Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Day 15 - Wednesday, February 28, 2018 - Singapore - Day 2

Today was a much shorter port day in Singapore as we had a 3pm on board time. The plan for the day was to visit the Rooftop viewing area of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. We reached the Hotel using the subway for $3.20SING RT. We took a blue subway train to Chinatown and transferred to the purple line to the Bayfront station. (The Singapore subway system is thoroughly modern, clean and neat and well signed. There's a multi day tourist pass, but we elected to purchase simple RT tickets.) That viewing area is shaped like the hull of a ship and it's perched 57 stories in the air. It costs $20SING per person for over 65, $23SING otherwise. Unless you are a guest in the hotel, you are restricted to the bow viewing area, but there's more than enough viewing area there. They tried to sell us $50SING pictures taken at the entryway, but we felt that was embarrassingly expensive.

From the tower we made our way to the Gardens of the Bay with is a park area with various themes. We did pay to do a skywalk between some of the 'trees'. Those trees are actually disguised ventilation shafts and they are very well done.

We made it back to the Cruise terminal (probably the nicest we've seen in all the world), bought some more soda pop (way cheaper than on the ship), cleared immigration, and walked the long approach hallways, before once again surrendering our passports to HAL personnel, and reboarded the ship. Since we are "in transit" guests, we didn't have to participate in the muster drill and were able to shower and make our way to the Crow's Nest for primo seats for the sail away.  

While the ship was scheduled for a 4pm sail away, there were 40 some guests who didn't turn in their passports and then the Captain announced there were guests in the terminal that needed to board. The new departure time is 4:45pm or 15 minutes from when I am writing this.

The evening schedule is for a re-showing of the movie, That's the Way I Like It, plus another performance of the cast show, Listen to the Music, at 9:30pm.

I'll end this now for today, but leave you with the following. Singapore is a wonderful city to visit and tour. It's clean, neat, and safe. There's more than enough to satisfy anyone's interests. The Harborfront Cruise terminal is huge plus the Vivo City Shopping mall is next door.   There's an MRT station here.  

Tomorrow is a sea day and I'm hosting a Cruise Critic Meet & Greet. Stay tuned for more cruise reports as we venture into SE Asia on our way to Hong Kong.

Day 14 - Tuesday, February 27, 2018 - Singapore - Day 1

Since the Volendam was going to be in port in Singapore for two days, we had lots of options for touring on our own. For this first day, we decided that we would buy an all pass on the overhead cable car. We also thought that we might go do a night visit to the Zoo, however, getting tickets via HAL wasn't possible and another option also didn't work out.  

Two weeks earlier I had purchased a 3800 milli-amp battery for one of my cameras, but it would not hold a charge longer than my 1000 milli-amp batteries. I approached the salesman that sold it to me and he was more than eager to help me and replace the battery. None was in stock, so he ordered it in and I picked it up later in the day.

The cable car leaves from the left tower just outside the cruise terminal. We elected to purchase the all day pass and two additional options of our choosing. Tickets are sold on the main floor and an elevator takes travelers up to the 15th floor where the cable car passes through the building. First we headed off to ride up to Mt. Faber which we had visited a couple of weeks ago on a bus tour. We walked across the Henderson Waves bridge (architecturally stunning) and through the park and eventually ended up on a road underneath the bridge and had to walk 100 steps up in the 90ºf and 90% humidity. From Mt. Faber, we rode the cable car back and over the ship to Sentosa Island where we spent the rest of the day exploring. We used one of our extra pass options to take a small bus tour of the island which gave us a sense of the lay of the land. That trip also included a cool walk across a swinging suspension bridge to a beach area.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a quick lunch at a Subway restaurant before taking another cable car out to Fort Siloso where we spent the bulk of our time exploring this nice museum which preserves the history of this former military installation. It's definitely worth a visit!

Back on the cable car in the late afternoon, we rode it to the other end of the line and we visited the largest Merlion in Singapore and used our second voucher to get a ride up 5 stories in the Merlion to the mouth and top of its head where we could take pictures.

About then I received an email from one of my tour agents requesting passport information for some guests traveling on my Viet Nam excursions. This was certainly a curveball this late in the cruise and led to some emails composed while walking through a colorful garden area on Sentosa Island.  

As darkness crept its way in, we rode the cable car back to the Harborfront Centre and walked through 3 floors of the Vivo Shopping Mall where we also enjoyed some dinner in the food court (I had White Bee Hoon soup which was excellent).

Back on the ship, I tried to pay our Bank of America credit card bill online (I have a portable internet device which has very cheap data rates), but I was locked out of my online account which necessitated a call to BofA where I learned that I can't use a VPN connection to access their system. That got fixed and I was able to get the bill paid on time. And now it was 1am. More adventures are in store for tomorrow, stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Day 13 - Monday, February 26, 2018 - At Sea to Singapore - Day 2

About all I can say about today is that I showed up! It was another lazy day at sea. Following a later wake up at 8:30am and breakfast in the Lido, Master Kam gave a lecture on Buddhism that I've heard before. While he was lecturing I have to confess that I did future cruise research and discovered one for the the summer of 2019 that may cause us to change our plans. Later that night at the Main Stage show we met a couple who are about to book the same cruise. For now I'm keeping mum on the cruise destination.

The cast did a behind the scenes event and once again it was interesting to learn of their backgrounds and that they are able to put their own spin on the shows. I suspect that is possible because these are old shows produced by another production company. The current production company, RWS, is currently developing new shows (version 3.0) and the Nieuw Statendam for its inaugural cruise this December is supposed to have the latest RWS show production.

