Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Napier, New Zealand.

A night at sea saw our arrival at Napier at 7am this morning in pouring rain. As the Captain had told us, it was a small and tight harbour for a ship of Oriana's size. We had to complete what he described as a back flip manoever, which involved stopping adjacent to the harbour entrance and reversing through to our berth, some 500 metres away with a 90 degree turn included. Thank goodness for thrusters, although two tugs were also used. The port is mainly used for logging, and we have a short journey to the town by a free shuttle bus. Now in town, it markets itself as Art Deco, after it was totally destroyed by a 1931 earthquake which involved a total rebuild of the town in the style of the time. The weather has now cleared and we are having an enjoyable day.

Wellington, New Zealand.

A sea day after leaving the spectacular scenery of South Island, we are now visiting windy Wellington, which, as it happens, it isn't today. It gets its reputation from its location on the eastern side of Cook Strait which separates the north and south islands of NZ. Last time we were here in 2010 we restricted our visit to the city shops, so this time we took the cable car to the Kelburn Lookout and then walked back through the Botanic Gardens before taking a tour of the Parliament building. The image of that shows the statue of Richard John Seddon, local MP and dignitary from the 19th. Century, who came here from Eccleston, Lancashire, which, amazingly is only a 20 minute drive from where we live! Finally, Tom, no, we never saw a single midge during our visit to Milford Sound. As today, the weather is beautiful.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Fjord cruising in New Zealand

It is now two days since we left Sydney and our fabulous two days there. The image of the ship above is not due to us missing Oriana, but is of P&O Australia's Pacific Jewel leaving her berth at Darling harbour shortly before we made our own departure from Circular Quay. I would challenge anybody to find full board hotel room accomodation with entertainment, at that location in Sydney for 150GBP a night, but that is exactly what we did by having Oriana available to us for our overnight stay.
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

Sydney, Australia.

After one day at sea from Brisbane we arrived in Sydney at 7am this morning, and the weather is fantastic. We are here now for two full days, and today met more of our Australian friends we met on our last cruise. We decided to take the Manley Ferry to spend our day with them there. Oriana is berthed at Circular Quay, which places us between the harbour bridge and the Opera house, the two iconic views of Sydney. It is also next to all the harbour ferry terminals, the rail station, with excellent walking access to the city centre and the Rocks area where the original settlement was. Another magnificent stop! When we leave here it is off to New Zealand, first destination, Milford Sound.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Brisbane, Australia

We have now arrived in Brisbane, having picked up the port pilot at 2am, and docked by 7.30am at Portside Cruise Terminal. It appeared that we passed under The Gateway Bridge with inches to spare. Our stay here has also been extended to 8pm, which is fantastic, as we are spending the day catching up with my cousin Diana and her family at home. Margaret also had a hair appointment booked for 10am, which went without a hitch. Images today are personal and not the sights of Brisbane. Next it is two days in Sydney, and another day out with friends. That is the 23rd. We have also now said goodbye to our cruising friends who have left the ship today for home in Brisbane. The next 7 weeks will be very different without them and we will miss their company.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Airlie Beach QLD, Australia

After three days at sea from Darwin, we have now arrived at Airlie Beach for the Whitsundays in glorious weather. We were taken straight off the ship on to a Cruise Whitsundays catamaran, which transferred us to Able Point Marina and a free shuttle into town, popular with backpackers. After spending the morning exploring, we returned to the ship at 2pm, again by cat. As is now often the case, the Captain himself personally greated us aboard! A very sociable captain, I would suggest, at 37 only, he should make Commodore well before 50. A magnificent day! Brisbane next on the 21st. Thanks Paul for the updates on the tender gearbox repair.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Darwin to The Whitsundays and The Great Barrier Reef

We were slightly delayed leaving Darwin when a printed circuit board that is in the generator control systems decided it was time to give up. Two hours later, the part had been replaced by the on board technical staff and we were again underway, with no delay to our arrival in the Whitsundays as we had plenty of time to spare. It is also interesting to note that one of the ship's tenders broke down in Bali, and I have now seen the offending part - a cast iron flywheel / driveplate from the gearbox. Although I had seen the defunct vessel being brought back to the ship rafted up to another, but it was Paul from NB The Manly Ferry who informed me that his company in Sydney had been contacted in search of replacement parts. I suspect the part failed due to mis-treatment by the crew (slipping directly from forward to reverse gear without pausing in neutral), if my own experience of listening to them in action is correct.
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

Darwin, Australia.

