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Los Angeles to Victoria

April 21, 2018 Saturday – Los Angeles to Victoria, Canada via Vancouver

2018 Borneo tour

LAX-YYJ Flight Map

LAX-YYJ Flight Map

I’m awake at 5:45AM, probably due to jet lag. I turn off my alarm, get cleaned up, and go downstairs for breakfast at 6:20AM. The coffee is acceptable, and I have some toast, yogurt, and a muffin before going back to my room to finish packing. I catch the 8AM airport shuttle, and arrive before WestJet has opened their baggage drop counter in Terminal 2. Once they take my checked bag and check my passport, I ask them to print my boarding passes, despite having already checked in using their app on my iPhone.

To my relief, I have TSA Pre printed on my boarding pass for the flight to Vancouver. I clear the TSA Pre-cleared security check in literally two minutes, and I’m in the gate area for my flight. I grab a cappuccino from a nearby coffee shop and find my gate. It is controlled chaos in this very congested area with 5 gates where there should be two.

Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal & Roberts Bank Superport - on final approach to YVR

Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal & Roberts Bank Superport – on final approach to YVR

My WestJet flight loads quickly and since I’m in Group 2, I get into the cabin before most. The aircraft pushes away from the gate on-time at 12:05PM, and the captain announces the flight will take two hours and 20 minutes – a bit faster than the stated flight duration. As I did on the way down, I again buy the hummus and crackers snack at a cost of $4, and along with some Coca Cola, call that lunch. It’s a very scenic flight north to Vancouver – I see Pyramid Lake in Nevada (see banner image above), and the weather in Vancouver is perfectly clear, so the approach to the airport is quite scenic.

I clear Canadian Customs and Immigration at Vancouver airport in short order, clear security again, and find my last gate for this trip for my flight to Victoria. I calculate that I’ve traveled some 35,500 kms or 21,300 miles in the last 20 days!

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Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles

April 20, 2018 Friday – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Hong Kong to Los Angeles, California, USA

2018 Borneo tour

I’m up at 5:15AM, put my bag out and have breakfast at 6AM downstairs in the hotel with the rest of my tour group. Since all the bags and people are aboard bus, we leave early at 6:45AM (instead of 7AM) for the Kuala Lumpur International airport. Our local guide Susan is a Type A personality, so everything is highly organized for us! We arrive on Level 1 where our driver Mohammed drops us off. We then take the elevator to Level 5 where Departures are located. We check-in, go through security and clear Malaysian immigration. We then take a train to the departure gates, find our gate and board our Airbus A330 – a four hour Dragon Air flight, which leaves on time at 10:30AM.

After disembarking our first flight in Hong Kong, we re-group at the end of the Jetway and Michele suggests a few of us more mobile members go ahead to start the transfer process, including a couple of security checks. It is a pretty long trek across this huge airport – taking about a half hour to find our gate and get ready for our much longer flight to LA. It is totally disorganized at the Cathay Pacific gate, with Business Class and priority boarding mixing with Premium Economy, but we are eventually all board and seated.

The Premium Economy upgrade is expensive and only applies for the return trip segment between LA and Hong Kong, but it includes a nicer dinner menu with more choices, complementary alcoholic drinks, a chair that is more comfortable and which reclines more and has a recliner foot rest. We also get to board before regular economy and have our own cabin with exclusive washroom.

About an hour out of Hong Kong, we have drinks and dinner, and are then given a bottle of water and an overnight kit for the night. I plug in my notebook computer to the 110v outlet under my seat – another perk of Premium Economy. I’m satiated and relaxed as we head eastward over the Pacific aboard Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-300ER. I manage to sleep off and on for the first seven hours as we fly through darkness. The Milky Way and southern constellations are beautiful as I observe them out my south-facing window. At the seven hour mark, we have blue sky, but I can’t see the Sun rising because we are heading due east.

Rosco's Chicken & Waffles

Rosco’s Chicken & Waffles

We land 12 hours after departure – two hours less than the flight in the opposite direction. As a Canadian, I qualify for the faster customs and immigration kiosks at LAX, however once through that hurdle, I still have to join a second line to see an agent before I’m free to collect my bag. I say goodbye to Michele at the baggage carousel and walk over to the hotel shuttle pickup area to catch a shuttle to the Best Western Airpark hotel. The hotel is nothing special, but it is clean, quiet, and the best deal in the area. I immediately have a shower and go to bed for three hours, then go across the street to Roscoe’s Chicken Waffle restaurant, which is very busy. Just like the name says, they serve chicken and waffles…not a vegetable in sight except for some greens listed on the menu that nobody seems to order! The chicken is good, the waffle is OK, and I’m no longer hungry. Let’s just say it was an interesting cultural experience!

