Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sea Day, December 1

It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning was brightening up the cabin and the thunder was reverberating throughout the ship while this gal coughed her way through all of it. I’ve been trying to stave off the sickness going around the ship but I think my healthy days are running out. Note to self: Must. Keep. Healthy.

I was late waking this morning and missed the sunrise but soon found there wasn’t a sunrise to see anyway. The dark and stormy night turned into a dark and stormy morning with even more thunder and lightning. We watched it from the Promenade Deck but as the clouds moved in closer, the torrential rain blowing sideways chased us away.
It was a wet one out there today. Add it in with a few other things and it made for an interesting way to spend a sea day.
  • The outdoor pool area was drenched and deserted and the indoor pool area was full. Can’t go there. An FYI on the pools on this ship…they are open from 7 am-11pm with the exception of the Neptune Pool where the Movies Under the Stars is held. That pool closes at 5:30pm.
  • One section of the buffet seating has been closed due to water coming through the ceiling. No one will be sitting there for lunch or dinner.
  • As we are heading towards the southern hemisphere, the satellites were being switched over and the Internet was out. Not like I have plenty of minutes to use anyway.
  • The TV in the cabin was fixed yesterday but is back to a black screen today. Again I’ve reported it and again I’m told they’ll send up a technician. I do think they’re getting tired of my calls day after day. So no on-demand movies on a rainy day.
  • What about today’s Pub Lunch? I’m trying to stay away from all the sick passengers (and there are a lot) in the indoor spaces so we didn’t go. On this ship Pub Lunch is in a dining room. It’s such a better venue than the Wheelhouse Bar.
  • Head to the library? The library here is small – and loud. It shares space with the Captain’s Circle Desk and Future Cruise Consultant and all the people waiting for both those ladies. Also, the library only has certain hours where the books are available for checkout – or even for browsing. Outside those specific hours the book cabinets are locked.
So what to do? Stop by the 2 for $20 t-shirt sale to pick up Rome and Abu Dhabi shirts for E for Christmas. We don’t do presents, but Santa does fill stockings for those at our daughter’s house on Christmas Day. (You’re welcome, Santa.) Speaking of the holidays, I know some Princess ships are seeing Christmas decorations going up already, but not here. I wonder if it’ll happen once we hit Singapore and the ship moves onto its Asia itinerary for the season. 

Thankfully by mid-afternoon things started working again. The Internet was back up and running (but oh-so-slooow) and the technician fixed the TV for the umpteenth time (and showed me how to reset it myself). The rain let up some but left us with 80 degree weather and 90 percent humidity. It was steam-room steamy, but too hard to for me to breathe in when it felt like an elephant (from the elephant orphanage on one of tomorrow’s Princess excursions, perhaps?) was sitting on my chest. I have a Z-Pak I’ll take if I don’t feel better after tomorrow’s excursion. (No, not the one to the elephant orphanage.)

It’ll be an early morning city tour in Colombo, Sri Lanka for us. We’ve already been cautioned not to expect too much. To be ready for a country so very opposite of what we’ve experienced so far. That the cleanliness we saw on the streets of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Muscat will not exist in Sri Lanka. Plan on toilet paper to be absent from restrooms and for them to not be Western style. Nervous Nellies will not want to sit near the front of the buses or transportation or tours because of the way the drivers will be driving. That the air conditioning in the transportation – Princess tours included - may take quite some time to cool things down, so expect to be hot and sticky and wet. The weather forecast calls for 89 degrees, high humidity, and a 100% chance of rain, most likely from intermittent downpours. All of those reasons probably contributed to why I heard someone today say they weren’t going out in port because there was nothing worth seeing. But we’re here one time and one time only, and we need to see it (whatever it is – or isn’t) for ourselves. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Sea Day and Pirate Drill Info

You know when it’s nine in the morning and 80 degrees with 85 percent humidity it’s going to be a hot one. I spent my swimming and sunning time at the pool but couldn’t last all day. With the steamy heat and my sunscreen bottle running low and me not wanting to have to ration it like I am Internet minutes, I didn’t stay in a lounger all that long. Even my swimming time was cut short. After yesterday’s swimming lap-o-rama, my shoulder hurt all night long. (It’s that same shoulder I’ve already had repaired once and the one I re-injured on the Crown Princess during our transatlantic voyage last year.)

