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Ashore in Amsterdam

After an extremely good night’s sleep, I woke up very late this morning, partly due to the fact we had to put our watches forward an hour to European time.  So it was 10.25am before I crawled out of my pit.  Trevor had been to breakfast two hours earlier!

We weren’t the only ones however; we spotted Gill and Carl at breakfast in the Palms Café, along with other people who had forgotten about the hour time difference!  I enjoyed some melon and pineapple and smoked salmon along with a cup of coffee and some fresh orange juice.

We then went out on deck to see what the weather was like.  It was quite warm but still cloudy, but at least it was dry.  Afterwards we went to listen to a lecture about the famous Dutch painters such as Rembrandt, Ver Meers and Van Gogh; it could have been quite fascinating but for the droning quality of the speaker’s voice, who managed to turn an interesting subject into a boring one.

Afterwards we went back out on deck and walked around for a while, before having a look around the shops, where I bought some sparkly slider sandals for the bargain price of 12 quid!  😊

We spent some time just pottering pleasantly around the ship, before going to the Palms once again for a light lunch.  Quite a lot of people were out on the pool deck, and we could smell the tantalising aroma of barbecued meat; a burger stand had been set up nearby.  I just enjoyed some cold meats and salad and we spent the time people-watching.  There were quite a few kids on the ship this time with their parents and grandparents, but it is the middle of the school summer holidays, after all; at least the kids were well-behaved.

After lunch we returned to cabin 6009 and just relaxed and read for a while, looking at the Fred Olsen river cruise brochure.  When the Future Cruises desk opened at two o’clock, we went along and booked another cruise for June 2020!  This time we are going on the Brabant and spending a week cruising the upper Danube river, taking in such delights as Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna to name but a few.  We got a good deal because there are five excursions/guided tours included in the cost of the cruise, and we also received our Oceans Club discount.  That is now three holidays we have booked for 2020 already!!

By this time the Balmoral was slowly making her way along the North Sea Canal towards Amsterdam.  One of the great things about the smaller ships is that they can get right into the heart of the destinations, and we would spend the night and most of tomorrow in Amsterdam, within walking distance of all the sights (and there are certainly some sights to see in Amsterdam!!)

The sun was out now and it was pleasantly warm on deck.  We spent some time watching the Balmoral make her way through some lock gates, and we looked at the other boats and craft as we glided through this mainly-industrial landscape.  We were to due dock around 6.00pm tonight.

At 3.45pm we went along to the Lido Lounge and joined John and Linda for the quiz and a couple of drinks and a bit of banter and some good conversation.  We got 17/20 in the quiz and were the winners.  Yay!  We each received some prize tokens that you save up, then redeem at the end of the cruise for goodies such as keyrings, bottle openers, coasters, mugs, pens etc.

It was around half-five when we left the Lido lounge as we had to be ready for dinner at 6.15pm.  Trevor and I and Gill and Carl had all decided we’d go ashore after dinner and explore this fascinating city.

We enjoyed the usual scrumptious meal in the Ballindalloch Restaurant, then hotfooted it back to our cabin to change into shoes more suitable for walking in than my 5” stiletto heels.  Then we disembarked the Balmoral and met up with Gill and Carl in the cruise terminal, as we took a pleasant stroll through the streets of Amsterdam, marvelling at the many bicycles and watching the small cruisers making their way placidly along the picturesque canals.  Amsterdam is such an amazing old city with its chocolate-box tree-lined streets with their three- and four-storey gabled buildings, many charming pavement cafés and boutiques and, of course, its famous Red Light District.  This is where we decided we’d head for.  😊

For anyone who’s never visited Amsterdam, the Red Light District is certainly an eye-opener.  As evening was beginning to fall, the ‘working girls’ took their places in the windows of the brothels, most of which were lit with red or pink strip lighting.  The girls were stunning to look at, with gorgeous figures and perfect hair and make-up.  Well, in their profession I suppose their looks were all-important in what I imagine was a competitive business.  😊

We saw one girl negotiating a price with a would-be client and a little way down the street one gaudily-lit den of iniquity flashily advertised its “Live Sex Show” with the accompanying photos to tempt customers in.  Every other building seemed to be a sex shop or a porno show, and we could smell the distinctive aroma of pot emanating from the open doors and windows of many of the places, particularly the “Coffeeshops”.

For amusement we went into one of the sex shops to look at the range of “toys” and scanty clothes such as crotchless panties and peep-hole bras.  Everyone was completely blasé about it all; the Dutch just take it all in their stride and have a much more liberal attitude to the sex business than we do in Britain.

Some shops were selling cannabis seeds to “grow your own” (completely illegal in the UK) along with cannabis sweets, cannabis chocolate and cannabis cake, all in different strengths from mild to extra strong.  Curiosity got the better of me, and I bought some of the “strong” cake, which was a complete rip-off because it had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever!  Likewise with a fruity lollipop I bought.  I’m sure there’s not really any cannabis in these items, and they are just normal sweets that they rip off the tourists with over-inflated prices.  Oh well.

We continued on our way and decided to try to find Anne Frank’s house, as we were booked to visit there in the morning at 9.00am.  Carl used the Google Maps app on his phone to help us find the place, then we decided to take a slow stroll back to the ship in time for the 10.30pm show in the Neptune Lounge.  We arrived back at 10.25, just in time.

