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Puerto Vallarta

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 – Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

Total Solar Eclipse & Mexican Riviera 10-day cruise aboard Discovery Princess – April 3-13, 2024

I disembark the ship this morning at 9AM, walking through the various shops setup at the cruise terminal, discovering Revolucion Artisanal Plata 35 tequila at US$220 which comes in a beautiful ceramic bottle! I find my way over to Oro Beach (see banner image above), which has public access and is adjacent to the cruise port. It’s a beautiful beach with lots of resorts along it, but I think the swimming in the open ocean would be a bit challenging.

Since Puerto Vallarta really doesn’t appeal to me, I spend the rest of the day aboard ship, taking photos of more birds: Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Laughing Gulls. My balcony is facing the harbour, so I watch all the party and excursion boats along with Seadoos coming and going. The 101m Attessa IV super yacht is docked across from our ship, providing some variety to this tourist city. This art deco-styled vessel with Gucci accents is owned by “shoe shiner turned billionaire” Dennis Washington, and is worth about $200 million.

Attessa IV super yacht docked in the harbour

I go to the late show in the Princess Theatre this evening: “Broadway” with Vancouver-based entertainer Lovena B. Fox. Her voice is wonderful…probably the show I enjoyed on the cruise the most.

Broadway with Lovena B. Fox

Please scroll down to the flying frigatebird and pelican in the water to see the photos from this cruise. The top-most photos are from my cruise port call back in October 2023.

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Manzanillo

Tuesday, April 9, 2024 – Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico

Total Solar Eclipse & Mexican Riviera 10-day cruise aboard Discovery Princess – April 3-13, 2024

We take a walk along the harbour front Malacon near the pier after breakfast before it gets too hot. There are lots of big tugs in this busy freight harbour – Mexico’s largest as it turns out. The shops are as expected – t-shirts and trinkets, OTC medications from numerous pharmacies, restaurants and snack bars. My friend is looking for a gift to take home, but he finds nothing to his liking. The gift shops on the pier are actually the most appealing, but no sale from either of us.

We spend the rest of the day aboard ship. I take lots of photos of birds circling in the harbour, mainly Magnificent Frigatebirds and Laughing Gulls. I also explore the ship. The Promenade Deck is essentially not usable for walking, since it’s so narrow and it doesn’t go all the way around the ship. The harbour traffic provides me with lots of photo opportunities – in addition to the seabirds, there are lots of tugboats, pleasure craft, and other working boats to watch.

The Piazza is the 3-level atrium midship on Discovery Princess, which is very impressive with marble floors, brass and glass everywhere, and big chandeliers and staircases. Lots of activities and performances happen in the Piazza. The International Cafe, Gelato Dessert Cafe and various bars are located on the various levels. The problem is that it’s very noisy, otherwise I would spend more time here. We both have free access to the Gelato Dessert Cafe, so we sit down and have some ice cream, which is very good. They also serve amazing 12-layer cakes, and dessert concoctions that would put me to sleep, since they are huge and loaded with sugary treats.

Impressive multi-layer cakes in Gelato Dessert Cafe

We both have the curried fish in the International Marketplace on Lido for dinner, which is probably the best-tasting meal we’ve had on the cruise. I had the fish over coconut rice, which made it extra fine IMHO.

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Depart San Pedro

Wednesday, April 3, 2024 – board Discovery Princess in San Pedro and leave port

Total Solar Eclipse & Mexican Riviera 10-day cruise aboard Discovery Princess – April 3-13, 2024

My friend and I wake up around 8am, having got about five hours sleep after our long-delayed flight. We have a nice breakfast in the Marriott Courtyard hotel, return to our room to pack, and ask the front desk call us a taxi. The Yellow Cab driver takes us to the cruise ship terminal in San Pedro, where we join the chaos for boarding the ship. Unfortunately, in the confusion we miss the baggage drop off, so have to wheel our bags onboard. My bag is selected by security since I have safety razors, which they insist I remove before boarding since they judge them to be “weapons.”

We are aboard and settled into our staterooms by 11:30am, and have some lunch from the Slice and Salty Dog Cafe beside the main pool. I have some time to quickly explore the ship, and discover the USS Ohio historic destroyer on display next to the cruise ship terminal behind our ship. We pass by the impressive US Coast Guard Station Los Angeles – Long Beach, as the Discovery Princess departs the harbour at 3pm by backing all the way out of the navigation channel to turn around inside the breakwater before sailing into open ocean.