In the afternoon the only event we attended was the Crossing the Equator 'ceremony' where 10 crew members got tried and convicted of heinous 'crimes' and sentenced to kiss a dead fish, slathered with a sticky merangue, and left to dry or allowed to jump in the aft pool to rinse off the merangue.

We ate a last dinner in the Lido with Carol and John as they are getting off the ship our second day in Singapore. The fresh mangos were especially good tonight and quite plentiful.

'Classique' was the cast show and it was excellent and they received a standing ovation. It's hands down my favorite of all the cast shows and I've seen it a dozen or so times on many HAL ships.

The 10pm movie was 'That's The Way I Like It' from 1998. It was a theme of Elvis and John Travolta meet Disco and Kung Fu in Singapore. It was entertaining and lots of Bee Gees music.

Tomorrow we're docked in Singapore for 2 days.  I'm sure we'll find some adventure.  Stay tuned.

Day 12 - Sunday, February 25, 2018 - At Sea to Singapore - Day 1

Oh the lazy days of sea days. Last night we had to advance our clocks by an hour to synchronize our clocks with the upcoming Singapore time. So the night was short by an hour and we elected to sleep in until nearly 10am as there was no incentive to get up earlier. I was able to get a last minute breakfast before we attended the Mariner award reception and award presentation. This gathering seemed to aimed at 3 star and above Mariners and those reaching the 100 days of sailing on HAL or Bronze medallion Afterwards we enjoyed a Mariner lunch in the Main Dining Room.

Master Kam was back at 1pm with a talk on the politics and history of claims to the South China Sea. While his talks are interesting, I do wish he wouldn't just read his PowerPoint Slides and learn to speak within the allotted time. Following Master Kam, it was 45 minutes of "Ask the Captain" which generated a great number of interesting questions.  

The Indonesian crew show was at 3pm and it was very well attended compared to the normal times we have seen it on previous cruises at 11pm. It was a nice day out and we walked a mile around the Promenade Deck before changing into our formal clothes for the final Gala night dinner. There was supposed to be an Inter Denominational church service at 5pm in the Wajang theatre, but HAL failed to put it in the daily program and when I inquired about it, the HAL representative said it would be announced over the PA system. However, we never heard it. So when we showed up at the Wajang theatre, only Don the volunteer chaplain and his wife and my wife and I were in attendence. Don was going to pursue why the mixup with HAL as will I.

At the Gala dinner, we were seated with a British couple and two ladies from Las Vegas. The food was good (lobster and filet mignon) and the conversation was lively and engaging. David from Great Britain turned out to own a BMW R1200GS similar to mine, so we immediately connected. He'd also ridden in India on Enfields which was very interesting to hear about.

Our evening Main Stage entertainment was a very funny & energetic British comedian, Rikki Jay who we've seen before. Since today's science fiction movie, Thor:Ragnarok didn't appeal, we retired to our cabin where I updated this blog and watched BBC television.

Tomorrow we're re-crossing the equator and I understand there may be some hijinks in the afternoon. Time will tell. Stay tuned.

Day 11 - Saturday, February 24, 2018 - Probolinggo

Today is our last day in Indonesia and the plan was to do a short tour with Carol. Little did I realize that I would tick off one item that I didn't know was on my bucket list. Our group of 22 got our tender tickets, tendered into the dock, and boarded our bus. To my surprise, we were dropped off and each put into a pedi-cab for our tour of the downtown area. We visited the Red Church (made entirely of steel and wrought iron), the museum, and a Batik store where many made their own Batik. It's an interesting process. But the high point of the excursion was the pedi-cab ride. It was truly fun and relaxing to see the surrounding at bicycling speed.  

At the end of the tour we were shuttled back to the port where 4 of us elected to get back on the free shuttle back downtown. We were in search of the market that Carol elected to take off the tour due to time constraints. We walked about 5 blocks and eventually found the market. It was probably good that the main group didn't visit this market as it's probably the most dark, confined and dirty market we've ever visited anywhere in the world. One of our group even saw a rat scurry down the isle and the saddest sight was a young kitten clinging to life lying on a table beside some fruit. Truly heart rendering.  

As we made our way back to the shuttle pick up point, we shopped and were accompanied by two pedi-cab operators who just wouldn't take no for an answer. In a little supermarket, I found some Pepsident toothpaste for about $0.50US.

Back at the harbor, there was quite a line for the tender, so Angela and I walked the dock area looking at the various fishing boats many of which looked extremely ancient. Some were coated in a layer of fiberglass but that didn't hide their age. Another interesting feature was the use of an automotive or truck differential to provide a drive mechanism for the windlasses that are used to raise the nets. Those mechanisms were powered by various forms of antique gas or diesel engines. Because it's the rainy season, the seas are considered too rough, so that explained why there were so many boats in the harbor.

I'm glad we did this segment to Indonesia this year as it's not offered next year when the Westerdam takes over sailing in Asia and the Volendam shifts to Panama Canal Sailings. The Westerdam's Port stops exclude Indonesia probably due to the challenging harbors. I believe the Maasdam will visit a few of the ports.

Eventually we tendered back to the ship, showered, and ate dinner in the LIDO before watching the movie, "Same Kind of Difference as Me" about homelessness. It was extremely powerful emotionally, and perhaps more so for me because I just lost a motorcycle riding friend less than 24 hours earlier to a massive stroke.  

We're now at sea for two days on our way back to Singapore where many of the guests will depart. I look forward to the sea days and the chance to relax a bit. I wonder what tomorrow will bring. Stay tuned.

