March 27, 2013 Sea Day

March 27, 2013  Sea Day

This mornings Good Morning Amsterdam guests were three members of the Amsterdam orchestra. Joe Daley lectured on the modern nautical safeguards that ship employ these days against pirates here in the Indian Ocean. The number of pirate attacks on ships in the area has caused insurance costs to soar some 1,000 times in some cases. Many countries that rely on safe import and export ships to transit these waters often station war ships in the area to assist with any unforeseen pirate attacks. Many of the shipping vessels are installing citadel rooms that are pirate proof control rooms to buy time until help can arrive from area war ships. We continue to have 24-hour guards on deck with binoculars to keep an eye out for any pirate boats in the area. They assure us that cruise ships are not usually targets due to the large number of passengers and crew.

We enjoyed Sri Lankan afternoon high tea in the dining room this afternoon with friends. Tea is served most days in the Crow’s Nest, but when it is served in the dining room it is particularly tempting. They usually have many more pastries and treats to choose from and it is a buffet rather than the passed trays. Yum! Yum!

The entertainment this night was a repeat performance from comedian Jeff Burghart and electric cello player Mariusz.

March 26, 2013 Sea Day

March 26, 2013  Sea Day

It was the second of three sea days with little going on. Speaker Joe Daley spoke on Zheng He – The Most Famous Explorer You Never Heard About. Zheng He was a Chinese explorer in the early 1500’s about the time of Columbus who was a Ming Dynasty Admiral. Zheng had an incredible amount of support from China including an enormous fleet of well built and ships that he used to spread Chinese wares to the world. The ships he had were many times larger than any other ships of the time with much larger crews, water, horses and wares.

We took in the latest James Bond movie titled: “Skyfall” with Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Naomi Harris. Not really my cup of tea, it was a bit more of a comedy in my book because of the lack of believability.  Kent loved all the violence!

After the movie, we had lunch with Heidi and Andres, a couple living in Florida with whom we have become friendly.  They are seasoned travelers and some fun.  Andres from Puerto Rico met Heidi when he was in the service in Germany.  They have lots of good stories to tell.

The entertainer this night was Dale Kristien who starred as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera for over five years, mostly in Los Angeles doing eight shows a week. Dale has a beautiful voice and sings so effortlessly. It was a wonderful evening of songs mostly from Broadway musicals.

March 25, 2013 Sea Day

March 25, 2013  Sea Day

This is the first of three sea days as we head to the Seychelles and it is the most likely place of our voyage where we might encounter pirates. In preparation of that fact, razor wire was installed around deck three yesterday while we were in port and water canons were put in place as well. This morning we had a drill to prepare for the unlikely event of a pirate attack. We were asked to move to interior hallways, away from any windows and to sit down on the floor in the event the captain needs to make any radical maneuvers to get away from the pirates. Moving away from the windows is in the event they are shooting at the ship.  Being in the interior areas, you would be out of harms way. Hopefully we will not encounter any pirates on our journey.

Today’s Good Morning Amsterdam guests were two of the front desk supervisors, one from Germany and the other from the Philippines. This morning, Barbara our travel guide presented thing to see and do in Nosy Be (Big Island), Madagascar. Otherwise it was an extremely quiet day without any guest lecturers. Kent caught up on his daily New York Times news briefs and Mark spent a good part of the day working on a puzzle in the library.

Nasty People—Fellow Passengers:  Most people on the cruise are nice, friendly and courteous.  However, there are those who are the opposite.  Some folks feel entitled.  They always want to sit on the front of the bus; want to get to the head of any line; make inconsiderate comments to fellow travelers, like:  “I don’t want you on my bus!”  Some refuse to acknowledge you when you pass them in the hallways; some leave their snot rags on common tables; some shout to those giving standing ovations to performers that “I can’t see!”  The “puzzle Nazi” feels she must control who works on and places puzzle pieces.  There are those people at dining tables who ask their table mates to leave their tables because we “don’t want you here.” Some fight for the cheesecake in the lounge and others fight over answers to Trivia and sports competitions where Dam dollars are given.  On it goes.  These are adults? Can’t we all just get along?

