Showing posts with label cruising. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cruising. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Making the Sea Dream Come True

It certainly wasn't going to be like any cruise ship we'd been on before, I thought, as we pulled our roll-away suitcases towards the small vessel docked in Dubrovnik, Croatia on that summer Saturday. 

Sea Dream II in Dubrovnik, Croatia

And it certainly was going to be different experience as European Covid restrictions on travel were loosening and in some cases, lifting, but still very much present. 

Cruising in a time of Covid - a bit different but not bad

The ship we were boarding isn't even called a 'cruise ship', it is a 'yacht'; a designation given it by virtue of its size and the high-end service for which it is known. We were boarding the Sea Dream II for our first taste of small ship cruising. This week-long cruise would mark our return to cruising after a long 'dry dock' as result of  Covid lockdowns. 

The pool deck was a favorite gathering spot - Sea Dream II

The ship - smaller than any we've been on before -- accommodates 112 passengers who are spoiled silly by a 90-member crew. At the time of our sailing, cruising was still in its post-Covid infancy, and as a result we had less than 50 passengers on board. A good number of them were Americans. 

Ship's arrival in Koper was big news

Our ship's arrival in Koper, Slovenia drew a bevy of journalists, television and print media, to greet us as we were literally the first cruise ship to arrive in the port since the fall of 2019.

Good weather allowed all day dining in the Topside

I'll admit that at the time The Scout found the deal, I'd never heard of the ship nor the company of the same name that owns it.  The fleet consists of two ships: Sea Dream I and Sea Dream II. Both come with high user and industry ratings. Repeat guests - of which there were many on our sailing -- are fiercely loyal not only to the brand, but to a particular ship; so much so, several told us, that they won't book the other ship regardless of how tempting its itineraries and prices.  

A table for two aboard the Sea Dream II

It didn't take many hours on board to understand what prompts that loyalty and how quickly it develops.  Service was impeccable - culinary waitstaff were almost attentive to a fault.  The slightest hesitation while eating - or heaven forbid, leaving anything on our plate - was cause for alarm among them as perhaps something didn't meet our satisfaction. 

Dinner was served under the stars - Sea Dream II

Staff not only knew our names from the get-go, but within 24 hours seemed to have memorized our preferences as well.  On my first morning on board I'd gotten up early to watch our arrival in port. I had asked for a black coffee with 'just a splash of milk'. From that morning on, each time I set foot upstairs to watch our arrivals, I was greeted with, 'Good Morning, Mrs. Smith, here's your coffee with just a splash of milk.'

One evening I nearly swooned over the curry entre and told the chef that it was so good I wished I could have it the next night as well but I knew we'd have new choices then.  He shrugged and said, 'No problem. Just tell your waiter you want the curry and I will make sure you get it.'  Yes, indeed, I ate curry two nights in a row!

It was as if our comfort, happiness, and our appetites were the first and only priority of each staff member.

A State(room) of Bliss

Chilled champagne greeting in our cabin

There are no balcony cabins on the ship and we were surprised at how little we missed them. The recently refurbished staterooms were large and comfortable places to relax and recoup between daytime excursions and nighttime entertainment. The large window brightened the space and provided ample viewing.

The Lounge - footsteps away from our cabin

Because the ship was so small our cabin was footsteps from the lobby and not far from the entertainment lounge. From both areas one could access the small pool deck on the aft of the ship. A library, piano bar and 'casino' as the single five-seat Blackjack table was called, were a floor above us. The ship's uppermost deck but two floors away. The formal dining room one floor below us. A single elevator was more than enough to accommodate the entire ship as most opted for the stairs. 

Something for Everyone

Becoming kids again aboard the Sea Dream II

Time and time again, we encounter people who pronounce themselves, 'not a cruise people' based on their stereotype views of cruising, the large group tours, the formal dining, the activities. . .their lists go on.  I now have a perfect comeback for them: 'then try small ship cruising.'

