Aloha from Hilo, Hawai’i!

Woke up around 6.30am to see “land ahoy” as the Eclipse slowly made her way into port in Hilo.  We went back to bed for an hour then got up and went out onto the balcony, to take in our immediate surroundings.  As the Eclipse is such a large ship (over 122,000 tons) we found ourselves in quite an industrial port full of containers, with a large warehouse-like building serving as the passenger terminal.

We didn’t have any excursions booked today, preferring to do our own thing and get our first impressions of Hawai’i.

After breakfast we returned to 8166 to collect our shipboard passes, passports, money, credit cards etc. and go ashore.  We were each attired in our touristy “Hawai’I” t-shirts and I wore my “Celebrity X Cruises” sunhat.  We then made our way to Deck 2 and down the gangplank for the short walk to the cruise terminal and the shuttle bus into town.

Inside the terminal we were greeted with the somewhat-contrived girls-in-grass-skirts-and-leis singing and dancing to ukulele music.  There was a number of stalls selling souvenirs and holiday tat, and one stall with tourist information, which we headed for.  As a result, we obtained the last two seats on the 9.30am shuttle bus, and we sat down to await its arrival.  😊

While we waited, we looked around with interest.  There was one queue waiting for the “Walmart” bus (why would you go all the way to Hawai’i just to go to Walmart?!) and another queue waiting for the “Hoppa-On-Hoppa-Off” [sic] bus.

Soon our bus arrived and we set off through the town.  We didn’t quite know what to expect regarding Hawai’i; somehow we’d imagined it to be like the Caribbean islands with palm trees, gorgeous beaches, turquoise water and little ramshackle buildings here and there.  However, while the beaches and palm trees bit was correct, it was really quite commercialised, and this shouldn’t really have come as much of a surprise when you stopped to think that, after all, this is America.

The bus dropped us off at the main stop in town, with a police station next door and some shops across the road.  The sun was already very hot and I realised we should have brought a bottle of water with us, so we went over the road to get one.  While we were there, was walked along and browsed the shops, many of which were selling brightly-coloured dresses and shirts, wooden carved “Tiki” figures, t-shirts, holiday souvenirs and the ubiquitous leis and hair flowers.

We strolled along, taking frequent sips of water, and looking around us.  Across the road we could see the sea, with the Celebrity Eclipse in the distance (about two miles away, we guessed), but a large sea-wall prevented us from going near the sea or the beach.

As we walked along we came across a park, named Kalakaua Park, which contained a huge banyan tree, its trunk writhing and twisting tortuously while many creepers hung down from its branches.  We saw lots of chickens wandering about, pecking at the ground, along with a huge, magnificent cockerel with his green tail feathers and proud, red coxcomb.

In front of the banyan tree was a statue of the former King of Hawaii, King David Kalākaua (after whom the park is named) and Trevor posed next to him for a photo.  In front of the statue was a plaque depicting a buried time capsule; the plaque declared:

Total Solar Eclipse – Island of Hawaii
July 11, 1991 7:28AM
Time Capsule Memento from 1991
To be opened at the next total solar eclipse
May 3, 2106

Lorraine R. Inouye, Mayor, County of Hawaii

After we’d seen enough in the park, we continued along the main street.  Browsing in the shops, I spotted a colourful pink cotton dress in a floral pattern with blue and yellow flowers. The bodice of the dress was shirred and could be worn on or off the shoulder.  It was only $24 so I decided to try it on; it was full length on me and looked very nice, so I bought it, along with a couple of postcards.  The guy at the checkout told us where we could find the post-office.

In the large, pillared United States Post Office (which also served as a court room) we bought the stamps and sat on some steps in the shade to write them out, then posted them.  We then set off in search of a bar for a cold beer.  😊

We found a lively pub/eaterie called “Pineapples” in which all of the stools at the bar were occupied by people from the ship!  We sat at a nearby table and each ordered a pint of the locally-brewed beer; Trevor had a dark beer while I had a lager which had quite a cloudy look about it.  The beer was good and cold and we enjoyed it a lot, while listening to the background music and people-watching.

After we’d spent some more time browsing around and checking out our surroundings, we decided to go back to the bus station and await the shuttle.  Several “hoppa-on-hoppa-off” buses pulled up as well as service buses, but there was no sign of ours and we didn’t know how long we’d have to wait.  I didn’t feel like walking a couple of miles in the 31 degree heat, so we contemplated getting a taxi. One of the hop-on-hop-off bus drivers agreed to take us, plus another couple, back to the ship for five bucks each; he was probably making a little cash on the side.  😊

We arrived back at the Eclipse in time for lunch.  The ship was fairly quiet as a lot of people were still ashore or on excursions, so there were no queues in the Ocean View café.  The shops and casino were also closed as we were in port.

After lunch we returned to 8166 for a power nap, then went up by the pool deck where we sat in the shade out of the hot tropical sunshine. I enjoyed a cold Aperol Spritz followed by a prosecco, while Trevor had a couple of bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale.

At 3.30pm we went up to the Sky Lounge for the General Knowledge Trivia (the progressive trivia only happened on sea days) and we didn’t expect to see any of our team members, but Kendal joined us on his own and, while we did quite well, we lost out by one point.  So no rubber bracelets for us this time!  😊

After pottering around the ship and spending the rest of the afternoon in the usual pleasant, leisurely way, we got showered and shampooed and ready for dinner.  At around five o’clock the Celebrity Eclipse gave a blast of her foghorn as we put to sea once more, next stop Kailua Kona, approximately 119 nautical miles away.

Down in the Moonlight Sonata restaurant we found several people missing from table #350; there was only Dick and Barb and Randy and Donna there, apart from Trevor and me.  Maybe the others were tired or were eating elsewhere, but nevertheless we all swapped stories about what we’d been up to today, discussed various topical news items (including the non-event that was Brexit, which should have happened yesterday, the 31st October) and enjoyed the lively conversation as well as the usual delicious meal, washed down with chilled rosé wine.

Afterwards we went into the Quasar Lounge and took part in the trivia pub quiz which was actually quite hard.  We only scored 9/15 but the winners got 13.  Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.  😊

The main show tonight featured the orchestra and the Celebrity Eclipse vocalists.  It was called “An Intimate Broadway Cabaret” and I thought it was going to be a bit boring, but it was actually very good indeed.  So far in this cruise the entertainment has been excellent.  😊

I was quite tired afterwards; probably a combination of hot sun, cold booze and a lot of activity. At 10 o’clock Trevor went along to the Celebrity Central room to watch the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final, featuring England v South Africa, but I just decided to go back to 8166, sit out on the balcony for a while, and read.

I was fast asleep and didn’t hear Trevor return to the cabin at 1.00am, after England’s defeat of 32-12.  ☹

Fancy Dress or Not?

Got up at 7.30am and went out onto our balcony, where the weather was warm and sultry and the sun was already quite hot.  Today would be our last full day at sea before reaching our first port of call tomorrow.

As today was Hallowe’en, which is celebrated much more in the USA than it is at home, many passengers had adorned the doors of their cabins with paper decorations depicting ghosts, black cats, witches and pumpkins.  Before leaving home I’d assembled a great “Grim Reaper” costume consisting of skull mask, long black velvet hooded cloak and big scythe.

However, when we were reading the Celebrity Cruises “FAQs” and what-to-bring-on-your-voyage bumf on their web site, we came across a notice saying that there was a code of conduct in the interests of all passengers and, as such, strictly no fancy dress.  Its exact words say:


We don’t want to dampen your spirit, but for the comfort and enjoyment of all guests, please leave any costumes, fancy dress, garments with potentially offensive language, and other novelty clothing at home. We reserve the right to deny embarkation to persons dressed inappropriately and to ask them to change if on board.

We thought this was a very strange thing to stipulate, particularly as some cruise lines encourage dressing up, and we’ve enjoyed some great themed parties in the past, such as 1920s themed parties, masquerade balls, British nights, nautical evenings and tropical nights to name but a few.  In light of this rule, then, I left my Grim Reaper costume behind.

At 9.30am we adjourned to the Sky Lounge to meet Kendal, Janet, Frank and Norm for the Brain Waker Trivia quiz, which we won once again, getting another wrist band to add to our collection!  We joked that the other teams would be starting to get suspicious of us!  😊

After the quiz we returned to 8166 where Trevor spent some time reading and relaxing on the balcony while I caught up with some of this blog.

