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  1. Monday, March 30, 2020 - Quarantine Day #7 San Luis Obispo, California (Home Sweet Home) It's strange that one can be on one side of the globe one day and, 36 hours later, on the other side. That's the way our (partial) round the world adventure ended, and we consider ourselves incredibly blessed to have it end the way it did. The first time we had any inkling of a problem was actually in Tonga, when we found out that the government there had refused to dock two passenger ships before us because of Covid-19, and I believe we were the last ship to dock there to date. In New Zealand, everything seemed perfectly normal, as it did in Sydney, Townsville, and Cairns - but then the rumors began. There was everything from "the ship is going to turn around and go back to Ft. Lauderdale across the Pacific" to "we're OK, since we're all in our safe little 'cocoon' here." We paid close attention to the most reliable-seeming rumors and decided our course. The day after Cairns, we were told that we would not be allowed to dock at Darwin, as passenger ships were forbidden from "in-transit" stops. That meant that if we weren't all permanently disembarking, we had to skip that port. We not only missed Darwin but also Broome, Geralton, and one other, whose name I can't remember. Those ports on the west coast of Australia had been added on to "kill time," since we had to replace Sri Lanka, which wouldn't allow cruise ships, and Mumbai, for which we could not get a blanket visa to cover all passengers. We received letter after letter, from HAL headquarters as well as from Captain Jonathan. The one that most people thought was the most interesting was the compensation letter. We learned that, based on our full cruise fare (deducting travel agent commissions and port taxes), we would have a choice: we could either opt for a 125% future cruise credit or a 50% refund and a 50% cruise credit. We've made our decision and have submitted our paperwork. Shortly after passing Darwin, we estimated that we would arrive at Fremantle on March 21 instead of March 24, as had been planned, because of missing those aforementioned ports. The only worry was whether the Aussies would actually let us disembark, along with the half dozen other ships that were arriving there within about a 3 or 4 day window. Because of our lucky guessing, we booked a hotel for two nights in Perth and a flight to Sydney on March 23, where we'd stay for four nights at a Darling Harbour hotel, flying to the West Coast via Delta Airlines on March 27. The first shock we had was when we found out that Delta was cancelling all flights to and from Australia on March 22. That required a quick reservation on United Airlines, non-stop from Sydney to San Francisco on March 24, since we realized that we'd better get out while the getting was good. On March 21, upon arrival in Fremantle (a wonderful small town, if you ever get a chance to visit), the plot thickened. We all had a choice of disembarking on March 21, 22, or 23, with the ship sailing with NO passengers on the evening of March 23. Passengers argued and argued to be able to stay on board, but to no avail. We wanted to have a "sea day" in Perth, so the 21st was our choice, and we were told that our window for disembarkation was from 11:00 to Noon. That time was set back twice before the real hammer fell. Apparently the local government would not allow anyone to disembark unless they were going straight to the airport to fly home. No hotel stays were allowed. That decided us, so we made ourselves comfortable, had a Dive-In burger for lunch and realized we'd have to stay onboard until Monday, the 23rd, our departure date from Perth. I realize that not all stories have a happy ending, but an hour later, Captain Jonathan came on the speaker and said that the federal government had overruled the local government, and we could actually stay in hotels. Since we were all packed and ready to go, we headed to Deck 3, checked out, and amazingly enough, found a bus ready to take us to Perth - for free. I knew that many people had paid the $59 for a transfer to the airport or a hotel, and here was this bus, just sitting there for free. We disembarked at the Novotel, and since we were staying at the Doubletree, we jumped in a cab and arrived at our hotel ten minutes later. Talk about a stressful day; I think my blood pressure must have gone soaring. As long as HAL had shipped your luggage to the Amsterdam, we were to leave it in the cabin, where it would stay until the ship arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, when it would be shipped to us. Since the ship was sailing with crew only first to Durban, South Africa, for provisions and fuel, and then to Ft. Lauderdale, we estimate it will take us six weeks to receive