Port Vila, Vanuatu

November 18, 2012 – Sunday – Port Vila, Vanuatu

I sleep in until a bit after 8AM this morning…a first on this trip, where I have been waking anywhere from 5-6AM most mornings. After my usual breakfast of cappuccino, yogurt, and French pastry at La Palette, I go out on deck to call home to check in since there is a good cellular signal here in Port Vila’s harbour. I then go back to my cabin to prepare for my last shore excursion for this cruise “Semi-submersible and snorkel”, a short 1.5 hours long starting mid-morning. I’m expecting it to be similar to the excursion I took from Port Vila two years ago while aboard the Volendam, where we motored out to the far side of Iririki Island, which is in the middle of Port Vila’s rather large harbour. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happens. We walk from the tender dock up the street a short way, and even leave from the same dock as before. The same larger sailboat used for my previous excursion is tied up when we returned to the dock.

The “semi-submersible” we are on is basically a small boat with an underwater observation chamber welded to the bottom equipped with windows and seats. Everyone crowds down there for the first part of the excursion, while the crew show us coral formations, fish, and other underwater life. This is ideal for taking underwater photos if you want to remain dry. The second part of the excursion is what I came for: snorkelling. I am one of the first to jump off the boat and swim around observing the fish and taking photos of all the underwater life. As with my excursion two years ago, the crew feed the fish bread, so they are tame, swarming around the food morsels. This gives everyone a great show of fish close up.

After a half hour or so I’m tiring, so I climb back aboard the boat and start to dry off. One of the crew asks me to give him my camera, so he can dive down a bit deeper to “get some good pictures for your kids”. After returning to the ship and viewing the photos, he indeed did get some good shots of sea cucumbers, giant clams, and a yellow-black-white striped coral reef fish. It was a good tour for me, since it wasn’t too long, and I went snorkelling. My needs are simple. After returning to the ship and having a late lunch at Le Veranda, I have an afternoon nap in my cabin.

Later this afternoon just before we sail away, I measure the following weather conditions from the top decks of the ship: 27ºC temperature, 20kmh wind speed, 75% humidity, and 30ºC Heat Index. This is the first day on our cruise where my fellow passengers are complaining about the “hot” weather, although I would hardly call this hot personally. All our previous days aboard ship have seen mild temperatures (low 20ºC temperatures), and light breezes. There are a few light rain showers today, but it is also hot and humid, as the numbers attest.

There is a huge four-masted sailboat named Phocea anchored in the harbour. I heard a story earlier today that the owner of the boat was arrested and thrown in jail in Vanuatu for attempting to smuggle drugs and arms into the country. I wonder if the story is true? Here is a good background story to read.

Dinner in L’Etoile this evening is most enjoyable. I talk with an older couple from San Francisco are well traveled, so this is always interesting to me, and she has a sharp sense of humour. A younger couple from Atlanta are both very friendly. He is a software developer, so we have IT-related stuff we talk about. A man from Ohio joins us for dinner, and always had something to contribute to the conversation, since he is a fellow amateur astronomer I know from a few years back when we both attended one of TraveQuest’s Costa Rican Southern Sky Fiesta tours. An older woman from San Francisco who I met before is also interesting, but because she is across the table, it is hard to converse with her. She and I share the fact we both love terriers, and she tells me she once raised 26 terriers at the same time! I share that we have two one-year-old Jack Russell Terriers.

When I return to my stateroom, I organise everything I need for packing tomorrow night. The daily newsletters which I have accumulated during the cruise make a good record of the activities aboard ship and the ports of call, but weigh too much to lug home, so I photograph each page and then throw them in the recycle bin. I even recycle the nice Solar Eclipse booklet TravelQuest gave everyone when they boarded ship, since I have a pdf version of the booklet.

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Huatulco, Mexico

Friday, December 16, 2011 – Day 26 – Huatulco, Mexico

Since I’m not interested in all the tourist shops available at this cruise port; I go on a snorkel cruise excursion this morning. It is quite a bit of fun, and provides a good opportunity to get away from the ship for a couple of hours. They make us all sign waivers and wear a silly yellow floatation device (which is deflated), but otherwise it is a well-run activity. They take us on a ten-minute boat ride to one of the little bays we saw this morning as Rotterdam pulled into the port.

