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Eurodam arrives in Vancouver

Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017 – Eurodam arrives in Vancouver, BC, and my return home to Victoria

Hawai’i Cruise 2017

Vancouver at night as Eurodam docks at Canada Place cruise ship terminal
Vancouver at night as Eurodam docks at Canada Place cruise ship terminal

I wake up at 4:15AM, just after the ship sails under Lion’s Gate Bridge. I get my dSLR out and take some photos of the bridge, Stanley Park, and the downtown, all lit at night. I capture some excellent photos, especially as the ship turns and docks at Canada Place.

Since it is 5AM, there is no coffee available anywhere on board. I go up to the Explorations Cafe on the off chance they are open at 6:30AM (their usual opening time), but no luck! My continental breakfast arrives right on time at 7:30AM in my cabin, so I have a cup of tea, a scone and pastry, yogurt, and cranberry juice.

I pack my last minute items and get ready for departure, double and triple checking the closets, drawers and bathroom to ensure I don’t forget anything. My friends call me at 8AM saying they are ready to disembark. Although it is a bit early for our time slot, I am ready to go as well, so we meet in the hallway outside their cabin. The passengers who have Expedited Departures are ahead of us, and they are still clogging the elevators, but we manage to get to the gangway deck and scan our ship security cards for the last time and leave the ship. Canada Customs and Immigration are waiting for us in the passageways to the main cruise ship terminal. They take our forms and wave us through, not even wanting to see our passports – welcome to Canada!

We are in the terminal an hour early, but find the waiting area for the bus to Victoria. Unfortunately, there are no chairs to sit on, so we stand, waiting in line until the two buses board everyone. We are on our way at 9:15AM, right on schedule, and our bus goes straight to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. We are one of several buses on the 11AM sailing aboard the Coastal Celebration ferry, so it is a crush to get up the stairs. However, once we enter the Seawest Lounge, we leave the mayhem behind for serenity and quiet.

A two-masted schooner sailing along the Pender Island coastline
A two-masted schooner sailing along the Pender Island coastline

The Seawest Lounge has a choice of two Starbuck’s roasts of brewed coffee, so I finally enjoy some good coffee and a bit of quiet time. I go back for some snacks: sliced cheese and muffins, and a second cup of coffee, so I’m finally ready to greet the day properly! As usual, the onboard Internet service offered by BC Ferries is totally swamped, so I use my own cellular LTE hotspot to catch up with online happenings as we sail to Swartz Bay. There is a two-masted schooner sailing along the Pender Island coastline – very pretty on such a gorgeous day.

Once the bus rolls off the ferry, it makes several stops along the way to drop people off. I am dropped off a few blocks away from where I live, and since it’s a nice day, I roll my bags home.

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Vancouver to Hilo – day 2 at sea

Oct 3, 2017 – Second day at sea – enroute from Vancouver, BC to Hilo, Hawai’i

Hawai’i Cruise 2017

At Ginny Stibolt’s talk this morning: Rainforest: The Most Diverse Ecosystems in the World, I learn:

  • Photosynthesis and respiration are equal and opposite natural cycles
  • Only about 20% of oxygen produced is supplied freely to outside the rainforest, 80% is consumed internally to the rainforest
  • Forests only temporarily sequester carbon, unlike oceans where carbon is more-or-less permanently sequestered
  • In Borneo, 700 tree species are found in 25 acres
  • 80% of insect species are found in tropical forests
  • Old cellphones are being used in the Amazon to detect the sounds of chainsaws cutting trees, and transmitting reports back to authorities. They are powered from solar panels.
  • Costa Rica is restoring their rain forest by planting at least 15 native species of plants and trees

It is 19ºC at noon today, but when I was outside on Promenade Deck walking four circuits, I was wearing my fleece jacket zipped up because of the cool breeze. I go to the Explorations Cafe at noon for a cappuccino and have a chocolate chip cookie and a couple of little cocktail sandwiches for a lunchtime snack, since I’m skipping having a big lunch today. This afternoon the mv OOCL London container ship sails very close to the Eurodam (see banner image above).

I go to see an hour-long video this afternoon produced by the BBC: Earth Inside Earth: A Privileged View. This is very interesting, highlighting wildlife photographers working in the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Desert in Jordan, with Capuchin monkeys in SE Asia, and with breeding Adela Penguins in Antarctica.