our luggage - but I really don't need any formal gowns or "pillow gifts" for now, anyway. We cannot say enough about Captain Jonathan and the way he handled this crisis. He was calm and collected, dealt with an ever-changing HAL office in Seattle, and even though he was getting virtually no sleep and was under incredible pressure, he was pleasant to everyone and patiently answered all questions - reasonable and not - put to him. The crew deserves every kudo I can give them. Not knowing what was happening to them, they still dealt with the passengers with grace and courtesy. I know that many passengers are quite vocal about their "terrible" treatment on the ship; we found that many of these people were negative throughout the cruise. A young man whom John had in class as well as on his tennis team had married an Aussie, and the two gentlemen had decided between them to get together for dinner. They met us at our hotel and led us around a couple of corners to a cute little spaghetti restaurant where the tables had been placed 10 feet apart - as required. We had a lovely time, meeting Neel's wife and catching up. The next day was our "explore Perth" day, and six miles later, we had walked down to the waterfront, through several parks, to the Bell Tower, and finally back to our hotel, where Rich and Ginni had just checked in. Since it was time to put up our feet, a sidewalk table at the hotel's bar was a good place to catch up on ship activity and what we had done. Rich is always looking for a good pub, and a block and a half later we'd found a great one. We sat together at one of the 10-feet apart tables outside and had some excellent fish and chips, beer and cider. This was to be "The Last Hurrah," though, since all bars and pubs were to shut down the next day at noon. Sound familiar? On Monday it was flight day, so we called an Uber, loaded our one bag each, and headed to the Perth airport. The Virgin Australia flight was right on time, and five hours later we were in Sydney. Our Aussie friend Greg had told us to book our overnight at Rydges Hotel because it was right across from the International Terminal. I'd expected "right across" to mean a major highway was in between, but it turned out that there were fewer than 200 steps to the terminal. The hotel's restaurants and bars had closed down, so we found some takeaway at the airport and brought it back to the hotel for dinner. Knowing that our flight, while nonstop, was 13-1/2 hours, and that we have a plethora of United miles, we waitlisted ourselves for an upgrade to business class. The next morning, when I tried to get a boarding pass online, it turned out that we HAD been upgraded. Hallelujah! Our friends Leslie and Handler were in Economy Plus, not too far behind us, but poor Rich and Ginni were stuck in coach. We loved our flight; I watched a couple of brand new movies, took a short nap and it seemed that suddenly we were in San Francisco. While we were on the ship, we had seen horrific photos of mobs of people arriving from overseas at coastal airports, so we were quite apprehensive. The reality was amazing: we were the only flight arriving, and because our luggage had been marked for business class, it came out first, but there was NO ONE in the immigration line. We have Global Entry, and that made it even faster. There was no line, so we just put our passports on the glass, our fingers on the screen, and we were OUT! We'd already said our goodbyes (without six feet of space between us), so we hopped on the "monorail" to the rental car building (where we were the only customers), picked up our car, and drove four hours home - with no stops. Yes, we DO realize how fortunate we are. Our ship was virus-free, we stayed two days in what seems now like a pre-apocalyptic Perth, we arrived home safely - but to a new reality, with which you all can identify. We've now completed week one of our quarantine, thanks to good friends who brought us groceries, brought us take-out dinner, and have made us more offers than we can accept. Yes, it's strange to "attend" church online, and when our friends bring offerings they stay six feet on the other side of our garden gate, but we're here, we're healthy, and God-willing, we'll get to the end of this horror story soon. Take care, stay healthy, and STAY HOME! It's not just our lives that are in danger; it's also our entire medical community and our at-risk citizens.
  2. P. S. Thanks for the photo, Pete. Hope your flight went as smoothly as ours.
  3. Not only were we on that flight, but the night before we exchanged miles, some $$, and our firstborn for business class seats. Not only were we extremely comfortable, but the "pod" seats kept our "social distancing" in effect. The 13 hours flew by! I'll be writing a final post as soon as all the paperwork gets finished.
