Day 1, Sydney, Australia
Today we arrived in Sydney after a 14 hour nonstop flight from Los Angeles that was preceded by a flight from Phoenix, AZ to LA. Yes it was a long day. Actually it was two days because we left LA March 21st at 2330 and arrived in Sydney at 0830 March 23rd due to crossing the International Dateline.
Sydney was a beautiful, clean city. The views from our balcony stateroom on the port side of the 11th deck were stunning. We have all seen pictures of the opera house on the bay but you have to see it to appreciate the enormity of the building. People walking around it look like ants. The city has done a wonderful job of restoring and preserving their oldest buildings.
Day 3, Melbourne, Australia
Mike here…..I was offered a 3 year tour of shore duty in Melbourne with the Navy in 1990. I declined the offer to go to Maryland, VA, as it was to be my last tour before retiring and at the time I thought it would be easier to job search from the USA rather than from abroad. At the time I was single and can only wonder what course my life would have taken had I accepted the orders.
Melbourne’s weather reminded me of San Francisco or San Diego; Very cool and drabby. Fortunately we were there on a day that had some sunshine and no rain. We took a self-guided tour of the city by way of a “hop on, hop off” city bus. The parks were beautiful. We took a long stroll through one of the parks. They had a great Conservatory there. I met a local chap who was anxious to share history of the city and of the village he lives in outside the city limits. Lots of fun there just walking and riding around the city.
Day 5, Adelaide, Australia
Today was warmer and sunnier in this quaint port capital city. By the way, did you know that all of the state capitals in Australia are port cities? Again today we rode a city bus from the port to the city, then purchased an all-day pass on the rail (electric trolley). We got on and off the trolley several times to explore (and once because we missed a stop and had to go back). It was Easter Sunday but most of the shops were open for business. The highlight of our day was at the beach where they were having a kite flying festival. Much like seeing a hot air balloon festival in person, this kite festival had to be seen on site to be appreciated. The kites were mostly handmade and were VERY large. There was a good off shore breeze so we got quite a show!
Day 8, Fremantle (Perth), Australia
It feels so good to be going north. The weather keeps getting warmer and warmer. Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, is the sunniest capital city in the world with an average of 8 hours of sunshine 365 days of the year. Today was no exception. It was in the mid-80s with clear sunny skies all day. We wanted to see as much of the area as possible so we decided to take an organized tour by air conditioned bus. Our first stop was a 90 minute drive up the coastline to Yanchep National Park. We enjoyed a nice buffet at the park’s lodge, were entertained with an informative 45 minute session about the local Noongar (Aboriginal) culture, and then Maureen and I took a nice self-guided walk observing koalas and kangaroos (roos as the locals call them) in their local habitat. Maureen and I found a couple groups of western grey kangaroos with their newborns all laying in the shade of the local flora. It was exciting to be all alone with them out in the wild.
Our second stop on the way to downtown Perth was at Black Swan River to see the black swans. All I can say is if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Fortunately it was a very short stop.
The final stop was the crescendo! We visited Kings Park and Botanical Garden in Perth. It was beyond description. We could have spent an entire day, at least, there. The views, the flora and fauna, and the historical monuments were stunning. This park is a MUST see when you visit Perth!
Day 12, Bali (Benoa), Indonesia
After three consecutive gorgeous days of sailing in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean it was exciting to set foot on land in a new country. What a difference from Australia.
Bali is a 60×90 mile island that is part of the Republic of Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world with over 18,000 islands. The weather was a perfect 88*, 85% humidity and sunny with a gentle tropical breeze all day. This was the first of two ports in which we have to take a tender to shore and back to the ship. We waited 2 hours to have our number called to get off the ship and onto a tender. It was a very excessive wait time which took away from our on shore time. Never the less we had lots of fun on the island. We hired a driver ($60US for the entire day) to drive wherever we wanted to go. We enjoy driving back roads, visiting local markets, driving through small villages to see how the common natives live, and also visiting some of the tourist stops. Our driver spoke very good English. We enjoyed hearing about how he grew up on the island and how the locals live, eat, go to school, get married, Buddhism (the main religion), etc., as he drove us around in a new wonderfully air conditioned car.
Stops included a local village, an upscale living area, an old Buddhist Temple, a drive through the rice paddies, a small roadside fruit stand where we sampled some local fruit, a coffee plantation where drank some homemade teas and coffee, a stop at the beach, a visit to a very scenic waterfall way off the beaten path in Tegenungan Village where our diver grew up, and a visit to a traditional Balinese’s home. We had a great time on this island where the population was over 4 million in 2012. It is much more crowded now with the large influx of Muslims from the neighboring island of Java. We found the Australians and the locals in Bali are very upset about the immigration of all the Muslims in their respective countries.
