Captain Kent’s Last Cruise (and Our First)

Up until 2005 we had long thought a cruise would be a terrific vacation but we were under the impression that cruising was for rich people and we were hardly rich. And so we didn’t really consider it seriously.

Our friends Chris and Sheila had been on a couple of cruises and they excitedly told us about one coming up, a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. You only had to pay one way fares to get to San Diego instead of round-trip. And repositioning cruises are bargain priced. So we said yes, we would join them on this adventure.

Our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them for what would be our very first cruise.
Our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them for what would be our very first cruise.

A repositioning cruise, in case you don’t know, is a cruise that does exactly as it it says. It is a one-time cruise that moves a ship from one route to another. The ship we would be taking, the Radiance of the Seas, had just finished up its winter gig plying the waters from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta. Now it was heading to Vancouver to start the summer season sailing the Alaska run.

Not only was this our first cruise, it was also one of the most memorable of the six we have taken so far. It is the only cruise for which we actually remember the name of one of the people serving our table. And it is the only cruise for which we remember the name of the captain.

Leaving San Diego
Leaving San Diego

We flew to San Diego and boarded the ship. Sailing out of the port, we passed a large aircraft carrier. Everything about cruising was new to us – the daily evening entertainment in the large theatre, the fabulous food, all included in the price, the entertainment at the various bars and clubs aboard the ship, the sheer size of the ship itself.

We pass an airraft carrier as we leave San Diego. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.
We pass an aircraft carrier as we leave San Diego. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.

Each ship has its own complement of singers, dancers and musicians to entertain. And the ship brings in special guest entertainers for most of the shows. Each ship’s entertainment is managed and hosted by a Cruise Director. Ours was a lively fellow named Gordon.

Royal Caribbean singers and dancers entertain during one of the nightly shows.
Royal Caribbean singers and dancers entertain during one of the nightly shows.

We had opted for fixed dinner seating with the same fellow passengers each night and so we got to know  few people from around the world – mostly American actually. But the crew on a cruise ship is made up of a cosmopolitan blend of people from all over the world. Our Assistant Waiter was a gal from Chile. Her name was Lily. That’s right – Lily from Chile! And she was an absolute delight. Super friendly, superior service, just an all around beautiful person. While the service is always excellent, Lily is the only person we remember by name. She just resonated with us in a special way.

Janis with Lily from Chile.
Janis with Lily from Chile.

One of the regular features on a Royal Caribbean cruise is an art auction. We attended and actually bought a couple of small pieces including a limited edition print of Charlie Brown and Snoopy signed by Charles Schulz.

Attending the art auction.
Attending the art auction.

Our first port-of-call was San Francisco and, as is typical of all cruises, we had the option of taking a packaged tour or of just leaving the ship and exploring on our own. Since the ship docked near Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided we would just wander around on our own. I went over our visit in some detail in a previous post.

Janis and I hop aboard a cable car in San Francisco
Janis and I hop aboard a cable car in San Francisco

At one of the bars one evening, we were entertained by the captain himself. Seems our captain, Kent Ringborn, a veteran mariner, came from a family of sailors, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. He joined the Swedish Merchant Marine Academy at fifteen. He received his mariners license at twenty-two. And after a stint with the Swedish Navy, he served on cargo vessels for a few years, becoming a captain before the age of thirty.

During his long career, he even captained an ice breaker for the Swedish National Maritime Administration. And in 1991 he started a career with the cruise ship industry, joining Royal Caribbean in 1995. He oversaw the building of the Radiance of the Seas and became her captain when she was launched in April 2001.

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Captain Kent Ringborn oversaw the construction of the Radiance of the Seas.

Although not formally trained in music, Captain Kent loved to sing and sometimes joined the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers performing a solo. He became known as the singing captain and over the years guests had asked for a souvenir of his performances. So he eventually recorded a CD with eighteen songs that included such classics as Sailing, Some Enchanted Evening, Edelweiss, Old Man River and Hallelujah. He changed the lyrics slightly on Welcome to My World to Welcome to Our World – the world of cruising.

We learned that this was Captain Kent’s last cruise as captain. He was retiring at the end of this voyage.

Captain Kent in the limelight.
Captain Kent in the limelight.

We continued on our cruise with a stop at Astoria, Oregon. The port there cannot accommodate cruise ships, so we anchored in the bay and reached shore by tender. There is not a lot to do in Astoria but we had seen the Astoria Column, its most striking landmark, on a previous road trip through Astoria and none of the other excursions interested us so we just wandered around the town for the day. Many nice little shops and restaurants. A pleasant town to visit.

Astoria is a sleepy little ton at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had to reach shore by tender.
Astoria is a sleepy little ton at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had to reach shore by tender.

Then on our way again to our next port-of-call, Victoria, B.C.. Our wives had secretly booked high tea at the Empress Hotel, a Victoria landmark and we had a great time.

High Tea at the Empress in Victoria
High Tea at the Empress in Victoria

Then on to Vancouver and home. As we went to our cabins for the last time, we found that Captain Kent had left a parting gift for every passenger, a copy of his CD as a souvenir. Below are the highlights of our trip put to the captain’s rendition of Welcome to Our World.  It was our first cruise and a most memorable one. And it had us hooked on cruising which is, dollar for dollar, one of the best vacations you can enjoy.

Check out my previous post, The Joy of Cruising, for a bit more on the cruising experience as well as a complete rundown on all the cruises we have taken to date.

Photo Gallery: The Dali Museum

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Here are some additional photos from our visit to the Dali Museum in 2009.