The night’s entertainer was a Texas comedian and impersonator by the name of Jeff Burgh art. He was working very hard but the audience was not responding much and he only performed for about 30 minutes instead of the usual 45 minutes. We did not care for his routine much but we stayed for the entire show.

March 24, 2013 Colombo, Sri Lanka

March 24, 2013  Colombo, Sri Lanka



Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple

Elephant at the Buddhist Temple

Elephant at the Buddhist Temple

Sri Lanka is an island located at the southeastern tip of India between the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka with two million inhabitants, while Sri Lanka has 20 million residents. Colombo’s harbor and position along the East-West sea trade routes enticed the Greeks, Persians, Romans, Arabs and Chinese traders who visited regularly over the centuries. Muslims of various ethnicities began to settle in Colombo around the 8th century, mostly because of this trade business. In the 15th century the Portuguese established a foothold in the area and were granted authority over the coastline in exchange for guarding the coast against invaders. However, they soon expelled the Muslims in Colombo, building a fort there in 1517. The Dutch signed a treaty in 1638 with the King of Kandy, assuring Dutch assistance in the King’s war against the Portuguese in exchange for a monopoly of the trade goods. However, in 1656 the Dutch refused to return control to the King, eventually assuming control of the area’s valuable cinnamon lands. The British captured Colombo in 1796, beginning an era of British colonialism that ended in 1948 when Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) gained independence from Britain.  Modern-day Colombo is a mix of old and new.

Colombo has a mile long seafront promenade designed by British Governor Sir Henry Ward in 1859 as a horseracing track. The city’s central park lies along the western shore and is known as Galle Face Green. The fort district is the city’s heart and is filled with old colonial buildings like the Grand Oriental Hotel converted from an 1850’s military barracks and the Presidential Secretariat or former parliament building.

Upon our arrival at the pier a large elephant dressed in a colorful blanket greeted us so that everyone could get a photo with it. Also pier side was a group of local dancers and musicians performing local folk dances. As usual a large contingent of vendors had set up shops along the pier selling clothing, jewelry and souvenirs. The temperatures are once again in the 90’s with high humidity so water and sunscreen is essential.

We visited the Pettah neighborhood, which is Colombo’s bazaar district built on a very colorful maze of streets. Each street has a specialty, but you never know what you might find. The street vendors not only have shops but the streets themselves are filled with vendors selling things like a mound of electrical tape, televisions or light fixtures. Here we saw the 100-year-old clock tower built by the British.

Within this neighborhood are several buildings built of red and white brick and resembling candy canes.

Next, we visited the Colombo National Museum, located in a gorgeous British style white building with arches, columns and verandas. The museum was beautifully laid out with extensive collections of artifacts from prehistoric times until today. We saw things like a collection of coins, a collection of flutes, ivory hair combs, stone implements, jewelry, and animal bones to fishing canoes.

Everywhere we seemed to go today we would find snake charmers with small baskets containing cobra snakes and the charmer would be playing a flute. Most of the snake charmers wanted a dollar to take a picture.

At the Gangarama Buddhist Temple we discovered an unusual and extensive collection of kitsch–a complete contrast to the normally austere atmosphere of a Buddhist temple. The temple contained several buildings of stuff. You might find a case filled with watches next to a table filled with plates or flower vases. Next to that might be a case with elaborately carved ivory figurines or paintings stacked one upon the next. Everywhere you looked there was stuff that might remind you of your grandmother’s attic or basement. It being a Sunday, there were several hundred children praying in the courtyard around the stupa. Also on the grounds was a baby elephant.

In addition to the Buddhist temple, we also visited a Hindu temple with an extremely ornately decorated exterior. The entire peaked roof is made up of ceramic figurines hand painted in vibrant colors, like an ornate cake. Inside the temple were many smaller shrines where 64 gods are worshipped. One of the small inner temples required that men who entered remove their shirts and to stand in a particular corner of the room.  We did not go in! Flowers are often brought to the temple as an offering and none of the temples allow shoes to be worn inside.