  4. Saturday, March 21, 2020 Fremantle and Perth, Australia Although we were scheduled to arrive in Fremantle on the 22nd, we actually arrived at 8:00 this morning (March 21). We had booked the Doubletree Hotel in Perth for two nights, allowing one day as a "sea day" to hang around the pool, walk the neighborhood, and just relax. Well . . . . that wasn't quite what happened. This morning, our VERY highly placed source told us that Fremantle would NOT allow any passengers to go to a hotel, but had to go directly to the airport for their flights. That would mean that we would spend two more nights on the ship and go directly to the airport on the morning of the 23rd. This information was not made public, and when I asked about it at the front desk, the officer there said, "I think you know more than we do." Finally the announcement was made by the captain (because people really listen to him) that only those people going to the airport would be disembarked - and the groaning and complaining rose to a crescendo. John was a nervous wreck, but my "What? Me Worry?" attitude just made me look at tonight's menu and say, "Wow, there are all kinds of things I'd like for dinner." An hour later, the captain came on again and told us he had good news. Apparently Canberra, the national capital, had overridden the earlier decision and we could not only leave the ship, but go to a hotel. Within a half hour, we had our carry-ons in hand, walked off the ship and onto a bus headed for Perth. One of the nicest things was that Captain Jonathan, who has become a good friend, was on the open area outside the bridge waving at us. I blew him a kiss and he blew one back. Half an hour later, we arrived at one hotel, took a taxi to our hotel, and here we are, sitting at a sidewalk table of the hotel's bar, drinking a beer and a cider. As much as I love the ship, this does have a very relaxed feeling, and this evening we're meeting one of John's former students/tennis players for dinner. Tomorrow is a lovely free day, and mid-day Rich and Ginni will join us here. On the 23rd, we'll fly Virgin Australia (which is operating domestically) to Sydney, and on the 24th we head HOME! We're on United Airlines non-stop to San Francisco, where our rental car will await us for the four-hour drive to home sweet home. I've always believed that "everything will always work out for the best," and although we're not home yet, things are looking good.
  5. Tuesday, March 17, 2020 At Sea en route to Fremantle (for Perth), Australia We thought we'd arrive in Fremantle on March 24, but because we were not allowed to stop at "in-transit" ports, we'll be arriving earlier than expected - on Sunday, March 22. After waiting with bated breath (and in the middle of a lot of griping and moaning), Captain Jonathan came over the intercom with HAL's updated information for us on the cancelled cruise. Here are the main points that he communicated: If you have HAL air service (Flightease), you will be flown home. If you don't have Flightease, you need to make your own travel arrangements. If you had either four or unlimited baggage shipment, that will apply now. Apparently the luggage will be tagged, left on the ship for the 28 or 29 days necessary to get back to Ft. Lauderdale, and then it will be shipped to our homes, for a total of nearly six weeks. If you did not have a cabin category that included free luggage shipment, you may leave your suitcases and they will be shipped to you at FedEx rates. Travel change expenses will be reimbursed up to $1250.00. (I'm not quite sure what that covers) There will NOT be a 14-day quarantine period for disembarking passengers, since we have had medical clearance already. This is John's favorite part. For compensation, we have two choices: 1. Based on the full fare you paid, you may have a 50% credit and a 50% future cruise credit. 2. You may have a 125% future cruise credit. So . . . if you paid $100,000 (just because it's an easy number to work with), you may choose between a $50,000 (credit card) credit and a $50,000 future cruise credit OR you may have a $125,000 future cruise credit. Of course most people paid a lot less than that, but that's the way it works out. Of course this was all over the intercom system while I took notes, and we haven't yet received it in writing, but I'm sure that will be here today or tomorrow. So . . . what are WE doing? We'll stay one night at a Perth hotel, then fly to Sydney on the 23rd, where we'll stay for (probably) four nights before flying to Los Angeles and thence to San Luis Obispo. We're just hanging out on the ship while a lot of people are packing and just staying in their rooms. Since we only have five days left of our "128 day" cruise, we plan to enjoy them. Tonight is Ginni's birthday dinner, which also includes Woody, whose birthday was yesterday as well as Will, who will have his actual birthday in two days. Our travel agent is hosting a cocktail party tomorrow evening, which follows two separate free happy hours yesterday afternoon and evening. Sometimes I feel like people think we're sailing on the Titanic and have to pack everything into the next five days. If there's any other news, I'll write about it, but it seems pretty calm here right now.
