Aug – Sep 2010: British Isles, Greenland, & Canada

Click Here to see the entire British Isles, Greenland, & Canada  Photo Album and Slideshow

Aug – Sep 2010 – British Isles, Greenland, & Canada Cruise
August 31, 2010 – Day 0
San Francisco, California to London, United Kingdom

Well, after the year that we’ve had, it was time to get back to one of the things that we do best, and that means…  Travel!  The idea of doing a Northern Transatlantic is not a new one for us.  We’ve seen the itinerary on a number of cruise line websites, though the trip is only offered once a year.  In the past though, the cost was always off the charts, so we elected to “wait until the time was right” and with the bad economy and a recession in the US and most of the countries we are visiting, the price finally got down to a place where our travel savings account could survive the impact.

To prepare for this trip, we embarked on a bit of an “experiment” to fight off as much jet lag as we could…  The last three days were certainly no picnic, but we have successfully been able to accomplish 3 things:

1)  Fall asleep at 4pm in the afternoon (12Midnight in London)
2)  Wake up between 11pm and 1am (7am – 9am in London)
3)  Stay awake and functioning from wakeup until the next time we fell asleep.

So, after waking up at midnight, completing the last of our packing and closing out the last of our tasks, we made our way over to San Francisco International at 10:30am, dropped luggage, got our boarding passes, and made it through security by 11:05.  So, we’re at the gate, will have our “dinner” and board the plane for a 12:59pm departure.  We’ll get about 3-4 hours on the plane before we will hopefully get 6 hours of sleep and arrive into London about 7am local time…

We’ll see how it goes…  Tomorrow, arrival into London, transfer to Southampton, and Stonehenge!

Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Grounded II - St. Ives, United Kingdom

Grounded II – St. Ives, United Kingdom

St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Seats at the Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

Seats at the Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

 

September 1, 2010 – Day 1
London, United Kingdom to Southampton, United Kingdom

Although it wasn’t a terribly good night of sleep on board the plane (it’s never really good on a plane, ever, is it?), we arrived early into London’s Heathrow airport at around 6:55am.  After picking up our bags (which didn’t take more than 10 minutes), we had some time to kill before boarding our coach to Southampton at 9:30am.  In the meantime, Darin picked up a mobile broadband USB stick at Vodafone and Natalie worked on a couple of things, and we headed over to the bus station at about 8:45.  Our coach was on-time and we boarded.  Comfortable seats and an opportunity for a nap, if we wanted one, it was a quiet and uneventful trip and we arrived into Southampton at 11:25am.

We grabbed a taxi to our hotel, dropped our bags, and got right back out to start our day…  We also needed to make our train at 11:50 and to make sure we didn’t fall asleep!  We got to the train station with about 2 minutes to spare, and made our train to take us out to Salisbury, the closest train station to Stonehenge.  From here, we boarded a double decker bus that would take us out to Stonehenge and Old Sarum.

The weather could not have been better for the ride.  As we passed the English countryside, we enjoyed temps in the 70s and sunny skies.  The total travel time out to Stonehenge didn’t take more than 25 minutes, and we were approaching the rocks that ancient peoples (5,000 years ago) were able to manipulate and form in ways that most people still can’t do today (without heavy machinery or cranes…)

Stonehenge has seen its changes and degradation over the years, but today, there is a well thought out path around the structure and an accompanying audio tour.  Over the course of the next hour, we learned about the history of Stonehenge, and viewed the 3rd Stonehenge on the site.  Pictures were taken, and it was a great start to our afternoon.

From here, we journeyed back towards Salisbury, stopping at Old Sarum, a fortress for the city that was in use early in the last millennium (think 12th and 13th century).  By this time most of what remained were in fact remains…  Here we were able to share not only history, but the local people enjoying a beautiful out in a national heritage park.

We got back to Salisbury and boarded our train back to Southampton, we had another 30 minute ride back into town, where Natalie and I got to try out our first of many Salt & Vinegar Potato chips…  I know, I know, we have these in the states, but 1) they just taste better in the UK, and 2) they just taste better in the UK…

Once we got back into Southampton, we headed to Asda, the local supermarket for a few items, and finally checked-in to our hotel, where we will spend the next two evenings in room 432.

From here, we logged on, found our spot for dinner and headed out to walk the city…  About 15 minutes later, we arrived at Cantina, a mexican food restaurant that had a nice gluten menu, and we enjoyed an excellent meal of nachos, tostadas, fire-grilled corn with ancho chile, lime, butter, and red bell pepper, and Fajita Spiced Chili Fries.  We were happy campers.

A beautiful walk home in the incredibly safe city and we called it a night.

Tomorrow, we head to the Isle of Wight…

Scenic Greenland

Scenic Greenland

Polar Ice Cap and the Greenlandic Coastline -- Scenic Greenland

Polar Ice Cap and the Greenlandic Coastline — Scenic Greenland

Greenlandic Coastline -- Scenic Greenland

Greenlandic Coastline — Scenic Greenland

As Close As We Were Gonna Get -- Reykjavik, Iceland

As Close As We Were Gonna Get — Reykjavik, Iceland

 

September 2, 2010 – Day 2
Southampton, United Kingdom

After a well deserved night’s rest, we woke up 12 hours later at 10am — best part…  we had beaten jet lag, and were ready to head out to the Isle of Wight.  We walked down to the ferry docks, were we picked up the Red Funnel high-speed ferry from Southampton to West Cowes.  It was a quick 25 minute ride and we had arrived on the island.

From here, the public transport system is exceptional, so we boarded our first bus of the day, purchased a day pass (called a Rover) and made our way into the main city and hub of the island, Newport.  Everyone we seemed to meet on the island was very welcoming and always willing to talk/share and assist us in anyway we needed.  A grandmother had brought her young grandson over for the day to sightsee, and he proceeded to share with us the key information about the island (approx. 25 x 35 miles in size, 9 main bus lines, how to get from point A to point B, and what he really enjoyed seeing when he visited his grandmother.  Grandma filled us in on the rest of the key details and we were set for the day…  (Or so we thought…)

Arriving at the main bus terminal, we had about 30 minutes before our bus to Carisbrooke Castle, so we headed to a local market café to grab some lunch, where Natalie had a jacket potato with cheddar and I a Chicken Tikka Masala served over rice with naan.  A nice old woman was seated at the table across from us, introduced herself and offered some insight as to how to spend our day (noticing a pattern here?)

 

After getting plenty of info as to how to structure our day, we boarded the #7 bus towards Carisbrooke Castle, about 8 minutes from Newport.  Once we got off the bus, we hiked our way up the hill (castles all seem to be at the tops of hills) and we arrived at the front entrance (taking the scenic route from the very back of the property, around the moat, and to the front gate – no joke…)

Entering the castle, it was clear this place was going to be a great day experience, especially when the first exhibit let Darin dress up like a medieval knight, complete with chainmail gloves protective chest armor and a helmet!  Along with see and playing with some of the castle’s weapons (Natalie fired a cannon), we made our way around the grounds to see the different faces of the castle.  Over its tenure, it had been utilized as a castle, a prison, a mansion, and a fortress over the course of about 900+ years.  We saw the well that was powered by donkey (they have 5 onsite that raise and lower the water buckets in the well several times a day in a mouse wheel like contraption) saw Beatrice’s garden (she was the youngest and most loved child of Queen Victoria), and walked at the very top of the castle wall around the entire grounds.  Great fun, great pictures, and there weren’t a ton of people either, so it made for a really nice visit.

From Carisbrooke, we headed back down to the main road and reboarded the #7 loop bus to see the western half of the Isle of Wight.  As we passed through tiny towns and rolled through the English countryside, we sat back and enjoyed the view from our seats on the top level of the double-decker bus.  As the summer season was drawing to a close, we arrived back into Newport around 6:15pm, and decided to head back to the high speed ferry and work our way back to the mainland.