Day 10 - Friday, February 23, 2018 - Bali - Day 2

Our second day in Bali was scheduled to start a bit earlier at 8:30am. One couple decided to do shopping, so our group dropped to 8 in total. We started the day with a short drive to a Barong dance pavilion where we watched a very traditional Barong dance play with 5 acts. In summary, it was a portrayal of the conflict between good and evil. While it was predominantly done in the local language, there were occasional words spoken in English plus the the printed English program helped keep aware of where we were in the play. Also, two of the characters seemed to play characters like in American slapstick comedy routines and they were quite funny even though we didn't understand a word.  

From there we made our way to the boat rental area where for $20US per person we hired a boat and driver to take us out to see fish from a glass bottom boat. The few fish we saw were pretty, especially the yellow and black striped ones. From there we sailed to Turtle Island which is a turtle sanctuary. We got to see turtles in the various stages of growth and even hold a 6 year old green sea turtle (a very soft underbelly), a large brown bat (really soft), pet an iguana (really hard and scaley), and hold a boa snake (really warm to the touch).

After our visit to the turtle sanctuary, we drove a short distance to a resort and had a great lunch meal at a Chinese restaurant location right on the seashore. Following lunch we headed to visit another temple, but the terrible traffic caused us to reconsider and we made our way directly to the port. Even that traffic was bad including about a 20 minute wait at the toll booth to cross the causeway to the port.  

During the day due to tidal conditions, the ship had left the dock for an anchorage position in the open waters. So access to the ship was not permitted between 1:30pm and 3:30pm. For some reason HAL contracted with a local company to do the tendering with a tender holding 140 guests and the larger one holding 180 guests. When we got to the port, the small tender was loaded and it was about a 1/2 hour wait for the larger tended and the line looked impressively long, but we were able to get on that tender. As the tender approached the ship's tender platform, the tender crew had a difficult time keeping the tender parallel with the tender platform. Finally a senior HAL seaman came down and took charge and shortly the tender was properly tied up and we were able to re-board the Volendam.  

After dinner in the LIDO, we attend the production show, DANCE, in the Main Stage. We've seen it many times before, and it was once again quite good. Afterwards we enjoyed some good conversation with Don and Gwen who led the interdenominational service that we missed because we were on a shore excursion.  

The evening movie was "Wonderstruck", and I walked out after 20 minutes as I just didn't feel the vibe. Angela stayed behind and saw it through. And so ended Day 2 in Bali. Tomorrow we're back on tour with Carol in Probolinggo. I wonder if there is an adventure there? Stay tuned.

Day 09 - Thursday, February 22, 2018 - Bali - Day 1

Our visit this year to Bali was our second visit to this unique part of Indonesia. The major part of what makes it unique is that the majority religion is Hindu compared to the rest of Indonesia which is predominately Moslem. I arranged for two days of private tour with Agung who operates under the auspices of Tours By Locals. I used him before and we have maintained contact using Facebook.

I gathered up my group at 8:30am in the Ocean Bar and we made our way off the ship into the nice port building facility. Ed worked our way outside through the hordes of taxi drivers and tour operators. Shortly after 9am Agung showed up and it was good to see his smiling face and greet him like we had just been in Bali yesterday.

We boarded our little van and headed off for the first stop of the day, the Tanah Lot Temple. This temple is at least an hour's drive northwest of the port area and it was very crowded with lots of vendors. At this Hindu temple, there's actually a Buddhist seminary and a nearby Islamic Mosque. The principal temple is on an outcropping that's reachable by wading at low tide. When we were there, the water depth varied from ankle to waist depth as the tide was coming in. There was also the opportunity to pet the "Holy Snake" for a small donation of about $2US or 20,000 IDR. It turned out the snake was a sea snake and had a black and white striped pattern to it. And, yes, we petted the snake.  

After Tanah Lot, we made our way to the Jati Luih rice terrace which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was visited by former President Obama. Like the temples, there's a modest admission fee of just over $1US. At this site, they grow the red rice. We enjoyed a nice meal at the local restaurant and then had the opportunity to walk down into the terraced rice fields.

From Jati Luih, we made our way to Lake Beratan to visit the floating temple. This temple was very pretty and there were considerably fewer visitors than at Tanah Lot. The lake which was formed by a volcanic crater filled with water, was also a large source of water recreation although the water was a bit chilly. Speedboats roared back and forth across the water just outside the temple area.  

Our last temple visit was to the Taman Ayun temple or the Royal Family Temple, which is another UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple had a moat around it and there were three concentric levels to the complex. We couldn't go into the innermost part of the temple as that's reserved for their religious ceremonies, but we could peer over the separating wall and clearly see the area.

For all of the sites we visited, it was about an hour to an hour and a half drive on narrow, twisting, and crowded roads to reach each of the sites. We ended up getting back to the ship around 7:30pm just in time to get some dinner in the LIDO. At 9pm, there was an Indonesian folk dance presentation that was quite good.  

The next day was scheduled to be something totally different and a little adventure at the end of the day awaited us. Stay tuned.

Day 05 - Sunday, February 18, 2018 - Surabaya

We didn't arrive until around 11am at the port of Surabaya. While I thought the port of Singapore had a lot of ships at anchor, this one easily surpassed it. I also liked the later arrival which gave us ample opportunity to watch the sail in. As we approached the dock, the Captain rotated the ship 180° clockwise and ever so gingerly eased us up to the dock where the cast of dock workers received the mooring lines and tied the Volendam up to the pier. Like the other ports, we were greeted by welcoming dancers in colorful costumes.

