Here is a quick snapshot of our 2015 four and a half month cruse around the world on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. The most recent port is at the top, so the trip is in reverse if you view it top to bottom.
May 10th – Southampton, England to New YorkThe first few days at sea were cold with frequent showers, but after that we had partly sunny days with plenty of strong wind. In fact the wind was so strong and gusty we had trouble walking around the deck and at times simply couldn’t make it.
In the end this last leg of the trip was very pleasant and having friends aboard was an added treat. But, coming to our last port was sure a big disappointment. Our World Voyage adventure was far better than we ever imagined….and we can’t wait till the next one.
Many of the wines we had during our trip are posted on TastedOnling.Com. The ones we purchased from the ships wine list can be found using the keyword “Queen Mary 2” and those we purchased at wine stores in the major cities we visited (and paid the $20.00 corking fee) can be found using the keyword “World Cruise“. (See also: Selecting wine on the Cunard Queen Mary 2, or How to find the best value wine on a Cunard cruise that we posted after our return.) For us one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip was having so many different small producer wines from Spain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Canary Islands and Madeira we could never buy in the United States. A fantastic trip and a great wine experience!!!
May 3rd – Funchal, Madeira, Portugal to Southampton, England.Our three sea days to Southampton began with nice warm sunny weather the first day, cool with dense fog the second day and showers and cold the last day. Our arrival into Southampton was suppose to be a special Cunard event…all three ships (Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria) were returning from their 2015 world voyages and were going to meet off the Isle of Wright and sail into the harbor one behind the other. Unfortunately it was foggy and raining and was a pretty soggy event.
Our only planned activity in Southampton was to visit the customs office in the terminal to complete the paper work needed to get the European Union Value Added Tax back on the wine we purchased in Madeira. When we found the customs office there were lots of people who wanted to declare things before entering the UK and a red telephone that you were suppose to call to get an agent. When I called the agent I talked with was in Dover and he said there were no customs agents in Southampton who could help me and unless I had the proper form there was no way to apply to get the tax refund. So we learned another lesson and will correct it on our next trip. But, the humorous part of this was because there weren’t customs agents to process the people who had goods to declare they simply went through the “Nothing to Declare” exit and walked into the UK without having to go through customs!!!
As we left the dock Cunard again had all three ships sail out one behind the other and it did create quite a spectacle as an armata of small boats sailed out of the harbor with us and masses of people on the shore waved as we made our way down the Solent and into the English Channel.
April 29th – Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain to Funchal, Madeira, Portugal .Well our day in Madeira was everything we anticipated and MUCH more. Before we even left the ship we could see it was very unique and picturesque with the tiled roofed houses spread across the mountainside. A shuttle bus took us off the dock to the center of town and when we exited the bus we were standing next to a tropical garden in the middle of the city. After a very pleasant stroll through the garden I set my phone to find the D’Oliveira tasting room, a building constructed in 1619, where we could taste and buy a huge number of vintage Madeira wines. The building is located on a narrow cobblestone street and stepping through the door is like going back in time. The tasting area is set among old barrels of aging wines, there is a heavy smell of wood and caramel in the air, and there are bottles stacked floor to ceiling of wines dating back to the mid 1800’s. We tasted the four classic Madeiras and looked over the list of wines we could purchase. Only because we were limited to what we could carry we made our selection with the oldest being the famous 1908 Boal. As we were getting our wines Louis D’Oliveira came in and chatted with us, and he could not have been a nicer host. After we talked he brought us glasses of the1908 Boal and honey cake to taste together…and my only comment is that it was truly out of this world.
After our tasting we found a quiet pedestrian street that was lined with tables and had a wonderful lunch of fresh fish and a Portuguese white wine. After a leisurely two hours we walked to the Blandy’s tasting room. It had a very nice setting off a courtyard, but once inside the ambiance quickly changed. It was filled with lots of tourists that had tasting tickets included with their tour. We ordered one of each of the four classic five year old Madeira wines (for 7.80 euros) that was a similar tasting to what we had in the morning (at the free D’Oliveira tasting). As we tasted the wines we each commented that none of them were as good as what we had at the D’Oliveira tasting room that morning, and they were all more expensive. So instead of buying more wines at Blandy’s we walked back to D’Oliveira’s and bought another bottle we could drink on the ship.
We had a very enjoyable and MEMORABLE day in Madeira, it was one of the highlights of our whole round-the-world adventure. Funchal was far better than we imagined with old world European character, French riviera affluent charm and delicious Madeira wines, all ingredients for perfect holidays. Just how good was it…well Vicky ferreted out and talked with a realtor, which says it all!!! Now we are off for three sea days and the port of Southampton, England where our friends Chuck and Sandy are going to join us for the crossing to New York…and they don’t know it, but help us drink up all the wonderful wines we have bought while traveling around the world.
April 28th – Walvis Bay, Namibia to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain .
During our seven sea days from Namibia to the Canary Islands we sailed along the west coast of Africa past Angola, Congo, Gabon where we slipped into the northern hemisphere, Sao Tome & Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Western Sahara, and Morocco. And, as expected both the temperature and humidity grew as we came closer to the equator then gradually became more mild as we sailed north. The sea and winds were very calm and I understand why this part of the Atlantic Ocean is called the doldrums.
During the day our life on board the ship has become a pleasant routine…after breakfast we walk around the deck (four times, about 1.5 miles), write our posts and attend one or two morning lectures. We have a leisurely lunch (usually with a delicious Australian or South African wine), do another walk around the deck, catch an afternoon concert, than Vicky works on her cross stitch birth announcement project and it’s time to dress for dinner. The evening meal is always an event. We get the next days lunch and dinner menu every evening so we can decide what were going to have and then selected a bottle of wine from our private “cellar”. The whole pairing experience has turned out to be quite fun…each night we show up at dinner with a bottle and ask our sommelier and waiters to look at the bottle and guess what we are having for dinner. Than as we have our dinner Vicky and I try to guess what kind of wine the people at the neighboring tables are having just by looking at the color of the wine in their glasses.Almost all the passengers left the ship in Cape Town and a new group came aboard. The notable change in nationality was the Australians went from 53% to only 14%, and the British went from 33% to 63%; the Americans stayed at the constant 4%. We went from having practically nobody in the deck chairs to having them full all day long, there was a big improvement in people following the dress code and the level of background noise reduced dramatically. Possibly the most interesting part of this is the way the ship responds to the change. We now have special theme lunches and additional cook-to-order food stations for breakfast in the buffet restaurant. Now we can’t wait to see what happens for the crossing from Southampton to New York where the British will drop to 33% and the Americans rise to 42% of the passengers. Our Canary Island port day turned out to be very pleasant. We spent the whole day exploring the city looking for wine stores and leisurely taking in the sites. My internet research showed that the best selection of Canary Island wine was at the big department store that had a wine and gourmet food department. There was a limited number of local wines that cost more than a few dollars, so our selection process was simple…buy the most expensive ones (it just wouldn’t make since to pay $2.00 for the wine and $20 for the corking fee on the ship). As we returned back to the ship we passed a grocery store that the sommeliers told us had good wine so we dropped off our first load on the ship and returned to the grocery store…and it was a WOW experience. Not only did they carry Canary Island wine, they had hundreds of bottles of spanish wine, again at very low prices. But the best part of all was that they had some of our favorite Italian wines we buy at home… at about half the price they cost in North Carolina. So we loaded up all we could carry again…we were like two kids in the candy store!!!
A very pleasant day in Las Palmas and tomorrow we’ll be in Madeira for the last “official” port on the 2015 world cruise. We’ve been looking forward to Madeira since we left New York so the excitement is growing.
April 20th – Cape Town, South Africa to Walvis Bay, Namibia. .Our one sea day to Walvis Bay was very uneventful with very calm seas, pleasant sunny weather and a memorable oriental dinner with our English shipboard friends John and Marian (along with a New Zealand Gewurztraminer).
Our trip to the Namib Desert began right at the dock where the local guides equipped with Land Rovers picked us up. The town was quite small and in just a few minutes we were into the desert, and I use that word in a very literal way. Having less than 3/10″ of annual rainfall, it’s DRY. Vegetation is practically non-existent and there is just sand and a few rocks as far as you can see in all directions. Our first stop was Dune 7, which we were told was the highest sand dune in the world. After having an hilarious time climbing up the near vertical beach we set out to find the Palmato Gecko, a small critter that lives in burrows during the day and comes out at night to eat insects. We dug into the sand where the burrow entrance was clearly visible and about a foot down found one waiting for us. The gecko is well adapted for living in dry conditions, their skin is so thin that you can see the internal organs, but it can absorb moisture from condensation in the borrow or humidity in the air directly through their skin.
Next we found Asorasaura Sand Diving Lizards which are small critters that dart about eating ants and other insects while trying to avoid being eaten by the Desert Sidewinders. In all it was a very interesting trip into the desert and we came away with a real appreciation for the delicate balance between life and death in an environment that’s devoid of rainfall.
The city of Walvis Bay didn’t have much to offer, but the trip into the desert made the port special and we really had a good time. Now were off for seven sea days and the port of Gran Canaria, Spain…and we hope some good Canary Island wines!!!
April 17th and 18th – Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, South Africa.Our two nights and one sea day to Cape Town were partly overcast, cold and we had 80 to 90 knot winds. This area must be where currents and wind run in opposite directions because the sea was very discombobulated and the massive Queen Mary 2 bounced and shook. As we sailed out of the Southern India Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Southern Atlantic Ocean it felt like we were practically home…even though we have another three weeks sailing in the Atlantic before we get to New York. The night before arriving in Cape Town we attended a fantastic wine dinner hosted by Jeanette Bruwer from the Springfield Winery located in the western cape of South Africa. She and her brother Abrie are 4th generation wine makers on the family estate. Not only was the food and wine exceptional, but the wine tasting of two white wines included three different vintages of the same wine…something we had never done with a side-by-side tasting; and a comparison of the same Cabernet that had been aged for years in a cellar and under the sea. This was a very unique tasting and when we get some sea days watch for a post on it.
Our arrival into the Cape Town harbor was delayed because the Captain didn’t want to enter the narrow entrance through the breakwater until the wind subsided, so we docked about five hours late. But, the good part was we had a good look at the spectacular scenic city with Table Mountain behind it while whales swam by the ship . Because of the landing delay our plans to get out to the Stellenbosch wine area fell apart and we decided to go to the closer cape area vineyards instead. We jumped onto a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus that took us to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the cape wine area and a long drive around the back of Table Mountain and along the entire Cape Town coast.
The botanical garden was outstanding and we hiked around for hours taking it all in. As expected, we only recognized a small number of the plants but the signage was great and we made lots of new friends. After a few hours in the garden we caught the bus and continued to the vineyard area. We had the choice of going to three vineyards but instead picked just the Beau Constantia Winery because the ship sommieliers said they had the best wines. And it was truly a WOW experience. The ambiance was outstanding, we sat in a comfortable lounge setting (not standing at a bar) and sampled wines looking out on their vineyard that encompassed an entire valley. The wines were good and ridiculously inexpensive. As soon as we have another sea day we’ll do a post on this tasting experience too. After our Vineyard visit we got back on the bus and spent another couple of hours driving along a narrow cliff road seeing the magnificent coast line. It was sort of a modern-day Amlfi Coast.
Our second day in Cape Town was much more relaxed. We did some shopping, ferreted out a good wine shop, stocked up on good South African wines and then spent a large part of the day just sitting in a waterfront restaurant eating seared tuna and the most expensive Chenin Blanc we could get…and it was a VERY MEMORABLE experience. Cape Town has really done a great job of developing its waterfront and it reminded me of the Fisherman’s Wharf area in San francisco…but with temperatures in the mid-70’s.
We had a very good time in Cape Town and it’s clearly one of those places that is on our list of Great Cities of the world to visit. We also found lots of very good wines at “give away” prices and sure don’t understand why they aren’t imported into the United States. Only one sea day and we’ll be in Namibia where we’re going to take a 4×4 vehicle trip into the Namib Desert in search of sidewinders.
April 15th – Durban to Port Elizabeth, South Africa.Smooth sailing for our short trip to Port Elizabeth, warm with slightly overcast sky. Port Elizabeth is one of the largest cities in South Africa and is known as the “Detroit of Africa” because of the amount of car manufacturing that’s done here. Volkswagen has a large plant and must ship their cars abroad because the dock was lined with them.
Our day in port was somewhat of a disappointment from the sightseeing perspective. We had no expectations so it was just one of those experiences you mark up as “glad we did it, but will not be back to do it again”. The shuttle bus took us directly from the harbor to a Convention Center/Hotel/Casino complex that had a mini-mall full of things you wouldn’t take home if they gave them to you. After a good look around, and not any gambling, we came back to the ship and had a very nice lunch with a delicious bottle of Australian Arneis wine. Arneis is a grape from the Piedmont area of Italy that I would say is doing well in South Australia.
We’re off for a short sail to Capetown and two days in port…we’re both like cats ready to leap for the really good South African wine when we find it!!!
April 13th – Port Louis, Mauritius to Durban, South Africa.Our three sea days to Durban were very relaxing and we spent time in the library, walked around the deck after breakfast and lunch (three times around is 1.1 miles) and went to several interesting lectures describing the upcoming South African ports . As we rounded the south end of Madagascar it started to become more tropical again…the sea temperature was in the 80’s and the warm sunny days began to get a little humid.
The excursions in Durban were all focused on going to private game reserves and seeing the “big five”. Since we had experienced the “real thing” in Kenya a few years ago we decided to just go into the city and walk along the beach front. And what a pleasant sunrise it was. The beach was beautiful with a small dune, wide paved walk and a park-like strip between the sea and the city. Restaurants and small shops, selling all kinds of local things as well as renting surf boards, dive equipment and bicycles were scattered along the walk, so a stroll in the warm sun was very entertaining. We bought all kinds of neat little things that we hope will fit in our suitcases, then selected the restaurant that had the best view of the beach and spent all afternoon sipping South African wine and eating delicious local sea food.
We really had a fun day in Durban and even thought the city may lack tourist destinations its beach front environment is simply wonderful. We now have one sea day to Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
April 9th – Fremantle, Australia to Port Louis, Mauritius.We left Fremantle a little late because one of the two Cunard doctors didn’t make it to the ship by sailing time…so we left about an hour late, with only one doctor on board!!! This leg of the trip took us across the Southern Indian Ocean on an easterly course for 6 days . Every day was sunny with the temperature in the high 70’s and smooth blue water for days on end, while on board every deck chair was filled from dawn to dusk.
We were told Mauritius had limited facilities so we opted to take an all-day organized tour to the north coast beach/resort area, an old sugar cane processing factory, the Mauritius botanical garden and an old plantation house that used to belong to the owner of a sugar cane plantation. Because the island is small it only took us about a half hour to reach the north beach area using the primary four-lane highway that connects Port Louis with the north and south areas of the island. The beach was just about as picture perfect as it gets. The water was crystal clear, the small snug harbors were filled with brightly painted old wooded work boats and the tropical trees were growing right down to the beach.
We both loved the botanical garden with its extensive collection of unusual palms . Although it was the beginning of winter in Mauritius the temperature was about 80 and the lush tropical look of the plants reminded us of India. The garden was established in 1736 by a French governor who made it his home and introduced plants from all over the world. Today it is the oldest botanical garden in the southern hemisphere.
In addition to producing sugar the refinery we visited also made rum from their sugar…and offered a tasting of their different rums. It was very similar to a wine tasting at a winery, except they used shot glasses and poured tiny amounts. Unlike wine the range varied in the sweetness…from colorless pure rum alcohol through a range of progressively darker colors, with each containing an additional amount of sugar. So we’re now going to have some very delicious rum drinks on the ship…and, if we can restrain ourselves we should have some left when our friends join us in South Hampton for the final leg of our trip back to New York City.
The island nation of Mauritius was a very interesting and fun port day, and now we’re off for three sea days and the port of Durban, South Africa.
April 2nd – Adelaide to Fremantle, Australia.Leaving Adelaide turned out to be a long series of calamities…first there was a problem with the ship’s motors that caused a five hour delay, next the port officials would not allow the ship to leave in the dark because of the narrow channel in and out of the harbor, so we were scheduled to leave at eight a.m. the next morning. The next morning we were about to cast off and there was a medical emergency and we had to wait for an ambulance to take someone off the ship, and that caused enough delay that we lost our place in line to exit through the narrow channel. When the channel was finally clear our pilot had to leave because he was scheduled to be on another ship. Finally another pilot was found and just before noon we set off for Fremantle. This leg of the trip was three sea days and in order to arrive on time the captain turned up the speed and we flew across the Great Australian Bight, along the southern coast of Australia, crossed into the Southern Indian Ocean and sailed into Fremantle right on schedule. During this leg of the trip we went to a very nice wine tasting dinner. Wine expert Christian Burvill-Holmes from The Lane Vineyard, a small Australian boutique winery, was on board to promote Lane wines and held tastings for the ship sommeliers and guests, and hosted a wine tasting dinner. The dinner was five courses and six wines, three whites and three reds. The wines ranged from $50.00-100.00 so we didn’t expect much from the wines. However, three of them were quite good and one of the others “Not Bad”. The food was REALLY outstanding and the pairings excellent for all but the desert. The last course was caramelized white chocolate and saffron cream with burnt rose vinegar and apricot crumble paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon…and when I tried the wine before tasting the sweet desert it was quite good, but once the sweet flavors were in my mouth the Cabernet was terrible and even drinking water and eating dark chocolate couldn’t salvage the terrible pairing. In the end we both said it was a memorable evening and an excellent wine pairing dinner.
When we docked in Fremantle we planned to just stroll through the streets to do a little shopping and get some more Australian wine for the larder. The town was very nice and reminded us of Annapolis with its very numerous bars, restaurants and boutique tourist shops. We only found the only wine store in the down-town area but, it had mostly liquor and some “grocery store” wines so we quickly eliminated the idea of getting more wine.
A VERY fun day in Fremantle and Perth on our last day in Australia. Now were off for 6 sea days and Port Louis, Mauritius.
March 29th – Melbourne to Adelaide, Australia.Our one sea day between Melbourne and Adelaide was cool and overcast, just like a typical fall day at home. The arrival into Adelaide was quite a spectacular as the local people lined the entrance to the harbor shoulder to shoulder for several miles to watch the Queen Mary 2 come by.
Since we were leaving Adelaide in the afternoon and there wasn’t much time, we joined a pre-arranged group tour to some vineyards in the Barossa Valley. We were not sure which wineries would be visited but as we started the drive out to the valley we were told we were going to the Chateau Yaldara and Jacobs Creek wineries. We didn’t know anything about Chateau Yaldara, but it was described as a “boutique winery”. After about a one hour drive we arrived at the Chateau Yaldara Winery that looked like a small European village. On closer look it had more of an industrial look with the massive buildings and two and three-story tank farms scattered around the Winery behind the picturesque facade. Our mass tasting included six different wines that could only be described as “terrible”. Mercifully each taste was small…one bottle served about 45 people and there was still a third of the bottle remaining.
Our second tasting at Jacobs Creek Winery was also a disappointing experience. The tasting room was called the Jacobs Creek Visitor Centre and was a massive modern building that housed multiple tasting and eating areas…wine making was done at an industrial complex several miles away. When they starting pouring our wines it went down-hill even faster than at Chateau Yaldara…all the wines, white and red, were sugary sweet. We’ve had Jacobs Creek wine from the grocery store a couple of times in the past, but the wines they poured at the tasting were far worse than they sell in U.S. grocery stores.
In the end it was a good day…we saw the VERY DRY growing conditions and the unique characteristics of the Barossa Valley, and that alone was worth the trip to the valley. But the highlight of the day was the wonderful Miette Barossa Valley Shiraz we had with a delicious lamb dinner. It was another one of the excellent Australian wines we bought at the Australian Wine Centre in Sydney. We did learn a lesson though…we canceled our wine tour in Fremantle and will spend the time finding a good wine shop and doing our own tasting!!!
We’re off for three sea days to Fremantle and nearby Perth.
March 27th – Sydney to Melbourne, Australia.This time we left Sydney with less fan-fair then first departure…we had the normal sail-away party but no fireworks. On our one sea day to Melbourne we sailed along the east coast of Australia, at times within sight of land. As we turned west around the southern most part of Australia, leaving the Tasman Sea and sailing into the Bass Strait (between Australia and Tasmania), the winds were hitting the ship broadside at 90 mph…and we ate dinner with a steady, but tilted table. We arrived in Melbourne harbor at daybreak and after a quick breakfast took off to meet our Melbourne friends.
We were given the “Grand Tour” of Melbourne and spent an absolutely wonderful day, both visiting with old friends we hadn’t seen in over 40 years and seeing the city, including the special things only the locals know about . Melbourne is a wonderful, vibrant, human scale city. Our friends live in the Eureka Tower, one of the tallest residential buildings in the world, and from their living room window we had a birds-eye view of the entire city. We explored the small streets and shops and had a very delicious lunch at a cozy Italian restaurant that was tucked away on an alley street. And, with the excellent food, good red Sangiovese and life-long friends our visit to Melbourne was a MEMORABLE experience.
We really did enjoy Melbourne and wish this had been a two-day port. We’re now off to Adelaide and hopefully some good Barossa Valley wines
March 25nd – Bay of Islands to Sydney, Australia.After leaving the Bay of Islands we sailed east across the Tasman Sea in a straight line course toward Sydney. Almost immediately the clouds began to disappear, the temperature climbed to the mid-70’s and we had two leisurely sea days.
On our return visit to Sydney we ventured out in a different direction and walked through the city to the Darling Harbor area. Our primary objective was the Chinese garden and we were not disappointed. Having very little information about it before we went, it turned out to be a great treat. It was like a walled city block that had been turned into a fantastic garden. Although not quite like the gardens in China, it had all the details and elements of a Chinese garden and meandering through it made for a very pleasant afternoon. Watch KarensGardenTips.com for lots of photos and a detailed write-up about it.
We also squeezed in a fun visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art which is located right on the Circular Quay where the ship was docked. And of course we made a couple of visits to the Australia Wine Centre to stock up on more good Australian wine for the trip ahead!!! Having visited Sydney twice we put it near the top of our list for the worlds best cities to visit. We really had a great time in Sydney and wish we had more time there.
Now after our wonderful day in Sydney we have one sea day and we’ll be in Melbourne. We’re going to visit an old friend and his wife that we went to school with at the University of Pennsylvania. We haven’t seen each other for more than 40 years, but we exchanged photos so we can find each other, and we’re really looking forward to Melbourne.
March 22nd – Auckland to Bay of Islands, New Zealand.After a short overnight sail from Auckland on a northerly course, we dropped the anchor about a mile from the town of Waitangi, New Zealand.
The Bay of Islands is a maritime park composed of 144 islands located at the northern tip of New Zealand’s north island. We had a very leisurely day exploring the small town of Waitangi, that appeared to be a very quiet island village when a cruise ship was not bringing passengers ashore. Loaded with Maori culture, this peasant seaside community was our last port before we turn west and begin our sail back to New York. In two days we’re back in Sydney where most of the passengers will change again. One of our priorities in Sydney will be to increase the stock in our private wine larder.
Two sea days and were back in Sydney for the day.
March 19th – Picton to Auckland, New Zealand (we sailed by our scheduled port of Wellington because of bad weather).As we sailed away from the dock in Picton the Captain announced we were heading to Wellington, but there was a chance the weather might prevent us from getting into the harbor. When we awoke the next morning we were headed northwest along the west coast of New Zealand. The captain soon told us we could not safely get through the shallow entrance to the harbor and were going to try to get into Auckland, and if that was successful we would be spending an extra day in the Auckland port. After two days of pretty smooth sailing through the Tasman Sea we rounded the northern most point of New Zealand, entered the South Pacific and headed southward into the port of Auckland.
We arrived in Auckland about 4:00 p.m. so we would have two full days here. The first day we got an early start and hiked around the city to see three different gardens. The first turned out to be very park-like and the well known plantings were being renovated…it was actually fall here. The second garden was a more traditional botanical garden that had lots of very interesting old trees, but the highlight for us was the fernery…an area filled with all kinds of ferns, including a forest of tree ferns. The last garden was a traditional rose garden. Roses do well in the New Zealand climate so it was quite an excellent fall display and was being visited by lots of serious local rosarians. We still had a few hours of daylight so we set off looking for a wine store where we could stock up on New Zealand wines. We had wine store addresses that I had picked up on the internet; however, we visited three different stores and didn’t buy anything. The shops were very limited and clearly had mostly wines from the “big” producers. So our wine buying went onto the priority list for the next day!!!
Once during the world trip Cunard takes all the world travelers on board to a unique venue for a gala dinner party. This year it was at the Auckland War Memorial and Museum building that is sited on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Cunard really does know how to through a great party. We started with a lavish cocktail party, moved through the museum and were entertained by Maori dancers, than dinner and a night of dancing. The best part was Cunard had upgraded the wines compared to what was served at the regular captain’s party’s and were serving great New Zealand wines…and the bottles were bottomless so they just kept pouring. Needless to say we took the last bus back to the ship!!!
The next morning we set out bright and early in search of a wine shop. We did a little research on the internet and found what looked like the New Zealand version of “Total Wine” and found the closest location to the harbor. I think it was their smallest store, but it clearly met our needs very well. We did the same thing that worked in Barcelona and Sydney…we described what we were looking for, gave a price range, and said pick only wines you would buy for yourself if I was going to pay for them. Chelsea, the young lady managing the shop pick out all we could carry and we trudged back to the ship and added stock to the wine cellar in our room. We had the first one that night for dinner…a Waipara Valley Pinot Noir…and it was OUTSTANDING, we hope all the other bottles we bought are as good.
Our last activity in Auckland was an organized local winery tour. We don’t usually like these, but it was our only option for a visit the vineyard area. We went about an hours drive from the city and visited three different vineyards. The first was a small third generation family vineyard that had charm, character and good wine. The other two were typical production vineyards with three-story tank farms in a setting that could only be described as “industrial” and their wines were exactly what you would expect. I’ll write up the Vineyard experience we liked best and post it on TastedOnline.com when we have some sea days…(See Wine Tasting: Soljans Estate Winery; Auckland, New Zealand.
Two nice days and lots of fun experiences in Auckland and we’ll be in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand tomorrow.
March 17th – Sydney, Australia to Picton (original port was Akaroa), New Zealand; with a cruise through Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound Fjords.We began this leg of the trip with a two-day sail going east across the Tasman Sea to the Milford Sound Fjord on our way to the next port of Akaroa, New Zealand. The weather changed dramatically as the winds picked up to 30-40 mph, the temperature dropped to the high 60’s and the sky became partly cloudy.
While we were in Sydney almost all the passengers left the ship and a new batch climbed on board and the nationality of the passengers changed again. We are now 64% Australian, 19% British 7% New Zealand and 4% U.S. The other 29 nationalities are insignificant percentages. However, for those passengers who have continued on we have observed that the evening dress code has eroded even further, the spa is jammed with people, the 24-hour food buffet looks like a feeding frenzy all the time and there is not a single empty chair in any of the public rooms. But we continue to do well having SUFFICIENTLY stepped up the quality of our wines (at a lower cost even with the $20 corking charge) since we found the wine store in Sydney.
While still one day away from Milford Sound the captain announced that there was a cyclone headed toward New Zealand and because of the weather we might not be able to get into either Milford Sound or our next two ports. The next morning when we awoke we were just approaching the Milford Sound coast with light breezes and a mostly sunny sky. And, our cruise through the Milford Sound Fjord was nothing short of SPECULAR. The fjord was very narrow and the mountains high enough that they were snow-caped. We spent the morning sailing up to the end of the fjord while a pilot described the landmarks along the way. We’ve seen glacial valleys and fjords before but I’ll have to say New Zealand has possibly the best we’ve ever seen and the hanging valleys were text-book clear. We both said it was a memorable experience and enormously enjoyed the morning.
After exiting Milford Sound we went south then through the Doubtful Sound area of interconnected fjords. The afternoon weather turned cloudy but the scenery was quite remarkable. The mountains were still steep and rugged, but the water was filled with small islands that looked like King Kong could pop out at any time.
When we awoke the next morning we were entering the harbor at Picton which was a snug little port nestled in the mountains. We tied up to the logging terminal, but it really didn’t look like there was any alternative. We had a lazy morning strolling through the quaint shops and a small craft fair that was set up in a park next to the harbor. Not a wine shop in the town and we just couldn’t buy wine at the grocery store..hopefully if we get to Wellington tomorrow we will be more successful.
The captain did report 60-80 mph winds before we pulled into the very protected Picton harbor, so we’ll have to see what tomorrow brings.
Australian Wine Centre a wine shop we had found on the internet. It was located right in the harbor area only a five minute walk from the ship. And we knew we found a winner the moment we walked in the door. The shop was small but well stocked with Australian wines from lesser know producers…we did not recognize even one name on the labels. We quickly met Zachary Phillips, who was knowledgeable, liked good wines and who’s enthusiasm for wine was very contagious…the same as Russ Anderson’s at The Caviste Wine Shop back home. We described a little about us, the wines we liked and told him what we were looking for to take aboard the ship. He picked out as many different Australian wines as we could carry in two loads…enough to last us, at lunch and dinner, until we returned to Sydney in 13 days!!!
Our next stop was the Sydney Opera House where we signed up for a tour of the building. And, it to was all we expected and more. However, we were really sorry we couldn’t go to hear, and see, Madam Butterfly that evening…after the tour guide described the set where they flooded the entire stage with water. We had such an early start that we also had time for a leisurely afternoon in the Sydney Botanical Garden. This turned out to be a real highlight too. The botanic garden was located on the site where the first colony began to grow vegetables and fruits and had lots period plantings and stretched high above the picturesque harbor waterfront.
Than to top off our fantastic day in Sydney, as we pulled away from the dock the Cunard Queen Victoria sailed out of the harbor with us as they lit up the sky with fireworks. Cunard makes a big event out of having their ships on world cruises meet in Sydney every year…and I’ll have to say it really made for a spectacular exit from the Sydney Harbor with the Opera House in the background.
March 10th – Airlie Beach to Brisbane, Australia.We left our anchorage in Airlie Beach late in the afternoon for a one sea day trip to Brisbane. We began with a sail between several very picturesque islands, than out through the Great Barrier Reef using the Whitsunday Passage into the Coral Sea and south along the Australian coast to the port of Brisbane. The weather continues to be picture-perfect with 10-15 mph winds.
Because of the size of the ship we docked at a grain terminal that was about 45-minutes outside of the city and took a bus into Brisbane. The city had a charm about it primarily because the Brisbane River flows through the center of the city. For miles along the river houses faced the water that was lined with boats moored along the banks. The city also had a nice mix of parks, restored historic buildings and new modern skyscrapers with lots of shops and restaurants with out-door eating. It’s a very clean city and because the climate is hot all the buildings have expansive pooches and a very open look to them.
Our big adventure in Brisbane was a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the oldest and largest koala sanctuary in the world. We saw kangaroos, wallabies, kookabauras, tasmanian devils, wombats, emus, a platypus and LOTS of koalas. But, the highlight was cuddling a koala.
Another fun day in a place we had never visited before…and it does not seem to matter how old you are, it’s always special to pet fuzzy animals. We’re off to Sydney next and have only one sea day between ports. The good news about Sydney is that I have found what appears to be a great little wine shop that specializes in Australian wines from small producers…so our priorities for Sydney are the opera house and the wine store…and we have GREAT expectations for both!!!
March 8th – Darwin to Airlie Beach, on Whitsunday Island, Australia.
Leaving Darwin we sailed easterly along the north coast of Australia across the Arafura Sea, through the Torres Strait between New Guinea and Australia and into the Coral sea. Then on a southerly course we sailed inside the Great Barrier Reef through the Prince of Wales channel and continued south along the coast of Australia to our anchorage at the Whitsunday Islands. This four day sail gave us a real appreciation for the size of Australia…it was a two day sail from Darwin to the Strait and two more days sailing down the coast to Whitsunday Island.
The weather has become “picture-perfect” tropical with sunny days and lots of puffy clouds that occasionally produce a very brief shower, but the temperature is always in the mid 80’s, with light winds and glassy smooth seas. The smooth sailing and lazy walks on the deck produce a very relaxing environment.
Airlie Beach was a small town (population only about 4000 people) that has become a very popular sailing center and starting point for trips to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. Everything was new and it had the image of a beach resort community. There was a very large man-made protected harbor packed with lots of serious looking sail boats and the hillsides were spotted with new modern homes overlooking the clear green water of the Coral Sea. We had a very leisurely day wondering up and down the main street and having local “XXXX” beer and pizza.
Although there was no comparison with Annapolis, the sailing at Airlie Beach did bring back memories and watching the boats healing in the brisk wind and sparkling sea really was nostalgic. We also found our first Australian wine shop…they call them “bottle shops” here and they carry both wine and hard liquor. The Airlie Beach bottle shop was tiny and had a very small selection of wines all of which were from the “big” Australian wine producers. But we did buy one bottle we will have for dinner en route to Brisbane and two that were on sale at two bottles for $20 (about $16 U.S.). Watch for our reviews of these samples at tastedonline.com. Were looking to Sidney for larger bottle shops hopefully with a big selections of Australian wines we can stock up on!!!
One sea day and we’ll be in Brisbane, and our side trip to largest koala sanctuary in the world.
March 3rd – Bitung, Indonesia to Darwin, AustraliaWe sailed out of Bitung with crowds waving goodbye and went south east through the Molukka Sea, than turned south and went between the islands of Seran and Buru, and sailed across the equator, the Banda Sea and the Timor Sea to the port of Darwin.
Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory, or the “Top End” as the locals say… and it’s remote even by Australian standards. We were told that Darwin was a pioneer outpost in the 1960’s and has grown to a city of more than 100,000 people. Looking at the port from the deck of the ship we could see new high rise buildings and a level of cleanliness that ‘s just like home. Because this was our first of seven ports in Australia we decided to jump right in and try to see some of the exotic wildlife only found in Australia. We joined a ship sponsored trip to the Territory Wildlife Park located about a one hour drive south of Darwin. And, it was a great introduction, we saw dingoes, kangaroos, nocturnal animals, birds of prey, exotic fish and took a walk through a monsoon forest. Because we were only here one day our sight seeing of Darwin itself was a quick drive-by in the bus going and coming from the Territory Park, but what we saw was a really nice low-density city with lots of green space. But, our lasting impression of Darwin was how remote it was…40-minutes out of the city and we were into the outback on the single southbound road to Melbourne… that was a 4 to 5-day drive away.
Darwin is only a short distance from the equator so it has a tropical climate and was REALLY hot and humid…our visit occurred at the end of the monsoon season so we got a good sample of what it would be like to live in this part of the world. But, in the end we had a great time and enjoyed Darwin and it’s friendly people very much. Were off again and have four sea days to get to our next port, the Whitsunday Islands just inside the Great Barrier Reef.
February 28th – Kota Kinabalu to Bitung, Indonesia
Leaving Kota Kinabalu we headed north-east around the top of Borneo then turned south and sailed across the Celebes Sea. Winding through the narrow straits we weaved between islands to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. We’re having warm temperatures, puffy white tropical-looking clouds in the distance and light winds all making for smooth very picturesque sailing.
Well after the disappointment of not finding a wild man on Borneo I can report he was waiting for us on the dock in Bitung. Although he was really just there for atmosphere, he was very in keeping with this remote picturesque jungle island. The town was pretty quiet even though it is a major Indonesian container port, so we went on a “jungle trek” that was really interesting and lots of fun. We went to a national nature reserve that was an area of jungle that borders the beach about two hours from Bitung. It really was only about 20 miles but the road was over the mountains, very curvy and one lane wide for two way traffic. We found the Indonesian jungle to be very interesting because it was so different from the Amazon jungle in Peru. We did see lots of black, tailless monkeys, Tasius Tarsiers, the worlds smallest primate, exotic birds and butterflies and very interesting flora. After our trek we explored a beautiful deserted black sand beach for a while, and although this island is known for it’s sea slugs, unfortunately we didn’t see any.
Bitung was a VERY fun and interesting port and our memory about the port will always be how friendly all the people were. It looked like the whole town came to the dock to see and greet the passengers as the got off the ship. As we returned to the ship at the end of the day people were stopping us so they could take selfies of us with them in the photos…and as we sailed away it really looked like all the people in Bitung were on the dock waving good bye!!! After another two day sail we’ll slip into the southern hemisphere and be in Darwin, Australia.
February 24st – Hong Kong to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian BorneoWe sailed out of Hong Kong harbor and went due south through the South China Sea, with the Philippines a couple of hundred miles off our left side. Almost as soon as we left Hong Kong the weather cleared up and we had sunny days with temperatures in the high 70’s and light breezes. It’s perfect smooth sailing out here in the South China Sea as we go past the much disputed islands that we frequently read about in the news.
With a very different mix of passenger nationality since leaving Hong Kong, life on the ship has dramatically changed again. Very few people are sitting in deck chairs or walking around the decks; you would never know there is a dress code in the evening and beer (right from the bottle) is now a common drink at meals. Since leaving Hong Kong the percent of UK passengers went from 35% to 26%, the Australians climbed from 20% to 57%, asians dropped from 20% to only 2% and the few U.S. passengers on board dropped from 5% to only 3%, and lots of people who have been with us for a while have said they are leaving the ship in Sidney so there’s probably another big nationality change ahead.As a child I was always told about the “wild man from Borneo” and the big pots he cooked people in on an open fire. Well if there is a wild man he now drives a new shiny car, speaks english and lives in a place with all the modern conveniences. Yes it’s hot and humid, and yes outside the city the vegetation is jungle-like, but aside from that it’s quite a well developed place. Excellent infrastructure, pretty clean and populated with smiling friendly people. In other words it’s much different than expected and quite a fun place to visit. We were traditional tourists here in Borneo and went to a wildlife park that is run by the government and had a great time with the animals; took in a botanical garden, that really amounted to a improved path through the jungle vegetation; and went to a heritage village and saw the Borneo life I use to hear about as a child.
We don’t stay long at each port, but they sure are “eye-opening” experiences and we’re capturing the flavor of places we really know nothing about…and probably never would have visited unless we went on a decadent, care-free trip like this. In a couple of sea days we’ll be in the Bitung jungle.
February 21st – Sanya, China to Hong KongFor our one sea day from Sanya to Hong Kong we sailed due east out into the South China Sea, than made a 90o turn and went north right into the Hong Kong Harbor. Unfortunately the weather became overcast as we sailed and our two days in Hong Kong were overcast, with the temperature in the high 60’s, but no rain. We docked at the Kai Tak Terminal, which used to be the airport and now is really a pretty remote part of Kowloon…if there is such a thing. Cunard transported us by bus to the Ocean Terminal which was a jumping place and located next to the subway, bus and the Star Ferry Terminal where we could catch a boat to Hong Kong Island. The Ocean Terminal was a GIANT mall with all kinds of upscale stores and it was a real jaw-dropping experience walking around. We have never seen so many people in a mall, but the real shocker was the HUGE number of people jammed into the stores buying things…it looked like a “feeding frenzy” and I’d be surprised if there were any Rolex watches left in any store at the end of the day!!!
Armed with our Octopus Cards (a flash-pass that lets jump on the subway, bus or ferry) we went to Stanley and its famous market the first day. Located on the opposite side of the island than Hong Kong it’s a great ride over the mountain and a very picturesque harbor. The market is sort of a maze like tunnel with stalls on each side of the narrow walk-way. Once we figured out the wonderful exchange rate for the Hong Kong dollar we just couldn’t resist all the bargains. But, remembering we had to get everything in our suitcases when we leave the ship, our purchases were limited to squeezable and tiny items.
The garden is on the side of the hill going up to the Peak and along the way is the bird house, a huge net covered side of the slope that is a mini tropical forest filled with birds. This too was a special treat to see again and we spent a couple of hours walking along the elevated walkways watching the birds.
Our last site was the buddhist nunnery in Kowloon. We jumped on the subway and eventually found our way to what is called the Hollywood Center, which has a very unique garden right across the street. Again there were lots of people, but the garden is so unusual and setting and maintenance so outstanding it is a garden everyone should see at least once in their life. This was our second visit to the garden and it probably was better this time simply because it was not so overwhelming and we could look more closely at the garden details.
And one final snap-shot. On the way from the ferry terminal to the botanic garden in the early morning this is what the Apple store looked like, and when we came back in the late afternoon the picture looked just the same. It seemed like everyone in Hong Kong was using an Apple phone, but before seeing this I didn’t know what they went through to buy them…there must have been literally thousands of people waiting in line to make a purchase!!!
A great two-day port, no an OUTSTANDING port and now we have two sea days on our way to Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo.
February 19th – Phu My, Vietnam to Sanya, ChinaFor our one sea day to Sanya we sailed north along the coast of Vietnam through the South China Sea to the island of Hainan, the body of land that encloses the Gulf of Tongking. Sanya is known as China’s tropical beach resort and that’s a pretty good description. Because there wasn’t a pier large enough for the ship we anchored out in the harbor and used the lifeboats to get passengers to and from the shore. The big attraction here in Sanya is the beaches, but it was overcast so we went into town and looked around the “upscale” mall. We saw most of the designer brands we have at home plus a lot of European brands we never see. No bargains though…Gucci watches were very close to what we would pay in any United States Gucci store. We did browse a very nice wine store and were floored by the prices. There was lots of inexpensive Australian wine we buy at home for around $10 that were selling for $20-40, but the real shocker was the Opus One priced at $850…Vicky said she was going to run home and buy a case it was such a bargain in California!!!
Today was the first day of the Chinese New Year celebration so everything was decorated with flowers or red lanterns and looked very festive. Sanya is referred to as the Hawaii of China, but I don’t think who ever said that first had been to Hawaii. There was quite a bit of new construction throughout the city but it still had the look of other Chinese cities, lots of traffic, lots of people and a general lack of maintenance to buildings that gives a warn look to the city.
One sea day and we’ll be in Hong Kong and complete another leg of the world Cruise. We spent a couple of weeks in Hong Kong with Vicky’s brother three years ago so we have lots of destinations planned and are really looking forward to our two-day stay.
February 17th – Sihanoukville Cambodia to Phu My, Vietnam
We noticed there was quite a change in the ships passengers since we left Singapore. When we checked the difference between passengers getting on in Dubai and those getting on in Singapore was substantial. The Britts went from 75% down to only 35%; those from China went from 0% to 20%; those from Australia went from 3% to 20% and those from the United States rose from 4.5% to 5%. Although you might think this does not make a big difference but it really does. The deck and lounge chairs around the pool were jammed before the passenger change in Singapore, now they are empty. The noise level in the dinning room at night has doubled or even quadrupled and almost everyone takes the Cunard tours and does not venture out on their own. At the end of the day it really does not change what we do, but it really makes for interesting people watching!!! It appears a VERY LARGE number of both crew and passengers are going to leave in Hong Kong so it will be interesting to see what happens at that point…probably nothing we can imagine.We left Sihanoukville for a one sea day sail around the tip of Cambodia then turned north through the South China Sea to the port of Phu My. This was about two hours up the Saigon river, and about a two and a half hour drive to Ho Chi Minh City. Because there was nothing at this port we had a choice of going via bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or a bus to the city of Ba Ria (about 45-minutes from the port). Our choice was to get a flavor of Vietnam and just go to Ba Ria.
Our day in Vietnam was the eve of the Vietnamese New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan) which is the biggest and most popular festival of the year so things were jumping. Most stores were open and people were buying all kinds of things in preparation for the celebration. We were most taken by the number of yellow potted flowers that were being sold. Everything from bonsai plants to large pots of sunflowers were everywhere.
Ba Ria was a small city and the streets and sidewalks were packed with motor cycles and scooters. It was clearly the mode of transportation here in Vietnam. The interesting thing about the traffic was there were almost no traffic lights and no pedestrian cross walks. We were told to walk across the streets with a steady pace and not to stop or hesitate so the motor bikes could drive around us. It took a few crossings to get the courage to venture out into the street, but in the end it worked pretty well. The streets were wide and because there were so few cars not congested at all.
Vietnam was definitely third-world and Vicky described it as just the way she remembers Mexico in the 1960’s…poor and dilapidated…but, it’s sort of exotic and much cleaner than India. Most development was along the main roads with rice patties in between the houses or buildings. As we arrived into port the Captain told us we were tied up to the container pier that was completed more than a year ago and that only one ship had unloaded containers since the facility was built., and that pretty much sums up the way things look.
One sea day and were in the port of Sanya, China.
February 15th – Singapore to Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
We sailed around the southern tip of Singapore and then headed north across the Gulf of Thailand as we passing along the east coast of Malaysia. The weather is still clear, in the high 70’s-low 80’s with light winds.
We anchored about two miles from shore because of shallow water and used the life boats to shuttle the passengers from the ship to Sihanoukville. When we climbed ashore there was only a large parking lot and a few old warehouses in sight. Cunard had buses lined up to take us to the Sihanoukville Trade Center. I would describe it as a local open air market in a third world country. Locals were selling and buying all kinds of stuff including clothes, shoes, food and almost every kind of junk imaginable. The trade center was also the place for local guides with tuk-tuk’s to find customers for a tour to the beach or the local spot where you can see monkeys.
At the end of the day this was an interesting but pretty bleak port to visit and clearly it’s not on our list of places we would like to return too. One sea day and were in Phu My, Vietnam.
February 13th – Port Kelang to Singapore
Arriving in Singapore was a very different experience than any port so far. The cruse terminal was modern, clean and able to easily handle large numbers of departing and arriving passengers. In addition, the immigration and security moved without any delay and when you exited the terminal there were taxis right there under a roofed area. It really made us wonder why New York and South Hampton couldn’t be as well organized and pleasant.
Singapore was a special port for us; not only were we going to see the city for the first time, but we were also meeting an old friend Ray went to school with at the University of Pennsylvania. After meeting our friend we took a quick cab ride to the Marina Bay area, home to the new finacial center and famous three-towered hotel and casino with the “sky park” on top. We had a quick breakfast in a restaurant at the Gardens by the Bay, than took a short tour of the new, very extensive, garden complex near the port area.
Next we visited the Singapore Botanical Garden which was high on Vicky’s “must see” list since the beginning of our world adventure. This garden has everything from a virgin jungle to a collection of more than 3000 species of trees and shrubs and one of the largest orchid displays in the world. We had lunch in a restaurant located in the Ginger Garden, and of course the food was spiced with ginger. Our lunch was very delicious and accompanied with a “not bad” bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The wine prices were high, but we found the most shocking item on the wine list to be a bottle of Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot for 735 Singapore dollars (about $553)…a wine that is sold in the grocery stores in California for about $7.00!!!
Our friend also had made arrangements for us to meet Boo Chih Min, the author of Plants in Tropical Cities (possibly the definitive book on tropical plants) who give us a guided tour around the Garden. It was a real treat for us and made our visit to the garden even more enriching. Watch for elaborate posts on both the Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Botanical Garden on KarenGardenTips.com in the near future.
We did have a short drive through the financial/shopping district of Singapore and in a nutshell were very impressed with how nice the city was, in both appearance and efficiency. Not an inexpensive place, but one we would come back to visit in a heartbeat.
In ending todays rambling, here’s a little tid-bit about the way Singaporeians value the plants in their botanical garden. On the $5 bill there is a picture of a old tree with a very distinctive low branch that rests on the ground. Our friend told us about this and when we walked by the tree in the Botanical Garden we immediately recognized it as the same tree with low branch. What does it say about people who put a picture of a tree on their money instead of their dead rulers or old government buildings???
One sea day and were in the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
February 12th – Penang to Port Kelang, Malaysia.
Another overnight sail through the Malacca Strait and we docked in Port Kelang. This was really one of those ports that has nothing for tourists. Cunard had a long bus trip to Kuala Lumpur, but we took a shuttle bus into Port Kelang and looked around. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to see and since the bus dropped us off at a multi-story mall we wandered the mall for a short while. There were lots of American fast food and stores that sold everyday goods to the locals…just like our malls.
When we returned to the ship there was a full scale loading activity taking place. Cunard had a whole batch of containers lined up on the dock and fork-lift-trucks were moving pallets of cargo out of the containers and onto the ship. The alarming part of this picture was we were watching pallets of beer (in bottles and kegs) taken out of the containers and loaded on the ship. That evening our wine steward said they had take on new wines that day. Here in Port Kelang were just off the equator and it’s very hot and humid even in the shade, but inside one of those containers sitting in the hot sun it must be REALLY hot…I’m beginning to understand why we have not been getting good wine!!!
Another overnight sail and we’ll be in Singapore tomorrow morning. We’re going to meet an old friend from our University of Pennsylvania days and are really looking forward to our visit. As a fringe benefit, he is a landscape architect and going to give us a guided tour of both the Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanical Garden.
February 11th – Phuket to Penang, Malaysia.
We lifted the anchor and sailed through the Malacca Strait and were at the dock before day brake. Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia and the city of George Town, where we landed, is one of the most populous. This was one of those ports we thought was going to be a real bust with nothing of interest to see. Vicky did some research the day before to be sure we didn’t miss anything important for her worldcruiseportsblog.com post and discovered that there were several things we should put on our “to do” list and the best part was most of them were easy walking distance from the port.
Our first site was the Cheah Konsi. When the Chinese families who came here wanted to show off their wealth and power they constructed family compounds. One of the oldest was the Hokkien clan and the center piece of the property was their temple that was completed in the 1870’s
Other clans built large complexes out on the water. Here they constructed long piers with small buildings off each side. The buildings were constructed on wooden poles that have now been converted to concrete piers to handle the large number of tourists that flock to the very picturesque stores,
Another very interesting site, actually many sites, was art work on buildings. In 2009 the government held a competition for development of art in public spaces and the winner was a concept that included humorous illustrations in the form of iron rod sculptures that were installed against the city’s existing building walls. This was so successful that in 2012 the City commissioned an artist to paint a few murals, including the world-famous “kids On Bicycle” and since then many other artist have contributed to this street art
And in the few minutes we stood by the Kids On Bicycle street art it was really interesting to see what happened. This is all taking pace on a little ally street and is all spontaneous.
Since the city started promoting this art work it has taken off and now lots of people are including some form of art on their building walls. Here’s one I thought was quite clever when I saw it.
And a couple of other Penang snap-shots of a mosque in the Indian sections of the city and the one-man power taxis.
Another overnight sail and were in Port .Kelang, Malaysia tomorrow.
February 10th – Colombo to Phuket, Thailand
This three-day trip across the Indian Ocean took us around the southern tip of Sri Lanka and than India, Bangladesh, Burma and Thailand on the left and nothing all the way to Antarctica on the right. The days are sunny, warm (high 70’s) with a strong breeze and growing humidity . Practically everyone on the ship is lounging on the deck or by the pools from dawn to dusk. We went to two very interesting lectures by former race car driver Sir Jackie Stewart that I enjoyed and found very interesting. It does not matter which form of motor sport your participating in, it takes the very same basic ingredients to consistently be a winner. Sir Jackie was not only a good driver but has been able to capitalize his experience into very lucrative commercial endeavors since his retirement from racing.
The other day we had a really outstanding Cotes Du Rhone white from Chateauneuf-du-Pape that immediately jumped up as one of the best wines we have had purchased on board the Queen Mary 2. This led to our thinking about doing a post at the end of this trip on the BEST VALUE wines we found in the Queen Mary 2 wine cellar. This would have been VERY useful to us because we have had some really poor wines at the $50+ price point we would liked to have avoided. Keep in mind we are starting at the low end (under $60) and working our way up and this list will not be the best wines in the cellar but will instead reflect our bias of the best value for the price. Also, so far we have had no wine at any price on the ship that is even close to what we bought at a wine shop in Barcelona, and for only $20-30/bottle. We plan to purchase wine at local wine shops in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Madeira and will include our experiences with these purchases in another end of the trip post. I can tell you from our experience in Barcelona every wine lover that’s on a cruise that stops in Barcelona should visit the Vila Viniteca Wine Shop, even if only to purchase a few bottles. It’s an easy 10 minute walk from the cruise terminal!!!
When we arrived in Patong Bay is was like we had left the world behind and arrived at a tropical island…and in fact we had…Phuket Island. Instead of tieing up to a typical dock we anchored in the middle of a little bay that was surrounded by lush vegetation covered mountains that had clusters of hotels or groupings of little tropical-looking bungalows. Because we anchored the crew put lifeboats into the water and shuttled people back and forth from the ship to the small town of Patong. And, I can only describe Patong as a typical beach town, but located in Thailand. Cunard did offer a couple of bus trips to the modern city of Phuket but we chose to wonder the streets and beach front area.
The beaches were terrific, some small and secluded and others wide, long and full of people. In addition to swimming in the crystal clear water people were flying around in parachutes being towed by power boats, rocketing across the water in little boats, getting their tattoos, having a full body massage or just drinking and eating whole fish that were being cooked and sold by locals. It was like a warm sunny playground for prosperous adults who had escaped the horrors of winter in northern Europe. The streets that went back off the beaches ended at very nice hotels and were lined with bars, Thailand fast food restaurants and massage parlors…all in about equal numbers. We did strike up a conversation with some people who flew in from Berlin, Germany for a couple of weeks of fun in the sun and they said it got pretty wild when the sun went down. To get an idea how poplar this place is they get direct flights from Berlin and judging from the different languages we heard I’ll bet most of the northern countries also have direct flights.
My closing snap-shot was something that just flabbergasted me. I guess because the men who string electric wires on Phuket Island don’t have ladders; all the wires are attached to poles at arms-length to the ground, with some just inches off the ground.
In all we had a really great time in Patong because it brought back memories of past care-free beach days and seeing truly eye-opening activities that go on at a Thailand beach. We’re off for an overnight sail and than in the port of Penang Malaysia early tomorrow morning.
February 6th -Cochin to Colombo, Sri Lanka
This short leg of the trip took us along the coast of India and around the southern-most tip to Colombo. When we left Dubai the composition of passengers changed slightly and become more European although the Birtts still make up 75 percent of the passengers. And, one surprise was that no Dubai citizens joined us as passengers…but, maybe it’s not surprising because almost everyone we saw in Dubai looked like they came from some place else. A small number of people will be getting of off in Singapore, but this leg of the trip is officially from Dubai to Hong Kong so we don’t really expect much change till that point.
We arrived at the port of Colombo just as the sun was coming up and it’s a VERY commercial harbor. A large number of ships…tankers, container and freighters in all sizes and state of repair were already packed into the harbor…we were the only cruise ship. We tied up in the midst of a huge container facility that was already loading and unloading containers. Because there are few places to shop or sight see the pier was lined with vender stalls selling everything from trinkets to very expensive jewelry and silk items. Cunard had a bus to take us into the city but the three stops had very little of interest…a hotel, a shopping center (with 8 or 10 stores, Mc Donald’s being one of them) and a store that sold locally made items…lots of carved elephants and gaudy metal ornaments. Here in Sir Lanka the only things the ship tours did was visit a elephant orphanage and a tea farm which we opted out of doing.
In the end we’re glad we saw Sir Lanka but it’s not on our list to ever return too. Now we’re off for a few sea days and the port of Phuket, Thailand.
February 4th – Abu Dhabi to Cochin, India::
This leg of the trip took us out of the Persian Gulf through the Narrow Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf of Oman, than through the Arabian Sea and finally into the Indian Ocean. We sailed past Oman on the right side and Iran, Pakistan and India on the left. The temperatures are in the low 70’s, with light breezes and cloud free days.
When we arrived at the port of Cochin the temperatures were warm and it looked like we had landed in the tropics. The view from one side of the ship, looking across the harbor to the modern city of Cochin gave the impression of any modern-day port city; however, the view from the other side of the ship, where we were docked, looked like some far-off place right out of a Humphrey Bogart movie.
From what we could learn it looked like all the sites were in the old city so we set off to find some form of transportation. Immediately after we left the gate at the harbor we found a local guy who had a tuk-tuk and was ready to show us the sites. We negotiated a price of only $10 for a complete tour of the old city and climbed into his vehicle. It was a motor powered, three-wheeler but pretty rickety and made to dive on sidewalks or any where else there was some open space in front of it. The ship had given us a list of the specific sites we should see and sure enough our driver Rasheed took us to them one after another speaking just enough english for us to communicate back and forth.
After spending almost a month in northern India a year ago it had prepared us for what we could expect, and to my surprise I would say it was much cleaner here in southern India, but I’m using this term clean very loosely. Because it’s so wet there was grass and tropical plants growing everywhere so the cows and goats that roam the streets had something to eat here…although their ribs were still showing.
We spent the better part of the day going from place to place and at one point went through what I would call the best neighborhood in town.
Two of the sites that were most unusual were the Chinese fishing nets…long cantilevered nets that are located at the entrance to the harbor and thought to have originally been brought to India by Chinese traders more than a thousand years ago. They were in full operation when we were there and the fish being dragged out of the water were sold in a makeshift market by the side of the river.
The other thing we got a kick out of was a ginger factory. Men, who I guess were farmers, were bringing truck-loads of burlap bags filled with ginger into a large paved yard where the ginger was spread out to dry. The fist step in processing it was to dust it with a lime like powder, than the roots were washed and left to dry in the sun. In a large concrete building we watched as woman graded the pieces of ginger into sizes using different size screens. At some point down the process it gets covered with sugar and becomes very delicious ginger candy. They serve it on the ship every night after dinner and we love it…it’s strong but very tasty.
Another very fun day and now we’re off to Colombo, Sri Lanka.
January 31st – Dubai to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates:
Another overnight sail through the Persian Gulf and we reached Abu Dhabi in the morning. The port was very commercial and the cruise terminal was a tented structure so the landing experience was very different from Dubai. Abu Dhabi is the oil-rich emirate but the city was much more traditional than Dubai and everything wasn’t brand new. There was lots of new construction everywhere and we were told this was one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
The sites were limited here so we opted to go into the city and go to the big high-rise mall…which was quite an experience. There were a few stores we recognized, but the really startling thing was the number of stores that sold watches…it looked like 25 percent of the stores only sold expensive watches. We did check some prices and in most cases they were more expensive than what we would pay at home.
An interesting port and my overall comment about Aub Dhabi would be how friendly and helpful the local people were to us. Several times people asked if we were lost and could they help us find something.
Three sea days ahead as we make our way to the next port of Cochin, India.
January 30th – Khor Fakkan to Dubai, United Arab Emirates:
After an overnight sail we reached Duba bright and early in the morning for a two-day stay. Dubai is everything we imagined and even more. We expected to see impacts of the recession still present but it’s jumping and there is lots of construction going on. The sheer number of new buildings, and their height is a sight to behold. Most share only one common feature…a glass facade, every other design feature is wide open and ranges from soup to nuts all with the goal of being taller than the one next to it. As we went around the city everywhere we looked things were happening. At one point looking between buildings we could see people jumping out of airplanes…trying to land at a specific spot on the beach, seaplanes landing and taking off, boats speeding around, Ferrari’s and Bugatti’s zipping up the street and men climbing all over the buildings cleaning windows…and all this was in addition to the normal exhilaration of a big city…Dubai has excitement in the air!!!
We caught a hop-on-hop-off bus and saw quite a bit of the city,
but it’s very spread out so we actually only had a drive-by for most of the city. Since much of this area was just sand desert ten years ago it goes without saying everything looks brand new…buildings, streets, vegetation and even the people, most look and dress like they are from somewhere else. Having an architecture and planning background, it really amazed me that it looks like the city was built with a total lack of planning. Clearly they started with a blank sheet of paper, or sand desert in this case, and they have built VERY high density structures and simply expect this to work without any transportation infrastructure to support it. Everything is car oriented and the traffic jams were the worst I have ever experienced (and I often drive in Atlanta and the 405 in Los Angeles), and the locals said that it’s much more congested on days when something is happening in Dubai!!! We saw bus stops along the main roads, but there were no buses…probably because there is not room on the roads for them. There was a monorail train, but the locals said nobody uses it because it’s very limited and does not go where people want to go. The highways are 8-10 lanes and extensive but jam up at every intersection. You can see the city left a strong impression.
We did go to several of the malls, and they are a big WOW. It was really something to see the locals in their flowing robes renting ski equipment to go down the indoor slopes. I did envision being able to walk out on the snow, but it’s hot here so the slopes and ski area are behind glass. Actually it’s pretty impressive. We did wander around the stores in the mall for a short time and found many of the same brands we have in our malls, but most stores were more European.
There are a few must see sites that we did make a special effort to see…the tallest building in the world, The marina development, palm Island and the sail hotel. All of these were worth the trip to Dubai. We also planned to visit the Miracle Garden…a huge garden with traditional and topiary-style flower beds containing more than 45 million flowers. This was on the edge of the city and the que for the taxi was so long we thought we would never make it.
In spite of the stringent dress code in the United Arab Emirates lots of women and men seem to be skimpily clad, although they were not actually “lewd”. Very few local women wear a abaya and even less the burkha while many local men were in traditional western cloths. The sale alcohol is confined to a few hotels and restaurants so there was no sipping for us until we went back to the ship!!!I
A great port, but frustrating because it’s difficult to get around and it couldn’t be seen in such a short time…we’re off to Abu Dhabi.
January 28th – Muscat, Oman to Khor Fakkan, United Arab Emirates:
Khor Fakkan was just an overnight sail along the coast of the Arabian peninsula. The city is nestled in a small flat area surrounding the harbor and meanders up a valley between the barren mountains that run along the coast. This was the first time the Queen Mary 2 had come to this port, probably because the only tourist attractions are the white sand beach and the coral reefs.
The Khor Fakkan port is most well known for it’s very large container terminal. It’s a “free port” and is a giant distribution center where containers are unloaded from one ship and put back onto others destined for different ports around the world. The scale of this operation was really impressive as there must be literally thousands of containers stacked on the dock that are constantly being shuffled around in preparation for loading.
This port was a little bit off the beaten path, we didn’t find anyone who spoke english and western influence was not nearly as strong as it was in Muscat. We did take the bus into town and found a heritage village that the Emirate of Fujairah has developed to show visitors what the traditional life in Khor Fakkan was like in the past. Although it was a recreated village, sort of like Williamsburg, it was interesting to see what life was like in this very arid environment on the coast of the Arabian peninsula.
Another fun day and now we’re off to Dubai.
January 27th – Civitavecchia to Aqaba, Jordan (changed to Muscat, Oman):
We left Civitavecchia in the evening and by the next day went through the narrow Messina Strait, which is between the southern most tip of Italy and the Island of Sicily. Looking through the misty showers we both commented that we have never seen the hills of Italy look so green…it looked just like winter in Southern California!!!
One of the highlights at this point was having the first wine we bought from the Vila Viniteca Wine Shop in Barcelona. It was the Priorat Les Planetes, Vi De La Vila Porrera and we had it with a very nice steak dinner. It was a MEMORABLE wine and dinner…and without question the best bottle of wine we have had since we left New York!!!After leaving Italy we headed out across the Mediterranean Sea going just south of the island of Crete on our way to Port Said, Egypt where we enter the Suez Canal. During these sea days we received our pirate and terrorist drills in preparation for the Canal and the red sea transit. To comfort all the passengers the Captain assured us that the ship’s hull was very thick and they have teams of special armed security personnel coming on board for this section of our trip (we haven’t seen these guys but I can imagine what they look like!!!). Going through the canal is done in north and southbound convoys. When our ship arrived in Port Said we dropped anchor and waited for our scheduled early evening southbound convoy. The next morning the ship was still at anchor and waiting for a northbound convoy to exit the canal, everything was running way behind schedule so we entered the canal 24 hours late and went through during the night…with all outside lights turned off and the window drapes drawn. Because of the delay we lost our dock space in Aqaba and bus transportation to Petra so there was another change in the itinerary and we continued through the Gulf of Suez and down the Red Sea toward our substitute port of Muscat, Oman. Our planned ports are dropping like flies…we had also planned a two-day stop in Cairo with a trip to see the pyramids and stop in Safaga, Egypt with a trip to Luxor, but these were changed because of potential security problems.