Tonight’s entertainment came in the shape of comedian Gerry Graham, who was really quite funny.  We thought he’d be performing to a half-empty lounge because a lot of people would be ashore, but there was a decent crowd in, and there were laughs a-plenty.  We enjoyed the show a lot.

As it was already quite late when the show finished, we just had a nightcap and returned to cabin 6009, as we had to be up at seven o’clock in the morning to walk to Anne Frank’s house.  As the Balmoral was docked in Amsterdam overnight, the ship was nice and quiet, and we settled down and slept very well once again.

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Back to the Balmoral

At 1.00pm exactly we left the house and set off through the light lunchtime traffic for the Port of Tyne, Newcastle, as once again we are setting off on a cruise, this time on the Balmoral, a lovely ship of the Fred Olsen fleet on which we’ve had three previous fantastic cruises.  Despite the weather having experienced record-breaking temperatures in the last couple of weeks (when we’ve been stuck at work!), the skies were cloudy today and we hoped the rain would keep away.

We left the car at Howdon Sewage Treatment Works (!!).  Trevor works at Northumbrian Water and was therefore able to leave the car in the staff car park for the nine-day duration of the cruise, instead of paying the 12 quid a day to park at the Port of Tyne.   Our pre-booked Blue Line taxi arrived on the dot of 1.30pm, and it was only a five-minute ride to the cruise terminal.  As we alighted from the taxi, our cases were whisked away to be loaded on to the ship separately, and we made our way inside the terminal.  We are doing this cruise with some friends of ours, Gill and Carl Richardson, and we spotted them straightaway in the queue.

We were directed to the queue for Deck 6 passengers, and it didn’t take long to check in and receive our cruise cards.  Then it was onto the shuttle bus for the short ride along the dockside to the gangplank of the Balmoral.  We were on the ship less than an hour after leaving home.  😊

As this is our fourth time on Balmoral, everything was very familiar and we had no problem finding cabin 6009. It’s an amazing coincidence because on our last cruise on the Azamara Quest in May, we were also in cabin 6009.  This time we had a very pleasant outside cabin with a large picture window, decorated in muted shades of pale grey and blue.  There was a double bed under the window, two bedside cabinets, a chair, a large dressing table and chair and plenty of drawer and wardrobe space.  Our bathroom contained a bathtub with a shower over it.  We knew we’d have a very comfortable nine nights on board, and we were so excited to be back! 😊

Dumping our bags in the cabin, we hotfooted it up to the Marquee Deck for a cold beer.  Although it was intermittently cloudy it was still quite warm, so we enjoyed our beers outside then wandered down to the Palms Café, where we spotted Gill and Carl who were enjoying a light lunch.

In addition to Gill and Carl, there were another two couples on the ship who we know; Ron and Kath Wright who are in the same walking club as us (Crook and Weardale Ramblers) and John and Linda Thornton, who we met on a cruise on the Black Watch in 2013 and with whom we’ve stayed in touch since.  It was great to see them again.

After enjoying some cold meats and salad for lunch and partaking of another drink, we decided to go back to our cabin and see if our cases had arrived.  Indeed they had, so we spent some time unpacking and hanging up our clothes neatly.  We also spotted our Oceans Club gift; a nice insulated cool bag with a shoulder strap and plenty of pockets inside and out.  It was navy blue with the word “OCEANS” on it in white.  Passengers who are in the Gold grade or above (Platinum and Diamond) always receive an Oceans Club gift when we board.  Trevor and I are in Gold and so far, we’ve had a pair of insulated mugs, goody bags with gourmet snacks, crisps, nuts, chocolate etc, a 2019 diary and pen, and now a cool bag which I’m sure will come in useful.  😊

We were sailing fairly early this time – 4.30pm.  We therefore went up to the pool deck to join the live band and the sailaway party, where they were selling rum punch and other cocktails.  By now the sun had decided to make an appearance, so we enjoyed our cold drinks and listened to the lively music as the Balmoral made her way sedately down the Tyne towards the North Sea.  Our voyage had begun.  😊

Around half-past five we returned to cabin 6009 to get washed and changed for dinner.  We have been allocated table #78 in the Ballindalloch Restaurant and, looking at the floor plan of the restaurant we were pleased to see we were by a window.

Tonight the dress code was smart-casual, so I just wore a red and black dress with nude-coloured crystal studded sling-back shoes, and for once my hair was behaving itself and didn’t look too bad.  I’ve recently had my hair cut short, in what they call a “choppy” style, after wearing it in a chin-length bob for 20 years, and I’m totally regretting it.  I can’t wait for it to grow again!

In the restaurant we met up with Gill and Carl and another very pleasant couple, Barry and Bev, who are on the table next to us.  The meal was as delicious as ever, and Gill and Carl said that their first impressions of the Balmoral and Fred Olsen were pretty favourable.  We were pleased, because we were the ones who recommended this cruise to them!  😊

After dinner we made our way along to the Neptune Lounge to get a good seat for tonight’s performance by the Balmoral Show Company, called “Musical Jukebox”.  But before the show they had 30 minutes or so of ballroom dancing to the excellent ship’s orchestra.  Trevor and I got up to do the square tango (badly!) but it was the only dance we (sort of!) knew before it was time for the show, which featured a lot of chart hits that had made their way to the West End.  It was high-energy, all singing all dancing show, and we enjoyed it a lot.

We finished the evening by going to the Observatory to take part in the quiz at 10 o’clock.  We were looking out for John and Linda, who were part of our quiz team on the Black Watch six years ago, but there was no sign of them.  We therefore formed a team with Gill and Carl, but only got 9/15.  The winners scored 14/15.