Upon arrival into Southampton, we walked to Oxford Street, where we found La Esquina.  This Spanish tapas place served nothing but Tapas and we enjoyed small plates of Potato and Chorizo, slow roasted Pork Belly, Chicken Skewers, Fries with Garlic Mayo (they were excellent), Serrano Ham, and Pedron Peppers.  It was a feast, and finished off the night wonderfully.

After dinner, we had another beautiful walk back to our hotel, and called it a day.

Tomorrow, we board the Crown Princess for the cruise!

A Little Boat, A Huge Country -- Scenic Greenland

A Little Boat, A Huge Country — Scenic Greenland

St. Stephen's Green -- Dublin, Ireland

St. Stephen's Green — Dublin, Ireland

Seats Inscribed with Plays and Years of Production - Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

Seats Inscribed with Plays and Years of Production – Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

Where the Road Ends -- Newfoundland, Canada

Where the Road Ends — Newfoundland, Canada

 

September 3, 2010 – Day 3
Southampton, United Kingdom

The morning of our cruise departure is always a lazy one for us.  We woke about 9:30am, got packed up, and headed out to the local supermarket (ASDA) to pick up some gluten-free munchies for the trip.  When we got back to the hotel, we picked up the direct line phone in the lobby, requested a taxi to take us and our luggage to the port, and within 3 minutes, had a driver at the front door of the hotel (leaving 3 other parties that had called before us wondering, “How did that happen?”)

We arrived down at Pier 46/47, where the Crown Princess was boarding, entered the terminal, and proceeding to complete check-in and move through security in about 20 minutes.  The staff and process at the Southampton port was extremely well done, and would be really nice if it could be duplicated in some of our other embarkation locations.

Onboard and in our room by 1:30pm, we got everything unpacked and settled in for the next 14 days and still had time to spare before the emergency drill.  This was a cookie cutter process, nothing special to report and we were back in our stateroom by 4:30pm where we booked the thermal suite for the duration of the cruise in the Spa and headed up to the Lido deck for a quick bite to eat.

At 6pm, we headed down to the spa for our first of many Thermal suite visits, and low and behold, the spa staff were still giving tours and showing potential customers the place!  While we were trying to relax in the aromatherapy steam rooms or on the heated tile loungers, staff and passengers were yapping about “How much is this? and “Does that shower have shampoo and lotion?”…  Once Natalie and I got our iPod earbuds in, they all disappeared into an endless loop of music.

Back to the room for a shower and then off to dinner in the Botticelli Dining Room for our 8:15pm late seating.  Here we met our tablemates Ronald and William, and our waiter Jesse and Ass’t Waiter, Charie.  We had a nice dinner and headed off to sleep early with the early port call tomorrow.

Tomorrow – Falmouth and the Cornwall coast!

Crooner's Bar -- Crown Princess

Crooner's Bar — Crown Princess

The Grounds @ Carisbrooke Castle - Carisbrooke, United Kingdom

The Grounds @ Carisbrooke Castle – Carisbrooke, United Kingdom

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Where the Deaths Took Place at Kilmainham -- Dublin, Ireland

Where the Deaths Took Place at Kilmainham — Dublin, Ireland

 

September 4, 2010 – Day 4
Falmouth & Cornwall, United Kingdom

The captain informed us that high winds would adjust our entry to the port of Falmouth by about one hour and that we would be tendering vs. docking, so we got off to a somewhat slow start.  We had an independent tour group of 12 with OTS/Constantine to see a number of sites in Cornwall and our driver/guide for the day Karin, did not disappoint.

She was an energetic, down to earth woman who knew the roads well, a tremendous amount of history and cultural information about the area, and ensured that we could make the most of our slightly shortened day.  She adjusted our itinerary for weather, ensuring that we could see as many things as possible, and avoiding the crowds wherever possible.

So, with this adjustment, we took off in our mini-bus to the coastal town of St. Ives, a wonderful waterfront of old buildings and fishing boats along the waterfront.  The tides have an important place in the lives and goings on of the town as when the tide is out, all of the boats are beached!  4×4 vehicles have to drive onto the sand bars and manually hitch the boats to trailers to get them out of the “harbor”.

We spent about an hour here, taking in the waterfront, exploring tiny little streets with Cornish pasty shops (pasties here are meat filled pastries that are like a U.S. based “Hot Pocket”) and admiring the bakeries, curio shops, galleries, and the history that surrounds it all.  As we began to make our way back to the bus, we encountered a bardship procession.  This is a procession of men and women that have secured their bardship, a credential essentially of mastery of Cornish history and culture, seen as a higher honor than a university degree.  Difficult to achieve and gaining much stature, the people that had earned it in the last session where celebrating this day, with a parade, music, and a festival to take place later in the day (hence our early arrival to avoid the chaos to come later in the day).

From here, we wound our way to Minack Theatre, an open air theater carved into the granite cliff edge in a tiny town along the Cornish coastline.  It was created by a single woman and her gardener as a place to put on and present plays in a unique and memorable setting.  It certainly was.  The Minack has been in use for more than 40 years, with performances that run the spectrum from international music to Shakespeare and everything in between.  Patrons sit on grass plots or stone carved seats, each inscribed with the name and year of a previous production.  The stage back drop is the incoming and outflowing waves of the ocean as they crash up against the jagged rocks that sit at the base of the cliff.  Even today, the theater offers its performance seats for less than 10 pounds (a ridiculously inexpensive evening in such a picturesque location).

Next on the itinerary was Marazion and St. Michael’s Mount, a castle hat sits high above the horizon perched on an island just yards offshore from the coastal town of Marazion.  In low tide, a pedestrian walkway is available as the waters recede with the drawdown of the ocean from the coast.  In high tides, it is only accessible via boat.  At the time of our arrival, the tide was in and the weather was still somewhat misty/foggy, so visibility was not terribly good.  We were at least able to get some pictures, which wasn’t so bad given that the Mount is closed on Saturdays to visitors anyways…

Our final stop before making our way back to the ship was the tiny community of Porthleven.  This tiny fishing village (as fishing, agriculture and tourism are the primary industries here) has the unique interest of all of the news media outlets whenever a large storm comes in, for it is here that the ocean churns more fierce than nearly anywhere in the Cornish coastline.  The waves can at time top even the small church located right on the water’s edge.  These heights are nearly unimaginable to us visitors, but the memorials to the countless numbers of local residents who lost their lives to those violent waves tells a much different story.

We slowly made our way back to Falmouth to rejoin the ship, taking advantage of the small size of our mini bus to see more of the countryside along back roads and country lanes that the larger buses simply cannot navigate.  We saw farms and cottages, a number of beautiful brick and granite stone homes, and green hillsides covered in corn.

Arriving back at the ship, the queue for the tenders was massive, and thankfully we were near the front of the line upon our return.  We said our farewells to our driver Karin and our tour group took a picture with her dockside as we said goodbye.  We had a nice chat with two fellow cruisers as we slowly wound our way to the front of the line and finally boarded our tender to arrive back on board about an hour later.

This afternoon was the scheduled meet and greet for the Cruise Critics group and we arrived at Skywalkers lounge on deck 18 to find a small gathering (most folks were still in line trying to get back onboard!) and we had a chance to meet others on our cruise as well as carry on the conversation with some of the new folks we had met online.

Tonight was the first of three formal nights, so we headed back to our room (after a snack stop at the grill for a bite to eat) and headed to the thermal suite for some sauna and heated tile loungers (they really do take the day’s touring and melt it away).  Once back in the cabin, a long shower and dressed in dresses and suits, we made our way to dinner.

