28 September 2011

Cruise! Part 3

And for the final part ...

On Thursday 25 August we arrived at Yorkeys Knob, and after much waiting around, finally were ferried to shore, and got onto the Kuranda Scenic Rail tour. Unfortunately we were pretty much last on the train, and didn't get good seats. Hubby opened doors and stood up for much of the way to get these pics. I was a bit surprised at how the rain forest wasn't at all lush, but rather dry, but after all, it was the dry season!

We got to the Kuranda railway station, and were then taken by bus up to the Village, where we had one hour to buy souvenirs, get lunch and do the tourist thing. We found crocodile jerky for Dotter, and Scottish alcoholic fudge for Son. I really don't like the tourist thing.

And then the bus ride back down the mountain, and the wait for the tender ... this actually was a bit too hot, but the wait wasn't long thankfully.

On Friday the Pacific Pearl docked near Airlie Beach. We had intended to go ashore and just hang out by ourselves, but the past two days had been far too exhausting, so we decided to stay on board instead. It was nice to avoid the endless waits for the tenders, too! Hubby got some nice pics on board ... we tried the pool on the top deck, and lasted - ohhh - 1 minute. It was bloody freezing!! (We did actually leave a suggestion with P&O about heating their pools!!)

Me reading instead of freezing.

A pirate ship!

On Saturday the Pearl headed back towards Sydney, and the shore days were over. We went to the cooking demonstration, which was run by Willie (the British cruise entertainment director, a very funny lovely guy, far left), the Portuguese Maitre'd of the Waterfront restaurant (centre) and Canadian head chef (right). The whole 'show' was very funny, especially the bit where the chef added a ton of chilli to the prawn dish, and poor Willie had to eat it! We spoke with Willie afterwards, and he told us he hated chilli, and was in agony, poor man!

After the show there was a tour of the ship's kitchens, which wasn't to be missed! (We'd have loved to have seen the engine rooms, but they no longer run such tours for 'security reasons', sadly.)
We walked through the Waterfront restaurant (this is the fancier option for dining each day, rather than the cafeteria style Plantation). We had several meals here, very nice food!

The kitchens were on the deck below the restaurant, accessed via escalators. MASSIVE, as you'd expect. No windows that we could see. A pretty full on working environment ...

They'd made some nice displays for the passengers to see, this one was impressive!

It was time to get ready to leave, sadly. Here's Hubby with our cabin steward, Eldose. He's from the south of India, and he's about to sign on for his 6th tour (which is about 8 months long) with P&O. Hard work! He's a lovely young man, always helpful and cheerful.

Most of the staff who were the 'workers' (cooks, waiters, stewards, cleaners, child carers etc) were Asian or Indian. The rates of pay for this level of staff is only about $5 Australian/hour. While that seems horrifically low to us, hopefully it translates in to a much better income in their lands of origin. P&O does provide all training for them, so you can go in with absolutely no qualifications.

Most of the 'command staff' (ship's captain and so on, entertainers, directors of sections etc) were British or Australian. We found this dichotomy a bit uncomfortable ...

Coming in to Sydney with the sun rise, early on Monday 29 August.

This is the map of exactly where we went (I've drawn over the route in red).

And down the gangway back to solid earth ...until next time!  We were actually quite ready to go home after 10 days. It was funny, we had to go through Customs and Quarantine, and fill in the whole  'returning citizen' form and everything. The form asks "Which country did you spend most time in while abroad?" - uuuh, Australia.  >.<

So, summing up ...

Overall, we did enjoy the cruise. It was great to get away from everything, and be largely out of phone / web contact with the world for a while! Our quarters were lovely, the food and service were good. You really could just do nothing, and relax properly. If you wanted to be social and do stuff, there were lots of options too.

I think next time we wouldn't go on any organised shore trips ... we found these uncomfortably like being back at school, waiting in a group for ages, with a label stuck on our shirts, and the whole tedious tendering process to get on shore, and then being shunted around in a group on buses etc. Next time, we'd just go to shore, and do our own thing. Being a tourist on a tour bus,  nup, that whole scene just isn't us.

We didn't really find any other 'people like us' until the night before we left, when we were seated next to a couple from Melbourne at the Waterfront restaurant — he was a pharmacist and she was a GP, and I wish we'd met them a week earlier!

At least half of the passengers were much older than us, and most people we met were more 'working class' (for want of a better word) - perfectly nice people (on the whole, apart from the old biddies who loved to complain about everything on the cruise! Argh!), but no-one who we could have a really in-depth conversation with. While we weren't out to party and socialise, I did feel a bit isolated at times. I suspect that if we could afford it, on the Princess cruises (run by the same company, but more expensive)  we'd be more likely to find people we had interests in common with. But because my income is practically non-existent, we have to go for the 'one income' or 'two crap incomes' option.