Less swimming + less sunning = more time to get my thoughts together about the pirate drill experience.

As I mentioned during the Suez Canal portion of our voyage, when I was researching what to expect on a cruise ship during the transit, I found all kinds of conflicting information. 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 so I took what I read with a grain of salt.

First of all, the information I read online stated it was in regards to safety procedures during the Suez Canal transit. But it isn’t the Suez Canal requiring additional safety procedures – it’s the waterways before the Suez Canal if you’re traveling northbound or after the Suez Canal if you’re heading southbound. There is a High Risk Area in the waters near and around the Horn of Africa and where the Strait of Hormuz meets the Persian Gulf. These High Risk Area boundaries change depending on incidents in the area. The Suez Canal isn’t even close to the HRA.

But I did find there was some truth – but not all truth – in what I read in regards to anti-piracy procedures.

The Suez Canal is one way so it took forever for the Canal to open. Ship had to leave in the cover of night to stealthily avoid the pirates. 
Again, none of the anti-piracy procedures had to do with the Suez Canal. But yes, the Suez Canal used to be only one way. Now there are two Canals running alongside each other with some areas where they converge. Sometimes ships would be hanging out in those areas waiting for the area to clear before moving on. We did leave in the dark, but we had a convoy of 22 ships heading southbound and another convoy heading northbound so an early morning entry into the Canal was needed to get all of us through in both directions.

The ship is locked down and goes dark, with no one allowed outside or on the open decks during the day or night. 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. 
This may have happened, but it is not the usual procedure. These types of security measures are followed if there is a recent incident, like the time when a Chinese cargo ship was fired upon in the Sinai Peninsula and a cruise ship was in the same waters not long after. These precautions are taken for the safety and security of passengers and crew, and if the situation requires passengers stay from open decks, they will be closed off. Again, this type of lock down is not typical.

Forced to endure pirate drills and passengers required to huddle in the hallways. 
We did have a required pirate drill. (It was also called an anti-piracy drill.) On our ship we weren’t required to huddle in the hallways, but we were required to return to our cabins in order to be accounted for. (The stewards did the checking.) We were also required to shut and lock balcony doors and close all curtains.

Ships use several methods to ward off pirate attacks, with one being high speed. Our ship was at maximum speed as we traversed the High Risk Areas. Another method is maneuvering. These are a couple of the reasons we were required to be in our cabin for the first part of the pirate drill. The Captain told us that in case of a real pirate attack, the ship would be using its maneuvering capabilities at a high speed and the ship would be listing heavily. We would need to be away from the open decks and open areas of the ship. During the listing the safest place would be sitting on the floor of our cabin. A bit scary to think about.

As part of the drill, with passengers instructed to their cabins, crew were called to Deck 4 with a code. They were to behave as if pirates were boarding the vessel. Crew were then called to another area on Deck 4 for a simulated fire from the pirate attack. The ship even used synthetic smoke to give the crew a more authentic drill. Passengers were then supposed to be called to their muster stations as you would if the ship were on fire, but the synthetic smoke got a bit out of hand and wafted into one of the muster stations. We had to wait until the smoke cleared before the alarm sounded.

Call us ever-so-thankful we had a cabin on Deck 8 by the back stairway so we only had one flight of stairs for E to make his way down. It has made us rethink our cabin locations for future cruises. Typically on muster drill day we go early so we can take the elevators but we couldn’t do it for the pirate drill. If we had a real-life emergency where going to a muster station was required, walking down from a higher deck cabin wouldn’t work for E.

Then here’s where it got weird in the muster station – we had to listen to the regular muster station chipper presentation from day one. During a Pirate Drill. The hello everyone and the even though you’d look stunning in a life jacket and the spread joy, not germs one. The whole dang thing. Not only were they using this time in the muster station for a pirate drill, but they were using it to count as the muster drill for those folks who had been on since Southampton. (Those from Southampton were on a 38 day cruise and you have to muster every 30 days.) The stupid muster drill song in a Pirate Drill just didn’t work. All in all, from the time crew were first called to Deck 4 to the time we were dismissed from the muster station was about an hour.