The dining room has taken excellent care of Natalie’s gluten-free food needs over the course of the cruise thus far.  Each night, the waiter and the head waiter walk us through the next evening menus, identifying GF meals that are available, as well as modifications and special orders that can be made with one day’s notice.  Everyone had been accomodating and she has been able to partake in most options available onboard.

After another nice meal with our tablemates, we headed back to the room for a good night’s sleep, as another full day in Dublin is on tap for tomorrow.

Tomorrow – the capital of Ireland, Dublin…

A Little Greenlandic Town Against the Backdrop of Towering Mountains on the Coast -- Scenic Greenland

A Little Greenlandic Town Against the Backdrop of Towering Mountains on the Coast — Scenic Greenland

Greenlandic Coastline -- Scenic Greenland

Greenlandic Coastline — Scenic Greenland

Greenland Polar Ice Cap -- Scenic Greenland

Greenland Polar Ice Cap — Scenic Greenland

The Gardens @ Carisbrooke Castle - Carisbrooke, United Kingdom

The Gardens @ Carisbrooke Castle – Carisbrooke, United Kingdom

 

September 5, 2010 – Day 5
Dublin, Ireland

Due the shifting tides of Dublin and its impact on the arrival and departure of cruise ships, the Crown Princess arrived one hour later than originally scheduled at 8am and stayed an extra hour and 45 minutes for a departure at 6:45pm.  Given this extra time, we made the most of a gray day in Dublin.  We arrived into the center of town via taxi at about 9am where Darin found an ATM and Natalie got into line at the Trinity College Library, home of the Book of Kells, Armaugh, and Burrow.  These ancient texts are on display as some of the oldest written and illustrated (for the non-literate) gospels of the bible, dating from 800 AD.  After a short wait of only about 20 minutes, the library opened and Natalie and I were fortunate to be the very first people to enter the library.  There was a small exhibit depicting the history surrounding the texts and then we were lead into a dimly lit room where the books were on display.  Seeing the 1200 year old books was a testament to the ability of history to continue to educate all of us, even today.  A nice gentleman, working at the library, provided us with some additional information about the works and that they are continuing to rotate the works every 4 months.

Once we had completed in the room of the Book of Kells viewing, we took a short walk upstairs to “The Long Room”.  In this single room, more than 200,000 books were housed in one place, many of which were dated from several hundred years ago.  Unfortunately, there are no pictures permitted in the library, so after viewing this awe-inspiring place, we stepped down to the gift shop and picked up some postcards.

From here, we boarded our hop-on, hop-off bus for the day and the live commentary of the drivers was both fun and very “Irish” as they had plenty of fun with every aspect of the tour, the people on it, and the sights we would be seeing today.

After riding along for a while and getting plenty of pictures of the sights and the city from the open-air second deck, we got off at the first of many stops for the day, Kilmainham Gaol.  Initally designed and built to reform the criminals of the city of Dublin, it quickly became a place of death, despair, and overcrowding as crime rose in the ever growing city and with plights such as the great potato famine impacting the people of the country.  Prisoners came to Kilmainham as young as 6 and over time, people actually committed crimes to come to the jail since it at least meant a place to sleep and 2 meals a day.  Our guide through this place was knowledgeable and brought a sense of history and belonging to the tour.  The stories told brought the place to life and made our hour there fly by.

After leaving the jail, we continued on the HOHO bus and made our way through Phoenix Park and back along the river Liffey.  We got off near O’Connell bridge and walked down Grafton Street (the main shopping district), grabbed a gluten-free pizza lunch at Hell Pizza, walked through St. Stephen’s Green (a beautiful, immaculately clean, and colorful park), and got back on the HOHO to take us to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

As we arrived, we were warned by our tour guide that the church was closed to tourists and that tours would not be permitted again for another 90 minutes.  As we exited the coach, although we got some funny looks, we knew what we were doing.  As the sprinkling rain began to pick up, Natalie nicely asked the person at the front door if we could attend services (which neither required a charge to enter, nor was available to tourists), and we were promptly let in.  Upon meeting on the of the priests, we explained that we had hoped to attend Sunday services while visiting in town, and we were warmly escorted to our pews.

The next hour was extremely memorable as we got to see and participate in Sunday afternoon services with no tourists and a small congregation to share in the choir’s evensong (the mass is nearly all sung) service.  All the candles were lit and the altar shone as the psalms were sung and the stained glass reflected back against the dark and gray sky outside.  It was an experience few on the cruise ship could say they had.  As we exited the church, a crowd of nearly 200 tourists outside were waiting in the rain, wondering, “How in the world did they get in?” as we slowly disappeared into the crowd and made our way back into the streets of Dublin.

Next door in St. Patrick’s park, we took plenty of pictures of the iconic church and made our way a couple of blocks north to Christchurch Cathedral, one of the oldest in the city.  Pictures taken here as we made our way back to the river Liffey and made our way up O’Connell Street to see the Millennium Spire before grabbing a taxi back to the ship in the deteriorating weather.  By the time we arrived back at the ship, the wind was howling, the rain cold and very wet, and we were more than happy to be back on board.

Before we could get to the thermal suite though, the captain came onto the loudspeaker and announced that we would not be leaving Dublin that evening due to the bad weather and extremely hazardous conditions in the Irish Sea.  In this case Belfast port would be cancelled and we would head directly to Reykjavik the following day at noon.

Though disappointed (Our first missed port in all of our cruising), we made the most of the situation and had a nice evening in the thermal suite and dinner with our tablemates.  Hopefully tomorrow, the weather will improve a bit and let us get underway.

Tomorrow – Another day in Dublin, and a late start for Reykjavik…

Icebergs -- Scenic Greenland

Icebergs — Scenic Greenland

Qaqortoq, Greenland

Qaqortoq, Greenland

Signal Hill Pond -- St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Signal Hill Pond — St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Greenlandic Coastline -- Scenic Greenland

Greenlandic Coastline — Scenic Greenland

 

September 6, 2010 – Day 6
Belfast & Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland Dublin, Ireland (Part 2)

Another morning in Dublin as the rain fell sideways and any semi-crazy sole wishing to venture out returned soaked to the bone from head to toe…  Since Natalie and I had made such good progress the day before in Dublin and saw nearly everything we wanted to see, we made it a leisurely day with breakfast in the main dining room and catching an afternoon movie (It’s Complicated) in the Princess Theater.

It was about this time that we got more bad news (schedule-wise) that the Dublin harbor master would not let us leave at 12:00noon and that the next opportunity to head out into slightly better weather would be at 7:00pm that evening.  Although everyone understood the impacts of this change, this unfortunately meant that we had now begun to impact our window to get into Reykjavik, Iceland as we were running out of time given the distance we needed to travel.  Only time, weather, and the ship will determine our ability to make the port.

After a long period of waiting and hoping, we were able to finally pull out of the harbor into only slightly better weather at 7:00pm.  The captain got on the PA and said that Reykjavik is still in the realm of possibility, though if and when we get there, it will be later than we were expecting.  More details on the arrival tomorrow (our day at sea) as we evaluate our progress.

Another nice afternoon of naps and thermal suite and a great evening meal with our tablemates and we called it a night.

Tomorrow – A day at sea and an update on arrival in Iceland…

Scenic Greenland

Scenic Greenland

Bright & Sunny in Qaqortoq, Greenland

Bright & Sunny in Qaqortoq, Greenland

Main Stage -- Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

Main Stage — Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

St. Ives, United Kingdom

St. Ives, United Kingdom

 

September 7,2010 – Day 7
At Sea – En Route to Reykjavik, Iceland

Well, the titles are finally right again as we are making our way to Iceland.  The captain came onto the PA at noon and provided the update that our original 10am arrival into Reykjavik has been delayed to 2pm, but we will be able to get 2 of those hours back in our departure, so we will now in port from 2pm – 9pm from an original 10am – 7pm.  Still, we are appreciative that we will be able to call upon Iceland and say that we have been there.

