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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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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 counter. 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. 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 local 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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San Diego to Victoria – flights

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 – Day 31 – San Diego, USA to Victoria, Canada

I wake up around 5:30AM this morning as the transverse thrusters are turned on in preparation for our arrival in San Diego. This has been my wakeup call whenever the ship is arriving in port throughout the whole cruise. Thom the Cruise Director comes on the PA system at 6:30AM explaining how the disembarkation process will work, although we were already briefed at the Farewell Event yesterday. My deck ends up being called upstairs to clear U.S. Immigration fairly early, so after I go to the Lido buffet for breakfast around 8AM. I get to say goodbye to a steward who calls me by name and is always joking around.

The immigration clearance is going well for the rest of the passengers, and they appear to be ahead of schedule before things go off the rails. They can’t find a Mr. Jones, and until every last person clears immigration, nobody can leave the ship. The Express Departure time of 8:45AM goes by, as well as our departure window of 9:00AM. Finally about 9:15AM, they announce the Express passengers can leave the ship. We are called at about 9:45AM, which still leaves us plenty of time to find our bags and catch a taxi to the San Diego airport. After arriving about 20 minutes later at the airport, we check in with no line up, and then it takes 20 minutes to go through the security check to get to our gate.

There are lots of Rotterdam passengers aboard this flight, and the flight is also full of holiday travellers. San Diego airport has free Internet like Vancouver, which is a great idea. Of course, the system is swamped, but I manage to catch up with my email and facebook before they start loading the flight. As usual, Alaska is using a newer Boeing 737-800, and flight 483 departs on time at 12:20PM. I manage to take a few photos of San Diego from the air before the aircraft turns north.

Alaska Airlines offers in-flight Internet through the Gogo service. They want US$9.95 for the two-hour flight, which is a bit rich, but I might be interested if this were a longer flight. As the flight progresses, the landscape changes from farming valleys with irrigation ditches to desert, and later to frozen lakes and some snow cover. We hit a few bumps in the middle of the flight, so the pilots climb to a new flight level and things smooth out again. Horizon Airlines flight 2388 from Seattle to Victoria leaves on time, my bag appears on the belt in Victoria Airport, I clear Customs and Immigration, and I’m driving home by 6:30PM. It’s good to be home.

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Victoria to Ft. Lauderdale flights

Sunday, November 20, 2011 – Victoria, BC, Canada to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA

United Express/Skywest flight 6315 from Victoria to San Francisco is the first leg of my journey to Ft. Lauderdale today. I’m up at 3:30AM, arriving at Victoria airport by 4:30AM to check in. The aircraft has to be de-iced since it is -5°C outside and there is frost on the aircraft, so we are 10 minutes late departing at 6:35AM. A female pilot is in the left seat, and does a great job with takeoff. We cruise at 31,000’ as we head south, on a beautiful clear morning. I can only imagine what the view is like from the cockpit, but from my seat facing west as the Sun rises, the horizon is lit up over the Pacific Ocean in the distance as we fly down the coasts of Oregon and California. The pilot nails the landing in San Francisco, and then we taxi for what seems like forever until she slams on the brakes and we were at the gate!

United flight 43 operated by Continental from San Francisco to Houston – I had to retrieve my checked bag and then go through the United States’ Immigration. At least I didn’t have to be fingerprinted or photographed, and the immigration officer feigned interest in my upcoming cruise. Going through security again was a hassle – shoes and belt off and my first full body scan. Then I walked several kilometers and took two moving sidewalks to find my gate. It is 9:30AM and my flight doesn’t leave until 12:05PM. This is the first time I have traveled through San Francisco airport. I had heard it was nice, but I would say “not so much”. It certainly is better configured than the Los Angeles airport (LAX). There are a huge number of shops (like most American airports), and it is a study in humanity with huge crowds of people everywhere I look.

There are 23 passengers on standby for this flight to Houston, so I assume it is full. If it is anything like the other flights I’ve watched while waiting the three hours for mine to leave, it is chaos at the gate. We pull away from the terminal about three quarters of an hour late, but we make up all but 10 minutes by the time we arrive in Houston. During the flight, I purchase a Thai Chicken Wrap for lunch, which is quite good. After clearing the gate, much to my relief the gate for my flight to Ft. Lauderdale is in the same terminal and is only a 10 minute walk.

JoeTourist: Texas &emdash; Sunset over TexasContinental flight 1192 from Houston to Ft. Lauderdale – George W. Bush International airport isn’t terribly impressive. I actually had a half hour at the gate to observe lots of people and the semi-controlled chaos at the multitude of gates in the area. This is certainly a hub, with flights coming and going to many destinations within the US (since I’m in one of the domestic terminals).

After boarding and take-off, I find the in-flight meal offerings are not impressive. Basically they can sell you snack packs…there are no dinner entrees or even sandwiches available, despite having them listed on the menu. I guess it is such a short flight, they don’t expect passengers to want to eat, but I do! Oh well, I’ll soon be spoiled with all the choices of food aboard the cruise ship. Being a bit hungry today won’t hurt. I didn’t think the Thai Chicken Wrap I had for lunch would be my main meal today! I have a glass of Coke and pull out one of my breakfast bars which I always have handy when travelling. As with the last flight, this flight is full. Both aircraft are operated by Continental, but have United on the outside of the aircraft and also inside the airport with signage. They merged awhile ago, but I guess I wasn’t paying much attention at the time.

After my arrival at Ft. Lauderdale airport, my friends and I find each other (thank goodness for cellphones), and we catch a taxi to our hotel, the Alhambra Beach Resort. The driver doesn’t know where our hotel is, so I end up turning on the data services on my iPhone so we can use Google Maps to navigate there. The Alhambra is a funky, small property, but the rooms are spotlessly clean, and it is only a half block to the beach. Time for bed after this 18 hour marathon session with the airlines.