King. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the museum.

The Vane and Diamond Orb atop Shwedagon Pagoda

The Vane and Diamond Orb atop Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda is the highlight of a very full day. One of the wonders of the religious world, this Buddhist spectacle was built more than 2,500 years ago. The pagoda is located on the top of Singuttara Hill, so it is visible from all over the city, since the golden stupa is 100 metres tall. It is topped with more than 6,500 diamonds, rubies and other precious stones; the largest diamond is 76 carats at the apex! The top three components (the Diamond Orb, The Vane and the Umbrella) consist of some 86,000 jewellery items weighing over 5 tonnes. The decorations on the main stupa were recently redone, with the precious stones coming completely from donations. The pagoda is covered in gold plate (not gold leaf).

Everyone, including tourists have to take shoes and socks off and be modestly dressed before taking the elevator from the entrance to the main plaza that surrounds this huge pagoda. Since it is the middle of the day, the tiles are hot in the midday Sun, however since they are marble, it is tolerable providing you don’t step on the black ones! I work my way around the plaza, which has huge numbers of temples and shrines on both sides of the plaza.

The faithful walk around the pagoda in a clockwise direction (as do we), stopping at shrines and temples along the way. In particular, there are Planetary Posts, or shrines for each day of the week (two for Wednesday), just like there are buddhas for each day of the week. Speaking of Buddhas, there are worship halls and temples for the many different images of Buddhas surrounding the main stupa. Free wifi is available in the southeast area of the plaza, near the south stairway entrance.

Monk, and offerings, and the Reclining Buddha

Monk, and offerings, and the Reclining Buddha

Our last stop of the day is to see the Chauk Htat Gyi Reclining Buddha. Again, we doff our shoes and socks before entering the compound. This statue is 68 metres (223 feet) long. Buddha’s feet are decorated with astrology and other symbols. There are lots of wat dogs and their pups lounging around the compound.

Our trip back to the ship uses back roads after we cross the river, since our guide and driver want to avoid the local pagoda festival being held on the main road in Thilawa. I hear later from other passengers that they were caught for almost an hour in the festival congestion. Although the back road we took was a bit rough, we were back onboard the ship by 5PM.

Feb 22, 2016 – Monday – Yangon, Myanmar

I spend most of the day aboard the ship at the dock, and leave at 4:30PM to see the Shwedagon Pagoda at night. The traffic is very congested south of the main bridge across the river, but we arrive at the pagoda in time for sunset when the lights illuminate all the gold on the structures. One benefit of visiting at night: the marble tiles on the plaza around the pagoda are cool. Yesterday, I was burning my bare feet as I walked around the pagoda in the midday Sun. The Moon is full, making this evening even more picturesque.

The main Shwedagon Pagoda at night

The main Shwedagon Pagoda at night

While walking around the pagoda, a young Burmese man strikes up a conversation with me, asking about my country, how long I am staying in the country, how I got here and where I’m going after leaving. He speaks very good English, so we have quite a conversation. Two monks also approach me later on, although they speak poor English. They have similar questions as the young man posed, but they also want me to go with them for some reason. Of course I decline, since I have no idea what they want, and I have no intention of finding out!

This evening, the Thilawa Music & Dance troupe perform traditional Burmese music, dance and acrobatics onboard the ship. Their music is kind of screechy, but the performances are very interesting and the costumes are ornate and colourful. The last number involves two guys inside a giant elephant costume! I take video of portions of the performance.

 

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Phuket, Thailand

February 19, 2016 – Phuket, Thailand

Big Buddha against a blue sky in Phuket, Thailand

Big Buddha against a blue sky in Phuket, Thailand

I go on the Diverse Phuket shore excursion this morning, which is a six hour outing in a van. The weather is hot and humid as we drive away. Our first stop is the Big Buddha, atop Nakkerd Hill. It is a big 150 foot Burmese marble structure that is still under construction, but is visible for miles around.

There are views of the Karon, Kata and Kata Noi beaches from the back of the hill. Thais are mostly Buddhists, so there are statues and temples everywhere, and most Thai children train as monks for short periods of time.

At our next stop, we explore the Kratu Tin Mine Museum, where we learn about Phuket’s history with tin mining, and also find out about the cultural history of the very first Chinese immigrants to the area.