Bike it or hike it on this cruise

There are no large groups, period. Tours were usually no more than six people. Tours weren't required. Independent exploration was encouraged. 

Country-club casual was the dress code.  If you wanted to dress more formally you were welcome to do so, but it wasn't required.

As for on-board activities: we had two afternoons in which the ship and the sea became a playground for the 60-something-adults who became kids again when the sea 'toys' came out.  Many swam while others lounged on the diving platform, some set off in the small sailing slips, others road  the Banana Boat and many took turns jetting about on the ski-doo. And for the the land-lovers, a fleet of bicycles were available on a first-come, first-serve reservation basis at every port of call. 

Cruising in a time of Covid

The library was warm and welcoming

There's no denying that Covid has changed - at least for now - the way we travel.  For this 10-day get-away, we flew to Dubrovnik from Athens and from Milan, Italy back to Athens, and visited three countries (Croatia, Slovenia and Italy) as part of the trip. We filled out Passenger Locator Forms (in theory, used to find you if someone with whom you've been in contact comes down with Covid) for four countries, the cruise line, and for one of the airlines. 

Vaccinated and tested, no mask requirement for passengers

We were tested for Covid on Thursday prior to flying to Croatia , then tested again on Saturday before being allowed to stay on the ship. That testing was done at poolside on board (and once you were deemed 'negative' you were offered champagne and escorted to your room). We were tested again on board on Thursday in order to enter Italy on Saturday. On Friday we were tested again, this time just in case it was needed to enter Greece on Sunday (it wasn't needed, btw, but better safe than sorry). 

We all had to show proof of full vaccination prior to even arriving at the ship. A requirement, as passengers, that we wholeheartedly supported.

All staff wore masks at all times

Because we all were vaccinated and so frequently tested and found negative, passengers were not required to wear masks on board.  Staff members, although vaccinated and tested regularly, did have to wear masks. We did wear masks on airplanes, in airports and the cruise terminals and on shore as required.

On our Own

Dining at the Municipal Market

While other cruise lines were still requiring passengers to be a part of a ship-sponsored tour on shore (even in countries not requiring it) we were most pleased we were free to come and go on our own on Sea Dream.  That allowed us to set off and explore what we wanted, when we wanted. Including setting forth for dinner on shore in Rovinj, Croatia, at a small restaurant tucked away in a corner of the Municipal Market.

Returning from port as the sun sets on the Adriatic

Being on a small ship, and visiting places the big ships can't logistically access also allowed for long stays in ports of call; often times only needing to be back on board long after the sun had set.

A Taste of the Adriatic

My words and photos 

I've purposely not mentioned our itinerary because I focused on the ports of call in an article I wrote for The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine. Hope you'll take another minute to click this link and see where our little ship was able to take us. The ports of call were amazing!  Hopefully it will bring back memories for those of you who've told us you have traveled these waters and maybe move the Adriatic a bit higher on the bucket lists of those who haven't!

Thanks for the time you've spent with us today!  We've just returned to stormy Greece after a month in our U.S. home.  Next week I'll have a few more travel tales for you, so hope you'll be back with us!  And a big welcome to our new subscribers!! Nice to have you with us~

Linking soon with:

Monday, March 21, 2016

Alanya, Turkey ~ On the Turkish Riviera

It appeared we were docking below a medieval fortress and that pirate ships – the tourist variety -were plying the waters around our Oceania Nautica as we approached Alanya, Turkey.

Approaching Alanya, Turkey aboard Oceania's Nautica
These first scenes from the ship - when you aren’t quite sure what you are seeing are what we think keeps cruising exciting and will bring us back time and time again to the sea.

Nothing like fortress walls to spark the imagination - Alanya, Turkey

It was day 33 of this cruise that had begun in Bangkok, Thailand and taken us on a Magic Carpet Ride to new and exotic places in the Far and Middle East. We were headed to Istanbul, Turkey where most of the passengers would be leaving the ship.  We had made arrangements to disembark a day early* while the ship was in Rhodes, Greece, so this was our last full day of the cruise.

PicMonkey Collage
Ships of every shape and size - Alanya, Turkey
After the rushed and people-intense whirlwind tour of Israel the day before in Israel, we were looking forward to exploring this town on Turkey’s Riviera on our own. The ship was docked so that it was an easy walk into the heart of this tourist city. No metal detectors to walk through as we disembarked as we’d had in Haifa, Israel, no taxi drivers to negotiate with as we’d had in Oman, or tuk-tuks to climb aboard as we’d done in Phuket, Thailand and Cochin, India.

Oceania Nautica docked at Alanya, Turkey
Alanya, a very popular seaside resort town, according to legend was given to Cleopatra by Mark Antony back in 44 B.C.  It was during the Middle Ages that it rose to prominence under the Seljuks, who built the castle with its more than 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) of walls, 93 towers, 140 battlements and 400 cisterns. The Seljuks were a Sunni Muslim Turkish confederation that ruled much of Central Asia and Anatolia between 1071 and 1194.

The walls which once encircled numerous villages now have some spectacular homes within them.

Numerous homes are found within the old fortress walls - Alanya, Turkey
Not ones to shop for souvenirs, we had weakened our resolve a bit and set off to buy some Turkish rugs, as our Stone House on the Hill in Greece, was in need of floor coverings and it was our destination after the cruise. And when in Turkey, why not? Right?

PicMonkey Collage
Tourist town - no doubt about it - Alanya, Turkey
Located on beautiful gulf and  framed by the pine-forested Taurus Mountains, white sand beaches, caves and sea grottos are easily accessed from this town on the Mediterranean Sea.  Its location in the Mediterranean basin means rain comes mainly in the winter and summers are hot and dry. It’s Tourism Board uses a slogan, “Where the Sun Smiles” and that was certainly the case on our springtime visit.

The day and our cruise comes to an end - Alanya, Turkey
On board the ship, a pool party – “Sheik, Rattle and Roll” – the final event of the cruise, began at the same time as our 9 p.m. departure from Alanya. As we watched the lights fade into the distance it was time to start saying goodbyes friends we’d made among both staff and fellow cruisers. 

Our bags were packed - we were ready to go - Alanya, Turkey
As for those Turkish rugs, three of them were folded up inside that bag on the lower left in the photo above.  The large suitcase was filled with items for the house – many of which had been purchased along the way.

* Note: It was possible to disembark a day early but arrangements to do so were made before we before we started the cruise. Port authorities and cruise folks had to approve it. When they send the authorization, they remind you that you don’t get refunds for unused nights.

The route of our Magic Carpet Ride - Oceania's Nautica
Thanks for joining us on our Tales of the Magic Carpet Ride of a cruise. We’ve enjoyed your comments and the conversation our posts generated.  The cruise was an excellent way to see many countries that would have otherwise been difficult and costly to visit. We often use cruises as introductions to areas and then return later as was the case with Egypt. The cruise was our introduction and we returned for more last December.

So now -- like at the end of this cruise last spring -- we are off to The Stone House on the Hill.  We hope you’ll be back again next week as we have a lot to tell you about our little slice of Greece.

Happy and safe travels to you ~

Linking this week with:
Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cruising the Middle East: Preparing for Danger

No one skipped the Pirate Drill held on board our small cruise ship as we sailed from India’s waters into the area we’d been advised was an HTA, or ‘high threat area’ for piracy. It was mandatory.

Our ship, the Nautica, had been attacked by pirates a few years back. If it happened again, the crew – and we passengers – would be ready.

And no one on the ship’s tour from Egypt’s Safaga port city to Luxor, fought over the two front ‘view’ seats in the bus. We’d been advised they were for the armed guards that would be traveling with us. 

We also willingly submitted our hand bags for screening by Israeli security officers as we left the ship in Haifa, our entry point to that country. Usually bags are screened when you re-enter the ship – not the place you visit. But that is life in Israel these days.