Carol scheduled our tour start time for an hour after our projected arrival time and that really helped space out the disembarking guests and allowed us a chance to eat lunch before departing. Once off the ship, we quickly found our guide, Ham, and boarded our coach for the afternoon's tour.  

Before I describe our day, I must finally say something about Carol (CJCRUZER on Cruise Critic) and planning shore excursions in general. Carol has done a fabulous job organizing our shore excursions. She worked tirelessly on figuring out the excursions, vetting vendors, logging participants, answering participant questions, coordinating with HAL, and much more. She and I have been coordinating excursion details since last June as I also am an excursion planner. We do this for no monetary compensation; the main benefit is we get to choose specific destinations, enjoy a lesser cost, and smaller group sizes than ship sponsored excursions.  

Back to our day in Surabaya. Our tour essentially covered a stop at a tobacco factory where a clove flavored cigarettes are hand rolled. These are only used for domestic consumption. We also visited a cultural celebration at a city hall, a former Russian submarine, a temple and the Hotel Majapahit where were had a full tour as well as some light refreshments. The Majapahit is a vintage high end hotel and the rooms we toured including the Presidential Suite were quite luxurious!! This 5+ hour tour would have been terrific at twice the $25 per person price.

Back on board, our evening was a normal routine of dinner in the Lido followed by entertainment at the Main Stage which was Alana Conway, who is an excellent harpist and vocalist from Melbourne, Australia.

This night was payback time for the hour we gained the other day. The ships clock was advanced by an hour. Tomorrow is a sea day as we make our way to Komodo Island. I wonder if there will be any excitement. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Day 08 - Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - Lombock

Lombok was another tender port and Carol arranged for our group to get off together on one of the early tenders. Once we arrived at the dock and made our way through the port building there was a bit of confusion finding the tour bus and guide which gave Carol a bit of anxiety.  

Once we were on the bus we made our way to a weaving business and watched the weaving process. Angela even tried weaving. A typical item takes 3 months to produce and the girls doing the weaving start when they are ten years old and work at the craft until they get married.

Next we visited a little museum (West Nusa Tenggara) and learned a bit about the local culture. Lunch was sort of a surreal experience. We had been traveling the morning on narrow crowded roads past very rural scenes and signs of poverty. Suddenly we came upon a large bright and shiny mall that looked every bit like a typical American mall. Down in the basement floor I found an Indonesian restaurant where I enjoyed a typical Indonesian noodle dish with a drink for under $2US. It was tasty unlike much of the ship food which tends to be a bit bland.

Throughout the day, one of the striking features I observed were the sheer number of Islamic mosques and how colorful they were. This was in sharp contrast to the homes that surrounded them. Also, many mosques were located relatively close to each other. On more than one occasion I could see 4 or more mosques in my field of vision.

In the afternoon we visited more temples before making our way back to the port where we took a tender back to the ship, ate our dinner in the Lido, and enjoyed a variety show with the harpist Alana Conway and the illusionist Ruben Vilagrand. We skipped the movie (Victoria & Abdul) which we had previously seen and went to bed a bit earlier as the next day in Bali was scheduled to be a long one. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Day 07 - Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - Komodo Island

We arrived at our Slawi Bay anchorage point for Komodo Island around 7:30. Per our CD, Bruce, over 1,000 guests were signed up to get off the ship which required a careful orchestration of the tender process. Two tender platforms were in operation and we were instructed to be at the Ocean Bar by 9am. Both Carol's group and my group were grouped together and we were assigned sticker #23. At 9:05am we were instructed to proceed down the gangway to the tender platform. The seas were calm and the tender process went smoothly and about 20 minutes later we were on shore on Komodo Island.

We met our representative, Vincent, and I collected the excursion fee from everybody and turned it over to Vincent. We then received our Park briefing and went off on our trek. It wasn't long before we spotted our first Komodo dragon and not long afterwards a second. Both of these were juveniles. At the watering hole, this year there were 4 adult males. In this heat they were lethargic, although with the large numbers visiting today, at least one of them was really hissing. It was very hot and we saw one passenger carried out on a stretcher.

A bit further down the trail we spotted a small deer and another smaller Komodo dragon. And all too soon our trek was over. But the next adventure was to begin: snorkeling at the Pink Beach. However, the tour agent added, without consulting me, another couple and we had to wait 1/2 hour for them to finish their dragon walk. I was not a happy camper! When the couple finally caught up to us, we then had to round up our group who were scattered in the small shopping area to walk to the other dock to board our little vessel to take us to the Pink Beach. The little boat chugged its way to the Pink Beach where we were transferred to a smaller boat to be taken to the beach to start our snorkeling. In our last visit we were able to snorkel directly from the bigger boat.

After completing our snorkeling we putted back to the dock and enjoyed an authentic Indonesian lunch that was quite tasty. We tendered back to the ship a little after 2pm. We showered and went to the Crow's Nest to watch the sail away. After a light dinner, we were invited to a 7pm Officer's Cocktail Party which was well attended. The Main Stage entertainment was a classical pianist from England named Adam Johnson. He was quite good. Following that we watched the movie 'Wonder' which was really good.

Our next port tomorrow is Lombok. We'll see what it brings. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Day 06 - Monday, February 19, 2018 - At Sea to Komodo Island

Sea days are wonderful! They are laid back and not too much needs to be attended. We did do the HAL charity walk, Walk for a Cure followed by a presentation on future ports of call. That presentation was interrupted by a crew drill which turned off the audio. Jeremy then gave much of the rest of the presentation with a bullhorn! The full house in the Main Stage took it well.