  7. We know about the other cruise lines' decisions, but we also realize that we are as safe onboard this ship as we would be at home - probably more, and no one has to worry about people hoarding toilet paper (although I still don't understand that, since coronavirus is a respiratory disease). If we have to return home mid-cruise we'll do so, but in the meantime we're certainly enjoying our current location. In fact, my next activity is choosing what to wear for this evening's gala night. Thanks for your concerns and we'll keep you updated - except that you'll probably hear it before we do.
  8. 3/13/20 UPDATE: I guess today's post was appropriately timed, because in his midday update, Captain Jonathan read a message from HAL's head office in Seattle. In it, we were told that even though some other cruise lines are cancelling cruises, the Amsterdam is going to continue our cruise as planned, making changes as necessary. I think almost everyone was glad to hear that, since that's what we signed on for, no matter how much the itinerary has changed. We feel like anyone on a world cruise should be grateful for the opportunity, no matter where the winds (and viruses) take us.
  9. Friday the 13th of March, 2020 At Sea en route to Darwin, Australia Today is supposed to be “Scenic Cruising of the Great Barrier Reef,” but there really is nothing to see, since it’s cloudy, which obstructs any ability to get a glimpse of the reef. I don’t hear anyone complaining, though, since a sea day is a sea day, and now we get three of them before Darwin. What are the words of the old song? “Shall I stay or shall I go?” That could be us, after today’s announcement from the president of Princess Cruises that all Princess ships are being called in and cruises cancelled. In addition, the Seabourn world cruise was terminated in Perth, after which all passengers were flown home. So . . . will we soldier on or just call it a day? I mentioned that Seychelles and Reunion were cancelled, both at their request, but that information was on the news and has not been announced onboard ship. I figured that they were just deciding which ports to use instead, but now I think they’re deciding whether to continue or just scrap the whole thing. Our 3/4 circumnavigation of Australia is scheduled to end in Perth, after which we have seven days across the Indian Ocean. Our last hope, I believe is South Africa, but their numbers are increasing and I know that countries are terrified of cruise ships, even though everyone onboard here has been on far longer than 14 days. We’re a bit torn on the subject, but we, like almost everyone onboard, feel very safe and healthy, except for the colds and coughs that always plague a world cruise. Anyway, I shall keep you updated on our progress (or lack thereof), and I just hope that if we get cancelled, we hear about it before Facebook!
  10. Thursday, March 12, 2020 Cairns, Australia I am convinced that the most beautiful sunrise and sunsets in the world are seen from a ship in the middle of the ocean. I’ve included one of each so you can see what I mean. We just oooh and ahhh every time we see one or the other. John and I spent three days in Cairns a few years ago, flying up from Sydney and enjoying our own “shore excursions” here while waiting to rejoin the ship. We took the beautiful old train to Kuranda, spent a day in Daintree Rain Forest, and snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef for a full day. We loved the town and enjoyed everything we did. Today we’re here again, but the weather is entirely different. Previously, we had three days of sun, to the point that I developed quite a sunburn on my back while snorkeling, but today was rain, rain, rain. The forecast said that it would stop between 10:00 AM and noon and then come back with a vengeance in the afternoon. So what did it do during that two hour “break?” It rained, rained, rained. Luckily for us, last night’s “pillow gifts” were collapsible umbrellas which are black outside with a light blue map of the world inside. Even more than the aesthetics of the gift, however, it was perfectly timed. When we were here last year, we found a lovely little coffee shop, so the first search was for the same one. We’re not sure it was the same, but it did have really delicious cappuccinos. After that, the next stop was Woolworths for a few items. First, of course, were Tim Tams, but in addition we wanted to pick up a few things to send home for our granddaughter’s Easter basket. Having found that, John saw some particularly tasty looking crackers, two boxes to keep in the room and a box to take