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  1. April 13, Picton The weather in Picton the next day was in marked contrast to Akaroa – sunny, warm, and very pleasant. It was a great day to tour some wineries. Luckily, we had booked a shore excursion called “The Wines of Marlborough” which took us to three – Forrest, Spy Valley and Wither Hills. We docked near but outside the town of Picton. The port, like Port Chalmers, had piles of logs waiting for export; someone told us that New Zealand has a thriving timber crop industry using a fast-growing pine that they harvest and export, mainly to China and around the Far East. Here is a photo of the port: For our excursion, we boarded and rode a bus through some very pretty countryside. The area is famous for its sauvignon blanc wines, because of its terrain, spoil and climate that combine to produce excellent wines. We were able to taste several ones. We had four tastes at each winery, but each was only about an ounce of wine, so we were still able to taste the ones at the end of the trip as well as the beginning. Most of the tastes were of sauvignon blanc, some of rose’, a few pinot noirs, and a couple of others. One was a riesling that they said was dry, but it was still too sweet for us. At Wither Hills, we tried two sauvignon blancs, one from a section of the vineyard that had soil with a lot of minerals and salt, and the other from a more normal terrain. We found the first one harsh and not very palatable, but the second was excellent. This really pointed out the importance of the soil for grapes. The final tasting was of a sparkling gewürztraminer, that we agreed was basically Lambrusco bianco, sweet and somewhat cloying. The other wines, however, were superb – the sauvignon blancs were outstanding, and the pinot noirs were surprisingly (to me) full-bodied and flavorful; I had thought that pinot noir was a pretty thin wine and usually prefer a shiraz, especially from the Barossa Valley, but I guess I had never had good quality ones. I have since gone about correcting that oversight.😀 It was a very pleasant day touring through beautiful countryside, and not physically challenging. Wither Hills Winery had two floors, and I don’t know if there was an elevator. At Spy Hill, we were led on a short walk to the vines, some still laden with cabernet grapes, but you could have remained on the winery terrace. Here are some photos of our tour: More later, Dave
  2. April 12, Akaroa This port visit was blown off – literally. We approached in high seas and very high winds. I understand that the port in Christchurch was damaged in the large earthquake a couple of years ago, so cruise ships use nearby Akaroa as a tender port. But, the weather was so bad that either the captain or the port authorities, or both, decided that it was too dangerous for Noordam to attempt to approach and try to run tenders. He is a photo I took of the seas and headlands off Akaroa that morning. We were disappointed, for we had booked an all-day excursion to the Southern Alps, with a featured train ride. But, even if we had been able to tender, the weather may very well have been as bad in the mountains, and we would not have been able to catch even a glimpse of Mt. Cook or the other Alps. More later, Dave
  3. April 11, Port Chalmers We docked in Port Chalmers, near Dunedin in the South Island. The port had stacks of logs awaiting shipment, and their smell, combined with the tree-covered hills made me think of the Pacific Northwest or Alaska. The port is about 43 degrees south latitude, about the equivalent of northern California/southern Oregon, but it is colder because of Antarctica, and seems to have a climate more like Juneau or Sitka. We had booked a ship’s excursion called “Otago Peninsula Yellow-Eyed Penguin Reserve.” We had discovered when we bought New Zealand currency before the trip that the bird is on the New Zealand $5 bill. From Port Chalmers, we rode a bus about an hour or so through Dunedin and around to the Otago Peninsula to Penguin Place. We got an orientation talk, and were able to see several of the yellow-eyed penguins in the rehab facility, recovering from wounds or whatever. Then, we walked a way to a trench network to look for penguins in the wild. They were mostly gone that time of year, but we found two penguins pretty close to the trench and I was able to get photos through the slots in the trench wall. We then walked around the headland to see the scenery, and found a group of fur seals lying around on the rocks and grass. We were able to get quite close to them without any apparent concern on their part. This excursion’s description said that you would have to climb several dozen steps to visit the trenches. There were many steps, but they were not extreme and we could take our time, so it was not too much of a challenge. It is not for someone with a chair or walker, but someone with a cane might be able to do the walk. Everyone could see the penguins in the refuge, and if you did not feel up to going to the trenches you could wait for the group back at the main buildings. More later, Dave