The town square at Figueres, across the street from the railroad station.
The town square at Figueres, across the street from the railroad station. Yes, that’s a Spanish-English Dictionary Janis is holding.
Many tents were set up as artisans and merchants displayed their wares for the may Day celebrations.
Many tents were set up as artisans and merchants displayed their wares for the May Day celebrations.
The Iglesias de San Pedro or Church of St. Peter in Figueres, Spain.
The Iglesias de San Pedro or Church of St. Peter in Figueres, Spain.
Sheila, Chris and Janis waiting in line to see the Dali Museum.
Sheila, Chris and Janis waiting in line to see the Dali Museum.
Two figures on the roof near the entrance to the Dali Museum.
Two figures on the roof near the entrance to the Dali Museum. The white figure is holding a loaf of bread on its head and the gold mannequin is holding  a hydrogen atom, representing Dali’s passion for science, another of his many recurring themes.
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The curved wall that encloses the inner courtyard has recessed spaces with windows and mannequins on three levels.
Looking down on the Rainy Taxi from one of the windows surrounding the courtyard.
Looking down on the Rainy Taxi from one of the windows surrounding the courtyard.
Two crutches holding Gala's Boat.
Looking over the shoulder of a mannequin at Gala’s Boat. You can see the giant backdrop of Labyrinth through the window.
Gala's Boat
Gala’s Boat held up by two crutches, a statue called The Slave of Michaelangelo, and a stack of tires.
The Slave of Michaelangelo
The Slave of Michaelangelo
The immense reproduction of the backdrop for the ballet, Labyrinth.
The immense reproduction of the backdrop for the ballet, Labyrinth.
On an end wall, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Close up it's a nude painting of Dali's wife Gala.
On an end wall, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Close up it’s a nude painting of Dali’s wife Gala.
The geodesic dome above the stage-cupola area.
The geodesic dome above the stage-cupola area.
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Exterior of the Dali Museum.  The yellow dots on the walls are bread. Eggs represented fecundity to Dali and are an important symbol.
Close-up of one of the loaves of bread dotting the outside of the museum.
Close-up of one of the loaves of bread dotting the outside of the museum.
The streets of Figueres were still busy when we left the museum.
The streets of Figueres were still busy when we left the museum.
One last look at a busy May Day in Figueres.
One last look at a busy May Day in Figueres.

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Hello Dali!

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“I want my museum to be like a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.”  – Salvador Dali

Figueres is the birthplace of noted surrealist painter Salvador Dali and the site of the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali – his famous museum. It holds the largest exhibition of Dali’s works in the world, including his personal collection. And it’s not just paintings. There are sculptures, three dimensional set pieces and a lot of interesting oddities that only the mind of the great Dali could have devised.

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The Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain

On the second day of our three days in Barcelona, we decided to take the train to Figueres, a small town about 25 kilometre from the French border and 140 kilometres from Barcelona. It’s a two hour ride through lovely Spanish countryside passing through the occasional small town along the way.

After arriving at Figueres, we left the train station and headed for the Salvador Dali Museum. Our walk took us through a large street market. It was May 1st, May Day, and the town was bustling. Among the street vendors we saw several with life size wooden carvings including one of Tintin, his dog Snowy and a bust of Captain Haddock. But the most unusual carving was a life-size Woody Allen!

Tin Tin and friends - life size scultures for sale during May Day 2009 in Figueres, Spain. Tintin and friends – life size sculptures for sale during May Day 2009 in Figueres, Spain.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd a life-size Woody Allen.  Street vendors had all sorts of interesting stuff for sale, mostly art.

Finally we arrived at the Theatre-Museum Dali. It actually was a theatre once which burned down during the Spanish Civil War. In 1960, Dali and the mayor of Figueres decided to rebuild the old theatre as a museum to the town’s most famous son, though actual construction didn’t begin until 1969. The museum opened in 1974 and expansion continued through the 80s. The master himself died in 1989 at the age of 84 and his body is buried in the crypt below the stage at the museum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA crowd gathered at the Teatre Museu Dali.

Even waiting with the long line to get in was a pleasure as the place is an artistic showpiece, inside and out. The front, where we were waiting features many sculptures, some on top of the building, some on the large balcony, and some in the courtyard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside the museum is this piece called Homage to Meissonier, a painter much admired by Dali. The sculpture itself is by Antonin Mercié. One of the sculptures in the museum’s inner courtyard also sits atop a stack of tires.

On the balcony are several figures including a deep sea diver and statues carrying loaves of bread on their heads. Dali’s work is rich in symbolism and bread plays a large role in his work. The guide book says the diver is a “symbol of immersion into the depth of the subconscious that await the visitor.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe deep sea diver is flanked by dark figures carrying loaves of bread.

After going through the entrance, we passed into a open air courtyard. High walls form a semi-circle around the open space. The centrepiece is an old touring car, an exhibit called Rainy Taxi. Over the hood of the taxi is a statue of a huge buxom woman, The Great Esther by Ernst Fuchs. Behind the car is a huge stack of tires surmounted by two crutches (another element of Dali symbolism found in many of his works) holding a boat, Gala’s Boat. Gala was Dali’s wife and muse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARainy Taxi, The Great Esther, and the tires forming the base for Gala’s Boat.

The car is called Rainy Taxi because it rains – not on top of, but inside of – the taxi. Inside is some greenery and two figures, the driver and a passenger. Live snails crawl around inside. The original Rainy Taxi was created for the 1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme. The one at the Dali Museum is a reproduction.

Behind this tableau is a giant picture window through which you can see the large stage-cupola area. Above this room is a geodesic dome.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe geodesic dome sits atop the stage-cupola area. In front of the picture window is Gala’s Boat which sits atop two crutches which sit atop a stack of tires.

The room itself is immense and the centrepiece is the stage curtain, a reproduction of the backdrop for the ballet, Labyrinth (1941). Against one side of the room are displays of artwork in recessed alcoves. The most stunning is a large picture of Gala from behind in the nude. But looked at from a distance, the picture becomes a digital image – a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPortrait of Dali’s wife Gala and Abraham Lincoln.

On the other side of the room is a staircase and archways to other galleries. There are a lot of them, some simply galleries of paintings hanging on the wall, and some much more than that.