to Rich and Ginni’s next “suite party.” Passing an open-front tour office, we struck up a conversation with a lovely young lady named Beth, an American from Montana, who thinks she’ll go back to the States sometime, but not to the Montana winters. Coincidentally, one of her best friends is one of the newscasters on our local news station, so we’ve been assigned to contact her friend and tell her hello. On Beth’s recommendation, we went to a small Greek restaurant for lunch. John had what turned out to be a deconstructed lamb gyro, which he was nice enough to share, and I had pita bread and tzatziki, a dip that was as good as what we had in Rhodes a few years ago. I washed it down with a cider, and we were happy campers. I’d intended to save time this afternoon for a pedicure, but when I stopped at the salon, they told me that their nail lady was out for the day, so no luck. By then it was time to come back “home” to the ship so that John could have a nap and I could do a bit of writing. I’d looked forward to seeing one of the new entertainers tonight, since they all changed out here, but it turns out that the evening’s entertainment is Bombshell, the movie about Roger Ailes and three female newscasters at Fox. I really want to watch it, but it doesn’t begin until 9:30, so I guess I’ll wait until tomorrow and watch it on TV. We now have three sea days coming up, even though two of them are labeled “Scenic Cruising - Great Barrier Reef.” I just hope the weather clears up a bit, since heavy grey skies make it really difficult to see what’s under the water. We’ll just have to wait and see - and that seems to be the theme of this cruise! P. S. the four-masted ship is a Windstar cruise.
  11. Wednesday, March 11, 2020 Townsville, Australia At home, it’s very strange for us to have rain and 85 degree weather at the same time, but that’s what it is today in Townsville. This is a beautiful little tropical town, with more friendly people and hundreds of palm trees. We were here last year and enjoyed it just as much then. Since the rain was pouring down, we waited until about 9:30 to disembark the ship. By then the rain was light - just enough to ruin one’s hair and create puddles to skip over. We’re docked a bit of a distance from town, so our complimentary shuttle took us right into the city center, where our first job, as usual, was to find a post card and get it in the mail. After that was taken care of (with international stamps at $3.40 Aus), we decided to head down to The Strand, a blocks-long park that runs along the sea. On the way, however, we were waylaid by a friendly little coffee shop. When I opened my wallet to pay for our cappuccinos, the cheeky young man working there commented that I had a really nice “California accent.” I asked him exactly what that meant and he replied that you can just hear it. Finally he admitted that he had caught a glance at my driver’s license, and we both had a laugh over that. Coffee stop complete, we walked the rest of the way to The Strand, a beautiful part of Townsville with grass, tropical trees (I love the banyans), children’s play areas, war memorials, and a large swimming complex which is being renovated. Sidewalks line both sides of the park area, so we just walked and walked, John taking photos while I read every historical marker. Finally we arrived at our destination: Longboard, a bar and grill which sits right on the ocean and is somehow connected to Longboard on the Big Island of Hawaii. In fact, their most popular beer is Longboard Lager, which we’ve enjoyed in Hawaii. This time, however, I stuck to pear cider while John had a local draft beer. We had agreed to meet Rich and Ginni there at 12:30, but since we were there at 11:45, we texted them so they’d be early. Once they arrived, it was time for calamari, fish and chips, and a good time. Whenever we’re at Longboard, we always run into shipboard friends and today was no different. When lunch was over, we began the trek back to the shuttle and managed to fit in 4 miles for the day, which was good considering we didn’t even go to the gym this morning. Between the shuttle and the ship there is, of course, a large building with a bit of a local market inside, so I was able to pick up a couple of things that I’d been looking for, including a loose cotton tropical dress and a “fake gold” necklace so I can have something around my neck and not worry about someone stealing it. It’s been a good day and we find Townsville a lovely stop along our “tour of Australia cruise.” Tomorrow is Cairns, where there’s more rain forecast, but heck, that’s what umbrellas are for.
