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Kaua’i

Oct 18, 2022 – South Shore, Kaua’i, Hawai’i, USA

2022 Hawai’i cruise

My excursion to the Allerton and McBryde Tropical Gardens doesn’t leave until 9:00AM, so it’s an easy start to the day. I get up around 7:30AM and go down to the Grand Dutch Cafe for a breakfast of smoked salmon, raisin bun, blueberry muffin and a cappuccino. I show up in the pier building ashore around 8:45AM and we are quickly organized into a line. Once the last two people arrive, we’re off in the excursion shuttle, but not before one man refuses to wear a mask, so our guide reads the riot act to him and he eventually puts a mask on. Our guide reveals that the ship let them know that there is some sickness onboard, so they are requiring masks for our group when in their shuttles.

Once that is sorted out, we drive to the gardens site, which takes the better part of an hour since the road into the property is quite rough, requiring slow going. It’s a beautiful area of the south shore of Kaua’i which I haven’t experienced before. The number of plants in the McBryde Garden is endless: 6,000 rare and endangered plant species collected from throughout the Pacific Basin and the world. The Allerton Garden is architecturally designed with outside ‘rooms’ which the Allertons originally used for entertaining guests – some rich and famous like Jackie Kennedy-Onassis. We have a nice lunch at the snack bar consisting of shredded chicken or shrimp with focaccia bread, potato salad, and soft drinks or bottled water. 

Spouting Horn blowhole, Koloa, Kaua'i, Hawaii
Spouting Horn blowhole, Koloa, Kaua’i, Hawaii

After lunch, we visit the waterfall in the McBryde property by driving deeper into the upper Lawai Valley, and then leave to return to the ship. We encounter a firetruck and ambulance doing a rescue on the way out of the Allerton and McBryde property, which delays us a bit while our guide sorts out passing the emergency vehicles on the narrow road. We make a quick stop at the Spouting Horn blowhole, which is putting on a good show today. All Aboard is 2:30PM, and we are the last to board with only five minutes to spare!

I go up to the Sun Deck to enjoy the sail away from Nawiliwili Harbour, and I have a beer with some friends while watching our ship maneuver out the narrow passage, taking a time lapse video handheld. Once the ship is in open water heading for Vancouver, I return to my stateroom to get cleaned up, and then I have a quick dinner in the Lido this evening: Beef Sukiyaki over fried rice, which is quite filling and delicious.

Sailaway from Kaua'i - Koningsdam departs
Sailaway from Kaua’i – Koningsdam departs

At 8PM I attend The Step One Dance Company Presents: Humanity Reprise. I thought it would be a different show than the one I already attended on our sea days to Hawaii, but it is exactly the same, which was disappointing. Our cruise director takes the stage ahead of the performance to make some announcements about upcoming events and activities, and to let us know that the ship’s time will change overnight (clock moves forward an hour). Some crank of a man yells at him from the audience as he is leaving the stage that he should be letting everyone know there is COVID-19 aboard the ship. He briefly stops, but he doesn’t respond and vanishes backstage.

I walk the Promenade Deck this evening for a circuit and a half, enjoying the warm, tropical air and the sound of the ship. I then go up to the Crow’s Nest Lounge for my nightcap of a Tanqueray 10 classic martini as I annotate today’s photos. I remove the Jethro Mobile SIM from my iPhone, which I’ve been using for voice calling and data in Hawai’i, since I won’t need that mobile service again. It worked very well, was reasonably priced at CA$35 prepaid on Amazon for 4Gb and unlimited calling for 30 days. I would buy service from them again when I travel to the USA in future. 

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Oahu North Shore

Oct 17, 2022 – East & North Shore, Oahu, Hawai’i, USA

2022 Hawai’i cruise

The Holland America Grand Circle Island excursion is listed for US$149.95, but I got $20 off from my Have-It-All package, and then another $20 off since the the tour operator is no longer including lunch in the tour. As it turns out, this excursion doesn’t much resemble the description given at all. First, we drive around the island in the opposite direction, and secondly, we miss many of the stops, so it ends up being mainly a day of driving with only limited opportunities to get off the bus to either shop or see the sights on our own.

Joe at Halona Blow Hole with Wawanalu Beach behind, south shore of Oahu
Joe at Halona Blow Hole with Wawanalu Beach behind, south shore of Oahu

We do not stop at Hanauma Bay Marine Preserve since it remains closed to visitors since COVID-19, so I have no opportunity to take photos, even from the top of the cliff. The lack of humans during the pandemic has allowed the ecosystem to recover, so only visitors with permits are allowed in now. We stop at the Halona Blow Hole so I have time for a selfie before we hit the road again. I appreciate the 20 minutes we have at the Byodo-In Temple, although it is full of visitors, so it’s very crowded.