We participated in our first earth trivia game this cruise and took second place. Even though we've done this game several times before, it's stil hard and some of the questions were different.

In the afternoon Master Kam presented a history lecture on Indonesia that was quite good. This was followed by a short presentation by Phil on Indonesian theater. We learned the meaning of Wajang (theatre). It was Gala night and we sat with a couple from Kent, WA.

The evening entertainment was the caste show, Rock Legends. We also caught the late showing of American Made. Tomorrow is Komodo Island. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Day 04 - Saturday, February 17, 2018 - Semerang & Borobudur

When we woke up up this morning, I certainly didn't think that we had the possibility of dying a thousand times today.

We arrived around 9am and it seemed that it took a long time to get clearance to leave the ship. But we were finally off the ship and made our way through the terminal where our guide met us and led us on further past a thoroughly rain drenched parking lot with 6" of water from the previous three nights of rain. There were 20 of us in two minivans. Ours was the blue Isuzu and I once again assumed a front row seat with Lynn. He and I chatted the whole trip on a wide range of topics.

With both buses loaded, a police car showed up and it would be our escort for the day. Carol, our tour organizer, had learned it was important to have the escort and it turned out she was 1000% correct! We headed slowly out of the port area with even deeper water and unknown potholes. At one point there was a man who helped guide us through an especially difficult section. This he did in exchange for a small tip.  

Finally we reached the toll road and the adventure began in earnest. The short sections off toll roads gave way to regular roads and here's where the police escort became critical. The police ran with 4 way flashers and blue lights. These were supplemented with frequent use of the siren. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles all gave way, some reluctantly, although the scooters still darted in and around us. The police car never stopped for red lights and we were frequently driving in the oncoming lane (even around blind corners!) and many a time there was a large truck or bus coming right at us.

Eventually we made it to Borobudur and it was quite crowded, hot and humid. I'll leave it to the reader to do their own research about Borobudur, but in summary it is a Hindu temple that was built over a 100 year period in the 8th and 9th century. It was finished by the King's daughter. It went unused and the jungle soon took it over where it lay covered by the jungle until the British explorer Raffles discovered it in the 1800's. It's now a UNESCO world heritage site.

It's huge and we climbed to the top level with its challenging climb up very steep stairs. Some had railings. Most didn't! There are lots of Buddhas and other carvings and each of the levels represent different levels of enlightenment for Buddhist adherents.

Afterwards we enjoyed a very nice meal at a local restaurant followed by a stop at a coffee factory that uses civits (a cat like critter) to eat the coffee beans and then excrete the processed beans which are then cleaned, opened and ground into coffee grounds. Across the street was another small temple, and a bit further down the road we stopped at a silver shop before resuming our 2.5 hour thrill ride back to the port where the Volendam patiently waited for us.  

The ship departed late as the 15 HAL buses that went to Borobudur were late in returning. We ate a casual dinner in the Lido and enjoyed Ruben Vilagrand, a really good illusionist in the Main Stage before retiring early. Tomorrow, we have an 11am arrival and a late departure. What excitement will that bring? Stay tuned.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Day 03 - Friday, February 16, 2018 - Jakarta

When cruising and being retired, an alarm going off at 5:45am is an intrusion. Since we had a projected 7:00am arrival, our tour leader, Carol, requested that we be at the Ocean Bar at 6:45am. The 5:45am wake up call gave us ample time to have a proper breakfast which for me are 2 eggs over easy, bacon, some grits, and a mango fruit drink. Sometimes I'll add a cup of green tea and some cut up fruit. We were able to eat with Carol and John and were able to talk about tour plans.

The ship moored in the container terminal area and needed to back into its berth which took more time. We didn't actually get moored until around 7:25am. (At the sailaway, the Captain told us the delay was due to another ship occupying our berth.) Our clearance came shortly after that and we proceeded down to the A deck and our ship cards were scanned and we walked the gangway to the pier where there was a local group of performers dressed in costume.  

We easily found our guide, Benny, and he led us to our oversized Toyota van which would be our transport for the day. I ended up in the "shotgun" seat next to the driver. Whether this would be a good idea would remain to be seen. We had been warned that traffic in Jakarta is a tangled mess due to the lack of public transit infrastructure. However, today was a national holiday and the traffic was not that bad. I can't say the same for the roads. Even the 'freeways' had significant potholes. Plus it seemed that our driver didn't seem to understand the concept of driving at a speed consistent with the rest of the traffic. We were constantly being passed by scooters and anything else on the road. Then there was the issue that the driver didn't seem to know where we were to be going. So he'd slow down and turn around and ask Benny whether or not to turn. They'd exchange a few sentences in the local language and we'd continue on, sometimes swerving across multiple lanes of traffic in the process. But I guess that's all part of the traffic symphony that's played out every day.

So here I am sitting with my feet no more than 12 inches from the front bumper of the van (the front seats are over the front wheels like in a cab over truck). It was a great viewpoint of the traffic dance that unfolded before me. At each light we'd be surrounded by scooters and motorcycles, and when the light would change, they'd buzz off and others would come up from behind and cut in front of us from either side. Additionally there would be whole families of 3-4 people on a single little scooter, and they'd do the same death weave with little regard.

So much for the traffic rant. Our first stop was at the school that our former president, Barrack Obama attended as a child. There's a statute of him in the entry courtyard. The school is quite plain and there were a few students there and they were eager to see us. I left them a sticker as a show of appreciation.  

