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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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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 northern Russia, and then south across central China, and to Hong Kong. I get a beautiful view off the wingtip of Venus and 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.

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Flight: San Diego to Victoria

March 16, 2014 – Sunday – Disembark & flight from San Diego to Victoria

Venus rising in the east before sunrise with the pilot boat beside us, as we approach San Diego

Venus rising in the east before sunrise with the pilot boat beside us, as we approach San Diego

I wake up before my 6:00AM alarm when the Pilot boat shines his light on the side of the ship my cabin is on. The pilot is scheduled to come aboard at 5:15AM, but it is a bit later than that I think. As I peek out the windows, I see Venus shining through the clouds above the shoreline, which is visible since we are quite close to shore in the navigation lane to San Diego. I take a few photos in the pre-dawn with my dSLR.

The ship arrives about 15 minutes early and I am one of the first group to disembark the ship, since I enrolled for Expedited Disembarkation. I roll my big bag, with my briefcase on top and walk out of the ship and down the ramps with my camera bag over my shoulder. The U.S. Immigration agent doesn’t ask any questions, stamps my passport, and I’m free to go. I am one of the first to grab a taxi, and I’m at the airport about a half hour before I expected.

San Diego airport is great because it is located right on the harbour and in the city, so it is easy to get to. United Airlines check-in is now automated, so I’m forced to check myself in. Thank goodness there are people there to help with the process and to tag my bag. The TSA must have been listening to their clients, because the security check is all over in a couple of minutes, thanks to TSA Pre-check. I didn’t have to remove shoes, belts or watches, and I didn’t have to remove my notebook computer from my bag. I just had to take my cellphone out of my pocket and put it in my camera bag, put the two carry-on bags on the scanner belt and walk through the scanner archway. That was it…I just picked up my bags and continued on my way. The terminal where my flight leaves from is brand new, and really nicely done. The airport offers free Wi-Fi and there are power and USB outlets at every seat. I update the apps on my MacBook Air while I wait three hours for my flight to leave from San Diego airport.

The flight to San Francisco starts off with a bit of conflict in the cabin, since seat assignments seem to be a big issue with several people involved. Eventually everyone is seated and we roll away from the gate. Shortly after takeoff, the guy behind me and one seat over starts ranting very loudly about something. All three of us seated ahead of him ignore his outburst and he seems to calm down for the rest of the flight. When we arrive in San Francisco, we are a bit late, but as it turns out, I stay on the same aircraft as it continues to Vancouver. So I don’t have to go looking for a gate…it’s right here! Just as well, since the boarding for the onward flight starts about 20 minutes after our arrival. Our passports have to be checked before we can board, so that adds a bit of a complication, but everyone eventually is processed and seated on the aircraft.

We pull away on time, and the pilot reports at the start of the flight he expects our arrival to be 10 minutes early, so the flight takes two hours flat.

After landing in Vancouver Airport, here is possibly the most convoluted disembarking procedure I have ever encountered:

  1. Disembark aircraft.
  2. Walk along an overhead glassed-in walkway to Canada Customs, which is a very long distance away.
  3. Directed to self-reporting kiosks for customs and immigration, where my passport and declaration form is scanned.
  4. Wait for bag to arrive on the carousel.
  5. Walk to the far corner of the huge baggage claim floor, take an elevator up to the 4th floor, and walk half way across the terminal, schlepping my bag.
  6. Check in with an Air Canada clerk, and put my bag on a conveyor belt. There is an Air Canada agent at the belt, but he doesn’t offer to help.
  7. Walk out to the main entrance to the terminal.
  8. Clear security again.
  9. Walk the rest of the way to the domestic terminal to find my gate and board my final flight to Victoria.

The weather in Vancouver is cold and rainy – welcome home!

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Cruise: French Polynesia to San Diego

Cruising from Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia to San Diego, USA aboard ms Statendam

“Sea days” are a necessary part of most cruises, where the ship is at sea for a day or two (or longer sometimes) while traveling between ports-of-call. Some passengers pick cruises with the most sea days because they obviously enjoy the isolation and routine that inevitably occurs during these days. I have met passengers on previous voyages that don’t get off the ship, even when it is in port – they enjoy shipboard life so much! Others dread the sea days, and constantly complain they are bored and dwell on the next port-of-call. I am somewhere in the middle…I like sea days, but not too many in a row. This final leg of the voyage from Nuku Hiva to San Diego takes six days, which I know will test my patience after the first couple of days into it. I ensure I have projects I can do during these “sea days”, which keep the boredom at bay, and ensure I accomplish something during this down time.