Map of my photos taken oh Phuket

Map of my photos taken oh Phuket

We don’t stop at any of Phuket’s famous beaches today, instead keeping to the viewpoints along both shores of the peninsula, and driving along the tourist strip for the Karon, Kata and Kata Noi beaches. It is a very crowded area…I’m glad we didn’t stop. We have a lovely Thai lunch at a hotel located beside a lake in the mountains. I have a Singha beer, which is included. It is wonderful to return to the air conditioned ship to get cleaned up and have an afternoon nap.

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Penang, Malaysia

Feb 18, 2016 – Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

I was waitlisted on two shore excursions for today, but neither came up, so I’m on my own. I walk out of the cruise ship terminal, running the gauntlet of taxi drivers trying to get me to hire them. Instead, they piss me off, so I put my head down and keep walking past them all, intent on getting out onto the street and freedom. I encounter one last driver, parked by himself about a block away on one of the nearby streets. Cheah offers me a four hour tour for a bit less than the Holland America excursions I was considering. Initially I walk by him, but noting how hot and humid it is this morning (33°C and 85%), I realize that touring in an air conditioned car makes a lot of sense, so I agree to hire him for a customized tour. I’m glad to see the money go directly to the operator; I see the sights I’m interested in; and I can stay longer at a site or leave more quickly, as I wish.

Despite it being completely unplanned, I enjoy my day ashore. It works out wonderfully!

My customized tour of Penang

  • Map showing the location of my photos taken in Georgetown

    Map showing the location of my photos taken in Georgetown

    St. George’s Church – is a beautiful church, and it is apparently the oldest Anglican church in SE Asia.

  • Eastern & Oriental Hotel – this is a sister property to the famous Raffles hotel in Singapore, and is the classic old hotel from SE Asia’s colonial past. Cheah stops outside just long enough for me to pop inside and check out the lobby area. It is beautifully appointed.
  • Local street art – paintings and sculpture on outside walls along Lebuh Armenian street
  • Clan Jetties – a fascinating look at an old, established Chinese community where people still live today.
  • Kek Lok Si Temple – I must confess I didn’t walk up all of the 200 steps in this temple, preferring to take the small funicular train to the top (cost is 6 Ringets up and down, CD$2.25). There are still plenty of steps for me to tackle in the hot and humid weather! The huge bronze statue at the top is very impressive, and the Seven Tiered Pagoda is beautifully sited on the hillside. On the way down, there is an old Buddhist monk being helped to the main worship room, which contains a big golden buddha statue. The temples and courtyards are all decorated with Chinese lanterns for the Lunar New Year, which is being celebrated right now.
  • Penang Hill – Cheah drops me off at the bottom of the funicular tram, where I get in line to purchase a ticket. The line for the regular tickets (30 Ringets) seems to go on forever, so I decide to pay 60 Ringets (CD$22) to get an Advanced Boarding pass. With this pass, I get to bypass the huge lines (saving about an hour), have a quiet area to wait and have priority boarding on the trains, so I am seated before the throngs push and shove their way onto the train. Penang Hill is 2,750 feet above sea level, and has temples, restaurants, a museum, some residences, and even a police station located on top. Since the weather is clear, the views of the city of Georgetown and Malacca Strait are spectacular.
Map showing the photos I took in Penang

Map showing the photos I took in Penang


My driver: Cheah TH
+6011-3688 0532
+6010-389-6933
cheahth6296@gmail.com


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Flights to Singapore and departure aboard Volendam

Feb 13-15, 2016 – Victoria, BC Canada to Singapore

My first two flights (Victoria to Vancouver and Vancouver to Hong Kong) are both about an hour late departing. This doesn’t cause me any major problems since I have lots of time between my flights into and out of Vancouver.

The Cathay Pacific flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong takes over 14 hours. We fly up the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, over Russia, and then south across central China, and to Hong Kong. I get a beautiful view of Venus off the wingtip and also of the lights of Wuhan, China.

Venus over the wintip in the pre-dawn with Wuhan, China's lights below

Venus over the wintip in the pre-dawn with Wuhan, China’s lights below

In the Economy section where I was seated, the flight crew serves dinner shortly after we leave Vancouver, and breakfast before we arrive in Hong Kong, but otherwise completely ignores our cabin. They never check on passengers, or offer any water or other refreshments or snacks. This is completely unacceptable. I have flown many long duration flights, and all airlines take much better care of their passengers than I experienced on this flight.