We headed on to a visit at the Grand Mosque with a drive by viewing of the national monument which is designed similarly to the Washington Monument in Washington, DC except that it has a gold flame on the top. The Grand Mosque is a very plain and large building, and it will hold 200,000 people inside and outside. It was a quiet day in the Mosque.

Our next stop found us at a public square with a museum that housed a a puppet collection that was interesting. The museum (which was a former Dutch church) smelled like mothballs which was probably the protection against insects that might damage the puppets. Afterwards we visited the Batavia Cafe which was housed in a former colonial building.  

Our final stop was at the old Batavia Harbor where we watched the manual loading of sacks of fertilizer on to small wooden cargo ships. I found that very interesting. And in the background was the loud Muslim call to prayer from a nearby loudspeaker. We also took a drive by to a slum area that was in pretty tough shape. Throughout the day we saw lots of slum areas.

Back at the ship, all but Angela and I headed back to the ship. We decided to take the shuttle to the local shopping mall where we found some delicious Indonesian food (I enjoyed seafood and fried rice noodles and Angela enjoyed a baked fish and green beans. The entire meal was around $13US and very tasty.

Back on board the ship, I adjourned to the Crow's Nest to update my blog while Angela went swimming. We departed late due to late returning tour groups which created a long line trying to reboard the ship and clear security which for this port is done on the ship. I found it very interesting to look out the front windows up in the Crow's Nest at all of the marine traffic arriving and departing from this very busy port. Eventually when the ship departed, they had to raise the container cranes to give us enough clearance in the narrow channel. We watched the sailaway as we threaded our way through the ships at anchor and under the bellies of the incoming airplanes.

Eating such a sumptuous lunch had a consequence: we really weren't hungry for dinner. So we ate light portions in the Lido before listening to a couple sets of Adagio (the piano/violin duet) and Sheree, a young Malaysian gal who promotes herself as the world's best solo female harmonicist. She was excellent and we saw her last year on our Asia cruise.

With us morning's early wake up call, bedtime tonight would also come early. Tomorrow is planned as a very exciting cultural experience. Bruce, our CD, said it was in his top 10 things to see in the world. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Day 02 - Thursday, February 15, 2018 - At sea to Jakarta

I love sea days. This morning we had no obligation to get up other than to attend a 10:00 lecture on upcoming Indonesian ports of call. So we arose with just enough time to eat some breakfast and attend the lecture. Kevin, the EXC manager and Jeremy the EXC destination specialist presented a fast moving slide show on the upcoming Indonesian ports. Afterwards we attended the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet that Carol had organized. It was an excellent venue to meet our fellow travelers and put faces with names and get some basic last minute coordination of excursions accomplished.

A Japanese lunch was had in the Lido before I spent some quiet time in our stateroom updating my blog. We were invited to a complimentary wine tasting in the main dining room and we really enjoyed it. For our taste buds, the Washington St. Michele wine was the best.

Following the wine tasting the was an introductory class on the Indonesian language taught by Phil and an Indonesian assistant dining room manager.  

It was Gala night tonight for dinner so I donned my suit while my wife got to wear her new peacock themed skirt. Our dinner companions from New York and Arizona provided some lively and engaging dinner conversation. The food was excellent whether it was the peppercorn steak & shrimp, the lamb, or the yellowfin tuna

Captain Frank Van Der Hoeven gave the Captain's toast and it was followed by the cast show, Variations. We ended the day watching the movie Last Portrait which was billed as a comedy but turned out to be a very dark film festival type film. While our wake up time of 5:45am was to be early, the Captain set the ship's clocks back an hour.
Tomorrow is Jakarta and we have a nice tour planned. Stay tuned.

Day 01 - Wednesday, February 14, 2018- Embarkation from Singapore

Embarkation day was finally here. We met Ursula and Doug in the Ibis hotel lobby at 10:45pm and ordered a large cab to share for our trip to the Singapore Cruise Centre which is located beside the VivoCity Shopping Center which is Singapore's largest shopping mall. This terminal is located across the small bay from Sentosa which is a resort island containing a casino, Universal Studios Singapore, and a number of other tourist activities. There's even a gondola that passed over the ship and connected up with another gondola to Mt. Faber.  

The cruise terminal itself is among the largest we've seen in our travels. While there only appeared to be docking space for a couple of ships, inside the terminal there was all manner of shops, food vendors including the Golden Arches, Pizza Hut and local vendors. There was a very nice electronics store and I purchased a 3800 milliamp camera battery. It's got 4 times the capacity of most of my present batteries.  

Check-in was relatively fast and efficient as we were earlier than the bulk of the embarkees. However, the slowdown came when it was time to pass through Singaporean immigration. That took well over 1/2 hour in a queue. We later learned that we have to pass through Singaporean immigration whenever we leave the ship. There's no shortcut for "In Transit" passengers as we find in most other countries. Once onboard we were pleased to hear Bruce's voice on the PA system. Bruce is the Cruise Director for this voyage and he was the CD for our last year's Asia voyage and a prior Zaandam cruise to Antarctica. We really like him as a CD and a person.

We found our stateroom and deposited our carryon luggage. It wasn't long before our checked luggage showed up and we were able to begin unpacking. The bathroom in this stateroom had been refurbished with new floor and wall treatments, and the countertop/sink and faucet appeared to be new. Also, the shower is new and quite nice.