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Sailing from Bali to Singapore

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

Volendam's route from Bali to Singapore
Volendam’s route from Bali to Singapore

It takes two full days for Volendam to sail across the Java Sea from the Island of Bali in Indonesia to Singapore, giving everyone aboard some days at sea.

Mar 14, 2016 – Monday – At sea heading to Singapore

Our morning out of Bali starts with a fire alarm at 7AM in the crew’s laundry area, which is quickly investigated and dealt with. The Captain addresses the ship over the PA system to keep us informed. I do a load of laundry this morning since I need some fresh clothes, and manage to beat the crowd. I end up washing everything that is dirty in order to fill the load, and I’m all done with the self-serve laundry in less than an hour. I decide to have breakfast in the dining room, but there is a huge line and the dining room is close to capacity. Crowd mentality on a sea day takes over!

Chris at the Explorations Cafe espresso bar aboard Volendam
Chris at the Explorations Cafe espresso bar aboard Volendam

Same goes later on for the Explorations Cafe, where crowds gather to order specialty coffees all morning as I sit in the library area working on my journal. I love sea days where I can drink cappuccino and work on my MacBook Pro annotating photos and journalling. This is all preparatory work for my JoeTourist travelogues.

Mar 15, 2016 – Tuesday – At sea heading to Singapore

A media Polywog kisses the fish - King Neptune Ceremony aboard Volendam
A media Polywog kisses the fish – King Neptune Ceremony aboard Volendam

The King Neptune Ceremony is held on the stern deck at the Sea View Pool today. There are some seriously cute shirtless young crewmen, including a stunning Merman as part of King Neptune’s court, and two male dancers from the ship’s troupe. The officers and crew have fun with the ceremony, and the passengers enjoy the spectacle of the mock court trials, kissing the fish, sliming, and dunking of the polliwogs. I later receive my third Crossing the Equator Certificate as a member of the Royal and Ancient Order of Shellbacks, signed by Captain James Russell-Danforth and Hotel Director Jason Hale.

Mar 16, 2016 – Wednesday – at the dock in Singapore

Today is weird. I’m ready to return home, but my flights don’t leave until tomorrow. I meet friends for brunch at a downtown hotel, who are using the MRT passes, so they pick me up just inside the cruise ship terminal at the nearby VivoCity Mall’s HarbourFront station. We navigate downtown on the MRT, and afterwards, I find my way back to the cruise ship terminal without a problem, and get busy packing. After a month, it takes some effort to get everything back into my big checked bag!

Rotterdam Dining Room aboard the Volendam
Rotterdam Dining Room aboard the Volendam

I was going to join some fellow passengers for an early dinner of Chilli Crab in a local restaurant ashore, but I end up having dinner in the dining room on board the ship one last time. I have prime rib and pavlova for dessert. I’m going to have a shock when I return home and have to prepare all my meals again! After finishing my packing, I go to bed around 9PM, and sleep soundly until my alarm wakes me six hours later at 3AM to catch a shuttle to Changi Airport.

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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. 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 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, and the Singapore subway station is close. I sleep soundly overnight. This location is now a Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard property (minimum 6-night stay), 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 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, 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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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

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

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 off the ship, 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 sooner than 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 staff 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.

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 on 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 the 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 my 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 bags.
  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 terminal entrance.
  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!

French Polynesia to San Diego – day 4

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

March 13, 2014 – Thursday – Cruising from French Polynesia to San Diego aboard Statendam – 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 (title, keywords & location) 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, which will 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 (Rosetta), another that will investigate the giant planet Jupiter (Juno), and one that will give us our first close-up pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto and other icy worlds beyond (New Horizons). 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 their tips 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!

French Polynesia to San Diego – day 3

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

March 12, 2014 – Wednesday – Cruising from French Polynesia to San Diego aboard Statendam – Day 3 Sea Day

I have breakfast this morning in the Rotterdam dining room, but keep it light. I have the Mariners Brunch to attend at 11AM, 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, but 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 I waited until this afternoon to complete my posting to Facebook, and download 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. A concert reel video from 2015.

French Polynesia to San Diego – day 2

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

March 11, 2014 – Tuesday – Cruising from French Polynesia to San Diego aboard Statendam – Day 2 Sea Day

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.

Polywogs kneeling before King Neptune
Polywogs kneeling before King Neptune

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 again today, 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 lounge chairs and walk the decks – they put 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.