Photo Gallery: Panama Canal Cruise

Here are some additional photos and videos of our cruise. The photo above is of the ship in port at Huatulco, Mexico. I’ll be adding separate posts for the canal transit and the ports-of-call later.

The pool deck

 

The Celebration Band playing on the pool deck

 

Our state room. We went for an inside cabin to save money. Balconies are nice, but we were out and about much more than we were in our room.

 

One of several large ship models aboard the Vision of the Seas. Art work abounds on cruise ships. A nautical theme is popular.

 

Another model ship

 

Public art on one of the stairwells. Each landing on each staircase had some sort of art, ranging from modern to items like these which had a classical Greek air to them.
Janis and I at dinner on one of the formal nights.

 

The theater was called the Masquerade Theater and had a medieval theme on its drop curtain.

 

The brass section of the Vision of the Seas Orchestra. Most of the nine piece band were Ukrainian, including leader Sascha on the trombone, but there was also an Israeli, a Pole and, as I recall, a Bulgarian. They were amazing. A very tight band and very versatile.

 

There were a couple of shows featuring the Vision of the Seas Singers and Dancers

 

The four singers – the one second from left is Sarah from Vancouver, Canada. The dancers and the orchestra are seen in the background.

 

One of the last shows had all the executive members of the crew join in as well as some of the kitchen crew.

 

The kitchen staff also did a couple of parades around the dining room. The head chef gave an inspiring speech.

The wait staff also had a couple of parades around the dining room and danced for us.

 

The Centrum was always a hive of activity. Here are Mr. and Mrs. Smith – Hayden and Alexa Jane, putting on a great show.

If you’ve ever played Where’s Waldo, here’s a variation – find my wife Janis!

 

Early in the voyage, Cruise Director Steve Davis conducted lessons for anyone who wanted to participate in learning the Thriller dance moves. Near the end of the trip, the forty of them, made up like zombies, performed for the crowd.


And we close off this overview of the Panama Canal cruise with this photo of the International Parade of nations celebration. 812 crew members from 67 countries worked o n the Vision of the Seas.

Photo Gallery: Notre Dame Cathedral

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Here are some additional photos of Notre Dame.

The imposing front facade of Notre Dame with its twin bell towers.
One wall of Notre Dame. Note the gargoyle drain spouts.
A strix on the west facade.
The massive stained glass window at the rear of the cathedral.
From the back of the church you can see the flying buttresses supporting the walls of the church.
The turret on the North Tower.
Looking north-east past the spire.
Looking down at the hospital across the street from Notre Dame.
Newlyweds posing for pictures in the plaza below the towers. Lots of pigeons in the square.
Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the distance as seen from Notre Dame’s South Tower.
The rear of the chuch.

And that’s it. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

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Rome’s Colosseum

The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and a must-see highlight of any visit to Rome. We spent a day there before taking a Mediterranean cruise in 2011. After the cruise we spent another day in the city.

That first day had us take a hop on/hop off bus around the city and one of our hop off points was the Colosseum. We grabbed a light lunch and then walked around the perimeter.

This photo is a merge of two others. It captures the immense size of the Colosseum.

It is an ancient building and in remarkably good repair considering it is almost 2000 years old. Construction started under Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD. He died in 79 AD and did not see the building completed the following year under his heir Titus. Financed by the spoils of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it was built with the slave labour of 100,000 Jews captured and spirited off to Rome.

Made of concrete and sand, it was large enough to accommodate 50-80,000 spectators, averaging around 65,000. Like modern stadiums, it was a venue for mass entertainment which included battling gladiators, wild animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles, dramas based on Classical mythology and public executions. Yes, Christians were fed to lions here. In fact, the Pope marks every Good Friday by a Way of the Cross procession that starts at the Colosseum to honour Christian martyrs.

The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.

Interestingly enough, twenty years after its construction, the poet Juvenal published his Satire X which includes the following lines:

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Juvenal is lamenting the practice of gaining political office by bribing the voters with free wheat and mass spectacles. It marked the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. Walking around the perimeter we were impressed by the vastness of the Colosseum and its great beauty. The two millennia since its creation have left it weathered and eroded. It underwent extensive renovations from 1993 to 2000 at a cost of 40 billion Italian lire (US$19.3 million).

This end on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum captures its great height. The outer wall is shored up by supports built during renovations.

There were originally two walls, an outer wall and an inner wall. The inner wall remains largely intact but only a small portion of the outer wall remains. It is shored up at both ends by sloped concrete supports. But even with all the renovation, you can see cracks in the facade at various places, not to mention large stones at the base which have fallen from the structure.

Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn’t seem to phase the tourists walking below.

We saw some men in gladiator garb posing with tourists on our walk as well as a wedding party. It is a popular locale for wedding photos.

The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos. Did you spot them in the picture of the Arch of Constantine above?

After our cruise we visited the Colosseum once again, this time paying to go inside. Well worth the money. The inside is as spectacular as the outside and well worth the visit.

As we entered we passed a recently recovered partial statue. There is continuous archeological work going on around Rome. This partial statue was probably of a horse and rider, but we were amused by it because all that remains is, how shall we put it, a horse’s ass.

The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.

Inside you get a terrific view of the hypogeum, a series of underground passages and rooms, and a partially reconstructed stage at one end. The staging, made of wood, covered the entire subterranean level during the Colosseum’s heyday. Many spectacles were staged that involved lifts and hoists moving animals, actors and stage props from below to the arena floor.

The interior of the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.

The hypogeum was a later addition to the Colosseum and in its early years, at least two mock sea battles or naumachiae were staged there. This involved filling the basin with water and bringing in ships. One was staged by Titus when the Colosseum opened in 80 AD and another by Domitian in 85 AD.

It must have been quite the spectacle. Some experts figure that water supplied by aqueducts and a series of pipes and channels could fill the basin to a depth of five feet in just 35 to 76 minutes. These battles were considerably bloodier than the gladiatorial battles often staged in the arena. They involved many more people, 3000 in the event staged by Titus. Condemned prisoners were used and they fought to the death.

Shortly after the last naumachia,  the hypogeum was built which precluded staging more of these spectacles.

Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.

Up to 80,000 people filled the stadium in its prime but  little seating remains. There are many sloped angular buttresses which held the seating at one time, but now stand alone. There is a little bit of seating extant above the renovated stage area. I’m not sure if this is original or recreated for tourists.

Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.

One of the things we noticed in the Colosseum was the large number of feral cats. We noticed them outside on our earlier visit and now again inside. Not sure what it is with ancient ruins and wild felines, but we first encountered them in the walled city of Cadiz in Spain and we later came across more of them at the ruins in Ephesus.

Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Colosseum and can only imagine how it must have been in its heyday, the scene of great and bloody spectacles. The fact that these extravaganzas were staged with real people fighting to the death or even put to death in contests with ferocious beasts gives one chills. But even today gore fests remain popular in movies and television shows, though these are non-lethal make-believe. In less civilized parts of the world, live beheadings and stonings of the condemned remain popular with the masses.

I’ve included an additional photo gallery as well as links to a couple of articles on naumachiae.

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: La Rambla and More

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Here are some more pictures from our last day in Barcelona.

Riding the Hop On Hop Off bus
Riding the Hop On Hop Off bus
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A neat old building we passed on the tour. But I don’t know what the building is. If you know, please let me know.
Another close-up view of Casa Mila - La Pedrera
Another close-up view of Casa Mila – La Pedrera
Cable Car Tower Near the Waterfront
Cable Car Tower Near the Waterfront
A reproduction of the Ictineo II, the world's first true submarine.
A reproduction of the Ictineo II, the world’s first true submarine.
Another sculpture along Barcelona's waterfront
Another sculpture along Barcelona’s waterfront
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One of several ultra-modern buildings of the Fenosa Natural Gas Company.
The beginning of La Rambla
The beginning of La Rambla
Hedgehogs are among the exotic pets you can get on La Rambla
Hedgehogs are among the exotic pets you can get on La Rambla
Living statues on La Rambla
Living statues on La Rambla
Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas on La Rambla
Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas on La Rambla
Jack again
Jack again kibbitzing with a couple of teens
The Hotel Ginebra overlooking the Plaça de Catalunya
The Hotel Ginebra overlooking the Plaça de Catalunya
Another view of the Hotel Ginebra
Another view of the Hotel Ginebra

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Barcelona: La Rambla and More

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After visiting the Parc Güell, the four of us split paths with the wives opting for shopping and Chris and I deciding to take the Hop On Hop Off and get an overview of the city before meeting the girls later to wander up La Rambla. The Barcelona Bus Turistic has three different routes and we took the western route which took us past the Olympic Stadium as well as the waterfront.  One of the first buildings we passed was the Casa Mila, better known as La Pedrera. This is one of the buildings designed by Antonio Gaudi.

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La Pedrera, designed by Antonio Gaudi and built from 1906-1912

The Summer Olympics were held in Barcelona  in 1992 and many of the buildings and public spaces are a lasting legacy. The Montjuic Communications Tower is in the Olympic Park and was used to transmit television coverage of the games.

The Montjuric Communications Tower is 446 foot tall tower designed as a stylized Olympic runner carrying a torch.
The Montjuric Communications Tower is 446 foot tall tower designed as a stylized runner carrying the Olympic Flame.

The Olympic Stadium is still used and was home to Barcelona’s football team until 2009. Many rock concerts are staged there. It was built in 1927 and completely renovated for the 1992 Olympics.

The Olympic Stadium
The Olympic Stadium

Cable cars run from Montjuic to the waterfront and are very popular though we did not go on them. The bus took us past the waterfront where we got off to explore on our own before meeting the ladies.

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The cable cars offer a great view of the city and the waterfront

Barcelona’s waterfront is amazing. Extensive broad pedestrian paths, many shops and restaurants and a lot of intriguing public art. There is a lot of interesting architecture. One prominent feature is a giant sculture of a fish, El Peix, by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Gehry is also known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

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Broad plazas and interesting architecture abound on the waterfront. The golden fish sculpture is by Canadian designer Frank Gehry.

Another sculpture is of Gambrinus, a giant lobster. It used to be the mascot of a restaurant called Gambrinus. When the restaurant closed down, the city bought and restored the lobster as public art. A right friendly looking chap he is!

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The unusual sculpture of Gambrinus, the giant lobster.

At one end is a large public beach. The Spaniards are not as prudish as some and topless sunbathing is common here.

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Barcelona’s beautiful beach

We walked up the beach and out along the breakwater, stopping to dip our toes in the Mediterranean for the first time. The breakwater is popular with fishermen and just for walking along.

Out on the breakwater
Out on the breakwater

We walked back past the Spanish Natural Gas Company’s building and along the boardwalk to the statue of Christopher Columbus to meet the ladies. Along the way we noticed many parked motorcyles as well as places where you could rent bicycles. Bikes and motorbikes are very popular in Barcelona.

Bicycles for rent!
Bicycles for rent! These are like a ride share program and you have to be a member to use the bikes. You just pick one up from one of the many locations and cycle to another close to where you want to go. Lock it up and pick up a new bike when you’re ready to head back.
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The statue of Christopher Columbus is in a square at one end of La Rambla

The statue is at the end of La Rambla, Barcelona’s famous street market, and the four of us headed out to take in the sights. And sights there were. The street is full of stands selling a myriad of different products. Fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs, to be sure, but also exotic pets – ferrets and hedgehogs, as well as a lot of birds.

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Food stalls on La Rambla
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Exotic pets for sale on La Rambla.

There were also a lot of street entertainers. Very popular are the human statues, people dressed in colourful costumes and posing as statues until someone drops a coin in the hat at which they become quite animated.

A colourful human statue
A colourful human statue

There were also a number of entertainers dressed as popular cartoon or movie characters. We saw one dressed as Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and another as Edward Scissorhands. Drop a coin in Ed’s box and he would pretend to snip your hair.

Finally we got to the end of la Rambla – the Plaça de Catalunya. A number of hotels and other buildings overlook the square, a central meeting place for many. We had dinner at one of the restaurants near here.

Plaça de Catalunya
Plaça de Catalunya

After dinner we wandered around for a while. We wanted to see the Sagrada Familia at night, which we did. Along the way we noticed great crowds outside every pub and bar. The local football team was playing their great rivals, Madrid and everyone wanted to catch it on television. The home team won and Barcelona became a sea of honking vehicles and flag-waving crowds. A fitting end to our last day in Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia at night
Sagrada Familia at night

We loved Barcelona and it is definitely on our list of cities to visit again!

Click on the Photo Gallery link below for more pictures, or just scroll on down if you are on the main page.

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Photo Gallery: Parc Güell

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Here are some additional photos of our visit to Parc Güell.

From the metro station we took some narrow side streets to the park, including this very steep one.
From the metro station we took some narrow side streets to the park, including this very steep one.
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There is a large natural park behind the terrace. Gaudi wanted to preserve a lot of wilderness in the original plans for Güell’s ambitious project.
The Porter's Lodge, now a gift shop
The Porter’s Lodge, now a gift shop
The Warden's House, originally meant to house offices
The Warden’s House, originally meant to house offices
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Ceiling mozaic above the lower terrace
Janis, Chris and Sheila sitting at the top of the staircase entrance to the park.
Janis, Chris and Sheila sitting at the top of the staircase entrance to the park.
Underneath one of the viaducts. Buskers are a common sight during busy days.
Underneath one of the viaducts. Buskers are a common sight throughout the park on busy days.
We head up onto the viaduct
We head up onto the viaduct
Janis and Sheila and some very large planters on the viaduct
Janis and Sheila and some very large planters on the viaduct
The two buildings at the base of the entrance to the park
The two buildings at the base of the entrance to the park
Looking up to the upper terrace
Looking up to the upper terrace
Inside the gift shop
Inside the gift shop
Looking at the Warden's House from a window in the gift shop
Looking at the Warden’s House from a window in the gift shop
A couple of grottos at the entrance to Parc
A couple of grottos at the entrance to Parc Güell. Buskers often entertain in them.
The Warden's House from the street
The Warden’s House from the street

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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: 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!

Links of Interest

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