We slept in this morning, and attended a wonderful lecture by Johnathan Maxwell-Graham on Maritime History, specifically Titanic and their survivors.  He is an excellent writer and speaker and someone that we will enjoy seeing again as he continues his series of lectures onboard.

Lunch in the main dining room and a relaxing afternoon at the International Café (three display cases of free pastries, snacks, and mini-deserts) while Darin worked on the travel log and Natalie knocked out puzzle after puzzle of Sudoku.

 

The ship was making a great speed and the movement in the North Atlantic, though the captain was advising the crew of a “heavy weather routine”, wasn’t too much to be worked up about…  We were headed for Reykjavik, through we were informed that our arrival would be delayed by 4 hours from 10am in the morning to 2pm in the afternoon, due to the time lost in Dublin.  In exchange for the loss in time, the captain moved our departure from Reykjavik from 7pm to 9pm, so we could have two additional hours to make the most of our time on the ground.

We adjusted our itineraries accordingly, and checked in with our tour group to get updated information and headed off to dinner in the dining room.  It was another nice evening with our tablemates and our waiter, ass’t waiter, and head waiter all continued to take excellent care of us with great service and many great options to support Natalie’s gluten allergy.

After dinner we went up to the Princess Theater and saw the First Lady of Wales comedy routine.  It was a bit of a song and dance routine with a lot of jokes thrown in.  She was actually quite good, very engaging with the audience, and as evident by the polarization of the audience’s laughter, doing very well with the passengers from the British Isles, and a little less (though not problematic) with the folks from the United States.  A good night overall and we headed off to sleep with visions of Reykjavik dancing in our heads.

Tomorrow – The verdict on Reykjavik…  Will we make it into port?

Qaqortoq Harbor -- Qaqortoq, Greenland

Qaqortoq Harbor — Qaqortoq, Greenland

Scenic Greenland

Scenic Greenland

Strawberries Here Are Only in Cans ($2.50 each) -- Qaqortoq, Greenland

Strawberries Here Are Only in Cans ($2.50 each) — Qaqortoq, Greenland

A Little Boat, A Huge Country -- Scenic Greenland

A Little Boat, A Huge Country — Scenic Greenland

 

September 8, 2010 – Day 8
Reykjavik, Iceland 1 Mile from Reykjavik, Iceland

Well…  The title kinda says it all…  As we awoke, we could tell the ship was still moving at an exceptionally fast pace and we were all hoping that the Captain was working to shave a few minutes off here and there to get us some more time in port at Reykjavik.  By 10am, I estimated that we were only about 90 minutes away from port, so the hope was that we would get into dock and hopefully get an extra hour, depending on how long it took to get up to the port and get into place to allow passengers to disembark.

We headed to an early lunch in the dining room in the hopes that once finished, we could make our way to the appropriate deck to begin the lineup to head into town and start our Golden Circle tour in Iceland.

About 12:30pm, the gongs sounded on the PA system and the captain came on, as my original guess was lining up to truth, the words heard painted a much different and less exciting picture of our current situation.  It seems that a passenger vessel the size of the Crown Princess requires winds of less than 32 knots in order to navigate the tricky passage into the Reykjavik harbor.  Coming into Iceland, I had seen on the television that we were facing winds as high as 48 knots and it seemed that the wind was not letting up at all.

Although we were about 1 mile from the harbor, the winds has not dropped enough for us to enter and we would be “holding position” in the hopes that the winds would die down and provide for more favorable conditions to enter.

3 1/2 hours later and after three separate attempts to enter, the best we could get on the winds was down to 36 knots, and that was for only a couple minutes, when it gusted back to over 40 again.  It was clear that we weren’t going to make it into Iceland and though this was a crushing below, we made the most of the time, and went up on deck and took pictures, enjoyed the icy, cold winds and saw the Reykjavik shoreline from afar.

About 4pm, the captain made the call to get the change in entertainers and ship staff done via pilot boat, and we began our way towards Greenland early.  This became an instant conversation topic for all on the ship at dinner, and the good news is that most passengers decided that it was just a motivator to travel to Iceland independently and to see the country on our own in the future.  Icelandic Air runs flights from New York and the prices are reasonable, so that may be on our list for a very long weekend or a week long trip with Ireland through in.

Dinner in the main dining room and another nice evening with everyone, then back to the room to watch some movies.  They have Movies Under the Stars, but as of yet, they haven’t had a movie that really peaked our interest, but maybe later in the cruise.

Tomorrow – The first of two sea days on our way to Qaqortoq.

Hand Painted Flowers on a Local B&B -- Marazion, United Kingdom

Hand Painted Flowers on a Local B&B — Marazion, United Kingdom

Eastern Most Point in North America -- Cape Spear, Newfoundland, Canada

Eastern Most Point in North America — Cape Spear, Newfoundland, Canada

Cell Door at Kilmainham -- Dublin, Ireland

Cell Door at Kilmainham — Dublin, Ireland

Walking Back into Town -- Qaqortoq, Greenland

Walking Back into Town — Qaqortoq, Greenland

 

September 9, 2010 – Day 9
At Sea – En Route to Qaqortoq, Greenland

Days at sea really are relaxing and mellow and quite honestly there is not a whole lot to write about in specifics, so today, we will spend this log entry just writing about the ship, its facilities, and some of its venues…

Our stateroom – Generally speaking, we are looking for three basic requirements in a stateroom.  Clean, comfortable, and everything in well working order.  Our room on the Aloha Deck (Deck 12) met all of these requirements extremely well, and our room steward kept everything very clean and was a very responsive and helpful member of the staff, constantly asking us if we needed anything and interacting with us always by name.  Plenty of room for everything in the closet, shelf space, and drawers, and the lighting and power were more than sufficient for any activity we needed (computer use, battery charging, blowdrying hair, etc.)  The stateroom TVs have transitioned over to flat screens and though we had very limited external programming due to the limitations of the signal at our high latitudes, this was not a concern.  The restroom is of standard cruise cabin design (small in shower, but no one lives in there, anyways) and was functional and again, no issues or problems with anything.

Spa & Thermal Suite – The Lotus Spa and Gym is well appointed on this vessel, due primarily to its size proportionally to the number of passengers onboard, as well as the potential to meet the demand for massages, wraps, acupuncture, personal training, exercise, and classes needed to keep up with this large scale group.  With over a dozen treatment rooms and a full salon, there seems to be numerous ways to melt stress, or exercise away any excess tension that might possibly be still in one’s system.  On our trips, we find that one of the spa’s offerings, the Thermal Suite, is an overall great value and a great way to utilize the spa each and every day of the cruise vs. a one time visit for a single treatment.  The thermal suite is a private area of the spa with 3 different saunas (one dry, one wet, and one aromatherapy) as well as three showers (1 standard and 2 specialty).  As one melts the day’s exertion on shore or even try’s to sweat away the day’s visits to the buffet line, the saunas are quiet, lightly used by passengers and can be accessed anytime during the spa’s operating hours.  It is a place that we frequent at least once a day on the cruise, so a cruise pass becomes a good investment with a very inexpensive hourly rate in comparison to all other services available onboard.  In addition to the saunas and showers, there are 5 heated ceramic tile loungers that will put a final edge on  your relaxation and pretty much put you to sleep for a relaxing nap.  Overall, this is highly recommended.

As we continue with our sea days, we will have more on the ship and its facilities…

Tomorrow – Another sea day on our way to Qaqortoq.

Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Eastern Most Point in North America -- Cape Spear, Newfoundland, Canada

Eastern Most Point in North America — Cape Spear, Newfoundland, Canada

St. Stephen's Green -- Dublin, Ireland

St. Stephen's Green — Dublin, Ireland

Signal Hill -- St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Signal Hill — St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

 

September 10, 2010 – Day 10
Scenic Cruising – En Route to Qaqortoq, Greenland

Well…  It seems that the all of the pieces fall into place for a reason…  Although we had missed Reykjavik, this allowed us a chance to arrive into Greenland early, and along with our ice pilot and favorable weather conditions we were able to chart a scenic course through two of the fjords of Greenland to offer us 6 hours of unscheduled scenic cruising along the Greenlandic Coastline.  We were to start our scenic cruising at 11:30am, so we had breakfast in the main dining room and we grabbed our cold weather gear to head outside for potential pictures and sightseeing.  We had been informed that the current temperature was hovering right around 40 with some wind to just add a little more bite to the chill.

Just before we were to start our entry into the first scenic channel, Natalie and I headed upstairs to the pizzeria, where she had a gluten-free pizza specially prepared just for her.  It took about 20 minutes to make, and wasn’t too bad (after Hell Pizza in Dublin, Natalie may never again find a GF pizza as good again).

About this time, we entered our first channel and though it was bone chilling cold, we enjoyed beautiful vistas of mountains, hills, barren rock, icebergs, misty fog, a whale, a few seals, and believe it or not a boat, with a real person driving it!

As crazy as that last statement sounds, the country of Greenland has only 53,000 people in a space that is almost as large as Canada, so the extreme population sparseness is something evident quite quickly as to you look out on miles and miles of nothing, yet it is completely beautiful in the same breath.

For the next six hours, the camera kept snapping, the passengers were pleased, and we ended up right on the edge of a little Greenlandic town!  At about 1200 people, this was a larger town in the country, and both the harbormaster and the town’s tourism minister called the ship to say welcome!  This must have been like an invasion for this little town that hardly ever saw the outside world beyond television.  In fact a family came out in their tiny little boat (a father and his four girls) and they drove around the ship, waving, shouting “Hello!” and “I Love You!” (Thinking these were the only English words they knew…), but they were fun and the passengers and crew loved it.  The ship got permission to lower one tender (the town would have absolutely imploded if we had actually gone into port), and this tender took video and photos of the ship with this picturesque little Greenlandic town behind it with its colorful houses and buildings and a towering mountain directly behind that cut it off from the rest of the country.

It was sunny and blue skies by this time and the weather had warmed just a bit so things were a bit more tolerable and we closed out our scenic cruising with a view of the Polar Ice Cap of Greenland as we continued our way ever so slowly towards Qaqortoq.

An unexpected surprise and a very nice bonus to the cruise, we had a wonderful taste of Greenland and cannot wait to see and get on the ground in Qaqortoq.

This evening was the second of our formal nights for the cruise, so we spent an extra long time in the Thermal Suite trying to warm up and then we elected to spend the evening in the Crown Grill (one of the two specialty restaurants onboard) for dinner.

Crown Grill – Romeo, the manager of the restaurant seated us promptly at 8pm with a window booth and Pedro, our waiter for the evening introduced himself, the Crown Grill concept (Steak and Chop House where you could have as much of anything on the menu that you wanted – holy moly!) and proceeded to in classic steak house style present us with examples of the different types of meats and cuts that were available on this evening’s menu.  Along with 5 appetizers, 2 soups, and 2 salads available from which to choose, there were 10 main entrees from a double thick veal chop, to a rack of lamb, to a 22oz Porterhouse and everything in between.  We chose the “Black and Blue” Onion Soup, the Grill Salad, a double-thick Pork Chop, and a Filet Mignon.  In addition to that setup, the meal also included unlimited side dishes from with 8 were available to be served family style.  We enjoyed Red Skinned Mashed Potatoes, Scalloped Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus, and Corn Casserole.  Everything was extremely well prepared and we enjoyed them along with a nice bottle of Syrah.  The waiter and manager gave us plenty of space to enjoy our evening, but were very attentive to any needs that we might have had as the meal progressed.  As we closed out our monumental culinary experience, we could not forget dessert.  Again, 5 choices from which to choose as many or as few as we wanted, so we had a gluten-free flourless dark chocolate cake, a molten Dutch Chocolate Obsession, and a 7-layer Smores Stack (which is exactly as it sounds…  Graham cracker bottom, chocolate fudge, chocolate mousse, chocolate fudge, layer of melted marshmallow, graham cracker top, and more melted marshmallows on top…  Yum!)  Two and a half hours later, it was time to be forklifted out of the restaurant.  We were full, happy, and had a wonderful, quiet, and enjoyable evening just to ourselves.

Off to bed because, fingers crossed, tomorrow, we are going to be on the ground in Greenland!

Bright & Sunny in Qaqortoq, Greenland

Bright & Sunny in Qaqortoq, Greenland

Fishing Boat -- Newfoundland, Canada

Fishing Boat — Newfoundland, Canada

Southampton, United Kingdom

Southampton, United Kingdom

Christchurch Cathedral -- Dublin, Ireland

Christchurch Cathedral — Dublin, Ireland

 

September 11, 2010 – Day 11
Qaqortoq, Greenland

We have been setting our clocks back a few times already on the cruise, so the wakeup at 6:00am was no problem for us, as we gathered our gear and got dressed, we turned on the stateroom television to watch the bridge cam were we saw smooth water and a nice sunrise making its way slowly onto the horizon.  We were going ashore!

We headed down to the Michaelangelo Dining Room at 6:45 to line up for a 7:00am start to receive Tender Tickets.  For the folks that already think we were nuts, there were almost 50 people ahead of us in line, so we were fortunate to be there when we were…  We got our tickets, which meant we could be on the first tender to shore for standard passengers…  (Elite Captain Club members get their own priority tender, so they beat us in by about 3 minutes…  No biggie…)

Unfortunately, there was a slight delay in heading out to the tenders this morning…  The local authorities had not yet cleared the ship to disembark passengers, so this required just a bit more time, but we were on the water and headed to shore by 8:00am (no one was concerned about this as the town is so small, there is no way to actually fill 9 hours onshore…  We tried really hard and could only manage about 6 hours before we called it a day…)

As we were in the harbor working our way to shore a cargo ship arrived and they got first priority over the tenders coming to the harbor.  These ships provide all of the supplies and things that the townspeople need to survive, from food at the markets, to auto parts, and other critical items, since by ship is the only way to get these things.  There is a heliport in town for service by AirGreenland (seriously – it is the national airline), which services the town about 3-4 times a day in larger helicopters that seat between 12 and 18 passengers each.  This is the only method of transportation in the Winter as the channel and the harbor freeze over completely.  The ship got into place and began unloading its cargo of containers onto the docks, and our tender dumped the first of many tender boats full of people on the shore at Qaqortoq.

Natalie and I immediately separated ourselves from the herd and took off up the hilly streets of town to see the brightly painted homes and buildings and to take in beautiful views of the town, the ship, and the surrounding area.  We worked our way around to the east and got to see the Seal fur works and shop.  The shop was open at this early hour and we get to see seal wallets, seal coats, seal slippers, pretty much anything that could be made with seal fur and colored dye.  The pieces were quite beautiful and the prices reflected as such.  We looked, but decided that since it was seal, that there would be no purchasing of any items today in the Seal fur department.  (Personal preference, not a political or PETA statement – disclaimer done…)

From here, we made our way to the first of several markets in town.  They are all owned by the same conglomerate and each has a different focus (one for groceries only, one for baked goods, one was a drugstore, one was a mini-walmart with some clothing and homewares, one was an appliance shop, one was a home furnishings store, etc.)  and the prices were exactly the same from one to the next to the next…  Expensive…  The basic essentials were just barely reasonable for the locals, and with any “luxuries” (and this is defined very narrowly), the price hits the stratosphere.  Some quick examples:  A staple loaf of bread could be had for around $1.80.  A luxury PINT of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream could be stolen for $10.20.  An itsy-bitsy staple apple could be purchased for about 40 cents, where a luxury set of 4 Venus Razor cartridges would set you back $24.  Decisions for the average Greenlander get make quickly and efficiently.  A can of Coke was $1.80, a bar of Chocolate was $3.25, and two bottles of Greenlandic beer was a cool $12.  Though the prices were obviously high because everything needs to be imported, they were clean, well staffed, well stocked (with the exception of the produce area which was very sad and lonely by our agricultural superiority of California standards), and gave a neat glimpse into the lives of the local Qaqortoq people as they went through the markets shopping and completing their weekly errands.

From here, we made out way to the local post office, in the hopes of getting a postcard or two sent and maybe a stamp for our passports, but since it was Saturday, they unfortunately were closed for the day.  From here, we arrived at the “Superstore” market and generally surmised that a “Rich” Greenlander had a Clothes Washer, a “Richer” Greenlander has an Electric Clothes Dryer, and the “Richest” had a Flat Screen TV and Satellite to actually watch something on it.  A simple, gentle, warm, and very welcoming people, it was clear that you didn’t need much to be happy, and it reflected in all of the people that we met today.

As we left the “Superstore” we arrived at the “New Church” which was built in the 1970s as a replacement for the “Old Church” that couldn’t support the population due to its smaller size and lack of heat and electricity.  As strange as this sounds, the “New” church was the only building in the entire town that was White in color.  Every other building was a shade of a bright primary color, be it red, blue, yellow, green, red, etc. and it make for a colorful palette against the copper and brown colored hillside that the Greenlandic town was built up against.

We saw that a performance by the choir would be taking place later in the day, so we would return later to watch that, so we continued to head west towards the lake.  A glacier fed lake is in the Northwest corner of the town and it is deep blue, completely clean, and ice cold.  We walked to the edge of the lake and took a few minutes at the “Sports Stadium” which honestly nothing more than a dusty dirt soccer field and a small set of wood bleachers that were handmade.  It was wonderful.  Experiencing and seeing the world from a different culture’s perspective is exactly why were we here, and I can only imagine the “big games” that took place here with the local kids and university students against a majestic backdrop of the sapphire blue lake and the mountains shooting up on the edges of the pitch.

From here, we made our way to the “Old” Church, a beautiful red building that could seat no more than 80 in hard wooden pews, heated by pipes that brought heat in from the outside, and was lit only by candles.  In addition to seeing the church and taking a number of pictures, we also got to see a Greenlandic Hymnal, which is an exercise in very long words that seem extremely difficult to pronounce.  At each location, there was a local guide in a red jacket to answer any questions that we had and here the nice woman was kind enough to pronounce the name of the town for a set of tourists that had enquired as to the right pronunciation.  After 4 tries, no one had been able to successfully repeat it.  There is something unique and special about the pronunciation and sounds, and it is not something that comes easily to the amateur visiting for the first time.  The closest we got was something to the effect of “Quark-a-tawk”, but this is still only “pretty close” – these were the words the guide kindly used to critique the tries of the tourists at the church.

From here, we headed back to the “New Church” and saw the performance by the Church choir, which was quite beautiful and was able to get some video of their singing.  Some of the choir members were missing for the performance, because the men were off hunting to get the main meat source for the townspeople as winter is just around the corner and the opportunity to hunt in the warmer months was starting to diminish.

From here, we saw a 74 year old Drum dancer who performs to “teach the younger generation” the culture and the history of a people that is nearly disappeared in the Greenlandic culture.  With the population now at nearly 50,000 for the entire country, and many Danes living there, the native Greenlandic peoples continue to diminish.  He did two dance performances, one about a native story of a raven, and another as a special dedication to his daughter who turned 47 that day.  He, as all of the people we had met, was kind, funny, and paused to take a picture for us with his warm smiling communicating his pleasure in sharing his day with ”the visitors”.

From here, the tender line has grown to epic proportions as scores of passengers wanted to eat lunch “on the ship” vs. onshore (I couldn’t exactly blame them as one of the only 2-3 local restaurants in town was offering a special $40/person lunch buffet).  Natalie and I instead grabbed a snack at the market, and headed out to a small area of picnic tables in the town center, where we saw the only fountain in Greenland, and enjoyed the music and singing of a local band who came out and did their best English song samplers, from “Proud Mary” to country music.  The main singer was actually quite good and and local people were out with their kids and it was great to see local life.

We saw the local fire department which paraded around the town waving to everyone, showing their equipment and answering questions about the town and its people.  It certainly was an event being in town for everyone, from the townspeople who shared their heritage and culture, to students practicing their English, to the ship’s passengers who hopefully gained an appreciation for a beautiful and warm-spirited country that spends most of its lifetime as a cold glacier, covering 90% of its surface with ice, and leaving the communities that can survive against the harsh cold winters to carry on the best they can.

It was a wonderful day in Qaqortoq, and we made our way back onto the ship about 3pm.  We made our customary trip to the Thermal suite and had a nice evening with dinner in the dining room.  From here, we headed back to our room to take in the late movie on the in-house TV “Valentine’s Day”.

Tomorrow – A Day at Sea as we head south towards Newfoundland.

The Grounds @ Carisbrooke Castle - Carisbrooke, United Kingdom

The Grounds @ Carisbrooke Castle – Carisbrooke, United Kingdom

A Chunk of Greenlandic Ice -- Crown Princess

A Chunk of Greenlandic Ice — Crown Princess

Another Moment from Another Visitor -- Ferryland, Newfoundland, Canada

Another Moment from Another Visitor — Ferryland, Newfoundland, Canada

Lighthouse and Battery -- St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Lighthouse and Battery — St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

 

September 12, 2010 – Day 12
At Sea – En Route to St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada

It’s another day at sea, so today’s focus around the ship includes our dining room, and the International Café & Vines Bar…

Our Dining Room – The late seating in the Boticelli Dining Room has been excellent, both from a food offering and quality standpoint, as well as to the level of service seen consistently each and every night.  With the exception of our evening at the specialty restaurant, every night has been in the Dining Room, so we have had plenty of great experiences to call upon.  The variety of the menus continues to keep even a finicky eater like myself happy, and the recent addition of the “Homestyle Cuisine” to the menus is a welcome addition that caters to a comfort food offering that brings along dishes that you so want to eat at home, but only save for the vacation environment when you can allow yourself to indulge.  Deserts have been solid, and if nothing suits your fancy, the everyday offerings are consistently prepared well and provide a suitable substitution for any element of the menu, should the need arise.  Service has been superb, with our waiter and ass’t waiter responsive, fun to interact with, and always putting the customer first, not only with recommendations, but also with considerations to personal preferences and individual needs.  Dinner for four of us generally runs from order taken to dessert dishes removed in about 90 minutes.

International Café & Vines Wine Bar – This is a new offering on the Princess ships and offers two distinct venues for folks to enjoy on Deck 5 in the newly dubbed “Piazza” or center of the ship.  These two venues have two different slants, but offer a nice place to sit to read a book, have a conversation, or work on a travel log and sudoku puzzles…  =)  In addition to providing a place to sit, there is offered sushi and tapas in the Wine bar and sunup to late night pastries, soups, light sandwiches, and mini deserts in the International Café.  This has been a favorite for us on the cruise with options from ham and cheese croissants to chocolate pudding and the only charged item at the venue being 3 large scoops of gelato for $1.50 (totally worth it…  Limoncello gelato is excellent!)

Tomorrow – Last day at sea before St. John’s, Newfoundland!

