Friday, November 15, 2019

Heading to the Suez Canal

As I was researching the Suez Canal experience from a cruise passenger’s perspective I found all kinds of conflicting information.
*One said the ship is locked down and goes dark, with no one allowed outside or on the open decks during the day or night. This person said all curtains had to be closed and no lights allowed at night and passengers were pretty much confined to their cabins. For several days, actually.
*One said they were forced to endure pirate drills where they were all required to huddle in the hallways.
*Another said the Canal is one way so it took forever for the Canal to open in their direction. And they had to time it so the ship could leave in the cover of night to stealthily avoid the pirates.
*Yet another one said cruise ships have heavily armed guards onboard with water cannons set up on the open decks in case of attack.

In most of the cases I read about, the time in the Suez Canal sounded like a dire and pretty scary experience. I’ve traveled enough to know both cruise passengers and the news media exaggerate and dramatize certain things around cruising. I took what I read with a grain of salt so I was very much looking forward to the transit on this ship to see it first-hand for myself.

Side note: I do have two trusted sources I rely on when it comes to cruising. They aren’t just random people on the Internet and their information is highly accurate, engaging, and entertaining. Yellow Fish Cruises and Vickie and Bernie Travel blog live from their cruises. Each of them have a ton of cruising experience, and thus have a ton of information - with plenty of photos - on their blogs. And guess what? They are both right now on different ships in different parts of the world, blogging live as we speak. Be sure to check them out! Unfortunately neither has been through the Suez Canal so I had to look elsewhere for information this time around. (Thanks a lot ladies, leaving me alone to sort through the crappy information on the Internet. Just kidding. Sort of.)

After our first scheduled day of the Suez Canal transit I can report…
It was pretty much like a regular sea day. We had t-shirt sales and trivia and fruit and vegetable carving and Pub Lunch and music out at the pool and the don’t-hog-the-loungers notification and evening shows. E and I had our 6 AM breakfast (3 days in a row!) and while we missed the moment the sun rose over the horizon, we were walking the Promenade Deck in time to still get a nice view.

I spent time swimming and sunning, and we both spent time napping.
An adult beverage by the pool on a warm day as we head towards the Suez Canal?
Doesn’t get much better than this.
The only noticeable difference in the ship’s activities was by evening we had arrived in our staging area where we would wait for other ships to gather in preparation for our transit. We will be in the southbound convoy of ships beginning tomorrow at around 4 AM. With sunrise not long after 6, it doesn’t sound like cover of night to me.
We’re not the only one waiting for early morning.
Ever see a sunset over Africa? You have now.

Pirate drill with passengers huddled in hallways? Not yet, but I did hear there may be one after the Suez Canal as we will be entering some more potentially dangerous waters.
Relegated to our cabins? Not so far.
Lights off everywhere around the ship? Not yet.

Excited to see what tomorrow brings!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Rhodes, Greece

For the second day in a row, both E and I made it to breakfast before 6 AM. Yay, us! Also for the second day in a row, we took a little rest before I had to go out to my excursion. Since we had calm seas last night, he and I both were ready to explore Greece on our island tour. It wasn’t a great tour as it had extra shopping stops that weren’t in the description - they were ones the guide thought we should make. It extended our tour from a three and a half hour tour to a five hour tour. All because of extra shopping. Ugh. Plus she talked every single moment of the tour in her high-pitched voice. I so couldn’t wait for the tour to be over. But I did get some nice photos, both in the pouring rain (where we started the day) and in the sunshine (where we ended our day). 

When it was finally over I made a beeline for the quiet cabin to kick off my shoes and put on my slippers. While we stopped on the tour for a provided snack (a cookie), it was now over 9 hours since breakfast so I ordered room service (note to self: the cheese quesadilla on the kids menu on the Sapphire uses American cheese so don’t order it again) while I worked on the blog. 