We then went back out on deck where the weather was fantastic, hot and sunny just as we’d anticipated, with a tantalising sea breeze.  It was after 11.00am now, so time for a freezing cold beer.  😊

Back inside we wandered through the arcade and looked to see what “bargains” they had in the shops.  There was a $10 event where a selection of items were all reduced to ten bucks each, things like scarves, purses, bags, costume jewellery etc.  I spotted some nice little charms featuring Swarovski crystals which were half-price; one of them was a ship’s wheel and the other was a small medallion proclaiming “Live..Love..Cruise”.  I couldn’t resist them and bought them, hanging them onto my bracelet straight away.  😊

At lunchtime we grabbed ourselves a light meal of cold meats and salad and sat out at the stern to eat them, each washing our lunch down with a cold bottle of Samuel Adams beer.  Then we went and sat on bar stools by the pool bar; I was tempted to change into my cossie and got for a dip, but the pool was quite crowded and we enjoyed the people watching instead, especially as one couple kept getting up and dancing to the Latin music that was playing in the background.  😊

Thus we passed the time so pleasantly in the way I’ll never tire of; sitting on the decks, looking at the blue Pacific Ocean, feeling the sea breeze ruffling our hair and just feeling so privileged to be here and so glad to be alive.

At quarter past two we did the usual, and made our way to the Sky Lounge to take part in the Music trivia quiz.  Once again our team won!  😊

The music quiz was followed by the ballroom dance class and this time it featured the cha cha cha.  Trevor and I were quick onto the dance floor, right at the front where we had a good view of the instructors.  The dance class lasted for 30 minutes and was very lively, with lots of practice and lots of dancing, so we worked up a good thirst and got a drink each to last us through the next quiz, the Progressive Trivia, at 3.30pm.

When the quiz host put the leader board of all the teams taking part in the Progressive Trivia so far, we saw that “It’s Only A Game” was in the lead.  Yay!  😊

After the quiz we went along to the small cinema/lecture theatre on Deck 4 to listen to a presentation about Lord Horatio Nelson, England’s most famous admiral, and the various battles he participated in leading up to the Battle of Trafalgar.  I had to leave about 10 minutes before the end of the hour-long lecture to get washed and changed and ready for dinner at 5.45pm.

As we made our way to the restaurant, I was most surprised to see that, contrary to what was published on the Celebrity web site (see above) regarding fancy dress, many people we, in fact, dressed in Hallowe’en costumes, some of them quite elaborate.  I could have brought my Grim Reaper costume after all!  ☹

Instead, I just wore a black and red patterned dress and nude-coloured high-heel sling backs, and looked with envy at those in their fantastic costumes.

When we came out of the dining room we passed by the Guest Relations desk, and I determined to ask them for their definition of “fancy dress”, seeing as they said one thing on their web site but practised another.  Most of the people on the guest relations desk were surprised at my question, and weren’t aware of any notices on the web site advising not to bring fancy dress.  Eventually one of them apologised for the “misunderstanding” and said they’d send a bottle of prosecco to our cabin as a goodwill gesture.  So all was not lost.  😊

The show tonight was certainly something different; he was billed a Randy Cabral who “brings a highly interactive brand of comedy that is fast paced, funny and flexible”.  We would have called him a “juggler” but perhaps that alone wouldn’t have done him justice, because he was absolutely brilliant, very dexterous, funny and highly entertaining.  We’d certainly never seen anything like him on any other cruise.

After the show we went along to watch the Hallowe’en Costume Parade (in which I could have taken part!) but the place was crowded and nowhere could I get a good vantage point.  We therefore went to the casino bar and got a drink to take back to our stateroom to drink on the balcony.

It was lovely out on the balcony; the air was warm and sultry and the sounds of the sea, washing along the side of the Celebrity Eclipse, were hypnotic.  We sat outside for about half an hour then got washed and ready for bed, and settled down for the night.

Tomorrow we were due to reach Hilo, in the “Big Island” of Hawai’I, and we slept well.

Cruise, Booze and Fabulous Shoes

Got up at 7.30 this morning and were dismayed to see that the decks were wet, and it wasn’t because the deck-hands had been washing them.  ☹

After getting washed and dressed we made our way up to Deck 14 to take the route alongside the pool to the Ocean View café. There was a fine rain (what we called a ‘mizzle’, i.e. mist+drizzle) so we decided to take the slightly-longer way across, under the canopies for shelter.  As we did so, the skies opened and the rain came pelting down, thundering on the Perspex roof.  We hoped the downpour would clear the skies for some long-awaited sun later on.

We enjoyed our substantial breakfast, washed down with orange juice and coffee, before we ventured out on deck again, where we were pleased to see that the skies were showing a bit more blue.  😊

At 9.30am we joined the rest of our quiz team “It’s Only A Game” for the brain-waker trivia.  Before the quiz host, Shania, could give out the answers, Captain Leo’s voice came booming over the tannoy with the latest geographical and meteorological information, followed by cruise director Lauren’s voice, which went on and on and on, practically reading out the whole of the events programme to us.  That girl talks far too much!  Everyone cheered when she finally shut up, and Shania could continue with the results of the quiz.

We won once again, adding another rubber wrist band to our collection.  Considering we have been on some cruises where we’ve never won a single quiz, we were doing very well so far. 😊

After the quiz, we went back out on deck where – hooray! – the sun was out and there was a pleasant tropical sea breeze.  This was more like it, and certainly what we expected on a cruise to Hawaii.

We spent the morning just relaxing and pottering around the ship, not doing very much in particular but just enjoying being on holiday and not at work.  All around us we could see the sparkling blue of the Pacific Ocean as the Celebrity Eclipse glided through the waters, which were very calm with a barely-discernible ship’s motion.

We went up to the Lawn Club (grass! on a ship!) and enjoyed a pre-luncheon cocktail; I had a nice cold Aperol Spritz while Trevor had a chilled bottle of Samuel Adams beer.  By now, the sun was very hot, and it would have been far too easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by the cooling sea breeze, so we didn’t stay in the sun for more than half an hour before seeking shelter at the Sunset Bar.

After a light lunch we headed back to cabin 8166 to sit out on our balcony for a while; it was extremely pleasant watching the sea glide past and enjoying the fresh air – it is something we never tire of.

We then had a half-hour power nap before going up to the Sky Lounge to take part in the music trivia, which was all about pop divas.  Of our regular team-mates only Kendal put in an appearance, but we joined another group of three and made up another team that way.  It was good that we did, because we won again, so that was another wrist band!  The other teams will start to get suspicious!  😊

Once the quiz finished, it was time for a ballroom dancing class featuring the waltz.  Trevor and I went to join in, but the dance floor was packed and we couldn’t see the feet of the dance instructors, (also they were teaching it differently from the way we’ve been learning it at home) so we just gave up and went back to join Kendal and Janet and enjoyed a drink each from the bar. 😊

At 3.30p, Frank and Norm joined us for the progressive trivia; we seemed to do pretty well once again but we won’t know which team is the overall winner until near the end of the cruise, as this was a points accumulator.

The rest of the afternoon passed in its usual relaxed and pleasant way, and soon we had to go back to 8166 to get showered and changed and ready for dinner.  How the day goes by quickly when you’re having a good time!

Tonight I decided to wear some smart white jeans with a navy camisole with a blue and green mesh overlay top, along with a pair of Irregular Choice flats.  These ones were called “Fruity Bowl” and were a very colourful pair with a pale blue glittery background featuring bananas, grapes, peaches, strawberries, cherries and the accompanying green leaves.  As ever, loads of people commented on them as we made our way to the restaurant.  😊

Dinner was as good and as delicious as ever, and afterwards we went along to the Quasar Lounge and listened to the questions being read out for the nearby Friendly Feuds (Family Fortunes) game show.  Then, at half-eight, we took part in the Tribond Trivia, at which Kendal joined us.  We didn’t know what was meant by ‘tribond’, but it’s a game in which you have to find the common word between three seemingly-unrelated items.  For example, the words “eggs, eyes, laundry items” would have the word “whites” in common.

In this way we completed the quiz and scored 15/15, so another rubber wrist band each to add to our growing collection.  😊

It was then time to take our seats in the Eclipse Lounge for tonight’s show, which featured the Celebrity Singers, Dancers and Acrobatic Performers (i.e. the show company).  It was called “Topper” and the stage contained a large top hat from which several colourful characters emerged. As the daily programme described it: “The enigmatic Sir Peabody keeps his eccentric friends, both real and imaginary, locked away in his giant hat. Enjoy what happens when they yearn for life outside”.  We did indeed enjoy it and thought it was a very imaginative and unusual show.

It was then time to return to the Quasar Lounge and take our place on our ‘regular’ bar stools in time for the karaoke.  Several other people were in the lounge already and, judging by the volume of noise coming from a particular group at the bar, some of them had clearly been enjoying a drink (or three!) beforehand.

The karaoke was a packed and lively affair.  I got up and did two numbers, the first being Rose Garden by Lynn Anderson, and the second It’s a Heartache by Bonnie Tyler.  One guy who was dressed as a country yokel (quite appropriately) was an excellent country-style hill-billy singer with a large repertoire of songs; we were sure he had to be a professional and when we asked him, he said that was known to be paid occasionally for singing.  😊

It was quite late when we left the karaoke (after 11.45pm) and returned to stateroom 8166 after another great day.  We had to put our clocks back one more hour tonight, putting us 10 hours behind GMT and onto Hawaiian time, so we gained another hour in bed.  We slept very well, as the Celebrity Eclipse carried us ever-closer to our destination.

