2004 World Cruise


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Radisson Seven Seas Voyager World Cruise 2004

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Port Highlights

From January 10 to April 13, 2004 I am escorting a group for Virtuoso with my friend, Svein Johnsen, on board the Radisson Seven Seas Voyager World Cruise. I will add regular updates to this site as we proceed around the world. So, come along and enjoy the cruise!

Click on the link below to see a map of the Pacific Ocean.




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Chapter 1, January 17, 2004

Greetings from the Radisson Seven Seas Voyager and the beginning of our world cruise. This lovely ship will be my home for the next 3 months, as I am escorting a group with my co-host, Svein Johnsen, for Virtuoso. Virtuoso is a consortium of about 300 travel agencies in the US and Canada and we have over 100 passengers onboard who have booked through a Virtuoso agency.

I will send out reports as we proceed around the world and, among others, this will be going to Jim Good's school class at Morning Star School in Bozeman. They will be tracking me around the world and learning about the places as we go along. So, hello children and everybody else.

The Voyager is a new ship, less than one year old, and can carry up to 700 passengers. Actually they are called 'guests' here, but for being 'guests' they sure pay a lot of money! Fares run about 35,000 to 150,000 per person for the full 94-day cruise. All passenger accommodations are suites and all have balconies. We have one main restaurant and three alternative restaurants, as well as a hamburger grill out on deck. What I like are the coffee machines around the ship where we can make espresso or cappuccino at any time.

We sailed from Los Angeles January 10, bound for Lahaina, Maui. A strong headwind created deep swells all the way across and delayed us enough that we missed our call in Lahaina. That made it difficult for us, as we had our first Virtuoso event planned for our group there! We went straight to Hilo on the 'big island of Hawaii instead, arriving at 7:00pm for an overnight. Our local Virtuoso representatives scrambled to make other arrangements and we had a lovely dinner in Hilo instead. We were greeted with traditional Hawaiian leis and were entertained by a soft-jazz ensemble and a hula dancer, then treated to a delicious 5-course meal.

Hilo is the rainiest town in Hawaii. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Hilo was planned to be the population center for the state. They built a big airport and big hotels, but there was one problem. People wanted a suntan, not a rain tan, and people never flocked to Hilo. Honolulu took over as the capital and cultural center of Hawaii. The airport is only half-used today and the big hotels have been turned into condominiums.

As we went into town the next morning, we could see snow-capped Mauna Kea towering above town. At nearly 13,800 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea has plenty of snow for skiing during the winter! People often think it's funny to see ski equipment in the sports shops here, but skiing is popular! This island is not only the biggest of the Hawaiian Islands, it is still growing. Mauna Loa is an active volcano that puts out a lot of lava. It is also over 13,000 feet high.

Hilo is a sleepy little town and I didnt do much there in the morning, but use an internet cafe and make phone calls, since it was the last chance to make calls from a US port. We have a nice computer center on the ship with good computers and internet, but we have a very slow satellite connection, so it was nice to use DSL speed in a cafe for an hour.

Now we have sailed away from Hawaii, heading into the South Seas toward Bora Bora. We will have 4 nice days at sea on the way to enjoy the ship and the sunshine. The weather has finally turned warm and people are enjoying the open decks and swimming pool.

Southward Ho!


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Chapter 2, January 30, 2004



French Polynesia conjures up romantic images of palm trees, flowers and beaches. But before arriving there, we had four beautiful days at sea after leaving Hilo. I love the sea days, playing bridge every afternoon and spending most of the rest of my non-eating time in the computer room, working on summer tours and writing my memoirs.

However, it was good to arrive in Bora Bora one of the world's most beautiful islands. Svein's standard line is "I've been to Bora Bora twenty times" and he stays onboard and reads. The truth is, he was here in 1969 and went ashore and has been here numerous times since, but probably never went ashore again. He has palm trees and beaches in Florida and he calls it Boring Bora! True, there's not much here, but beautiful it is! A sister ship, the Paul Gaugin, was anchored in the bay when we arrived so the Captain detoured and sailed all the way around her. As we sailed past the Gaugin's bow, our cruise director yelled through a megaphone, "Do you have any Grey Poupon?"

There is a spectacular mountain that rises straight up from the pier and I asked if there were a trail I could take to the top of it. No, there isn't. It requires technical climbing with ropes and guides and is very dangerous. But asking around I was told there was another trail on the other side of the island that goes up quite high and gives a 360 view. So off I went on the open-air truck/bus that circles the island (there is only one road) to find the trail. It was a steep climb, but I was up in about half an hour. It was a great view and I got some nice photos, but I was soaking wet from the climb! I didn't realize how steep it was until I started down and had to go down sideways part way because it was so steep. Then I continued walking along the circle island route, enjoying beautiful views of the mountain from the other side, as well as the lagoon, reef, and distant islands. On the way back, I caught a ride with a guy for a short distance and he told me about the canons. The Americans left them there after WWII, so he showed me where to go to hike up to them. I was already beat, but decided to go anyway. He showed me a questionable trail, but I plunged into the undergrowth, blazing a trail through dense vegetation with my bare legs. I found the canons and one in particular was a huge monster. The views from there were also good. Tired, wet, and hot, but quite contented with my outing, I returned to the ship. Svein just said, "And what do you have from all that work?"

That evening we had a spectacular BBQ out on deck with an amazing array of foods. A group of local women sang and danced for us during dinner and the deck was decorated with big palm fronds they brought in from the island. They served mai tais in hollowed-out coconuts and they were delicious.

The next day was Papeete, Tahiti. It is the largest of the 115 islands that comprise French Polynesia. Tahiti is over-rated, though beautiful, but they do have a good local market with masses of fresh flowers and a wide assortment of handicrafts. I spent the day at the Sheraton with a couple passengers, enjoying lunch and a beautiful pool and maybe a tiny bit too much sunshine.

Then it was back to sea for three days, though if you look at a calendar it looks like four. We crossed the international dateline, so we went to bed Sunday night and woke up Tuesday morning! And we were in Tonga, the world's smallest kingdom. Nuku Alofa is a quiet little place, where no one is in a hurry and the men wear grass skirts. I paid for a haircut and wandered the downtown. The King was in Davos, Switzerland for an economic summit, so he didn't invite me for tea.