I return to the room and checkout things online before I go to bed. Flying eastward means I get to live today twice, gaining some 15 hours in the process and crossing the International Date Line. In reality, all it means is that I’m tired from the long flight and my body’s clock will be screwed up for a couple of days!

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Sandakan to Kuching

April 15, 2018 Sunday – Sandakan, Sabah to Kuching, Sarawak

2018 Borneo tour

I am up at 5AM, have breakfast and the bus leaves at 7:30AM for the 15 minute transfer to the airport. We are flying from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu, and then to Kuching in Sarawak. Our first flight gets us to Kota Kinabalu, however our second flight to Kuching is delayed several times over the next couple of hours. The alternate arrangements made by Malaysian Airlines changes a couple of times as well, much to the frustration of the members of my group. We are finally told that there was a bomb threat made on our original flight to Kuching. At this point our flight is cancelled.

We have lunch at KFC at the airline’s expense while they rebook our whole group on two flights: from Kota Kinabalu to Bintulu, and then to Kuching. Ultimately, we arrive at Kuching airport about 9 hours late at 9:30PM! We stay at the very nice Waterfront Hotel just one night before leaving tomorrow on a driving tour to see the country, orangutans, and at the end of the day, take a boat to our next wilderness lodge.

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

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Brunei to Sabah

April 8, 2018 – Sunday – Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

2018 Borneo tour

In front of the Main Atrium - Empire Hotel & Country Club

In front of the Main Atrium – Empire Hotel & Country Club

We start our day visiting the Royal Regalia Museum, which is located right across the street from our hotel in Bandar Seri Begawan. This museum contains all the gifts given to Brunei’s sultan by visiting dignitaries, as well as commemorating his 1992 silver jubilee. There is a huge chariot on display in the lobby (see above banner image) of the museum, which was used to carry the Sultan through the streets. As it turns out, this is the only thing we can photograph, since photography is forbidden throughout the rest of the museum. No great loss, since personally I find this sort of thing rather boring.

We make a quick stop at the gates to Istana Nurui Iman – the Sultan’s palace before continuing on to the Empire Hotel & Country Club, a six-star resort where we have a few hours to spend as we wish. Most of us have lunch and spend time drinking in the opulence of the place before getting back on the bus to head to our afternoon flight to Kota Kinabalu. Sabah, Malaysia.

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

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Kuala Lumpur to Brunei

April 6, 2018 – Friday – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

2018 Borneo tour

I have Coconut flour pancakes, savoury stuffed croissants and a cappuccino again for breakfast in the Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur this morning – a yummy way to start the day!

We fly to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei at noon today, so we are on the bus in front of the hotel by 9:30AM. Traffic is slow, especially at the toll booths along the way to the airport, so it takes us well over an hour to arrive. Initially, our tour guide Susan suggests we should check in as a group, however the group check-in is slow, so we switch back to individual check-ins, which gets our boarding passes and bags checked faster. Clearing Malaysian immigration is a dead slow process, since they fingerprint or take a mugshot of everyone leaving the country – quite strange!

Visas from Malaysia & Brunei in my passport

Visas from Malaysia & Brunei in my passport

Although we had cleared a security checkpoint just before going through immigration, we have to do it all over again before we can enter the gate area. Our flight was scheduled for 12:30PM departure, however it is just after 1PM when we pull away from the gate in a Boeing 737-800 on Royal Brunei Airlines. Lunch is served on this two hour flight – I choose the sweet and sour chicken with rice, which is piping hot, a bit spicy and quite tasty.

After arriving in Brunei, we clear customs and immigration, find our local tour guide, and hit the ATMs for some Brunei Dollars before being transferred to the Radisson Hotel in Bandar Seri Begawan. After a quick cleanup in our rooms, we leave in the bus for a buffet dinner at nearby Tarindak d’Seni, an up-scale restaurant beside the Brunei River that serves traditional Malay food. Some of the entrees are a mystery, but the food is good. After we return to the hotel, I have a shower, and then watch a movie before going to bed.

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

Malaysia & Borneo local flights

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Victoria to Kuala Lumpur

April 2, 2018 – Flying from Victoria, BC, Canada to Los Angeles, CA, USA

2018 Borneo tour

I wake up at home by 6AM. and I’m at Victoria airport by 8AM to check my bag through to LAX aboard WestJet. I calculate the elapsed time from leaving home to arriving at our Kuala Lumpur hotel will be about 33 hours! After we board the flight to Vancouver, there is a miscount of passengers. The flight attendant counts passengers in the aircraft several times, however we finally pull away and take the scenic southern route over Boundary Bay approaching Vancouver Airport from the south and the east.