One such striking room is the Mae West Room. It features a living room with two paintings on the wall, a cabinet with two cubby holes for displaying artwork, and a large sofa shaped like lips. At the front of this set are two large, billowing, yellow curtains pulled back and held by ropes. There is a short staircase to an observation platform in front of this and when you mount it and look at the living room set through a large lens, you see the stylized face of actress Mae West.

Mae West RoomThe lip shaped sofa and the display cabinet which looks like nostrils. On the wall, two paintings.
Mae West Room 3Seen from an observation platform, the living room looks like an image of actress Mae West. The curtains form her hair.

There is also a bedroom which features an elaborate bed on dragon legs above which hangs a large tapestry, a reproduction of Dali’s most famous work, The Persistence of Memory.

And yet another room is called the Palace of the Wind and is surmounted by a giant mural on the ceiling. Looking up you see the bottoms of two pairs of feet attached to figures standing up with their upper bodies out of sight in the clouds. The two figures are Dali and Gala “pouring a shower of gold over Figueres and Emporda” according to the guidebook.

There is much more to see here, including rooms with the furniture attached to the ceiling, and a display of stereoscopes. But even upon leaving the museum, surprise await you. As you exit, you look back and see a whole new aspect of the museum – a large rectangular building with a turret at one end. The walls are pink and festooned with figures of bread. Buns really. And on the top of the building, giant eggs alternating with waving mannequins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe outside of the museum – a pink facade decorated with bread and topped with giant eggs. Eggs were, you guessed it, another key element in Dali’s symbolism.

The Dali Museum is truly amazing and well worth a day trip from Barcelona. I didn’t have the best camera when I made this trip. Nor did I take as many pictures as I now do on trips. But I did take enough to fill another photo gallery. Click on the link below or scroll down if you are on the main page of the blog. Do check it out!

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Southeast Asia Cruise – January 2016

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On January 22, 2016, my wife and I went on our sixth cruise – a cruise promoted as a taste of Southeast Asia. We had never been in Southeast Asia before, except for a brief stopover at the Kuala Lumpur airport on our way to Perth, Australia. But it has always been a popular destination for Canadians with many visiting Thailand, Viet Nam, Singapore and Malaysia among others. So it was another part of the world that needed exploring.

I’ve already posted about all our ports of call as well as about our stay in Singapore. So this post is about the cruise itself. Cruises are a destination in themselves, even if you never get off the ship. In 2009 we took a fourteen day trans-Atlantic cruise and were at sea for seven straight days, as long as this entire cruise. There is always something to do and to keep you entertained.

The Mariner of the Seas at Anchor in Patong bay.
The Mariner of the Seas at Anchor in Patong bay.

This cruise was with Royal Caribbean aboard the Mariner of the Seas, a huge ship, one of five Voyager class ships. We have cruised on its sister ship, the Navigator of the Seas twice before. But each has its own distinctive style with unique art work for each.

Sculpted fruit and ice are traditional on first days to welcome guests aboard.
Sculpted fruit and ice are traditional on first days to welcome guests aboard.

We had pre-boarded online so everything went smoothly when we arrived to board. Right away we went for a meal and everything was decked out to welcome people, and to hail the upcoming Chinese New Year.

The gymnasium on the Mariner of the Seas.
The gymnasium on the Mariner of the Seas.

The time between boarding and setting sail is a great time to explore the ship and find out where everything is. It’s also a great time to check out the many facilities which are all open for inspection. We checked out the health and beauty salons where you can get your hair done or have a massage or work out in the extensive gym. We entered a draw to win a spa treatment. At the draw my wife won a $100 coupon towards a treatment and she used it later to get a stone massage.

You can get a stone massage on the ship.
You can get a stone massage on the ship.

We also confirmed our dinner reservations and at 5:30 went for dinner where we met our dining companions for the trip, a couple from Melbourne and their 13 year old son. We also met our wait staff.

Our dinner companions, Ned, Annie and Josh, were always fun to talk to and we spent an evening together at the karaoke bar as well.

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Our dinner companions and our wait staff. Left to right: Myself, Janis, Assistant Waiter Albert, Josh, Waiter Rodriguez, Ned, Head waiter Jamal, Annie

As with all cruises, there is entertainment every night in the theatre. The MC is usually the Cruise Director for the trip. Ours was a fellow from mainland China who went by the name of Fang. He started by introducing some interesting facts and figures about the makeup of guests and crew. There were guests from 53 different countries and crew from 43.

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Looking down at some of the swimming pools and hot tubs on the ship.

He started by saying, “There is one guest from each of the following countries…” and listed them by name – around twenty or so. Then he went on to list the countries which had two guests aboard. And then three and so on. The top five were Singapore and the United States with about 200 guests from each, Great Britain with around 500, China with about 500 and Australia with over a thousand people. Total was around 3300.

The number of guests and crew from mainland China is a good indication of how much China has changed since the rigid days of Maoism. Nobody could leave the country then. It was a veritable prison. And those caught flirting with capitalism could be shot. But here were 500 guests from China enjoying the good life.

Many cruise ships have large theatres and provide nightly shows.
Many cruise ships have large theatres and provide nightly shows.

The entertainment on this trip was below par compared to the other Royal Caribbean cruises we have been on. One of the downsides was the the usual complement of staff singers and dancers boarded the same time as us and so did not make an appearance until the last day after they had done extensive rehearsing. But the nightly talent was lack lustre as well. We enjoyed some of it, but it lacked flare.

There were light flares going out from the top of the stage that made it look like the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty.
There were light flares going out from the top of the stage that made it look like the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty.

The first night featured an Australian male trio called La Forza. They were pretty good – sort of like the Three Tenors but they did more pop than classical music. The second night featured violinist Venus Tsai who was a finalist in China’s Got Talent. We weren’t particularly interested but popped in at the back of the audience for a few minutes part way through to check her out. She was very talented, but the audio mix was terrible. She was drowned out by the ship’s orchestra. But people who went enjoyed her very much.