Oceania Nautical anchored at Phuket, Thailand

Prior to booking our passage, we – and our nearly 500 fellow passengers – knew the routing of our Oceania Nautica ship from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey would take us to parts of the world where ‘unrest’ can occur and accelerate on a moment’s notice.

Once on board we all seemed to share the same approach to the trip: what better – and safer – way to get to and through these areas than on a cruise ship that had a security plan in place?

One day at sea in the HTA - We had a country fair
The ‘fear’ we talked about was the ‘fear’ of having to miss a port of call if unrest broke out prior to our arrival which could result in the ship skipping that port and the ‘fear’ of having the cruise cut short if the attacks on Yemen should expand further into the Gulf of Aden – a waterway we sailed en route to the Red Sea. The Gulf of Aden is part of the Suez Canal shipping route and used by some 21,000 ships each year. About 11% of seaborne petroleum is transported on this route.

Pirate Protection

Think about it. How often in life will you get to participate in a pirate protection drill?

Pirate drill had us sitting on the floor in the hallway
The safety drill was really quite simple: go to an interior hallway, sit on the floor and stay put until further directions are given. (The person standing in this photo was our cabin attendant who was checking cabins of those not sitting on the floor).

Why sit on the floor?
Because in the event of an attack the ship might need to take quick evasive action and quick turns could knock people over. They didn’t want guests falling on the floor and hurting themselves.

Why an interior hallway?
You remember I said our ship had once been attacked by pirates. Apparently the guests – adults-who-know-better-guests – couldn’t resist snapping the ‘selfie’ and other photos from their cabin decks or windows. The temptation to capture the action was too great to stay out of harm’s way.

I am using two photos, taken during our very safe, calm days at sea to illustrate this point:  both were taken during Happy Hour in the ship’s lounge – on the left, the setting sun was a magnet drawing shutter bugs to the windows on a regular basis. The photo to the right was taken as word of a whale sighting filtered through the crowd – it was as if the window had sucked people from their chairs (with camera and phones in hand). Had it been a pirate ship sighting,. . . well, you get the picture (pun intended).

PicMonkey Collage
Shutter bugs aboard the ship
All puns and jokes aside, safety and security of marine vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea are taken very seriously.

Pirates to the left and war to the right during this segment of our cruise
For that reason, our cruise ship’s fire hoses were uncoiled and attached to high pressure nozzles mounted to the outside of the ship’s railings on both sides of the ship. Crew members stood watch.  The nozzles were not removed until we entered the Mediterranean Sea several days later.

PicMonkey Collage
Pirate watch and protection
We weren’t the only ship taking safety measures. We couldn’t help note this freighter which had their water system going continuously---perhaps as a warning to would-be pirates?

We weren't the only ones taking safety seriously
In certain areas along this stretch, our ship at night reduced its lighting to only essential open deck lights and we were requested to turn off cabin interior and balcony lights or to close our curtains if the lights were on.  None of which was alarming or an imposition, I assure you.

PicMonkey Collage
That is Yemen in the background - this is the closest we came to that war-torn country

We had wondered how close we’d get to Yemen and Somalia when we passed through the 20-mile wide opening that separated the two as we entered the Red Sea. It was actually so wide it was difficult to get photos of the land. The most danger we had was from the high noon sun, which in less than an hour of being on deck burned us both.

There was no security need to eliminate any ports of call in Egypt, Jordan or Israel; places so interesting and deserving of more time for exploration than we had allotted for them. We’d love to return for more land-based explorations. We’ll tell you more about them in upcoming posts. 

As always, your time with us is appreciated! If you are enjoying the blog we hope you'll share it with your FB friends.  Happy travels to you and yours until we see you back here ~

Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Phuket, Thailand ~ And that Magical Mansion by the Sea

We can’t tell you what we ate at the Cape Panwa House on a beach in Phuket, Thailand, more than two decades ago, but we can tell you it was the dining experience that still ranks Number One in all of our years of travel. A doting waiter, clad in Thai silk, served the many courses of our meal and hovered over us as we dined in the stately colonial mansion. As cliché as it sounds, a full moon and swaying palms, as though from a movie set, provided the perfect tropical backdrop.