After arriving in Vancouver, I have to walk a few kilometres – the full length of the airport to get to the USA-bound flights. After taking off my shoes, coat, belt and watch, I’m still hand-searched by the TSA staff before I can pre-clear US Customs and Immigration. The US customs agents ask if I have a bag, but their procedure obviously doesn’t include having bags with passengers anymore…at least the automated kiosks for entry to the USA in this area speeds up some of the pre-clearance entry process!

JoeTourist: California outside the cities &emdash; Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta

I have four hours to wait in Vancouver for my flight to LA, so once I find my gate, I have some lunch at Tim Hortons. My flight departs on time at 4:14pm, so now I can relax, since Michele and the tour company will be responsible for coordinating the rest of the flights until we return to LA.

I watch a movie on my iPhone using the in-flight networked entertainment offered by WestJet – Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It is a beautiful flight south as we pass by Mount Shasta and other snow-capped mountains in southern Oregon and northern California. The Sun is setting over the hills as we approach LAX.

The LA airport always seems to be out-of-control, where confusion reigns. I arrive in Terminal 2 and have to get to Tom Bradley International next door, but I can’t find any directional signs. I ask at the staff at the Baggage Desk near where I retrieve my bag and they show me the right direction to walk. It isn’t far, but again, once I’m there, I can’t find any signs to indicate where the check-in counters are located. After asking for directions yet again, I find my way to the third floor of the terminal.

Thank goodness I have Premium Economy, so I can use the Business check-in at Cathay Pacific. The clerk urges me to make my way to the departure gates as soon as possible, since he says security clearance will get crazy in a couple of hours. That may be, but when I go through security, it is almost at the level of being dehumanizing. The TSA staff are yelling at the passengers, there is no TSA Pre-clearance available, and everyone has to go through a full body scan. Combined with taking off shoes, belts, and coats, it is a dreadful experience. I’m glad to get through it and find my gate.

I grab a cappuccino and a chocolate chip cookie from Starbucks and sit down at the gate to unwind. By 9:30PM, I see some of my tour group arriving at the gate. I recognize some people from my previous trip to Arabia, and another clue is the yellow yarn tied to their carry-on bags, our tour leader Michele uses to keep track of her group. Those of us who upgraded to the Premium Economy  get to board right after First Class and Marco Polo members. Loading goes smoothly, but our Cathay Pacific flight leaves a bit late at 12:45AM.

April 3 & 4, 2018 – Tuesday & Wednesday – Flying from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Once our Boeing 777-300ER levels off after leaving Los Angeles, dinner is served. Those of us in Premium Economy are given a menu of four entrees and complementary wine. Our seats are pretty deluxe: they recline more than the regular economy seats, have a recliner-style foot rest, and there is both USB power and regular 120 volt power at each seat. Once dinner is over, the cabin is darkened, we are given lots of pillows, blankets and an overnight kit. I manage to sleep a fair bit for the first 8 hours or so of the flight – a first for me! By my count, the Premium Economy cabin has 36 seats, with slightly over half of them occupied. We have our own bathroom, and since the bulkhead row ahead of me is empty, I move up there after takeoff so I have room to spread out, and I don’t disturb anyone when I get up to move around a bit.

Since we are flying westward across the Pacific, we lose a day as we cross the International Date Line. A couple of hours before our arrival in Hong Kong, the crew serves breakfast. I’m pretty hungry by this time, since our last meal was dinner some 12 hours ago. They serve eggs Benedict with hash browns, spinach and a tomato. It’s pretty good as I wolf it down, but what I really appreciate is the coffee, since I last had a cappuccino from Starbucks in the LA airport some 15-20 hours ago!

We arrive in Hong Kong a bit late – 6:58AM instead of 6:45AM. That may not seem like much, but our connection is very tight, we have to go through an entry check point even though we are transiting to Malaysia, and the gate for our flight is on the other side of this huge airport. Our long walk takes us almost a half hour before we finally find the gate, and a few minutes later they start loading. But wait, they have a surprise for us. We are loaded into a bus and taken even further out on the airport aprons to a waiting Airbus A330, where we have to shlep our carry-on bags up a steep flight of stairs and to the back of the aircraft, where we are all seated. Welcome to Dragon Air, a regional airline owned and operated by Cathay Pacific.

I guess by this point in this endurance contest, we could all be forgiven for being a bit ragged and cranky! I help some of the more senior members of our tour group lift their bags into the overhead bins as we all find our seats. After we are airborne on our four hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, breakfast is served. I’m not in the mood for more eggs, but they have a seafood noodle dish which hits the spot.