We drive north along the beautiful east coast, passing by both the Polynesian Cultural Center (where we were originally to stop for lunch) and the Kualoa Ranch. We stop at a macademia nut farm to shop, but it is packed with people from other tourist buses. We are stuck in multiple construction zones along the way, which is certainly frustrating for all of us. We only drive by the famous north shore beaches: Makapu’u Point, Sandy Beach,  Sunset Point Beach, and others – no stops.

A surfer girl with her surfboard on the Hale‘iwa strip
A surfer girl with her surfboard on the Hale‘iwa strip

Our lunch stop is in the surfing town of Hale‘iwa on the North Shore, where we have 1.5 hours to eat, shop, or do what we wish. I have an exceedingly expensive cappuccino and then wander along the main street that is lined with surf shops, restaurants, and shave ice places. I find some very nice Men’s Holoholo shorts in the Kahala shop, and buy a pair despite the US$88 price! I forgot to pack shorts for this trip for some reason…

We visit the Dole Pineapple Pavilion, which I detest, but at least we have 20 minutes off the bus. We are running late, so we miss the Nuuanu Pali Lookout (which would have redeemed this excursion for me), and drive directly back to the ship on the freeway. Needless to say, I’m frustrated and tired after this ordeal. I should have stuck to my original plan for today: take a taxi to the Bishop Museum.

After showering and putting on fresh clothes, I have a vegetarian pizza and a beer for dinner on the Panorama deck. There is a beautiful sunset over Honolulu, and later the ship departs Honolulu harbour around 10PM, bound for Kaua’i.

Sunset over Honolulu harbour with the ship's stack and an aircraft climbing out
Sunset over Honolulu harbour with the ship’s stack and an aircraft climbing out
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Hilo & Volcano

Oct 15, 2022 – Hilo & Volcano, Big Island of Hawai’i, USA

2022 Hawai’i cruise

The ship arrives in Hilo harbour this morning in the rain, not unexpected on this wet, tropical side of the Big Island of Hawai’i. Once we are docked and I have breakfast in the Grand Dutch Cafe (cappuccino, smoked salmon, raisin bun, fruit parfait), I call my friend to let her know we are docked.

The Koningsdam docked in Hilo harbour as we approach
The Koningsdam docked in Hilo harbour as we approach

She drives from her home in Waimea to Hilo Harbour to pick me up around 11AM. We catch up with each other’s lives while she drives, and then have some lunch with her 90 year old friend, who lives in the little community of Volcano, near Volcano National Park. Cafe Ono is part of Volcano Garden Arts – a lovely tropical garden, gift shop offering original art, and a popular restaurant. I have a delightful day ashore with a good friend.

I fasten my GoPro camera to the rail on my verandah and take a time lapse video as the ship leaves the dock at 5:45PM, swings around in the tight harbour area, and heads out of Hilo Bay at sunset.

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Victoria to Vancouver

Oct 7, 2022 – Fly from Victoria to Vancouver & stay overnight

2022 Hawai’i cruise

Skytrain bridge over the Fraser River
Skytrain bridge over the Fraser River

After lunch at home, we drive to Victoria airport, where I take a Pacific Coastal Airways flight to Vancouver South Terminal (YVR), flying over the Strait of Georgia looking SE on a smokey afternoon. I take the shuttle from the South Terminal to the main terminal, and get off at the first stop (International and USA departures), walk across to the Skytrain terminal, and take the Canada Line to City Centre Station at Pacific Centre – about a half hour trip costing CA$9. The Skytrain is quite scenic as it crosses the Fraser River.

I’m staying at the Metropolitan Hotel (a Marriott), which is a half block walk from the Skytrain station. For nostalgia’s sake, I walk back to the intersection of Georgia and Granville Streets to take a few photos, and then do some last minute shopping at the London Drugs store on the corner where Birk’s Jewellers used to be when I lived here in the 1970s. The Birk’s clock is still there, but is now buried in the high-rises. After returning to the hotel, I have dinner at the hotel’s Gala bar and restaurant – a chicken clubhouse & Granville Island Pale Ale, before retiring for the night. I board the ship tomorrow.