Petty Harbor and Maddox Cove, Newfoundland, Canada

Petty Harbor and Maddox Cove, Newfoundland, Canada

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin, Ireland

Coastal Greenland -- Scenic Greenland

Coastal Greenland — Scenic Greenland

Signal Hill -- St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Signal Hill — St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

 

September 13, 2010 – Day 13
At Sea – En Route to St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada

It’s another day at sea, so today’s focus around the ship includes Internet Connectivity and Laundry Services…

Internet – Satellite internet permits connections via computers on Deck 5 in the Internet Café or via Wi-Fi in most areas of the ship and its staterooms.  We were warned about the limited capabilities of the signals in the higher latitudes of our itinerary, but for the most part, whenever the signal was not available, we could get connected within a few hours.  We have been using Google Mail Offline as our primary method of connecting with family back home, and its offline create and respond capability means that the number of minutes we are using is minimized.  We also were able to make a VOIP call back home to our parents, which was a first for us, but was nice as it is a significant savings from the cost for ship-to-shore and cell-at-sea service.  We might try another set of calls later in the cruise and see if our success was a fluke or something we can do on an ongoing basis.

Laundry – In an effort to try and make this trip on one checked bag per person, we elected to do laundry midway through our trip with the laundry facilities onboard the ship.  $1 for wash and $1 for a dry meant that we were able to handle a complete load of whites and a load of colors for $4.  The laundry facilities on the ship were plentiful, clean, all in good working order, and took about 80 minutes from start to finish.  All it required from us was a few of those new Purex 3-in-1 Laundry sheets that we brought along with us and it was “Washer to Dryer to Done”…  It was inspiring to see that we can pack less and less and still make it without any major trouble.  Even with the cold weather, I would like to try to pack less next time around.

Tomorrow – St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada!

Rugged Coastline -- Newfoundland, Canada

Rugged Coastline — Newfoundland, Canada

A Little Greenlandic Boy was Enjoying His Shades at the Community Fountain -- Qaqortoq, Greenland

A Little Greenlandic Boy was Enjoying His Shades at the Community Fountain — Qaqortoq, Greenland

Self-Portrait -- Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

Self-Portrait — Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

Cellblock, Kilmainham Gaol -- Dublin, Ireland

Cellblock, Kilmainham Gaol — Dublin, Ireland

 

September 14, 2010 – Day 14
St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada

We had set our clocks back another 30 minutes (strange time zone Newfoundland has…) and woke up around 6am to prep for our day in port.  The bridge cam showed mellow seas and almost no wind, so we were ready to get on the ground in St. John’s…

Took a little time to get cleared by the Canadian authorities, but we were one of the first off the ship at about 7:10am and immediately grabbed a taxi to the top of Signal Hill, an important military and historical location for St. John’s.  This was a key strategic point of defense as the entry channel to the port of St. John’s is directly below the hill and it was also the location that Marconi received the first telegraph from Europe.

Because we had taken the taxi, there were only a couple of people already at the summit, and we were able to have unobstructed views of St. John’s, the harbor, our ship, and the surrounding area.  It was really nice to beat the crowds and the hordes of tour buses that would be here in just a short period of time.  The taxi had only cost $10, and saved us about 45 minutes of walking about 3kms up a pretty steep hill.

From here, we started walking our way back downhill to the port, as right next to the dock was our rental car company, which opened at 8:30am.  As we walked back down Signal Hill, we passed no less than 100 passengers beginning the long trek pass Harbourside Park, The Battery, and Johnson Geo Centre towards Cabot Tower and the summit.

We arrived to Avis at Bairds Cove at 8:25am and joined a short line of about 2 other parties that had reservations (several more folks showed up without reservations and unfortunately were turned away…) and by 8:45 we were on our way in our Silver Chevy Impala (upgrade!) and headed south along Route 10 to see the Newfoundland coastline.

We worked our way through picturesque fishing and tourism towns like Witless Bay, Bay Bulls, Tors Cove, and Mobile, as we made our way to Ferryland, our first big destination of the day.

At the very tip of a very long point in Ferryland is a beautiful white and red lighthouse, inside which two entrepreneurs have transformed it into an eatery specializing in lunchtime picnics that you can enjoy on the grounds of the lighthouse at the edge of the sea.  You place your order inside the lighthouse, they give you a thick wool tartan blanket and a flag.  You scout your picnic spot anywhere on the property and drive your flag into the ground.  Then once your meal has been prepared and packed up in a traditional basket with freshly squeezed lemonade, they deliver it to your location where you can have a wonderful meal on the edge of the world, where the only sounds are of the crashing waves and the gulls.  Sounds pretty amazing, huh?

Well, after driving almost 90 minutes to Ferryland, another 3km to the end of the gravel road on the point, and another 10 minute walk up the service path to the lighthouse, we arrived to a “Closed” sign on the door…  Apparently, the two recently had decided that Tuesdays were not money making days for them, and though every sign and mention of the lighthouse picnics indicated that they were only closed on Mondays, today was Tuesday, and there was no lunch for us…

Deciding to make lemonade out of life’s lemons (pun completely intentional), Natalie reminded me that although they were closed, it meant that we got to have the entire point, the lighthouse, the crashing waves, the jagged rocks, and this incredibly wonderful landscape all to ourselves.  There wasn’t another soul on this entire stretch of land because, no one was planning to come all the way out here on a day that the lighthouse was closed…  So, we declared that for Tuesday, September 14th, 2010 between the hours of 11:30am and 12:30pm, this lighthouse was ours and we were able to enjoy and appreciate all of the amazing beauty of this place, as since possession if 9/10ths of the law, this place was all to us…  And it was a wonderful time as we watched the waves, met a few seals in the surf, admired an amazing little island covered in spongy moss just off the edge of the our picnic area, which I dubbed, “The Jewel” and we just enjoyed the time we had, all by ourselves, in this perfect place.

Once we left, we headed back north and made our way towards Cape Spear, the eastern most point in North America, but along the way, we arrived in the little hamlet of Petty Harbor and Maddox Cove.  We both really like these tiny towns along the way, but don’t blink, because as quickly as they are there, they’re gone!

The last few kilometers up the hil was spent behind a tour bus at about 10mph, reminding us why we love the freedom of a rental car.  Once we all made it to the Cape Spear National Park, we walked to the edge of the point (as far as they would let you to avoid falls, etc.) and had the GPS out for some sort of validation…  We grabbed pictures here and began heading back to St. John’s and to work our way to the north of the capital city with our remaining time.

With so many people in the town, as the schools letting out for the day, and some significant delays due to road construction, we only made our way as far as Middle Cove and then turned around to head back into town.  We grabbed some gas to fill up the tank (we had only needed about 5 gallons for the day) and headed back to the rental car place to return and reboard the ship.

Back on board about 4pm, we grabbed a bite to eat and then naptime set in before late seating dinner.  Another good evening with our table, as always, and off to bed to enjoy two more sea days before we close out the trip.

Tomorrow – Day at Sea, En Route to New York

A Prison of Reformation, Kilmainham Gaol -- Dublin, Ireland

A Prison of Reformation, Kilmainham Gaol — Dublin, Ireland

So Close to Land -- Scenic Greenland

So Close to Land — Scenic Greenland

First View of the Polar Ice Cap -- Scenic Greenland

First View of the Polar Ice Cap — Scenic Greenland

The Coastline of the Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

The Coastline of the Minack Theatre, United Kingdom

 

September 15, 2010 – Day 15
At Sea – En Route to New York, New York

It’s another day at sea, so today’s focus around the ship includes the Princess Theater and the Movies Onboard program…

The Princess Theater – The theater has a different dynamic than in the main showrooms of other ships we have been on.  There are no Las Vegas style glass tables or large couches were you can take up as much room as you want.  There are rows upon rows of regulation airplane seat width chairs with a springy cushion and mere inches between the tips of your feet and the seat in front of you, making for some awkward moments when someone is trying to enter the row you are sitting in late, or making an early exit.  Even with that feat of efficiency gone wrong, there are not enough seats to allow all ship’s passengers to see an evening show in two passes (traditionally the early/late seating scenario).  Now shows in the theater must be phased in over the course of 1-3 nights, depending on how many people are expected to show up.  So, on this trip, we kindly allowed our dinner tablemate to provide us with “early” reviews of the shows to help us decide whether or not we should attend.  To our tablemate on this cruise…  Your reviews have been spot on, and appreciate the insight so we could make the most of the entertainment calendar on board the ship.