We dined there more than once during that brief stay so long ago. Nothing since, has compared to our experiences there.

Cape Panwa House - Phuket, Thailand, 1988
Thailand was one of our first travel destinations. The mountainous Phuket Island in the southern part of Thailand had won our hearts. . .it was everything an exotic tropical island should be for those starry-eyed young travelers just setting out to explore the world.

We’ve often pondered returning; wondering if the place would seem as magical now. . .

'The Scout' jogging the beach at Cape Panwa, Phuket, Thailand, 1988

The Panwa House was then part of the Sheraton Cape Panwa Hotel where we stayed during our time on this island in the Andaman Sea.  Most visitors to Phuket, the largest of Thailand’s islands, come for its beaches. We went for the same reason and looking back at old photos of our time at Cape Panwa we remember that wonderful beach. 

The Sheraton long ago sold the hotel and we’ve always wondered what happened to that magical mansion by the sea. We chose not to research it on the internet as we didn’t want to risk shattering those memories. . .

Fast Forward:  Phuket Island, our Second Port of Call

Our 34-day cruise from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey aboard Oceania’s Nautica (aka our Magic Carpet) included many new places that we’d been wanting to visit, but another selling point of its itinerary had been getting to revisit favorite places from long-ago travels. Spending a day in Phuket was a plus. We’d not been here since 1988.

Phuket was the only port of call along our routing where we ‘tendered’ into the shore on smaller boats while our ship stayed anchored in deeper water.  If you’ve ever anchored at sea you know the ship turns with the current – like a slow moving kaleidoscope of scenery.  It was fun watching our arrival and trying to figure out where on the island we might be landing. . .

PicMonkey Collage
Oceania's Nautica anchored in the Andaman Sea
And then. . . (you know what’s coming, don’t you?) . . .yes, there it was!

I start smiling when I think of the joy in realizing we were just off shore from the Cape Panwa House -- once the home of a coconut plantation owner and now nearly 100 years old – still on the beach right where we’d last seen it!

Cape Panwa House, Phuket, Thailand, 2015
It is still a restaurant, we learned, operated by the Cape Panwa Hotel, and only open for dinner so we didn’t get to try it. Our ship sailed at 6 p.m.  (The reviews I’ve read since returning home, lead me to believe its magic is still wowing diners much as it did  when we were there.) Somehow, we were happy just knowing it was there.

Phuket ~ The Same, Yet Different

Phuket, whose wealth comes in part from tourism, got its start back in the 1500’s with tin production, an industry that continues today. While the Panwa House looked the same, tourism has made its mark on the island. The contrasting beach scenes, my 1988 and current photos, are examples of the growth that has taken place:

PicMonkey Collage
Cape Panwa Phuket Thailand - Then and Now (1988 left, 2015 right)
Cape Panwa is about 25 minutes from Phuket Town by taxi. bus,or tuk-tuk, those tri-wheeled carts that still give riders a thrill as they whisk you in and out of tight traffic spaces.  The town, still an interesting mix of smells and sights but the shops, food vendors and the bustle of activity they generated didn’t hold quite the charms our first visit to the island.

PicMonkey Collage
Phuket Town, Thailand, 1988 left, 2015 right

We passed up visiting the tourist sites as we wanted to see the town again. It was interesting strolling the streets - squeezing past parked motorcycles when the sidewalk disappeared and dodging buses, taxis and people.

We'd ridden a similar bus to town from Cape Panwa in 1988; this was a 2015 version
Strolling however wasn’t one of the most pleasant pastimes because it was hot, incredibly hot, the temperatures were in the low 90’s and the humidity was in a similar range. That may have contributed to our reaction to the little town that had once charmed us. This food vendor below had the right idea – we could have used a fan as well!