We visited the historic Galle Face Hotel built in 1864 and located on the Indian Ocean not far from the port.  The hotel features a very small lobby area although there are many covered outdoor verandas and patios for one to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. The hotel is on the beach.  Across from the hotel is the Galle Face Green or park with an array of refreshment stands and souvenir shops set up along the beach.  In this area, one of our fellow passengers held one of the large snakes by the cobra tamers.  She received quite a surprise when the large snake took a dumb on her skirt.  Lovely photo opportunity!

Another fellow passenger took a tumble on the way to the men’s room.  He had a bad nosebleed and couldn’t get up.  Another nurse passenger assisted him and he was able to avoid going to the hospital.  Several other passengers have had injuries recently.  Perhaps due to age or fatigue from the trip?

We stopped for a photo of the Bandaranayake Memorial International Conference Hall, a gift to Sri Lanka from the people of China. Here they hold many international meetings as well as local events such as a bridal faire that was taking place on this day.

Considering the fact that the country was having a civil war just five years ago, there seems to be an incredible amount of construction going on. New hotels are being built, new sidewalks and roads are being built, and old buildings are being painted and improved. There are crippled and deformed beggars on the streets, but they are not particularly aggressive. The locals are probably mostly poor but they are helpful, kind and welcoming to us.

At the sail-away today, I was stopped by a fellow Canadian passenger.  She wanted to tell me that I certainly was pleasant looking, but that the tall one (Mark) with me was definitely better looking.  “Sorry to tell you”, she said, “but he is!”  Ah, the truth hurts!

The evening’s entertainment was an electric cello player from Poland by the name of Mariusz. I do not believe that I had ever seen an electric cello before, but the music he created with it was very nice.

March 23, 2013 Sea Day

March 23, 2013  Sea Day

Sea days seem to go by quickly even though there are not always a lot of activities to do. Between three full meals in the dining room, cocktails with friends before dinner, a nap, Good Morning Amsterdam and a couple of lectures there is little time left in the day.

Our travel guide Barbara lectured on Things to See and Do in Victoria, Seychelles this morning. Then Joe Daley lectured on Ahmad Ibn Majid-The Sea Lion where he discussed the great mariner and explorer and some interesting things that come from the Middle East.

We have a new celebrity guest chef onboard by the name of George Geary who gave a cooking class on both a traditional and a savory (Goat Cheese and Walnut) cheesecake. George is an award-winning author of nine cookbooks ranging from baking to sauces and how to create the perfect donut. He worked in film and television creating such things as cheesecakes for the Golden Girls. His print media includes food dishes for stores like Macys and Bloomingdale’s. George also has a tour company where he conducts culinary tours of major cities in America. He also can be seen doing food news segments in San Diego several times a month. He and his partner, Neil—also on board—of 35 years, live in Corona, CA.  Last night they joined our cocktail group.

We had lunch with new friends Robert and Dennis who boarded the ship in Hong Kong. Robert is retired from Disney as an archive librarian in Burbank while Dennis is recently retired from marketing for a company in Irvine. They have been together 32 years and currently live in Cambria, California.

The afternoon lecturer was Robert Schrire who lectured on The Future – Bigger and Better where he discussed how we now live in a global village. He discussed how larger communities are better for the people as a whole but that leaders would prefer smaller regions where they can have greater control over the people.

Kent headed to the Explorer’s Café with Alec for cheesecake….a favorite every afternoon at 3 PM. Just what Kent needed.  Mark has more discipline!

The evening’s entertainment was a ventriloquist by the name of Brad Cummings.

Several people have commented to us that they are ready to go home.  What’s up with that?  Guess the sameness of all the food, people, entertainment and ship’s activities are wearing thin on some folks.  Mark is definitely not ready yet.  Kent is doing fine, but misses his students and friends he frequently sees.  There are also many more who never want the cruise to end, as evidenced by all those who continue to book future cruises at the future cruise desk.  Long live the cruise!

March 22, 2013 Sea Day

March 22, 2013  Sea Day

This morning’s Good Morning Amsterdam shows guest was Char, the future cruise consultant, who books future cruises for guests onboard. Her desk is busy most everyday with folks booking their next cruise or making sure that they are booked on next year’s world cruise in the cabin they want.

