Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Song of the South . . .Pacific, that is!

Our month-long journey that sliced through a mere section of the South Pacific has come to an end.  We sailed 18 days across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to reach Australia and flew home to Seattle in 17 hours. We sampled a tiny bit of a very vast region, overwhelmingly vast. . .

The Pacific Ocean covers 63.78 million square miles, 165.2 million square kilometers.

We knew it was big but didn’t comprehend its vastness until we found ourselves aboard the Celebrity Solstice sailing from Honolulu, Hawaii to Sydney, Australia.

The Pacific Ocean is home to some 25,000 islands; some 6,000 – 10,000 of which are inhabited.

We visited six in a month’s time.

When remembering those visits – aside from the sheer joy of seeing land each time we approached a new island – we remember the welcomes we received by the Pacific Islanders who shared their proud heritage and culture with us through song and dance. . .


This Hawaiian troupe from the Lahaina, Maui Senior Center showered us with sweet ‘aloha’ through their songs and dances.


Six days later when we reached the next island in our journey, this band of troubadours greeted us in Pape’ete, Tahiti. And just footsteps beyond, another group performed for us:


We had reached French Polynesia, almost a mid-way point in our journey. Before leaving Tahiti we were treated to a bit more entertainment as we returned to the ship for a mid-day break from the 90-degree temperatures, which didn’t stop these two from performing.

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Then it was on to Bora Bora and Mo’orea, where musicians again filled the air with lyrical welcome.

DSCF1168The old adage, ‘first impressions count’ couldn’t hold more true than for cruise passengers disembarking at new locations. Those first few steps off a ship can say a lot about a place. Here, it was warmth and welcome

When we think French Polynesia now, we think of the warmth of smiles and the Songs of the South.

Hope you’ll sign up to receive our reports about the South Pacific – you can do so on our home page,TravelnWrite. We’ve got a lot of places and people to tell you about in the coming weeks, and we'll take you behind the scenes on board the Solstice, and we've got some new tips for finding cruise deals! See you again soon.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Time Flies When You Travel

Just like that it is over.
A month.

It seemed, back in January, when we started putting this adventure together that our departure date would never arrive. Then as we set out on October 1st, the month-long trip sounded as though it would stretch endlessly into the South Pacific.

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Tomorrow on a springtime Monday evening we fly out of Sydney, Australia and some 20 hours later we will arrive home on a late Monday evening in the midst of autumn.

While the month has gone far too quickly, this trip is one that has definitely made our Pacific Northwest life seem long ago and far away.  We’ve heard very little from family and friends.  We’ve seen bits and pieces of headline news and sports from home; a good reminder that there’s a big ol’ world out there with lots going on beyond the United States.

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Our days at sea provided a pleasant mix of time for relaxing and introspection.  And thanks to Celebrity we had a variety of special on-board experiences like dining with the captain and visiting the bridge. . .all of which we will tell you about in  future posts.

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A warm welcome in Papeete, Tahiti

Our three days in French Polynesia was a wonderful taster plate of experiences that calls out for  a second helping of this amazing tropical paradise.

Many of you know that I was ambivalent about visiting New Zealand and Australia prior to the trip.  Not so, any longer.  We have seen stunningly beautiful parts of both countries and will long remember the warm welcomes that have greeted us ‘Down Under’. 

If the travel gods smile upon us, our next report will be written from back in Kirkland.  Hope you’ll come back later this week because our Tales of the South Pacific are just beginning!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

G’Day Mates from Down Under!

After an 18 day journey that covered more than 6,400 nautical miles we glided through Sydney Harbor Wednesday morning past the Opera House and docked at the International Terminal near the Harbor Bridge. The shadowy outlines of those two icons were  rather welcoming sights I have to admit!

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We arrived sunburned, wind-blown (probably weighing more than when we left) and about as relaxed as one could get before entering a coma state.  The waters of the Pacific and its winds kept us rocking and rolling at times – unlike the Atlantic crossings we’ve made, so we didn't get quite as much 'lazing in the sun' as we'd hoped, but still got plenty.

This was our longest voyage. All but six had been ‘at sea’ aboard the Celebrity Solstice – a floating home-away-from-home.  However some of our fellow passengers had boarded the ship back in Seattle and had been aboard for seven weeks!

One of the best parts of such long periods at sea are those travelers you meet and friendships that are forged along the way.  We have a wonderful new group of friendships that span the globe from Australia to the U.S. and on to Greece.  (Many of these folks make our travels sound like we are ‘stay at homes’ in comparison to their adventures.)