The third night had Australian comedy magician Duck Cameron. I’m a huge fan of magic and looked forward to the show, but we were both disappointed. The magic was ordinary, nothing we hadn’t seen before. And the comedy was lame. The fourth night featured Australian singer Tamara Guo. She had a good voice but her presentation was horrible. She said she was suffering from a sore throat and was constantly apologizing for it. And she spent more than half of the act telling her life story instead of singing. People were walking out of the show in droves.

I didn’t save the calendars for days 5 and 6, but I believe there was no show on the fifth because we were in Phuket for two days so people could seek entertainment ashore if they wanted. Day six was an Australian comedian who was so-so. And day seven featured a production extravaganza with the ship’s singers and dancer called Center Stage. The Royal Caribbean cruises always have a very talented cast of singers and dancers and this show was no exception. An enjoyable evening.

These clowns were among the entertainers in the ice show - Ice Under the Big Top.
These clowns were among the entertainers in the ice show – Ice Under the Big Top.

But I must put in a word for the very best show on the ship. The Mariner of the Seas, like her sister ships, has an ice rink. Guests could skate during designated hours, but there was also an ice show. There were several showings and we went on the afternoon of the last day. And it was fabulous. The show, called Big Top on Ice, had a circus theme. Brilliantly coloured costumes and fabulous skating.

Some excellent skating in the ice show.
Some excellent skating in the ice show.

It so happened that Australia Day happened during the cruise and with such a large contingent of Aussies aboard, the ship celebrated as well.

Fruit carved for Australia Day!
Fruit and decorations for Australia Day!

On the last day we also took advantage of an opportunity to tour the ship’s galley for a nominal charge. This tour included a complementary Royal Caribbean Recipe Book and a champagne lunch. The book alone was worth the money.  And the behind-the-scenes look at the galley was very interesting. They churn out a lot of meals with three decks of fine dining restaurant as well as an almost constantly open serve yourself buffet style restaurant, the Windjammer.

One of the chefs preparing chickens for dinner.
One of the chefs preparing chickens for dinner.

Of course, there were a lot of amenities we did not take advantage of – basketball courts, miniature golf, rock climbing and so on. But we did use the swimming pools a lot.

Miniature golf was one of many amenities on the Mariner of the Seas.
Miniature golf was one of many amenities on the Mariner of the Seas.

One of the great pleasure of each Royal Caribbean cruise is the singing waiters and chefs. Once and sometimes twice on a cruise, the wait staff will march around the room waving white towels as they congregate on the staircase. Then the head of the dining department gives a little speech praising their work and they then sing for their guests. We had our wait staff entertain us twice this cruise and it was great fun.

I’ve written about our ports of call already but here are links to my blog posts on each in case you missed them. Note that some have links at the end of the articles to additional photo galleries.

All in all, this was a interesting and exciting cruise. Not the best cruise we have been on, but memorable all the same.

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Photo Gallery: Southeast Asia Cruise

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Additional photos from our Southeast Asia cruise.

It was rainy when we eleft Singapore, the first time we had rain on the first day of a cruise.
It was rainy when we left Singapore, the first time we had rain on the first day of a cruise.
The ship was decked out for Chinese New Year which was coming up soon.
The ship was decked out for Chinese New Year which was coming up soon.
The Mariner of the Seas has a full service hair salon as well as many other amenities.
The Mariner of the Seas has a full service hair salon as well as many other amenities.
Many of the bars on the ship featured live entertainment.
Many of the bars on the ship featured live entertainment.
Every day we would find a new towel animal on the bed.
Every day we would find a new towel animal on the bed.
The Promenade Cafe along the promenade.
The Cafe Promenade along the promenade.
Our dining table - left to right:
Our dining table – left to right: Josh, Annie, Janis, myself and Ned.
A carved melon for Australia Day.
A carved melon for Australia Day.
The ship's galley prepares several thousand meals daily.
The ship’s galley prepares several thousand meals daily.
A chef explains what he does.
A chef explains what he does. Bowls of salads being prepared and a lot of shrimp!

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The galley is huge.
The galley is huge.
Almost everyone aboard has more than one job. Our waiter also helpe out in the kitchen.
Almost everyone aboard has more than one job. Our waiter also helped out in the kitchen.
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The dining room covers three floors.
Ice Under the Big Top - a fabulous show. The best one of the cruise.
Ice Under the Big Top – a fabulous show. The best one of the cruise.
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The ice show had a circus theme.
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A ferociuos lion…
Kept at bay by the lion tamer!
Kept at bay by the lion tamer!
Colorful costumes
Colourful costumes
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Colourful ice dancer
Some kids from the audience were given a ride in a choo choo train.
Some kids from the audience were given a ride in a choo choo train.
Twirling a skater on a rope.
Twirling a skater on a rope.
Nice acrobatics
Nice acrobatics.
All in all, a lively and vibrant show.
All in all, a lively and vibrant show.

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Photo Gallery: Sculpture by the Sea

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Here are a number of additional pictures from Sculpture by the Sea at Cottesloe, Western Australia.