They drive on the left side here, but get used to it. "Right is left" in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Japan. Between now and Tokyo our itinerary includes only China and Korea where they drive on the right. Few people realize how much of the world drives left - it's not just England.

We had one more short stop on this stretch, Isle of Pines, a small island in New Caledonia. Talk about idyllic! There's nothing there but white, sandy beaches, and beautiful views in every direction. The ship threw a beach party with champagne, caviar, and punch, all served on floating platforms in the water. I don't care for champagne and I don't eat 'unborn fish', but the punch and swimming were great. And that was our farewell to South Pacific Isles.


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Chapter 3, February 10, 2004


G'Day from Down Under!

The second segment of our world cruise began in Sydney, one of my favorite cities in the world. It is spectacular sailing in, with multiple bays on both sides of the harbor. Then the ship rounds the bend and the skyline of Sydney appears, framing the famous Opera House and bordered by the Sydney Harbor Bridge. A tugboat accompanied us, spraying jets of water high into the air, creating rainbows in the spray, to celebrate our arrival.

The day before we had to fill out immigration forms for Australia and we were asked if we had a criminal record. Actually, I didn't know it was still required to have a criminal record, but they must not be too strict about it, because I checked 'no' and they let me in anyway.

In Sydney I love to walk. Along the Harbor. In the City Center. Through the Parks. Down the pedestrian shopping malls. The harbor area is always a buzz of activity, with trains, buses, taxis, ferries and water taxis coming and going constantly. People sit on benches, enjoying a cup of coffee or a sandwich, soaking up the sunshine, and relishing the views of the city, the Opera House and the bridge. It's a wonderful atmosphere.

When we docked, people with suites on the port (left) side of the ship, were treated to a great view of the Opera House and those on the starboard side viewed the dock and the bridge. So, at 6:00 the next morning the captain backed the ship away from the dock, turned it around and docked it again. When people woke up, they got to see the opposite view. I've never seen any captain do that before.

Sailing away was equally lovely, with perfect weather and a festive mood out on deck. I got a few more good photos on the way out, and then we were off for two days of wild and wooly sailing on the infamous Tasman Sea.

Friday we were in Auckland and Radisson invited all guests to a concert ashore with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Dame Kiri is of Maori descent, the native peoples of New Zealand, and is probably the foremost operatic soprano in the world. She performed at the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles. 500 guests were bused from the ship to a local auditorium for an expected 35-minute concert. She sang for well over an hour and it was beautiful. For an encore she sang 'O Mio Babbino Caro' and brought the house down. Then she sailed with us the next two days to our next port, Christchurch.

On stage Dame Kiri was brilliant, but in person she was aloof to say the least. She did not pose for photos and she did not sign autographs. She did consent to an interview in the theater with the cruise director and afterwards the captain escorted her to the dining room for dinner at his table, though she refused to take his arm when he offered. (We don't touch the Queen of England and we don't touch Dame Kiri!).

During dinner one of our more eccentric guests had the audacity to come up to say hello to Dame Kiri while she was eating, much to the chagrin of his tables mates.   Marc and Harry are from Miami Beach and bring over million dollars worth of jewelry with them on a world cruise. They wear more jewelry in one day than most of the passengers even own! Huge, gaudy diamonds, rubies and emeralds adorn their necks, wrists and fingers. Marc is actually the more outrageous and it was he who approached the singer while she was eating. Dame Kiri, rather than being offended at the intrusion, was fascinated by Marc. She ended up borrowing a black marker, took his hand and did a henna painting on it of her initials, D Te K, with a treble clef symbol below it. When dinner was over, the grande dame, who does not pose for photos, came over to Marc's table and asked Marc if she and her family might have a photo with him!

A duet entertains in the Voyager Lounge each evening. During one of their breaks, Eddy was visiting with guests. One of the ladies had not been familiar with Dame Kiri, but she was now quite pleased to know all about her and was proud that she had even learned how to pronounce her name. "It's K-e-a-r-y!" Then she pointed to a lady sitting at the bar and proclaimed that that was Dame Kiri. The others laughed at her naivete, as they knew Dame Kiri would not come into 'their' bar and mingle with 'common passengers', especially not where there was smoke that might damage her voice. Eddy was later talking to the lady at the bar and told her another woman thought that she was Dame Kiri. Both he and the woman had a good laugh over it. The next day Eddy learned -  it WAS Dame Kiri!

That's enough for this chapter. I'll finish New Zealand in the next one.


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Chapter 4, February 13, 2004


New Zealand is such a delightful country. We didn't really have time for much in Auckland, since the Dame Kiri concert was the highlight there, but it's a beautiful city, called the City of Sails. Notice the spelling - it doesn't mean the shopping is great. The America's Cup Race put Auckland on the map last year and there are more yachts per person in Auckland than any city in the world. The country consists of the North Island and the South Island. The north has the population and the civilization and the south has the rugged grandeur. Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand and the stunning scenery contributes much to the movie.

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and my favorite city in New Zealand. They call it the most English city outside of England and flower gardens are the pride of the city. It's also a good starting point for exploring the South Island. Adventures include jet boat rides, rafting, bungee jumping, glacier landings, cable cars, steamships, hiking, and helicopters. The Southern Alps, covered with glaciers and snow, run the length of the island and Mount Cook and the Tasman Glacier top it off.

We had a cool day with occasional downpours in Christchurch, but souvenir shops provided a haven whenever the weather outside was too bad. The cathedral is the centerpiece of the city and streets radiate out from there, leading to lots of parks and flowers.

We continued south to Dunedin and I spent the day bopping around town with one of the passengers. We had fish and chips for lunch then had a wonderful cappuccino served in a big bowl. The highlight of my shopping was a t-shirt, which proclaims, "I know I'm not perfect, but I'm so close it scares me!"

As we sailed out to sea the Captain warned us it was going to be rough. Quite a few of us gathered on the top deck to watch our sail-away and we were treated to the sight of numerous albatross as we rounded the last point of land before open sea. Albatross are huge birds, which don't flap their wings; they just soar on the wind. When we hit the open sea, the wind was so strong we could hardly stand on the open deck, but we sailed merrily along.