Afterwards we were joined by Ron and Kath, and we stayed for a few cocktails and enjoyed the conversation until well after midnight.  Then we returned to 6009 and settled down for the evening.  I was asleep almost immediately as the Balmoral glided across the North Sea, en route to the North Sea Canal and our first port of call, the inimitable Amsterdam.

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Woke up around six o’clock this morning to the incessant and loud cries of many seagulls; had a look out on the balcony to find ourselves docked in the picturesque port of Homer, Alaska.  We were at the end of a long jetty and all around, on the ground and in the air, was a great many birds, wheeling and squawking. It was like something out of  an Alfred Hitchcock movie!

Went back to bed for a couple of hours, but didn’t really sleep with the racket outside. Venturing onto the balcony we were pleased to see that it was sunny and bright, although there was still that persistent nip in the air to remind us that summer, although on its way, was not quite here yet.

We went up to the Windows Café for our breakfast, the wandered around on deck for a while.  As the ship was now stationary, the wind had dropped considerably, and already some people had found the best sunny sheltered spots and were stretched out on sun loungers by the pool.  Outside, the birds wheeled and swooped, and the air was filled with the distinctive smell of their guano as well as their cries.

At 10 o’clock we made our way shore side to await the bus for our half-day excursion.  Once again it was one of those famous yellow school buses, with the high-backed vinyl seats.  We set off through the streets of this charming and quaint seaside town, looking at the mountainous backdrop, the blue sea and the colourful boats moored up, as well as the wooden, ranch-style dwellings with their trucks and utility vehicles parked alongside. Hardly anyone seemed just to have an ordinary car here!

Our first visit today was to a traditional homestead farm (what we’d probably call a ‘croft’ in the UK).  This isn’t a conventional farm as we’d know it, but rather a case where an owner of a smallholding, i.e. a few acres of land, has adopted a self-sufficient lifestyle by growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers on their land and selling it at farmer’s markets.  In an inclement climate such as that in Alaska, the homesteader has it down to a fine art.

The bus pulled up in front of the Anchor Point greenhouse, a small nursery/garden shop adjacent to several makeshift greenhouses which were similar to large poly tunnels.  We were met by the farmer who showed us around.  He explained how they kept the soil warm (and free from pests) by laying down strips of plastic into which holes were punch before planting the seeds or seedlings; the soil was kept protected by the plastic.  This looked as if it could be a lot of work!  We were also shown large greenhouses which contained makeshift watering and heating systems, and we saw them growing different varieties of tomatoes, pickling cucumbers and squash, as well as fields growing rows of greens and a yellow-flowered herb called rhodiola, which I’d never heard of but which apparently has many uses from eating the leaves (similar to spinach) and drying the flowers, seeds and roots which are used in complementary medicine.

Other greenhouses contained potted flowers and starter plants, which were then sold in the on-site shop.  The farmer explained that he only made a net profit each year of about $10,000, but said that the planting, growing, harvesting and the shop keeps him busy, as he wouldn’t know what else to do with himself.  It seemed to me like a lot of work for a little profit, and you’d really have to love the land and the outdoors to make a living like this.  It was a fascinating visit.

After our trip to the farm the bus continued along the coastal road of the Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet. On this fine day it was stunning; the lovely colour palette of blues, greys and whites once again with sparsely-leaved trees in the foreground.  We learned that it was a state wilderness park and was popular with campers.  The bus pulled up at a photo point and rest-stop so we could all get out for a look around and take some amazing photos.

Unsurprisingly, due to its proximity to the ocean, Alaskan locals make their money from the sea, and fishing is one of the main ways of earning a living.  Many residents of Homer have their own boats and some enterprising souls offer fishing boats for charter, as Homer proclaims itself to be the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World”. As the bus continued on its way, then started to come back around to where the Quest was docked, we passed through the town with its colourful shops and boat-tour agents, souvenir stalls, restaurants and bars.

We asked to be dropped off here and said we’d walk back to the ship, as it was only about a mile away.  In any case, there were regular shuttle buses from here, outside an interesting-looking saloon bar called the “Salty Dawg” which looked as though part of it might once have been a lighthouse.  We were ready for a beer by now (!) and the Salty Dawg looked a good place to enjoy it.  🙂

The first thing that struck us when we went into the dimly-lit interior was how the walls, ceiling, wooden beams and pillars were all completely covered in dollar bills.  Apparently it is the ‘custom’ for visitors to sign their names on dollar bills and pin them to whichever surface is available.  We sat on bar stools at the heavy wooden, scarred and pitted bar, which was reminiscent of old school desks with people’s initials carved into them.  We each ordered a bottle of the local beer (and characteristically weren’t even offered glasses); I ordered a an Alaskan Amber while Trevor opted for an Alaskan White (which featured a picture of the inevitable polar bear).  The beer was cold and foamy and most refreshing, and I could easily have stayed for another one, but it seemed a shame to waste the rare sunny day by being inside.

Leaving the bar we blinked in the comparative brightness of the sun outside, and had a look around the shops in our immediate vicinity.  We spent some time browsing in a souvenir shop that sold a lot of hand-crafted items such as wooden carvings, tooled leather and hand-knitted or crocheted scarves and hats, as well as embroidered cushion covers and doilies.  There was also a selection of the ubiquitous t-shirts and sweat shirts proclaiming “HOMER – ALASKA” on them with pictures of moose or whales or bears, in addition to other holiday tat.  We didn’t see anything we wanted to buy.