Of course the ship’s entertainment staff are fully prepared to keep everyone occupied with dozens of activities each day the ship is at sea. The casino goes full out during these days, and I suspect they get customers they otherwise wouldn’t see, simply because passengers are looking for something to do. The staff running the shops aboard ship can also be counted on to put on product presentations, free draws, and serve champagne at their special sales events reserved for these days at sea when they are guaranteed a captive audience. Lots of passengers read books – sitting out on deck for hours at a time. Some passengers get into some serious drinking, especially during the afternoon Happy Hour, when the bars come alive. Others take workshops to learn about computers, digital cameras, food, dancing, playing musical instruments, wine appreciation, making jewelry, keeping fit, playing bridge, and dozens of other activities.


Ship's position - March 10, 2014

Ship’s position – March 10, 2014

March 10, 2014 – Monday – Day 1 Sea Day

I wake up about 4AM and look out the window to see Venus drilling through the clouds, and then go back to sleep. This is our first full sea day of six enroute to San Diego and the end of the cruise. I have a full day planned, with enrichment talks and other activities. I received my Mariner Society Brunch invitation for the 12th, which I plan to attend, mainly so I can see the captain. I have yet to spot him on this long voyage!

  • 11:30AM – Discover SkyDrive Connect to SkyDrive.com – Digital Workshop – “Explore different ways to access, manage, and share your files on SkyDrive.” I use SkyDrive (now called OneDrive) and learned a few tips by attending this tech workshop.
  • 3PM – Hubble”s Greatest Hits – Showroom at Sea – Jonathan Nally – “It’s the most famous telescope in the world … or more accurately, in space! Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has produced many of the most amazing images of the cosmos ever taken. Jonathan Nally takes you on a colorful journey through more than 20 years of Hubble’s most incredible discoveries and awe-inspiring images.” This presentation is mostly astronomical eye candy, but it is an enjoyable way to pass an hour.

I am the only person swimming in the Ocean View Pool just before noon. The water in the pool is sloshing around a great deal as the ship is buffeted by strong winds. By this afternoon, we are being hit with 35kt winds as we proceed on our NE course across the Equator. There are whitecaps out on the water as I negotiate the windy Promenade Deck for my usual walk I take each day.

It is formal night this evening, so I get into my dark jacket, pants and tie before going to the Rotterdam dining room for dinner. I have a seafood dinner, starting with cold Lobster with mayonnaise, then Manhattan clam chowder, and Alaska King Crab and drawn butter for an entrée. The lobster and crab were very good, but the chowder was not inspiring. I had a chocolate espresso soufflé with warm raspberry sauce for dessert, which was excellent!

Jonathan Nalley leads a stargazing session from the Sea View Pool stern deck again tonight, and points out the Southern Cross to the crowd of about 50 people. I enjoy looking at M42 the Orion Nebula and Jupiter and its moons.

March 11, 2014 – Tuesday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 2 Sea Day

Polywogs kneeling before King Neptune

Polywogs kneeling before King Neptune

I have breakfast this morning with the dialysis doctor and his wife. He has a few dialysis patients aboard, one of which became unstable and had to be taken ashore in Nuku Hiva and onward to the hospital in Papeete. There are some rain showers while we have breakfast and during the day, however the Sun comes out for the King Neptune Ceremony held this morning on the stern deck at the Ocean View Pool. Several pollywogs are duly initiated by the shellbacks. Despite having photos from similar ceremonies on two previous Holland America cruises, I take a few more photos, since this is always a fun event.

The wind is strong at 35kts from the NE, so with us steering a course of 028, we are taking the wind just off the bow. They close the decks, but passengers continue to sit on the loungers and walk the decks, putting up with some sea spray and being blown around a bit. The ship is maintaining a speed of 18 knots as we head north to San Diego.

March 12, 2014 – Wednesday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 3 Sea Day

I have breakfast this morning in the Rotterdam dining room, but keep it light since I have the Mariners Brunch to attend at 11AM. The Mariners Brunch is where virtually everyone aboard is recognized for our loyalty to Holland America with a gift of a Delft ceramic tile. The Captain and Hotel Manager are on hand to greet everyone, and the Cruise Director emcees the proceedings. We have a lunch menu to choose from, and we are out of there by noon.