  4. April 7, Embarkation Day We tagged our bags and they were picked up from our room by porters. We had breakfast and coffee and walked a bit, before coming back to the hotel, checking out and taking our carry-on luggage to a waiting area downstairs. When the bus came, we had to identify our main luggage from the bunch on the sidewalk, and then boarded the bus. The bus took us to White Bay pier where Noordam was berthed. The embarkation process was smooth and quick, and we were able to board and go tour our stateroom, a verandah one on the 6th deck, starboard, near the aft elevators. It was the same cabin we had on Noordam last summer, and we asked for it again because of its convenient location. I did not take photos of the Noordam so much, as she is due for major overhaul later this year, and will no doubt change. For this cruise, she still had the Crow’s Nest unaltered, and the Explorations Café and library on the third deck, forward of the shops. There was no librarian but there were still lots of books you could take on a honor system, and there was a paperback exchange case of shelves that was quite active. April 10, Fiordland National Park Yes, New Zealand spells it with an “I” instead of a “j” like Norway does. We spent two days crossing the Tasmanian Sea, and then on April 10 did scenic cruising in the national park at the southwest corner of the South Island. The weather was rainy, and pretty windy in narrow spots, but the scenery was spectacular. But, luckily the Crow’s Nest had not yet been turned into an EXC, and so there were no large display screens blocking the view like there are on Westerdam. About dawn, we entered Milford Sound, with is actually a fjord, and sailed slowly to the end, where some of the passengers debarked on a tender boat to go ashore on an overnight trip to meet the ship the next day in Dunedin. Attached are photos of Milford Sound, the tender boat in the sound, and one showing Noordam in the sound. Later in the day, we also sailed through Doubtful Sound, and then Dusky Sound. Here is another photo, this one from Doubtful Sound. The scenery reminded us a lot of the area around Ketchikan and Juneau. The captain had allowed some of his collection of charts from previous voyages to be displayed in the Crow’s Nest during the scenic cruising: More later, Dave
  5. We recently took a Collector’s cruise that included a 14-day trip from Sydney around New Zealand and back to Sydney, and then a 22-day transit of the Pacific to Vancouver, BC. I took photos and scanned some paper things, and decided to do a review of the ports we visited and what we did there. At the end, I will post the daily When and Where files and the MDR dinner menus. (I think I might have figured out the new CC website enough to be able to post photos and things.) Here is a map of our cruise: Pre-cruise We live in the Seattle area, and asked our PCC to cost out some flight options for us. There are no direct flights to Sydney, but we could change in LA, San Francisco or Vancouver, BC. The flight from YVR was most convenient, and we decided to just book the one flight and make our own way to Vancouver. With the HAL Flightease program, our PCC was able to get us good fare, cheaper than we could have gotten on our own for the one-way flight. We booked the Amtrak Cascades from Seattle and spent a night in Vancouver before our flight. We stayed at the Delta Suites hotel, part of the Marriot family of hotels, and booked a night and a half-day (6 p.m. checkout) for the next day, which was good because our flight to Sydney was not due to depart until just before midnight. That allowed us to spend the morning in Stanley Park and rest in our room in the afternoon before checking out and getting a cab to YVR. We had paid for business class seats on Air Canada, and were able to lie flight and actually get several hours of sleep en route to Sydney. We arrived in the morning of April 3, were met by HAL reps and taken by limo to the HAL hotel – HAL has two they use in Sydney, one in the Circular Quay area and one near Darling Harbour. We had chosen the Hyatt Regency on Sussex Street, at/above Darling Harbour. We had stayed in the hotel on a 2016 trip, and really liked how easy it is to get to shopping on George and Pitt streets, and to Darling Harbour with its many restaurants. We had four nights, to allow us to adjust our body clocks, which takes longer as we get older, and to see a bit of Sydney. Our rooms were ready for us when we arrived – HAL guarantees the rooms will be available if you book through them; we found out from the desk staff it is because HAL books the night before as well. We thought it well worth it as we could drop our bags in the room right away and not have to hang about the lobby for hours with our luggage. During the four days, we did quite a lot, but still want to do more – we are thinking of going back to Australia and spending more time, two weeks or more exploring at least some of southeast Australia. But, this trip was enjoyable on its own. The first/arrival day was devoted to shopping for essentials like mouthwash and shampoo, which is easier to buy at your destination than to take on an airplane. We also bought Opal cards (for the Sydney transit system) and loaded them with some money. The next day, we went to Taronga Zoo, which we had missed in 2016. We walked about a mile to Circular Quay and took a ferry to the Zoo. We spent about 4 hours there, and it is an amazing place. The weather started partly sunny and then switched to mostly Seattle (showers and sunbreaks). Luckily, the main shower hit just after we got back to the zoo ferry wharf and ended just before we arrived back at Circular Quay. I took a couple of photos, below. One is a view back to Sydney from a viewpoint at the zoo, and the second is one of the two quokkas they have. We had to go to the Kid’s