The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow

Got up at eight o’clock this morning and went out onto the balcony to see what the weather was like.  Once again, although dry, it was cooler than we’d expected and cloudy, but the Pacific Ocean was fairly calm as the Celebrity Eclipse glided through the waves, and we enjoyed the hypnotic shhhhh shhhhh of the sea washing against the side of the ship.

We went and had our breakfasts in the Ocean View café and had a wander out on deck.  Quite a few people were power-striding or jogging around the track above the pool deck, and one or two people were in the pool or the jacuzzi, but the sun loungers were mainly empty.

At half-nine we went up to the sky lounge where we were joined once again by Kendal, Janet, Frank and Norm for the morning trivia.  We scored 13/15 and were the winners once again, earning another wrist band each.  😊

Then, at 10 o’clock, we went into the Eclipse Theatre to listen to the music historian Bill Powell give a very interesting talk about Elvis Presley, interspersed with clips from his music.  It was a very interesting lecture, and quite sad at the end regarding Elvis’s untimely death in 1977 at the age of 42.

Afterwards we went and had a cup of coffee before going on the wander around the ship again.  We briefly watched a paper aeroplane challenge between officers and passengers in the central atrium, before taking one of the glass-sided lifts up to the top deck.  Those lifts would be no good for someone with a fear of heights, as they made you realise just how many decks and how tall this ship was, as we watched each level recede away from us.

We pottered around the ship in the usual pleasant way and enjoyed a light lunch before making our way to the Eclipse Lounge once again for a 1.30pm matinée performance by the Rave-Ons.  Their popularity was evident by the already-packed lounge when we arrived, and we were lucky to get decent seats down near the front

The show was enthusiastic and energetic, with the three excellent guitarists and singers, and the manic drummer in the background, who reminded me of ‘Animal’ out of the Muppet Show.  😊  It was a superb performance, and most of the audience stood up at the end.  Great stuff.

At half-three we returned to the Sky Lounge to meet up with the rest of our quiz team, and took part in Round 2 of the Progressive Trivia quiz.  After the first round we were joint leaders, so we had to ensure we maintained our position.  We did quit well once again, and handed our papers in so that the accumulative score could be calculated.  Then we sat and talked for a while before making our way back to cabin 8166 to relax, get showered and changed, and ready for dinner at 5.45pm.

Whilst Celebrity cruises don’t enforce a formal dress code, they do have ‘evening chic’ nights where passengers may dress up a little more, and wear dinner jackets if they wish.  Trevor had brought a smart pair of grey trousers with matching waistcoat, a crisp white shirt with red cufflinks which matched his red silk cravat – very elegant indeed.

I wore a yellow floral off-the-shoulder dress, but my pièce de résistance was my shoes – a pair of Irregular Choice colourful high-heeled sandals that depicted fake flowers at the front and a Hawaiian lei at the ankle strap, as well as a heel consisting of a hula girl in a grass skirt playing her ukulele!


Predictably, every few paces I walked, I was stopped by people passing by, marvelling at my shoes and examining them, “oohing” and “aahing” over them and asking where I got them.  No-one had ever seen anything like it, but the Irregular Choice brand is well-known for its concept heels which is something I like to collect.  😊

Eventually, after stopping many times, we arrived at the Moonlight Sonata restaurant, and took our seats at table #350.  We had a full house tonight, all 12 of us, and we enjoyed the usual delicious meal and wine and excellent conversation.

After dinner we made our way to the Quasar Lounge to take part in the trivia, which was Movie Posters.  We thought we were doing quite well, but we couldn’t finish the quiz (which had 25 questions) as we had to be in the Eclipse Lounge in good time for the Captain’s welcome.  It was a much watered-down welcome compared to those we usually experience on the Fred Olsen ships; there was no dancing or canapés or free cocktails or glasses of fizz, just Captain Leonardos Palaiokrassas (“Captain Leo”) who put in a five-minute token appearance and introduced his senior officers before the show started at nine o’clock.

Tonight’s performance featured a female singer called Jen Jayden.  She appeared in a pair of painted-on shiny trousers, and a leather corset, very rock-chick and she belted out her songs with much energy and gusto, accompanied by the superb ship’s orchestra.  She was a very good entertainer, even if she did seem to think a little highly of herself.

After the show we headed upstairs for the “Sounds of the 70s” disco followed by dancing and Abba Singalong, but the Sky Lounge was absolutely packed and the only available seats were at the periphery of the room near the windows (excellent for the sea views in the dark) but too far from the music and the main action.

We therefore decided to go elsewhere, and we made our way to the Martini Ice Bar where I enjoyed a martini made with watermelon juice and Grey Goose vodka amongst other things.  We then had one more drink before returning to cabin 8166 around 11.30pm, fairly early for us when we’re on holiday.

Once again, we’d had an enjoyable day – we just hoped the weather would improve.  We also stood to gain an extra hour in bed as the clocks went back once again; we are now nine hours behind GMT.

Cruising the Pacific

We awoke early this morning; in fact, at 6.00am I went out onto the balcony hoping to watch the sun rise, but we were on the wrong side of the ship!  Nevertheless we lay in bed for a while, looking out at the mesmerising sight of the sea passing by, then got up around 6.30am.  The weather was cooler than we expected, and although it was bright and dry there were quite a few cumulus clouds in the sky and we hoped the sun would come out later.

Today was the first of four full days at sea, so we looked forward to what the day had in store for us; there was certainly a packed programme of events lined up.  Such a large ship, with so many passengers, meant that several different types of entertainment was on at the same time in different parts of the ship, and it meant it was difficult to choose what to do, and what to leave out.

We enjoyed our breakfast in the Ocean View café, and took a walk out on deck, where we were pleased to see that the sun was out, although there was still quite a brisk sea breeze.  We thought we’d spent some time exploring this beautiful ship, and we went up to Deck 15 where we were surprised to visit the Lawn Club; yes, they have real grass growing on a ship!  There was a neatly manicured lawn of perfect grass, like a bowling green, with signs up asking passengers not to wear heels or place deck furniture on the grass.

Near the Lawn Club was a glass-blowing centre, where you could learn the art of sculpting hot glass, and in fact could make your own souvenir to take home.  This looked fascinating, and something I might participate in later on in the cruise.  😊

At 10 o’clock we went along to the Eclipse theatre to listen to a talk by a music historian called Bill Powell. It was called “My Rock and Roll Heroes” and featured the lives and music of Chuck Berry and Little Richard amongst others.  Even though rock and roll is not my era it was still a very interesting talk.

Afterwards we had time to go along to the nearby Casino Bar and grab ourselves a beer each. Even though it was only 11.00am, we figured that it was 7.00pm back home, so not too early for a beer.  😊  We took our bottles back into the theatre to listen to a talk about the Hawaiian Islands we would be visiting, and what excursions were available to book.  Hawaii looked absolutely lovely, and we looked forward to visiting.  In the meantime, however, we had four great sea days to enjoy.

The end of the talk brought us nicely to lunchtime, and we went along to the Ocean View café once again, where there was a huge array of dishes from all over the world.  I was quite restrained and enjoyed a plate of salad with crisp vegetables and ham, washed down with a glass of prosecco.  Then we had a dish of ice-cream each and went out on deck, where the sun was out but there was still a brisk breeze blowing.

We spent some time walking around the decks, exploring the ship and people-watching.  We went up to the Sunset Bar at the stern of the ship, where it was a bit more sheltered, but all the bar stools were taken and it was quite busy.  We therefore got ourselves a drink each and walked round to the Lawn Club, sitting on a deck chair each at the edge of the grass (!) and watching the world go by.  It was a pleasant way to pass the time.  😊

Afterwards we returned to stateroom 8166 for an hour’s nap, to try to eliminate the last of the jet lag.  It was still too cool to sit out on the balcony so we just read, watched a bit of TV and napped.

We noticed that there was an afternoon Trivia Quiz on in the Sky Lounge up on Deck 14, so we went up there and took a couple of stools at the bar.  A few minutes later a bloke came over to us and asked if we would like to join his team; we certainly agreed and made our way over to his table, where he introduced himself as Kendal, and the rest of the team as Norm, Frank and Janet.  Trevor and I were the only Brits on the team, which was named “It’s Only A Game”.  😊

We enjoyed the quiz and the conversation in between.  We scored 12/15 which was the winning score!  Yay!  Each member of our team received a rubber wrist-band with “Celebrity Life Activities” emblazoned on it; apparently the wrist-bands are traded in at the end of the cruise for prizes.

