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Naismith

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  1. Yes, I concur that their shampoo works very well: effective at cleaning and clothes smell good. (I didn't know, and had brought a bottle of my own but didn't need it, so glad others are learning.) I always do my own laundry when traveling (not just underwear). I can't carry heavy luggage, so it helps. As others have said, I wash things out in the evening, which is a way of winding down. By morning things are dry enough to finish in the closet. I always travel with a half-dozen folding plastic hangers that are great for hanging things up to dry.
  2. That was my first thought regarding the Mediterranean cruises that interest me. Although the situation regarding Venice is not quite the total ban that was chattered about following the MSC accident earlier this year, many ships are indeed being re-routed. I know nothing about the HAL track record in that part of the world, the tonnage of HAL ships that have been traveling to/from Venice, and what the prospects might be. But that should not affect the Northern Europe ports, unless perhaps Brexit is also at play for some of them. Considering how understandably unhappy pax have been when their Cuba itinerary was suddenly disrupted, I can understand how management would want to have everything in place before firming up Europe. But yeah, it definitely can be a planning challenge for those waiting....
  3. That's a good question. I certainly picked up some little hints, like being sure to get to Lincoln Center Stage early for a seat. No hardship since I always had a book with me, and sometimes had conversations with other people. (My husband thought I was crazy to go almost 30 minutes early, but of course there were already a dozen people there.) Thanks to reading here, I was able to explain about the tradition of the Yum Yum Man, even though there was never a person by the cart. Some of the info I came across was outdated. I had read about DVD checkout, but Zuiderdam had already upgraded to the onscreen, on-demand movie system for the television, which worked well. What did NOT add to my enjoyment was the lectures about to get a better deal. I am glad for others who cruise more frequently and have a great relationship with their TA. But those who went beyond sharing their own experiences to rather lecture ("...you need to....") were not helpful. I was trying to use a TA for the reasons mentioned, but the extras that I was being offered were not valuable to me. We've never been interested in the premium dining venues, and drink packages are useless because we don't drink alcohol and I can't drink carbonated drinks. (I ended up booking directly from HAL when they had an offer for free gratuities and the price had dropped to the range I had pre-determined was acceptable.)
  4. We were at HMC earlier this month and thought there were a lot of shady chairs, if you walk as far as the pirate ship bar. In front of that building and in front of the cabanas past there, it was very pleasant. However, that was with only 1 ship on the island. I am sure that with 2 ships it would become much more crowded, which may be the norm once the new pier is built.
  5. We did an 11-day Panama Canal cruise earlier this month on the Zuiderdam. I did post a formal review, but wanted to leave some notes here because of all the love-about-HAL and HAL-is-going-downhill threads on this board. My perspective is from someone who has been on dozen or so cruises with Royal Caribbean, Princess, Carnival, Norwegian. We only cruise about every 3 years when it fits our vacation plans. We do mostly independent traveling the other years; next year we have reservations for hiking into Havasupai Lodge, a week in D.C., and trip to the Philippines, so no time to cruise then. We had done an Alaska cruise on a Princess Panamax ship and thought that we would do the canal on one of those, but the itinerary was better on the Zuiderdam. The bed was comfy, and that is a non-trivial thing to a couple in their early 60s. Although we were in a lowly obstructed OV, the cabin was well designed and the bathroom storage was particularly excellent. Really the first cruise ship that has had enough room for all our stuff in a secure place. We appreciated that the fruit basket was optional; we've stayed in resorts where it was delivered no matter what, so this was less wasteful and tempting. Loved Lincoln Center Stage. I did not go to the purely classical shows of Bach or Mozart, but enjoyed the pops, movie themes, American, etc. To be fair, our LCS group was on the last month of their 4-month contract and were perhaps more smooth and practiced than some of the ensembles. At the Meet the Artists session, when asked what the best thing about performing on the ship was, one responded that they had pretty much paid off their student loans:) I also enjoyed BB Kings although I needed earplugs for that. Some great dance moves from the audience. I had to use the rest room in a few public places and loved the real cloth towels. I can't report on the fresh cut flower controversy, because I just didn't notice. It's not my thing, sorry. We were astonished at how many elevators there were compared to other ships of that size, and loved the ocean view elevators. Of course the day of the week carpets were a big hit. Although mostly we took the stairs to burn a few of the excess calories we were consuming. Food was good, and the final Gala Night included the traditional surf and turf; we saw waiters taking extra lobster tails to some tables:) On the Lido deck, there were a few lunch times we struggled to find seating, but food was appealing. I particularly enjoyed the mixed berries and absolutely ripe pears. The taco bar made a great lunch a few days, and the mango salsa was incredible. We appreciated that although the When & Where seemed to imply the Lido was not open between closing for lunch at 2 p.m. and opening for dinner at 5:30 p.m., in the afternoon there was always pasta, pizza, soup, some