Panorama of Georgia at Granville – Hudson’s Bay, London Drugs, Pacific Centre
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Inside Passage

June 4, 2022 – the Inside Passage between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, Canada

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

Map of my photos taken between Ketchikan, Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia, including the Inside Passage
Map of my photos taken between Ketchikan, Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia, including the Inside Passage

I have breakfast in the main dining room, but they don’t have a group to seat me with, so I eat alone. The Nieuw Amsterdam emerged last night from protected waters after leaving Ketchikan into Hecate Strait, and is proceeding down the Canadian Inside Passage: Queen Charlotte Strait, Johnston Strait and Georgia Strait. The ship will wait overnight in the strait before arriving in Vancouver harbour the following morning around 7AM.

I take some photos of the rain and fog outside as I sip my morning cappuccino in the Crows Nest Explorations Cafe. I’m eventually driven out of there by the noise and crowds playing some game with a host, so I wander around the ship at loose ends. Since the shipboard Internet hasn’t worked for me for the last several days, I complain to Customer Service. They can’t get my connection working either, despite insisting it is working for others, so they give me a 2-day credit.

Crow's Nest - Explorations EXC & Explorer's Bar
Crow’s Nest – Explorations EXC & Explorer’s Bar

I meet friends on the Lido pool deck for lunch, which is protected today with a closed canopy. I have a Beyond Meat version of The High Dive burger and fries, along with a beer. My friends tell me the crew have said are only around 700 passengers aboard, but there are 1,700 passengers boarding in Vancouver tomorrow. I believe the ship holds about 2,100 passengers, so currently they are only one-third of capacity. Having so few passengers aboard but with a full complement of crew means we have been spoiled on this voyage with excellent service. Although some of the crew are new, and they are operating under new protocols like having to wear masks the whole time they are on duty, they have all done very well. I know the passengers have appreciated their work…I certainly have!

Lido Bar setup for evening service
Lido Bar setup for evening service

I go to my favourite premium restaurant this evening at 6PM. Tamarind is an Asian Fusion restaurant which I find offers superb service, very creative and tasty food, and it is located mid-ship on the top deck, offering wonderful views while dining. There is a dedicated sushi chef and eating area for those who go for that cuisine. Personally, I like my seafood cooked and served in a traditional way, so I stick to their main dining area. They also offer a lovely bar, which offers a nice, quiet area during the day, since Tamarind only operates in the evening.

Mongolian barbeque lamb chops - Tamarind
Mongolian barbeque lamb chops – Tamarind

I have a Classic Martini to start, made with Tanqueray 10 gin. Some Shrimp Chips with soy sauce & sweet and spicy sauces goes well with my cocktail as I take in the view of northern Vancouver Island sliding by as we sail south through Queen Charlotte Strait. My starter is Lobster and Shrimp Potstickers, served with smoked shoyu and pickled ginger. I have a couple of glasses of Le Grand Courtage Brut Rose French wine with my main course: very tasty and tender Mongolian Barbecue Lamb Chops, with baby bok choy, toasted sesame seeds, mirin plum sauce, with Dungeness Crab fried rice. I finish off with a dessert called Mango Posset – coconut macaroon, passion fruit jelly, mango sorbet. I leave a glowing review – JoeTourist recommended!

I go to see the Step One Dance Company: Presents Off The Charts in the main stage at 9PM. It is a pretty good song and dance show, flashing back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s performing artists. There is also a singer from the BB King venue adding her wonderful voice to the blues review part of the performance.

I walk around the Promenade Deck to get some exercise and fresh air before returning to my stateroom. It’s time to pack and put my bag out for pickup this evening, in preparation for disembarkation in Vancouver tomorrow.

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Hubbard Glacier

May 30, 2022 – Turner and Hubbard Glaciers, Alaska, USA

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

Early this morning, I am a bit worried about not seeing the Hubbard Glacier later today, since when I’m out on the stern deck, there is a lot of fog. The ship sails past the very impressive St. Elias mountain range eastward through the Gulf of Alaska to Hubbard Glacier this morning, while another cruise ship is sailing westward. I attend the Mariner Society Welcome Reception at 11AM, where I meet some of the officers and chat with my fellow passengers with 3, 4, and 5 star Mariner status as we sip wine and snack on peanuts.

This afternoon, it clears up nicely as the ship turns into Yakutat Bay, with beautiful Mt. Cook visible. As we turn into Disenchantment Bay, I spot both Turner and Hubbard Glaciers, taking photos as we proceed. The ship eventually gets very close to the ice pack in front of the glacier face, slowly turning to allow all passengers to get views of this magnificent area.

