Category Archives: Cruising

Deal or no deal

Who wants to go to Mazatlan?  Hell of a deal out there – Just $485 for one week at a 5 star hotel (yes THAT hotel) with flights included – taxes nearly as much at $350.  I am prepared to bet that there will be lots taking advantage of these deals.  Shame really – it is a gorgeous looking hotel.

And it’s in much better shape than the Costa Concordia – there will be no deals on THAT ship – but her sister ships will want to offer very attractive deals to entice future passengers – and they have.  Um – 70% discount?  How does that sound?  I think that’s enough to entice anyone.  So a cruise that would generally cost $2649 is now available for $799.

I can recall very clearly the days following September 11 when air travel practically ground to a halt – and then I got the phone calls “So…I guess there must be some great deals out there – how much to get to Florida?”.

Don’t feel bad, people!  It’s just human nature – and it’s a good thing (as Martha would say).  We have jobs at stake here – people in Mexico work for a pittance.  That’s why you get a great deal to spend a week at a hotel with people cooking for you, cleaning for you and entertaining you.  You definitely couldn’t do that in Canada.

Of course there is always the old saying “cheap is expensive” – and sometimes you realise that maybe the deal you got was no deal –

You Know You’ve Booked A Cheap Flight When…

  • As you board the plane, you notice the co-pilot is frowning and wearing an “I’m with Stupid” t-shirt.
  • The Captain announces over the intercom that the flight is delayed while he looks for his keys
  • The airline mechanics, wearing propeller beanies, seem to be pointing and laughing an awful lot, and drinking something from inside brown paper bags.
  • The grounds crew are seen using pennies to check tire wear.
  • A man with an oily rag hanging from the back pocket of his dirty overalls and sadly shaking his head turns out to the be the airline’s CEO.
  • A voice on the P.A. system warns you to keep your heads and arms inside the aircraft at all times while the plane is in motion.
  • The air sickness bags have the Lord’s Prayer printed on them.
  • Jumper cables are dangling from the door to the cockpit.
  • A man in clerical garb walks through the plane, sprinkles all the passengers with water, mumbles something in Latin, and exits.
  • A telephone with a really long cord connects the plane to the control tower.  (courtesy of The Frugal Travellers)

 

 

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Greetings from English Harbour in Antigua

This is definitely the other home of the rich and famous.  The small harbour here is packed with classy looking yachts from all over the world.  This is where you send your crew out to pick up refills of Moet and Chandon and any other treats that might appeal.  Our lovely Windstar yacht is anchored just outside the harbour and I must say this is one of the most fascinating stops along our journey so far.  This is what makes small ship cruising – and especially small yacht cruising – so very special and unique.  Not another cruise ship in sight.  Our stop yesterday was Dominica where we spied a big P&O liner alongside one of the small Royal Caribbean cruise ships.  Now as cruising goes only having two large ships in dock is not bad.  It can get horrible when there are 6 or more – all disgorged out to roam the streets and send the vendors into a frenzy of anticipation.  So every stop along the way with Windstar is another pleasant surprise for us and a chance to get into the ports less visited.

The highlight so far?  Our sail away from St Lucia’s Pigeon Point yesterday with sails hoisted on all five masts and the dramatic music of Vangelis on the speakers.  Our Captain took us on a slow cruise past the coastline of St Lucia ending with the Pitons at sunset.  Wow – so hard to try to capture this on film.  I doubt very much anyone has ever had such a good close up view of the Pitons on a cruise.

Every day is a delight on Windstar – after a cappuccino and half an hour internet time at the cafe we’re on our way to the beach.

Sunset on the High Seas

I have cruised a lot but nothing prepared me for a sunset on Windstar
cruises.  We had sailed all day under wind power with the sails proudly
filled, the engines silent, and now finally at the end of the day I sat up
on deck watching the sky slowly turn from the softest pink to a dark
dramatic burgundy.  No need to rush to dress up for dinner – this is as laid
back as cruising can get – but I must correct myself.  It is not cruising –
it is sailing and I am on the biggest yacht in the world.
 

Sunset in St. Lucia – Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

Today we dropped anchor at Pigeon Island in St Lucia.  The tender ferried us
ashore for a private beach barbecue.  The marina staff also towed the hobbie
cat and kayaks for us as well as the giant inflatable trampoline that
floated just off the beach.  Now what on earth would a collection of 40 plus
want with a giant inflatable trampoline you might ask?  It’s amazing what a
grown person will do on a hot day on the beach after a few cocktails – and
no – it wasn’t me performing  (just for a change).  It was all in good fun.
The point was the last time I cruised to St Lucia we docked at Castries –
not my favourite port but a typical Caribbean stop – busy, lots of traffic,
lots of vendors and lots of other cruise ships.  That’s what makes Windstar
so special – it is so untypical.  They go where the larger cruise ships
cannot.
 
The ship also adopts an “open bridge” policy so that for most of the time
you can visit the bridge when you like and have the chance to look over the
first officer’s shoulder at the array of instruments, dials and whatnot that
control the ship and the sails.  The Captain – a charming lad who honestly
looks no older than 16 – hails from England and clearly loves his yacht
dearly.  His face lit up as he unfurled the sails one by one and proudly
pointed out that we were cruising at 11 knots all day just under sail power.
As he jokingly told us he never knew he would grow up to be a ship’s captain
and recalls his teacher saying to him “McCray – you’ll never get a job
staring out of the window!”  Well guess what – that’s exactly what his job
now entails except it is more than one window and what a view!
 