I’m pleased to see there is already an Eclipse info sheet from the captain left in my stateroom. My friend and I have a very nice dinner in the World Fresh Market on Lido Deck 16, and then we have our first Martinis while enjoying the Ian Bacon Trio playing jazz classics in the Take Five Jazz Lounge this evening. It’s nice to finally relax and settle into the cruise after the stressful start with our flights to Los Angeles yesterday.

Ian Bacon Trio plaing jazz classics
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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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Departure from Vancouver

Oct 8, 2022 – Departing Vancouver aboard the Koningsdam – heading for Hawai’i

2022 Hawai’i cruise

I have a coffee in my hotel room this morning before I repack my big bag and check out of the Metropolitan Hotel, walking 10 minutes downhill to the nearby Canada Place cruise ship terminal, arriving at 10:30AM. I pre-clear US Customs and Immigration, and then wind my way through the various Holland America check-in procedures. This is the first time I’ve used Priority Boarding, since I’m now a 4-star Mariner, but we end up waiting in the terminal for almost an hour before boarding commences. I must have missed the bag drop earlier, so I wheel my big bag up the gangway, all the way onto the ship and to my stateroom, arriving at Noon.

After a quick lunch in the Lido, I wander around the various venues, since the Koningsdam is my first Pinnacle-class ship. I have a martini in the Crow’s Nest Lounge, hanging out there for awhile admiring the view of beautiful Vancouver harbour on a sunny afternoon. Later this afternoon, I meet some friends on the Sun Deck 11 as we watch our departure from Vancouver. I have my GoPro action camera fastened to my verandah rail shooting a time lapse video of the ship’s beautiful evening departure, while I’m elsewhere on the ship observing and photographing our departure using my Canon R5 mirrorless camera. 

Grilled prawns in the Canaletto
Grilled prawns in the Canaletto

Once we are clear of Vancouver, heading south through Georgia Strait, I finish unpacking and get dressed for dinner. I head for the Main Dining Room by 6:15PM, but is very busy on this first evening of the cruise, with huge lines of people waiting. I decide to have dinner at Canaletto (an Italian specialty restaurant), where I drop-in. There’s hardly anyone up there this evening, and I’m fine with paying the US$12.92  charge (discounted from the regular $18 since I’m a 4* Mariner) in order to have a quiet place to eat with excellent service. The food is very tasty: Canaletto salad to start (green salad with candied pecans and vinaigrette), Grilled prawns with rice pilaf as the main, and I have an Affogado for desert and a cappuccino to finish.

BC Pilot leaving the Koningsdam offshore from Victoria
BC Pilot leaving the Koningsdam offshore from Victoria

I attend this evening’s presentation in the Main Stage – The Origin Story: Holland America Line. Jayme the Cruise Director tells the 300-year story of Holland America Line, which is quite interesting and a well-done multimedia presentation. He even mentions more recent history, where in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Holland America worked hard to get their guests home, and to later repatriate all their crew to their home countries.

The Koningsdam is offshore from my home town of Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island around 9:30PM, where the BC pilot leaves the ship. My stateroom is right above where he transfers to the boat to take him ashore, so I get a great view of the action.

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Falkland Islands

March 12, 2020 – Port Stanley, East Falkland, Falkland Islands

2020 South America cruise

We arrive at our anchorage outside Port Stanley on time this morning around 7am, and after anchoring, the tendering ashore starts promptly. I’m up at 6:45am, have breakfast in our stateroom, and take the first tender ashore to meet our excursion operator. We are driven most of the way to Bluff Cove Lagoon in a large minibus, and then transfer to 4x4s for the last 5-10 minutes to get to the penguin rookery.

We see both Gentoo penguins and King penguins with their young. Most of the Gentoos are molting, so they are pretty miserable, just sitting there trying to survive the unseasonably cold, wet weather (see banner image above). This is Autumn going into winter in the southern hemisphere, and it is only 8°C today. Mind you, we are at 52° South latitude right now, so the weather can’t be expected to be that warm.

Mission accomplished: I saw penguins on the Falkland Islands!

Bluff Cove Lagoon is a small part of a 35,000 acre sheep and cattle farm, where the owners offer access to the penguins and other wildlife. They also operate a small museum, gift shop, and most importantly the Sea Cabbage Cafe, where complimentary sweet treats and hot beverages are served to their guests!