breads, and the dessert station including ice cream. My husband was up there at 4 p.m. every afternoon for ice cream:) I appreciated the wide selection of my favorite herbal teas. Indeed, the only culinary disappointment was the afternoon tea: We went once and the scone was dry, the sweets too sweet. I know there have been complaints about losing the Exc experts and having the CD fill in for those talks. Our CD Lance was as good or better than some of the experts we had on previous Princess ships. His presentation on the real Pirates of the Caribbean was fascinating. And his preview on Cartagena saved us a lot of grief; he showed a slide with a of the port area and where to exit the port to get a taxi (for half the price). We were DIY with audio guides that day, and wanted to be at the fort right when it opened at 8 a.m., so his advice was helpful. He also offered solid guidance on where to find shade at Half Moon Cay, and places to view the Panama Canal as we went through the lock. When returning to the ship on a hot day, we loved being greeted at the dock with cold towels and water or lemonade--nice touch. We appreciated the Navigator app for finding deck plans the first few days, checking on activities and texting each other. The Zuiderdam fitness center was well equipped but short on space for stretching/floor work. Can't remember which Norwegian ship we were on a few years back that had better room for that kind of thing. Part of the seeming space crunch was that Zuiderdam has a lot of morning classes, and then the fitness center closes at 8 p.m. A lot has been said about the nickel-and-diming on cruise ships, sometimes charging extra for things that were once included. We thought that the upsells were more in our box, not in our face. By email or in the box outside our room--and quickly recycled or ignored. Other cruise lines have been more in-your-face as one walks around, so we appreciated the laid-back approach. But the best thing about our trip the people. We had friendly folks inviting us to sit with them in theaters, and in all our dining open seating matchups, we met some fascinating people. Nobody went off on a political rant, which had spoiled past dinners on other ships. So if HAL attracts that kind of lovely people, it is a big draw to bring us back.
  6. Oops, sorry, it was indeed Captain van Hoogdalem. (We don't really notice the captain so it didn't click, but I checked the trip report they gave us.) BTW, his family is coming for 2 weeks over the Christmas/New Years holidays.
  7. She is going in January, after drydock that will turn the screening room into Microsoft Studio, according to what I heard on a recent cruise. They did show some films in the Mainstage area.
  8. So we just got back from our cruise and wanted to report on our interactions with the Indonesian crew. We had only been back in the US for 5 weeks when we went on the cruise, so the language was still pretty fresh in our minds. (We had been serving as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 18 months, so this was our treat vacation after a hard job.) Yes, our room stewards were Indonesian, so all our interactions with them were in that language. But I had not expected the many other contacts we would make. On the first day, our waitstaff on the Lido was Indonesian and we asked which island. It turned out that she was from our same island, and of the tribe of many of our friends so we could even greet her in the tribal language. She asked what part of town we had lived in, and it so happened that our last apartment was on a major street, so we told her and mentioned it was near a popular durian restaurant. She teared up. We hadn't realized it was her first contract and she had only been out two months! We asked for a quick photo to try to cheer her up and get on a more positive track. We saw her several times during the cruise. On the last day at lunch, I asked a waiter where he was from so I could thank him in the appropriate language. He was Filipino, so "Selamat" worked. That same waitress happened to walk by and he pointed, "But she is from Indonesia." The young woman retorted, "So is she!" indicating me. Nice compliment. One morning at breakfast in MDR we were chatting with the staff who seated us, who turned us over to an Indonesian waiter. When we were doing the usual seating and chatting but in Indonesian, many of the waitstaff in that corner of the dining room took a few steps over to hear us. It was like a magnet and those closest talked with us until tablemates joined us. The first gala night my husband wore a dress shirt and tie. When he realized the loosened standards, he wore a batik dress shirt to the second gala night. A batik dress shirt is not just in the traditional cloth pattern (my icon is an example) but also has the buttons hidden under a placket and a border at the bottom. It is meant to be worn untucked. This is what the ambassador or their president might wear to a formal function. It was astonishing how many people reacted. Apologies that waiters serving at other tables looked up to wave and compliment, both on the way in and the way out. Heading back to our room that night, one of our stewards also remarked and said it must be from a certain city. "No, we got it in Jakarta," my husband said. The steward said he didn't believe it and wanted to see the collar. I realized he meant the tag, and I pulled it out. Sure enough, it was from the city he had named, although purchased elsewhere. Once we started ordering in Indonesian, the waiters were ruthless about only speaking that language to us. But it was a good exercise. Early one morning, I was walking on the Promenade deck. I watched a crew member clamber up rungs, but then let go his hands to be handed a bucket. I called out for him to be careful! They could have been offended at my questioning their competence, but they took it with the motherly concern with which it was intended. They thanked me. And as I continued to walk down the deck, I was greeted in Indonesian by other crew who had heard. On Panama