Trail and walk past the goats and chickens, and then the wallabies and a very friendly emu, who was walking about freely, before we got to the quokkas. But, they weren’t quite so lively as the ones I saw in photos online. In fact, we seemed to be the only people paying them any attention, and they were mostly interested in a nap, not us. The next day was also a bit Seattle-like, so we walked to Circular Quay to book a harbour sightseeing narrated tour of two hours. It was great with nice views of the extensive and amazing natural harbour. and all the tea/coffee and Anzac biscuits we wanted. The latter are basically dry oatmeal and dessicated coconut cookies that last a long time – they were invented when the women back home sent them to their soldiers in the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during World War I. We each had four of them; they were surprisingly good. I forgot the camera, so I got no shots of the scenery or of some of the other tourists dropping their ANZAC biscuits when we hit heavy swells coming in from the sea at the entrance to Sydney Harbour. It was a very nice relaxing morning on the water. For late lunch/early dinner, we went to a spot on Darling Harbour/King Street Wharf waterfront near the hotel, and I finally was able to get some bugs. These were Moreton Bay Bugs, which are a type of slipper lobster. Quite tasty if you appreciate members of the sea cockroach family as much as I do. April 6 was our last full day before the cruise, and we had thought to visit the Australian Museum. But the forecast promised a spectacular sunny fall day with a high around 26C/80Fal degrees), and it actually came truo. So, we blew off the Australian Museum and did walkabout, back to Circular Quay for cappuccinos and then around the Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens where we had a sparkling water and carrot cake, and then passing Wooloomooloo (really, a section of central Sydney) before skirting Hyde Park back to our hotel. Attached are some shots I got. The first photo is of Sydney ferries. There are two smaller ones going to/from North Sydney, Taronga Zoo, etc., but the larger, huskier ferry is, of course, the Manly ferry. I also got a shot of the Opera House from the side, and then on the bank just inside the Botanical Gardens, I got a photo of the Aussie greeting to the tourists arriving by sea. Actually, this was advertising an exhibit in the Gardens of carnivorous plants. So, we spent several days in Sydney doing nothing much important but enjoying ourselves by walking a lot of miles, drinking coffee, beer and wine, and eating things like bugs. What a great time! More later, Dave
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  8. Sorry I missed this when you posted, but have been busy with the holidays. We had a balcony cabin and did not find it too windy to use most days. Occasionally there was a fairly strong wind, but not often. Dave
  9. That is correct - the gratuity is added after the $9.00 limit. So, in your example, the drink listed at $9.00 would be covered by the package. Be aware that since I started this thread, some prices have gone up, so check the prices carefully before you order to make sure what you want is indeed covered by the magic card. Dave
  10. Final set of photos: I hope you enjoyed the pool party. Happy holidays! Dave
  11. We are on Rotterdam, at sea between Grand Cayman and return to Tampa tomorrow. This morning, we discovered a towel animal party going on around the Lido pool deck! We had seen something similar on Eurodam about five years ago, and were deligthed to see another celebration of the towel folding art by the talented crew. The animals ranged from old favorites from the staterooms to larger, more elaborate creations. Many were wearing small red hats for the holidays. So, I decided to take some photos and share. Here are a dozen over three posts. More in the next post, Dave
  12. It's the mini-bar list, so far as I can tell -- it's on a card hanging from a liter of Evian on the counter. The room service menu in the orange booklet refers to the card in the back of the booklet for current prices, and of course the card is not there in our booklet. Dave
  13. I am currently on Rotterdam. Here is the list of in-room beverage prices: Miniature liquors … $5.50 Miller Lite aluminum … $7 Heineken .. $6.75 Wine (187 ml) … $8 Sparkling wine (187 ml) … $9.50 Evian water (1 liter) … $5 Perrier water … $3.75 Soft drinks … $2.25 Red Bull … $5 Dave
  14. OK, I just looked at my upcoming booking on the HAL website again, and beverages are now available to pre-purchase. Either it was offline for a while, or (not impossible 😉) I encountered operator error the first time I tried. It now shows SBP as an option for April on Noordam, and the now usual 3 wine bottle packages, although they have the caveat that wines may be substituted. On Rotterdam, we are all wondering how this will all shake out, but think it may be rolled out across the fleet ship by ship, with Rotterdam as the flagship being the first; I just wish HAL had been upfront with info. We will watch the issue and decide before April what we will do on Noordam. For now, we are OK with the wines within the SBP, and the EBP covers everything currently listed in the Ocean Bar, and the bar staff are wonderful as always. We would appreciate any insights POA1 or others may gain over the next few months. Thanks to everyone, Dave
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