We remained in the airy and spacious Sky Lounge for a while after the quiz, talking and laughing.  Then we thanked Kendal for inviting us to join their team (it had been fun!) and said we’d see them at the next trivia quiz.  How nice that in the crowd of 2,000+ passengers we’d made some friends already.  😊

We then decided to go out to the pool bar into the sunshine, if we could find a spot sheltering us from the brisk breeze.  I enjoyed an Aperol Spritz as we sat with the sun on our backs, listening to a lively group playing and watching as the Celebrity Eclipse made her way effortlessly through the mild blue Pacific.  We sat for one more drink before going back inside.

As we made our way back to our cabin, we walked through the shopping precinct and saw that they were selling quite good-quality t-shirts at two for $20.00.  Of course, a holiday wouldn’t be a holiday without buying the t-shirt, so we each chose one; mine in a bright yellow with “Hawaii” proclaimed across it with scenes of palm trees and hibiscus, and Trevor’s in a navy blue with “Hawaiian Cruising” written on it and pictures of yachts and surf boards.  I decided to put mine on straight away. 😊

The time passed in its pleasant way until it was time to start getting washed and changed for dinner.

There were two new people at table #350 tonight; Gary and Nancy.  We now had a full house of 12 people at our table and, as usual, there was much excellent conversation and food and drink as is traditional on cruise ships.

As our dinner is fairly early at 5.45 pm and the main show doesn’t start until 9.00pm, we had some time to spare.  As we were making our way to the Quasar Lounge to do the music quiz, we stopped to join in with the Battle of the Sexes quiz, which is teams of men versus teams of ladies.  It was all very amusing; the ladies won!  😊

The music quiz tonight was called “British Invasion” and featured the famous music of the 1960s which had taken the USA by storm.  There were 10 questions, and you had to listen to a music clip and name the song title as well as the artiste.  We scored 13/20 (I was a bit too young when a lot of these songs were around!) but the couple adjacent to us at the bar, whose paper we marked, scored 19/20.

We then went into the Eclipse Theatre for tonight’s cabaret, which featured a comedian called Michael Gaffney.  It was typical American humour, so while most of the audience were rolling in the aisles, Trevor and I barely cracked a smile.  The transatlantic sense of humour is so different from the British, which is based largely on sarcasm or irony.

Afterwards it was karaoke night again, so we went back to the Quasar Lounge where we met a few more Brits, including a young lass in her 20s called Charlotte, who was with her mother.  Quite a few singers got up; I did another Amy Winehouse, You Know I’m No Good, then put my name down to do Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.

We enjoyed ourselves at the bar, drinking (including tequila shots, at Charlotte’s suggestion!) and talking.  Charlotte put our names down to do a duet, singing Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen, which went down a storm.  😊

When I got up to do my Cyndi Lauper number, Charlotte also came over and joined in with me half-way through.  Considering we’d never met before, our voices actually went quite well together!  😊

After the karaoke finished (it overran, because a lot of singers got up) I got a nightcap and we returned to cabin 8166.  It was too chilly to enjoy my drink on the balcony, so I just settled down and drank it reading some magazines on my iPad.  We’d had a full and interesting day today, and we slept very well.

Total Eclipse

As expected, we kept waking up through the night, but we still did manage to get some quality sleep, so we got up at 6.35am and I made a beeline for the large bathroom and enjoyed a long, hot shower and washed my hair.  While I was getting ready, we made the most of the coffee percolator in our room and watched the breakfast time news.  Opening our room curtains wide, we looked out across the road towards the airport where we could see aircraft taking off and landing.

We then went down to breakfast around 7.45am.  The hotel restaurant was already quite busy, and we each paid the $22.95 (quite expensive, we thought) for the “all you can eat” breakfast buffet and unlimited tea and coffee refills.

I enjoyed home-made granola followed by a healthy selection of fresh fruits and a boiled egg, washed down with orange juice and two cups of hot, strong coffee.  We didn’t need to check out of our room until 11.00am, but first of all we had to find the Celebrity Cruises rep and check ourselves in.

The Celebrity rep explained we needed to be in the lobby for 12.15pm for the shuttle bus to the cruise terminal.  We returned to room 819, packed up all our stuff and brought our cases down to the lobby to put with the rest of the luggage to be taken to the Celebrity Eclipse.

We now had some time to kill, so we had a wander up the road to stretch our legs.  There wasn’t a lot around here apart from hotels, car hire companies, long-term car parks and office buildings.  Every few minutes a roar of jet engine preceded the sight of an aircraft taking to the skies, and we walked around the block before returning to the hotel.

We then went back to our room, had a final check around and collected our hand luggage before making our way back downstairs.  We decided we’d sit out by the pool while we waited until it was time to get the shuttle bus to the pier.

When we got down to the lobby bar, we noticed a giant TV screen that was showing the Liverpool v Tottenham match which certainly kept Trevor happy; we watched the last 25 minutes of the game whilst enjoying a Budweiser each.  Then we relaxed beside the pool before making our way back to the waiting area for the transfer to the pier.  The weather was cloudy and was certainly cooler than we expected it to be for California.

The buses arrived and our group was called to board.  It took about 30 minutes to reach San Pedro, where the cruise terminal was situated, and we caught our first glimpse of the Celebrity Eclipse.  She looked huge (in fact, she is the second-largest ship we will have ever been on, next to the Queen Mary 2) but she looked a tiddler next to the massive Norwegian Bliss that was moored up beside her.  This ship was a gigantic 168,000 tons and looked like a colossal, floating block of flats – quite hideous.  We worked out that the Norwegian Bliss was the same tonnage as the Eclipse and the last ship we were on, the Balmoral, combined!  The queues for the Bliss were absolutely horrific; she probably holds 5,000 passengers against the Eclipse’s 2,800.

Inside the terminal we were relieved to see that the queue was not as bad as expected, and was moving fairly swiftly.  We used the time to do that most pleasant of pastimes, people-watching, as we surreptitiously looked around at our fellow passengers-to-be.  There seemed to be quite a lot of different age groups as well as several children and teenagers.  2,800 passengers is certainly more than we usually feel comfortable with, and we hoped that the sheer number of people wouldn’t stop us from making friends which, to me, is part of the memorable experience of cruising.  If you’ve read my August 2019 blog of our cruise on the Balmoral¸ you’ll know what I mean!  😊

Presently we found ourselves at the head of the queue, where check-in was fast and efficient.  We received our shipboard passes and happily made our way along the skywalk into the interior of the Celebrity Eclipse.

We had been allocated stateroom 8166, a spacious, airy and comfortable balcony cabin on the starboard side.  There was a large sofa and table, dressing table and chair, flat-screen TV mounted on the wall and a queen-size bed next to the floor-to-ceiling glass sliding balcony doors.  The balcony contained two deckchairs and a table, and a glass front that allowed us an unimpeded view.  The bathroom was also larger than that which you’d find on most cruise ships.

As it was now about 2.00pm and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we were a bit peckish, so our first stop was to the Ocean View café for a light lunch and a drink.  I enjoyed some fresh garden salad washed down with a glass of prosecco, while Trevor had a selection of some of the hot dishes on offer washed down with a Samuel Adams beer.  In fact, the Ocean View was massive and there was a huge array of foods from all different nationalities; we were really spoilt for choice.

When we got back to stateroom 8166 afterwards, we found our cases had arrived, so we spent some time unpacking and hanging everything up.  Our only complaint was that there was hardly any storage space.  One fairly small wardrobe between us meant that hanging up 15 nights’ worth of clothes was a bit of a squeeze, and the only drawers around in the cabin were quite small, meaning clothing had to be folded up quite a lot to fit in.

Once our unpacking was done and the cases stowed under the bed, we decided to have a power nap before lifeboat drill at 4.15pm.  However, there was absolutely no chance of snatching any sleep because the cruise director’s voice kept blaring out of the Tannoy with annoying regularity, and we had no means of turning it off (that we were aware of).  In fact, her voice sounded weirdly like Alexa or Siri, and I was starting to wonder whether it was a real person or a robotic voice.  😊

Soon the signal sounded for us all to make our way to the lifeboat muster station; in our case that was the Eclipse Theatre on Deck 4.  Inside, we had to check-in and were shown to our seat to watch a safety video, which was actually quite amusing.  Then it was back to our cabin where our holiday could now start in earnest.  😊

We noticed we had been allocated table #350 in the Moonlight Sonata restaurant, or early sitting which is at 5.45pm; very early in fact, as we usually dine at 6.15-6.30pm on most cruises.  We did manage to get our power nap, and then we pottered around for a bit before getting washed and smartened up for our dinner.  At around five o’clock, the Celebrity Eclipse gave a blast of her foghorn and we started to move away from the dockside.  We were on our way to Hawaii!

On Celebrity ships the dress code is a bit more relaxed than on other ships; there are no formal nights, instead they tend to be smart-casual or ‘evening chic’.  I therefore put on a black dress with white polka dots and a neat little black shrug, and sling-back shoes decorated with rhinestones.

In the restaurant we were shown to a large table near the window, at which some couples were already seated.  In fact, it was a table for 12. We were the only Brits on a table full of Americans. In fact, we’d never met any other Brits since leaving the aircraft.