Once we return from the penguin rookery, I walk along Port Stanley’s waterfront road, stopping here and there to see some of the quaint buildings and historic sights. The Maritime Museum is well worth seeing. Passengers from the Roald Amundsen (Hurtigruten, 500 passengers) are also in town, wearing their distinctive coats. I do no shopping, and return to the ship by 12:30pm, and have a very nice Vietnamese rice stir fry lunch in the Lido.

I download all the photos and videos I shot today into my computer and start the task of entering titles and locations. Thankfully, the GPS unit I have on my Canon EOS R is working perfectly. Having all the photos geocoded combined with having access to the Internet makes annotating the photos with place names much easier and faster.

The cruise has been wonderful so far. Tomorrow we sail the Magellan Strait to Punta Arenas, then explore Beagle & Cockburn Channels before we round Cape Horn and sail through the Chilean Fjords. The upcoming week is looking spectacular!

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Singapore

Feb 29, 2016 – Singapore

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

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.

Marina Bay Sands hotel

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. Our group have passes to go to the Observation Deck, some 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 high vantage point. The Marina Bay Sands hotel has one of only two casinos in Singapore, 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 Cloud Forest - Gardens by the Bay
The Cloud Forest – Gardens by the Bay

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. After lunch, we see the gold-domed Masjid Sultan Mosque, 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.

Joe with a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel
Joe with a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel

We finish our day at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have a Singapore Sling cocktail while our group relaxes in Raffles’ Long Bar where this cocktail was originally invented. 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 open to the public.

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Flights to Singapore and departure aboard Volendam

Feb 13-15, 2016 – Victoria, BC Canada to Singapore

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

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 of flight time. We fly up the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, over Russia, and then south across central China, and to Hong Kong. I get a beautiful view of Venus off the wingtip and also of the lights of Wuhan, China.

Venus over the wintip in the pre-dawn with Wuhan, China's lights below
Venus over the wintip in the pre-dawn with Wuhan, China’s lights below

In the Economy section where I am 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 unfamilar 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 does redeem themselves on the Hong Kong to Singapore flight, where the cabin service in Economy is very good. They serve us breakfast after departure, and ensure the passengers are comfortable throughout the four hour flight.

After over 30 hours elapsed travel time, and losing a day in the process, it feels 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, and a subway station is close. I sleep soundly overnight. This property is now being redeveloped (opening in 2023), however the other Pan Pacific hotels in Singapore would all be good options.

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 along the gangway, board the ship and find my stateroom.

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, along with champagne and orange juice. 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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Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

March 9, 2014 – Sunday –Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Group, French Polynesia

I wake up very early and look out the cabin window to see that the ship is very close to the coast of Nuku Hiva. I grab my camera and go out on the Promenade Deck to take some photos as we enter Taiohae harbour. The light is wonderful, and a rainbow appears as the ship anchors in the harbour.

My excursion assembles in the Showroom very early, so I don’t have time for breakfast or even a coffee. I’ll just have to suck it up and survive, since the tour will end mid-morning. Private vehicles are waiting to take us for a drive, since Nuku Hiva lacks the tourist infrastructure the main French Polynesian Islands have. I luck out on two counts: our driver speaks some English, and I get the front passenger seat in a new Ford Explorer 4X4. Our driver owns the car rental agency on the island, and has worked in Honolulu.

We drive away from the harbour, over the mountain ridge, and into the next harbour and valley. It is a pretty drive, and we stop for two photo opportunities along the way. The first stop is a lookout high over the harbour. The second stop highlights the Survivor Marquesas location, and gives us great views of a long inlet with very pretty colours and interesting topography, with a community at the head of the inlet.

We drive down to sea level through the Taipivai valley and the community of the same name. A river runs beside the community, and we eventually come to the head of an inlet called Comptroller Bay, where there is a little community called Houmi. There is a nice beach and a single sailboat is anchored in the sheltered bay. Our stop here includes fresh fruit snacks, and the obligatory crafts for sale. Since it is Sunday, most people are attending church this morning.

Map of the locations of my photos of Nuku Hiva
Map of the locations of my photos of Nuku Hiva

We then return along the same route back to the main town of Taiohae, stopping at the local historic Notre Dame Cathedral, and return to the departure point near the tender dock.

By this time, it is starting to heat up, so I’ve had enough and head straight back to the ship on the next available tender. As always, it’s great to be back aboard the ship, where I can shower, change clothes, have some lunch in the Rotterdam Dining Room, and have that much-needed cappuccino afterwards!

The ship departs on time at 3PM, cruising along the coast of Nuku Hiva before setting a course for San Diego, which will take us six days.