Robert Schrire’s lecture was titled: The Future-Doom or Gloom, where he discussed if humankind has a future in a world of terrorism, the rise of China, and climate change. With the increase in population in many parts of the world, pollution and the lack of water, what lies ahead? Will we have wars over water rather than land? Will countries like China demand a larger role in the world?

For lunch we met up with some of our fellow travelers from San Diego in the dining room to catch up and see how everyone was doing. We shared stories about our favorite things and what we were looking forward to.

There were two movies on this day with Hitchcock in the movie theater and Lincoln playing in the evening on the big screen in the Queens Lounge. This was a formal night dinner with Prom Night as the theme. The dining room was adorned in hot pink and blue drapes, streamers, napkins and flowers. After dinner there was a dance in the Crow’s Nest Bar for those who wanted to dance. The bar was decorated extensively in pink and blue streamers, balloons and fabric. As part of the party they awarded one couple prom king and queen.

March 21, 2013 Phuket, Thailand

March 21, 2013  Phuket, Thailand

Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple


Inside the Temple

Inside the Temple

Phuket is Thailand’s largest, most populous and most visited island. Phuket is an island of 503 square miles and produces cashews, rice, rubber, cacao, pineapple, and coconuts. The culture has a combination of Chinese and Portuguese influences. The island suffered much destruction in the 2004 tsunami that hit its west coast, but has since been rebuilt.

Our tour took us on a scenic ride along the coastline and through the city to the island’s most famous temple, Wat Chalong, dedicated to two revered monks. The temple is known for its gold leaf covered statue of Luang Pho Chaem. At the beginning of the 20th century when Chinese invaders invaded Phuket for its valuable tin mines, Luang Pho cared for the injured at great personal risk. The temple is located on a very large parcel with several other very ornate brightly colored temples.  One temple houses a relic of Buddah.

Then we were off to the cultural center for a show of cultural dances and customs. It included a wedding ceremony, stick dance, folk dances and a martial arts performance. The costumes and props they used were colorful and festive.

Lunch was at a very large Thai restaurant that went on forever. Many banquet rooms were outdoors with roofs and fans while others were indoors with air conditioning. Unfortunately we were in an outdoor dining room with the heat reaching near 100 degrees. The food was served buffet style with a salad bar, dim sum, sushi, hot dishes, fruits and desserts. The food was good and included a variety of things that we had not seen before.

Before heading back to the ship they took us to what was billed as the largest jewelry store in the world. It was an enormous warehouse with one glass case of jewelry after another. You were also able to see the jewelers making the jewelry. Most of the jewelry was over the top glitzy with lots of bling.

As usual when we leave a port we attend the sail away party on the rear deck of the ship where they serve appetizers and offer drink specials. With the weather as hot as it has been, the turn out at the sail away parties has been light.

The night’s entertainment was a show called Atlantic Crossing performed by the new cast of the Amsterdam singers and dancers that came onboard in Hong Kong. The show featured British music from the past 50 years.

March 20, 2013 Langkawi, Malaysia

March 20, 2013  Porto Malai, Langkawi, Malaysia

Gorgeous Flowering Tree

Gorgeous Flowering Tree

Cattle Crossing

Cattle Crossing

Langkawi is the main island of the Langkawi group located in the Strait of Malacca, Peninsular Malaysia, but you already knew that. Langkawi is only about 18 miles in length and 10 miles wide. The highest point is on Raya Mountain where it rises to 2,887 feet. Most of the island’s residents are engaged in fishing but they also cultivate coconuts, rice and run rubber plantations. The name Langkawi comes from two Malay words “helang” meaning “eagle” and “kawi” meaning “auburn” and the eagle is the symbol of the island.

Our tour took us to Gunung Mat Cincang Mountain where we took a cable car to the top station at the summit over 2,500 feet up. From here we could see 360 degrees around the island including many of the 99 islands that makeup Malaysia. The cable car ride is a very steep incline with few support columns but the ride is extremely smooth and eerily quiet as you climb high above the treetops. If the skies were clearer we would have been able to see Thailand in the distance but it was over 90 degrees and very humid and the skies were not clear.

We saw wild monkeys and water buffalo along the roadsides wandering at will. We stopped at a man made harbor for photos of the bay and surrounding mountains. The island homes are rustic looking, scattered throughout the island, mostly along the water’s edge.