But we liked it enough to pay a deposit for our next cruise (it was a cheaper deposit if purchased on board, plus free on-board credit, and full refund if you don't use it within 4 years). So I'm sure we'll be sailing away again, one of these days, maybe off to a Pacific island or two!

08 September 2011

Cruise! Part 2

Time for the next instalment!

So — this is The Plantation, which is the buffet / cafeteria style eating area on the Pacific Pearl. They serve the usual main meals, and are only closed for a few hours in the afternoon. Hygiene is a big thing on the ship (easy for germs to spread!) so every time we entered a food area, there was someone dispensing 'water-free antiseptic gel' which we had to rub on our hands. You don't need a reservation to eat here, just line up, get a tray, and choose what you like! The food was good, pretty standard fare - lunch and dinners had salad fixings, bread rolls, soup, roast meat and veg, a curry and rice, and other options. Not a lot of Asian or spicy food, though.

There was only one laundrette on board for the use of 1,800 passengers! There used to be two (still inadequate!), but the one which was on our floor has recently been 'decommissioned'. You can pay to have your laundry done, but at a "per item" cost, we decided it was better just to wash one or two things a day in our tiny bathroom sink. The shower has a clothes line installed in it, too, so that was easy.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was our dinner at the Salt Grill on Monday 22 August — this is Luke Mangan™ restaurant on board (and everything was stamped with Luke's name — glasses, plates, bottles of olive oil etc etc, all a bit much, the man is a brand). We had to make reservations to eat here, and there was an additional charge of $40/head — which is incredibly reasonable for a 5 star restaurant! We paid extra for some mineral water and wine to go with the meal.

The food was utterly superb. First time I've had truffle anything too ... 

I had :
Sea scallops with blue cheese polenta and truffle oil-infused mushrooms
Grilled barramundi with chipotle aioli

Ralph had :
Anchovies in the tin with garlic bread (pictured in the link above, so check it out) - the  most melt in your mouth anchovies, and not too salty!
A whole flounder with butter/tomato/caper sauce

Sides we shared were : 
Truffle and parmesan french fries (OMFG), zucchini with bacon and basil, carrots with dukkah.  

We had the same dessert, which was sublime:
Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango. Served with a scoop of mango sorbet, a ginger snap filled with whipped cream, and leaf of coriander (cilantro) which tasted amazing sweet in combination with the rice pudding!

Because it was a special occasion (our 26th wedding anniversary, well not that day, but close enough) ... they also gave us a little cake! We had to take it away with us, as we were stuffed as googs (eggs)!

If you're really keen, you can see the whole menu here  :)

The cabin stewards present you with these funny towel animals, who decorate your room while you're there ... Eldose brought us this little fellow, WiFi Elephant, so called as we stuck our WiFi modem thingy on top of him when we were close to shore (onboard internet via satellite was horrendously expensive so we mostly did without).

I managed to do a few little painting sketches while on board, which I hope to work up into full paintings before too long.

We sailed past Willis Island on Tuesday 23rd. This was mainly so the ship entered international waters, and the Duty Free Shop could actually offer Duty Free prices! It hosts a weather monitoring station. That night we went to the Pirates show in the theatre, which was really well done, fine singing and dancing, and ended up being pirates vs ninjas, which was hilarious (and most of the audience didn't get, of course!).

Wednesday 24th was our first shore trip! We had reached Port Douglas at last, and it was time for our Low Isles trip. The whole 'tendering process' (getting passengers off the huge ship and onto land via smaller boats) is a right pain the ass. Very slow. They had commissioned the use of this catamaran to act as an additional 'ferry', which was good, as the Pearl only has two tenders, which seat about 60 people (you can do the maths — getting the majority of 1,800 passengers off the ship, with a 20 minute ride each way, 60 people at a time...). This photo shows the catamaran docked at the Pearl, and the little walkway connecting the two!

This is the catamaran (white) and one of the Pearl's tenders (orange and white). And below is the catamaran we went on for our snorkelling trip, at the Port Douglas marina.

A nice view of the Pearl from the Port Douglas harbour ...

The trip out to the Low Isles took close on an hour. The weather was really windy and rather chilly still, and the ride was very rough. Quite a few people suffered from sea sickness  :p

Finally we could see our destination! It has a lighthouse and research station on it, and is a Marine National Park.

More 'tendering' of us from the catamaran to the island, along with snorkelling gear (supplied by the tour operators). There were some 'grass huts' - more huge umbrellas with palm fronds tied on top. It was very windy. 

Hubby walking along the shore ... he suffers very badly from the sun (CFS complication), so wore this all-over body sun gear / rash suit, which worked a treat!

A sea cucumber!