Main entrance to the Majestic Hotel tower in Kuala Lumpur

Main entrance to the Majestic Hotel tower in Kuala Lumpur

Our aircraft arrives on time at Kuala Lumpur’s huge airport. We quickly clear Malaysian Customs and Immigration, find our tour guide Susan and our bus driver Mohammed, who drives us along Malaysia’s beautiful, modern expressways to Kuala Lumpur and our hotel for two nights – the Hotel Majestic. It takes awhile to sort out our rooms, and then I pay the 20 Ringgit room tax in cash at the desk. Malaysia charges this room tax per night at each hotel we stay in for the whole trip. The hotel has an old, classic colonial section and a new tower. We are staying in the tower. I quickly unpack, have a shower and then have a two hour sleep before our group meets downstairs in the hotel for a sumptuous buffet dinner. After that, it’s back to bed for me, since we have a full day tomorrow touring Kuala Lumpur.

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Pima Air & Space Museum

Feb 20, 2017 Monday – Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona

After having breakfast, I drive over to Garry’s place to take Reg, Matt and Diane to the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson. We spend most of the day there exploring the huge number of aircraft on display inside, have some lunch onsite, and then take a tram tour of the many aircraft displayed outside. We have some time to wander around outside, so Diane and I check out the TWA Constellation and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I also check out the Boeing B-17 bomber, which has a building all to itself. Before returning home I buy a nice lightweight jacket from the gift shop as a keepsake for this wonderful aviation museum.

JoeTourist recommended!

Since the skies are nice and clear, we make good use of Garry’s observatory. I have a wonderful time with visual observing tonight, using the 25″ Newtonian operating at f3.3 – what a treat! I also shoot a two hour time lapse of the night sky. My observing log

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Flights from Singapore to Victoria

March 17, 2016 – Thu – Singapore to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

I’m up at 3AM this morning and leave the Volendam for the last time to take the prearranged 4AM shuttle to the airport. The bus takes Holland America’s passengers to Terminal 1 at Changi Airport, where I check in with Cathay Pacific for my 8:05AM flight to Hong Kong and onward to Vancouver. I will get to live today almost twice over, since we cross the International Date Line mid-flight as we fly eastward across the Pacific Ocean.

After clearing customs and immigration, I find my gate and hit Starbucks for a cappuccino. I have several hours to kill, but Changi airport has free wifi, so the time goes by. By 6AM the airport comes alive with more people, so people watching keeps me entertained. The 3.5 hour Cathay Pacific flight from Singapore to Hong Kong goes well. They serve us breakfast, which I certainly appreciate!

When departing the aircraft in Hong Kong airport, I remember it is important to stay in the “Transfer” stream when you already have a boarding pass issued for the next flight segment. You still have to go through security, but then you can go directly to the Departures level and roam around. Otherwise you will find yourself on the Arrivals level, and have to take a lot more time to find your way back to the Departure level.

Cathay Pacific doesn’t load the flight to Vancouver by row. Everyone simply lines up at the gate and we are let on the aircraft after our boarding pass is scanned and our passport is verified.

Pre-dawn light over the wing south of the Aleutian Islands

Pre-dawn light over the wing south of the Aleutian Islands

This flight is excruciatingly long, however service by the cabin crew is very good. The first time I check my watch is an hour or so after they serve us dinner at the beginning of the flight. At that point we are five hours into the flight. Not even being half way is pretty depressing! The next time I check the time, we are about five hours out of Vancouver…still a very long time to sit. By then I’ve listened to all the music I can handle; I’ve read all the magazines on my iPad I can stand; so I haul down my MacBook Air from the overhead bin and write my journal and process photos for awhile. It would be great if I could sleep aboard aircraft, but that doesn’t happen no matter how tired I am. The sunrise is beautiful as we fly south of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Looking North across the city of Vancouver to the North Shore mountains on final approach to Vancouver airport

Looking North across the city of Vancouver to the North Shore mountains on final approach to Vancouver airport

Our approach to Vancouver is over Northern Vancouver Island and the coast range of mountains of British Columbia. The pilot refers to it as “the Whistler approach” to Vancouver airport, taking us over the famed ski resort. We fly east of the city and then turn west on final approach over Surrey, Richmond, and New Westminster, giving us great views of the city against the North Shore mountains. I think we land on Vancouver runway 26R. I take some nice photos of the scenery out the window.

This time I’m prepared for the long stretches of walking required in Vancouver airport to get from the arrival gate to the Immigration kiosks, and then onward to the baggage carousels, and finally a long way to the end of the departure concourse to check in at the Westjet kiosks. I don’t have a through ticket, so can’t use Westjet’s transfer check-in (much closer to the carousels). After clearing security again, I find the domestic departure area and the gates for the local Westjet flights. It is only a 20 minute flight to Victoria, and I am soon home…greeted at the door by Rolly and Tanner, our Jack Russell Terriers, and the rest of the family. It’s time to go to bed for a well-deserved sleep after enduring some 27 hours elapsed time from when I left my cabin aboard the Volendam in Singapore earlier today.

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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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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.