The group of snorkelers is lead by the crew, and despite several hundred other people swimming in the same bay, there are still a surprising number of fish to see and photograph. I even see a lobster on the bottom before we return to shore. The flippers they give us earlier are necessary, since there are some fairly strong surges as we do the circuit, especially when we are lead into a cave with a narrow opening.

As always, I’m happy to return to the ship to have a shower and put on fresh clothes. I spend part of the afternoon doing one final load of laundry before the end of the cruise. My friends and I have some Becks beer on the stern deck as we pull out of the bay. We decide to have a casual dinner in the same place since the weather is so warm.

Cunard’s Queen Victoria is docked beside Rotterdam at the pier. It is an impressive new ship, with five decks of veranda suites. She is huge – much wider and higher than our ship, but not too much longer. Cunard still runs their larger ships with two classes of passengers, so I expect the two gangways are for First Class and Tourist Class. Seeing this ship brings back memories of when I sailed aboard the Cunard Princess in the 1980’s from Vancouver through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean. The Cunard Princess was a small ship with some 800 passengers, so it was a single class (Tourist Class) ship.

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Half Moon Cay, the Bahamas

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 – Day 2 – Half Moon Cay, Little San Salvador Island, the Bahamas

The Rotterdam anchors in the beautiful tropical bay this morning, and by 9:30AM tenders are ferrying passengers ashore 300 at a time. This is a highly organized day at the beach for the 1,400 passengers, with everyone being accommodated no matter what the disability, unless the person is completely wheelchair-bound.

Since I wake up this morning around 8:30AM, I miss the crowds of early birds who want to catch the first tenders ashore. I pick up a cappuccino at the Explorations Café and have a leisurely breakfast in the Lido before going back to my cabin to get ready to go ashore, packing snorkel gear and changing into a swimsuit and beach wear. The tender I take ashore around 10AM is only half full.

This part of the island is dedicated to giving Holland America’s cruise ship passengers an enjoyable day at the beach. They certainly succeed at this, providing everything any cruise ship passenger might want: a wonderful long curving sandy beach; clear, warm and shallow water to swim in; a place to snorkel and see some fish; shopping; personal services such as massage and spa treatments; sports services such as horseback riding in the surf, parasailing, small boat sailing, walking tours; and of course a BBQ lunch. I expected the beach to be crowded, but everyone spreads out so it turns out to be a very relaxing experience.

I have a clamshell reserved, which is a small half tent to provide some shade from the tropical sun, including two lounge chairs. I take my snorkel gear and wade into the warm water, not expecting to see much since there are lots of people in the water, however I’m pleasantly surprised. There are several varieties of fish swimming around, and I even spot two Barracuda and manage to take a picture and a video of them! The BBQ lunch was good, and afterwards I return to the clamshell for another hour before deciding to return to the ship.

JoeTourist: Rotterdam, the ship &emdash; Explorations Cafe counterAfter having a casual dinner in the Lido with my friends, we go to the Explorations Lounge to listen to the “Adagio Strings” – four young women who are a string quartet. They sound very good, which is a pleasant surprise for us, since the “Adagio Strings” quartet who played aboard the Volendam cruise last year were nothing short of dreadful. This quartet obviously practices and actually cares about how they sound!

I decide to skip the entertainment in the main show lounge this evening, since it is a Las Vegas headliner who sings and tells jokes – not my type of entertainment. I return to my cabin and work on the photos and video I shot today and yesterday. I like to keep up-to-date with the results from my camera work while traveling. I find putting a caption on each photo and the location makes it much easier to cope with all this material when I return home. I also write a journal while traveling, which I find invaluable for creating blog entries as well as using this material for my main JoeTourist website once I return home. I enjoy the ritual of sitting down and reviewing the day, and then committing it to words.

This evening I sign up with Rogers for their roaming package, which give me voice coverage for Central and South America. This ensures I get a more reasonable per minute rate for voice calls than standard roaming, so I can use my iPhone to call home when we are ashore. Cellular service is offered aboard ship, but it is outrageously expensive, so I will wait until we are docked or ashore to check in with the family. While aboard ship and offshore, it isn’t too expensive to send and receive email using the Internet access package I signed up for yesterday.

The ship is bucking a 30kt headwind as we head south towards Cuba. Our speed is 14.5kts, which is certainly slower than last night.