The other couples on the table introduced themselves as Barb and Dick, Audrey and Grace, Randy and Donna, and Kurt and Sue, and they all seemed very pleasant.  The conversation flowed, but for such a large table it meant that those seated at each end could barely hear the person at the other end.

At one point, we noticed that the Eclipse had come to a halt and we wondered what had happened; the voice coming over the Tannoy announced that a medical emergency had occurred and someone was going to be helicoptered off the ship!  So that unfortunate person’s cruise was over before it had begun.  ☹

The meal was delicious, and once again we were spoilt for choice as to what to have.   In the end I settled for a Caesar salad to start, followed by a sirloin steak and finished off with crème brûlée.  It was all washed down with water and rosé wine.

As the main entertainment didn’t start until 9.00pm, we went along to the Quasar lounge and took part in the quiz.  However, it was all based around advertising slogans for mainly-American products, so we only scored an appalling 2/15.  😊

We then took our seats in the Eclipse Theatre for tonight’s show, a Buddy Holly tribute by a really talented, lively group of musicians and singers called the Rave-Ons.  It was a great show, very entertaining, and we enjoyed it a lot.

Then it was time for us to take the limelight ourselves, as it was Karaoke Night in the Quasar lounge.  Quite a few singers got up and gave it their best shot, and it was all good fun.  I got up and did Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, then later on I sang the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s a Sin.  One lady who’d never heard that one before came over and asked what it was called, and said she enjoyed my singing.

As it was after 11.30pm now and we were still a little jet-lagged, we returned to 8166 and settled down for our first night on board.  In fact, as we’re sailing west, we had to put our clocks back an hour so we’d gain an extra hour in bed.  We slept soundly, with the soothing sounds of the sea lulling us through the slightly-open balcony doors.  😊

London to Los Angeles

Well, it is that time once again folks, when we find ourselves all excited about going on yet another holiday.  Today we were jetting off to Los Angeles, where we were due to spend a night in a hotel near to LAX and join our ship Celebrity Eclipse tomorrow, to set sail for the amazing islands that make up Hawaii, the 50th state of the USA.

We got up at 4.00am on this chilly October morning, thankful that the ever-present rain we have been experiencing for the last few days appeared to have abated.  We didn’t have any breakfast, preferring instead to wait until we were either at the airport or on the ‘plane instead.

We set off through the quiet dark streets for Newcastle Airport, and made it in good time as there was hardly any traffic about at this uncivilised hour.  Leaving the car in the long-term car park, we trundled our cases into the main airport building and checked in immediately, before any long queues had started to form.

As we didn’t have a lot of time to spare, we made our way straight to the departure gate and boarded British Airways flight BA1321 for London Heathrow.  As Trevor’s seat was next to the emergency exit, it meant he had no seats in front of him, which is always a good thing.  😊

We each had a cup of coffee on the hour-long flight to the capital.  British Airways, like many other airlines and indeed other companies, has had to make cut-backs, so the complimentary in-flight snacks and drinks on domestic flights are no more (unless you’re in Business Class) so it cost us a fiver for two cardboard cups of coffee.

As the aircraft started its final approach into Heathrow, we enjoyed a very red sky on the horizon; “red sky in the morning is a shepherd’s warning”.  Not that it would worry us when we were leaving behind the cold dark miserable British autumn weather.  😊  I had the usual feeling of suppressed excitement and anticipation at the thought of starting another amazing cruise to somewhere new; we hadn’t been to Hawaii before, although it’s been on the bucket list for some time now.

Once we disembarked the aircraft at Terminal 5 we made our way immediately to the Wetherspoon’s “Crown Rivers” pub for our breakfast.  Trevor had a substantial bacon sarnie washed down with a pint of Doom Bar, while I had a breakfast sandwich containing bacon, sausage and egg. Mine was washed down with a glass of blush prosecco. 😊

Once the sign came up on the board advising us to proceed to area C64 for boarding, we made our way along to the gate where we saw the huge British Airways Airbus A380 awaiting us.  Our boarding passes told us we were on the upper deck of the aircraft, and once we proceeded up the ramp to the upstairs part we were delighted to see that our seats were those ones at the bulkhead, where there is no-one in front of you and you have absolutely loads of leg room.  In fact, our seats were ideally placed for the toilets as well as the galley. What a coincidence that we’d been given the emergency exit seats on both flights!  😊

I have been watching flight BA283 on FlightRadar 24 for the last few weeks, and even though the departure time is listed as 09:50 hours, it had never left on time; most times it was 45 minutes to an hour later taking off.  Today, however, it was bang on time when it was pushed back from the gate, and started taxiing to the runway.

Whilst the aircraft got ready for takeoff, I mentioned to Trevor that I hoped the flight would not be turbulent, as I find it most disconcerting when a giant aircraft, weighing many hundreds of tons, is buffeted about in the air five miles above terra firma.  A member of the cabin crew, who was near us on the jump seat by the emergency exit, heard me and mentioned that flight turbulence was not that much different from a car going over a pothole or a ship sailing on a rough sea.  😊

Flight BA283 took to the skies and we settled back in our seats to get through the next 10½ hours.  Because we had no seats in front of us (yippee!) our AVOD screens were tucked away in the seat arm-rest, so we pulled them out and tuned into the interactive SkyMap, so we could watch our progress across the pond to Los Angeles.

Shortly the inflight cabin service started and our cabin crew guy, whose name tag proclaimed him to be Shiran De Silva, came around and asked us what we would like to drink.  He was very pleasant and smiling and when we requested a cold beer each, he brought us two!  We enjoyed them with a small packet of cheese and onion flavoured pretzels while we looked around our immediate surroundings and I browsed the magazines and Kindle books I’d loaded onto my iPad.

Presently the trolley came around with our lunch, which was very substantial.  We enjoyed a main meal of chicken curry and rice followed by chocolate mousse, cheese and biscuits and one of the Graze snack boxes consisting of seasoned corn kernels, chickpeas and small salted crackers.  It was all washed down with white wine and a bottle of water.  I joked to Trevor that, unlike the fare on the cruise ships, we wouldn’t get a post-luncheon liqueur or brandy.  😊

I spoke too soon, however; as our cabin crew guy Shiran came around with the coffees, he’d also brought us a small bottle of brandy each.  This guy reads minds!  😊  We enjoyed the brandy and the warmth that it brought in these chilly air-conditioned surroundings.  Pulling my blanket up to my chin and putting my neck pillow into sition, I snuggled down and tried to snatch some sleep after our 4.00am start, but I can never sleep well on an aircraft and I just dozed intermittently, as the giant A380 sped across the cloudless skies bringing us ever-closer to our destination.

I then passed the time reading my magazines, listening to music on my iPod, and doing some crossword puzzles.  Shiran came around again with some more brandies (!!) and spent some time chatting with us, telling us some amusing anecdotes gleaned from 14 years of working for British Airways.  What a great people-person he was, and certainly perfect for a customer-facing role.  He told us about his family and his previous jobs, and we told him about our world travels and our unforgettable flights on the inimitable Concorde.

And so the time passed in its inexorable way, with Shiran looking after us very well and providing superb service with a smile.  Although we were travelling standard class, with our spacious extra-legroom seats and attentive service, we felt as if we were in business class!  😊

After a second meal of a hot sandwich and tea or coffee (and more drinks courtesy of our favourite cabin crew guy Shiran!) the “fasten seat belts” sign came on and the giant aircraft began her descent into LAX.  We landed ahead of schedule, at 12.55pm local time (8.55pm British time).

As we left the aircraft, we shook Shiran’s hand and thanked him for his service and all the enjoyable little chats we’d had.  He’d certainly helped to liven up an otherwise boring long-haul flight.  We also had another four little bottles of brandy to enjoy in our hotel room later on. 😊

Inside the passenger terminal, the most tedious part of our journey had begun; the long, long, long queues for arrivals and immigration.  There was nothing we could do about it apart from go with the flow, but it was a good two-and-a-half hours before we got through, collected our cases from the luggage carousel, and made our way to the hotel shuttle buses outside.

At least the hotel wasn’t far away; we were booked into the Sheraton Gateway LAX hotel and we arrived about 3.45pm; tired, hot and sweaty and with the slight sense of disorientation that always follows a long-haul flight and an 8-hour time difference.

Once we got into our room on the eighth floor (room 819) we had a single thought; a refreshing dip in the hotel pool.  This would certainly perk us up a bit as well as washing off the day’s grime.  The temperature was about 26˚ C which was a bit different from the 5˚C it was back home!

Donning our swimming gear, we proceeded down to the lobby and out to the pool.  There were one or two people around, lying on sun loungers or sitting inside at the bar.  Entering the pool, we found the water cooler than expected, but once we were in it was lovely and refreshing and certainly livened us up after our long day.

