Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Sunday, 26 February 2012
At 8am this morning, in the cool misty air of dawn, we collected our pilot for our day cruising the fjords of New Zealand's South Island. First, we entered Milford sound, with its sheer mountain faces dropping into the sea within feet of either side of the ship. There are frequent water falls cascading down the steep slopes up the 9km we travelled to the head, before pausing and turning to backtrack towards the coast again, where we made for Thompson and Doubtful Sounds. Today's lunch is to be BBQ, so that we can make the most of the day, and spend it out on the open decks admiring this amazing scenery. This part of our cruise cetainly has the 'wow' factor.
From here we head to Wellington, Napier, and Auckland, before heading off to visit the Polynesian Islands of the South Pacific.
Thursday, 23 February 2012
Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Sunday, 19 February 2012
Friday, 17 February 2012
In Darwin we collected our reef pilot, Captain Welwyn Gamble, who would stay aboard for the whole trip throught Brisbane. He also gave us a talk yesterday afternoon, to give us an insight into his work. Pilots are now mandatory for all vessels over a certain length, passing through the Great Barrier Reef, mainly to protect the environment, as if a grounding occurred, the coral would be damaged to an extent that would last thousands of years. His work started at 2.45pm this afternoon as we entered the Torres Straights and the Prince of Wales Channel that would take us towards the 500 mile passage to Airlie Beach. This is the longest pilotage in the world, and will take us 36 hours to transit, in which time Captain Gamble is only allowed to take sleep in 1 or 2 hour stints. For our part, we get to sail through very interesting waters, at parts only 15 miles from the mainland, passing islands by feet in some cases. We have 20 meters of water under the ship on average, and the channel is only a few meters wide, marked on either side. He has also been comentating from the bridge on points of interest all afternoon. As I have come in to write this post, we have just passed all the small islands named Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
After some debate, which involved a passenger delegation, it has now been announced that we will berth in the prestigeous Portside Cruise Terminal in the centre of Brisbane, instead of the (cheaper and P&O owned) grain terminal located way out of town on Fisherman's Island. This will make things much easyer for us, as we want to spend as much time as possible with relatives in Bribane while we are there. The grain terminal is also an unpleasant place, similar to other freight terminals we seem to have found ourselves in throughout this trip. One up for passenger power I think, although the feeling was so strong among the Australian Passenger contingent, that if we had berthed at Fisherman's Island, there would have been a mutiny on board!
The Whitsundays come first however, on the 19th. We then spend two days in Sydney, with an overnight, on the 23rd and 24th, after Brisbane on the 21st. The images above, although of not much interest, were taken this afternoon, during our passage of the Great Barrier Reef.
Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
If anyone reading this who has never undertaken a voyage such as this before, and is thinking they might like to try it, I will outline some of the logistics involved in long term cruising. This is from a UK perspective.
Choice: There are many cruise companies out there. Some cater for the American market, some for the Australian market, and so on. P&O cater for the British market, and still insist on, for example, certain dress codes for the evening. Each of their ships offer a different cruising experience. Oriana, and her sister ship, Aurora, are traditionally designed ocean liners, and at around 69,000 tonnes, are now classed as medium sized. As cruises are published for the year ahead, you may sometimes find "earlybird offers", but, as in any market place, if there are still places to sell as the departure date approaches, then the prices start to fall accordingly. If you are prepared to wait, you can often find packages that are not only very cheap, but also include flights and hotel stays. World cruises are sold as a whole or in smaller sectors, and cruise lines usually offer incentives to buy, such as what is known as "on board credit" - an amount of cash credited to your account that you can spend on drinks and travel excursions. My own plan for this cruise was to wait until I saw a significant drop in price, then negotiated an even cheaper deal by opting out of the on board credit. This is beneficial, as P&O operate a loyalty scheme, which has increasing benefits the more nights you spend aboard with them. The biggest benefit is a % discount of everything you buy. However, there are certain things that OBC can't be used against, and also, your loyalty discount is not applied until you have used any OBC, so, in our circumstances, we were better off without it.