Afterwards we made our way to the front office to drop off my paperwork for our Komodo Island trip. All information for independent tours for Komodo Island must be submitted to the front desk in advance. From there we went to the Mariner reception in the Crow's Nest where we met the Hotel Director and mingled with other guests.
Every sailing has to have a mandatory muster drill to acquaint passengers with the evacuation and safety procedures. Ours was held promptly at 3:15pm for all newly embarked guests. HAL takes this very seriously and all passengers have to have their room key cards scanned to establish attendence at the drill. Following the drill we found our way back to the Crow's Nest where I watched our disembarkation. At this port, the ship backed away from the slip, the captain then rotated it 180º, and proceeded out of the very congested harbor into a pretty significant rain squall.  

I was able to be the first one of us to do some shopping in the ship's stores. I found a pair of swimming trunks to replace the ones I forgot to bring.  

We didn't want to change clothes, so we elected to enjoy a steak dinner in the LIDO which has been totally refreshed with new table tops, carpet, chairs, and other furnishings. Every HAL cruise has a Main Stage show the first night called "Listen to the Music" where the CD, Bruce in this case, introduces the entertainment staff and a few of the other key staff. We were pleasantly surprised to see that Jeremy and Phil, EXC specialists (shore excursion and location information people) were also on this cruise. They were on our 2017 Asia cruise and were superb. After the show we were able to reacquaint ourselves with Bruce, Jeremy, and Phil, and they remembered us.  

The movie in the Wajang Theatre was Viceroy's House, a story about the transfer of power from England to India and Pakistan. We ended up watching the first part before the Listen to the Music event, and we watched the second part after that event. It was very good.

Midnight found us finally back at our room where my wife found a surprise Valentine's Day card that I had carried all the way from home. I think I scored a few points. Tomorrow is a welcome sea day, and we'll see what that brings. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Day -1 - Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Today we shifted cultures and spent most of the day in the Little India district. Since we had purchased the 72 hour HOHO bus pass, it included a free guided tour of Chinatown and of Little India. We previously had toured Chinatown, so we showed up at the Indian Heritage Centre with around 12 others where our guide, Bernard, a native Singaporean of Chinese descent led us on a two hour wandering tour on Little India. I would highly recommend him. 

We have never been to India so it was a really big change for us to suddenly be dropped into sights, sounds, smells, customs, etc. of India. The Indian temple was very crowded with many active worshippers. Afterwards we made our way to the fish market and slogged through the watery floors and smells of fish on ice. Next to it was a produce and dry foods market and next to that was a collection of Hawker stalls selling all manner of food items. Some were Indian, and still others were Chinese or other Asian delicacies. We enjoyed some Indian Prata (a thin crepe with an egg and onions cooked inside of it. It was very yummy!!!

After lunch we wandered the streets exploring lots of little shops. We found the shopkeepers to be cordial and not overly pushy like we have experienced in other parts of the world. Angela found a very pretty skirt, and a birthday present for our grandson, while I found some nice little holders for our laptops or phones. We also explored the garmet area above the fish market and enjoyed watching the men sewing clothes using commercial type sewing machines like what I have at home. The cloth and trim pieces were so colorful!! And there was lots of inexpensive finished clothes, especially for children. Also we noted there was lots of Tiger Balm at 50% of the cost we paid at the Changin Museum or in local grocery stores.

We walked back to our hotel for a brief break (I needed to contact a vendor regarding an upcoming shore excursion (not successful)) before walking back down to the Suntec Center where my wife purchased some cosmetics she saw on a previous visit. Then it was a mile walk back to the hotel where we took care of email. Then it was back out for an ice cream cone and then a wonderful hawker food prawns and noodles dinner at the Albert Hawker Centre. The two of us ate for under $5US! And yes, dessert came first.

Back again at the hotel, we said our goodbyes to Andy and his wife who were flying out at 1AM to their home in England via Dubai. They were on the Around the Island tour on Sunday.

Tomorrow we board the Volendam to continue our 2018 exploration of Asia. I'll report from there. Stay tuned.  I'll post when we are in ports where I can get a cell phone signal for my portable internet device.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Day -2 - Monday, February 12, 2018

Today we used our HOHO bus pass to travel out to the Botanical Gardens and pay a re-visit to the National Orchid garden that we visited in October, 2015 when we arrived in Singapore via a sailing on the MS Statendam from Seattle. It was interesting to see different orchids in bloom in February compared to October. They are definitely colorful!!

Since we had no agenda, we also strolled around the Botanical Garden which we hadn't had the time previously to visit. There was lots to see and learn about. I especially liked seeing the monitor lizards. We saw three of those, and even a chipmunk or squirrel looking animal that was really cute. I even found a dam to photograph to add to my collection of dams found around the world.

We made our way back to Suntec Center and it's food court for another bowl of noodles. A very helpful local lady provided some pleasant conversation. We were also able to find some sunscreen at the underground supermarket. For those who haven't been to Singapore or other Asian cities, there's a whole shopping culture that exists underground! After lunch we caught a HOHO bus (green line) out to Sentosa. It wasn't a narrated ride, but the coach was air-conditioned and it was nice to see some new sights including what looked to be a Disney type castle at Universal Studios Singapore. Back at Suntec Center, we caught the blue line shuttle back to our hotel where we made a brief stop before walking out for dinner at a "hawker stall" which we found back downtown near Suntec Center in the Shaw building. We broke our meal choice string and enjoyed fried noodles and not noodle soup!

Tomorrow, we're doing something culturally totally different for us. Stay tuned.

Day -3 - Sunday, February 11, 2018

We slept straight through from 9pm to 7am when the alarm pierced the dreams I'm sure we were both enjoying. After showering and dressing we made our way down to the breakfast area. Breakfast was included in our room arrangement, and the selection here was probably the best selection we've seen in all of the places we've spent time in around the world.  

