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Three trips planned for 2017-18 and more…

I am always gathering information about travel that appeals to me – filing away websites, possible locations, modes of travel, and tour companies that can potentially quench my lust for travel in the style I’m accustomed to. Some of that information eventually translates into trips that works for me. As it turns out, my next three trips take me to Pacific Rim countries and locales.

Totally eclipsed Sun in the Java Sea Aboard the Volendam IndonesiaTotal Solar Eclipse from Oregon – Aug 2017

I have observed three Total Solar Eclipses, starting back in 2006 from the Libyan Sahara desert. My fourth time in the shadow of the Moon will happen this summer in Oregon, USA, which I will share with several of my astronomy buddies from the Royal Astronomical Society. Our plan is to meet in Monmouth, Oregon. Unlike most of my other travel, this time I will drive south from my home in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada to Oregon. I also plan to do some road tripping both before and after eclipse day on August 21, 2017, exploring Washington state, Oregon, and northern California.

The north coastline from Waipi'o LookoutHawai’i cruise – Oct 2017

If you explore this JoeTourist website, you will soon discover that I love going on cruises, and in the last few years Holland America has emerged as my favourite cruise line. The other fact that many will not know is that my 65th birthday happens this year in October. Since I’m not one to particularly enjoy big celebrations on birthdays (as an adult), I have “run away from home” for several of my birthdays in past years. So this year I decided to run away on a 16 day cruise to the Hawaiian Islands which departs out of Vancouver and returns to Vancouver. Although I have cruised to Hawai’i several times, I always enjoy the islands, and I also enjoy several days at sea and shipboard life. This becomes a perfect get-away for me because a couple of friends have decided to join my on this cruise who are also celebrating birthdays – icing on the cake, as it were!

Borneo – Apr 2018

I cruised to southeast Asia in 2016 to observe my third Total Solar Eclipse from aboard the ship in Indonesia. That cruise introduced me to a region of the world I had not traveled to previously, and I found some fascinating locales I wanted to visit again. Although the cruise was 30 days long, I missed a great deal of what SE Asia has to offer. Touring on land is the only way to dive deeper into a region, and Michele Burgess from Infocus Travel notified me a few days ago that she was running a photographic tour to Borneo: Saba, Sarawak, Brunei. I had previously let Michele know that I was interested in this tour, so it only took me a few hours to decide to book it for April 2018.

Borneo 5 panel


Joe on deck for the solar eclipse

Total Solar Eclipse cruise in French Polynesia – June-July 2019

There is more…in 2019 I have another Total Solar Eclipse reserved: cruising French Polynesia aboard the Paul Gauguin, and observing the eclipse while aboard ship near Pitcairn Island. This Travelquest solar eclipse cruise virtually sold out in a couple of days, despite not happening for over two years! Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith if something comes up that you just have to experience!

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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!

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2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise in SE Asia

Feb/Mar 2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise map in SE Asia aboard the Volendam

2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise map in SE Asia aboard the Volendam

In March 2015, I booked a Holland America cruise in southeast Asia, which takes me to the southeast Asian countries of: Singapore, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The Volendam leaves Singapore on February 16, 2016 on the 30-DAY ASIAN ADVENTURE & INDONESIAN SOLAR ECLIPSE COLLECTOR cruise, sailing north to Malaysia, Burma/Myanmar and Thailand before returning 15 days later to Singapore. We spend two nights in Singapore, and then depart again on the Solar Eclipse portion of the cruise, which sails south to a variety of ports in Indonesia. We observe the solar eclipse on March 9th in the Makasar Strait, between the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi. Weather permitting, our ship will be positioned on the eclipse centreline, which will give us 2 minutes and 45.5 seconds of totality. The cruise terminates in Singapore with an overnight at the dock on March 16 & 17.

My booking is actually two back-to-back cruises, both departing from Singapore. I am paying the Single Supplement (150% of one fare) for a cabin on the Main Deck. As I write this in November 2015, Holland America indicates some classes of cabins on this cruise are Sold Out.

The Sun in eclipse totality - 3rd contact & diamond ring

The Sun in eclipse totality – 3rd contact & diamond ring

Sky and Telescope are running their solar eclipse tour aboard the same ship, however I did not book with them since I wanted a 30 day cruise, and their arrangements are for either 9 days or 15 days. I board the Volendam two weeks earlier in Singapore than the S&T tour’s departure date and visit three more SE Asian countries, which appeals to me. The downside to booking directly with Holland America instead of through S&T is that I won’t be able to attend their enrichment presentations while aboard the ship. To be honest, I don’t much care about this, since there are only two or three of their presentations I would want to attend. I don’t really need any coaching on the technical aspects of observing a solar eclipse while aboard a ship, since I have experience from the 2012 Solar Eclipse Cruise aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea.

In May 2015 I booked my flights from Vancouver to Singapore through Cathay Pacific airline. This is optimum timing from the departure date to get the best fare possible. If I booked this fare today (some six months later), the airfare would cost many hundreds of dollars more, since it is closer to the departure date.