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Our appreciation of the size and vastness of the Pacific Ocean has grown. It is amazing to go for days without seeing another ship, bird or plane.  I heard a siren today in Sydney’s early morning and realized it was the first I had heard for weeks. Although the ship was as modern as one could be, in the midst of that ocean there were times we had no television or internet signals . . .

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We were off the ship and settled into our room at the Marriott Harbourside Circular Quay before 9 a.m. – a record for smooth disembarkation and check-in (20 minutes from start to finish).  We hit the deck running and covered nearly 10 miles of the city yesterday and a similar amount today.  Tonight (for those of you who didn’t see my Facebook post) we are attending a performance of the musical, South Pacific at the Sydney Opera House pictured above.  So our journey continues. . .

It was sad seeing our ship set sail last night as it begins its South Pacific season. I’ve taken loads of photos and have Tales of the South Pacific to tell you after we get home and settled back into the Northwest – until then we wish you safe travels and hope this post finds you well. That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Boys of Bora Bora

Some of our favorite travel moments are those that you’ll never find highlighted in tourist brochures. They are those spontaneous happenings that capture your heart ‘just because’.

Such was the case of The Boys of Bora Bora

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I’d noticed the twosome heading towards the water while The Scout was collecting some Polynesian French Francs from a cash machine outside the small wood-frame bank that serves the area. (The local currency, pictured above, is colorful array of miniature artworks.)

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We also headed towards the water after the cash machine stop and the two little explorers must have decided that we, well, at least The Scout, was pretty interesting. First one and then the other cautiously approached him.

And then they decided to stick with him:

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“Hello!” “Bon Jour!” he tried, but the two wee ones neither spoke nor understood English or the commonly spoken French language.  They spoke Polynesian. . .but that communication snag didn’t stop them.  They chattered up a storm and The Scout resorted to gesturing towards the Solstice ship to explain from where we had come.

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We’ll remember these two and our brief time with them long after we’ve forgotten sights pointed out to us on our island tour that took place later in the day. But that’s really the way it should be, isn’t it?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

South by Southwest in the South Pacific

And so our journey across the South Pacific has resumed. Moorea, where we spent our Sunday, was  the last land we will see until we reach New Zealand mid-morning on Saturday.

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We sailed some 2,500 miles from Hawaii to French Polynesia on a body of water that at times reached a depth of 14,500-feet.  We have nearly the same distance to travel to reach New Zealand.  Then another two days at sea to reach Sydney, Australia.

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Although we knew the Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest, covering some 46% of the earth’s surface, we had no idea just how immensity of this body of water. There has been no other marine traffic along our route. A bird or two flew past as we neared Tahiti, we saw another some 400 miles from Moorea.

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We saw a fishing boat some distance from Tahiti but no others before or after that lone ship. Television and internet signals sometimes weak, other times none existent.

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The weather patterns have changed daily.  During the early part of our journey we were buffeted by gusty winds (the Captain called them ‘moderate’ but they blew sandals away from lounge chairs when sunning on the deck).  Yesterday, a sunny warm day, brought the calmest seas we’ve experienced and today the heavy clouds and strong winds have returned. We lean into the wind to walk on the deck in the photo above. 
Our 122,000-ton Celebrity Solstice ship at times lurches and groans against  the wind and waves. (For those of you who think you have a distain for large ships, let me tell you that in the midst of the Pacific and up against the forces of nature, they don’t seem so large at all.)

Perhaps Somerset Maugham, said it best in his “Moon and Sixpence” novel based on the life of Paul Gauguin, when he wrote,

“The Pacific is more desolate than other seas; its spaces seem more vast, and the most ordinary journey upon it has the feeling of adventure.”
“The air you breathe is an elixir which prepares you for the unexpected.”

That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday this week!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Day That Never Was – October 15, 2013

Sailing east or west pretty much means you’ll cross a time zone or two. For instance we moved our clocks back an hour last night and are now four hours behind the Pacific Northwest. 

This cruise is offering a whole new time change experience~ we are losing tomorrow. So our usual "Travel Tuesday" post is replaced by this one: We won’t have an October 15th, plain and simple. The events of the world on Tuesday will happen outside our sphere of existence.  Some 8 – 10 people on board are celebrating birthdays on the day that won’t happen.

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We cross the International Dateline tonight, sometime about 2 a.m. That means the sun sets on Monday and comes up on Wednesday.

The International Dateline is an imaginary line  that separates two consecutive calendar days.  It isn’t perfectly straight and has been moved slightly over the decades to accommodate the varied countries in the Pacific Ocean.

Somehow crossing such time zones in an airplane isn’t as strange as going to bed one day and waking two days later.  Have a great Tuesday! We'll be enjoying Wednesday. . .

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Living A Celebrity Life

Our floating home has carried us several thousand miles from the port in Honolulu, Hawaii to French Polynesia – Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea.

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We are sailing the same waters charted by those brave navigators centuries before us; James Cook and Ferdinand Magellan, among them.  I dare say our ship, the Celebrity Solstice, pictured above, is far more luxurious than the ships they sailed.  And much larger -- it would take almost 10 of Cook’s ships to stretch the length of ours. 

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And now that we’ve been on this vast stretch of ocean for five days, passing no other ships, seeing no other forms of life, we are even more impressed with the courage of those early day explorers. We leave tonight for another four days at sea to reach New Zealand.

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Our ship has 15 floors stretching from the lower floor 2 where we board the tenders that take us to shore in many ports, (photo above from a tender) all the way up to the very tip-top Sunset Deck from where we wile away hours watching the clouds and sea.

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Our room we describe as being on one of the ship’s  bulges – we are on the 8th floor – quite in the middle of the ship.  The circle to the left of the “X” above highlights the area in which our cabin is located.

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By being on the bulge our balcony is slightly larger than those on the narrow part of the ship. Note the flat screen television - (we watched our Husky football team play last week and today we are watching Sunday NFL football following our return to the ship.

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I am writing at the desk to the right of the television and when I turn my head to the right, and look out at our deck, this is my view. We are currently anchored at Moorea.  A tropical paradise? You had better believe it – photos don’t do it justice!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Twilight Time ~ Golden Moments

We were reminded after arriving in Honolulu last week, just how magical twilight time can be in the tropics. Pour yourself a libation and enjoy the sun set with us. . .

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Would we see the ‘green flash’ associated with that moment when the sun sinks completely from view?

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We didn’t ever see the green, but with golden moments like these, we really didn’t need to see it, did we?

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That’s it for this Travel Photo Thursday. As we continue our travels through the South Pacific, hope you’ll return soon. And head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more travel photos today.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sailing the South Pacific – It’s Official!

With much fanfare, fal-dee-rah and zany festivities we crossed the Equator about 2 p.m Tuesday Honolulu time and 5 p.m. West Coast U.S. time.

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We passed the half way point in our journey to Tahiti on Tuesday  morning; just beyond 1,100 miles from Hawaii and 1,100 miles from Tahiti.

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Tuesday afternoon’s crossing from the Northern to Southern Hemisphere was marked by three blasts of our ship’s horn: one for the sea, one for the sky and one for the Equator. The photo above is our Captain Neptune (whose voice was much like that of our Cruise Director) who led the silly festivities marking our passage.

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You can tell from this photo that it was a standing room only crowd of our fellow passengers who marked the occasion under near 80-degree sunny skies.
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We’ve not seen land since we left Lahaina, Maui Saturday evening.  We love these days at sea (and again they are going too rapidly!)

I’ll write more about the Celebrity Solstice, our floating home, in our next update.  Just wanted to check in with you all who are kind enough to be following along.

(And thanks to my blogger buddies who’ve written such nice comments on our recent posts – I have limited internet out here so will be back to your sites after we reach land – but want you to know it is nice to hear from you in Greece, Provence and Australia today!)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Over-the-top Tofino

We had done the research – some, anyway – prior to our spur-of-the-moment road trip to Canada’s Vancouver Island in early September.  And that research had somewhat prepared us for high hotel room prices.

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As it turned out they were breathtakingly high prices.

So high, that when the desk clerk at the Best Western Tin Wis Resort, just outside Tofino said,"$299CAD a night", it sounded inexpensive in comparison to what other places had quoted. The hotel was on a beautiful little beach and the rate was the best we’d found, so we bit the bullet and settled in for what would be a two-night stay.

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Part of the reason why we gave in to the prices (that we would normally not have done)  is that it was 3 p.m. as we stood at the Best Western counter. The drive had been an arduous one on the Pacific Rim Highway and The Scout, who had been behind the wheel, firmly said he wouldn’t be retracing our route that night. So, I mumbled a question to the clerk about a AAA rate. Whew! That brought it all the way down to $277CAD.

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As it turns out, the buildings that make up the  Tin Wis (meaning ‘calm waters’ ) resort ring a section of  beach which, up until the 19th century, was the landing place for Nuu-chah-nulth whale hunters who traveled these waters in their dug out canoes.