Daniel E. Lawson – map of the Hubbard Glacier area

There is commentary from the Explorations Lounge on Deck 11, which can also be heard on outside decks. I go down to the Promenade Deck to have a look, but quickly realize I will see everything from my verandah, with the added benefit of being able to duck inside my stateroom to warm up. This is the coldest day of the trip so far, with a cold wind coming at us from the glaciers, so I wear my toque, scarf and winter coat.

Filet mignon main course in Pinnacle Grill

As the ship starts pulling out of Disenchantment Bay, I get dressed in a suit and tie for my dinner reservation in the Pinnacle Grill. I have a lovely Tanqueray 10 Gin martini to start, then crab cakes, filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms and loaded baked potato, finishing off with creme brûlée. I have a sparkling French rose with my main course. Despite the daily program saying attire is “dressy” this evening, it’s obvious that HAL no longer enforces a dress code, since I see people seated in the Pinnacle Grill who are wearing winter coats and jeans, and all manner of dress that is certainly not even close to being dressy.

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Anchorage to Whittier

May 29, 2022 – Anchorage to Whittier, Alaska and board the Nieuw Amsterdam

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

We don’t leave the hotel until 12:10PM, so I finish annotating my photos this morning, posting a new Denali-Anchorage album to my Flickr account before I leave. The hotel Wi-fi is pathetically slow, so I’m glad I have my mobile LTE roaming from Fido to work with.

I say goodbye to our Tour Director Cassandra Joy, encouraging her to look me up if she finds herself in Victoria. We board our bus to transfer to the rail station, and take an Alaska Railway dome car to Whittier, which is a 3-hour scenic trip. There is snack and drink service to the seat offered by each car’s attendant. We pass through a tunnel that is shared by road vehicles and trains – a unique approach to saving the expense of building and operating two tunnels!

The Nieuw Amsterdam is waiting for us at the dock. Check-in is slow due to the health check requirements before boarding, but it takes well under an hour before I’m in my lovely verandah stateroom on the ship. A short time later, my checked bag shows up, so I unpack and settle in.

First order of business is to find my Muster Station and register with the crew there, and then watch the safety video in my cabin. Gathering all passengers on deck at their muster stations is no longer done, in order to avoid crowding and risk of infection. I have a wonderful dinner with 4 others in the main dining room: snow crab cocktail, Alaska salmon fillet, and strawberries with ice cream. Since I have the drinks package, I have two glasses of Italian Pinot Gris with dinner. The ship leaves at 6:00PM while I’m still at dinner, which is earlier than the scheduled departure time of 10PM stated in my itinerary.

I can’t stop taking photos and video on this trip, and today is no exception. The train ride down was through a scenic inlet and moose flat wetland, and then the ship sails past snow-capped mountains and through a lovely channel with lots of islands as the sun sets behind us. I can already appreciate the charm of an Alaska cruise, and we are just starting out!

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California coast by train from LA

March 3, 2017 Friday – north along the California coast by Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Main waiting area in LA's Union Station
Main waiting area in LA’s Union Station

It’s a good thing I set my alarm last night for 4:00AM after leaving Tucson, because the train arrives in LA an hour early at 4:30AM Pacific Time. My car attendant predicted an early arrival, and he was right. I ask him to reconfigure my Roomette back to seating for the last hour. He gives me a light breakfast in a bag, which is very much appreciated, since the dining car won’t be open this morning.

After our arrival in LA’s Union Station, I schlepp my bags through the tunnel system under the tracks to the station. The Metropolitan Lounge for business class and sleeper ticket holders doesn’t open until 5AM, so I grab a cappuccino from the Starbucks in the station and kill time in the main waiting room. It’s a zoo in there, with all sorts of weird people, even in the area reserved for Coach ticket holders. I’m glad to get out of there!

Tables, chairs, loungers and a bookcase in the Metropolitan Lounge, LA's Union Station
The Metropolitan Lounge, LA’s Union Station

I have several hours to kill, since my train to Seattle doesn’t depart until 10:10AM. The Metropolitan Lounge has all sorts of snacks and beverages available at no charge. I take the opportunity to clean up in the bathroom, since it’s so much easier than when I’m being pitched around on a train. There is free Wi-fi, so I entertain myself, despite its slowness. When it is time to board, a Red Cap porter takes us to the train in a motorized cart.

As the train leaves Los Angeles behind, we see the light industrial side of the city and pass by Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where some passengers board. The train stops a couple of times along the way for track work and oncoming trains, and goes slow through many areas. There are huge fields with crops as we pass through Oxnard and Camarillo, with lots of workers in the fields. As the train hugs the California coastline starting in Ventura, we pass along beautiful shorelines and beaches near Carpinteria, and sand dunes and estuaries by Vandenberg Airfield. I lucked out since my Roomette is on the side of the train with the coastal view, so I can sit comfortably shooting photos and video as the scenery flies by.

