A Slow Boat Back To Asia

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November 1st 2011
Published: June 23rd 2017
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So full disclosure- I've never seen the magic in the cruising underworld. The idea of being transported, along with 2,000 of your closest friends to various ports of call that could easily pass for very large souvenir stands selling the same T-shirts and trinkets didn't hold much appeal. And the never ending buffet line-ups and riveting shuffleboard tournaments couldn't pull me to the dark side. But when I mentioned the idea of a slow boat back to Hawaii/Asia to the Princess, she was all over it (and it became another in a long list of retirement gifts she was busy acquiring because what the princess wants, the princess gets). Under the guise of trying anything once, I was happy to give it a go, and it had to be a breeze compared to air travel, right?

Not for this particular trip. Boarding was to take place at a pier along San Diego's waterfront which with complete security checks only took a couple of hours and would have been great if the ship was there. It had been there earlier in the day but because of something called Jones Law passengers of a non-U.S. registered ship couldn't embark and then disembark in consecutive U.S. ports so the ship had to sail down to Ensenada, Mexico, and all of our fellow shipmates had to be moved from San Diego to Ensenada in a huge bus convoy that took close to 5 hours to reach Ensenada. We had to pick up a Mexican police escort at the border, and then line up on the pier in Ensenada so the Federales could check us into Mexico complete with security check so we could walk another 10 feet to the gangway of the ship where, you guessed it, another security check was conducted. So this had to be the end, after all, if we had flown to Hawaii from San Diego, we would have been there by now. But sure enough, 3 of our 4 checked bags were also grabbed by security (apparently the dogs had alerted on 2 of them). The diving knife I use to fend off Great White Sharks was a legitimate catch but they couldn't explain the problem with the other two so we still don't know what triggered the dogs.

The cabin we were assigned was right at the back of the boat and just above the nightclub but I had pegged the average age of our fellow passengers at something north of 100 so late night parties didn't seem to be much of a threat. It was much bigger and nicer than expected and we even had a balcony (hard on the heels of pushing me to finish up my will, DH really wanted that balcony- hopefully just a coincidence).

Our first few days were at sea, so we had plenty of time to explore the ship, meet some of our fellow travellers, and partake in the many action packed distractions organized by the ship's staff (if hula dancing or ukulele playing were a little much for the blood pressure you could dial it back to napkin folding or scrapbooking- I didn't even want to know who signed up for napkin folding but we did go to the distressing passenger concert of hula & ukulele). The fitness center was pretty good and we spent a lot of time inside trying to work off the results of the irresistible food extravaganza that seemed to take place all over the rest of the boat (unfortunately there was a burger grill adjacent to the fitness center that was something of a siren song for DH- she chowed down on one of these works of art during 9 of the 10 days we were on board- sort of defeated the purpose of the workouts!).

Our time on the Pacific was somewhat rough which was a bit unexpected given the gigantic size of the ship (although, according to the grizzled veterans of cruising, this ship was a mere baby compared to some of the newer ones). In addition to the off-putting evidence of upset tummies, the ranks of the walking wounded grew each day as our somewhat brittle fellow shipmates started sporting all manner of leg and arm casts, as well as slings of all types- by the end of this cruise you could have justified painting a big red cross on the deck of the ship.

The real joy of the cruise was the people we met- houseboat owners from Australia, ex military policeman from St Louis, football fanatics from Texas, all contributed to the fun we were having. And the highlight was probably the soccer hooligans from London who were our dinner mates for the duration of the cruise. Three couples from England (two of the couples were effectively neighbours in London) included Lorraine and Michael, Una and Fred, as well as Carol and Dave. Michael was a true character- ostensibly a builder in London, he was always decked out in beads and trinkets, sporting painted toenails and a positive attitude about everything ("it was ever so good"😉, and he put us on to an Elvis impersonator who was doing private shows each evening. I think Michael had a bit of a crush on Elvis but it was Una, who had a bit of a hot-tempered Princess Di thing going on, who took it to the next level with an evening of shameless flirting and hair flicking with Elvis. Fred was gearing up to knock Elvis back to the Heatbreak Hotel but was easily distracted by some conversation about a Discovery Channel episode. Suffice to say, we had a lot of laughs with this group and were regularly the last group evicted from the dining room.

Our first stop was Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was great to get back on dry land again, and DH and I had booked a “strenuous” hike across a Kiluea volcanic crater with “a chance of seeing live lava”. Not one of the greatest excursions we've ever signed up for- the lava had stopped flowing in March of this year (apparently at the time of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami) and the hike might have been strenuous if you were obliged to use a walker, but it was good to get off the boat and give the limbs a good stretch.

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28th November 2011

Vic & Deb, I'm still laughing from the posting. Your description of life aboard a floating Holiday Inn Express confirms my prejudices about big boat cruising. Still, it's all about the people you meet and from the sounds of it, you met
some interesting ones for sure. Look forward to the next posting.

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