I go to Jonathan Nalley’s presentation on Mars and the missions sent there. I spend a few minutes online this afternoon in order to finish what I was doing yesterday when the connection to the Internet broke. I had to ask for a credit, since I couldn’t log back on to log off properly yesterday. This morning the connection wasn’t solid, so that’s why I waited until this afternoon to complete my posting to facebook, and download some email.

2014 Marcus Terrell and the Serenades

Marcus Terrell and the Serenades

After dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening, I go to see the show Marcus Terrell & The Serenades, which is a Motown trio with some soul mixed in. I enjoyed their show a few nights ago, and this one is even better. They mix it up by adding in some pop/opera with “The Promise”, and pretty well nail it. They get a standing ovation and give the appreciative audience an encore. Their Facebook page.

March 13, 2014 – Thursday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 4 Sea Day

As expected, the last few days of this cruise are becoming a bit tedious. I don’t really participate in many of the activities that are listed in the newsletter each day. I attend about half the shows in the Showroom, which are generally well done, and sometimes exceptional. I attend all the enrichment lectures, and really appreciate the astronomy speaker Jonathan Nalley. I’m glad I have my MacBook Air notebook computer with me, since I spend about an hour each day working on my travel journal, and extracting material every few days to post on my JoeTourist blog.

Taking photographs is probably my main diversion on this trip. The subsequent task of filling in the metadata for each photo takes considerable time and effort, but at least it keeps me busy while we are at sea, and it makes the job of updating my main JoeTourist.ca website much easier after I return home. I purchase another 100 minutes of Internet time this morning for $55, to give me lots of online time until our arrival in San Diego. There is a bonus 20 minutes offered for this deal for today only. I decide this is better value than purchasing the ship’s DVD videos of the trip at $80 for the set of four. Last cruise I purchased the DVDs, and they just sit on the shelf at home after I watched them once.

9:30AM – To Pluto and Beyond – Jonathan Nally “details three space missions currently underway-one that’s heading for a landing on a comet. another that will investigate the giant planet Jupiter, and one that will give us our first close-up pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto and other icy worlds beyond. All three spacecraft have been zooming through space for years now, and excitement is mounting as they begin to close in on their destinations.” I enjoy this lecture very much, despite knowing a fair bit about all three missions previously.

Entrance to the Rotterdam dining room with Indonesian & Fillipino decorations

Entrance to the Rotterdam dining room with Indonesian & Fillipino decorations

There is a great deal of hacking and coughing on the ship right now. I’m hoping to not catch a cold before I board my flight home, otherwise flying will be a painful experience. I give my two Indonesian cabin stewards a tip this morning, since they have worked so well to keep my cabin neat and tidy. Dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening has a Filipino and Indonesian theme. The waiters are in costume, the room is decorated, and the menu has both ethnic foods featured, making things very festive.

After dinner, I decide to skip the show and do laundry one more time, since I want to wear clean blue jeans on my flight home. The washer only takes 25 cents before starting, so that saves me from the usual $2 charge – bonus!

March 14, 2014 – Friday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 5 Sea Day

I check on my flights home on the United Airlines website and find they are on schedule. I always check in at the counter when I arrive at the airport, since I have to check my big bag and get seat assignments. It is too complicated and time-consuming to do this online while aboard ship, although many passengers will do this, no doubt.

I attend two talks put on by ship’s officers today.

  • 10AM – Virtual Engine Room Tour with Chief Engineer Silbert Whyte, the Chief Engineer talks about the engines, power, and other infrastructure systems in the ship, gives the first presentation.
  • 2PM Virtual Bridge Tour with Statendam’s Navigational and Safety Officer who is also the First Officer talks about the bridge, navigation and other bridge functions. Both are informative, and there are lots of questions from the audience.

We have our last formal night this evening, and it is also the Black and White Ball later this evening, so the Rotterdam dining room is decorated once again. The tenor and the soprano from the ship’s troupe sing classic songs this evening in the Showroom, and an orchestra is assembled from the various musicians aboard the ship to back them up. It was well done, and I enjoyed it.