Afterwards we decided to walk back to the Quest but the wind had got up again; in any case we saw a small group waiting for the shuttle bus so we knew one must be imminent.  We therefore joined the queue and the bus arrived shortly afterwards to take us back to the Quest in nice time for lunch.

What an interesting and picturesque place Homer is, and certainly not your average run-of-the-mill holiday day-trip.

We boarded the ship then decided to make the most of the sunshine in a sheltered spot on the pool deck.  We went to the Patio Restaurant and ordered a plate of nachos between us, washed down with a cold beer, which we enjoyed with the sun on our backs.  We were reluctant to return to 6009 and make a start with our packing, but it was something that had to be done.  😦

We packed away the things we wouldn’t be needing again, leaving out toiletries and something to wear to dinner tonight. Our luggage had to be outside our stateroom door by 10.00pm tonight, which we thought was ridiculously early.  On Fred Olsen ships the cases don’t have to be out until midnight.

We then pottered around in our stateroom for a while, with our balcony door ajar and the cabin filled with the incessant din of the seagulls, before making our way to The Den for the first of the quizzes.  There weren’t many people there; we could only presume that a lot of them were still ashore.  There was no sign of Dale and Susie so the team consisted of just Trevor and me.  Afterwards, tiredness just seemed to hit me, so I went back to the cabin for a power nap; Trevor stayed behind in The Den to do the next quiz and get another stamp on the prize passport.

Afterwards he went along to redeem the prize passports but, predictably, the prizes were pretty rubbish unless you had hundreds of stamps.  All we ended up with was an Azamara Club Cruises branded magnetic clip (to attach to a metal surface to hold notes, memos etc.) and an Azamara spectacles polishing cloth.  Big, big deal!

Afterwards it was time to get showered and changed and ready for dinner.  We had planned on going down to the Discoveries Restaurant for the last evening on board, but it was getting a bit later now, and we wanted to be in the Cabaret Lounge early for the passenger choir concert, then the Crew Presentation and finally the guest entertainer, which tonight featured a ventriloquist called Don Bryan, who had only boarded the ship today.

We therefore just went up to the Windows Café and enjoyed the usual array of delicious dishes.  We were sitting quite near to the starboard side windows and we were glad, because we kept seeing spouts and fins from several whales, and now and then a tantalising glimpse of black tail.  There were quite a few of them, and we saw lots of people letting their meals get cold as they kept their eyes peeled out of the windows instead.  🙂

After dinner we returned to our cabin and got changed into the clothes we’d be wearing tomorrow, disembarkation day.  Then we finished packing all our stuff except for what we’d need in the morning and put the cases outside our stateroom door.

We then made our way down to the Cabaret Lounge, got ourselves a drink each, and listened to the “High Seas Choir” doing their rendition of Abba songs, before Captain Magnus came on stage and did a little farewell speech, before introducing his officers and some members of the hard-working and dedicated crew, all of whom elicited an enthusiastic round of applause from the passengers.

After a short break (and another drink) the main entertainment, the ventriloquist, came on with a couple of dummies.  He was OK I suppose, but really, if you’ve seen one ventriloquist, you’ve seen them all, as the acts are all very similar.  He was mildly amusing, but we did see the odd person in the audience walk out.

We finished the evening off by going up to the Living Room and taking advantage of our last chance to use the all-inclusive drinks package.  We were reluctant to return to stateroom 6009 as it would effectively mean the end of our cruise… although not the end of our holiday.

It was around 11.30pm that we went to bed as we knew we’d have to be up at seven o’clock on the morning to get ready to disembark. We were due to arrive in Seward tomorrow; the Pacific Ocean was nice and calm once again, and we slept well.

 

 

 

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For some reason I didn’t sleep well – the night seemed endless.  Maybe our circadian rhythms were still awry after all the time zones we’d passed through, but I kept waking up and either going to the bathroom, or standing at the balcony doors looking out to sea, where I could see the faint white outlines of the cresting waves and hear the wind whistling.

Eventually I got myself a glass of water and turned on my Kindle to read some of the latest Peter James book, Dead At First Sight.  Finally, about 6.00am, I drifted off to sleep and slept until after 9.00am.

The Pacific Ocean was still pretty lively and we noticed that the doors leading out to the open decks were roped off with signs saying “Caution: High Winds”.  Any activities today would be confined below decks.

At 10 o’clock we attended another lecture by historian/geologist Charles Richardson, this one entitled “Alaska: From Dinosaurs to the Iditarod”.  We had no idea what an ‘iditarod’ was, but found out it is an epic dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome which takes place every year in March.  We learn something new every day on these cruises!  As ever, the talk was very interesting, but it was marred slightly by a woman sitting behind us who spent most of the talk asleep with her mouth open snoring loudly, much to my annoyance.  I couldn’t understand why her husband didn’t wake her up!

Afterwards we went along to The Den and  I enjoyed a pre-luncheon Aperol spritz, then we returned to our stateroom in time for the noon navigational information.  Looking at the live map of the Quest’s progress, we could see we hadn’t really gone all that far from Dutch Harbor, just going round and round in circles.  The wind seemed to have calmed by now and we couldn’t feel the ship’s motion so much, so hopefully better weather was ahead of us.