Canal day, after entering Lake Gatun, I wanted a few minutes to catch up on email (we had not purchased ship wifi) and chill. I agreed to meet my husband at a certain place on the promenade deck. When I got out there, they still had a station serving Panama rolls. I gave in to temptation, and had my second of the morning. But I asked the server for only one, in Indonesian. "Not two?" he responded in that language. I retorted that I would become fat if I ate two. A while later my husband walked onto the deck, and they also offered him rolls or coffee. He responded in Indonesian that he was satisfied. They told him that his wife must be over there and pointed to me. I don't know if my husband had been talking to a lot of people, or if crew were sharing that there was this weird "bule" couple who could speak the language, but as the week progressed I was greeted by more and more folks in Indonesian, who I didn't remember meeting earlier. One night as we passed the Lido Bistro line, someone called out good night to us by name. We turned and waved but I wasn't sure who had said it. Beyond the language, our perspective on living in that country also made for some interesting conversations. We talked with one young woman about her work schedule. She had five hours in the morning, then a rest, and five hours in the evening. That sounds like a long day to a USAmerican. But when we heard, our eyes got big and she smiled and nodded. We realized that it is an easy job compared to what she might be doing at home. We have Indonesian friends who work 12+ hour days, 7 days a week, in conditions that are much less safe, with no prospect of time off ever, and risk being fired if they are sick for even one day. So yes, cruise ship work is very appealing for Indonesians. We were there on Halloween, and were impressed that one of the carved pumpkins was a Bali mask. Not sure when cruising will fit our vacation plans again, but it was a definite plus to be around those Indonesians.
  9. First time HAL cruiser, so this may be old news to some. But we attended the Nov 9, 2019 Q & A session with the captain and found it interesting. Some questions about goals for the upcoming drydock, and in addition to the usual repairs and recarpeting of stairs etc., he reported: - renovating the screening room into Microsoft Studio. (The existing Studio room is tiny and was always mobbed so hopefully this is an expansion.) - change the photo gallery from static print display into interactive stations where photos can be cropped or edited prior to custom printing - redo the tiles in the Lido restaurant which he said had been a problem since installation a few years ago. We weren't sure if he meant the tile flooring or the tiles behind the counters. He noted that he has a 3-month on, 3-months off schedule and that any crew with their own cabin can have family visit, which his does during school holidays. He said that HAL is trying to standardize contracts in the lower ratings for 8 months rather than 9. Someone asked about the Thai workers that had joined the crew and the captain said that they were going to continue to recruit Indonesians and Filipinos with some Thai as well. (I wish that they would follow the custom in other lines of putting either the country or flag of origin on nametags so that I can say thank you in the appropriate language.) The ship had needed to make a medical evacuation earlier in the cruise which required a non-trivial loop to a port, and someone asked who pays for the fuel for that. He said the ship covers it, an talked a bit about how much extra fuel they carry for contingencies. That was interesting because I always assumed the passenger would be charged. We always buy insurance coverage mostly in case of issues with elderly relatives at home, but also because we are also getting older ourselves and thus at more risk. I usually look for $250,000 for medical evacuation, but noted that the product sold by HAL only offers $50,000. I wonder if I am over-insuring? No news on expanding Lincoln Center Stage, which is always standing room only. It was also very hot, which I assumed was due to all the people. But on Friday, 8 November when they were going to sit down for Meet the Artists, a fire alarm went off and everyone had to be evacuated. They said a belt in the AC system had caught on fire and was replaced by the time I showed up for a concert 30 minutes later, although I had noticed the open wall panels on the way in. And it was cooler after that. Really interesting session and brave of the captain to take any questions. The staff was effective at making microphones available on both levels. Yes, of course a few people brought up their personal gripes that really should have been dealt with by guest services, but overall most stuff was of wide interest.
  10. Sorry to ask a stupid question, but WHERE is the newspaper/digest available?
  11. I'm glad that you found a vacation that fits you so well, but I am not sure that is a fair characterization of land tours. We often unpack once, in London or Paris or Budapest or Rome or Washington D.C., and take day trips as well as touring the abundant sites of interest in that locale. Another thing I noticed when touring places like Chichen Itza (Mexico), the original Olympiad stadium in Greece, the Colosseum in Rome, and Thingvellir in Iceland is that we stay nearby, have a leisurely breakfast and start our tour when the site opens. We are done and leaving in late morning as the weather gets much hotter (well not in Iceland), and the buses from the cruise ships are just arriving. Yuk! I would not want to be part of that hot and sweaty cattle call. And one of our land vacations involved riding bicycles from Harper's Ferry, West Virginia into Pittsburgh. We totally set our own pace without cars or buses involved. I have thoroughly enjoyed the cruises I have been on, and am looking forward to another. There is no better way to see the Panama Canal or parts of Alaska. But I'm not going to pretend that cruises are always the best way for me to vacation.