Ship's position - one day out of San Diego

Ship’s position – one day out of San Diego

March 15, 2014 – Saturday – French Polynesia to San Diego – Day 6 Sea Day

Today is a strange and melancholy day for me. I went to a couple of events this morning, but I’m restless and anxious to leave the ship to return home. The entertainment staff is doing their best to keep us all busy with lots of events scheduled, but I just don’t have the patience for it. I’m not even interested in working on my journal or photos today.

I try to watch a movie this afternoon, but I just can’t stand the slow pace of the story, so I walk out. I catch the end of the Hula & Ukulele rehearsal by the passengers who have been learning how to dance and play during the cruise. They did very well! I actually came to the Showroom to hear the Third Officer Mikko talk about Icebreakers in his native Finland, which I find closer to my interest. Obviously I’m a techie guy at heart!

There is a parade of serving staff  in the Rotterdam dining room this evening. It is truly amazing to see the hundreds of serving staff who make the passengers life aboard ship so wonderful. They get a well-deserved ovation, as they are recognized for all their dedication and hard work. Some may say this is simply a pitch for tips, however I can see the pride in the faces of the men and women as they parade through the room.

Parade of serving staff in the Rotterdam dining room

Parade of serving staff in the Rotterdam dining room

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Raiatea & Taha’a, French Polynesia

March 4, 2014 – Tuesday – Raiatea & Taha’a, French Polynesia

My excursion this morning is called Land and Sea of Taha’a, which involves a boat ride to Taha’a, the sister island to Raiatea, where we are picked up by 4X4 trucks and taken on a tour of a black pearl farm, and then a vanilla plantation. Then we return to the boat and go to a motu for a swim and snorkel. I’m very impressed with the island of Taha’a. The roads are paved, the houses are neat and tidy, and the infrastructure is all there. This contrasts with Bora Bora, where they have dirt roads and everything is done in a haphazard way. The swimming and snorkelling is in shallow water, and I spot several Puffer fish – a first on this trip.

Our departure this afternoon is most interesting! Instead of leaving through the opening in the reef adjacent to the harbour that we entered through, the captain and pilot opt to take us on a scenic cruise between Raiatea and Taha’a, heading towards Bora Bora, but along the shoreline of Taha’a. A spectacular sunset occurs just south of Bora Bora as we sail away, and there are rain storms and huge cumulo-nimbus clouds to the west of us. We even see a funnel cloud appear out the bottom of a particularly large, dark cloud!

I had hoped to see a Green Flash as the Sun set this evening, but it was not to be. Despite this, I take some wonderful sunset photos, some including Bora Bora in the distance. The shoreline along Taha’a is absolutely stunning as we sail along in the early evening hours. It is a beautiful ending to a wonderful day, as I go back inside to get dressed for dinner.

Map of my photos taken on Raiatea & Taha'a

Map of my photos taken on Raiatea & Taha’a

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Fanning Island, Kiribati

February 28, 2014 – Friday – Tabuaeran, Fanning Island, Kiribati

Fanning Island Satellite map

Fanning Island Satellite map

We arrive at Fanning Island at 7:30AM. It is 26℃ (79℉), 84% humidity, and a Sea Depth of 2,460 metres just outside the entrance to the atoll. Obviously the ship won’t be anchoring; instead it holds position with engines running until we leave at 2PM. This illustrates just how steep the fall-off is from the shores of this island atoll. The tendering is slow, with a couple of hundred people waiting at any one time from the 8AM start. I wait until mid-morning and then go downstairs to get a tendering ticket. I’m in the tender and on my way within a half hour. It is a long 25-minute tender ride to the tendering dock.

The area around the dock is crowded with islanders hawking shell necklaces, singing kids wanting dollar bills to help buy school supplies, and islanders dressed in strange costumes of coconut husk armour (again wanting a dollar or two donation for a photo). There are also a few trucks with seats in the back that take passengers on a drive around the island for $10. The day is beautiful and sunny, but the seas are a bit choppy outside the lagoon. I’m glad I went ashore, even though I returned an hour later after a walk-around.

Living conditions are certainly third world. There is debris all over the island, since the islanders seem to have no plan to manage their garbage. They have no running water, collecting rainwater for drinking, dump their sewage in the lagoon, and have no electricity (other than what a few solar panels provide to individual families who can afford them). I don’t see any satellite dishes for TV reception, although there is a radio tower on the island, so I assume they can use radio to communicate with the outside world when needed.