We ate lunch in the Windows Café as usual, passing pleasantries with other passengers as well as one of the waiters, a guy called Jonanthan who hailed from Mauritius.  The staff on board the Azamara Quest are fantastic; no sooner have you cleared your plate and put your knife and fork together when the plate is whisked away and you are asked if there’s anything else you’d like – nothing was ever too much trouble.

As today we should have been visiting Kodiak and the entertainments programme had to be put together in a hurry, they had done a sterling job.  The cabaret was taking place at two o’clock today, as there was no featured entertainment tonight. This was because they were putting on the famous Azamara “White Night Party”; apparently this is a feature of every cruise and is a grand deck party where everyone has to wear something white, and all the tables are decorated with crisp white tablecloths and napkins.  Tonight, however, due to the inclement weather, the White Night Party was taking place at 9.00pm in the Living Room.

At two o’clock we therefore bagged ourselves a seat in the Cabaret Lounge to watch “Azamara Presents… Broadway Cabaret”. This featured all of the singers and dancers, accompanied by the talented Igor and his band, performing a selection of the Broadway greats.  It was the usual high standard we’d come to expect.

We then spent some time pottering around before the quizzes at four o’clock where we were joined by Dale and Susie.  The first quiz was flags of the world and we expected to do quite well, as we’ve been to 89 countries.  However, some of the flags were very obscure and some were very similar which made them confusing (for example, Australia and New Zealand) – we noticed that a lot of the flags from countries in the southern hemisphere featured the Southern Cross constellation.  Anyway, we only scored 18/30 which was appalling considering we were all well-travelled!

The next quiz had questions all based around Walt Disney films and we had high hopes for Dale, who is a former film producer.  Trevor and I hardly contributed anything at all, leaving Dale and Susie to answer the questions, but we still didn’t score enough to win.  It didn’t really matter, however, because we enjoyed the company and the conversation as well as one or two cocktails.  🙂

We then went our separate ways, back to 6009 to start getting ready for the White Night.  I wore a blue and green lace top with a pair of white jeans, and I was aghast at how much tighter they were when I put them on!  There is an old joke about cruising, that strange phenomenon everyone notices where the salt air causes all your clothes to shrink!  🙂

Trevor wore black trousers with a crisp white cotton shirt, and thus attired we proceeded to the Windows Café, where they were holding a sumptuous international buffet.  My tight jeans were a constant reminder for me not to eat too much!

We then made our way up to the Living Room, where the party was going to be held.  Waiters were putting out more seats around the room; it was obvious that a lot of people were expected.  Trevor and I bagged ourselves a bar stool and watched as the room quickly filled up.  It looked really good, everyone wearing something white, in fact some people had dressed entirely in white from head to feet.  From our vantage point on our bar stools (which we’d turned around in order to observe the action) we could see the vast expanse of Pacific through the big wrap-around windows overlooking the bow, as well as the Riviera Sounds and, indeed, the ship’s orchestra, who had been relocated here for the evening.

Once the music struck up the dance floor filled rapidly and the spare chairs around the room quickly became occupied; in fact we’d never seen the Living Room this full and we were pleased that we’d come along early.  We didn’t join the packed dance floor but we enjoyed people-watching, as well as plenty of the deliciously-cold cocktails. We tried to put out of our mind that our cruise was fast approaching its end and tomorrow would be our last night on board.  😦

After 11 o’clock the room emptied out a bit, and the staff came round and removed the extra chairs.  Then the disco started and the die-hard dancers remained on the dance floor.  It was around midnight when we returned to 6009, and we settled down for the evening in excited anticipation of our arrival in Homer tomorrow morning.

 

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En route to Kodiak

I was tired this morning so I didn’t go up to breakfast, enjoying some fruit and coffee in our stateroom and getting out of bed quite late, around 9.20pm.  I had to get washed and dressed fairly quickly if we didn’t want to miss the grand Quest Expo at 10 o’clock.

The Quest Expo consisted of all the ship’s departments setting up their stalls/stands in the Cabaret Lounge to give passengers an inside view of what they do and how they do it.  Therefore there were crew members from the engine room, the maintenance department, the galley, the entertainments team, the security team and many others.  The ship’s officers, including Captain Magnus, circulated freely around the room to meet the passengers and ask questions.  We visited many of the ‘stalls’, speaking with the staff  and looking at their examples with interest.  One of the stands contained laptops with information about the early seafarers and the art of celestial navigation; in another part of the theatre some of the inflatable life-rafts and other life-saving equipment was on display.  Trevor, in particular, was interested in the engine room and spent some time talking ‘shop’ with some of the engineers.  It was all fascinating stuff and certainly something different; we haven’t seen anything similar on any other ships.

There was also a table set up containing photographs taken by the passengers for entry into a competition to win a bottle of fizz; there were four categories: people, landscapes, wildlife and architecture.  The only rule was that the photos had to be taken on this cruise.  I’d entered a couple just for fun; one of a group of colourful carp in a pond, and one of the group of school-children, with their teacher pointing out the “big ship” to them.  🙂

After the expo finished around 11 o’clock we went up to the Windows Café and had a cup of coffee, then ventured out on deck.  It was very windy and, unsurprisingly,  the pool deck was deserted once again.