The Sun Dial. This large sun dial is a permanent structure and not part of the Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. But it is worth checking out.
The Sun Dial. This large sun dial is a permanent structure and not part of the Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. But it is worth checking out.
These sculptures look like giant chess pieces. They are knitted fabric.
These sculptures look like giant chess pieces. They are knitted fabric. It’s called Big Intentions and is by Australian artist Mikaela Castledine.
Some pieces were extremely simple. This piece is called Rock II by Perdita Phillips.
Some pieces were extremely simple. This piece is called Rock II by Perdita Phillips.
This piece is called "Dust". A smaller version was for sale in the gift shop for a couple of thousand dollars.
This piece is called “Dust” by Australian sculptor Norton Flavel. A smaller version was for sale in the gift shop for a couple of thousand dollars.
This work is like the perspective rooms where things of the same size look different depending on where in the room they are. It won the Rio Tinto grand prize of $50,000.
This work is like the perspective rooms where things of the same size look different depending on where in the room they are. It’s called Parallel Thinking Space by Australian artist Dale Miles. It won the Rio Tinto grand prize of $50,000.
Bubble No. 7 by Chinese artist Qian Sihua. 77 artists from 19 different countries were on display here.
Bubble No. 7 by Chinese artist Qian Sihua. 77 artists from 19 different countries were on display here.
Giant shoes.
Giant shoes. It’s called The First Experience of a Poet # 3 by South Korean sculptor Hyung-Taek Chang.
Janis and friend.
Janis and friend. The sculpture is called Boxed by Harrie Fisher.
Book Cave by Australian artist Juliet Lea.
Book Cave by Australian artist Juliet Lea.
Travelling Bag by Chinese artist Yumin Jing. Stainless steel bag with plants inside. Talk about a nice planter!
Travelling Bag by Chinese artist Yumin Jing. Stainless steel bag with plants inside. Talk about a nice planter! The crane in the background is waiting for the performance artists.
Our reflection in the stainless steel piece called City Dreams by Chinese sculptor Gao Xiaowu.
Our reflection in the stainless steel piece called City Dreams by Chinese sculptor Gao Xiaowu.
A piece of whimsy called "Fun" by Thai artist Naidee Changmoh.
A piece of whimsy called “Fun” by Thai artist Naidee Changmoh.
Can't remember the name of this but I liked it a lot. Very colorful.
Pocono Bud by Taiwanese American artist Tang-Wei Hsu. Very colorful.
One of the three pieces that make up Re-emergence.
Two of the three pieces that make up Re: Generation by Australian artist Sonia Payes. It’s very large and was Janis’s favorite piece at the exhibit.
Another whimsical piece called Catch Me.
Another whimsical piece called Catch Me by Danish sculptor Keld Moseholm.
An amusing piece called Eye. The LED screen has a video of an eyeball that is always moving.
An amusing piece called Eye by Danish artist Anne-Marie Pedersen. The LED screen has a video of an eyeball that is always moving.
Performance art in progress!
Performance art in progress! The artist is Chinese photographer Li Wei.
High above the beach. Photo taken from the Indiana Restaurant.
High above the beach. Photo taken from the Indiana Restaurant.
The model floating in the air on a surfboard.
The model floating in the air on a surfboard.
What it may look like with the cables air brushed out.
What it may look like with the cables air brushed out.
And another pose.
And another pose. 

And our last three pictures – some of the wild cockatiels from the trees nearby.

Three amigos!
Three amigos!
Buddies.
Buddies. Although wild cockatiels are fairly common in Western Australia, I still get a kick out of seeing them and wan to snap pictures.
This one had interesting colours with a pink belly.
This one had interesting colours with a pink belly.

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The Sea Caves, Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

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James Bond fans may remember 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, starring Roger Moore as 007. Not one of the best Bond films, but memorable in part for the spectacular scenery of Phang Nga Bay in Thailand which served as the setting for villain Scaramanga’s hideout.

The movie drew attention to the area and put pressure on Thai authorities to preserve this natural beauty. In 1981, much of the area was designated as Ao Phang Nga National Park, including the many islands in the area. It has become a major eco-tourism destination.

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The archipelago at Phang Nga Bay is breathtaking in its beauty.

On our second day in Phuket we booked an excursion to explore sea caves in the area. We boarded a bus near the pier in Patong Bay for the hour long drive to Laem Sai Pier at the northern end of the island. There we boarded a motor launch for the hour boat cruise to Hong Island and the surrounding area.

A tour boat similar to the one we were on. There were quite a few on the bay. Eco-tourism is a booming business here.
A tour boat similar to the one we were on. There were quite a few on the bay. Eco-tourism is a booming business here.

The scenery was, indeed, like that in the Bond movie. Spectacular islands densely covered in vegetation with deep pitting in the exposed limestone, particularly at sea level.

Eroded limestone created some spectacular hongs or sea caves.
Eroded limestone created some spectacular hongs or sea caves.

We dropped anchor offshore from one of the islands and a myriad of small three person canoes were launched – two tourists and a guide in each. Janis and I and our guide followed some other craft into a cave and out the other end into a sheltered area surrounded by steep cliffs, limestone rock formations and lush greenery.

We entered a sea cave and our guide steered us through to the other side.
We entered a sea cave and our guide steered us through to the other side. Some of the rock formations looked like dollops of melting ice cream.

An island near the end of the channel looked much like the island in the movie that had the solar power unit atop it, though it was not the actual island. One of the other excursions did go to that island, now actually called James Bond Island.

This tall pinnacle is similar to the one in Man With the Golden Gun.

We paddled around, occasionally drifting in to shore to see the rock formations up close and on one occasion, we lay back as our guide paddled us into a deep low-hanging cave and back again.

Inside a sea cave illuminated by the flash. We had to lie back to make our way under the low hanging rock face.
Inside a sea cave illuminated by the flash. We had to lie back to make our way under the low hanging rock face.

The entire area was spectacular – stunningly beautiful with streaks of red sandstone interspersed with grey and yellow limestones.

Steeaks of red in the limestone cliffs accentuate the islands' natural beauty.
Streaks of red in the limestone cliffs accentuate the islands’ natural beauty.

We paddled around taking in the scenery for a good half hour before paddling around an outcrop and back to our ship.

We were allowed to swim in the bay, so I gave Janis the camera and went over the side, swimming behind our kayak to the mother ship. The water was very warm.

Yours truly taking a swim in Phang Nga Bay.
Yours truly taking a swim in Phang Nga Bay.

Once aboard, we tootled off towards another island – destination: the bat cave. Not that batcave! No Batman and Robin in sight. But we once again took to the canoes and went into a much deeper cave system. Here we entered total darkness, only the guides’ flashlights providing illumination. We saw dozens of bats hanging upside from the ceiling as we paddled deeper into the cave, then we turned around and paddled back. Unfortunately it was too dark for my camera to take pictures.