Tuesday was our last day in New Zealand and we cruised the fjords on the southern tip of the island. It looks much like southern Alaska, with vertical mountains and long, narrow fjords. Vegetation is lush, thanks to rainfall that averages about 2 feet per month! We had partly cloudy skies as we sailed in and out of Dusky Sound and Doubtful Sound enjoying incredible views. It was the Captain's birthday, so I took a digital photo in Dusky Sound and created a personalized birthday card for him. Amazing what you can do with computers these days. Late afternoon we sailed into Milford Sound, the most famous of New Zealand's fjords. Mountains rise nearly vertically from the water's edge, soaring several thousand feet high. Hundreds of waterfalls graced the sheer walls, running full due to heavy rains in recent days. High above us were sparkling glaciers and snowfields, framed with a clear, blue sky. I've been to Milford Sound several times on ships, but have never seen what this captain did. He nosed the ship slowly into a spectacular waterfall so the water was falling on the bow of the ship and those of us enjoying the views up front got a refreshing spray. We were delighted.

As we backed away from the waterfall, there were four kayaks near by, the occupants members of Greenpeace, and they weren't too keen on cruise ships in Milford Sound. However, the Captain tied a bottle of wine on a rope and lowered it down to them from the bridge and they came up next to the ship to retrieve it. A bottle of champagne followed down the side of the ship and the kayakers had become our friends, smiling and waving. This captain is a genius.

It was a glorious evening in Milford Sound, but eventually the ship had to leave the tranquility of the fjord and head back out into the open sea and face the Tasman once again. The next two days on our way to Hobart, Tasmania we had rough seas with heavy swells. Strong winds kept people off the open decks for the most part and temperatures were chilly - only in the 50's! Brrrr. Even on a world cruise we have to face the cold sometimes. Now we're off to explore Tasmania and southern Australia.


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Chapter 5, February 18, 2004


The Tasman Sea lived up to its reputation again during our two days enroute to Tasmania, but we arrived in Hobart to glorious sunshine. Tasmania is an island south of the Australian mainland and at about the same latitude south as New York to Boston is north, or on the US west coast, northern California and southern Oregon. Summer temps are generally in the 60's and 70's and winter temps hover in the 40's and 50's with a rare frost. With Tasmania's ample precipitation, you might imagine the flowers that grow here. Stunning!

I spent the day with two of my favorite passengers, Carol and Babs. We started off peeking into little boutiques and galleries, and then found (of all things!) a little supermarket. Well, these two sophisticated world-travelers went ballistic over the fantastic lettuce. They exclaimed loudly what gorgeous lettuce it was and how the hydroponics lettuce had such a cute little root squares on it. They even had a young fellow take their photo while they were holding up big heads of lettuce. I informed the clerks and other shoppers that they were from Africa and had never seen fresh produce before! They struck up a conversation with the young man, and he suggested they visit a charcuterie around the corner called the Wurst Haus. So off we went, and the little sausage shop brought more raves from the two women. We finally got them out of there and we invited the young man to join us for a cappuccino at the coffee shop on the corner. Now that was something to rave about.

After a leisurely coffee, I herded the lettuce ladies toward town and we enjoyed the delightful ambience of Hobart: parks, flowers, monuments, fountains, pedestrian malls and little shops. On a local tip, we headed to Fish Frenzy for a delicious lunch of fish chowder and local fish. There we sat at a table with a young couple and plied them with all kinds of questions about the area. When you go out with Carol, it's amazing the people you get to know.

After lunch we sauntered through an area with lovely old Victorian homes and decided on one we wanted to buy. It had magnificent roses surrounding well-groomed flower gardens. We got back to the ship just in time for 'all-aboard' and enjoyed the sail-away out on deck.

Sailing into Melbourne we met the QE2, one of my former ships. The ships saluted each other as they passed and we got a beautiful view of the liner as she headed out to sea. We docked in Melbourne at 7pm Valentines Day. It was hot! At 11pm it was still 95 degrees and humid. Ugh. I'll take Hobart any day. I ventured out long enough to make a phone call and came back to the ship worn out from the heat. The next morning started out hot, but by noon a cold front moved in and dropped the temperature back into the 70's. By late afternoon it was in the upper 60's, so I felt much better about walking around. Actually, I spent much of the day making phone calls to the US, booking hotels for one of my summer tours. Melbourne is another great city, though, with an excellent tram/trolley/bus system and beautiful contrasts in old and new architecture. There is also a high number of monuments adorning the city.

The following day was a perfect day at sea as we headed for Adelaide and our second Virtuoso shore event.


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Chapter 6, February 22, 2004


February 17 we had a full day tour in Adelaide for our Virtuoso guests. We took a scenic coastal drive on the way to the McClaren Vale wine region. At the Coriole Vineyards we had wine tasting as well as samples of their calamata olives and goat cheese. Delicious. The flower gardens were in full bloom with a wide array of blossoms.

For me the highlight of the visit was finding a huge mulberry tree, loaded with ripe, black berries. I have a mulberry bush/tree at home, which produced a few berries this past summer, and I've been trying to find out how I should prune it. After seeing the tree at the winery, it's clear they like to grow into big trees.

We continued to Woodstock winery for an excellent and unusual lunch. Platters were brought to the tables, brimming with various meats, vegetables, pates, cheeses and appetizers. There was a platter for every two people and we all helped ourselves from each other's dishes. Good homemade breads added to the treat. But dessert was the best - warm mulberry pie, fresh from the oven! Yum!

After lunch we drove up into the Adelaide Hills to Cedar House, home of Aussie artist Sir Hans Heysen. The home is preserved much as it was a hundred years ago, but adorned with many of his paintings. He specialized in painting the gum trees, which we would call eucalyptus. So the song, "Kookaburra Sits in an Old Gum Tree," is about a bird sitting in a eucalyptus tree.

We returned to the ship via the city center. Like other Australian cities, Adelaide has a lovely downtown with pedestrian zones, fountains, monuments and stately buildings.

We sailed west from Adelaide across the Great Australian Bight. Nothing separates Australia from Antarctica except thousands of miles of oceans with giant swells, so the going was a bit rough again. On this world cruise we are kind of getting used to rough seas. It was a bit calmer the second day and the captain invited the full world cruise guests to the navigational bridge for a little party before lunch. As we entered we were all given fake officer stripes to wear. Stripes indicate the department, so we all compared to see what kind of officer we were for an hour.

Albany was a maiden call for me. Svein and I walked into town to explore the small town and found a strong Scottish influence and friendly people. Nice flower gardens as well.

Saturday we arrived in Fremantle, the port for Perth. Both cities are fantastic in their own right and we had glorious weather. Temps were in the 80's, which was even better considering it had been 110 a few days earlier. Perth has nearly a million and a half residents and is said to be the most isolated city in the world. If I had to live in an isolated city, Perth would not be a bad choice! They claim to have the climate California thinks it has.

I took the train into the city with four passengers, Carol, Babs, Libby and Paulette. Trains run every 15 minutes and take half an hour to get into the city. Great system. The city was quiet except for the busy coffee shops. Perth has a delightful center with a compact four-block area of pedestrian zones, with department stores, boutiques, galleries and souvenir stores. They have a network of walkways and arcades that connect the different streets on both street level and second floor. We caught a bus out to Kings Park, a huge natural area right at the edge of the city. There are hundreds of trees from around Australia, clearly labeled, and we also enjoyed the flower gardens and panoramic views of the city skyline and harbor. An elevated walkway through the forest allows you to see life at the tops of the trees, instead of the normal view from the bottom looking up. Then we walked down to the Swan River for more gardens, and also found some great kangaroo statues. That called for lots of photos. On the way back to the station, the stores were open and the city had come to life. Of course we had to visit an ice cream store on the way.

Back in Fremantle we headed for the huge weekend market. You can imagine how 'the lettuce ladies' reacted to rows and rows of gorgeous fruit and vegetables. In addition to produce, the market had handicrafts, clothes, souvenirs, baked goods - all kinds of wonderful treasures. We found our delicious cheese breadsticks and devoured a couple. From there we wandered through the old section with its beautifully restored buildings and on to the fort. Carol and I took turns getting locked up in stocks in the old jail. We made a quick stop at the maritime museum and another market before scurrying aboard with memories of the best day of the cruise so far!


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Chapter 7, March 1, 2004


The little resort town of Broome was our last port in Australia and I went ashore with Carol. It was hot and muggy, quite a change from the weather down around the bottom of the continent. The town itself has only 14,000 inhabitants, but in the tourist season, April to September, the population swells to over 50,000. Cable Beach, with miles of white sand, is a big draw, but this time of the year you do not want to go swimming, due to the dangerous jellyfish. The area is a major producer of pearls as well, but they are a bit out of my range. Carol was in true form. She was wearing a long t-shirt from Thailand, with all kinds of elephants on it. She was looking at a shirt in a boutique and debating whether she wanted to buy it when the sales clerk offered to trade her even over for Carol's elephant shirt. So Carol marched into the dressing room and put on her new outfit (complete with her signature yellow hat), and the clerk put on the t-shirt. They were both pleased as punch with their new acquisitions.

Friday evening the world cruise guests were invited down to the crew mess for dinner and the crew were treated to dinner in our Verandah Restaurant. The officers and staff served the guests in the crew area, but I dare say the fare was not quite the same as what the crew eat. There were numerous food stands and the staff of different nationalities hosted them, offering specialties of their respective lands. It was gorgeous. We had no shortage of laughter at the table.

The next night we had dinner in our favorite restaurant, Latitudes, which has a different theme every week or so. They were featuring Asian cuisine and called it Wok and Roll. It was a delightful evening with delicious food. We got to assemble our own plate of vegetables and spices and they cooked each one individually in a wok. We were wondering if anyone asked to wok their dog.

Sunday and Monday we were in Singapore and I went ashore with the Lettuce Ladies. It seems recent reports of the antics of Carol and Babs have drawn the most interest of anything else I write. We headed for Little India to shop and gawk. This cruise doesn't include India, but it was just like being in India with one big exception. It was clean! Singapore is immaculate. There is also very little crime. The reason for it is that the authorities don't mess around. They call Singapore a Fine City. There is a fine for littering or spitting or urinating in an elevator (really!). There is a fine for chewing gum or for not flushing a public toilet! You don't even want to think about what they do to drug offenders or criminals.

It wasn't long before we found a vegetable market and of course the Lettuce Ladies had to pose for photos with the vegetables. There was more of the same at a flower stall with hundreds of flowers. As we were walking by a little sidewalk cafe the ladies noticed 5 local men drinking tea. Soon they were all posing together. I noticed the tea was the kind I drink in India, made with boiled milk, so I insisted we sit and have a cup. Babs didn't want one, but as soon as she tasted mine she ordered one as well. Carol went inside to find out how they make the tea and came out with a sample of a pastry. Then the men offered us each a pastry from their variety. They were obviously quite amused by Babs and Carol and when I asked if they thought the gals were a little crazy they laughed so hard one of the men almost fell off his chair.

Then we had to do some shopping for digital cameras and supplies before going to Fatty's for lunch. Fatty's is a small, family-owned restaurant that Carol has been patronizing for 40 years! When we walked in they all greeted her like old family. Carol said, "Isn't it amazing they remember me?"   We told her it would be amazing if they did NOT remember her!

After lunch we still had to explore Chinatown, which is one of the most colorful sections of Singapore. Markets sell everything imaginable and at quite good prices. The buildings were particularly colorful and well kept. Of course we had to buy a t-shirt that listed all the fines for petty offences, as well as a few other souvenirs we couldn't live with out.

That evening our Virtuoso group had a gala dinner at the historic Raffles Hotel. We started in the Billiard Room and Bar for the famous Singapore Slings. I had a sip of Svein's, but that was enough for me and at least I could say I had one. There is a legend about a tiger in the Billiard Room, but apparently it's true. Way back in 1927 a tiger escaped from the zoo and crept into Raffles and lay down under the pool table. They had to shoot the big cat and I doubt if they gave him a Singapore Sling first.

Dinner followed in the luxurious Raffles Grill with a sumptuous feast of fancy foods too difficult to pronounce. However, the main course of filet mignon was one of the best pieces of meat I've ever tasted. By the time the meal was over a lot of guests thought they would abstain from dessert, but when the cookie biscuit smothered with a bitter chocolate sauce and whipped cream arrived most of us gave in and devoured it in entirety. During the meal we were treated to classical music on the grand piano. It was a superb evening.

We still had time the next morning to do some exploring and Babs had never been to Sentosa Island. I agreed to go with her and Libby, another guest. We took the cable car first to the top of Mount Faber for a 360-degree view. There about twenty Indonesians posing for a group photo and they asked us to take the pictures. Soon we were in the photos with them and taking small group photos as well. They were dressed in traditional, colorful Islamic clothing so we ended up with some prize photographs. We continued to our destination and rode the monorail around the island. We spent the most time exploring the orchid garden, which had a breathtaking variety. There were orchids of every color and size imaginable. We made it back to the ship in time to set sail for Bangkok and a big adventure. I am doing an overland tour with the Lettuce Ladies, but you can read that in the next chapter.


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Chapter 8, March 8, 2004


I survived the tour with the Lettuce Ladies. In fact, we had a fantastic time in northern Thailand and even made it into Laos and Myanmar (Burma). But let me start with Bangkok.

The ship invited all guests on board the Voyager to a complimentary night at the 5-star Shangri La Hotel in Bangkok. We took the shuttle into the city and enjoyed the sights of Thailand on the way. Thailand is as cluttered and laid back as Singapore is immaculate and organized. It is the only Asian country that was never colonized by Europeans and the Thai people are some of the most gracious anywhere. The Shangri La is a glorious island of luxury surrounded by the chaos of humanity. Merchants hawk their wares from stores, stalls, bicycles, or blankets on the sidewalk. The array of products is staggering and prices make it a delight to shop.

In the afternoon I had a Thai massage and was pounded, twisted, contorted, pummeled, bent and pushed in directions I didn't know were possible. They are not for the feeble hearted, but it must be healthy because the tradition is centuries old. My 'favorite-sign-of-the-trip' award goes to a sign in the massage parlor, 'No Gossip, No Smoking, No Stab in the Back'!

Our real adventure began Thursday morning. Carol, Babs and I flew to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand where we were met by our guide, Rath, and driver, Noi. This is the infamous Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma) come together. In earlier years, the area produced massive quantities of opium, though now there has been much progress in getting the people to make a living in other ways. We were surprised by the mountains of the region, sometimes called Little Switzerland, and how pleasant the temperatures were after the stifling heat of Bangkok.

Our first stop was the hill tribes' village of Doi Mae Salong where we met the Long Neck Karens, the Big Ear Karens, and the Akha Tribe. The Long Neck women wear big gold coils around their necks, which push their shoulder blades down and give the appearance of long, slim necks. Adults wear up to 13-pound coils! Legend has it that the tradition started because there used to be tigers, which would kill their victims by biting them in the neck. The gold coils were to protect the women from the tigers' teeth. The Big Ear ladies have round earrings inserted into a hole in the ear lobe when they are young. As adults, the hole may be as much as two inches in diameter. The Akha people originate in Tibet and wear beautiful outfits. The ladies' headgear has a silver plate in the back and is covered with beads and ornaments. Carol and Babs each bought an elegant Akha hat, so I decided I'd better buy the male version, which was less than a quarter the price of theirs, but very interesting. Of course we had to pose with some of the people and Babs and Carol were butchering the language saying hello and thank you. The people loved it and we had everyone smiling and laughing. The tribes are amazing at handwork and we bought woven scarves and some lacquer ware. It was a truly fine visit.

From there we drove up to 5,000 feet elevation to the Chinese village of Kuomintang Yunnan. It was founded in 1949 by anti-communist refugees from China. This was the hotbed of opium production in the 1960's, but now they do well with rice, tea, and handicrafts. Rice and terraces grace the steep mountainsides, interspersed with rows of lychee trees. We had a delicious Chinese banquet, then headed for the Anantara Resort and Spa Golden Triangle, our home for two nights. The five-star resort is stunning and exudes tranquility. Even effervescent Carol dropped her voice to a whisper when we entered. It is perched high on the hill overlooking the confluence of the Mae Khong and Hok Rivers. From our balconies we could see into both Laos and Myanmar. We had had a late lunch and were too tired for dinner so the gals had a massage and I enjoyed the Jacuzzi, then turned in for an early night.

Friday we feasted on a sumptuous breakfast buffet before going for an elephant ride. We sat two to a box on top of the big creatures and ambled through the jungle and along the river for an hour, taking lots of photos of the elephants, each other, and flowers and trees. Then we took a boat ride on the famous Mae Khong River, which is over 2,500 miles long, starting in China and ending in Vietnam. The boat looked like a big canoe, but had the speed of a jet boat and we fairly flew over the water. We visited a village on the Laos side and did some pretty good damage in the shops. The Lettuce Ladies bought red and black wraparound dresses to go with their Akha hats. Back in Thailand we visited an opium museum to see the history of that industry. When the poppies have bloomed, they scrape the seedpods and collect the juice that oozes out slowly. Eventually they boil it down and make a black syrup, referred to as black gold. People would lay on their sides with their heads on stone pillows (to keep cool) and smoke the opium through long pipes.

After a spicy Thai lunch we drove to Mae Sai on the Burmese border. We bought a visa and walked across the bridge into Myanmar. The market was teaming with people and we could have used more time there. I bought a traditional Akha shirt to match the ladies' dresses.

We stopped back at the hotel long enough to drop off our purchases and headed for a massage parlor for 45 minutes of foot massage and an hour and fifteen minutes of Thai massage. The place didn't look like much, but the three ladies working us knew what they were doing. Carol and Babs had never had such a treatment and were thrilled. The two hours cost us $13 each!

We didn't expect much on Saturday, but it turned out to be one of the highlights. The King's mother had built a villa high in the mountains and had started reforestation projects to help the local people transition from opium to other crops. The Doi Tung Royal Villa and Garden is a world heritage site and is located on Sleeping Lady Mountain, which extends clear into Myanmar. They say if the 'lady' would stand up it would be the highest mountain in the world. The house is patterned after a Swiss chalet and was built using wood from packing crates! However, the floors are exquisite teak wood. The King's mother had spent much time in Switzerland and she brought back many flowers with her. The gardens were a fascinating mix of European and Asian flowers - geraniums, nasturtiums, petunias, and snapdragons complemented orchids, mimosa and other local flowers. Sculpted bushes bordered the flowers perfectly and we were overwhelmed with the beauty. Gray-robed Chinese nuns were visiting as well and with their shaved heads they looked like monks. Rath said they were definitely nuns and Babs said she had never heard of male nuns! It took a little explaining to convince her they were women. They were quite shy at first, but before long we were taking photos together.

On the way to the airport we stopped in a little village to walk around a bit. There was a ceremony at the temple so the gates were closed, but Carol and Babs dropped down on their hands and knees to look underneath. Too bad I didn't have my camera ready. I, on the other hand, was tall enough to look over the top of the gates. An old lady there offered us samples of the sticky rice balls she was selling and we made friends with the children before continuing on.

Our flight out of Chiang Rai was at 4:00 pm, but officials were reluctant to let us fly because we didn't have Vietnamese visas in our passports. Due to the short planning time prior to the tour, our visas were to be arranged for pickup at the Saigon airport. We had to sign a form for the Thais that we would pay our own way back to Thailand if the Vietnamese wouldn't let us in, then off we flew. We arrived in Saigon, also called Ho Chi Minh City, at 8:00 pm and there was no record of a visa having been pre-arranged. Ouch. Immigration officials looked pretty stern, but they finally agreed to let us pay for a visa and enter their socialist paradise.

It was Saturday night and Saigon was wide-awake! On my first visit to Saigon in 1994 there were thousands of bicycles, lots of trishaws and a few cars. This time there were thousands of motorcycles and traffic patterns were even crazier. Officially they drive on the right in Saigon, but it appears more like it's optional. Vehicles weave in and out of oncoming traffic and it seems the only rule of the road is don't hit anybody else. Pedestrians march across the street and it's the driver's responsibility to veer around them. It took us over an hour to get to the ship, but we were enthralled with the sights the whole way.

We still had the next day until 3 pm to enjoy Saigon and Svein and I went on a buying spree. Saigon has the most fascinating shopping of any port on our cruise. Streets are lined with small shops packed to the ceiling with goods. The main market is enormous and has tiny alleyways of stalls, selling clothes, shoes, fabric, t-shirts, lacquer ware, silk robes, porcelain, silver and gold, jade and pearls, paintings, household goods, CD's and DVD's, and of course 'gray market' watches. At one end of the market was the food court with small, portable kitchens preparing meals for hundreds of hungry shoppers. Before returning to the ship I managed to get two of my favorite Vietnamese souvenirs, the famous ceramic elephants, which stand about a foot high - and the price was still just $5 each!

That evening the Lettuce Ladies and I dressed up in our costumes from the Akha tribe and paraded around the ship, recounting our adventures to other guests. We made quite a colorful spectacle and had to pose frequently for photos. It was a great way to cap off a magnificent trip.


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Chapter 9, March 17, 2004


Happy St. Patrick's Day as we sail from Taipei to Shanghai.

We had four full days in Hong Kong, the longest we've ever stayed there on a world cruise. We anchored in the harbor two days and docked at Ocean Terminal the last two. It's interesting that one of the largest and most popular cruise ports in the world has only one pier. Since cruising has become so popular in the Far East, Star Cruises has a permanent hold on most of the pier space, leaving only one berth for other cruise ships.

Although Hong Kong isn't the bargain for shoppers it once was, it is still a lot of fun shopping, even if it's only window shopping. Just wandering the streets and alleyways leads to sensory overload. It's hard to explain to someone who has not been here. Little tiny shops are packed full of the most diverse things. You might see postcards, shoes, frying pans, underwear, crystal, screwdrivers, and silk scarves all within three feet of each other in a sidewalk display. Merchants stand outside inviting people in to see more of their wares. Tailors are everywhere, enticing people into their shops to have clothes made to order. The night market is the best. Streets are packed with stands displaying all kinds of goods. Hordes of people throng to Temple Street to shop the market, eat in sidewalk cafes, or just people-watch. Even if you don't buy anything it's an experience not to be missed.

My favorite Hong Kong meal was with a group of eight, which included the Lettuce Ladies, the Staff Captain and a Norwegian fish salesman, Arne. Arne has lived in Hong Kong three years with his family, representing the Norwegian salmon industry and we got to know him onboard sailing from Saigon to Hong Kong. He arranged the outing and we ate dim sum at a very local restaurant, tucked away in the back streets, on the third floor of an old building. What a hoot! There were no other westerners there, but the place was jammed. Ladies wheeled carts through the restaurant, full of bamboo dishes of food, and Arne just took a selection for us from each one. We feasted on all kinds of things and had no idea what we were eating. I suggested perhaps the restaurant used the new Chinese cookbook, '101 Ways to Wok your Dog' but actually the food was really good. It didn't take Carol long to liven things up. She started chatting with the men at the next table (though they spoke no English) and took their photos. She had to inspect what they were eating and soon was serving them food and posing with them. Then the Lettuce Ladies decided they had to see the kitchen. We headed into the next room, but it was only the dishwashing room. One of the dishwashers got the hostess for us who promptly led us to the toilets! We finally got the manager to understand and he was a bit surprised by the request. However, he marched us up three flights of stairs to an enormous kitchen, which about left us speechless (except Carol). Two chefs were cooking with giant woks over modern stoves with high-powered flame. Another was slicing chicken paper-thin, faster than we could follow. Big slabs of pork were lying on the floor in the corner and mountains of vegetables waited their turn to be processed. Carol wanted to jump right in and help, but we managed to get her back down to the restaurant before the cooks all had cardiac arrest.

After lunch we took the subway over to Hong Kong Island where we rode the world's longest escalator from the downtown to the upper suburbs. It is actually a series of escalators half a mile long and it's fun to pass through neighborhoods on the way up the hillside. We walked back down through the zoo and botanical gardens. Thanks to my friend Joyce for the escalator tip!

We were in Kaohsiung, Taiwan the next day. What a contrast to the exotic, colorful ports of recent days. The city has a couple million inhabitants, is relatively clean, and is quite orderly. People live and work here. Yawn. I took the shuttle bus into town, walked around a bit, and then walked the 2 miles back to the ship. It was good exercise.

Tuesday we were in Taipei and it was much more interesting. We had a Virtuoso event for our guests and started off in the National Palace Museum. This is one of the world's premier museums with four floors of exhibits. When Chiang Kai Shek fled the communists in 1949, he and his followers took over 600,000 ancient artifacts from the royal collection. There are so many items that they rotate them every 3 months, constantly changing exhibits. The museum building itself is like a palace, surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Lunch was also a highlight - a Chinese banquet at the Grand Hotel, a historic luxury hotel perched on a hill overlooking the city. We were on the 12th floor with superb views, and had big round tables for eleven guests each. We enjoyed course after course of who-knows-what and had a wonderful time. Afterwards they gave us each a lovely gift box of Chinese tea.

Taiwan has an important election coming up this Saturday, which could have an important impact on Chinese - Taiwanese relations. China is only 90 miles from Taiwan and they have 150 missiles lined up, aimed at Taiwan, in case the island gets out of hand! So watch for news from Taiwan this weekend. Meanwhile, we're headed for Shanghai.

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Chapter 10, March 23, 2004


Funny, when I'm at home I detest buying goods made in China. However, it's totally different to be in China with the vast array of exotic wares at unbelievably low prices (especially if you are a master bargainer like yours truly). It's called, "Shop, shop, shop!" On the other hand, the rule 'buyer beware' applies strongly. It's sometimes possible to bargain a shopkeeper below his acceptable price and if you are not careful, he may substitute an inferior product for the one you think you are buying. Of course, China is not only about shopping - there are many reasons to visit. Prior to my first trip to China in 1989, I was not particularly interested in the country or its people, but that all changed quickly. It is such a complex country with a rich history of empires, wars, revolutions, and uprisings, yet somehow the Chinese manage to survive all the changes and march on towards the future. Current estimates are that the Chinese will be the world's number one economic power by 2020. They have a ways to go, but they are developing fast.

We were scheduled to pick up our pilot for Shanghai at 11am Wednesday, but the weather was so bad the pilot boat couldn't come out to the ship. Finally, after our Captain agreed to take responsibility for attempting the bay and river in severe conditions, they brought the pilot out by helicopter and up the river we sailed. We docked safely at 7pm, and then the Chinese bureaucracy set in. All guests had to have their temperature taken to make sure we weren't bringing SARS to China(!), and officials had to compare manifests and passenger/crew lists repeatedly. Heaven forbid we should try to smuggle someone into their communist paradise. It took 3 1/2 hours to clear the ship so most guests didn't go out that first evening.

Thursday morning Svein and I went into town and walked the Bund, Shanghai's famous river promenade. It was cold, only in the 30's and windy, so Svein didn't last long before heading back to the ship. I explored on my own the rest of the morning and tried out a new attraction, the tourist tunnel under the river, connecting the Bund to the Pearl Tower. I boarded an all-glass, all-automated car, somewhat like a ski lift gondola, and enjoyed a laser light show on the tunnel walls during the 3-minute crossing. On the other side I had to check out an 'all brands' shopping mall, which was crowded with Chinese, shopping for western merchandise. It was most fun checking out the grocery market and seeing American products labeled in Chinese.

After lunch I went back into town with Carol and we had a blast (as readers of these chapters might expect by now). We walked the Bund, looking in the little shops for bronze bookmarks that she had found on her last visit. We were also accosted by street peddlers selling watches, pens, postcards, books, bags, key chains, and handicrafts. We gave in to a woman selling embroidered aprons 2 for $3 and also cloth handbags for $2. How could we resist that?

In the market Carol and I ran into Wayne and Simone, ship staff. While we were talking, a woman bent down and dabbed shoe polish on Wayne's shoe, so he about had to let her polish his shoes. She pulled out a little stool for him and got to work. I stepped behind a vendor's cart, knowing what was coming, but both Carol and Simone were caught laughing and soon had polish on their shoes. I got some good photos at their expense. The market was full of great bargains and we had bags of stuff before we got out of there. Back at the Bund we went to a little sidewalk cafe and watched the chef make noodles by hand. He rolled out the dough, folded and stretched it, and before you could blink an eye he had the finest, thin, noodles over a yard long, which he promptly dumped into a vat of boiling broth. He made a big bowl of savory noodle soup for each of us and on that chilly afternoon it was most satisfying.

That evening the full world cruise guests were invited to a party in the ballroom of the Peace Hotel, a historic luxury icon of Shanghai history. Chiang kai Shek was married in that same room in the 1920's and Bill Clinton negotiated treaties with the Chinese there in 1998. A jazz band entertained us and Chinese craftsmen exhibited their skills for us.

We were scheduled to sail from Shanghai Friday at 4pm, but had to sail early in the morning instead. There were all kinds of excuses given by the Chinese, but it was political. We had come directly from Taiwan to China and they just wanted to hassle us. In the end we were Shanghaied and had to miss our second day there.

Sunday and Monday we were in Tianjin, the port city for Beijing. Few people have heard of Tianjin, but it is the third largest city in China with over 9 million people! Radisson Seven Seas treated all guests to a complimentary overnight tour to Beijing. After a very Chinese lunch, we toured the Forbidden City, which was off-limits to the world for 500 years. The buildings and sheer size are impressive, but we were more amused by a sign at the toilet, "Star-Rated Toilet, 4 Stars, Issued by Beijing Tourism Administration!"

Tianamen Square is the world's largest public square, the size of 90 football fields with standing room for 300,000 people. It is the heart of the nation, with government buildings on all sides, and Mao's tomb on one end. For most of us it is linked more vividly to the democracy demonstrations and ultimate crackdown in 1989.