At noon, as usual, came the captain’s voice over the tannoy giving us the navigational information.  By now, we’d actually noticed the ship’s motion slightly and saw that there were cresting waves on the ocean, against the backdrop of the mountainous Aleutian Islands on the horizon.  However, Captain Magnus had some bad news for us; we were heading into high winds and rough seas, with waves of three to five metres.  The forecast for the next 24 hours didn’t look great at all and, because the safety of the ship and passengers is paramount on any voyage, we were unfortunately going to have to miss Kodiak tomorrow, and stay in the relative shelter of the Aleutians.  As a result, he was just going to change course, slow our speed down and wait until it was safer to proceed on towards Homer.  We would therefore spend tomorrow at sea, and the entertainments team were currently engaged in putting together a programme of events for us.  It was disappointing that we were going to miss a port of call, but we know from experience that sometimes these things are unavoidable.

Lunchtime was different today; instead of going to the buffet the galley had put on a special Officers’ BBQ in the Discoveries Restaurant, complete with live music from Riviera Sounds, the dishes being served by the officers of the Azamara Quest.  We went along there and I enjoyed juicy spare ribs in a sticky barbecue sauce, baked potato, corn on the cob and savoury chicken wings, all washed down with a glass of chilled rosé wine.  Then we just pottered around the ship for a while until it was time to go to another presentation by Charles Richardson, called “Alaska: Land of Many Surprises”.

The talk was very interesting and showed lots of photos of the amazing wilds of Alaska, from mountains, icebergs, glaciers and the flora and fauna, including the King of the Arctic, the mighty polar bear.  There were also fantastic photos of the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, and he explained how this phenomenon occurred (which we already knew, having previously seen the Lights in Norway and Greenland).  🙂

After the talk we went along to The Den, where we had a couple of drinks and I did some of this blog before the quiz at four o’clock, when we were joined by our regular team-mates Dale and Susie.  The first round was science and the questions were pretty hard, but I was relieved that I got the computing question correct (Which programming language was named after a French mathematician? Answer: Pascale)  🙂

The music quiz was entitled “British Invasion” and we did pretty well at that, scoring 18/20 but, as usual, some teams scored 20. We still got a stamp on our prize passports for participating, however.

At five o’clock we made our excuses and returned to our stateroom to get showered and changed and spruced up a bit, as dinner tonight was something special.  A few days ago we’d received an invitation to dine at an Officer’s Table, and this was taking place at 6.30pm in the Discoveries Restaurant.  I therefore wore a black dress with an asymmetric hem and white contrast pattern with a neat little black shrug, along with black and white ‘Mary Jane’ type shoes.

When we arrived at the restaurant we were shown to the bar to wait a short while, and we met up with Norman and Anne, the couple from Liverpool.  We were then shown to our table, with contained four couples plus the Second Officer, who introduced himself as Alex (I didn’t get his surname).  The Liverpool couple were on our table, and there was one couple from New Zealand and one from the US.

The meal was scrumptious; I started off with jumbo shrimp cocktail followed by an exquisite salad containing arugula, papaya, mango, melon, mint and radicchio leaves in a plum wine vinaigrette.  Then came the main course, a completely melt-in-the-mouth beef tenderloin steak with lobster tail, the traditional “Surf ‘n’ Turf”.  It was washed down with a crisp white wine and finished off with a passion coconut parfait with raspberry sorbet – yum yum!  🙂

During the meal the conversation flowed and we learned that Officer Alex was 32 and came from Italy.  Afterwards I asked him to sign my souvenir menu for me; he then made his apologies and said he had to be back on the bridge for 8.00pm (it was after that now!) because he was on watch tonight.

What an interesting and delicious meal it had been!

We were too late for the early show by now, so we just went back to 6009 to use the loo and look at the TV screen to view the ship’s course, as we could certainly feel the increased motion of the vessel, and outside there had been the occasional gusty squall of rain.  We could see on the screen that we hadn’t really got all that far from Dutch Harbor, and the Quest was just circling slowly around, south of the distinctive curve on the map that forms the Aleutian Islands archipelago.

The show tonight was called “Songs from the American Book” and featured the show-company singer Geoffrey Jones accompanied by the fantastic ship’s orchestra.  As ever, it was an excellent show, and we finished the evening in our usual way, by going to the Living Room where the DJ was playing requests and the dance floor was packed.

We had a couple of drinks there before settling down for the evening.  We could feel the Azamara Quest cutting her way through the waves in the Force 7 winds, but it never bothers us at all (in fact I quite enjoy rough seas!) and we slept very well.

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We were up just before 8.00am where we watched the Quest slowly manoeuvring into dock in Dutch Harbor.  Immediately in front of our balcony a cliff face rose up, dotted here and there with shrubs and bushes and topped with patches of snow.  The sky looked clear and the sun was attempting to get through the fluffy white cumulus clouds, but there was still a bit of a nip in the air.

We didn’t have any excursions booked today but there were a couple of shuttle buses available to take us to the interesting places, and in any case it was pleasant to be able to go ashore and stretch our legs after three days at sea.

After breakfast we made our way down the gangplank and over the waiting shuttle bus.  The local port guide told us that this bus would take us to the Russian Orthodox Church and drop us there, then pick us up later and take us to the town (such that it was).

We boarded the bus, which was an old yellow school bus, and it slowly wended its way along the road.  Looking out of the window, we could see the distant blue-grey mountains with their snow-patterned tops, outlined against the pale blue sky and reflecting on the lake. In fact, the whole colour palette consisted of gentle shades of blue, grey and white and the effect was calm and serene, the only sounds being the cries of the seabirds and the lapping of the water on the shore.