  12. Don't be in a hurry to leave the airport in Singapore; they just opened a rain forest display at the airport. https://www.scmp.com/magazines/style/tech-design/article/3007786/inside-singapores-changi-airport-jewel-rainforest-40 Be sure to at least watch the movie of CRAZY RICH ASIANS before you go. Reading the book would be even better. You will recognize all kinds of scenes from the movie as you go around town. BTW, the hawker center (food court) scene was filmed at the Newton Center, which is super easy to access from the subway station of that name, and the food is great (although the characters in the book do not agree.) Great mass transit in Singapore makes it easy to get around. The botanical garden is incredible. I could have spent two days there. Most of it is free; there is a fee for the extensive orchid collection. The evening music/light show at Gardens by the Bay was the best I have ever seen, and I've been to all the Disney World shows. But it changes regularly so you will see something different. They repeat it twice each evening, and there is a hawker center right onsite https://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/dining/satay-by-the-bay.html, so you can eat and then follow the crowds to the trees. It is free to walk around Gardens by the Bay; but the enclosures and skyway between the trees have a fee. Most hotels lend you a cellphone with tourist info preloaded, so no need to find a SIM card after landing. And since Singapore is very digitally plugged in, lots of tourist info available online. And of course English is one of the official languages, so very easy that way. The most exciting thing to me: Singapore has some of the cleanest tap water in the world. You can drink it, brush your teeth with it, cook with it. Such luxury! (Okay, that probably isn't anything to a first-worlder, but it was a big thrill for me, since my island is not quite as progressive.) Have a great trip!
  13. Not only is it pricey, but the Japanese encephalitis immunization available in the US is an inferior product: less effective and for fewer years, and two doses required. In Asian countries, the Imojev vaccine is available--only one shot, and I paid $75 on Java. It is a nasty disease, so I wouldn't want to spend much time in the Far East without it. But if you had a morning free when you are out that way, and the hotel could recommend a walk-in clinic, something to consider.
  14. Yeah, for us the OBCs or prepaid HSC is what makes a difference, and phone calls are where that happens. We don't drink and aren't interested in fine dining, so some of the other benefits offered have little appeal to us. But it doesn't hurt to track the price as well. We just about always use a TA, but for our upcoming cruise, we ended up buying directly from HAL because there were two overlapping sales (cabin price drop plus prepaid HSC) that beat what the TA could offer, from our point of view. And of course the obvious answer is to find a new TA, but we don't cruise as often as some here, so we don't develop the strong relationship that some of you have. Also, just to confirm: with HAL, it seems OBC can be used for HSC? That wasn't true for another cruise line a while back, so wanted to check.
  15. Well, of course start here at Cruise Critic, over at Ports of Call > Alaska. Others have mentioned Trip Advisor. I also like the Lonely Planet Thorntree Community I also used books from my public library. I splurged and ordered a great little book from Alaska Geographic called "Denali Walks." I could have also bought it once we arrived in Alaska, but I wanted to study it in advance, and had a colleague who had worked college summers in Denali and recommended some of the hikes we actually did. We flew into Fairbanks and rented a car from the airport. I'm sure I forgot some of this, but the next day we visited... - the Museum of the North at UA Fairbanks campus--excellent collection. They also have botanical gardens nearby. - drove out to the pipeline. - Great Alaska wooden bowl factory. Watched them being made--fascinating! - Downtown visitor's center had movies, info, bookstore. We left our car in their parking lot and walked along the river. - Late afternoon stop at Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. Saw massive groups of birds getting ready for their pre-winter flight. (Since we live in Florida, it was neat to see them at the other end of the journey.) - stopped at a grocery store in town. I bought an apple for every day of our land tour and some other supplies. - Some good meals--lunch at a Thai restaurant, loaded with veggies. - our budget hotel had a free shuttle to/from the airport and train, so we used that after dropping off the car and then to the train station in the morning. - like every hotel, ours offered an aurora alert, to wake us up if there are Northern Lights, but it wasn't really the season. One thing is that even if you get the cheaper lower train seating, there is a dome car available, supposedly for 20 minutes at a time. But it wasn't very crowded on the trip Fairbanks-Denali and some people stayed there the entire time. The place in Denali that we stayed, the Denali Salmon Bake does have cabins with their own bathroom. We thought the location was wonderful. Our train got in at noon, they picked us up, and we walked the mile to the park for our first hike. We were tired after the hike, so accepted a shuttle ride back. The second day was a park bus ride (schoolbus type not the deluxe cushy) as far as the Eielson Visitor's Center (66 miles), and we did a hike near there (the bus reservation was made months in advance online). The third day we checked our luggage at the railway office (not sure if this is still offered) and got in another hike before the train to Anchorage.
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