We swam around in a desultory fashion for a short while, then climbed out of the pool and found a seat in the sunshine.  I dried myself off with the large, striped towel that was provided, then put on my sarong and went into the nearby bar for a couple of cold Budweisers, which we drank outside in the sunshine, letting ourselves dry off slowly.

As the late afternoon sun dipped lower in the sky, we returned to our room and decided to have a power nap, setting the alarm to go off in one hour’s time.

At 6.00pm, we left the hotel and decided to find somewhere to have a bite to eat.  We’d already seen someone by the pool with a “Subway” carry-out bag, so we knew there must be one somewhere nearby, and indeed Google Maps indicated a Subway only three minutes’ walk away.

We set off along the busy street, found the Subway and went inside.  I enjoyed a 6” teriyaki chicken while Trevor had the foot-long turkey and ham, which we accompanied with crisps, home-made cookies and washed down with a cold, soft drink.

Afterwards we took a slow stroll back to the hotel, passing the huge lit-up “LAX” sign; I stopped to take a photo of this famous landmark.

Arriving back in our room, we had to fight the urge to go to sleep straight away; we knew that if we did so, with the 8-hour time difference we would be awake all night.  So we went down to the hotel bar and enjoyed a drink while I made a start with this blog.   I couldn’t stop singing the chorus from the Bran Tran 3000 1997 hit which went “We did nothing, absolutely nothing that day and I say, what the hell am I doing drinking in LA”.  😊

Back in our room we pottered around for a bit, watching the CNN TV, reading and enjoying the last of the brandy and dry ginger, courtesy of our favourite cabin crew guy Shiran De Silva.  😊

We lasted until about 9.00pm, then we couldn’t keep our eyes open any more.  Settling down in our big bed with its crisp cotton sheets, we fell asleep almost immediately, and looked forward what tomorrow would bring.

Going Home, Newcastle

I’m going home, Newcastle
You can keep your London wine,
I’d walk the street, all day all neet
For a bottle of the River Tyne.



Got up at around 9.00am and looked out of our window.  We could tell we were back in the open sea as the water was a little choppier, and we could see one or two white horses.  At first I thought it was foggy until I realised our window was covered in a fine mist of sea spray.  The sun was bravely trying to penetrate the clouds.

At 10 o’clock we went along to the packed Morning Light pub to do the quiz.  The only seats available were the stools at the bar, so we each perched on one and attempted the 20 questions.  We only got 15/20 – not enough to win.  As we’ve only amassed two prize tokens this cruise, we decided we’d keep them until our next FOCL voyage, which will be next March and will be on the Balmoral again.

We the returned to cabin 6009 and reluctantly dragged one of the cases out from under to bed to start our packing, figuring the more we do now, the less we’ll have to do later on.  Then we just pottered around the ship for a while and decided to take a stroll around the deck.  On the lee side it wasn’t too bad at all, but on the windward side it was uncomfortably blustery in the North Sea, so we went back inside again.

Today they were advertising the Grand Gala Seafood Lunch Buffet in the Ballindalloch restaurant, starting at 12.00 noon, so we went along in good time as I had to be ready for my pedicure in three quarters of an hour.  The doors were opening just as we got there, so in we went, and I piled my plate high with lobster, crab claws, king prawns, shell-on prawns, fresh mussels and the large green-lipped mussels.  My mouth was watering at the sight of the gleaming fresh seafood on its bed of crushed ice.  Yum yum!  😊

We washed it down with a crisp, cold glass of cava each, then I wandered around the food works of art, looking at the amazing ice sculptures and melon and fruit sculptures and the way the food had been laid out so artistically.  It really must have taken some time, just for the sculptures to be demolished by hoards of hungry Brits!  😊

I took lots of photos for my web site; one of them was an iced cake in the shape of the Balmoral sailing on a blue sea from which the tail and head of a spouting whale appeared.  It was wonderful.

Afterwards I went up to the Atlantis Spa with its floor to ceiling windows affording fantastic views of the passing seascape, with its occasional distant oil rigs and other ships passing by.  I really enjoyed my pedicure; it included a foot and leg scrub and massage, as well as deep moisturising mask in which my feet were wrapped in cling-film then placed into some warm bootees for 15 minutes.  During that time, I received a complimentary neck and shoulder massage which was bliss.

I was in the spa for about an hour, and was surprised to find it was only £35.00, way cheaper than I pay for a luxury pedicure at home.  I tipped the lady a fiver because she’d done such a good job.

Back in our cabin we did a little more packing, then I decided to have a power-nap to make up for our late night once again.

We then went up to the Lido Lounge and watched the “Singing for Fun” group practising their scales before we went out into the conservatory part of the Lido Lounge, the one that overlooks the swimming pool on the rear decks.  We spotted Gill and Carl by the window and went over to join them for a short while, before joining John and Linda for the afternoon trivia.  A win eluded us once again!

We then had to go and get ourselves ready for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party at half-past five.  It wasn’t a formal evening, but I still dressed smartly in a blue floral maxi dress with a pair of Irregular Choice shoes that matched very well.  One lady sitting at a nearby table came over and asked me where I got my shoes from, and I explained all about IC and gave her the URL for the web site.  Hardly anyone seems to have heard of Irregular Choice, which I find quite surprising when they’ve been around for 20 years.

This time the captain appeared at the captain’s cocktail party; in fact it was the first time we’d seen Captain Victor Stoica all this cruise. He introduced a selection of crew members while we enjoyed some glasses of fizz and hot and cold pre-dinner canapés (more eating and drinking!!)

Afterwards Trevor hotfooted it along to our cabin to pick up the bottle of cava we’d won previously, so we could all enjoy it tonight in the restaurant, as it was our “Last Supper”.  ☹

In the Ballindalloch we enjoyed the usual scrumptious four course meal: appetiser, salad or soup course, entrée, and dessert or cheese.  We washed it down with the bottle of fizz and clinked glasses with each other, then followed it with coffee and in Trevor’s and my case, a liqueur; Trevor had a Benedictine and I had a ruby port.  It was sad to be leaving the restaurant for the last time.  ☹

As the cabaret this evening wasn’t due to start until 9.00pm because of the second-sitting captain’s party, we went back to our cabin and did most of our packing, only leaving out whatever we’d need for the remainder of this evening and tomorrow morning.

We then bagged out seats in the Neptune Lounge for the Farewell Variety Show, with Gill and Carl sitting well back because the magician and the comedian were performing again, as well as the fantastic Balmoral Show Company and the talented musicians of the orchestra.

Trevor and I sat in our usual front-row seats but it meant that both Trevor and I were picked to help Rick Green, the magician, with a trick.  😊

We enjoyed the show very much and went, as usual, to the Observatory for the quiz, but it was fairly empty due to most people, I would imagine, doing their packing.  There was no sign of John or Linda or any of our other team-mates, so we just did the quiz on our own, and didn’t win once again.

There was nothing on in the Lido Lounge tonight, so we just stayed where we were in the Observatory.  Shortly afterwards Gill and Carl joined us, and we sat discussing various points of this very good cruise, with some excellent ports of call and interesting cultural and historical experiences.

As we had to be up at 7.00am, we determined we weren’t going to be burning the candle at both ends tonight, and in fact we were back in cabin 6009 by midnight.  We then finalised our packing and put the cases outside our door for collection.   Then we settled down for our last sleep on board the Balmoral.  As we were back in British waters now, we had to put our clocks back to BST, so we gained an extra hour in bed, which was no bad thing.

By the time the alarm went off the next morning, we found ourselves right back where we started from, in the Port of Tyne.  Needless to say, the skies were grey and the rain gusted down.

As Geordie folk group “Busker” sang, it was “Home Newcastle” and the end of another fabulous cruise.  Can’t wait for the next one!  😊

Handbags and Gladrags

Wednesday.  The holiday was certainly looking a bit sick now – had we really been on the Balmoral a week already?  Despite us only having two days left I could not get out of my pit this morning which was hardly surprising after our very late night last night.  It was after half-ten before I dragged my backside out of bed and sluggishly got washed and dressed.

It was nearly 11 o’clock before I went up to the Palms Café to get a cup of coffee, thinking that breakfast would have been long over.  However, they were still serving food and there were still quite a lot of other people having a late breakfast, so I wasn’t the only one.  As tonight was formal night again, the inevitable bottles of cava were present, so I decided to have a hair of the dog along with my plate of cold meats, smoked salmon and fresh melon and pineapple.  😊

Trevor had already had his breakfast a couple of hours ago, but he had a cup of coffee to keep me company.  Afterwards we had a wander around on deck before deciding to go ashore once more, as Rouen was, unfortunately, our last port of call.  ☹

Once again we proceeded down the gangplank, which was quite steep today because the tide must have been higher.  We made our way to the waiting shuttle buses for the short ride into town, this time making a note of where we were dropped off.  Then we just wandered through the streets again, looking in the shop windows and at the architecture and just stretching our legs, trying to work off some of the vastly excessive calories we’d consumed (a tiny drop in the ocean, so to speak).