Not much commentary tonight as my head is rattling from another day spent on a bumpy bus ride while having to listen to a screeching voice. So I’ll just leave you with the beautiful island of Rhodes, Greece.
Tour buses lined up on the dock and waiting for cruise ship passengers.
So rainy today.
The walled city.
The Sapphire Princess is out there somewhere.
The mountains of Turkey can be seen in the distance.
Even with the rain the ocean is gorgeous.
Finally, the sun!
Finally home.
We have some sea days coming up, thank goodness. The first two will be involving the Suez Canal. It’s a big reason we are on this trip so I’m interested to see what tomorrow holds.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Santorini, Greece

After a few more bumps in the night where we lost some items to the floor (TV controller, dang mini bottles from the mini bar that still hadn't been traded out), the waters calmed early in the morning. Whew.

The ship was a bit delayed arriving in Santorini, but by 10:30 the arrival announcement was made. Santorini is actually formed from a volcano. The ship stays out in the caldera and passengers are tendered back and forth to shore. Typically you would find a ship anchoring when offshore, but the water is so deep an anchor would be of no use so the ship drifts and uses the thrusters to somewhat stay put. (At least that's what our guide told us.)

If you were doing your own thing in Santorini, you went to a different dock than those on ship excursions. On-your-own people were dropped off at the bottom of the city of Fira. There are three ways to get out of the port area: walking, donkey, or cable car. Take a look at this switchback walkway - you have to make your way up all those stairs to make it from the sea to the city up above. Oh, my.
Can you imagine walking up (and then down) all that way?
For those on ship excursions, we wound up at another dock, the only one accessible by bus. Still, we found ourselves with a not-so-direct route out of the port.
Lots of switchbacks to get out of the port
My tour was an island drive. Boy, did we drive. Unfortunately, it was a soon-to-be stormy day with rain and thunder and lightning. We made several stops for photo opportunities, but some of those had such hard downpours it wasn't worth stepping outside. You'll find some of my photos are taken from inside a bus with raindrop-filled windows.
You can tell a storm is brewing.
Looks like snow, doesn't it? Nope, those are houses.
No pretty blue waters today
Windmills can be found around the island.
Someone is selling land, I think. I don't know as it's Greek to me!

It was a bit of a bust of a day. From what I hear, the colors are just spectacular on a sunny day. I'm glad I went, but not sure I'd do it again. With our bumpy last couple days on the ship, a bumpy tender ride over the island, a drive with a couple hours of switchbacks and curves, and another really bumpy tender ride back, my head is spinning. While I haven't been sick to my stomach so far this entire trip, my head is not happy right now. And although the ship is somewhat stationary at the moment, trying to concentrate on the words on the screen is a bit tough so I'll be cutting it short tonight. 

Tomorrow we have Rhodes, Greece. With a clearer head, I hope.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sapphire Princess Surprise Sea Day

I was excited to see our new Patter for the day. We were supposed to be in Sicily, but we couldn’t dock because of weather. Presto-chango, sea day! We had two different destination presentations, one on Aqaba and one on the Suez Canal. There were other new things we haven’t seen before on a Princess ship, like a sign language class and a lip sync contest. That gave me four things to find my way to today. But with our morning starting at 3 AM, I got to absolutely none of them. It still wound up being a full day.

This morning E and I both decided we couldn’t take it anymore. The cabin has been so doggone noisy since day one. Not noisy as in passengers nearby or creaks and groans, but noisy as in airplane engine noisy. It didn’t matter if we were docked or at sea, day or night, there was this rumbling roar all throughout the cabin. A rumbling roar that had not once let up since we stepped aboard. Makes it almost impossible to sleep, hard to have a conversation, and required us to turn the TV volume way, way up to hear it over the noise. So at 3 AM we were sleep-deprived enough for E to head down to the Piazza for some quiet relief and me to head to the Passenger Services Desk.

Thankfully, the night manager was on duty and accompanied me back to the cabin. She could tell right away the noise was a problem and went off to find where it was coming from. I headed down to the Piazza with E in the meantime. She came down later to let us know she couldn’t find where the problem was, but had a temporary solution. While there wasn’t another cabin in our category to move us to, there was an obstructed oceanview she could temporarily move us to for the rest of the night. I was about to pass, but E was so ready for some sleep we took it. We were issued one blue cabin key to share. (It has been a while since we’ve had a blue cruise card in our hands.) Off we went back to our old room to pick up a few things we needed (pjs, medicine, bottles of water) and headed to our new cabin. Oh my, what a difference. By 4:15 AM we had tucked ourselves into the twin beds in the new cabin and thus began a peaceful sleep.