Inside the bat cave looking back to the entrance. We saw many bats in the cave, but it was too dark for the camera without a flash and I didn't want to scare the bats.
Inside the bat cave looking back to the entrance. We saw many bats in the cave, but it was too dark for the camera without a flash and I didn’t want to scare the bats.

From there we headed off to another island, the crew serving us a very tasty lunch along the way. At Lawi Island we dropped anchor again and were able to go ashore to a nice beach. Janis took a canoe but I just jumped in and swam ashore. We enjoyed a pleasant swim and soaked up the sun for an hour and then back to the boat again.

The beach where we stopped for an hour.
The beach where we stopped for an hour.

Back on Phuket Island we took the long bus ride back to Patong, stopping at a cashew stand that I’m sure must give kick-backs to tour operators because almost every excursion available included a visit to the “cashew factory”. It was not a factory. It was a shop. I don’t know if these additional stops add anything of value to a tour. I could have done without it.  But some people were buying so I guess it pays off for them.

The sea cave adventure was by far our favourite excursion on our cruise – and the most expensive at US$149 a person. Sometimes spending a little more pays off in a big way.

At 5:30 PM the cruise ship weighed anchor and we headed off back to Singapore. All in all, a great end to our voyage. You’ll find additional photos of our sea cave adventure linked below.

I’ll be adding an overview of our cruise as a whole next, with links to all ports of call and our extended visit to Singapore. Stay tuned!

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Phuket, Thailand – Sunshine, Shopping and Sleaze

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Note: some of this travelogue includes discussion of the sex trade in Thailand. If that may offend you, after the picture of the masseuses, skip to three paragraphs past the picture of Patong at night. 

Our fourth port of call on our Southeast Asia cruise was Phuket, Thailand. Our ship anchored out in Patong Bay for two days giving us ample opportunity to explore on our own and to take an excursion or two if we wanted. We opted to explore on our own the first day and take an excursion the second day. I’ll write about that, a motorboat and canoe adventure in Phang Nga National Park in another post. Today I’ll look at the town of Patong, the largest on Phuket Island.

The Mariner of the Seas at anchor in Patong bay.
The Mariner of the Seas at Anchor in Patong bay.

Because we were anchored in the bay, access to the city was by motor launch – a regular ferry service from ship to shore and back that ran every fifteen minutes to half an hour, depending on the time of day. We stayed on the ship for breakfast and avoided the crush of people leaving the ship by waiting until noon to go.

The beautiful beach at Patong Bay, Phuket, Thailand.
The beautiful beach at Patong Bay,Phuket, Thailand.

The shuttle craft took us to a long pier at one end of the fabulous beach at Patong Bay. We walked up the pier where hawkers were promoting various tours and activities. Moving along the sidewalk, we saw many small mini-cabs and three wheeled vehicles called tuk-tuks, sort of a motorized rickshaw.

The busy thoroughfare that parallels the beach. Lots of scooters and motorcycles as well as small open air taxis.
The busy thoroughfare that parallels the beach. Lots of scooters and motorcycles as well as small open air taxis like this yellow one.

Patong Bay was heavily damaged by the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Around 250 people were killed on Phuket, including tourists. But today the town of Patong has largely recovered, though we did see some new construction along the busy street that borders the beach.

The beach itself is fabulous. We left the sidewalk for a while, took off our shoes and walked along the beach before heading inland. Along the shore near the pier were many long-tailed boats for hire, as well as a lot jet ski rentals. The long-tailed boat is a common in Southeast Asia. It consists of a wide canoe like body with an upswept bow and powered by an old automobile engine connected to a propeller by a long shaft.

Long-tailed boats for hire wait for customers along the beach at Patong.
Long-tailed boats for hire wait for customers along the beach at Patong.

Patong is a major tourist center and many western fast food brands were apparent including a MacDonald’s and a Burger King along the shore road. Inland a bit we later came across a Hard Rock Cafe as well as  Starbucks.

One of the first things we noticed as we walked was the huge tangle of wires between power poles. Throughout the town – wires, wires, wires. More wires than you could shake a stick at. Some of them were hanging quite low. We wondered if all of them were live, and if so, how the heck would a repair guy find the right one if there were a power problem.

Unfathomable tangles of wires are everywhere in Patong, and indeed throughout Phuket.
Unfathomable tangles of wires are everywhere in Patong, and indeed throughout Phuket. Note the tsunami evacuation route sign. Patong was heavily damaged by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

In any event, we wanted to find a shopping area so we thought we would head towards some tall buildings we saw not far inland. Walking along we came across endless numbers of small shops and a great many massage parlours, the masseuses sitting outside in uniforms that looked much like flight attendant uniforms.

Masseuses in their blue and white uniforms wait for customers outside their business.
Masseuses in their blue and white uniforms wait for customers outside their business.

We had heard about how prevalent prostitution was in Thailand, including child prostitution. We wondered if these massage parlour were all fronts for prostitution. Fortunately none of the ladies sitting curbside looked underage. They all looked to be in their late twenties to mid-thirties.

But the number of massage parlours was astounding. A dozen or more along a single street. There was one huge massage parlour the size of a small mall. It’s called the Christin Massage and is the largest “soapy massage” parlour in Phuket. Not sure what a soapy massage is? Neither was I until I googled it.

The Christin Massage Parlour in Patoing is huge.
The Christin Massage Parlour in Patong (the pink building) is huge. A little research online revealed that this place specializes in “soapy massage” and is the largest in Phuket.

One of the excursions available to us was described as a Sightseeing and Cabaret Extravaganza, which ended a day of sightseeing and shopping with a visit to “Asia’s biggest transvestite cabaret show performed by the famous lady boys of Simon Cabaret”. So we had an opportunity to explore the seamier side of Patong but we opted to stay on the ship in the evening. But we did take in the view of the town at night from the ship and were amazed by a giant LED screen that looked like it may have been the size of some of the signs on Times Square in New York.