As I was really tired and was walking around like one o’clock half-struck, we only spent about an hour or so looking around, before taking a slow stroll back to the shuttle bus and returning to the ship in time for lunch.  Even though I’d only eaten breakfast a couple of hours before, the food is so delicious and tempting it was far too easy to make a pig of myself, and I washed it down with a cold beer.

As we discovered we still had some free on-board credit to spend, I went along to the Atlantis Spa to see if they could fit me in for a luxury pedicure tomorrow, when we had a day at sea.  I was booked in for 12.45pm, so that was something to look forward to.  The salon and spa prices are very reasonable on board; in some cases they’re cheaper than what I pay back home!

Back in our cabin I spent some time doing this blog, catching up on emails and reading.  Then tiredness overcame me and I decided to have a kip to try to catch up on the lost sleep last night.  Trevor went to the quiz with John and Linda at 3.45pm, but I was too tired to get out of bed.

By this time the Balmoral had cast off and was starting to make her way back along the Seine towards the English Channel and, eventually, the North Sea.

When Trevor came back from the quiz he said that they only narrowly lost; a couple of the questions they answered incorrectly I knew the answers to, so if I’d been there we might have won the quiz!

As the ship was now sailing again, it meant the shop was open, and they were having a special “£10.00” event where bags, purses, hats, pashminas, watches and costume jewellery were all ten pounds each.  If you bought four items you could choose a fifth for free.  We went along and I had a good browse through the goodies, choosing a couple of handbags. One was a neat little pink one (I wear a lot of pink) and the other was a grey satin clutch bag decorated with diamanté.  As I had forgotten to bring an evening bag with me, the clutch bag would be ideal to carry with my formal dress tonight.  😊

Afterwards we returned to cabin 6009 where I had a bath (our cabin has a bathtub) and took my time getting ready for the formal evening.  My hair was back to its usual messy state so I put on one of my wigs and did my makeup.  Then I donned a black off-the-shoulder dress with silver polka dots, and a pair of Irregular Choice shoes in silver glitter, with a big bow on the top and high heels.  The shoes were interesting as they were pressure sensitive, and when you walked or danced on hard floors the bows came alive with flashing lights.  😊

I teamed my new bag with my outfit and Trevor put on his DJ and bow-tie, and off we went to the Ballindalloch Restaurant once more.  By this time any tiredness had left me and I looked forward to what the evening had in store.

After dinner we went along to bag a good seat for the inimitable Balmoral Crew Show, and we got our usual front row seats with Gill and Carl sitting in the row behind.  I showed Gill the new bag I’d got for a tenner, and she decided to go and get one too, in a beige colour that would match a dress she had.  She returned a few minutes later carrying a white paper bag.  😊

While Gill was away getting her bag, we heard a kerfuffle behind us and turned to see that a lady had knocked her drink over, and her Tequila Sunrise had gone all over Carl’s jacket.  Waiters were summoned to clean the table and provide some paper towels for Carl to blot his jacket with, and meanwhile the lady offered to pay for the dry-cleaning.  However, a member of staff kindly came over with a voucher for Carl to get his jacket cleaned for free.  😊

The colourful Crew Show began, and we were treated to traditional folkloric songs and dances from the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.  Then the deck hands came out in their sailor suits and danced and postured to the Village People’s In The Navy and YMCA.

Then cruise director Allan Tait introduced the boys from the engine room.  We’d seen this before so we knew the audience were in for a real treat.  When they came out onto the stage to the strains of the Crazy Frog, there was a huge laugh from the audience.  The guys wore their overalls tied around their waists and had their arms, shoulders and heads covered in black material to look like hair.  Their bare torsos had faces drawn on them, and the overall effect was that of a very short man with a very big head.  They danced around and goofed about, bumping into each other and falling over as the manic music played and it was very entertaining.  If the laughs and giggles from the audience were anything to go by, the Engine Room lads were a huge hit. 😊

At the end of the show, the whole cast came back onto the stage and sang “We Are The World” to rapturous applause.  It certainly was a very good show, and the talented crew had made all their costumes themselves.

Afterwards it was the usual; the quiz in the Observatory, where Trevor and I and John and Linda were joined by the pleasant couple we’d met the other night.  John said that the rules were that we were not to change our minds about any answers.  We got a decent score between us; in fact we were one of three teams who had the highest score, so it had to go to the tie-breaker.  The question was “How many baked beans are there in a standard size tin?”  Who on earth would know that?!  We estimated about 300 but the actual answer was 465.  Another team had over 400 as their answer, so we missed out once again.  John said the first thing he was going to do when he got home was open a tin of beans and count them!  😊

We then had to get to the Lido Lounge with all speed as there was a special show tonight.  Howard Johnson, the guitarist and singer in the Morning Light pub, was doing his tribute to Freddie Mercury and Queen.  When we arrived there, some people were just coming out from the previous show, and we spotted Gill and Carl there.  Eventually we were able to get a table near the front, and Gill and Carl joined us to see the show again.  As we were all in our gladrags, Gill asked someone passing by if they’d take a photo of us, which they did.

John and Linda then arrived, but the Lido Lounge was packed out and there was nowhere for them to sit near us.  Not to worry though; the Queen tribute was very entertaining and the guy put all his heart and soul into it, even putting on a fake tache and slicking back his hair so he looked more like Freddie Mercury.

After his encore, in which all the audience joined in with We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions, the lounge emptied out a bit and John and Linda came over to join us as Gill and Carl went off for their late-night buffet.

We all marvelled at the fact that we didn’t get to bed until three o’clock this morning, and we vowed that we weren’t going to have such a late night tonight.  Every time the bar staff came over and said “Would you like another drink?” we said “Oh, OK, just one more then…”  But one more became two more, then three more etc. but we were enjoying the conversation and the banter and the laughs so much we didn’t notice the time, and whilst it wasn’t 3.00am when we left the Lido Lounge it was still after half-past two!  Oh well, you only live once!  😊

Back in cabin 6009 we got washed and into our PJs and I was feeling quite sad that tomorrow would be the last day of this excellent cruise in which we had seen and learned so much.  Despite the late hour I was determined I wasn’t going to waste the last day languishing in my pit, so I set the alarm for 8.30am and we settled down to sleep in our comfortable bed in our comfortable cabin.

Roaming in Rouen

Didn’t get up until 9.00 this morning as all the late nights were starting to catch up with me.  Instead, I just took advantage of the tea- and coffee-making facilities in our cabin, and just got washed and dressed while perusing today’s daily programme.  As the Balmoral had already docked on the Seine in Rouen in the early hours of the morning, everything we wanted to see was within walking distance, and we therefore hadn’t booked any excursions.

In the programme I noticed the hair salon had a special offer on today; choose three Hair Services, including a blow-dry, for £40.00.  As I am so sick of my messy hair I decided to go up to the Atlantis Spa on Deck 10 and book myself in, making the appointment for 5.30pm.

The weather didn’t look to bad today (at least it was dry!) but Trevor still packed our cagoules into his rucksack, and we disembarked the Balmoral about 9.35 and went to get the shuttle bus into the town centre.  When we alighted from the bus, the driver told us that the shuttle buses would go from this point every 10 minutes.

Rouen is an incredibly picturesque, incredibly historic city, full of ancient old timbered buildings and churches and narrow little cobbled alleyways which reminded me a little of The Shambles in York.  The spire of a massive ornate cathedral, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, dominated the skyline, and we decided to head towards it.

As we arrived in the square, we spotted a little street train (Le Petit Train de Rouen) which was doing 45-minute tours around the city, accompanied by a headphone commentary in the language of your choice.  We decided to have a go, handed over the 8.00 Euro fare each, and took our places inside the open sided vehicle.

As the train set off, we adjusted our headsets and selected English as our language.  It was a bit pointless, however, because the commentary blasted out of speakers in French, and practically drowned out the English.  We had to press the earpieces against our heads and listen hard, but I noticed some people had just given up.  We complained to the train driver who fiddled with the speakers, but it didn’t really make much difference.  We still managed to learn enough, however, to know what we were looking at as the train wended its way through the winding streets and eventually returned to the square.

We then took the time to visit the magnificent cathedral with its amazing architecture, statuary and fabulous stained-glass windows.  I found myself doing what I always do when visiting any cathedral; comparing it to our own famous 11th century edifice in Durham.  Needless to say, ours is always the best.  😊

Walking through the streets I took loads of photographs of the ancient buildings, some of which looked crooked and leaning. Old buildings rubbed shoulders with more modern ones and Rouen was obviously built long before town-planning came into force; nonetheless the effect was utterly charming.

What comes to mind whenever you think of Rouen?  Of course it has to be Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc), the 15th century French heroine who was convicted of heresy and burnt at the stake in 1431, and later canonised by the Catholic church.  We decided to have a walk around and see what we could learn about this historic figure.

