Bruce and Jan

Bruce and Jan
Dancin' Through Life Together

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Last Few Days - Reflecting Back

The Captain was half right – the first day was rough and rainy, but the second day was smooth and sunny.  We spent our time trying to cram all we could into the last two days on the beautiful Rhapsody of the Seas.

Day 39: went to a very interesting lecture about kangaroos.  We heard lots of stories and personal experiences about them from the locals.  Bruce worked quite a bit.  It was the last formal dinner and our Diamond reception night.

Day 40: Sea Day.  We played shuffleboard, visited with our friends at Happy Hour, and packed.  OMG, I had no idea how much stuff there was in this little cabin!  I hope I’m within the 50# limit on the bags. (I wasn’t, but they let it slide).

Day 41: Travel Day.  We sadly said goodbye to the ship at 8:00 AM in Sydney.
We boarded a bus to tour Manly Beach.  We had a beautiful day and what a gorgeous beach.  There are lots of shops and cafes there.  Bruce soaked up the last of the sunny rays while I bought a few more souvenirs. 
We got to the airport about noon.  Our flight left at 3:25 PM on Nov 8 and we arrived in Denver at 3:35 PM still on Nov 8.  Basically we arrived 10 minutes after we left (I wish!!!).  This was about a 36 hour day, and believe me, that’s a loooooong day of traveling.  Our flight into LA was 30 minutes late due to head winds, which caused us to miss our connection.  We caught the next flight and arrived home safely about 5:00 PM.  Fortunately we came home to a beautiful Fall day in Denver.  I guess we’ve missed a mild Fall.  But sure enough, the rain (now changing to SNOW) and nasty weather have followed us home.  Who was that Peanuts character with the rain cloud over his head?  That’s who I feel like.

The jet lag isn’t bad at all.  We slept only a few hours on the plane, but got a full night of sleep last night.  I think we’ve already adjusted back to Denver time.  It’s gonna take a while to read the mail, unpack, do the laundry, and get used to being at home again.  Driving will also take some getting used to.  I hope I don’t try driving on the left side of the road!!

I’ve had a blast writing this blog.  I hope you’ve had as much fun reading it.  I thought I would close by reflecting back on this incredible journey.  Here are some of the accomplishments, things I will always remember about this amazing part of the world, and some things I learned along the way:

  1. I fulfilled several lifelong dreams:
    1. Going to Tahiti, Australia, and Fiji
    2. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef
    3. Crossing the equator (pollywog ----> shellback)
    4. Crossing the International Date Line (Son/Daughter of Neptune)
    5. Petting a kangaroo, koala, and elephant
    6. Buying an Australian Opal in Australia (yes, someone loves me VERY much and I’m so spoiled!)
  1. Acquired lots of new magnets for the collection.  I hope someday the fridge topples over from all the magnets on it.
  1. We got a lot of writing done.  I finished my latest screenplay – Hello In There.  I’m still picking at it, but it’s very close to being ready to submit to the production company.  Bruce finished an episode for Counterfeit Bill as well as an episode for the new TV series - Pantera’s Gambit.
  2. We met many awesome people on this trip.  Thanks to all of you for making this trip so special.  I hope we can stay in touch.
  3. Many of the ports did such a memorable job of welcoming us:  Newcastle with their cannon sendoff, Cairns allowed the ship to dock for the first time, and Loyalty Island had the welcome ceremony.  These were the ones that really stood out, but everyone was happy to see us at all the ports.
  4. Everyone on board will always remember the last 4 days coming into Sydney.  The 10+ meter swells and 60 knot sidewinds, rain, and cold temps were pretty harsh.  That was one wild ride!!  The Captain still mentions it in his talk. 
  5. A trans-ocean cruise and children make a bad combination, especially on a small ship.  There were 500 kids on board for 16 nights – and then all that weather to boot.  The natives were definitely bored and restless.  They couldn’t use the pool or go outside for those last 4 days so they were burning all their energy by running and screaming in the halls and stairwells and generally acting out.  We saw 2 old men almost get into a fist fight over some unruly children’s behavior.  We concluded that there otta be a law – no children allowed on cruises longer than 7 nights.
  6. Bonine is a life-saver and a must-have item if you have motion sickness at all.
  7. It’s really important to thoroughly research your destinations ahead of time.  Royal Caribbean didn’t finalize their excursions until just a couple of weeks before departure and by then I was consumed by my mother’s illness and death, so I had not had a chance to do that for this trip.  I felt unprepared for many of the ports and we missed some of the sights, but at the same time, you can’t see everything in a day anyway.  There’s nothing worse than the disappointment in going someplace incredible and feeling like you didn’t really see it.  It’s a great excuse to go back.
  8. Even in the rain and nasty weather you can still absorb the beauty of an island or city – but it’s a good idea to bring an umbrella.  I usually do, but had taken it out when I was trying to reduce the weight of the suitcase.  Bad choice!
  9. RCI refunded 1/3 of our ticket price for the Great Barrier Reef excursion, only because so many people complained about it.  Lesson:  strength in numbers.
  10. We tried to see the Southern Cross, but between the cloudy nights and the light pollution on the ship we never could find it.  Maybe next time…
  11. I finally kicked the sinus infection, bronchitis, and cough that I picked up in Tahiti.
  12. Roos Rule!!!  They’re my third favorite animal, after dogs and goats.
  13. We dined with the Captain twice and the Staff Captain once.  What an honor.
  14. We tasted crocodile, but couldn’t bring ourselves to try kangaroo.
  15. Scones are yummy at 3:00 PM.  What a bad habit that became!  I still don’t care for tea, though.
  16. I gained 8# in 41 days.  Bruce thinks he gained 7#.  I think if the weather had been nicer we would’ve done better at working out and keeping it at bay.  Still, that’s not too bad considering all the delicious food on board 24x7.  At least my clothes all still fit, so hopefully most of this weight is salt and water retention.
  17. We managed to bring home some clean clothes.  I STILL packed too much stuff!  Amazing....
  18. Not even 40 days were enough for us and we could’ve easily stayed longer!  The only thing we got tired of was the same old shows on TV and nothing was current.  We started to feel out of touch with the world.  We missed a lot of Bronco games, but it doesn’t sound like we missed much.  We managed to avoid all the annoying political commercials and harassing phone calls (except for a few that came in on my cell phone in the middle of the night).
  19. Cruising is still our preferred method of travel.  It’s great to wake up in a new world every day without having to pack and travel every time.  Ships are floating 5-star resorts and everything is first class.  We LOVE it!!
  20. Maybe I don’t need an island to call home, as long as I have a SHIP. 
  21. I am so grateful to have had this incredible experience in all these amazing places with someone I love so much.  In spite of all the “ups and downs” (literally and figuratively), I would do the whole thing again in a heartbeat.  I hope to have many more trips to Australia.  Perhaps next time we’ll go to New Zealand, too.
  22. We’re already planning our next big adventures.  Alaska is at the top of the list, probably late June/early July.  And the Caribbean is hard to beat during winter.  We can extend some of our benefits to anyone who wants to come with us.  Where would YOU like to go?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Day 38: Lifou, Loyalty Island, New Caledonia

Lifou, Loyalty Island – a whale of an island!!  See… Doesn’t it look like a whale?
And… no rain!!  The humidity was high and it remained overcast.  But we were ecstatic to get to enjoy this beautiful island without the rain.  It’s an unspoiled beauty, for sure.

It was a very special day for the natives.  It was the very first time Royal Caribbean has brought a ship here.  It’s a custom for RCI to do a presentation to the local authorities the first time a ship ports in a new place.  They were so happy to have us, they really went all out.  They had children singing and greeting us at the dock.  Adults were singing and dancing in their “Pavilion”.   The chiefs from the seven tribes came together to welcome us.  Captain Stein made a nice speech and gave them a lovely plaque to commemorate the occasion.  They presented him with a handmade wooden canoe with “Rhapsody” carved into the side.  They also gave him an orchid lei and tied on a sarong.  Then they offered a buffet of local food and drink to everyone.  Later on we saw all of the chiefs on board having lunch in the Windjammer with several staff members.  It was just incredible to get to be a part of it.  I took sooooo many pictures.  I’ll try to narrow down to a few.

Even though their existence is meager, they take great pride in their home.  We saw lots of these huts and every one had such a nice yard around it.  They decorate with sea shells and flowers

The coastline was a combination of sandy beach and coral cliffs with grottos.  The sand was ground up coral, so not as soft as the sand at Isle of Pines.  The water was crystal clear and would have been spectacular if it wasn’t reflecting the dull grey sky.  You could see the coral reef easily without even getting in the water.

It was the perfect place for our last port.  I can’t even believe I’m saying those words.  We’re starting to feel the dread of traveling home.  I spent a good deal of the afternoon studying the cruises for 2011.  So many places… so little time.  Bruce worked all afternoon – in fact, he still is.  Someone has to pay for all the cruises I drooled over today!

We have 2 sea days as we travel back to Sydney.  Captain Stein promised us smooth seas and sunny skies.  I hope he’s a man of his word.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Days 36 & 37: Sea Day & Vila, Vanuatu

Day 36:  Sea Day.  As promised, we had a beautiful sea day on our way to Vila, Vanuatu. 
We slept in, played shuffleboard with some people from Australia, worked a little, and relaxed a lot.  Can’t ask for more than that.

Day 37:  Vila, Vanuatu.  Quack, quack, quack.  Translation = another *&#%!@ day in the rain!  Sounds like a broken record, doesn’t it?  When we arrived at the port, there was a container ship having engine trouble at the dock.  We had to wait for it to get moved out of the way.  We were over an hour late getting docked and cleared by the local authorities.  We had breakfast and took pictures from Deck 10, as I do in every port.  The humidity was so heavy in the air that it was actually foggy.  And hot – OMG.  We were drenched with sweat just from the picture-taking. 
There were over 100 vendors set up along the road ready to sell us all sorts of trinkets.  There was even a little traffic jam from all the vans and taxis trying to get through to town.  We walked through that first and bought a couple of things.
Then we took a van into town and walked around there.  All at once there was a flash of lightening, a loud crack of thunder, and the sky opened up.  Torrential rain out of nowhere.  We ran for cover.  It rained real hard for about an hour, then it let up to a heavy sprinkle.  I finished up my shopping and we headed back to the ship – soaking wet, as usual.  Bruce worked some and I was catching up with things. 

Captain Stein says we’ll have a pleasant trip to Lifou, Loyalty Island tonight.  The forecast is for – you guessed it – rain tomorrow.  He said it might clear up around noon.  Go figure.  Quack, quack, quack.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 35: Lautoka, Fiji

Last night we sailed around the island from Suva to the town of Lautoka.  We only had to go 10 knots hugging the island with almost no wind, so it was a very smooth ride.  What a difference it makes being on the other side of the island!  We left all the rain behind and found bright sunshine.  It was REALLY hot, but not terribly humid.  Suva is the capital and the largest city in Fiji.  Lautoka is about half the size and much more quaint.  The population here is primarily from India, which surprised me.  The Indian people were first brought here to work in the sugar cane fields.  When they were given the chance to return to India, they said ‘no thanks’.  The clothing stores mostly sell saris and other Indian apparel.  They’re so brightly colored and covered with sequins, the store fronts are beautiful.

Our pier was industrial.  They had free shuttles into town.  We didn’t have any agenda other than getting a magnet.  That didn’t take long.  We came back to the ship and decided to take advantage of the brilliant sunshine.  We sunned by the pool for a while to bronze up our tans. 

As we sailed away, a full military band played for us on the pier.  I didn’t know it until we were pretty far away.  

We’ll have a sea day tomorrow, on our way to Vila, Vanuatu.  They filmed a season of “Survivor” there a few years ago.  We hear it’s another fantastic island.  We only need 14 knots to arrive on time, and the Captain says it will be sunny and smooth all the way there.

Tonight we have dinner with the Captain – again.  We don’t know why they keep asking us, but we’re glad they do.  It’s always interesting to talk with him – not to mention the food is incredible.
Bula, bula from Penelope (my ring).  She loves being near water the color of her center stone.  When Penelope’s happy, I’m happy.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day 34: Suva, Fiji

Bula, Bula – from Suva, Fiji.  That means ‘hello’, but we didn’t know that.  People get right in your face and yell “BOOO-la”.  It was unnerving until we figured out that they’re really just extremely friendly and welcoming.  Too bad the weather wasn’t.

You guessed it – rain, rain, and more rain.  If it waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably us!  We waded through town on the magnet quest.  I told Bruce we should buy an umbrella instead.  That would surely scare all the rain away, probably for the rest of the trip.  But all we got was a magnet, so I guess we can expect more rain.

Bula, bula,.... quack.

Day 33: Sea Day

Day 33: Another Sea Day.  As promised, it was a rainy wild ride into Fiji.  The barf bags were set out in all their convenient locations.  We’re so used to this now that it seems normal. 

I played catch-up on the blog while Bruce was working.  Before we knew it, it was time for Happy Hour.  Bruce was still working, so I chatted with the usual crowd.  We were joined by a guy who will be unveiling a line of opals and pearls in the gift shop in a few days.  I took the opportunity to pick his brain and learned even more stuff about both.  Boy, you really do have to be careful when buying these.  For example, if a pearl doesn’t make the cut for any reason, it gets tossed into a bin.  When they have enough for a “batch”, they grind them up and process them into pearl shapes.  They look so much like real pearls that even jewelers sometimes can’t tell the difference.  When asked, they say they were harvested from oysters, blah, blah, blah.  They aren’t technically lying.  And with opals, the best are the black ones – meaning they’re black on the bottom and all the vibrant colors on the face.  Well, the less honest people will take a lower grade of opal, paint it black on the bottom, and pass it off as a black opal.  He claims that the stuff in the Caribbean and Mexico is often not the real deal.  So much for my plan to buy them there later on.  Geez, ya just can’t win.

He needs to create a sales video to be played on the Royal Caribbean channel in our rooms.  He said if I’ll help him write the script, he’ll give me a discount on an opal.  Hmmm, thay may be an offer I can’t refuse…..

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day 32: Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Day 32 – The Isle of Pines, New Caledonia.  I’m not sure why it’s called Isle and not Isles.  There are lots of little islands very close together.  And pines aren’t the only trees. 

Even though we awoke to rain (surprise!), wind, and nippy temps, it was easy to see that this place is beautiful.   In the late 1700’s, English Captain James Cook became the first European to reach the islands.  He supposedly named the Isle of Pines without ever stepping foot on its shores.  It has been nicknamed “I’ile la plus proche du paradis”, or the closest island to paradise. 

Around noon the rain let up and it was warmer, so we decided to make a run for it.  We were anchored offshore, so that meant tender boats.  Tender boats = long line to get on one.  We finally made it over there.  I was aghast.  Paradise barely describes this beauty.  I had no idea what a day we were in for.  I started snapping picture after picture, each outdoing the one before.  For its unbelievable beauty, I was thinking this could become my favorite island.

And then it happened.  Every Eden must have its serpent.  And I saw it!!  A crowd was gathered around it so I went to see what they were all looking at.  It was a big blue-banded sea snake – among the most venomous in the world – and it was on LAND!!!  Anyone who knows me at all knows that I get hysterical when I see a snake.  I snapped a quick picture (zoomed from a safe distance) and FLED from there.  Suddenly this Paradise had lost its charm. I figure where there’s one there are likely hundreds.  Now I was staring at the ground to make sure I didn’t step on one, and cringing at the sight of people haphazardly sitting on rocks or other places where snakes could be lurking. 
We walked on a path to the lagoon, which was just stunning.  The sand was even softer than the sand in Aruba.  It’s like powder.  The water was the perfect aquamarine color.  It’s the perfect beach in very sense.  It was very shallow and lots of people were wading or swimming.  But all I could think about were the snakes that were probably in there waiting to get them.  I’m already terrified of jelly fish.  I didn’t know I should have also been worrying about sea snakes, too!  No way am I setting one big toe in that water.  Bruce, on the other hand, dove right in.  He waded across to this large limestone outcropping with grottos.  He’s investigating the rock formation – and I’m freaking out thinking about all the snakes that are probably all over that rock.  Luckily he didn’t find any.  But doesn’t this just look like Snake Heaven?

Turns out my fears were valid.  A lady at Happy Hour was telling about standing by that same rock and having a black and white sea snake drop from the rock into the water right next to her.  She looked up and they were all over the rock above her.  She screamed and ran back to the beach.  OMG – I would have died right there on the spot!

The locals are Melanesians, descendants of the French.  There were a few little boutiques that we browsed through.  Mostly it was wood carvings of turtles, fish, and SNAKES.  There were a lot of hand-painted pareos and such.  I found a magnet and got a little something for my sister’s birthday.  By this time I was weary from all my snake avoidance tactics and ready to return to the ship.  Another long line for the tender, but we were back on board by 3:00.  We cleaned up, had dinner, and enjoyed a pleasant evening.

The captain reported that we’re in for another rainy, bumpy sea day into Suva, Fiji.  This has been the norm for this trip, so we’re ready.  Seatbelts are fastened, trays are in their upright and locked position… bring it on Neptune!