We visited the Rice Garden, one of Langkawi’s eco-tourism attractions, where we visited a museum showing all aspects of rice cultivation. The museum featured not only photos and cultivation implements but it also had the actual rice fields with people tending to the cultivation of the rice.

The town near the port called Pantai Cenang, was a resort style town with beautiful white sand beaches, small resort style hotels and lodges and a main street filled with eating establishments and souvenir shops. Due to the extremely warm weather most of the businesses appeared to stay open until midnight when it was cooler and the tourists could come out to eat and shop. We joined Jenn for an Indian lunch in town and then some shopping.

Before leaving port we had a local Malay Kompang Dance Show onboard. They performed a variety of regional cultural dances in festive colored outfits. The show was similar to several of the other shows we have seen in other Asian countries.

The nightly entertainment was a variety show featuring the last two performers, Clare Langan the Flautist and Kenny Smiles the Welsh comedian.

March 19, 2013 Sea Day

March 19, 2013  Sea Day

We had a new Exploration Speaker today by the name of Joe Daley who had lived in Singapore in the 1960’s. Joe was a businessman who has lived in more than 20 countries working for large corporations, mostly maritime business related. He was more of a storyteller using slides from his life experiences and showing the differences between then and now.

Robert Schrires lecture today was titled Our Changing World, where he discusses how the world has become confusing, as change has accelerated. He looked at the demographics, political and economic forces, which will determine our future.

The night’s entertainer was a flautist by the name of Clare Langan. We have seen Clare on a previous cruise but she has high energy and put on a wonderful show.

March 18, 2013 Singapore

March 18, 2013  Singapore, Republic of Singapore

Hotel and Casino

Hotel and Casino

Arab Town

Arab Town

Orchid Gardens

Orchid Gardens

We took a city highlights tour with our travel agency’s private tour, which was a bus with only nine of us. Our first stop was the National Orchid Garden where they have over 60,000 orchid plants on display. The garden is immaculately maintained by over 100 gardeners, who tend to every inch of the garden. This is the largest orchid display in the world.

Our next stop was Arab Street to see the gold-domed Sultan Mosque. The area is filled with fabric shops with any imaginable fabric you can think of for sale. Middle Eastern restaurants line the streets, along with a variety of gift shops selling local Asian wares. Most of the buildings in this area are from the colonial period when shop owners had businesses on the ground level and lived on the second floor (shop houses). Today they do not allow people to live on the upper floor due to the risk of fire spreading from one unit to the adjoining units.

We then drove by the Raffles Hotel, St. Andrew’s Cathedral and City Hall on our way to the waterfront where we visited the Merlion. The Merlion is half fish and half lion and is the symbol of Singapore. From here you can also see a recently built hotel and casino complex consisting of three 50-story towers with a giant ship shaped structure connecting them at the top. The top floor features an infinity pool, gardens, restaurants and bars and has wonderful views over the city and bay.  Some of our fellow travelers had meals there and some even stayed overnight.

Next we visited Chinatown where we saw the exterior of the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple with its ornate multi-colored exterior of elaborate figurines of gods and goddesses. The narrow streets are filled with eating establishments and all kinds of shopping from clothing to handicrafts.

Lastly we drove to the top of Mt. Faber, the highest point in the city, where we had a panoramic view out over the city and bay. Mt. Faber is a lush parkland area with a wonderful park at the top.

After lunch onboard the ship, Kent worked on emails at a local hotel, while Mark walked a couple of miles across a covered boardwalk in the heat to the island of Sentosa. Sentosa is a cross between Las Vegas and Disney World. The island is packed with hotels and casinos, parks, rides, restaurants, Universal Studios, a cultural center and more. You can elect to pay one dollar to wander the island or select from a variety of packages to enjoy several or all of the 17 different adventure options.

Overall, Singapore appears to be a very prosperous community with clean streets, well-maintained buildings and is very tourist friendly. The public transportation appears efficient and well maintained. Every subway station is connected to a shopping mall of one sort or another. Many of the shopping malls are so large that it is very easy to get lost in them. They have everything from designer shops to handicrafts.