We had already briefly glimpsed, from the little train, the monument marking the spot where Joan of Arc was executed, so we decided to walk back to it and also have a look around the nearby boat-shaped Church of St. Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc was an important figure in the Hundred Years’ War and is said to have been inspired by the voice of God to rid her native France of the English. From freeing fortresses to entire cities such as Paris and Reims, Joan of Arc played a vital role in the war. However, in 1430, Joan was captured and sold to the English.  A lot of the persecution against her stemmed from the fact that she had cut her hair and dressed in men’s clothing, so there were accusations of cross-dressing as well as all the other (largely concocted) accusations against her.

She was tried and convicted of heresy and sentenced to die by burning, and she was tied to the stake and the flames lit beneath her.  As the smoke rose, she screamed out to be allowed a crucifix to hold, and she died of smoke inhalation, mercifully before her body was consumed by the flames.  The English ordered that Joan of Arc be burnt three times to ensure she couldn’t escape, and they raked back the embers to expose her ashes, which were then cast into the Seine.  She was only 19 years old when she died.

In 1456, a court led by Pope Calixtus III posthumously reversed the conviction. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonised in 1920, and is one of France’s best-known heroines.

After visiting and photographing the monument we decided to visit the nearby church, which was a modern structure.  It was completed in 1979 in the centre of the ancient market square known as the Place du Vieux-Marché.  Inside, there were the most amazing, intricate and colourful stained-glass windows.  Despite the building only being 40 years old, it was intriguing and quite unique.  We bumped into Ron and Kath who were enjoying their visit to Rouen immensely.  They had been to the nearby fish and fresh produce market and that was where we decided to go to next.

The fish market was fantastic; stalls contained rows and rows of gleaming fresh fish, langoustines, lobsters, oysters, crabs and squid.  I love seafood and the appetising smell coming from the fresh fish was heavenly.  The British are such reticent eaters of fish; everywhere else in Europe the fish markets are huge and contain such a large variety of seafood, but the Brits don’t seem to enjoy fish as much as our continental neighbours.

After the fish market we bought some postcards and stamps to send home, so we decided to go and have a sit-down and a beer and write them out, so we went to find a nice little pavement bar-tabac.  We bought a nice big 500ml glass of cold beer each, wrote out the postcards and sat people-watching as we enjoyed our beer.  Afterwards we strolled through the streets, looking in the shop windows and stopping for an ice-cream on the way.  Of course, it would have to start raining again, and we met up with John and Linda and ran for cover in the shelter of a cathedral doorway.

When the rain eased off, we came out again and a French lady came up to us and asked “Est-ce qu’ily a quelqu’un ici qui parle Anglais?”  (Is there anyone here who speaks English?).  I answered her in French that we were indeed English, and she pointed out an old lady across the road who was lost and was soaked because she didn’t have a coat or umbrella.  “Elle est venue du navire croisière?” (Has she come from the cruise ship?) I asked the lady.  We crossed over the road to speak to the old lady and it transpired that she couldn’t find her way back to the shuttle bus stop.  Trevor directed her to where she would find the stop and, after telling John and Linda we would see them later, we decided to go to see the Joan of Arc Exhibition, which brought history to life by projecting scenes played by actors onto the walls of the building.  It sounded a good way to spend an hour and a half, so off we went, and paid 11,50 Euros each to go inside.

We were each given headsets and a recording which translated the scenes unfolding in 3D before us, and guided us from room to room throughout the medieval building.  Images and moving maps were projected onto the walls, vaults and pillars, and actors played the part of the main characters.  It brought the story to life, and you realised how Joan, known as “The Maid of Orléans” didn’t stand a chance in the male-dominated world.

When we came out of the museum it was nearly four o’clock, so we decided to go back for the shuttle bus as I needed to be back on board the Balmoral for 5.30pm for my hair appointment.  We walked around the streets in the general direction of where we thought the bus had dropped us off, but we soon realised we must have gone too far, because there was nothing we recognised.  As Bonnie Tyler once sang, we were “Lost in France”.  😊

By chance we met a couple of ladies from the ship who were also lost.  They had, however, made a note of the name of the square where the bus had dropped us off, so I made use of the Google Maps app on my phone to guide us back to the correct location.  Phew!  We spotted a group of people from the ship waiting for the bus, and shortly afterwards a shuttle bus arrived and disgorged its load of passengers.  As our group started to board the bus, however, the driver stopped them and told them he was going off duty, so we would have to wait for the next bus!

By now it was 4.40pm and I was starting worry that we wouldn’t be back on time for my hair appointment.  About 10 minutes later, however, another bus pulled up, and we all piled on.  We arrived back at the Balmoral just before five o’clock, giving me enough time to get washed and put some makeup on before going along to the salon.  As the French say, Tout est bien qui finit bien (All’s well that ends well).  😊

The guy in the salon washed my hair and put a deep conditioning mask on it, giving me a nice, relaxing scalp massage in the process.  Then he rinsed the mask off and blow-dried my hair, giving it lots of volume.  I certainly wouldn’t need to put a wig on tonight!

When I returned to our cabin Trevor had already gone to dinner, but it was only 6.20pm so I got changed in record time and hurried along to the restaurant only slightly late. Gill and Carl had only just arrived themselves and no-one had ordered their meal yet, so the timing was perfect.  What an interesting day we had had!

Once again we enjoyed a delicious four-course meal, washed down with rosé wine and finished off with Amaretto.  Gill and Carl agreed that the food was very good on the Balmoral, and each night Carl said he would only have a hot drink at the late-night buffet and nothing to eat, but he said that once he got there it was all so delicious that it was impossible to resist.  😊

We finished in good time tonight (the restaurant had a lot of empty tables as many people were still ashore) so we were able to get into the Neptune Lounge in good time to participate in the ballroom dancing.  As the magician Rick Green would be featuring again later on, Gill and Carl chose a seat a good few rows back, while Trevor and I took our usual front-row seat.

The dancing started and we got up and did a barn dance; Gill and Carl knew this one so they joined in.  Then Trevor and I did the cha cha cha and also the social foxtrot.  Then the deputy cruise director Chris said they would hold an elimination waltz and some spot prizes.  Everyone started to waltz around the room and the music stopped.  Chris then asked a question which was “What is the cocktail of the day?” and the first person to tap him on the shoulder and answer correctly could put their hand into a large Fred Olsen shopping bag and pull out a prize.  A lady got a Fred Olsen branded sun visor.  The dancing then recommenced and when it stopped the next question was “Who is the captain on the Balmoral?”  I was the first to answer correctly “Victor Stoica” so my prize in the lucky dip was an A5 Fred Olsen branded notebook.  And so it continued in a similar fashion until the last prize, which I also answered correctly.  Chris then said that the shopping bag was my prize, and handed it over!  😊

The elimination part of the dance now started.  Every time the music stopped Chris spun a bottle of cava on the dance floor and whichever couple it pointed to were eliminated.  Trevor and I were the second couple to go. Thus it continued until only one couple were left, and they won the bottle of cava.

Once the dancing finished it was then time for the main performance, and this time magician Rick Green did a great display of close-up magic, with incredible sleight of hand and entertaining patter.  It was a good show.

Then it was the usual – the quiz in the Observatory (nope, we didn’t win!) and then down to the Lido Lounge to listen to the resident band and enjoy a few drinks and bit crack.  By now we’d been joined by Ron and Kath as well as John and Linda and Gill and Carl.  Because the first karaoke had attracted a lot of singers they were holding another one at 11.15pm, and we spotted some of the previous singers arriving, including the boy wonder Alex.

I put my name down to do Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U and Carl, at my suggestion, opted for Elvis’s Love Me Tender.  The other singers were called to the microphone and then it was my turn.  Kath videoed me on her phone the whole time, and then sent it to me by WhatsApp, it was quite interesting to see how I looked and sounded as other people see me.

Once again the overall standard of the singers was quite high, and Carl did very well with Love Me Tender, particularly as he hadn’t done it before.  But it was the boy, Alex, who brought the house down with his rendition of Don’t Stop Me Now, by Queen, even lifting the microphone stand the way Freddie Mercury used to do!

Just before the karaoke ended Gill and Carl disappeared for the late-night buffet, so they missed me singing Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good.

Afterwards John, Linda, Ron, Kath and Trevor and I stayed talking, laughing and drinking in the Lido Lounge as the hours winged by and the Lido Lounge slowly emptied out. Eventually there was only one other couple left apart from us, and one of the bar staff said they were closing the bar and would we like one more drink.  We all did so, and once we’d finished we said our goodnights and made our way back through the silent empty corridors of the Balmoral to cabin 6009.  When we arrived, I looked at my phone and was astonished to see it said 02:50am.  I was sure the time zone must have inadvertently reset itself; surely it couldn’t be nearly three o’clock in the morning!  But indeed it was, and by the time we got undressed, washed and into our PJs it was after 3.00am.  How the time flies when you’re having fun in great company!  😊

We had another day in Rouen to look forward to tomorrow, and we were (unsurprisingly!) asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillow.