A Travellerspoint blog

Simone is OLD!

Happy birthday to her anyway though

Unless I am mistaken, it’s Simone’s BDAY, yeah!!! Happy Birthday to her!

I did a terrible job documenting the celebrations (forgot the camera), but we had a fantastic evening with Owen and Edel, and Jerry and Anna (thanks to Jerry for having his camera). We all skipped the formal dinner to instead dine together outside at the back of the boat at a special restaurant that you need a reservation for. In typical cruise fashion, it was of course a 3 full course meal, plus a huge birthday cake. Couple the great people and awesome food with a few bottles of wine and it was a fantastic evening. The fun didn’t stop there and we moved to one of the ship bars that was hosting a karaoke night, where a very unwilling Simone had to be physically carried over my shoulder to the stage to be serenaded a beautiful rendition (if I do say so myself) of “happy birthday”.

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Posted by itengoredhair 05:53 Comments (0)

Irish Dinner Companions

So, every night there is an option for a formal sit down dinner, where you have the same people (unless there are serious problems and you change, or get voted off your table) Anyway, Jerry and Anna are our dinner companions are they are totally awesome; we honestly could not have been paired with a better couple. Despite our initial faux paux of skipping the first dinner, we immediately hit it off. Being Irish, they are “outsiders” like us (foreigners on a 95% English boat) and are able to give us some keen insight into cruising, the British, life, and all kinds of other interesting things. The (substantial) age difference was no big deal, considering how well they really epitomize being “young at heart”. Such a kick to have dinner with, we were consistently the very last people to leave the dining room, long after the meal ended, keeping them company while they finished their nightly bottle of wine. One of the best parts is, they usually cant be bothered to dress up in full “black tie” (likewise for us), of which there are about 8 formal nights total, so we don’t have to feel bad about not going to those dinners and leaving them alone. So many great stories, such little time…

Here is how good we look when we get cleaned up
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Posted by itengoredhair 05:50 Comments (0)

5 Days at Sea (in a row!)

end of 6th leg, now the 7th and final leg back to Southampton

We’ve got 5 days at sea until we get to Sharm El Sheik, so we’ll use this time to catch up on some other thoughts and interesting goings-on around the ship. Enjoy!
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Posted by itengoredhair 05:22 Comments (0)

Fun in the Sun - Atlantis Adventure

Dubai Day 2

So, after hitting most of the major tourist spots (and seeing quite a bit), we decided to have a more exciting, and wetter, day. Yes, Dubai offers the perfect excuse to prove that you are NEVER too old to enjoy a great waterpark, and we decided to return to the Atlantis to do so. Though substantially smaller than Raging Waters, they really pulled out all of the stops when designing this place for maximum fun, convenience and awesomeness. Get this, there is a LAZY RIVER that not only takes you around wherever you want to go, but has obstacles, rapids, a giant lift/escalator to reload you in the river, so you never really have to get out of your tube. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, get this, you can take another special person/tube escalator up into the tower where the slides are, so you don’t even have you get out of your tube to get on a ride, you just float to whichever side you want, already loaded, and go. SOOOOOOO COOOOOOLLLLL!!!! On top of all of this, two of the slides even take you through the middle of a giant shark, fish and manta ray tank, which you float through on your tube for about a minute. Unbelievable times had by all involved.

The plan was to head nearby for lunch at the “sail hotel”, the Burj Dubai, but despite packing slacks, shoes and a button-up collared shirt to meet dress code requirements, they wouldn’t let us in. I couldn’t even talk us in this time, as it turns out you need a reservation, even if only going for tea or a drink at the bar. So, making the best of it, we returned to the Burj Khalifa for another round of awesome eats before heading back to the ship.

In summation, Dubai is like a Disneyland… for adults… and kind of like a super-clean/”wholesome” Las Vegas, (which is also in the desert), but without the good vices (gambling, lewd behavior, and most importantly, no alcohol; free or otherwise). Honestly though, I would probably go back, given the option down the road.
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Posted by itengoredhair 05:18 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

More useless "World Records" than anyone really cares about

Dubai Day 1

Short overnight cruise from Abu Dhabi brings us to Dubai, another highlight on the cruise, where we get to spend nearly 2 full days, Woo Hoo!

We hit most of the major tourist sights, having walked around all morning before taking a nice boat ride up and down the river, before getting off on the other side of the river for the famous gold and spice souks (markets), where we found world record giant gold ring (picture below, probably). After a mediocre kebab from the highest rated stall on one of the travel websites, we caught a cab over to the Palm Island and Atlantis Hotel, both of which were incredible. On the way over, we were only just able to see the silhouette of the Burj Khalifa in the distance (a mile or two) with the poor visibility of the sandstorm still messing up the view. After walking around the shops of the Atlantis, I managed to sweet talk our way into the main hotel area to see the aquariums and have a nice drink at the poolside. Quite an impressive place, and even has its own gold ATM (see below), which is exactly what it sounds like; stick in your ATM card, out comes gold.

Having taxied in, we decided to take the monorail back to the mainland, then the MRT over to the Burj Khalifa… and failed miserably. To our credit, we knew we would have to walk a mile or so to the MRT, but it turns out you just can’t have too high of expectations or common sense sometimes, even if a major attraction has been open for a few years now. So, we took the monorail to the end station, just off the Palm Islands back on the mainland. Now, why they wouldn’t have connected it all the way to the MRT station, I don’t know, but whatever. Regardless, we walk outside to find out we can’t walk anywhere from here. First, there is no way to walk up or down the coast anywhere, no sidewalk or anything. Second, there is not even a way to cross the major highway coastal road (3 lanes each direction). Finally, there’s not even a taxi stand, just a group of dodgy locals waiting with their private cars to drive people at extortionate, under the table, rates. Absolutely silly, I can’t imagine how many people must have been left SOL there. We lucked into “upstreaming” the queue from our position at the back of the line of 8 or so people from the monorail when a taxi left private hotel just up the road and were off to the Burj.
We were dropped off at a mall we had to walk through to get to the Burj, where we say the Guiness World Record for the largest Aquarium (in a mall, I think), as well as the largest candy store in the world, and a few other obscure landmarks, I’m sure. As soon as we stepped outside though, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge watershow going on in an area that is basically a giant cross between Downtown Disney and the Bellagio, backdropped by the world’s tallest building. Quite an impressive display, to say the least, and apparently also the world’s largest fountains (?) or water display (?). I still can’t believe on what technicality or caveat Singapore’s Fountain of Wealth is the largest in the world, but it pales in comparison here.

Anyway, the fountain area is surrounded by a few malls, shops, great outdoor restaurants, making it a bustling nightlife area. The four of us found a nice “waterfront” Middle Eastern restaurant and were astounded by some FANTASTIC food. Without a doubt, it was the best hummus (and not just because it was loaded with shaved Kebab Lamb) and chicken wings (some crazy crispy honey lemon) I have ever had, not to mention the loads of other incredible dishes of meat, roasted aubergines (eggplants) and all manner of other deliciousness. Somehow made room for a candied, almond-filled date. Too full to move, we called it a night.

Note – we also walked by the largest indoor ice skating rink… in the Middle East (cross THAT ONE off the life goals list… or not, you know, whatever)

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Posted by itengoredhair 05:12 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Abu Dhabi

So, just as we were leaving Oman, a huge sandstorm started over in Saudi Arabia. We wouldn’t have thought it would be a big deal, but it turned out to make the entire Middle East look cloudy, foggy and overcast. At some points, we couldn’t see further than 20ft from the ship sailing. It was pretty weird, because instead of things being damp, everything just became dusty. It cleared up a bit when we got into Abu Dhabi for the day, though not enough to see over to Dubai and the Burj Khalifa (not sure if you can normally, but it is a really tall building, so who knows?). Another visit to the Great Mosque, strangely enough also billed as the 3rd largest in the world (we will have to look it up at some point), which was again staggering in the size, scale, scope and precious stones, materials and furnishings. There are at least 2 world records; the first being the largest handmade carpet in the world (16 tons on arrival, then cut to shape, I think?), and the world’s largest Swarovsky Crystal Chandelier (5 tons, maybe, I don’t remember). Very Impressive, and incredibly calm and quiet, it was a very tranquil place.
We decided to give the FerarriWorld (a Ferarri–themed themepark) a pass, though in driving by we saw the foundation of the world’s largest and most awesome looking waterpark ever, opening in 2013 (probably the only serious reason I would have to return to Abu Dhabi).
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Posted by itengoredhair 05:08 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Mother's Day (in the UK)

We are on vacation, there is no calendar, we rarely look at clocks and really don’t know what day of the week it is. So, when we see start seeing the stores on ship having Mother’s Day sales, we confirm that it is Mother’s Day was today and dutifully give Mom a call. Getting the answering machine, we leave a nice message wishing her a Happy Mother’s Day. It wasn’t until 5 minutes later talking to Dad when we found out Mother’s Day in the States (and everywhere else worldwide except the UK) isn’t until May. Well, of all the holidays to celebrate twice, this is certainly one of the better ones.
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Posted by itengoredhair 05:07 Comments (0)

Muscat

Oh man, it's OMAN!

Oman was a bit of a “last minute” (a week or two) schedule change. Initially the cruise was supposed to go to Cochin, India, but the port ended up getting booked full, so they decided on Oman instead. No complaints because Oman is one of those countries you think would be kind of interesting, but probably wouldn’t go too far out of your way to visit; which is SUCH A SHAME! Oman was fantastic and a great surprise. The people were friendly, the culture interesting and the country beautiful. We drove around Muscat and out to the desert to see Fort Nakhal and a nearby desert wadhi (oasis/stream from the hills). this stream even had some fish in it, who, surprisingly enough, would nibble on peoples feet like the fish-spas in Singapore. It was funny to watch the old people were cracking up like school kids when their feet were tickled by the fish. Later on, we swung by the main mosque, which they said was the 3rd largest in the world, and were stunned by the simple, elegant architecture and massive size. Incredible.

They ended up pushing back our departure time, so we spent a few hours walking around the port, shopping in the souks (markets) and eating a kebab or three. Even with no beer, it’s a relaxed place that I would go back to anytime.

SPECIAL THANKS to Angshu for the kurtas she gave us for Christmas, not only great sun protection (and covering up for cultural sensitivity), but also incredibly stylish.

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Posted by itengoredhair 04:51 Archived in Oman Comments (0)

St Patty’s Day at sea

Happy St. Patty’s Day! (aka Redhead Appreciation Day)

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Posted by itengoredhair 04:48 Comments (0)

Mumbai

Despite the incredibly annoying and inconvenient hassle of getting an India Visa (and then having queue up for a face to face meeting/passport stamp yesterday on the ship), Mumbai was fantastic. Both of our expectations were completely blown away by the sights, sounds and surprising “cleanliness” (relatively speaking). Mumbai is quite a modern city, in most respects, and not as overcrowded as we would have thought. We ended up booking a half-day tour in the afternoon, so were on our own for another morning walk and wander (this time armed with small local bills), since the cruise terminal is nearly downtown. Caught the Gateway to India Monument and one of the Hotels that had been partially blown up in the Mumbai bombings, before heading back to the ship for a quickbite bite to eat and head to the tour. As much as we wanted to eat some local food, we just didn’t have enough Pepto and Cipro to risk it. The tour took us around to a great museum, Gandhi’s Mumbai residence, the central train station (also had some of the bombings), and one of the unbelievable clothes washing dhoby gauts. We also passed the most expensive “house” in the world, from the telecom billionaire (whatever his name is) , and another few sights of interest. Definitely worth another trip back.
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Posted by itengoredhair 04:46 Archived in India Comments (0)

Cribbage.... EVERY DAY!!

Can you believe it, every sea day there is a Cribbage get together for anyone who is up to play some cribbage for an hour or two!? Always being up for some cribbage, and feeling competent enough in my skills (thanks Grandma!), there was no question about me going. The confidence didn’t last too long though, because even though they are slow when it comes to moving around the boat (most everyone was retired or older), they are really sharp when it comes to their hands. Seriously, no sooner would I lay down my cards then they immediately called off the score, before I even had a chance to call it out! The English have some funny variations/rules, but I was able to hold my own, despite lucking into a good (and patient) partner, though it was definitely the fastest paced marathon crib session I’ve had. I ended up being a bit of a sensation among the crib group (especially for the old ladies), being two generations younger than most and an American Crib player, but surprisingly the most impressive thing was the “bridge shuffle”. Turns out none of the 16 or so people (lifelong card players) had ever learned to shuffle like that. So, whenever it was my turn to deal, there would always be a few glances over and requests to see a few more shuffles. I chalked it up to a Vegas birth, though everyone else seemed to agree a misspent youth.

Posted by itengoredhair 04:45 Comments (0)

Colombo, Sri Lanka

We were really looking forward to Colombo, having heard some great things about the Sri Lankan country and people. Bad news, though, yesterday they announced that our time in Colombo has been cut short!! It seems that it has only now come to their attention that we only have two short windows of enough tide to physically get into the port in Mumbai in the next few days, in the early morning and late afternoon, which our originally scheduled 10am arrival falls far outside of. So, to have a full day in Mumbai, the Captain has made the call of cutting our Colombo trip (very) short, to just about 4 hours. Huge bummer because the tour we had planned on, heading 3 hours away to the city of Kandy and other interesting areas, had to be canceled for time constraints. We made the best of it and still had enough time to hop into another tour around the city of Colombo, which ended up being the same one as our friends, Owen and Edel. Among some interesting sites, the highlight was definitely the last stop at the beach for a quick local beer, Lion Beer (decent enough), and putting our feet in the Indian ocean. I find it really hard to believe they couldn’t know and plan for the tides and draft necessary in advance to avoid this problem, but what can you do?
Other note – and, just to clarify; yes, we not only had air conditioning on the buses, but also everybody had a seat (no cushions on the floor, sliding around). Once word got around we had good buses, a flood of complaints went in about being “talked into” canceling their tours. Haha, old people are silly.

Another funny note; because of the long distance to Kandi, the police had initially been "asked" (bribed) to give us an escort to clear the traffic. So, even though they weren't necessary for the revised Colombo city tour instead, they had still been paid off and "escorted" us anyway. One problem was though, no one bothered to tell the police and they kept going the wrong way for the first 30 minutes, getting very confused and yelling at the bus drivers, then having no idea where and how to get where we are actually going once they were updated on the situation. Thus, the guy on the back of the bike (see picture below) constantly had to turn around to see the bus driver point where we were going.

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Posted by itengoredhair 04:25 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Ship Drama/Rumors

Old people are hilarious and apparently worse gossipers/rumor-spreaders than teenagers. For instance, a few days before each port, there is a port presentation by the person responsible for all of the tours to inform you on activities, manage expectations, etc. Well, SOMEHOW word got over to our ship the Aurora from the another P+O cruise liner that was in Sri Lanka 2-3 weeks earlier that the buses were terrible and disasters had struck (to be fair, that was the first cruise ship to arrive there in 4 years or something and there would understandably be a few things to iron out, as it is a 3rd world country afterall). Anyway, somehow some people on our cruise had connections or heard about some of the problems and started telling everyone that there was no air conditioning on the buses, most busses didn’t have seats or belts, but rather cushions (if you were lucky) on the floor, where you were bounced around for hours at a time, in unbelievable traffic. The poor activities booking people had been inundated with so many complaints, and cancellations that they had to actually make a shipwide announcement pleading with people to stop listening to those who were spreading the rumors and to watch the presentation. We caught the presentation and she did a good job addressing the situation and avoiding all the problems the other ship had; yes there is a lot of traffic (tours not leaving early in AM to avoid, and hired police to escort to keep timetables), quality standards (it’s a 3rd world country, not all buses may have working aircon, but they will have the absolute best of whatever is available), please keep open minds, etc etc, Despite her doing a good job, there was still a stampede to cancel, and we easily got the previously overbooked tour we wanted.

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Posted by itengoredhair 04:22 Comments (0)

On a boat... all day now…

So, after leaving Penang, out of sight of land. Everyone’s been telling us how boring its going to be, and even though its still early on, I highly doubt it. I’ve got to say, I am really impressed with all of the activities and things they have to entertain people, besides the 5 meals a day. Everyday there is a printed schedule of cards games, dance classes, language classes, workout classes, movies, get togethers and all manner of things. Maybe if we were more ambitious or more of team players, we might join in on a few activities, but for now, relaxing on the deck and reading is more than enough.

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Posted by itengoredhair 04:17 Comments (0)

Georgetown/Penang

After Leaving Port Klang around 8 last night, we woke up again to find ourselves in a new port, this time in the city of Georgetown/Penang, though still in Malaysia. It’s a bit of a shame we hadn’t made it to this place while living in Singapore, being a quick, cheap flight away and such a nice, quaint city on the water, so we were both really glad for the stopover from the cruise.

Now, a bit of backstory is needed for this. My employment pass in Singapore was cancelled just over month before we left, which was not too big of a deal, but in this case, your visa is automatically only 30 days instead of the normal 90 days on arrival most countries get. So, this means I had to leave the country and come back in on another visa so as not to be caned and retained at the border. An inconvenience to some, or a great excuse for an afternoon day trip to Johor Bahru, Malaysia for the cup half full people (JB is just across the Singapore border, and almost the equivalent of going to TJ from San Diego, but without the excessive tequila, Oakleys and donkey shows ). Anyway, about a week before we leave on the cruise, I head up to Malaysia on my visa run and lunch (you can really never go wrong with a Ramli Burger and Teh Tarik). Anyway, as I’m leaving the apartment to get the bus, I grab RM20 (Malaysian Ringitt, ~5 usd) from our “leftover foreign currency from travels box” for food, but Simone convinces me to take all the Ringitt we have (25 USD). She says she explicitly said “just in case”, but she didn’t. I totally heard her say, “because you are totally awesome…enjoy” and then something else, but I wasn’t paying that much attention. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So, long story short, I took all of the Malaysian money, though it really wasn’t much and went up to Malaysia for the afternoon. For those of you who have visited or especially lived there, you know Singapore tends to make people suckers for deals, promotions and cheap buys. Well on this particular day, there was a sale on in the mall outside MY immigration, and I ended up buying two pairs of boardshorts and a nice shirt, inadvertently spending, to the dollar, exactly all of the Ringitt I had, minus lunch, which is actually pretty impressive if you think about it (good math skills, thanks dad). Thus, this is how we ended up a week later in Malaysia with no local currency, which, in and of itself, is not usually a problem.

So, back to Penang…
Being the third day and already like 6 meals deep without going to the gym, and it’s a beautiful day, we decide to walk around and explore. We are armed with a tourist map, though there is no scale, and a vague sense of direction for where we want to go and what we want to see. We end up having a nice walk for an hour or two, just seeing the sights, what we find, and, as usual for me in South East Asia, sweating profusely. It’s Sunday, so must shops/places are closed, but there’s some interesting things going on here and there and its nice enough. However, without any local currency and not passing any ATM’s, we can’t get a taxi anywhere, or even a cold bottle of water. So, we keep walking, hoping to get to the touristy spots for an ATM or credit card something at least, and keep walking towards the hills, where there’s a trolley to some restaurants, temples and nice view (Penang Hill). Around this point, its fairly residential, and I end up asking some guys leaving a tennis club if we are close to where we want to be. There was an initial look of shock when we told them where we wanted to be (we were a few miles off) and then an even bigger shock when we said we walked from the cruise terminal. Whether the surprise was from the distance or like the Singaporeans and just surprised we had walked at all, the guy was speechless. Luckily enough, Malaysians are incredibly nice people and this guy (a tennis pro on to another lesson) was going at least part of the way in the right direction. So he drives us about a mile or two south before pointing us in the right direction up a road. Refreshed from a nice air conditioned reprieve, we head up the road towards the temple, also keeping an eye out for any ATM. Halfway (being on the main road we had kilometer markers) we finally found an ATM, but NO the card doesn’t work. So, we keep walking and luck into two more ATM’s half a mile away. Bad news is, the card doesn’t work again. So, after calling the bank on the phone, there’s no hold on the card, we try again. Nope, the card has given up.

Well, can’t win ‘em all, we keep walking, hoping to run into one of the 3 or so people we know from the cruise at the temple. Beautiful place, but waaayyy too many stairs and no luck running into anyone we can bum so cash from. We try a 7-11, but nope, they don’t take credit card either (welcome to Malaysia). Finally, after nearly resigning ourselves to a terrible afternoon of a long walk back to the ship, and being very thirsty, we manage to convince a gas station attendant to, first, sell us a few bottles of water and 100+, but second, and more importantly, over charge the credit card and spot us some cash for the tram up the hill and a bus/taxi back. The day was saved. Still more walking, but with the money, we were able to take the tram, enjoy the great views and take a bus back to the ship later on.

So, despite walking between 8-10 miles in the heat and humidity (see map below, though it doesn’t do it justice), Penang was a really beautiful place with a lot of culture, diversity and relaxed atmosphere. Just make sure you have some local currency or a working ATM card.

In other news, we made it back to our cabin to find a nice note from my ex-colleague and his wife, Owen and Edel, (who’s honeymoon trip back to the UK we kind of gate-crashed on) to catch up with for a drink. Turns out the ship is pretty big and we were unable to run into them randomly over the last few days. Definitely great to have another couple in the same age group as us.

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Posted by itengoredhair 04:07 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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