Our five sea days to Muscat took us first past Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia on one side and Saudi Arabia and Yemen on the other. The good news is when we exited the Canal the weather changed and we now have temperatures in the low 70’s both day and night, not a cloud in the sky and very light breezes. As we turned east and went past the Horn of Africa the winds picked up but the warm sunny days stayed with us as we made our way to Muscat, located just across from Iran on the Gulf of Oman.
The port of Muscat was really appreciated both because we were ready for solid land and it was simply such a nice surprise. It’s a small commercial port, with some container handling facilities, but mostly used for unloading cargo of all sorts (from live sheep to traditional goods wrapped in burlap) from small boats that must service the little ports along the coast. Beside the Queen Mary 2 the only other large boat in the harbor was the Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s private yacht that must be several hundred feet long!!! But is was quite picturesque with it’s white buildings along the coast against the very barren mountains in the background. There were tours that took 4-wheel drive vehicles over the mountains and into the desert but we opted to just walk around the town and it’s bazaar.
Because Oman is a Muslim country all the women were dressed in black, many with nothing showing but their eyes and most men dressed in freshly pressed white flowing robes. The city was VERY clean and it sure looked like prosperity abounded everywhere. The Bazaar was fun but we didn’t buy a thing…it looked like EVERYTHING sold there was either from India or China…only the curved daggers appeared to be locally made. At one point Vicky thought about taking a bus around the entire city and before she could say no the driver had already started to bargain for the price of the bus ride…I don’t think there is anything like a set price in Muscat!!!
All in all it was a VERY nice day in a part of the world we hear about all the time; but, as it usually turns out, when we visit a new place both the experience and the people are very different than expected. We’re off to Khor Fakkan.
January 17th – Barcelona to Civitavecchia:
The trip to Civitavecchia, Italy (located about an hour and a half from Rome) was only one smooth sailing sea day from Barcelona. Almost all day large schools of dolphins were splashing through the small mid-ship wake of the ship. We navigated through the narrow strait between Corsica and Sardinia and arrived early in the morning only to find an overcast day with temperatures in the high 50’s. Civitavecchia is a small port city on the Tyrrhenian Sea that has very active commercial shipping, fishing and sail boating all going on from the central port area. A large number of passengers went to Rome for the day, but we’ve been there so many times before we decided to just spend a leisurely day in Civitavecchia.
The city was quiet, but had a typical Italian feel and architecture. We’ve traveled to Italy more than any where else and it was nice to return even if it was the middle of the winter. We both missed the warm, bright Italian sun but expect to find it waiting for us in the Suez Canal!!!
January 16th – Malaga to Barcelona
This leg of the trip was short…only one day at sea and we were in Barcelona. But we’re starting to really get into a routine during the sea days and although it’s hard to believe, we’re on the go every minute. Our one sea day included a lecture by a archaeologist, a Bach flute and piano concert, a couple of walks on the deck (three times around is 1.1 miles), writing our blog posts and three delicious feeds. The library on the ship has a large gardening section (one hundred percent published in England) that Vicky is devouring. I have several books with me and so far have only had time to read a few pages. The weather has been nice (low 60’s) and sunny and almost every Britt on the ship has been spending the entire day on the deck in a chair…and more than 4/5’s of the passengers are from the UK!!!
In the past we have been all over Spain, but never to Barcelona…we expected it to be similar to Madrid, but to our surprise is was much more like Paris in the early Spring. We were both struck by how clean and prosperous Barcelona was and after reading about the terrible unemployment in Spain couldn’t believe how European and sophisticated the city and people appeared. Because we were only going to be in port for a day we planned our activities carefully. We had three specific distinations: the La Sagrada Familia, Goudi’s famous church; Goudi’s apartment house; and a very specific wine shop that Russ Anderson owner of the Caviste Wine Shop in Winston-Salem recommended…and we accomplished all three and saw lots of the city.
Like most European cathedrals the La Sagrada Familia is always under construction. There were cranes, men crawling all over the structure and drapes protecting the lower sections. It is very unique and my impression from my architecture school days was always how out of character with the rest of the city it must be. But Gaudi’s buildings fit right in with the scale and form of the buildings around it. We had an extra treat when we found a small restaurant on the ground floor of Goudi’s apartment house where we joined the locals for a late morning beer.. The organic character of the building facade carries through the inside with columns, ceiling and wall details. It was a very fun experience for both of us.
But the true highlight of Barcelona was the Vila Viniteca…a wine shop that was out of this world. It was located on an alley street that only had room for people and motor cycles…delivery of wine was made by two men rolling pallets of wine down the street to the shop. In side the wine was stacked two stories high. There was a narrow iron catwalk around the walls where brave customers or the shop staff could walk along to retrieve everything out of reach from the floor. And, needless to say the selection of Spanish (and Portuguese) wines was huge…I recognized only one label in the entire store. The woman who helped us spoke excellent english and was very knowledgeable about the wines. We told her what we were looking for and gave her a maximum price per bottle and she went around a picked out as much as we could carry back to the ship. To our surprise the Cunard staff didn’t even blink an eye when we walked onto the ship carrying our Caviste wine bags and my back pack filled with wonderful Spanish wine.
Another great port that we both liked very much…in fact Vicky was ready to move there!!!
January 14th – South Hampton to Malaga
The voyage after leaving the English Channel was a bit challenging. We thought that we had our sea legs, but found that they were only good for rocking backward and forward. We had to start over and develop new ones to adapt to the roll of the ship from one side to the other; totally different skill sets and we only crashed into a wall a few times during the learning process. Without the strong wind to steady the ship and with the long fetch all the way the East coast of the U.S. the sea had huge swells that rocked us all the way to Gibraltar.
We have now been to several Captains Cocktail parties and we have to say he needs a good sommelier. Sure, all the wines were drinkable but that’s saying a lot, they were pretty tasteless. We do enjoy the parties though and have met lots of fellow travelers, many of which have been to the places were headed. They have also begun to get the “World Voyage” travelers together separately and that’s really adding to the interest since we all have something big in common.
The ship docked in Malaga, Spain just at sunrise…8:00a.m.!!! And, Malaga is a gem but we are hardly the first people to notice this…it’s one of the winter hot spots of Europe. No wonder. The ship’s shuttle bus took us to a central place in the city, right on the water front where the tourist’s information booth, shopping and interesting sights are located. We immediately enjoyed the Paseo del Parque, a linear park running between two major thoroughfares, where over 1,000 different plants are suppose to be growing…and it’s really a WOW!!! The signage was good, maintenance top notch and a children’s playground made it very human. It is a beautiful spot where the vegetation is lush, the garden ornaments are the essence of Spanish folk art and the tourists are noticeably absent…Karen has already writen a post describing it in detail for KarensGardenTips.com
We really enjoyed walking through the historic city where much of the area is a giant pedestrian mall with lots of alley streets, shops and eating places. In addition to a huge number of unusual stores including high end ladies ware, and those catering to grandparents looking for clothes to buy their pampered grandchildren. But indulgence aside, Vicky was able to buy a strainer at a very good price.
The highlight of or visit to Malaga was a tapas restaurant. Vicky’s dream for Spain was to eat a tapas lunch accompanied entirely by sherry, but the biggest problem was finding a restaurant that was serving food at noon. The Spanish seem to drink coffee all morning and start drinking beer and wine by noon, but food is scarce until later, not surprising since they eat dinner at 10:00p.m.We did finely find a restaurant with outdoor seating on the square next to the Cathedral…a setting that couldn’t be nicer. At first we begged for a bottle of local Malaga wine but wisely the waitress insisted that we try a sample first. Sure enough Malaga wine is super sweet and suitable as an aperitif so we ordered sherry for lunch with our set of tapas: fried potatoes in hot cheese sauce, crab and mussels with tomatoes and onion, potato salad, chicken in tomato sauce and chicken croquettes. The total bill was only 17 euros or about $20; the sherry was only $2.40 a glass, slightly cheaper than wine and a real bargain. Roaming street musicians came by one after another while we ate and drank so it was a very pleasant afternoon…actually it was memorable!!!
Walking around after lunch was an experience too. Seeing Mac Donalds, Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts in this wonderful Spanish context is really a sight, but the worst part is seeing the number of local people who pack into them. We also really liked the local fresh food market that opened at noon. The produce was unbelievable, both in freshness, variety and size. We had never seen such huge strawberries, apples or red peppers. The assortment of fresh seafood was also amazing with cuttlefish and tiny clams catching our eye.
In all it was a great day and our first official port was a real success.
Saturday, January 11th – New York City to South Hampton
We left New York City on a cold snowy evening and expected the crossing to be equally as cold; however, to our surprise it was in the in the mid-60’s all the way to South Hampton. The North Atlantic did live up to it’s reputation and we had force 10 winds and what the Captain called “very rough” seas almost all the way; but, I have been in MUCH bigger waves sailing Antiope off the New Jersey coast so it was really pretty smooth sailing.
We went to two very nice wine pairing events, see Cunard, Queen Mary 2 Wine Tasting Seminar with Food Pairing