After about 10 minutes, we arrived at the Russian Orthodox Church, the Church of the Holy Ascension.  The current church was built in 1894, probably on the site of an 1826 church, and likely using timbers and other elements (including one iconostasis) from the older church. It is one of the oldest churches in Alaska, and is significant as the site from which missionaries brought their religion to the local Aleut people.  It is a distinctive white building, with red roofs and green onion domes, the tops of which contained a Russian Orthodox Cross.  This is a variation of the Christian cross known from the 6th century in the Byzantine Empire. The cross has three horizontal crossbeams and the lower one is slanted. Nowadays it is a symbol of the Russian Orthodox Church and a distinctive feature of the cultural landscape of Russia.

The church was surrounded by a small graveyard with carefully tended plots.  The church door was closed and locked, so we decided to take a slow stroll along the road alongside the lake, looking at the private dwellings, a lot of which had big 4 x 4 vehicles parked outside.  Well, I should imagine in the winter months, when the landscape would have changed drastically by lots of snow, all-terrain vehicles would be a must.

As we were walking along, we spotted the Dutch Harbor Restaurant, a plain wooden single-storey building which didn’t open until 11.00am.  There didn’t seem to be a lot else around and, when we saw one of the local residents walking along, we stopped for a chat.  I asked her how the locals spent their time; what did they do during the evenings?  She said they were a very close-knit community and she was involved with the church and with the Girl Scouts (Girl Guides to the Brits) and, in fact, there were plenty of things to do; gorgeous places to go walking and hiking, fishing, and looking out for any wildlife; she said that sea otters were usually around but perhaps they were shy of the visitors today.  😊

The shuttle bus then returned to pick us up, and this time we were taken to the Visitor Centre for the Aleutian World War II Historic Area.  Inside, we learned all about the Japanese invasion of Dutch Harbor during WW2, and how the Aleuts were evacuated and badly treated.  We looked at lots of relics of the war, such as the comms room and Morse radio operator, and tales of aircraft and pilots and other heroic defence of the area.  It was all very interesting.

I was also somewhat intrigued to learn that Dutch Harbor falls under the area called Unalaska, which means “near the peninsula” or “near Alaska” in the Aleut language.  So the full address was Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska, which sounds a bit confusing!  😊

After we’d spent about an hour in the museum we decided to take a slow walk back to the Quest, as the sun was out now and the weather wasn’t as cold as we’d expected.  On the way, we passed the tiny airport and looked at the fishing boats in the harbour and I took a few photos of the Quest against the picturesque mountain backdrop.

What a lovely and unusual place Dutch Harbor was!  We’d really enjoyed it here.

We arrived back on board in nice time for lunch, and we ate in the Windows Café looking out over the view while enjoying the usual delicious of array of hot and cold foods and trying not to eat too much!  We washed it down with a cold beer each, then returned to our cabin for a post-luncheon power nap.

At 4.30pm we did the usual – went along to The Den for the music quiz, where we teamed up with Dale and Susie.  Today’s questions were all based around Abba’s music, and we scored 19/20 – I was kicking myself because I knew one of the songs but just couldn’t think of the title.  Another team got 20/20, so we narrowly missed out once again!

I enjoyed a couple of Aperol Spritzes and we chatted with our fellow passengers before returning to 6009 to get showered and changed.  Because we’d had a fairly late lunch we didn’t go to dinner until about seven o’clock, and we went to the Windows Café where the theme tonight was American, and was as delicious as ever.  In fact, the range of dishes was so varied it was difficult to know what to choose, and we ate far too much as usual.

Later on, we managed to get a good seat in the Cabaret Lounge for tonight’s performance, which featured the Azamara Signature Singers and Dancers and was called “His Song”, a tribute to the musical genius that is Elton John.  The show featured a lot of exuberant costumes in bright colours, with hats, zany glasses and huge platform shoes.  It was excellent and we really enjoyed it.

Then we just moseyed on up to the Living Room and sat at the front, looking out across the Pacific.  It was still very light and we kept an eye out for whales and other ships.  We enjoyed a few more drinks while listening to the Riviera Sounds, then made our way back to 6009 and settled down for the night.  We were pleased to see that we didn’t have to put our clocks forward again tonight; Alaska time is nine hours behind BST.  We had another interesting day at sea to look forward to tomorrow.

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Woke up around 5.00am to use the loo, and through our balcony doors I could see the faint outline of mountains in the near distance as the Quest made her way to Adak.  Went back to sleep then, just over an hour later, we awoke again to see that the ship had come to a stop and had dropped anchor.

Trevor went out onto the balcony to see what was happening, and saw that a man in a wheelchair was being disembarked, along with his wife and all their suitcases, into one of the lifeboats, which then set off across to the shore.  We found out later on that the passenger had been diagnosed with appendicitis, hence the need to get him to a hospital as soon as possible.  I hope he’ll be all right.

Once the lifeboat returned and was hoisted back aboard, the Quest continued on her way once more, to our next scheduled stop of Dutch Harbor, where we were due to land tomorrow morning.

Here’s an interesting quiz question you can ask your friends; we have often asked it and no-one gets the correct answer straight away, and even when we tell them the answer it has folk rushing to the nearest world map or atlas to check!  The question is:

Of the 50 states of the USA, which one is the most northerly, which is the most southerly, which is the most westerly and which is the most easterly?