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Remains of a canoe

The resort displays, near its parking lot, the remains of a dug out canoe – once used to transport supplies.

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Another display – the totem pole – is a nod to the history of the First Nation’s people on this site. Back in 1970 the first buildings opened here operated as a residential school with 150 First Nation children in attendance. The school closed in 1981 and the site became a hostel and campground.

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Our room, the restaurant and our view from our room

The resort, operated by the First Nations people, opened its first phase in 1991 and the second phase opened in 2002 which brought the guestrooms and suites available to 85.  It has an on-site restaurant (where we ate some incredible meals).

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VancouverIs2013 113So, would we go back again?  

We might. . .perhaps during some real off-season time. Low season is when the storms rage and wet gear is needed to walk the beach.

We usually prefer sunshine on our beach walks.  That could be why we headed to Honolulu last week where our room rate at the Marriott Waikiki Beach was less than in Tofino! (In some future post I will tell you about Honolulu's killer taxes and the Marriott's mandatory resort fee. Both equal ouch!)

That’s it for Travel Tuesday – hope to see you back here on Travel Photo Thursday! And then come with us during the next few weeks  as we sail the South Pacific heading to Oceania! It is Tuesday afternoon and we are some 700+ miles south of Maui - we cross the Equator tomorrow afternoon. . .a whole new travel experience headed our way.  More soon - just got internet access!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dateline: Honolulu

We left a drizzly Seattle Tuesday evening and arrived in a drizzly Honolulu some five and a half hours later. And then we had an irritatingly long wait for our shuttle and an hour-long ride to our hotel in a van called “Speedy Shuttle”. Love that irony?

It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that I started thinking ‘tropical paradise’. . . the view from our deck over Waikiki Beach was a good reminder that we, were indeed, in a tropical paradise. We stayed at the Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort. The photo below was taken from our deck. (If you have ever questioned the worth of those loyalty programs, let this be an example of what earning points/stays/other can do. We were upgraded to this ocean view room because of our participation in the Marriott loyalty program.)

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And from that same deck on Thursday morning we watched our soon to be floating-home-away-from-home, the Celebrity Solstice, arrive. 

Later today we will be boarding this ship and then just before midnight we will set sail for Australia.  And then the adventure really begins. . .

waikiki2013 019I've been worried that my little Fuji point-and-shoot might give out while we were crossing the Pacific. And  because no shutterbug in her right mind would consider being without a camera, I bought a new camera-- another Fuji point-and-shoot but with a few more bells and whistles to be conquered. It arrived four days before our departure.  I am still building a relationship with the new side kick, so bear with me. . . (yes, I know you should never do that, but sometimes you just have to live on the wild side, right?)

We hope you’ll come along with us the next few weeks as we head out South, by Southwest. . .we depart at one minute before midnight tonight: first stop, Lahaina, Maui.

We'll touch base with you again as internet connections allow. Aloha!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Walk in the Park

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth. . .
                         --A Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

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Should we or shouldn’t we? 

While driving around the town of Tofino on Canada’s Vancouver Island we happened upon Tonquin Park. “Want to stop or just keep driving?” – our own version of Robert Frost’s poem.  We are glad we stopped – it was one of the high points of our road trip.
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We followed a winding boardwalk through this nature preserve.

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Past the remains of an earlier boardwalk, we wound our way through the emerald growth, all the while wondering where we were headed. Then down some 75 steps and our destination spread out before us:

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Tonquin Beach, a small beach in comparison to others that line the western coast of Vancouver Island, was washed in sunlight and small wonders . . .like the clusters of starfish we found sunning themselves on rock outcroppings. . .

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. . .with glorious views. . .

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And wonderful curiosities like those below that closed and opened with a gentle touch of the toe. . .

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Our stop was a good reminder to slow down the travels and take those ‘other roads’ when given the opportunity. . .

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IF YOU GO:  Tonquin Park: Located on Tonquin Park Road, free parking lot. No permits required.  There are no disability accommodations – the last step is a big one.  For the hikers out there, other trails lead from the beach. 

In researching the park after our return I found it has a rather violent history.  Well, the ship for which it is named had a violent history. For a more detailed story of the sinking of the Tonquin, click on  this link.

That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday, so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos.  This week we begin our South Pacific adventures so hope you’ll come back often – we’ll be writing from somewhere on the Pacific Ocean en route to Oceania. . and for those of you regulars, we arrived in Honolulu on Tuesday evening. We board the cruise ship on Friday - hope you'll set sail with us then. . .I've been posting to FB for those of you following our TravelnWrite page there.


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