I am anxious about my late arrival in Hong Kong, since I have to go through security and change gates for my onward flight to Singapore, and accomplish all of this within an hour in an unknown airport. Deplaning in Hong Kong goes surprisingly quickly, but I immediately have to re-clear security before I can proceed to my next gate. The security guy operating the scanner screws up his face when my computer bag goes along the belt, so at the end, a young woman asks to see inside my bag. It appears she doesn’t know what binoculars are, but is satisfied once she inspects them. She even asks me how to pronounce the word “binocular”!

Cathay Pacific did redeem themselves on the Hong Kong to Singapore flight, where the cabin service in Economy was very good. They served us breakfast after departure, and ensured the passengers were comfortable throughout the four hour flight.

After over 30 hours elapsed travel time, and losing a day in the process, it was great to get to the Pan Pacific Orchard hotel, have a shower, and get some sleep for a few hours in my quiet hotel room. This hotel is not new, but it is very nicely appointed, and is located in the fairly quiet Orchard district of Singapore. This area is not downtown, but there are lots of malls, hotels, embassies, and residential towers in the area. I sleep soundly overnight,

Feb 16, 2016 – Singapore departure aboard Volendam

Freight yard cranes in Singapore harbour with Volendam's bow

Freight yard cranes in Singapore harbour with Volendam’s bow

I have some cappuccino and breakfast this morning at the hotel, and then repack before taking a taxi to the cruise ship terminal just before noon. As usual, Holland America Lines (HAL) are well organized. After filling in a few additional forms to allow me to exit Singapore, I check in at the cruise ship counter, receive my personalized security card for the ship, and walk my bags and myself through the concourse and aboard the ship to my cabin.

The ship is docked in Harbourfront, a busy area of Singapore. When I return in 15 days mid-cruise, I will have some time to explore Singapore, since the ship stays overnight before departing for Indonesia and the Solar Eclipse. I attend a welcome reception for three and four star Mariners, where snacks are served, champagne and orange juice are available. The Cruise Director and Hotel Manager welcome us as repeat HAL cruisers. After some delays caused by Singaporean authorities, the ship pulls away from the dock around 4:30PM into the busy harbour. We have a day at sea tomorrow before our arrival in our first port: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

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Fly to Singapore on Feb 14th

On February 13, 2016 I fly out of Victoria Airport on WestJet to Vancouver airport, and then onward on a red-eye Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong (Feb 14th), and take a connector flight to Singapore. I overnight in Singapore (Feb 15th) and then embark Holland America’s Volendam for the 30 day  SE Asia Solar Eclipse cruise.

I’m excited and ready to go, but let’s review some pre-planning tasks I’ve completed over the last few weeks.

Finances

  • I have ensured I have sufficient funds in my main chequing account, should I need to draw money while traveling.
  • My credit card balances are all paid to zero, so if I need to meet any major expense while traveling, I have the resources available.
  • I have advised my credit card companies of my travel plans.
  • I purchased some currency for most of the countries I will be visiting, so I don’t have to waste time seeking out currency exchanges or banks. I am also carrying US Dollars in small denominations, which are accepted in virtually any country in the world for small items. Tipping people with US$ is often appreciated!
  • All shipboard expenses are charged to a passenger’s account, which is guaranteed by a credit card, but which can be settled with US$ cash if preferred. It is very important to keep track of expenses while aboard ship!
  • Aboard the ship, all tipping is discouraged, since Holland America assesses a gratuity on behalf of all staff to each passenger’s onboard account. That said, cabin stewards are usually given a bit more of a tip in US$ cash by most passengers at the end of a cruise, so I have to take US$ cash with me for that occasion.

Emergency Plan

  • If there is an emergency at home, I have left instructions for family on how cope with them without depending on me.
  • I have left instructions on how to reach me while I travel: hotels, cruise ships, and my mobile phone number.
  • I carry the same emergency lists with me, both printed out and in electronic form.