Heavily armed guards onboard with water cannons set up on the open decks in case of attack.
We didn’t have armed guards onboard for our voyage. However, we did have additional eyes on the water. There was a high level of surveillance on the Bridge and around ship, especially at night. Because of the need for maximum night vision for those on watch, lights were dimmed on the Promenade Deck from 10pm to 6am. Therefore the deck was closed during those times.

Those on watch were looking for some typical telltale signs to identify pirates. Skiffs are towed behind motherships which can be spotted on radar miles away. Two skiffs travel together when targeting ships and can look like normal fishing boats from afar but once binoculars are used the difference can be detected. The skiffs carry grappling hooks, increased fuel, and no fishing gear. The pirates may also be in possession of AK-47s.

Our ship also had prerigged hoses along the Promenade deck. We saw these hoses hanging down all along the deck. They have a nozzle on one end, with the other end of the hose attached to the water supply across the deck. When in use these hoses will create a water wall, if needed.

We were also informed we would see an increased military presence during our time in the High Risk Area. If there had been recent issues in the area we would have been escorted through the area and may have had additional security personnel onboard. (All was good for us.) Shipping lanes were also more narrow than usual so we would see an increasing number of container ships closer to our ship.

It was a bit scary to think about what could have happened. I do have to mention this – on this voyage we knew what we were getting into. We also knew what kinds of safety issues could arise from being closer to Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Syria and the Persian Gulf than most of us have ever been before. But not once have I heard anyone say they didn’t want to be here or weren’t getting off the ship in port because they feared for their safety. But over the last 10 years on our cruises to Mexico? I heard it on a daily basis.

We have another sea day tomorrow and yet another time change tonight. This time we are doing 30 minutes forward. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I'm starting to think I’ve been pretty clueless on the ways of the world. You can bet I’ll be relying on the ship clocks, not my cell phone, to figure out the real time! 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Sea Day, November 29

Today held a couple different firsts on this trip. One was that I stayed in my swimsuit. All. Day. Long. I needed to work on the Christmas present to myself (a tan), there were no movies to watch in the cabin (TV is out again), and I was trying to avoid the Black Friday sales (on the ship).

We’ve been on many a ship during Thanksgiving before, but this is the first one where I’ve noticed Black Friday sales. Not advertised on TV, but in the Princess Patter. You could shop for apparel in the Pacific Moon Dining Room, get in on the jewelry sales at the Effy Store, and get discounted treatments and products at the Lotus Spa. Doesn’t the language make you want to grab the cruise card and start swooping up the bargains?
 “Don’t miss the opportunity of taking an extra 25% off already reduced prices – no exclusions.”
“The Biggest shopping holiday of the year has arrived with bigger discounts than ever before so don’t miss out.”
“Visit the Lotus Spa for the biggest savings on products and treatments.”
I do have to admit the sale in the Dining Room was just a bit tempting. We’ve been wearing the same t-shirts on cruises for two years now. That’s almost 200 days of the same clothes over and over and over. They’ve seen better days and some items will be left behind before we head home. But being poolside won out over a new cruise wardrobe. Having to experience crowds swarming around the clothing racks and tables like moths to a flame? No thanks.

Another first - we didn’t even go to breakfast today. On this trip we’ve been skipping dinner so we find ourselves hungry for our 6 AM breakfast. But there was no appetite this morning because we did Thanksgiving dinner last night. We had the traditional meal, with E grabbing some extra so he could have his additional Thanksgiving Day tradition – a turkey sandwich made with leftovers. A roll and turkey from the buffet. Mayonnaise and pickles from the grill out by the pool. Tucked in the fridge for a special midnight snack. A pleasant side effect of not being hungry early? Sleeping until 7 felt oh-so-good, especially since we had to set the clocks an hour forward again. (We now officially have a 12 hour time difference from home.)