Until the phone rang in the morning, letting us know they were able to work some magic and if we wanted we could have the cabin for the rest of the voyage. Yes, please! We just needed to let them know when we were ready to move cabins and they’d send someone up. They also let us know we could keep sleeping, if we’d like. Yes, please!

Then we had the cabin steward coming in to service the cabin but was kind enough to let us sleep some more. Yay!

Then was the Captain’s noontime announcement (was it really noon already?) where he spent some time honoring Remembrance Day. The ship had a ceremony yesterday, but many passengers (us included) were off the ship. We’ve been on many ships during Remembrance Day before but this is the first time we’ve had the Captain acknowledge it in a lengthy presentation for all to hear. I’m guessing it has to do with the part of the world the ship is in right now.

The rest of the day involved:
*Learning how to walk on a ship while encountering 70 knot winds. Yep, the 50 knot winds we heard we might encounter actually turned into 70 knot winds. This ship is moving. Not only did I need to work on my balance, I had to help E work on his balance, and dodge all the other passengers trying to work on their balance. All the while trying to make my way to deck 5 to deck 8 to deck 10 and back to deck 8 to deck 6 and back to deck 5 to deck 14 and back to deck 8 back to deck 6 and back to deck 14 and back to deck 8. (I think that was my path for the day.) I don’t know how many steps I had, but it was a lot. For every step I should have taken I probably took an extra one or two is just trying to keep my balance. It took the entire day to:
*Pack up the old cabin and move to the new cabin and re-unpack everything.
*Go back to the Passenger Services desk to get new cabin cards. No sharing a blue temporary one anymore.
*Call room service for the umpteenth time to try and get the mini bar switched out. I don’t know what their delay is but we still haven’t gotten the new one. Thank goodness I had pre-ordered water or we’d really be in a world of hurt for in-cabin beverages. There also appears to be a glitch in the room service phone system. You are put on hold for one minute and when the 60 seconds is up, you are disconnected. So unless someone on their end picks up the phone within the minute you have to hang up and call again. And again. And again. And again.
*Read up on excursions for tomorrow. It was supposed to be a sea day, but since we missed today’s port we have a bonus port instead, Santorini. Woo hoo! It’s a tender port and with 25-30 knot winds expected might not be so fun getting to shore but I’m going forth anyway – on my own – for a little tour. The new excursions weren’t loaded into the system online so I had to make a trek down to the shore excursions desk to get my ticket.
*Go back to Passenger Services desk to turn in our passports. We knew they would need to go to the cabin steward this morning, but our new guy didn’t want them because we hadn’t officially changed cabins yet and our old cabin steward hadn’t even been told we were leaving his section.
*Make another trip down in International CafĂ© so E could get some soup in his system. There is where I tried to take a picture of the huge waves out the window but all we could see was sea spray hitting the windows hard. There were a couple times I did see waves towering over the windows, a sight I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. That would have been an impressive picture.
*Trips to the buffet for green apples and bread for E and then a late lunch for me.
*Cancel our reservations for the specialty dining tonight. There is no way I can get E to get out of bed when the ship is rocking and rolling like it is.
*Sleep, sleep, sleep.

It has been a busy, bumpy, and sometimes relaxing day. We’ve got thunderstorms and lightning throughout the sky again tonight so still no bridge cam TV overnight. Another alarm day it’ll have to be.

Crossing my fingers for smoother sailing, calmer winds, and a great day in Santorini tomorrow.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Naples, Italy

Hello from Napoli!

I was hoping to be up early to get good pictures as we arrived in Napoli (Naples). We’re in an inside cabin this time around, so we turned the TV on to the webcam station last night so I could be awaken by daylight instead of an alarm. It worked great up until the time it didn't. We had thunderstorms throughout the night so the TV kept flashing white, making me think someone was turning on the light. Good thing hubby was snoring or I probably would have been blaming him for it. After a couple hours of being startled awake, the TV had to go off. Which should have meant I set an alarm. But I didn't so we slept. And slept. And slept.