Food vendor Phuket Town Thailand
The town is well worth a visit and should be included on a trip to the island. There are also any number of tourist attractions including: the Sri Bhurap Orchid Cashew Nut Factory, the Phuket Seashell Museum, and the Phang Nga Bay National Marine Park. Also new, since our last visit, were two retail shopping malls.

Phuket was to be the last ‘familiar’ stop until we reached Rhodes, Greece. From this point on, our Magic Carpet Ride, was headed into new territory.

We’d have another day at sea and then wake up to find ourselves in Myanmar (Burma, as it once was known) where we left the ship for a two-night stay in Yangon – a place we are so eager to show you!

To our regulars here: For a short time, I’ll be posting twice a week; one post will continue the Magic Carpet ride through the Middle East and the other will be the return of Washington Weekend, featuring Pacific Northwest getaways.

For those of you social media enthusiasts, we’ve just joined the Google+ world, where you can find links to the posts under my name, Jackie Smith. (We finally link up and I read that Google is reducing the program features – timing is everything, isn’t it?)

As always, thanks for your time. Safe travels to you. Hope to see you again soon~

Linking this week with:

Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Off on a Magic Carpet Ride ~ Setting Sail for Singapore

The sun had yet to rise when the ship’s engines began to rumble just before 5 a.m. and we pulled away from Bangkok, Thailand’s Klong Toey Wharf on the Chao Phraya River. We’d spent the first of our 34 cruise nights here.

Klong Toey Terminal - Bangkok, Thailand
Our Oceania Nautica was docked at one of two cruise ship terminals that serves this area. Klong Toey, closer to downtown Bangkok  - thus a cheaper taxi ride - than the other port, turned out to be a rather stark industrial area. (But then we’ve found most of our ports of call are usually in such commercial shipping areas.)

PicMonkey Collage
Views of Klong Toey terminal area - Bangkok, Thailand
It took a couple hours for the Nautica to wind its way down the narrow river, passing under majestic bridge spans and near the shore and then enter the Bay of Bangkok. Sitting on our deck in that early morning hour, the air already felt thick with humidity. It was quiet.  So quiet that we heard voices of dock workers, the rat-a-tat-tat of small long-tail boats engines as they passed, the call of tropical birds and buzzing cicadas on the shore.

Chao Phraya - Bangkok, Thailand from Oceania Nautica
Our ship was small enough that it could navigate up rivers such as the Chao Phraya here and later the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, so we had a taste of what river cruising might be like as we got up close enough to see people and shrines on shore.

Honoring Thailand's royalty - along the Chao Phraya in Bangkok
It was to be a full ‘sea day’; a travel day, in other words.  We would have 14 such sea days during this Magic Carpet ride of a cruise through the Far- and Middle-East.

Our ship was a novelty as we made our way down the Chao Phraya - Bangkok, Thailand
With temperatures in the 90’s and humidity at the same level, we spent that first sea day lazing around – but not at the pool because it was too hot (notice the empty chairs). Our hard-working crew didn’t have such options and braved the heat and gave the ship a bath:

PicMonkey Collage
Heat and humidity didn't slow down maintenance work on the Nautica

We would be in Singapore at 8 a.m. the next day as it really is quite a distance from the Chao Phraya River and then crossing the Gulf of Bangkok (formerly the Gulf of Siam) and a slice of the South China Sea. Although we couldn’t see land after entering the bay, it was amazing to think we were sailing past Phnom Pehn and the coast of Viet Nam.

Our route was shown on the ship's television channel
Singapore, its official name the Republic of Singapore, is an island country, a sovereign city state that is 85 miles or 137 kilometers north of the equator – that translates into: HOT, very, very hot.
In our next post we’ll take you on a “Hop On, Hop Off” bus tour of Singapore, with a look at the city’s old and new, exotic and sterile.Thanks for stopping by and spending some time with us today.  We appreciate it!

Linking this week with:

Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening


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