Day 14, At Sea
Today at about 1000 hours we crossed the equator. There was a big party up on the Lido deck. This was the first time crossing the equator for Maureen and me. At the equator I filled the sink with water and drained it to see which direction the water drained in. The water did not drain clockwise like in the northern hemisphere or counterclockwise like the southern hemisphere. Rather it drained straight down. Hey, I have to entertain myself during the at sea days somehow
Day 16, Pattaya, Thailand
This stop was actually called Bangkok but Bangkok was a long 2 ½ drive through heavy stop and go traffic from the port. We opted to spend the day in the nearest city of Pattaya, only 45 minutes north of the port. The shuttle to get there was well worth the $8US fee to get there on the nice air conditioned bus. We definitely made a good choice.
Today was clear and sunny with the weather at a constant 89 degrees and 89% humidity! The city of Pattaya is very crowed, busy, and dirty. It is a beach city with long narrow beaches and beautiful 88 degree water. Maureen and I decided we would walk around some; sit inside a modern hotel with air conditioning, western (sit down) toilets, bar service, free high speed internet (we had our Ipads with us), a beautiful big pool, and right near the beach; visit a pharmacy to buy myself some Naproxen (OTC) in Thailand; tourist shop; and finally each get a 90 minute full body massage before catching the shuttle back to port. We spent the entire day in Pattaya doing exactly as planned. The massages were a whopping $13.81US each for 90 minutes in private rooms!
Day 18, Phu My (Laem Chabang), Vietnam
The Princess travel brochures call this stop “Ho Chi Minh City”. Saigon, as I will always call it, was actually 2 ½ hours away from the port. I had NO desire to go to Saigon, no matter how close or how far it was from port. Saigon is an extremely crowded city. There are over 6 MILLION motorbikes in the city! What we did instead was take a tour to poke our bodies inside the infamous 124 miles of Cu Chi tunnels the Viet Cong dug during my last vacation to Vietnam 46 years ago. The tunnels are located about 10 miles NW of Saigon. They are close to Cambodia and to the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Ho Chi Minh trail has a whole history of its own.
Being at and inside the tunnels was like being at Gettysburg but the battles here were fought when I was just a teenager and in my very early 20s. Being a Vietnam Combat Veteran myself, I could hear and see the see the firing of the M-16s, M-60s, hand held grenade launchers, and the AK-47s. It was all a very, very surreal experience for me. I lived and fought in the far southern portion of Vietnam in the Mekong Delta for one whole year, staging out of a tiny compound in the village of Ca Mau. I flew more than 400 Combat Missions as a door gunner in the old UH-1B “Huey” helicopters in 1970 and 1971. Having fought the enemy from the air only, it was amazing to be on the ground in the very forests where the US military men we were protecting were engaged in the same battles we were fighting from the air. While we were at the tunnels I shot an AK-47.
Day 20, Singapore, Indonesia
Today we decided to venture out all by ourselves with no destination in mind. The day started with a nice walk from the ship to the MRT (subway) station. We studied the subway map and decided to go into downtown Singapore to the Indian section of the city. We met our first obstacle trying to buy the subway ticket. The machine would not take $US and there was no place to exchange money. Fortunately a local man changed a $5 bill for me into Singapore dollars which was enough to ride the MRT to our first stop. The Singapore non coin money is made from plastic. It is so hot and humid there that paper gets wet and falls apart in your pocket. One of the reasons we rode the MRT was to see some of the city. Turns out that the entire train system is all underground. Oh well. Paying close attention to the stops, we managed to get off the subway at the correct station. When we reached the top of the escalator we were deep in the heart of Singapore even though we felt like it was India. Unlike most of the Singaporeans, the people from India spoke very, very little English or none at all. We found a large old 4 story shopping “mall.” It was long and very narrow inside. Two of the floors were underground. I was hoping to buy some binoculars but the prices were higher than Amazon. After walking around a while we decided to exchange some $US to Singapore money. There are numerous money exchange places along the streets in addition to going to a bank. Back on the subway we went to head to Marina Bay. Despite a bit of wandering around underground we did manage to successfully change trains along the way.
Marina Bay is an awesome place to visit. The famed Raffles Hotel (where the Singapore Sling was created and for $27US you can order one at their bar) is within walking distance from the subway stop. We opted to pass on the Sling and instead took a walk across a bridge we could see. Sure got lucky with our random choice of direction! Turns out we ended up right on Marina Bay and the sight of a previous Singapore Olympics. What an awesome area to visit. There was no expense limit in the building of the Olympics complex and surrounding buildings. All the walk ways and buildings were state of the art architecture like we have never seen. We ended the self-guided tour of Marina Bay by riding a hotel elevator to the 57th (top) floor of a hotel for a fabulous view of the city. There was even a very big swimming pool on the roof where you could swim right up to the edge of the building! Catching the MRT back to the ship from under the hotel was a breeze for us now.