Movies On Board – Though the magic of technology, a very large screen has been mounted on the Deck 16 (Sun Deck) railings and makes for a large scale “drive-in” experience to watch movies and other performances in a concept known as “Movies Under the Stars” or MUTS for short.  This overall concept has received mixed reviews for a variety of reasons, but overall, I like the idea of bringing the old school concept of the drive in movie back in a new and innovative way.  In the evenings, special MUTS covers are placed on all of the deck chairs, wool blankets are handed out, and even freshly popped popcorn is available for movie goers as they recline in their loungers to prep for the next show.  Though the extreme weather has not been terribly beneficial for the program on this sailing, the same great movies are piped right into the staterooms the following day for viewing.  On this voyage alone, no less than 50 different movies have been available between MUTS, the Princess Theater for afternoon showtimes, and in the staterooms 24/7.  The options are numerous from Valentine’s Day to Avatar, Invictus to Harry Potter, Date Night to Casino Royale (007), and the list goes on and on.  Vacations are meant to relax and lose your grip on reality for just a little while, and the onboard movie experience is one great way that Princess helps to accomplish that.

Tomorrow – Our final Day at Sea and time to pack to begin the journey home…

Building Front -- Dublin, Ireland

Building Front — Dublin, Ireland

Grounded -- St. Ives, United Kingdom

Grounded — St. Ives, United Kingdom

Johnson Geo Centre -- St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Johnson Geo Centre — St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Icebergs -- Scenic Greenland

Icebergs — Scenic Greenland

 

September 16, 2010 – Day 16
At Sea – En Route to New York, New York

In our final “Day at Sea” entry, the focus is on the “Bits and Pieces” of the trip…  Those things that came to mind after the fact, or interesting/odd moments that needed a centralized place to be captured…  Absolutely nothing below was a dealbreaker or game changer for us…  The cruise was a fantastic success, but sometimes you just need to scratch your head when some of these situations turn up…

1)  The Hot Chocolate Conundrum:  In the morning at breakfast Hot Chocolate is freely brought to your dining room table and poured endlessly as it is part of the menu, however, at evening dinner service, Hot Chocolate is a “premium dessert drink” that runs $2 a cup.

2)  The “Privacy Please” Paradox:  On a couple of occasions, we put the “Privacy Please” sign out in our door lock to stop anyone from disturbing our naps or watching of a movie in our room, and yet on at least two different occasions, our room steward knocked to find out if we “really wanted to not be disturbed” and if that meant we didn’t want our room cleaned and serviced.  I know that they (the room stewards) can be penalized if they don’t service all of the rooms twice a day, and he simply wanted to check for both of our benefits, but the sign really does mean what it says, and “Privacy is preferred…”

3)  The “Surf and Turf” Specialty Pizza Paradigm:  One day onboard, the Pizzeria special of the day was a big huge slice of Princess Pizza (which is excellent and completely free by the way), topped with finely diced filet mignon and lobster tail…  Apparently, we didn’t eat enough lobster tail and filets on formal night, so it needed to be “repurposed” in another culinary artform…

4)  The Do Not Disturb Voicemail Vortex:  The phone system onboard is very easy to use.  Just pick up the phone and dial the deck number of the person you want to speak with, followed by their cabin number.  Example:  Plaza Deck (5), Room 234 is 5234.  The only problem is that there is absolutely no way to leave a voicemail for someone without the phone ringing, so you must let the phone ring up to 8 times before you can leave a message for anyone.  Late at night, or if you simply don’t want to answer, that can get annoying.

5)  The Scalding Hot Water Hypothesis:  I know that the spa is about warm steam and hot stone massages, but when the specialty showers in the Thermal Suite are locked into a 50 degree Celsius state (122 Degrees Fahrenheit), one must wonder if the goal is tension release or releasing of the skin by boiling it off…

6)  The Breakfast Time Warp:  Uncertain if this is specific to this cruise line or if it is becoming a trend, even though a majority of the ports on our cruise started at 7:00am, (meaning most folks were out of their rooms and headed to a lounge or location for tours or tender tickets by 6:45am), the dining room didn’t open for breakfast until 7:30am and Room Service delivery didn’t begin until the “7:30 – 8:00am” window.  This unfortunately means an epic traffic jam at the Lido Buffet at 6:30am…

7)  The Digital Photo De-Evolution:  For all of the technological and ecological elements now incorporated on cruise ships to make the environment better and the experience better for the cruise ship passenger, the photo gallery is still a monumental eco-fail for remaining stuck in the old school process of printing and posting of the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of photos printed on paper and ink, vs. providing a method for passengers to see, review, order, and retrieve photos digitally.  The amount of waste cannot possibly make up for the profit made on the much smaller percentage of photos actually purchased.

8)  The Kindle Construct:  Cruise Lines…  Take note…  Everyone and their brother now seems to have an Amazon Kindle/iPad/netbook/laptop onboard…  I mean, I used to think I was technologically advanced, but these were everywhere on this trip…  Figure out a way to provide the Princess Patter (Daily announcement newsletters) or the library materials digitally and you will have a fan for life!

9)  Newfoundland Time Zone Madness:  I completely get the set your clocks one hour forward, one hour backwards thing…  In fact, it is one of the greatest parts of a Western Transatlantic cruise as if means that you get hours back in your day throughout the trip, making the jet lag process that much less painful upon returning home…  The gotcha here is that Newfoundland’s time zone is 4 hours and 30 minutes ahead of San Francisco and 1 hour and 30 minutes ahead of New York, so we actually had to set our clocks back 30 minutes one night before arrival in St. John’s, and another 30 minutes the night after…  Odd…

10)  The Doughnut Distortion:  I thought that I had found all of the junk food that could be found on a cruise ship, from soft-serve ice cream to double chocolate cookies, brownies to white chocolate éclairs, mini cheesecakes to strawberry napeleons, pizza to french fries to double cheeseburgers…  Then I find out that Princess now makes fresh Donuts (Chocolate, Sugar, and Glazed)…  And the worst part is that that are amazingly good…  Looks like I will be hitting the gym when I get home!

Greenlandic Hymnal -- Qaqortoq, Greenland

Greenlandic Hymnal — Qaqortoq, Greenland

Falmouth, United Kingdom

Falmouth, United Kingdom

Icebergs in Greenland -- Scenic Greenland

Icebergs in Greenland — Scenic Greenland

On The Hike to the Lighthouse -- Ferryland, Newfoundland, Canada

On The Hike to the Lighthouse — Ferryland, Newfoundland, Canada

 

September 17, 2010 – Day 17
New York, New York to Oakland, California

Another hour back on the clock and it was a 6:00am start for us to complete the last of our carry-on packing for the trip home.  We headed down to the Michaelangelo Dining Room at 6:45, said our goodbyes to an Ass’t Head Waiter from Serbia we have befriended on this trip and headed in for our final breakfast onboard.

We finished up about 7:45, headed back to our cabin and made our way to our “holding pen” until we were allowed off the ship on-time at 8:30am.  By 9:00am we were in our bus for our transfer to JFK airport, and then began the long wait until we could check in for our flight.

Once checked in around 12:00, we made it through security and we will be boarding at 3:30pm for our flight.

It’s been a blast and look forward to the next great adventure.  We have a few ideas right now, but check back soon to see where we are headed next.

As our captain said last night – In the words of a wise traveller, “May Your Luggage Always Be With You…”  Until next time!

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