The islanders seem happy, but this place appears to have little going for it. Holland America ships call a half dozen times a year, but otherwise there is no tourism. The islanders fish the lagoon to feed their families, and harvest seaweed for export. Cargo ships must call, since they have canned food, staples, and fuel to run a few trucks and motorcycles on the island.

Ship's position after leaving Fanning Island

Ship’s position after leaving Fanning Island indicating a 40 kt wind

The ship sails from Fanning Island a bit after 2PM, so it is more-or-less on time, although I don’t think it matters much since our next port-of-call is Bora Bora, where we have an overnight stay before moving on. It will take us two days to get there, and the captain says we have to average 18 knots. There is no bad weather forecast, so we should arrive on time. I have a shore excursion booked for Bora Bora – a Beach Break and Snorkel at a nearby motu, which should be fun.

For the first time on this cruise we have a strong wind to contend with. We are currently steering a SE course, and we have a 40-knot easterly wind buffeting the ship. I have to give up my star gazing from Deck 14 Sky Deck because I am being literally blown off my feet! Needless to say, holding binoculars still to observe with is virtually impossible, despite having a Plexiglas shield surrounding this deck forward.

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Cruise: San Diego to Hawaii

Cruising from San Diego, California, USA to Hawaii aboard ms Statendam

February 15, 2014 – Saturday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 1

I wake up too early at 7AM and need my morning coffee, so I go to the Explorers Café for a cappuccino. After sitting in the leather recliner looking out at the calm Pacific Ocean from the quiet library, I am feeling much better, and then go for breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room, which opens at 8AM. I have a cup of tea and a frittata as I chat with my fellow passengers.

Since this is a day at sea, the entertainment staff have a full slate of activities scheduled. All is revealed in the daily newsletter published each morning. I’m big on enrichment talks, so I go to all of them:

11AM Showroom – Pacific People: How the Islanders Arrived – Charlie Urbanowicz explains how the original inhabitants of the islands crossed the Pacific Ocean and where they came from. I learn that human migrations used cloud tops over the island groups for navigation. I already knew they used wave patterns, the Sun and stars to navigate.

3PM Showroom – The Wildlife of Remote Pacific Islands – Hawaii and Tahiti – Clive Catchpole presents some of the fascinating and unusual creatures that inhabit these isolated islands. Clive points out that the Pacific Islands we will be visiting have very few endemic species. Most species were imported. He points out that the Humpback whale migration is in full swing right now, and we will likely see them in Maui. He also talks about the big seabirds, such as Albatross (offshore), Boobies, Gannets and Frigate birds found near shore.

Catch A Wave group

Catch A Wave group

After dinner, I enjoy a Benedictine liqueur while listening to Catch A Wave, a Beach Boys tribute band this evening in the Showroom. The tunes are very well done, with a near-perfect 5-part harmony, and they are dressed in the early striped shirts and white pants the Beach Boys originally performed in. However they just stand there – no movement or dancing around during their performance.

After the show, I go to the office to check that they know about my departure from the ship in Hilo, and re-boarding in the following day in Kailua-Kona. The young woman tells me my plans are contrary to the US Merchant Marine Act (successor to the Jones Act), and I will be subject to a $300 charge by the US government for contravening this maritime law. She points out that the cruise line has no problem with me leaving and rejoining the ship on the Big Island of Hawaii, but the US government does.

This means I have to cancel my plans to see Mauna Kea at night, so I send an email to the Old Hawaiian B&B to cancel my night’s stay in Hilo. I will also have to contact Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, but I can wait until we arrive in Honolulu so I don’t have to pay the expensive per minute rates while aboard ship.

This is very disappointing, since I was looking forward to seeing the night sky from Mauna Kea. Perhaps I’ll drive up there during the day, since my rental car is a proper 4×4 Ford Explorer truck. I will have to decide very soon how best to use my day in Hilo, and the following day in Kona.

February 16, 2014 – Sunday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 2

I wake up at 8AM this morning, which is a bit late for me, so at least I’m starting to get into “holiday mode”. I go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and have a cappuccino, and Eggs Royal (2 poached eggs on an English muffin with smoked salmon and some home fries), hold the Hollandaise sauce.