  12. Tuesday, March 10, 2020 At Sea en route to Townsville, Australia It’s our second sea day, and it seems as though we are crossing the Atlantic. There are sizable swells, gray skies, high winds, and occasional rain. Here we thought we were supposed to be in Australian late summer - I guess not. I really don’t mind, since it just keeps me inside to read or write, but John and company were rained off the paddleball court yesterday. I think he’s going to give it a break for awhile, since his tennis elbow has returned with a vengeance. Last evening our friend Martha invited us to join her in The Pinnacle Restaurant to enjoy the “A Taste of Tamarind Restaurant.” You probably know that Tamarind is a permanent restaurant on Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam (and probably others), but on other ships, it appears as a “pop up,” and on this cruise there will be three chances to enjoy it. They did the same thing last year, but we didn’t enjoy it then nearly as much as we did last night. We think they’ve really upped their game. We were a group of seven: Martha, Will, Nancy, Greg, Heo, and the two of us. Although we were crowded into a corner table, it just made things more interesting, as when we had to decide whose silverware and water glass was whose and then laughed about it. Tamarind calls itself a “pan-asian” dining experience, and it’s fun to decide which asian dishes to enjoy for the courses. Most people choose two starters, a main, and a dessert, but I limited myself to one starter before I realized everyone else had ordered two. That was OK, since I got to share some excellent choices from others’ plates. I had the satay sampler, which included lamb, pork, beef, chicken, shrimp and pickled vegetables set off with two dipping sauces, sweet and sour as well as peanut sauce. It was delicious, even though I couldn’t tell the difference between the lamb, the pork and the beef. Maybe I just used too much sauce. The other choices were shrimp tempura, spring rolls, Thai beef salad, a dragon roll (somewhat like a California roll, but with a “tail,”) and a veggie rainbow roll. The soups were laksa and “Jewels of the Sea” with shrimp wontons. I tried John’s dragon roll and I think I’ll have it next time. Everyone’s reports were “two thumbs up” and then we were ready for main courses. The mains are divided into four of the Chinese elements: water, fire, wood and earth. I had the ginger and garlic seared lobster (water), which was fantastic. John and Martha had the Penang red curry coconut chicken (fire), which came in a large bowl - it was really too much for one person. Will enjoyed the wasabi and soy crusted beef tenderloin (wood) , and Heo had the Korean duck breast bulgogi with sticky rice cake(also wood). The other choices were barramundi, lamb with mint, sesame udon noodles, and sweet and sour vegetable tempura, the last two from the “earth” category. Along with our mains, there were several side dishes, including rice, garden vegetables, bok choy and mushrooms. If we’d had three thumbs, they would have all been up. Even though everyone said they were full, it was dessert time and no one would pass it up. There were three choices: chocolate mousse in a dark chocolate shell, Thai mini donuts, and a huge “fortune cookie” with a chocolate ganache filling. Since it’s still Lent, I had a delicious plate with strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. It’s nice to have that option, especially since our friend Ginni is seriously allergic to chocolate and she’d have to have something besides the menu offerings. We were, as usual, the last people to leave the dining room, so we spent time chatting with Tina, the Pinnacle manager and taking silly photos. It was a wonderful evening, and now we have the sommelier dinner on Friday to which we can look forward.