So a late morning led to a get dressed and head straight to the pool day. Watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s, on a sunny day by the pool, while cruising the Indian Ocean? Yep. I spent the full day there and got plenty of laps in. The swimming must have worn me out because I fell asleep in the lounger. Thank goodness for the Mission Impossible intro playing in the late afternoon movie or I probably would still be sleeping there.

I kind of wish I was. I was hungry by that point and stopped by the buffet on the way back to the cabin to pick up some tortilla chips. As I grabbed a super-hot bowl (just out of the dishwasher, I’m guessing), the tower of bowls came crashing down onto the hard buffet floor. Did they make a terrible racket? Oh, yeah. Could they just drop there and sit? Nope. Might they break in half? Nope. Those sturdy plastic bowls decided they should shatter into dozens of pieces. Thanks to the scalding hot bowls meeting the cold hard floor I made quite the mess and all eyes were on me. So embarrassing.

In other news, the hoses that were staged on Promenade Deck as a precaution against pirates have been taken down. Tomorrow is another sea day and I’ll tell you all about the Pirate Drill then.

Also, no pictures today either. I ran out of Internet minutes several days ago. Thankfully E is letting me tap into his but with several more sea days ahead of us I have to be careful in how I use them.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Muscat, Oman

Have you ever seen a sunrise over Muscat, Oman? You sure have.
Some of the Princess excursion buses on the dock with drivers ready for the day’s passengers.
Today we were given landing cards for immigration, picked up on Deck 4 before we left the ship. They each had a unique number assigned to them. (I’ve marked out my number.) We didn’t have to show them to anyone but I’m guessing in case something came up ashore we would have to produce them?
When returning to the ship we had a drop box to put them in. 
Today was the last Hop on Hop off bus tour of our trip. We weren’t the only ones who thought the early 8:15 AM bus would be a good idea. We were crammed in that bus like sardines with only one seat unoccupied. We’ve had many instances where folks aren’t willing to give up a seat to a disabled person so I was worried about E not being able to get a seat downstairs. Thankfully the folks working the bus took pity on him and made sure he got a seat not only on the bottom level, but right up front. Being they set aside both seats for us, I felt obliged to sit next to him instead of heading up top like I usually do.

That makes all of today’s pictures taken straight out of a bus window, with just a few from the side window. As I was taking them I was bummed, thinking they weren’t coming out all that great. Now that I look at them, I realize it gave me a great perspective of the city. Both you and I can sit back, pretend we’re on a Thanksgiving drive to grandma’s house, and enjoy a tour of Muscat, Oman. (And yeah, I took a lot of pictures on the way. Happy Thanksgiving!)

Did you know Oman is ruled by a Sultan? I didn’t until today. His picture is everywhere around the city. 
Edit: Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said passed away just a few weeks after our visit on January 10, 2020. He was replaced by his cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said.
This huge one is right at the port.
Al Alam is the Sultan’s palace.
Look at how shiny the marble is at the palace
The Incense Burner is a lookout tower.
In Abu Dhabi and Dubai you had two options for views – new buildings or sand. Here in Muscat you have other options – rocks and mountains, old buildings or new buildings, or green space. 

Plenty of taxis were available right outside the port.
Plenty of drivers were standing at the ready, too.
Two ships in port today.
There is only one red HOHO bus route...
but it gave us plenty of opportunity to see the city from one end to the other. Muscat most definitely felt (and looked) more Middle Eastern-y to us than anywhere else we’ve been before. The dress was predominantly traditional for both men and women. The city was older looking, with all buildings white or cream in color. (Buildings can’t be built higher than eight stories and have to adhere to the color scheme.) Suqs (souks/marketplaces) were busy and full of locals. We knew we certainly weren’t in the United Arab Emirates anymore.

We move clocks forward yet another hour tonight. Ugh. But tomorrow we’re off to a sea day and that makes it a woo hoo!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Sea Day, November 27

Today was a pretty quiet day for us and for the first time on this entire cruise we weren’t at breakfast by 6. We slept in a little and made it there by 7. I also didn’t take a sunrise picture as we weren’t up early enough for that, either. (No pictures at all today, actually.)

These last couple days of Hop on Hop off buses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were overwhelming. While E sat on the bottom section, I sat in the upper section where I could hear, see, and smell everything. There were so many new experiences that have led to sensory overload.