First, thanks to those making comments, I receive them, but, due to the cost of internet access, can only publish and reply to them occasionally. I am posting reports from my phone. Paul and Elaine, fancy an evening drink when we get to Sydney? We can talk narrowboats! We are there overnight on the 23rd I think. Anyway, back to Darwin. Formerley Palmerstone, now named after Charles Darwin. We are now back on track and today is a quality visit, with excellent port facilities, and free shuttle buses to town. The weather is perfect, if a little hot at 38 degrees. A small place, but full of interest to the likes of us. A perfect start to our 10 days in Australia. Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays next.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The logistics of world cruising

Again, this is our second day at sea after leaving the island of Bali en-route to Darwin, Australia. The weather has been fantastic, and again we have clear blue skies with hot sun, and an 8.00am temperature of 29 degrees. The seas are also flat calm. Yesterday saw a little excitement on the open decks when we passed a partially sunken boat, mid ocean (Indian Ocean). The bow was protruding from the surface. The Captain announced that we would turn around to double back and launch the ship's rescue RIB to check for life aboard the stricken vessel. This was watched intently by the passengers, accompanied by a full commentary by the Captain. The boat was checked, with no sign of life. It was identified as a fishing boat, with its nets still cast and attached - probably the cause of the sinking if they got snagged. The name and registration number of the boat was recorded and passed to the authorities and we continued on our way.

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

P&O Cruises, Bali 2012

Another very disapointing visit! Again our destination port was changed at short notice. The reasons given in the Captain's announcement were that shuttle buses could not be used at the planned port, and the only means of transport available was taxis at our own expence, and that would be unacceptable to P&O. Well, Captain Camby, you just dropped us all at another place with no shuttle buses, no public transport and taxis costing $50 US to take us to the nearest place of interest 15km away, with no certain way of getting back. There is nothing at all here except 1 stall in the port building selling over priced tat! Outside the port gates is nothing but highway, no buildings! To cap it all we passed a lovely beach resort with jetties on the way in by tender, which, by the way, were not worth the effort of launching. I have heard nothing but complaints from other passengers, and I hope they keep you busy for days! Next stop Darwin, Australia, surely that can't be messed up, lets wait and see.........
Footnote...
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

Sea days

We are now on our second day at sea since leaving Brunei en-route to our next destination port, where we will arrive early tomorrow morning. We crossed the equator in the early hours, and today there is another spectacular outdoor BBQ, provided completely free of charge, at the side of one of the central swimming pools, while at the other, there is a "crossing the line" party being held, where the ship's crew battle it out with "King Neptune" for permission to cross the equator. The temperature is again hot, and measured 27 degrees in the shade at 8.00am. Many people have asked what there is to do whilst at sea, and if it ever gets boring. While I can assure them that it never gets boring, I will outline a few of the activities available from today to give you an idea. Alternatively, if you wish, you can of course just laze the day away with a cool glass of something by the pool, or on the aft terraces.
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

Brunei

After two perfect days at sea with flat calm sea and hot sun, we are now in Bandar Seri Bedawan for the day. A wealthy place due to oil and gas reserves, it shows in the infra structure and cleanliness of the place. The weather is hot and humid, and we are spending the day just walking around. Transport to and from the ship is by a free 45 minute shuttle bus. Next stop is Bali.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Hong Kong

At last - a berth at the Ocean Terminal with access directly into the city. Our location is right next to the Star ferry terminal. Our arrival was also spectacular escorted into the harbour by fire tenders on each any quarter with water spouts operating. It was just a pity dawn had not broken fully and there was a low mist. In fact it has been overcast all day although warm. We spent the morning exploring the now familiar abundance of designer shops before returning to the ship for a light lunch in Al Fresco, the on board Italian themed restaurant. The ladies have now returned to the city for a more in depth look at those shops, without the inconvenience of us men tailing them, very dangerous! Last night's entertainment was another spectacular performance from the Headliners theatre group, a night of a thousand stars, a review of the history of the London Palladium in song and dance. Saturday night was the Batchelors, if you remember them from the sixties. Next port is Brunei, and better weather once again........?

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Nha Trang, Vietnam.

A much better day than yesterday, better organized and a better place to spend our limited time in port. Tenders were used from the ship, and a free shuttle bus into town, which dropped off outside an upmarket restaurant. The owner boarded the bus and explained what the town had to offer, before inviting us to dine at his place on the way back of course. The place is an up and coming holiday resort, very clean and with lovely beaches. The market sold all the usual fake gear, but quality cultured pearls were also available, and tempted the ladies. We looked over the "genuine" Rolex watches that were available everywhere for 40 bucks. Amazing how they import them so cheaply here ;-) A sea day tomorrow, then Honkers on Monday.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Saigon, Vietnam

Today, after a day at sea, we docked at Phu My, 24 miles up the Saigon River from the Mekong Delta, for our visit to Saigon, or, as it is now known, Ho Chi Minh City. Our time here was 7.00am to 4.30pm, after we lost an hour overnight to the clocks going back to accommodate Vietnam time. Up until now we have been putting the clocks forward until we were 8 hours in advance of UK time. Consequently we are now only 7 hours in advance temporarily, until we head south east again.
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..............?