I am starting to know the layout of the ship. The Statendam is the oldest ship in this series, and it is showing its age a bit, however as with other Holland America ships, it is kept up-to-date and spotlessly clean, and has a rich-looking décor without being “over the top”. My cabin is mid-ships on Main Deck. Since my cabins on my two previous Holland America cruises were near the bow, I have to learn the most efficient way to get to the places I most want to go to: the Showroom At Sea, the Explorers Lounge, the Rotterdam dining room, the Lido buffet, and the Sea View pool.

It is formal wear tonight so I dress in my blue blazer jacket, dark grey dress pants and white shirt and tie. The Maître ‘d seats me at a large 8 seat oval table in the middle of the dining room. I order Rack of Lamb and have a glass of white wine…a very nice dinner indeed.

Bob Mackie costume

Bob Mackie costume

I go to the Showroom tonight to see Bob Mackie’s Broadway, which is a song and dance show well performed by the ship’s resident troupe of entertainers. The Bob Mackie costumes look great, and I always enjoy the singing and dancing of the resident entertainment troupe.

February 17, 2014 – Monday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 3

This is another day at sea, so I take in more enrichment speakers. Kainoa is a Hawaiian man aboard the ship as the Location Guide. Strictly speaking, he works for the Excursions Department, and his job is to sell passengers the ship’s excursions. Kainoa takes it up a notch, and gives very interesting talks on the ports, and is more like another enrichment speaker in my books.

Charles Darwin portrait

Charles Darwin

9AM Showroom – Location Guide Kainoa Present: Honolulu & Oahu – Kainoa recommends going to the Ala Moana Beach & Magic Island, which are between the cruise ship dock and Waikiki, about 2 miles from the cruise dock. This sounds like a good plan for me, since I’m going on a North Shore tour one day, but I have the second day we’re in port to myself. He also mentions the Foster Botanical Gardens. Apparently they are both 2 miles from cruise dock.

2PM Showroom – Amazing Voyage of Charles Darwin – Clive Catchpole – Darwin’s work as a naturalist aboard the Beagle was nothing short of amazing. Keep in mind; Darwin was trained in both theology (which he hated) and botany (which he loved). The ship discovered Beagle Passage, an easier alternative to going ‘around the Horn’ of South America. Darwin noticed that mockingbirds and finches differed from island to island in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin predicted the decline of the Aboriginals in Australia, and waited 20 years to publish his famous work On the Origin of Species in 1859. Clive is an outstanding speaker, with a dry sense of British humour.

3PM Showroom – Location Guide Kainoa Present: Kingdom to State – Kainoa describes how the US annexed Hawaii, over the objections of the Hawaiian monarchy. Business interests drove this annexation. Now there is a “Nation within a nation” – Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

I saw an old guy in the casino yesterday with a t-shirt slogan that simply said “I’ve been there…”. When Kainoa recently asked people in one of his talks who were first time cruisers, nobody raised their hands! That speaks volumes about the demographic on this cruise. Arman the Cruise Director mentioned in a previous session in the Showroom At Sea that one passenger has spent something like 10,000 days on board Holland America ships…more than 27 years, which exceeds Arman’s age!

February 18, 2014 – Tuesday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 4

I go to the Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and have a Southwest Omelet and a cappuccino. One couple is from Connecticut and another couple is from Toronto, so they both have storm stories to tell – ice and hurricanes. The Toronto couple were aboard the Prinsindam when she sailed around South America and further south near Antarctica. Apparently the ship nearly capsized when it was hit with a double wave. According to them she was heeled over 60 degrees, they lost 80% of the crockery, and there were several injuries among crew and passengers. I may reconsider my plans to do that cruise!

As in past cruises, the older folks are about evenly split between reading paperbacks and using various brands of electronic readers. I’m using my iPad for occasions when I feel like reading. I have a 650 page book I’m working on, and I also loaded a couple of year’s worth of magazines on it, so I have lots of reading material. My music is on my iPhone, and my documents are on my MacBook Air, so I’m well equipped to entertain myself with my high-tech gear.

There is only one enrichment talk today:

10AM Showroom – The evolution of life on planet Earth – Clive Catchpole – Clive has turned out to be a real treasure on this cruise. He is witty, has a dry sense of English humour, and presents the most interesting lectures. I always take lots of notes at his presentations.