Giant LED screen in the Patong night time skyline.
Giant LED screen in the Patong night time skyline.

Our dinner companions and their thirteen year old son did decide to explore the town after dark. They later told us that there were bandits in motorboats who would drive up close to the dock as people were heading to shore and snatch a purse if they could and then speed off. But they were particularly appalled that some of the sidewalk masseuses pawed at and propositioned their son.

The night before we had discussed our upcoming port of call at dinner and one of our companions asked if we had heard about the ping pong shows. We had not, but I remembered a few years ago a couple of strippers in Vancouver calling themselves the Chiclets achieved some notoriety in the press for an indecent show involving ping pong balls. A search online confirmed that the ping pong shows were exactly that. I won’t go into detail but you can follow the link if you must.

Much of this sordidness is officially illegal in Thailand, but the authorities tolerate it. Their relaxed attitude to such things appeals to me politically as a libertarian, but it is decidedly not a place for a family vacation, though there are many private gated resorts that are family friendly in the area.

But back to our daytime exploration. Besides massage parlours, the leading industry seemed to be medicine. Notably dentistry. We saw many many ads for and offices of dentists, way more than a small town could possibly need. We also passed a large office promoting plastic surgery. Medical tourism seems to be big here as well. And there were a fair number of tattoo parlours.

JungCeylon Shopping Mall
JungCeylon Shopping Mall

In any event, we wandered uptown until we came to an ultra-modern shopping mall called JungCeylon. It featured many western shops including The Gap as well as more localized offerings. There were a few booths promoting condo developments. One of them, Citygate, offered condos from US$64,000 which the company will rent out for you when not using it, promising a seven percent return.

Inside the JungCeylon Mall - three floors of shopping.
Inside the JungCeylon Mall – three floors of shopping.

After exploring the mall and savoring a coffee at Starbucks, we headed back down another street and came across a great many sidewalk souvenir shops catering to tourists. And more massage parlours. And a Hard Rock Cafe. After an entertaining day walking around Patong we headed back to the ship for the night.

One of many sidewalk shopping malls in Patong.
One of many sidewalk shopping malls in Patong.

The next day we were set to explore some sea caves by canoe. That would turn out to be one of the highlights of our trip and I’ll tell you about that in the next post!

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The Joy of Cruising

“They called her the Ship of Dreams. And she was. She really was.” You may remember those words spoken by old Rose in the movie Titanic. The Titanic was spectacular as the movie shows, with gilded dining rooms, gorgeous wooden staircases, luxury suites and more.

Replica of the staircase of the Titanic at the Titanic Exhibit at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre until March 20, 2016.
Replica of the staircase of the Titanic at the Titanic Exhibit at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre until March 20, 2016.

Of course, not all passengers travelled in such style. They also had a steerage section with bunk beds and much poorer amenities. And much of the more luxurious parts of the ship were off limits to steerage passengers.

Third class passenger facilities on the Titanic as shown at the Titanic Exhibit in Perth.Third class passenger facilities on the Titanic as shown at the Titanic Exhibit in Perth.

But the Titanic was doomed! She hit an iceberg and did not have enough lifeboats to save everyone. Nor did the crew have training in how to get people to the lifeboats they did have and many of them went out only partially filled. The sinking of the Titanic was one of the most tragic maritime disasters ever.

Today things are significantly better. Not only are many modern cruise ships much larger (the 60 largest cruise ships in the world are all larger than the Titanic), they are as luxurious, probably even more so. And while the price of suites varies, the poorest suites are still very comfortable and everyone has access to the fine dining rooms, the swimming pools and all the other facilities of the ship.

Modern cruise ships truly are Ships of Dreams. They really are.

Unfortunately, my wife and I got into cruising a bit late in life. We took our first cruise in 2005 when our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them on a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. I was 57 then. The cruise was on board Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. It was a terrific experience and got us hooked on cruising.

IMG_3376rThe Mariner of the Seas at anchor in Batong Bay, Thailand.

In all we’ve taken the following six cruises:

  1. May 2005 – Radiance of the Seas – six night repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver with stops in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon and Victoria, B.C.
  2. March 2006 – Vision of the Seas – seven night Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta and back to L.A.
  3. April 2009 – Navigator of the Seas – 14 night repositioning cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, Spain with stops at the Canary Islands, Lisbon, Portugal, and Cadiz, and Malaga in Spain. We stayed an extra three days in Barcelona.
  4. Sept. 2011 – Navigator of the Seas – 7 night Eastern Mediterranean starting and ending at Civitivecchia, Italy with stops in Sicily, Athens, Kusadasi (Ephesus) in Turkey, and Crete.  This trip started with a week in Paris before flying to Rome. We spent an extra day in Rome after the cruise before flying back to Paris and then back to Vancouver.
  5. January 2015 – Ruby Princess – 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise beginning and ending in Fort Lauderdale with stops at Eleuthra (an island that is part of the Bahamas), St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, and back to Nassau in the Bahamas.
  6. January 2016 – Mariner of the Seas – 7 night Spice of Southeast Asia cruise beginning and ending at Singapore with stops in Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Penang and Langkawi, both in Malaysia and two nights in Phuket, Thailand.

I’ll write about the different ports of call for each of these cruises over time in this blog. But today, just an overview of cruising in general.

When you consider that the cruise includes accommodations as well as all meals, it is certainly one of the most economical ways to travel. Many cruises can be had for just over $100 a person per day.

Repositioning cruises are usually a bargain. What’s that, you ask? Cruise companies have some of their ships do seasonal runs. For example, there is a regular Alaska run from Vancouver to Alaska during the summer months. But in the fall, the Alaska run ships are moved down to Los Angeles or elsewhere. And vice versa. Our first cruise was an end of season run from San Diego to Vancouver. The ship had finished up a Mexican Riviera season and was heading north for the Alaska run

Our third cruise was a repositioning cruise as well – from a Caribbean season to a Mediterranean season. Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona. I don’t recall the price but I believe it was under $100 a person per night.