  13. Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8, 2020 Sydney, Australia What a place! The excitement began at about 6:00 in the morning on our first day when we had one of the world’s best sail-ins, past the world-famous opera house and under Sydney Harbour Bridge. We’ve done this sail-in several times, but it never loses its fascination for us. We also love the fact that this is one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, but I imagine the English convicts who saw it didn’t think so. Australia requires that every passenger, crew member, and officer go through a “face to passport” check with an immigration officer, much like we have to do when we return to the United States from overseas. After we did that, we hopped on the ship’s shuttle and headed to Darling Harbour (doncha just love that name), the center of a lot of Sydney’s excitement and nightlife. It was named after Ralph Darling, a British Lieutenant General, who was kind enough to name it after himself in 1826. We didn’t stay there long, but headed along Sussex street, which led us right into the middle of Chinatown. As we had been warned, the area was very quiet, with few residents and even fewer tourists. After a stroll through that area, we went directly to Paddy’s Market, a square-block building with small, indoor markets selling almost everything. I’m not a shopper, so we just wandered through, enjoying the wares on display. Slightly later, our friends Ginni and Leslie went through the market with serious shopping on their minds - and apparently they were very successful at it. We left the market after having lunch at the third floor Asian food court, enjoying teriyaki chicken, fried rice and curried chicken. We knew that George Street would lead us directly to Circular Quay, where we used to dock, right in the middle of the city. If you haven’t been to Sydney, it’s the place from which you can take the best photos of the bridge and the opera house, and it’s also the ferry headquarters for the city. Along the way we walked through Queen Victoria Building, the home of incredibly upscale shopping as well as lovely restaurants and tea rooms on the top level. It also has some beautiful stained glass along the walls and ceiling of this wonderful historical building. We kept wandering until we reached the Quay and then bought an Opal Card, similar to London’s Oyster Card, which is used for any public transportation in and around Sydney. The first use of the card was to hop a ferry back to Darling Harbour and then board the shuttle back to the ship. A quick shower and a nap later, we met Rich and Ginni to take the shuttle back to Darling and our ultimate destination: Baia Restaurant, one of our favorite places to eat Italian food. As we were eating, the rain began just sheeting down, so we were fortunate to be under cover and just able to watch. The pizzas and calamari were delicious (as usual) and it seemed like it was expensive, but when converted to US dollars (1 dollar = 1.5 Aus dollars) it wasn’t so bad. We finished dinner at about 8:00 and the regular Saturday night fireworks didn’t begin until 9:00, so we went on a Tim-Tam hunt. If you’ve never had Tim-Tams, you should check out the cookie section of a large supermarket. They’re one of Australia’s prize products, and we usually buy them in whatever Australian port we find ourselves. The interesting thing was that the cookies we bought in 7-11 were $4.50 a package, but when we got to Woolworth’s (yes, they still have them here), they were on sale for $1.76, so that’s where we stocked up. By the time we returned to Darling Harbour, the fireworks (and the rain) had begun. We watched what we could and then it was time to return home to the Amsterdam. As an aside, whenever we’re in port, there’s a large sign raised on the side of the ship which says “Welcome Home,” and it really feels like it. When we returned to our cabin, I checked my IPhone and it said that I had walked 7.8 miles - just reading that made me tired. * * * * * * * Sunday was almost as busy as Saturday. We met our usual partners in crime, Rich and Ginni, took the shuttle to Darling Harbour, the ferry to Circular Quay, and then a ferry to Manly Beach watching the beautiful sailboats as we crossed. I know that it’s Bondi Beach which gets all the press (and the tee-shirts), but we much prefer Manly (and not just for the name). We love the incredibly long stretch of pristine white beach, the surfing contests (one was going on yesterday), the Corso, a super-wide pedestrian-only street which leads one from the harbour to the beach, and Hugo’s, our favorite harbour-side restaurant. That was our first stop, where we had pretty much a reprise of last night’s dinner. We shared pizzas and calamari and enjoyed a beautiful view. The place was packed, as it is almost every Sunday, and we were lucky to get a table without a reservation. Then we proceeded down the Corso, peeking into the restaurants, grocery shops, pharmacies and surf shops as we continued toward the beach. That’s where we discovered that, like last year, the annual Manly surfing contest was going on, so we watched for awhile before heading back to our ferry. Since we had a 5:30 all-aboard and a 5:00 last shuttle, we hastened aboard the ferry to Circular Quay and then the shorter one to Darling Harbour, where we found our shuttle back to the ship,and arrived in plenty of time. We were even early enough to get ready for the 5:30 sailaway, where the hors d’oeuvres consisted of about six different kinds of cheese as well as almost unlimited oysters. I’m not a fan, but those around me were really happy with the shellfish and gobbled them down. It was nice to be back at the table for dinner, and even nicer that it was a “set the clocks back an hour” night. We skipped the show and went to sleep early, doing our best to make up for two incredibly active days, miles upon miles, and meal after meal. Now, as I sit at the table in the library across from my library friend Frances, it seems as though I may actually have recovered.