You can tell this is a happy ship – a smaller ship makes for a smaller
ship’s family and everyone works well together.  Nothing is too much trouble
and the antics of the bar staff is sheer entertainment.  Friendly, efficient
service without pompous posturing; elegant dinners served to diners in
casual dress – not a suit or a tie in sight.  Sheer delight.

Safety Drill

It’s a weird feeling – doing a life boat drill – especially after hearing about the disaster off the coast of Italy with the Costa Concordia.  So often we tend to shrug off these exercises as something that has to be done but is a bit of a nuisance – an interruption of our cruise vacation.  Thank goodness most cruise lines take the life boat drill very seriously.  Our drill on Windstar’s Windsurf required us to attend our muster station on the deck next to our lifeboat with our life jackets on. A roll call took place and crew members were not satisfied until all their assigned cabins and passengers were accounted for. 

 You will know by now that I love to cruise and the Costa accident certainly does not put me off cruising.  It certainly is terrible that people died in this incident but it is also pretty incredible to think that there were 4200 people on that cruise ship and at this stage it seems that just about all of them got off the ship. 

It does bring up a good question however and one that has been nagging at me for a few years now.  How big can you go?  Today there are bigger ships with more decks, more cabins and more passengers and the necessary crew and staff to serve them.  Even ordinary embarking and disembarking is an exercise requiring military type planning.

Today’s mega ships are more like shopping malls on the water and cruise lines try to outdo each other with more gimmicks like ice skating, zip lining, rock climbing – my goodness whatever happened to the good old love of the sea.

That’s what I am experiencing here on the Windstar.  No gimmicks – just the world’s largest yacht with 312 guests on board.  This five masted yacht has made good use so far of its sails making the whole process of cruising the Caribbean islands an exercise in good environmental responsibility – wind-power instead of fuel-power.  Sitting out on the teak decks hearing the crack of the sails above is just lovely.  Sure we are still being pampered with fine food and sophisticated surroundings but it seems that we are at one with the sea and the winds and the waves.

On our way to Saigon

As we wait in the lounge onboard the Amalotus I have been going through my photos.  I love reliving the days we have enjoyed so far and remember the highlights, like the Tai Chi on board our junk in Ha Long Bay early in the morning, or meeting one of the hill tribe people at the Ho Chi Minh monument in Hanoi.  Other memories jump out from my photos – the children’s school in a small village in the Mekong, the crazy organised chaos of the bikes on the streets of Hanoi…. and I still have MILLIONS of photos to sort out. 

Still here is a glimpse of some of them so far  Vietnam and Cambodia 

Killing Fields

A visit to the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the infamous S21 detention centre is not a pleasant experience.  It is traumatic.  It is upsetting.  It is incredible how again and again these atrocities occur – despite the fact that we believe we learn from history and recite the mantra – Never Again. 
  The detention centre in Phnom Penh – S21 – used to be a high school.  Pol Pot’s regime turned it into a chamber of horrors and the evidence is still there – the shackles, the horrific photographs.  Only 7 people survived by the time the Vietnamese arrived and I had the honour to meet one of them.  Now in his 80’s  Chum Manh speaks little English but he does know a few words – like electric shock.  He explained to me by sign language and a few words how he was tortured by shock treatment in his ear.  He also showed me his knuckles and slid off his shoes to show me his feet where he had been tortured.  He has been a witness in the trials of the leaders of the Pol Pot regime.

His story and the stories of all the Cambodian people should be treasured and perhaps one day in the future we will be able to realise the dream of Never Again…   Slide show of our photos Genocide Cambodia

Phnom Penh’s best dry martini

Sipping a dry martini in the roof garden bar of the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh I could not help thinking back to what it must have been like in ’93 when Cambodia opened its doors to foreign journalists and diplomats.  The country had been through hell and the FCC as it became known was THE place to hang out.  It still retains a special atmosphere with its wooden rafters, ceiling fans and wide selection of menu surprises – such as cottage pie or fish and chips with mushy peas.  Clearly the Brits had let the restaurant know what their favourite food was.  No noodles for this crew!

Our ride town the esplanade along the river front by tuk tuk was an education in itself.  The streets were crowded, motorbikes competing with fancy imported cars.  The riverwalk pathway was wide enough for what looked like an aerobics class – speakers set down on the pavement, instructor standing in front of what must have been 50 people.  At first I thought it was a line-dancing class – hey you never know. 

Every second store seemed to offer either food or massages – or maybe both.  Can you believe $4 for a massage?  Conterfeit DVD’s were on sale everywhere.  Films probably not even released in Hollywood yet….  And yet I found the street sellers so much nicer than places like Mexico or Jamaica.  Yes they wanted to sell their wares but they did not become a nuisance, were never aggressive and those big smiles just melt your heart.  So needless to say I have a whole bag of “stuff” that I would normally not have purchased but console myself with the thought that I am doing my bit for the Cambodian economy.  Just hope I am not going to end up paying for extra baggage!