Boarding usually takes several hours so if you board early, you get the run of the ship for a few hour before leaving port. You can dine at one of the many dining rooms, or hang out at one of the pools soaking up the sun and sipping a Margarita.

Three story dining aboard the Mariner of the Seas. You can enjoy a meal minutes after boarding.Three story dining aboard the Mariner of the Seas. You can enjoy a meal minutes after boarding.

Before the ship leaves port, however, all passengers are assembled for a muster drill. The Titanic notoriously was short on lifeboats and many people died in that tragedy. Nowadays muster drills are mandatory. All passengers are shown where their lifeboats are and how to use the life vests that are in every cabin. After the muster drill, it’s time to leave port.

IMG_2928rAssembled for the muster drill on our latest cruise. Our lifeboat was D9 above us.

All the ships we’ve been on make a big deal of leaving port with a poolside party, a live band, and special drinks at a discounted price. (While meals are included on a cruise, alcohol and some drinks are not). We always enjoy leaving port. It’s always a party atmosphere.

Band plays as we leave Fort Lauderdale aboard the Ruby Princess - January 2015.Band plays as we leave Fort Lauderdale aboard the Ruby Princess – January 2015.

On most cruises, you have the same dining companions every evening for dinner, and one or two evenings are considered formal. You get dressed up in your best bib and tucker. You’re not obligated to have the same dining companions for the entire cruise, but we have always done so. You get to know your dinner companions and can develop new and lasting friendships.

Janis and I on formal night aboard the Navigator of the Seas - April 2009Janis and I on formal night aboard the Navigator of the Seas – April 2009

Meals aboard every cruise we have been on have been superb. First class food and first class service. You have three people attending to you – your waiter, your assistant waiter and your head waiter. Like all staff aboard modern cruise ships, they come from all over the world. We have forgotten most of their names over time, but we always remember our assistant waiter from our first cruise. She was a delightful person with a delightful name – Lily. Made memorable because she was from South America and always introduced herself as Lily from Chile!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARay, one of our dinner companions on our first cruise, was from New York City. And that smiling gal beside him is Lily from Chile. Still our favourite wait person of any cruise.

Most modern cruise ships have many amenities to keep passengers entertained. Every ship has a swimming pool, usually several. Hot tubs too. Many have large theatres for live shows. And some of the fancier ships have such things as skating rinks, ziplines, waterslides, flow-riders (so you can learn to surf), rock climbing walls, video arcades for teenagers, basketball courts, miniature golf and so on. You’ll also find spas, hair salons, gyms and fitness centres.

Each cruise also has a Cruise Director who is the manager of entertainment on the cruise and acts as Master of Ceremonies for most shows and events. On our last cruise, our cruise director was a fellow named Fang from Mainland China. Back in Mao’s day he would probably have been shot for such decadent behaviour.  China’s come a long way, baby! There were, in fact, over 500 passengers from China on that cruise.

Each ship has its own orchestra and singers and dancers. On our tran-Atlantic cruise, we were seven days at sea without seeing land and the dancers offered hip hop dance lessons for free. My wife and I and our friends all took part and performed in the last evening’s show!

On three of our cruises, the ships had huge promenades with shops, pubs, and coffee shops. They were on either side of a large boulevard down the middle of the ship, as wide as a street. An overhead walkway provided the centre stage for occasional street parties.

Our stateroom overlooked the promenade on the Mariner of the Seas. Its the last one before the DJ booth, second level up.Our stateroom overlooked the promenade on the Mariner of the Seas. Its the last one before the DJ booth, second level up.

Most modern cruise ships stop along the way and there are organized excursions at each port of call. You can take an excursion or just leave the ship and wander around on your own. The excursions cost extra but sometimes are well worth it. Prices vary.

On our cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, we took an excursion in the Canary Islands to Mount Teide, a dormant volcano and the setting for the movie One Million BC with Raquel Welch. I wrote about that in a previous blog post. But we decided to wander on our own in Lisbon, Cadiz and Malaga and enjoyed those visits immensely, discovering things on our own we would probably have missed on an excursion. I’ll write about those in upcoming posts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the pleasures of creating your own excursion is the unexpected finds, like the feral cats of Cadiz. Now that’s a story! (Watch for future posts!)

On our last trip we took excursions at each port of call, but regretted one of them – it was remarkably dull. But it was mercifully short and we had some time to wander on our own. Other excursions were money well spent, particularly one we took in Phuket, Thailand. We also enjoyed our excursion to Kuala Lumpur which I’ve also written about earlier.

All in all, we have really enjoyed cruising. It’s a relatively economical way to see a lot of the world in a short space of time. Most of our cruises have been for a week. Our longest was for two weeks. But there are many cruises that last over a month.

We will cruise again. So far we have only been on two cruise lines – Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises, but we would like to try other lines. In port we have seen the Norwegian Cruise Line ships and they look terrific. The Disney Cruise Lines also look good, but probably have lots of kids aboard and are not as geared to adults. My parents, because they were Dutch, always cruised with Holland-America Lines, partially because many of the crew spoke Dutch.

More on cruising and specific cruises in later posts.

Photo Gallery: S.E.A. Aquarium on Sentosa Island, Singapore

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A maritime museum was part of the aquarium exhibit.
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One of the features in the Maritime Museum at the aquarium was this replica of Noah’s Ark.
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Sharks swim all around us in this walkway.
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Colourful fish and corals.
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Schools of fish, sharks and rays are some of the sea life seen in this giant tank.
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A school of jellyfish.
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Here’s a close-up of one of those guys.
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A nice looking jellyfish.
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Colourful tropical fish.
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More colourful fish.
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An eel says hello.
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This creature is called an Emperor Nautilus.
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This octopus was very active.
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The underside of a large ray.
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A dolphin performing for crowds above, plunges back into the water after a mighty leap.

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