We both went snorkelling, which was good fun ... we weren't supposed to touch the corals at all, and I found that difficult as it was low tide, and not much water covered the corals, so you couldn't really swim over them safely. And the water was very murky from the wind, so visibility was limited. And cold. But nevertheless it was enjoyable (mostly), although the weather conditions really did impact on the experience a lot for me. Hubby stayed in longer than me, and went out further. 

We had a little underwater bag for our digital camera to go in ... (the cheapskate's underwater camera option) — limited success, it was impossible to see the viewing screen underwater (the murky water conditions didn't help here) and the black rim of the bag section over the lens kept impinging on the field of view! But by shooting 'blindly' he still managed to get some good shots. The turtle having a rest was an exciting discovery!

We went back on board the catamaran for some lunch — a fairly basic buffet lunch, but the huge pile of prawns made up for the rest of the meal!

Afterwards, most of the other people went back to the island, but Hubby and I were pretty exhausted, so we stayed on board. I did a watercolour / ink sketch of the island, which I'm quite pleased with.

Finally it was time to go ... and en route back to Port Douglas a whale was sighted! Hubby was incredibly lucky in having his camera out — the ship was bounding all over the place (very rough ride again) so getting this shot, when the whale was only visible for a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, was amazing! Maybe a humpback whale?

The Pearl from afar ... it is bloody big, isn't it!?

Aaaaaaaaaw ....

The end of a long and tiring day at sea ...

01 September 2011

Cruise! Part 1

Guess what I've just done?! Hubby and I went on our first ever cruise! It was also a very belated honeymoon, as we never had one (only 26 years late!). We went on the 10 day Tropical Dreams cruise on P&O's Pacific Pearl.

There's a lot to show you, so I'll do this in several posts over the next week or so  :)

We left on Friday 19 August ... here's our straw sun hats and our boarding passes for the 7 am flight from Canberra to Sydney ...

A nice surprise was the Meet and Greet service at the Sydney Airport ... we were just looking around for the train into town, when we noticed a woman standing by the baggage carousel with a Pacific Pearl sign - they could take us and our luggage directly to the harbour, and arrange for our suitcases to be delivered to our room (for a fee), an offer we gladly took up, much less lugging of cases around and wandering the streets of Sydney. This also allowed us to check in very early, so we had time to go to the Sydney Aquarium which was just up the road.

There we saw the dugongs - 2 of only 8 captive dugongs in the world! Proof that a diet of lettuce / sea grass can make you fat, LOL  ;)

This fellow was swimming over our heads, over the underwater tunnel!

The day was very cold and wet, so we got a taxi back to the wharf, and it was time to board! This is a shot from the gangway ...

Hubby happily looking out on a dreary wintery Sydney day, from our room!

Our cabin was very nice, compact but plenty big enough.

Our cabin was well situated (by accident, not having any experience of such things) - quite central in the ship, on Deck 6. This was the scene just around the corner from us: The Mix bar, which was a nice quiet place to sit and read / knit / play cards during the day.

And the view over the railings ... this is the Atrium, the central hub of the ship, and where most of the shops and several cafés were located, as well as Reception etc.

At around 4 pm we set "sail"! Two tug boats helped push the Pacific Pearl under the Harbour Bridge and out of Sydney Harbour. We did brave the top deck for a while, but the weather rapidly worsened and by the time we hit the open ocean, it was quite rough going. A lot of people suffered with bad seasickness that first night ... we felt a bit queasy at times, but nothing too bad. In fact, Hubby loved the rocking motion and slept better than he has done in years (yes, we're trying to figure out how to make our bed at home to do the same, possibly chihuahuas in a wheel, with a cradle contraption?!).

Here's the minuscule bathroom, which had toilet, sink, cupboards and shower. The shower had a retractible clothes line in it too, which is just as well  — there was only ONE laundrette on board for the whole 1,800 passengers! We just washed a few things each day in the basin.

A nice cuppa tea in the buffet restaurant (The Plantation). What a view, hey? Hygiene was very important on board ... every time you entered an eating area, there was someone there with that water-free hand sanitiser gel, which everyone had to use.

We had two sea days, finding our way about the ship, getting to know the routines, and starting to wind down from a hectic week leading up to our departure. Our cabin steward was Eldose, a smiling young Indian boy.

On Sunday morning we docked in Brisbane. Because the bad weather was travelling up with us (sigh) we had to dock at the Fisherman's Wharf area, where the industrial ships docked, rather up upriver in Brisbane. This engendered a few plan changes, but nothing too dreadful. We caught up with my puzzle writing buddy (and sole colleague), Greg Parker of The Puzzle Wizard fame). It was just great to see him again after several years!

Some brekkies in bed were had ... free apart from a $3 room service fee ...

Picturesquely churning waters of the Pacific Ocean ...

And a sunset to end this post on ...

To be continued ...