California Coast by train from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

I have lunch in the dining car while we are going through the Santa Barbara area. We arrive at Pismo Beach by 2:30PM, where the train turns inland, leaving the scenic California coastline, transitioning into huge tracts of range land.

Sandy crescent beach and cliffs of Cojo Bay on the California coast
California coast

We change engineers and conductors in San Luis Obispo, so I take the opportunity to have a shower while the train is stopped. I’m signed up for the 6PM dinner sitting, ordering the special roasted chicken breast with baked potato and veggies.

We stop in San Jose at 8:30PM for 10 minutes, and then roll out of the station and sit around until 9:05PM waiting for another train to pass before we get going again. I notice there are lots of old motorhomes with people living in them parked along the tracks in this area. No doubt living in San Jose is very expensive, so if you are a normal wage-earner, living in a decent home isn’t easy. We arrive in Oakland at 10:00PM for a stop. As we leave the station, it is time for bed. The train has a lot of distance to cover before our scheduled arrival in Seattle tomorrow evening.

Amtrak Coast Starlight train from LA to Oakland - map
Amtrak Coast Starlight train from LA to Oakland (light blue line)

A 45-minute video of the Coast Starlight train shot from outside the train, highlighting the train itself, locations and scenery all the way from Los Angeles to Seattle.

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Muscat to Dubai

February 22, 2015 – Muscat, Oman to New Dubai, U.A.E.

I get up at 6AM this morning, since our bag pickup is 6:30AM and we leave on the bus at 7:30AM. We have five hours of driving time to Dubai, and the time we spend at the border will add to that elapsed time.

Unlike UAE citizens, Omanis work in service jobs. Our guide Yacoob shares with us that he worked as an airport bus driver, then a switchboard operator before learning enough English to become a guide. He has six children and is also a grandfather at 42 years of age. He lives in Muscat.

Today is the first day it is cloudy and it might rain. We have had very good weather so far, with every day being clear. We are not stopping for lunch today, so I saved a few snacks from the hotel buffets last night and this morning to eat along the way. We drive along route 1 from Muscat, through Sohar, Bani’ Umar, then inland to the border, continuing to Dubai. We get some rain along the coastal route. Although we are on an expressway, there are some roundabouts along the way. We stop at 10:30AM for a rest break in Sohar.

Crossing the UAE-Oman border 3 times - map
Crossing the UAE-Oman border 3 times

Our bus takes Route 5 in Oman and E44 in UAE (green arrows) which looks more direct to Dubai than the route chosen by Google Maps (blue), but it means crossing the border between the two countries three times! Obviously, crossing a border once takes a lot less time, even if the distance travelled is a bit longer. This concept escaped our travel company’s planning process…however we arrived in Dubai unscathed, albeit a bit later than planned.

We are staying in the new section of Dubai at the Manzil Hotel, which is across the street from the massive Dubai Mall, and within walking distance to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

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Muscat to Sharqiya Sands

February 17, 2015 – Tuesday – Muscat to Sharqiya Sands

Map of our 4x4 drives in Oman,
Map of our 4×4 drives in Oman,

We drive from Muscat along a new inland road to our first stop to see a large sink hole, where some people are swimming – Bimmah Sinkhole is in Muntazah Hawit Najam Park. This otherwise sun parched area obviously has water below ground, since there is vegetation here and I even spot some birds.

Our next stop is Wadi Tiwi, which is a lush river valley just a short distance from the coastline. The plantations and a string of emerald-coloured pools in the narrow valley are especially beautiful as we walk along the narrow road, which winds up the valley from village to village.

We stop for lunch in the sleepy little seaside town of Sur. There is a wonderful view across Sur’s corniche, beach and fisherman’s boats to the nearby village of Ayjah, with its whitewashed houses and dhow-building yard (see banner image above).

Desert Nights Camp at sunrise - Sharqiya Sands
Desert Nights Camp at sunrise – Sharqiya Sands

A couple of hours later we approach the small town of Bidiyah, where we turn off the main road to drive across a sand road for about 11km to Desert Nights Camp, where we stay for two nights.

It is pretty luxurious considering it is setup in the desert along with another more modest camp about a kilometre away. Sharqiya Sands (aka Wahiba Sands) is a large area of rosy-hued dunes, some of which are over 100 metres high. We quickly get settled and then go out on a dune ride to see the sun set over the sand dunes.