We knew we didn't have to be anywhere until later in the day, anyway. With hubby’s stamina being the number one thing on my mind these days, I made sure today’s tour was an afternoon one so he had plenty of time for morning rest. We usually don’t take Princess tours but this cruise we are. 
Boy, we have a lot of sightseeing to do this month.
Being in a big group of cruise ship passengers in a confined space isn’t exactly our idea of fun. But Princess tour options typically pick up and drop off closer to the ship and keep pretty close to scheduled times, both things we need in order to keep him (hubby E) comfortable. I can’t wear the man out – there are still too many places around the world I want to see!

It wound up being a great tour. We saw a lot and I took a ton of pictures that I'll add later. Here's just a taste.
The ship docks in town. Next time we'll wander on our own instead.
Gelato for me and espresso for hubby. In Italy. Oh, yeah!

While we didn't get a chance to have pizza in Naples today, we still have a chance in Sicily tomorrow. will go to Alfredo's tonight instead. The Captain just announced tomorrow's port will be closed because of bad weather and we'll have a sea day instead. He tells us it'll be a bumpy one with the 50 knot winds. Hope it's not too bumpy by evening as it's formal night (just think about that champagne glass tower!) and we have dinner in the steakhouse tomorrow night  - in the back of the ship. It could get interesting.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sapphire Princess Embarkation Day

This may sound really weird, but the night before a cruise I don't get nearly as excited as I used to. I kind of equate it to going to the movies. Sure, you're happy you are going to see a movie, but you've been to the same movie theater before, had to drive through the same traffic to get there, and probably parked in the same area of the parking lot. Even if you go to a different theater, you know the concession stand will be after the ticket booth but before the actual theater. Once inside you might find a new spot to sit, but most likely you have your favorite go-to seats.

Cruising is like that for us. We use the same taxi company to get to the airport, usually fly the same couple of airlines to some of the same embarkation ports, and get on ships we've been on before. 

Ships with:
a layout like the others we've been on before.
the same kinds of food we've had before.
the same type of entertainment we've had before.
cabins we've had before.
some of the same crew we've cruised with before.
the same ports we've been to before with the same sights as before.

Which is probably why this particular cruise DOES have me more excited than usual. While we've left from Civitavecchia before (last year) and cruised on the Sapphire Princess before (several years ago), the ports are new. Every single one of them. Which makes the tours we're taking new to us, the sites new to us, and the adventure new to us. After having spent two months this year on the Royal Princess going to the same places we had already been dozens of times (Alaska and Mexico) I'm happy to say I think new is going to be a good thing for us. (Now hubby won't agree. He would rather be sitting in his rocking chair with the TV controller in his hand than be on any cruise or on any trip anywhere. But I know what's good for him, and this will be good for him. Trust me.)

As part of our new things, we did get a walk in after breakfast. A hill was involved and one of us worked up a sweat. Oh yeah, and got a peek at our ship. We're on the right and the Sky Princess is on the left. 
But as you would expect, our day didn't end there. We enjoyed just a bit of time on our little patio off our room...
 Before heading to port and boarding this beauty...

and seeing this behemoth ship docked across from us. Now little Miss Sky Princess doesn't look all that large in this picture, but believe me, she is. When we were in the shuttle to the port we could tell the difference between the two ships. Ours looks like a little baby compared to her. I'm hoping once one of us starts pulling away we will pass a bit closer for a better look.
We were able to board the Sapphire immediately, but cabins weren't quite ready. No worries for us. We'll just say hello to our home for the next 27 days. 
Can you tell we like hanging at the back of the ship on embarkation day?
I'm not sure of our plans for the rest of the day. A nap before muster drill perhaps? 

One last thing - you know I live my life (and this blog) through photos, but because of the limited number of Internet minutes on this trip the photos themselves may not make it into my posts until I get free port WiFi. Patters also won't be scanned and uploaded this time around. I will hold onto them so if you have questions, do let me know by using the Contact Me tab up top. 

See you tomorrow in Naples!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

A Relaxing Day in Italy

No fewer than three times during the middle of the night last night did I sit up in bed and say in a loud voice. Ow, ow, ow! First it was the left calf. Later on it was the right calf. And if those two body parts weren't enough, the left foot got into the action even later in the night. Dang it hurt and I was so tired and discombobulated in the night I couldn't even forms words as to what I had going on. I had to look it up to remember - they were Charley Horses. It has been a good many years since I've had one (and never three in one night) but I'm guessing the 24 hours of traveling had something to do with it. So Dr. Deb prescribed herself lots of glasses of water, a banana for additional potassium, ankle pump exercises to increase circulation, and feet above her heart today.

As today was already a planned relaxation day it was an easy prescription to follow. The hotel we are staying in has a free breakfast so we started our morning by taking our 13 steps to the restaurant. I always find free hotel breakfasts fascinating. Not because they are free, but because the variety of foods we find depends on the part of the world we are in. Today's was heavy on the sweets.
I love seeing the oranges with their stems still attached.
I'm a mostly-protein gal so I had just a couple options.
I'm also a gal who likes to taste a little bit of several things but not too much of one thing (if that makes sense) so I was careful not to overdo it with all the choices available. 
In my choices I found something unbelievable tasty. Something I've never had before; something I've never seen before. It has probably been around the US for a while but since I don't do many carbs I wouldn't know it if it was. This chocolate covered mini Belgium waffle thingy was one of the best things I've eaten in a very long time. It was like an old fashioned doughnut batter made into a mini Belgium waffle shape with a chocolate coating. Oh. My. Gosh.
I also discovered this salami and an oh-so-flavorful roll for breakfast. Another oh my gosh moment.
Hubby and I talked about taking the couple blocks walk down to the water after breakfast, but it was pretty chilly and windy outside so we hiked our 13 steps back to the room until things warmed up some.

Which is where my I don't care day started. I think it was the combination of being carbo-loaded and hubby deciding to watch Italian TV in the room. The Italian TV channels were fun to watch, but then he found a sports channel he stuck with. I decided the sports channel watching was a good time to close my eyes for a tiny bit.

And I soundly went to sleep.

The next thing I knew, there was a knock on the door from housekeeping, coming to clean the room. Hubby grabbed the door, I thought in my mind I don't care about the room being cleaned and without even thinking about it, went right back to sleep.

Later on, a thunder clap woke me up. We had left the patio door open so it was loud. But I thought I don't care. And went right back to sleep.

Then we had the big birthday party we heard in the restaurant. Singing Happy Birthday in Italian. It woke me up, I thought how nice, then I don't care, and went back to sleep.

So there went the day. We both got plenty of rest, skipped lunch (the restaurant here isn't open anyway, but I did have my banana to add potassium into my system), drank plenty of water, and never made it down to the ocean. Even the walk became an I don't care. Heck, we're going to be on a cruise ship for 27 days so we'll see plenty of water.

At precisely 7 pm we headed to the restaurant for dinner. Another I don't care happened there, too. Just like last night, cruise passengers were having a pissing contest talking loudly from across the room about who is more important and how many cruises they've been on and blah, blah, blah. (If you cruise a lot you know the kind of people I'm talking about.) We had more of those loud folks in the restaurant tonight, too. But not long into the meal a large family of locals showed up for dinner. About 20 people in all, speaking Italian and having a grand time. It was fun listening to their conversations and enthusiasm even though I could hardly understand a word they were saying. Much better than having to care about being distracted by the annoyingly loud braggart cruise passengers.
I had no idea what the locals were saying, just like I don't know exactly what this Coke was trying to tell me.
Delicious homemade pizza in Italy? Oh yeah!
It wound up raining most of the day and into the evening. And guess what? I don't care. I'm in Italy having a great, grand, magnificent relaxing and mind, body, and soul boosting day.

Tomorrow we're joining the Sapphire Princess. The big, beautiful brand new Sky Princess will be here in port with us, too. I hope to get a good look at her as well. (From the outside only, of course).

I'll work on keeping Charley and his Horses in the barn tonight and will see you back here tomorrow!