Singapore is a fun place to visit and vacation. There is a lot to see and the people are VERY friendly. We were astonished at how clean the city was. NO trash anywhere. They fine you for throwing a cigarette butt out a car window or dropping one on the ground. Littering is littering and strictly enforced. You could literally eat off the floors in the subway stations. There are no trash cans in any of the stations and no eating, drinking, or smoking is allowed anywhere in the subway system.
Day 23, Nha Trang, Vietnam
Today was the second and last day that we had to anchor in the bay and take tenders ashore. Maureen and I thought it was hot in Singapore at 89 degrees but it was even hotter in Vietnam. This was our first stop in Vietnam where we were close to some distant mountains. Other than that, the place was just as dirty and poor as what we saw around Saigon to the south. We rode the ship’s shuttle bus to downtown and then straight back to the ship’s tendering area without getting off. There was nothing new of interest to see.
We could see a cable car line strung across Nha Trang harbor so we walked about 1km to check it out. Turns out the cable cars take you the 3 miles across the harbor to a large island in the harbor. Don’t know how high the cable cars were but they were way way up there. The tram drops you off in a huge theme park called Vinpearl Land. The price of the cable car includes all the rides at the park, the use of their beautiful beach, and up to over $7US each to spend on food in the park. We walked around, people watched, and had an ice cream. Even with temperatures in the mid-90s we had a blast.
Day 24, Chan May (Da Nang), Vietnam
It was another scorcher of a day with the temperature at 95 degrees, sunny, and 90% humidity. The mountains here come right up to the ends of the beach with thick green foliage covering them. The bus ride to Da Nang would have been a long, hot, and dirty trip so we took the ship’s bus shuttle into Chan May. The bus dropped us off at the Lang Co Beach Resort right on the ocean. The resort was clean, fairly modern, and right on the ocean. Some of the hotel’s bungalows even had a/c units in a window. Walking along the wide beach to the sea I felt as though I was on Pensacola Beach in Florida. With every step the bright white sand squeaked beneath my feet. The ocean was 89 degrees! Both ends of the miles long beach met at the tallest mountains we saw in Vietnam. Due to the temperature and humidity the haze made it difficult to make out the mountains. Standing on the beach I imagined what a different war our brave men fought in those mountains compared to the flat Mekong Delta full of rice paddies and triple canopy dense jungle where I fought.
Days 26 & 27, Hong Kong, China
Our ship spent two full days tied up to the pier in Hong Kong. Prior to arrival Maureen and I made a list of things to see including visiting a tailor shop, shop for a pair of binoculars, ride the tram to the top of Victoria Peak in Kowloon, and see Aberdeen village, home to thousands of “water people” who live aboard their junks and sampans (flat bottomed tiny boats) in Victoria Harbor. As it ended up we were so busy sightseeing that we did not get to a tailor shop and did not get to the section of Kowloon where all the binoculars are sold. What we did do was a lot of other fun things. The first day we took one of the ship’s tours. Hong Kong and Kowloon are so crowded that we did not want to venture out on our own the first day. We figured the tour would give us “the lay of the land”. Hong Kong is home to the most Rolls Royce cars per capita. The city is still one of the world’s most car dependent cities. Another fact is Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other country globally with over 8,000 skyscrapers, which is almost double the number in New York City. While I was in the Navy we flew our plane into Hong Kong a couple times. Things changed a lot since I was there. The first big change is that the dock we were tied up to was the airport runway I landed on back in the 70s. They have since moved the airport to a safer area. The old airfield was notorious for being one of the most dangerous places in the world to land and take off due to it being up against high rise apartment buildings on one end and high mountains on the other end. The weather during our two day visit was typical for the city – overcast, humid, smoggy, and foggy with periods of downpours. The places our tour took us were to Victoria Mountain where we rode the tram to the top, Victoria Harbor were we rode around the harbor in a traditional flat bottom small boat seeing the boat people’s ‘homes’ and the floating restaurant/marketplace, and finally to Stanley Market – a globally renowned outdoor bazaar in Hong Kong. With the lousy weather and overcrowded streets, the tour bus was a wise decision for us. On day two we took a leisurely walk to a large shopping mall close to the ship. It was fun seeing the local ‘hot’ items for sale. For the most part the mall was like a typical mall in the USA. They even had a Starbucks and an Apple computer store there.
Day 29, Taipei (Keelung), China
At 0700 we woke up already tied up to the dock in Keelung. The sky was sunny and clear with a warm temperature. Instead of a planned tour we hired a taxi for the day. The driver did not speak a word of English so I had him turn on his hotspot on his cell phone so that I too had Wi-Fi. I then opened a translator website, he did the same on his phone and we were able to talk to each other! We first had him drive us to Yangmingshan National Park via downtown Taipei. As we drove through the city it was evident that like the rest of China there are two classes: rich and poor. Of course the vast majority is poor and live in government high rise housing. The apartments are very tiny and each houses about 6 people crammed in one unit. Taipei is home to the 101, the world’s second tallest skyscraper with 101 floors above ground and 5 below. It was about an hour’s drive from the port to Yangmingshan. We enjoyed a couple hours in this huge mountain park. There are miles and miles of hiking trails, most are very steep. Maureen and I took a short hike to a flower garden. It was a very lush walk with think forest and waterfalls. We especially enjoyed seeing the steaming fields of fumaroles and hot springs (post volcanic activity) high in the mountains. Everyone we “met” in the park was very polite and excited to see Caucasians. Some even practiced a tiny bit of English on us. Too bad our governments cannot all get along and have world peace. Everyplace we travel people are people. Coming down the mountains we enjoyed the winding narrow road, a motorcycle biker’s heaven. Exiting the park we enjoyed a beautiful drive along the ocean to our final destination, Yehliu Geo Park, famous for its spectacular rock formations of lunar-like landscape that abuts the pounding sea. Seaside there was an outdoor food market selling fruit and fish. Most of the “fish” were unrecognizable to us. None of the fish, squid, octopus, etc. was refrigerated! We opted not to buy any food or drink at the market. The return drive to the ship was via the winding, scenic seashore, avoiding Taipei altogether.
Day 31, Kagoshima, Japan
This was a very short port call. By the time the ship cleared each and every person on board through customs, we were only left with a few hours ashore. Kagoshima is a very small city of about 600,000 people. A shuttle bus took us downtown to a high end shopping center so we could walk around for a while. We could not find anyone who spoke any English. We enjoyed this VERY clean city with its extremely friendly residents and the beautiful mountains all around it. Today was so sunny and clear that we were treated to a stunning view of Sakurajima Island, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. Sakurajima rises over 1,000 feet above the waters of Kagoshima Bay. The volcano has erupted over 30 times and is still active with minor eruptions taking place multiple times per day. Back at the pier we were treated to a big sendoff by a high school band playing music and dancing for us as we sailed away from the dock.
Day 32, Osaka, Japan
It sure was a busy afternoon in Osaka. We arrived at 1400 and departed at 2130. Today we were able to walk from the dock to the subway. Once on the subway, which was an experience in itself trying to figure out how to buy tickets, we rode it to downtown Osaka. Our destination was the Umeda Sky Building, one of the top (most interesting) 20 buildings in the world. Thanks to the help of a young Japanese man from Tokyo who was in Osaka on business, we found the Building. We were not disappointed. The building is actually two 40 story buildings joined together by a glass horizontal walkway on about the 4th floor, and joined together by two separate very long glass escalators – one going up from floor 35 to 40 and one going down from floor 40 to 35. The 40th floor is round and we walked all the way around it. There is a café up there and all the way around are floor to ceiling windows. From the 40th floor we walked up one more floor to the outside “floating garden”, an outdoor 360 degree walkway overlooking all of Osaka. We could even see the ship from up there. The weather was overcast and hazy but the views were stunning none the less. On our walk back to the subway from the Sky Building, Maureen stopped at a shoe store. She found a nice pair of shoes to buy but they did not have her size 10. This high end shoe store only had shoes up to size 8! Our next destination via the subway was to a huge electronics store called BIC. We impressed ourselves with finding the building. It was 4 stories of everything from computers to phones to cameras to binoculars. I found a pair of binoculars but they are actually a lot cheaper on Amazon! We found our way back to the subway and back to the ship. Osaka is a very big, very crowded city but as usual there was not a bit of trash anywhere. The Japanese we talked to spoke very little if any English at all. They are VERY friendly and polite. Lots of walking and an interesting fun day.
Day 34, Yokohama, Japan
This morning we disembarked the Diamond Princess, claimed our baggage, and took a nice 2 hour bus ride to Narita International Airport in Tokyo where we boarded our Delta flight for the long flight back to Phoenix. We left Japan at 1630 Monday afternoon, April 25th, and landed in Phoenix the same day at 1430. Yes, we landed 2 hours earlier than we took off due to crossing the international dateline.
Misc on board pictures