The answers are:  Northerly – Alaska, Southerly – Hawaii, Westerly – Alaska, Easterly – Alaska

It’s usually the last one that gets everyone confused; most of the answers we hear are Maine or Massachusetts or New York, but if you look at a map of the world and look at the Aleutian Islands (where we are right now) you will see that they cross 180 degrees longitude, and therefore extend from the west to the east, making Alaska the most easterly state.  😊

Anyway… we got up about 8.30am and had our breakfast in the Windows Café; I enjoyed some bacon, sausage and corned beef hash washed down with coffee and water.  We then decided to venture out on deck but, as usual, it was still very windy and unpleasantly chilly.

At 10 o’clock we went to see another interesting lecture by film producer Dale Pollock; this one discussed the psychology behind the Star Wars movies, the way the characters evolved and the influence they had on young people.  I have never seen any of the Star Wars movies, but I must admit that listening to Dale’s presentation has made me tempted to try them.

After the presentation we went along to the Discoveries bar where the comedy magician Greg Moreland was doing a close-up magic show.  It was very entertaining indeed and there was some excellent sleight of hand accompanied by Greg’s incessant, amusing chatter.  It was a nice little interlude.

Because I’d eaten a substantial breakfast, we didn’t go to lunch until later; in any case Trevor was still trying to fight off his cold, so we spent some time resting in our stateroom before going to lunch at one o’clock.  When we got to the Windows Café, however, it was full and there were no tables available, so we decided to brave the elements and eat at the Patio Restaurant, on the pool deck.  The tables and chairs there are sheltered and there are some strategically-placed heaters around the outside; in addition, someone had placed the large checked blankets on the backs of the chairs so we were able to find a table under one of the heaters, and wrap up in the blankets, so it wasn’t too bad at all.

I enjoyed a Azamara Burger washed down with a pint of Boddington’s, while Trevor had some nachos and Newcastle Brown.  It was after half-one when we returned to the stateroom and they were holding Round 3 of “Battle of the Sexes” at two o’clock, but we didn’t really feel like going, and in any case the women’s team were losing, so I think I’d given it up as a bad job by now!  😊

We continued our packed entertainment programme for today by going to an extra cabaret at three o’clock.

The show was a solo performance by one of the Azamara Signature Singers, AlissaBeth Jane Morton.  She was a very good singer, if a little up her own backside – “I love me, who do you love?”  Nonetheless we enjoyed her performance on the whole, and it passed the time pleasantly until it was time to go to the quiz.

When we arrived at The Den, it was absolutely packed, and there was nowhere available to sit.  At the same time we spotted our team-mates Dale and Susie, but the only four chairs we could find were too high to sit at a table, and too low to sit at the bar.  They were all that were available, however, so we took our places at the end of the bar and sat on our chairs, looking ridiculously low down, only our head and shoulders showing, to the amusement of others at the bar.  Instead of calling ourselves “Cruising, Boozing and Losing”, Susie suggested this time “Drinking, Thinking and Shrinking” ha ha!  😊

The first round was literature and this was pretty hard; there were a lot we should have known but got them wrong.  In the end I think we scored a paltry 12/20.  The next round, music, was all about songs which contained the word “love” somewhere in the title and we did better, scoring 18/20.  Some teams scored 20, so we didn’t win.  In fact, this cruise, there have been far too many team scoring 20/20, so I think there’s either some cheating going on or some of the quizzes have been repeated from earlier cruises, particularly as we’ve come across many people doing back to back voyages.

After the quizzes we chatted for a while longer, then went our separate ways to get washed and changed for dinner, as tonight’s buffet in the Windows Café was British/Indian.  Trevor’s cold, however, had really taken its toll on him and he decided to take some paracetamol and go to bed, giving dinner a miss.

I therefore dined alone, enjoying a spicy jalfrezi and some vegetable rice, washed down with a glass of rosé wine, before heading back to 6009 to see how Trevor was doing.  As I was walking along the corridor I spotted him coming the other way, where he’d decided to make an effort and go to the show at 8.15pm, which once again featured the violinist Jakub Trasak.  He was great, he certainly puts together some interesting musical arrangements that you wouldn’t believe could be played well on a violin.

Afterwards we decided, for a short while, to go to The Living Room and sit right at the front, as it was still very light outside; in fact sunset would not occur until after 11 o’clock.  While we were there, an announcement came over the tannoy from Ernest, the cruise director.  He said that as we were due to arrive in Alaska, USA tomorrow morning the Azamara Quest would need to undergo the USA coastguard inspection and would also have to reapply to renew their liquor licence, which had just recently expired.  In the meantime, he said, all sales of alcoholic beverages would cease from 6.00am tomorrow morning.  As a groan went up from the passengers, he explained that tonight the cabin steward would put two bottles of wine, one red and one white, in each stateroom, and all beers in our mini-bar would be complimentary.  Until the licence had been granted, we were free to bring our bottles of wine and beer to the dining rooms and staterooms.  We would also receive a refund on our all-inclusive beverage packages for the day.  So not a bad deal at all really. Ernest then made everyone laugh by saying that they would announce when the bars were open once again and for everyone to “please be careful in the ensuing stampede by your fellow guests”.  😊

(Guests!!  Aaargh!  Why don’t they just call us “passengers” which is what we are?  I hate this expression which has been prevalent in the cruising industry for the past 15 years.  We’re taking a passage on a ship, so we’re PASSENGERS!!)

Afterwards we returned to our stateroom around 9.30pm and just relaxed and watched telly and read, before settling down. We had to put our blimmin’ watches and clocks an hour ahead once again!!  So now we were (I think!) nine hours behind Blighty.

We were due to arrive in Dutch Harbor, in the Aleutian Islands, tomorrow, and we looked forward to it immensely.

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