My brain was trying to process so many things:

  • The buildings. The extreme (when I say extreme, I mean EXTREME) height of the buildings. One after another after another, all shiny and new. I have never seen so many tall, tall, tall buildings in my life. Then there was the variety of architecture. Hundreds of buildings (most likely thousands of buildings) with a unique look to them. There was also so much new construction, with many of the cranes looking like they weren’t being used. I can’t help but wonder if the ups and downs of crude oil prices are creating construction booms and busts. We also had the opulence of the mosques and palaces. I’ve never seen a presidential palace before this trip. I’ve never seen a mosque either, let alone multiple spectacularly beautiful ones. And I only saw them from the outside! I can’t even imagine the experience of entering one and processing everything I would see and do once inside.
  • The superlatives. When we did our 50 state trip we found each state needed something to set it apart. Maybe the state ranked #3 in soybean production or had the longest single lane road. But in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, superlatives were the norm of the day. I lost track of how many times I heard something was the world’s only or the world’s tallest, longest, widest, most, highest, or most expensive. In both places it was clear those building the structures took great pride in bragging rights. That the goal was to be number one in whatever it was, whether it was an office building, residential area, mall, waterpark, hotel, racetrack, etc. I did notice an interesting difference in Dubai – many times when it was built was added to the tallest-longest-widest-most-highest-most expensive description. Even though Dubai is only 30 or so years old, there are other cities out there already taking over their previously-held number one spots.
  • The people. Some areas of the cities found most people wearing traditional dress while other areas had more western dress. Then there were other areas where both mixed in. A lady in a tank top next to one in a full burka. Men in their white dress, but wearing a baseball cap. So much to wonder about here. It also raised questions about western culture as well. It’s so very different than in the US where some look at those dressed traditionally in a not-so-nice way. 
  • The language. Most signs were in both Arabic and English. While everyone we spoke to used English with us, we did overhear conversations not in English. Then I ran into the big problem with the blog with it not translating out of Arabic. When it was turning to Italian when we were in Italy I could figure it out but in Abu Dhabi I couldn’t. Part of the reason was that it looked like symbols and was typing right to left. I’m guessing it reads right to left? Another new learning for me.
  • The shops and markets and malls. A souk is a marketplace? Yep, another new learning. As we were sitting in the Mall of the Emirates yesterday we were remarking that a mall is a mall is a mall. We saw a lot of the same stores we see at home. I was a bit shocked to see they even had a Victoria’s Secret – and they weren’t even hiding the bras in the back of the store. They were near the front for all to see, including those ladies walking by fully covered with nothing but their eyes showing. It really is something to ponder. 
  • The sounds. Mostly typical big city sounds - construction workers at work, car horns, wind whistling, HOHO narration, with the addition of something beautiful - call to prayers. 
  • The smells. I could smell all kinds of foods cooking in all kinds of restaurants and cafes. We’re not just talking a Burger King grilled smell here, either. So much variety. Unfortunately there was also the occasional garbage truck driving by.
  • The amount of things to do and see. Dubai especially needs more than one day, no doubt. I heard from several people who found they ran out of time to see more. The trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) took longer than expected because of lines. The aquarium at the Dubai Mall was nice, but took longer than expected because of the time (and hassle) of getting there. The Desert Safari was great but left no time to see anything in Dubai.  And so on and so on. A Hop on Hop off multi-day pass would have been the best way to go. The multiple routes would pretty much get you anywhere you might have heard of. With only one day, I’m glad I prioritized the green and blue routes. It really would have been great to spend one full (or at least half a day) at some of the stops.

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai were unlike any other places we’ve been in the world. It even raised questions I didn’t even know I had! So yeah, it takes some time to process it all and my brain full. This made today a breakfast-pool-lunch-nap-TV day. We left the Persian Gulf this morning, sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, and saw Iran off our port side. (Seriously, is this really my life?)

Tomorrow we are in Oman for yet another Hop on Hop off tour. I imagine my brain will feel fuller than my stomach after a Thanksgiving turkey dinner.