  14. Friday, March 6, 2020 At Sea en route to Sydney At last year’s Captain’s Dinner in The Pinnacle, we were fortunate enough to be seated with the captain and, since this particular dinner was the last of twelve, we offered the opinion that Captain Jonathan must be quite ready to be finished with this particular part of his responsibilities. He agreed wholeheartedly, at which time John suggested that it might be a good idea to have one big, elegant dinner in the dining room, call it “The Captain’s Dinner,” serve wonderful food and include lots and lots of free wine. I guess there was conversation with Seattle about how much money was lost in The Pinnacle ($90,000) and, presto change-o, the Captain’s Dinner this year was held last evening in the Dining Room. We don’t know if it had anything to do with John’s suggestion, but I’d like to think so. It seemed as we entered the Crow’s Nest before dinner that everyone had worn their very best outfits, from ball gowns to Armani tuxedos to colorful kilts. Since there were dinner seatings at 5:30 and 7:30 (and we were to attend the latter one), we all headed for the dining room where there was a 15-minute delay while the first seating finished and the tables were reset. One thing we noticed was that all of the ladies who host in the Dining Room wore beautiful black dresses. We knew from Josephine, the evening dining room hostess, that she had gone shopping in Auckland to find “the perfect dress.” Isn’t that what every woman looks for? We were fortunate enough to have Henk Mensink, the Hotel Manager, host our table. He and his beautiful wife Crystal are friends from our first WC in 2008 and we always get along well. Henk usually sits with us at least once during the cruise, and we were quite honored that it was such a special night to have him join us. The dinner began with a cocktail called a Pear Blossom Martini. My first glance at the glass made me think of a lava lamp, because there were small green bubbles floating up to the top. Henk told us they were pear-infused vodka inside of an edible “skin.” The rest of the drink consisted of lychee nectar, sugar syrup and a topping of sparkling wine. For someone who doesn’t usually have cocktails, this one was pretty good. The two wines chosen for the dinner were Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Decero Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina. Jacques had told us that these were new wines that were previously unavailable on the ship but had been ordered specifically for the Captain’s Dinner. I stuck with the Sauvignon Blanc and found that it quickly went to the top of my “favorites” list. Since all elegant meals must have an amuse bouche, and since ours was even better, we had three. There was a little glass container with asparagus panna cotta, a thin slice of cucumber filled with crab, and a “mojito sphere.” That last one was interesting. It was another one with a “skin” around a liquid that tasted like a mojito. For our first course, there was a choice between tiger prawns and a “sprouting salad of baby beets.” Since the second involved goat cheese, I opted for the prawns. A green pea soup was the next course, followed by a choice of “New Zealand Sea” or “New Zealand Land.” The first had a fish filet, scampi and oysters, while the second had a rib-eye filet, crispy sweetbread, and short rib terrine. I had the fish, but the “Land” looked great too. For the vegans among us, there was an option of fava bean-stuffed mushrooms. As a dessert course, the choices were Manuka honey custard with ice cream and lemon curd or New Zealand artisan cheeses. Since it’s Lent and I’m not eating sweets, I opted for the cheese plate, which was delicious. We loved the entire experience, and felt like we had dined in a five-star restaurant. Virtually everyone we spoke to said pretty much the same thing, and I think that almost everyone thought this was a dinner worthy of being called “The Captain’s Dinner.” Tomorrow is Sydney, and everyone’s pretty excited about it - especially as it’s the beginning of our two-and-a-half week tour of coastal Australia. There’s rain forecast, but what the heck - it’s going to be warm rain!
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