Visas: The only pre requirement for this world cruise were the electronic visa waver for the USA, the electronic visitor visa for Australia, and an India Visa. The US and Australian ones can be completed on line, US at a cost of $17, and the Australian one free. You have to make sure you get on to the government site, as there are many agent's sites out there who will charge an administration fee on top of any authorised charges. The India visa is more complicated, and more expensive, and involves sending your passport off to have a page inserted. There was much red tape involved with this. Visas for Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia were all obtained on our behalf, whilst aboard ship, by P&O staff, with small administration charges applied to your on board account where relevant. The staff who deal with this are extremely organised, and everything runs like clockwork. Other than the countries who require more detailed checks, such as the USA, Australia, India and Vietnam, once in port, we simply walk ashore with no further checks. The other countries put their own immigration people aboard, sometimes as we approach their country, and we undergo face to face interviews whilst at sea, such as today, when we meet the Australians this afternoon. Once complete, we are then also able to just walk ashore when we dock in their country, with no further checks.
Inoculations: There are no mandatory inoculations for this cruise, although it is recommended that you have boosters for those that are recommended for everyday life in the UK, such as HepA Tetanus, MMR etc. Yellow fever is also recommended, as we are visiting Panama, and Venezuela, with a call at Barbados within 6 days. Both Panama and Venezuela are high risk areas for yellow fever, although the canal zone and Isla Margarita are not. However, Barbados would prefer travellers from high risk areas within 6 days, to have had the inoculation, which comes with a certificate, and costs 60 pounds. The others are free to British citizens at home.
Spending money: We have found that most countries will accept $US. However there is a comprehensive cash exchange aboard ship, where the correct currency can be purchased against your account before going ashore. They will also buy back, if it is in the denominations they deal with.
Once you board ship, you are issued with a cruise card, which not only is your room key, but is also used to make all on board purchases, and to get on and off the ship with. It uses both scan, and swipe technology. Accounts are finalised with a statement at the end of each cruise sector, and a charge made against the credit card that was registered with the company at the start of the cruise.
Once you have paid your initial fare, it is possible to have a complete holiday without spending anything else at all. However, alcoholic drinks, speciality coffees, duty free liquor and tobacco, photographs by the ship's photographers, and of course, the many items that are available in the on board shops, such as clothing, perfume, designer watches, jewellery, port excursions etc. Are all chargeable as extras. The bar drinks are no more expensive than you would find in any UK pub. There is also a fully equipped medical centre aboard, with two doctors and a team of nurses. This service is charged for, and is one of the things that OBC cannot be used against. However, it should be able to be claimed against the (mandatory) travel insurance that you will have.
Lastly, tipping: Currently, P&O are one of the last cruise companies to operate discretionary tipping, even though they do publish guidelines as to what an appropriate amount would be, if you received good service from your cabin steward, and restaurant staff. This is currently advised at 3.10 pounds per person per day, to be split as you desire, but mainly as described above. We have set aside 600 pounds for this trip, and intend to divide it equally between the two. Every member of the crew works extremely hard, and will fulfil your every requirement with a smile. However, P&O are to introduce what they describe as automated tipping after April 2012. An amount similar to above, will be added to each passenger's OBA, over the age of 12, on a daily basis, whether you like it or not. They do say that individual passengers can apply for this to be adjusted if required, but, I object in principle. Tipping should remain at the discretion of the individual, not become a hidden, additional charge. On the brighter side, the amount P&O intend to charge is far less than all the other lines, but is this the "thin end of the wedge"? Also remember that the cost of these cruises hasn't gone up at all in recent years due to market forces, so, as I keep saying........something has to give somewhere.
Darwin, Australia, tomorrow, followed by the Whitsunday Islands, Brisbane, and then our first 2 day stopover........Sydney.
Sunday, 12 February 2012
I have subsequently found out that the trial of one of the alleged Bali bombers was due to start in Jakarta the day after our visit to Bali. The whole of Indonesia was locked down with security, and I now believe this to be the reason why we were unable to dock at our planned destination. I also believe the Captain was unable to divulge the true reason, also for security purposes. At the time of our visit the ship's passengers consisted of 50% Australians, whose country was the one most affected by the atrocity. It simply would not have been a good idea to have them wandering around the island independently at that time.
Saturday, 11 February 2012
On board we have very luxurious facilities, that, in the main, can all be used with no additional charges. There is a fully equipped Gymnasium, a 650 seat, fully equipped theatre, a 300 seat cinema, a show lounge bar, a dance lounge, equipped with the largest dance floor in the fleet, a relaxing oak panelled lounge with the ambience of a London gentleman's club, and many other plush lounge areas where you can meet and chat with friends over a drink. Todays dress code for the evening is "smart". That means jacket required. Last night it was black tie, and the night before was evening casual - tailored trousers and open kneck shirt. If you have no wish to dress for the evening, all that is required is that you refrain from attending certain bars and lounges, and the main restaurants. There are at least two other restaurant options and bars where there is no dress code requirement.