After breakfast we met Doug & Ursula in the lobby and soon our shuttle driver was there on time just before 8:30am. He was only expecting to pick up 2 people, but there were 6 of us. Fortunately he still took us on a short drive to a place where the tour bus was parked. Other small shuttle vans started arriving and soon Carol and John arrived.  

Our bus was soon under day and we made our way to the Henderson Waves which was a high and architecturally pleasing bridge with spectacular vistas! We then made our way to Haw Par Villa which is a theme park which presents a representation of the Chinese folklore's view of the 10 stages of Hell. It was pretty graphic. Outside of that display the colors were extremely vibrant.

From HawPar Villa, we made our way to the Kranji War Memorial Cemetery. It's the final resting place for many soldiers, airmen, and sailors who lost their lives during the Second World War at the hands of the Japanese. It was very sobering.

On the north side of the island we enjoyed a sit down lunch at a Chinese restaurant (Beaulieu House) located on the seashore and facing Malaysia which could easily be seen. We also had a pretty nice view into the big Sembawang shipyard nearby.

The Brighten Temple was our next stop and it was pretty nice and well kept up. As the Chinese New Year was about to begin, many Chinese were present giving honor to their now deceased relatives.

Our final stop was at the Changi Prison Museum. It was once again a very sobering stop We couldn't take any pictures inside the museum. The horrors described in there I'm not going to repeat.

Our bus dropped us back at the Ibis and 10 or so of the group got off. My wife and I elected to walk downtown to the Suntec center (1 mile walk) where we caught a shuttle to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel/Casino complex. There we walked around most of the bay taking in the sights. As it was a Sunday, many people were out and about as well. A high point was to re-visit the Merliion (it has a head of a Lion and the body of the mermaid) which is the symbol of the country of Singapore.

We walked back to the Suntec center where we enjoyed some more noodle soup and watched the 8pm fountain laser show (not that impressive in my opinion. From there it was a mile walk back to our hotel. In total we logged over 18,000 steps or more than 8 miles. One has to walk off all that soup!

 I should add that the temperatures are in the 80's (F) with lots of humidity. I've felt totally safe walking at night. There are lots of people on the streets.

Tomorrow is projected to be another fun day as we pay a re-visit to the National Orchid Garden and some other things. Stay tuned. 

Day -4 - Saturday, February 10, 2018

Upon arrival in Singapore's Changi Airport at 6:35am, we made our way to immigration where we waited in line for about 1/2 hour to clear immigration. We then collected our luggage and made our way to find the ground transportation to our hotel, the Ibis on Bencoolen. It was a little after 8am that our shuttle van showed up and we were on our way into the city to our hotel. It's about a 45 minute drive and the city was looking to be in nice shape.

At the Ibis, we didn't know if we could check in this early, but it was no problem. So we were able to take showers and prepare for our first day. We decided that we would ride the Hop On Hop Off bus which is now called the HIPPO. The bus stops right in front of the hotel which was really convenient. We purchased a 72 hour pass which would be good through 10:32am on Tuesday. The 7 routes are color coded and we ended up riding the blue, brown, red, and yellow lines. All of the lines come together at the Suntec Shopping Center and Exhibition Hall. Around lunch time, we enjoyed some great noodle soup at a vender in the food court in the basement of the mall. 

We then used the RED line to get us back to our hotel which turned out to be in a terrific location. It's only a 20 minute walk to Suntec and next to the hotel is a major open air market and two temples and a multi-story electronic mall wilth all kinds of gadgets and pieces and parts and repair services. Many of the repair vendors have piles of old cracked screens. It appears to be a big business! In the basement of the electronic mall was another food court which was a big lower in class than the Suntec one. But the Lasak soup was excellent. Oh, and I did find a tool to try to fix a broken handle on my rollon luggage. Plus I got to 'geek out' looking in the various shops.

Travel fatigue was starting to affect us, so we wandered back to our hotel room and we were asleep by 9pm. We had a round the island tour scheduled for the next day starting at 8:30am with 2 other couples who are also on the cruise for the first 14 days, Ursula and Doug were staying at our hotel, but Carol and John were elsewhere.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Day -5 - Thursday, February 8, 2018

After a long year of planning and anticipation, it was finally time to begin our 2018 exploration of Asia using the Holland America ship, MS Volendam. We really liked our two month cruise on her last year which began in Hong Kong and ended in Vancouver, BC. For 2018, we decided to board her earlier in Singapore, which was a city we last visited in 2015 when we sailed the old Statendam from Seattle to Singapore where it was refurbished and transferred to P&O Australia and renamed the Pacific Eden.

We typically fly standby but for this leg of the trip I cashed in some mileage plan miles for paid tickets.  Just before we were scheduled to begin boarding there was another gate change announcement directing us to go to gate N3 right next to where we first started waiting! The incoming flight was late and the ground crew turned around the flight very quickly and we were on our way only about 1/2 hour late. Due to some tail winds, we arrived at LAX right on time.  

We collected our luggage and made our way to the United Airlines ticket counter where we checked our luggage for the upcoming 17 hour flight direct to Singapore. Then we settled in for a 5 hour wait for our scheduled 9pm departure. 

Our long flight's route took us up north over the Aleutian Island chain and then down alongside the east shore of Japan, over Vietnam and we landed on time at 6:35am in Singapore on Saturday, February 10, 2018. We totally lost Friday, February 9, 2018. What would be ahead of us for our first day in Singapore? Stay tuned.