There are no presentations this afternoon that appeal to me, and I have nothing planned. Several passengers and Clive have mentioned there is a Lysan Albatross flying with the ship, so I grab my camera and circle the outside decks looking for this bird to no avail. As usual, I skip lunch in favor of having a cappuccino and a couple of cookies in the early afternoon around 2PM. I take my iPad and read my book for an hour while I have my coffee.

The ship has been lurching a bit in large 8’ swells, which are apparently coming from a couple of storms north of the Hawaiian Islands, where the captain tells us the swells are 20’. Weather reports are apparently good for when we arrive in Hawaii, but at the moment they have overcast skies and rain. We also have had overcast skies but no rain since we left sunny San Diego. The outside temperature is a mild 21°C during the day…not exactly time for swimming in the outside pool, but pleasant enough.

I go to dinner this evening at 6PM, my usual time. I am seated with two couples that are both from Burnaby, so our table isn’t just Canadian…it’s British Columbian! One couple booked the cruise three weeks before departure date, and paid half fare. Obviously they didn’t get their choice of cabins, but they were upgraded from an inside cabin to an outside cabin, so they did pretty well. His luggage was lost by Air Canada/United in Denver, so he only has one pair of pants to wear, and had to rent a tuxedo for formal night, as well as buy spare socks and underwear in the shop. Apparently United will be paying them $300 for the inconvenience, and will ship his bag to Honolulu.

February 19, 2014 – Wednesday – Enroute San Diego to Hawaii – Sea day 5

I wake up at 6:30AM, which is too early, but setting the clocks back an hour last night has screwed me up. I head up to the Explorations Café for a cappuccino at 7AM. Yesterday the captain reported we were moving clear of the big swells and would experience confused seas, and that’s exactly what I see out the windows this morning. We still have overcast skies, and the sea is grey just like at home during the winter months. The ship is making 17.7 knots this morning, and we are within a day’s sail of Hawaii, so I’m sure the captain is pleased to be on schedule (as am I).

I’m looking forward to the end of these days at sea. At day 5, I’m finding it a bit tedious, although I am certainly catching up on my rest! Breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room this morning was very pleasant. I was seated at a table for six: 2 Brits (SE England), 2 Americans (S central WA), and a Canadian woman (Calgary). We discuss the XL oil pipeline proposal. Of course the Americans are all in favour of the pipeline, and hate Obama. The English complain about the long tags on their clothing and other goods, which now have to accommodate all the languages in the EU.

I decide it is time to do laundry this morning since I’m not interested in any of the morning presentations, and we are experiencing a tropical downpour outside. It costs $2 to wash (including detergent), and $1 for the dryer. I buy a roll of quarters from the front desk, so I’m set for the trip. While I wait for my laundry, there is a balloon toss game being played in the Atrium. It’s called “keep the guests busy” on their fifth day at sea!

By Noon the Sun is out and the clouds are mostly cleared in favour of blue sky. People are out on deck sunning themselves almost immediately! I decide to have some lunch in the Lido and eat out on the Lido pool deck where the HAL-cat band is playing. Now this is the typical cruise ship experience…all I need is a beer! It’s formal night tonight, so perhaps I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner.

1PM Showroom – The social life of animals – Clive Catchpole – Clive talks about Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, who defends Darwin’s views about individual selection theories, but proposes that Evolution is all about genes being passed on, and believes that genes are immortal, unlike human bodies, Dawkins Book: The Selfish Gene 1978. This was another first-rate talk by Clive! He won’t be back until we leave Hawaii.

Sea View pool and blue skies, lots of sunbathers

Sea View pool and blue skies, lots of sunbathers

I was going to listen to Kainoa’s talk on the History of the Hula after Clive’s presentation, but decide to skip it in favour of going for a swim in the Sea View Pool. The water is cool, but it is great to swim a bit – a refreshing break from all my inactivity so far on the cruise.

I dress for dinner and am seated with the couple from Atlanta, and the couple from Burnaby I previously met, and one other woman. After dinner, I go to the Showroom to see a magician and comedian act, but he is less than entertaining, so I leave mid-way through the performance.

Since it is clear outside, I go up to Deck 14, the Sky Deck to measure the sky darkness with my Sky Quality Meter and to observe the stars. The lights are on up there, but I get an exceedingly dark reading. I also see the Orion (the Warrior) constellation on his side and Cygnus (the Swan) constellation, which is also flying on her side.

Tomorrow morning we land in Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. I think it’s safe to say everyone aboard is looking forward to it. I know I am!