The film at the cinema today is "Source Code", a science fiction movie. This is shown all afternoon and evening at intervals. There are also various entertainment channels that can be enjoyed on the TV in your own room, along with satellite news and sport. There is also a large screen TV, screening sporting events in Lord's Tavern, a sports themed pub.
Throughout the day, there are guest speakers, some famous personalities, lecturing on all sorts of topics. There are dance classes, language classes, art and craft classes, bridge classes, pilates........,the list is endless, and all included in the price. There are several venues with live music, from jazz, to swing to classical to light piano background music. This evening, as usual, there will be entertainment in the the theatre after each dinner sitting. There are regular top name artists from TV brought on to the ship to perform at this particular venue, again, all included. All this is included at a price that equates to under 100 pounds per person per night. Where else could this be found, as well as getting to visit many exotic locations around the world. Top value in our book, and certainly not boring. We will be in port again tomorrow, this time it is the island of Bali, and then only 9 weeks left.........!
Thursday, 9 February 2012
Monday, 6 February 2012
Saturday, 4 February 2012
Friday, 3 February 2012
Saigon, of course famous for being the headquarters of the US military operations during the war of the 60's and 70's, was targeted by the Viet Cong on many occasions. For example, during the Tet offensive of January 1968, the Viet Cong attacked the Presidential Palace, and the American Embassy. After a disasterous campaign, the last US troops returned home in 1973, and left the South Vietnamese to continue the war alone. When a North Vietnamese tank smashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon on 30th. April 1975, the war was finally over, and North and South Vietnam became one country, and Saigon was named Ho Chi Minh City.
There are still many examples of French colonial buildings within the city, left over from the French occupation of the country between 1859 and 1945 when the Viet Minh, under Ho Chi Minh's leadership, declared independence. The resulting Indochina war culminated in a humiliating defeat for the French at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, and began the run up to the second Indochina war, commonly known as the Vietnam War, as the divided country fought for and against integration.
Today's visit was disappointing. The pre visit port presentation stated that the free shuttle bus would drop us at Vung Tau, a coastal resort in the outskirts of the main city. According to our friends, a place with plenty of interest, and the place where they have been taken to on their last three visits here with P&O cruises. However, today we were dropped, unannounced, at a completely different destination, with no interest at all, and on enquiring, a further 35km taxi ride was required to get us to Vung Tau. As our time ashore was limited, and this would involve a taxi ride into unknown territory where the locals spoke very little English, we returned to the ship - disappointed. Our disappointment turned to anger when we later discovered that the bus to Vung Tau was being operated as a tour, at a further cost. No wonder the free shuttle didn't take us there this time. This sort of thing is starting to form a pattern.
The trip this year is no more costly than what we paid in September 2010, we presume, due to the fact that the economic climate has dictated the market price. But, to accommodate these rates, I suppose something has to give, and we are starting to notice this when we compare it to our last cruise with P&O. We all feel that the entertainment has been reduced, both in quantity and quality. The food quality has noticeably been reduced, and, so far, at each of our ports of call we have been placed firmly in the container wharf instead of the more prestigeous cruise terminal. At Singapore, we were again in the container terminal, with the free shuttle only taking us to the cruise terminal, where we had to arrange our own taxi into the city. The last time our friends visited this port, the shuttle bus took them directly into the city. So far it isn't spoiling our enjoyment, as for the price, this could not be done in any other way. We just feel that we are being misled, or in the words of my friend Bill - about today's experience - "we've been dudded"!
So far, my experience of Vietnam is ramshackle, with interest only to those with an obsession for Honda mopeds!
Tonight's evening theme, when we returned from our day out, was "tropical pirates" with an outdoor party around the Riviera Pool. There should have been a similar event during the last sector of the cruise, but it had to be cancelled, just in case the real pirates thought they might also be invited! In any case, we couldn't have held an outdoor party as, at the time, the ship was operating blackout conditions during the hours of darkness.
Tomorrow we visit Nha Trang, also Vietnam. Let's hope for better there, as this is a coastal resort. Or will we be short changed again..............?