Communications

  • I know what roaming option I will use from my Canadian mobile provider to keep me connected, but limit costs.
  • Internet access is available aboard ship, but it’s expensive, unreliable, and slow. I will be using it, but I won’t depend on it!
  • Internet is available ashore, however I really don’t have time during our ports-of-call to seek out Internet cafes. Additionally, there is significant security risks while using some shore-based Internet services.
  • In addition to my Canadian-based mobile phone, I also take a second unlocked mobile phone with a “Global” UK number to use as an alternative, should my primary mobile service not function as I expect.
  • Since half of the cruise is in Indonesia, I may take some time to seek out a pay-as-you-go cellular plan for that country if it looks like it won’t take too much of my precious time.
  • As a last resort, ship-to-shore telephone is available from every cabin. This is an extremely expensive communication option, but it is good to know it is there, should other methods fail.

Health & travel medicine

  • I have travel medical coverage through my VISA credit card, so I don’t have to purchase this coverage.
  • Last week, I took a booster dose of Dukoral, a vaccine which provides protection from Cholera as well as Travellers’ diarrhea caused by ETEC.
  • My packing list includes both my prescription medications sufficient for 30 days, as well as over-the-counter remedies for various minor ailments.
  • The cruise ship has a well-equipped hospital staffed with a doctor and nurse, should I need more immediate medical attention.
  • I have verified that no special vaccinations are required for entry into the countries I will be visiting.

Travel documents and identification

  • My cruise and airline flight confirmations are printed out, and three copies are stored in strategic places on my person and in my carryon travel bags.
  • All of my travel arrangements are stored in cloud storage, as well as on my smart phone, laptop computer and tablet. All copies are on secure services and encrypted, but available from a simple web browser, providing the proper credentials are given.
  • I am carrying my vaccination records with me “just in case”, and they are all scanned and stored on the online services and electronic devices along with my other documents.
  • My Canadian passport is current and valid for more than six months after my return date.
  • Entry Visas are required by some of the countries I will be visiting, however Holland America has assured me they can handle the issuance of entry Visas aboard ship for a modest service fee.

Entertainment & tech

  • My iPad contains lots of e-magazines and e-books, so I have lots of reading material.
  • My iPhone contains my complete music collection, so I will have no shortage of tunes.
  • My notebook computer has become my essential travel companion for trips I’ve taken in the last decade or so. I use it to download and view the photos and video I take each day. I try to tag all photos with titles and locations as I go. This is especially important on a long trip such as this, otherwise it is easy to forget particulars about photos. I also use my notebook computer to keep a travel journal, post blog entries to my JoeTourist website, and I can even use it to place VoIP calls over the Internet if need be.
  • I have pre-booked numerous shore excursions with Holland America. This ensures I don’t waste time negotiating with shore-based excursion companies or operators. My time is precious, so I can justify the more expensive cruise line excursions. Also, if a Holland America excursion is late, the ship will wait…not so if you make your own excursion arrangements!

Photography & video

  • I have my trusty dSLR, underwater point-and-shoot camera, and a video-cam in my camera bag, complete with spare batteries, chargers, lenses, and tripods.
  • Since we will be observing and photographing a Solar Eclipse, I also have solar filters for my cameras.

Eclipse observing

  • I have image-stabilized binoculars in my carry-on bags, and also have solar filters to fit over them, so my visual eclipse observing will be from a chair unaided eye and binoculars.
  • My Kestrel portable weather station provides essential observing instrumentation, measuring changes in temperature and other weather-related data.
  • I will use the same photo setup as on my 2012 Solar Eclipse cruise
    • Photos – a telephoto lens and Canon dSLR mounted on a ball head on a tripod
    • Video – Canon video cam on a small tripod, strapped to some superstructure to “capture the human emotion – a the moment of Totality”

Packing

  • I pack at the last minute, since I have well-proven packing lists I have used many times. This ensures I don’t forget anything, and it means I start packing a day before departure.
  • Cathay Pacific has very generous checked baggage allowances, and of course the cruise line has virtually no baggage limits, however I will still pack carefully and stick to the essentials!
  • The ship has self-serve laundry facilities, so I plan to do laundry each week during the cruise, which reduces the amount of clothes I need to pack.
  • I am allowed a carry on bag and a personal item aboard the airlines I will be using. I always carry my camera bag as my personal item, and a small briefcase as my carry on bag, containing my notebook computer, tablet, and other techie essentials.

Bottom line: I’m ready to go!