Dinner that night was in the China Club, a very exclusive 16th century building and club. Here again, the meal was almost too authentic Szechwan for most of our guests, but the atmosphere was truly fascinating. Three of our guests displayed a true 'ugly American' syndrome. They refused to eat the Chinese food and had our tour agent go to a hotel and get them ham sandwiches and French fries, which they then ate at our lovely Chinese banquet!

The next morning we were off to the Great Wall, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, though it is not what most people imagine it to be. The existing wall is not several thousand years old, nor can it be seen from the moon. Though there was some kind of wall built in 220 BC, most of the current wall was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and restored (for tourists) in the 20th century. Nevertheless it is about 1500 miles long and very impressive. Carol and Svein and I climbed up a steep section and were rewarded with marvelous views of the wall. We had to save time after our climb for shopping at the dozens of vendors of course! We visited the Ming Tombs after lunch before returning to Tianjin and our lovely home away from home. In the dining room we all enjoyed a very western meal, while reminiscing over a superb trip. Now we can relax with two days at sea before topping off Asia with three Japanese ports. With prices in Japan, there will certainly not be much shopping there.


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Chapter 11, March 31, 2004


We are steaming across the Pacific toward Hawaii with clear skies, gale-force winds, and ferocious waves. Regardless, it's great to have sea days again after so many ports. After the fun and great shopping we had in China, I was a little toured-out for Japan.

Our first Japanese port was Hiroshima, one of the cities destroyed by the atom bomb in 1945. Hiroshima is mostly an industrial city, without a lot of cultural attractions, but the central shopping district is very nice, with a covered pedestrian zone and lots of shops. The central park has a collection of monuments and memorials dedicated to peace. Not surprisingly, there is a bit of Japanese slant to the commentary. One comment stated, "Many of these people could have looked forward to a bright future if it had not been for war." I had to think that they could have had a bright future if their emperor had not attempted to conquer the world.

Kobe is a more diverse city, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. Svein and I walked over two miles into town, and then took a cable car up into the hills. We were rewarded with good views of the city and harbor, as well as a botanical garden, which was showing lots of signs of early spring. We spent awhile walking around the city and explored the food court of a big department store. An area half the size of a football field was packed full of food stalls and vendors, and thousands of Japanese crowded the area for lunch. We got a kick out of a doughnut and teashop called Chai-kovski. We watched them making the doughnuts while listening to Tchaikovsky's music, and of course we had to try their products - delicious.

An interesting tour guide story came from one of the ship's tours. The Japanese are notorious for switching 'r' and 'l' when they speak English. In a Shinto shrine the guide was explaining the procedure, "You face the shrine, then you 'crap' twice, bow, and then 'crap' again!"

We finished our time in Japan with a day and a half in Tokyo. Coincidentally, my friend Anneke from Holland was in Tokyo on business. We used to work together on the QE2 and we were able to have dinner together the first evening. It was good to see her again and catch up on old times. Since she is pregnant, she was not in the mood for Japanese food, so we ate spaghetti! Both before and after the dinner I walked for miles around the city, enjoying the sights and sounds. Cherry trees are in full bloom and they are lovely. After dinner I walked through the Ginza section of Tokyo, the main shopping area. It is lighted with millions of neon lights and gaudy signs. That is a sight to behold.

The second day Svein, Carol, Babs, and I got up EARLY to take the 5:00am tour to the Tokyo Fish Market. What an experience that was. Thousands of fish from around the world are auctioned off and the dealers inspect them thoroughly prior to the auction, where they are then sold at outrageously high prices. I'm sure Japan consumes more fish than the entire rest of the world combined and observing the fish gives an idea of just how much fish that is.

Later Svein and I rode the Tokyo metro around the city. It is very extensive and relatively cheap compared to other prices in Japan. We walked little side streets that were crowded with shops. One thing Japan is famous for is vending machines. Hot and cold coffee products are popular, as are soft drinks, juices, cigarettes, gum, and snacks. The machines are almost everywhere you look. Another typical sight is the food displays at restaurants, with prices marked for each item. You don't have to speak Japanese - just point to what you want. And that's a good thing, because very few people speak English!

On to the Homeward Stretch!


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Chapter 12, April 12, 2004


Cheaper by the dozen they say, so I might as well have twelve chapters to my world cruise chronicles.

Well, our 94 days are finally up and I'm packed up and ready to go, but we did have some good adventures on our last segment. There was an obscure port on our itinerary that nobody thought too much about. Midway Island is a tiny atoll about as far from anywhere as you can get. The closest land is 800 miles away in Alaska's Aleutian Islands and Hawaii is 1,200 miles. Any mainland is over 3,000 miles. But this little place turned out to be a highlight of our cruise. It is most famous for the historic 1942 WWII battle fought here, which turned the tide for the Americans. Author Walton Lord said, "It was a battle the Americans had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so, they changed the course of a war. More than that, they added a new name  'Midway' to that small list that inspired men by example."

Prior to that, the laying of the first trans-Pacific cable brought the first residents in 1903 and then Pan Am established a stopover base for its famous Clipper flying boats in 1935. That journey between San Francisco and Hong Kong had five stops, took a week and cost $1,600! However, today Midway is a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge and is home to hundreds of thousands of birds, mainly Laysan Albatross, also known as Gooney Birds. The soldiers gave them that name because the clumsy birds often fall over on their beak when they come in for a landing. It's true. We saw them do it ourselves! We were taken ashore in groups of 25 and were escorted on walking tours of the island by volunteers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now I have seen a fair number of birds in my life, but wow! There were albatross everywhere, adults and chicks alike. At Christmas they did a 2-week count and found 440,000 nests on this tiny island! It was just amazing. The birds neither feed nor drink on the island. The adults fly two days or more to Alaska to fish for squid, then come back to the island and regurgitate the food into the eager beaks of the chicks. The birds were not afraid of us, but we were advised not to pet them, as their beaks were like mousetraps and our finger might just look like food. Of course the Lettuce Ladies had to get into the act. When the albatross are hot they lean back on their tail and fan the air with their feet to cool themselves. So Carol and Babs sat on the ground on either side of a bird to try the imitation. It was hilarious! The visit was far beyond what any of us had expected and the Captain finished off a great day with a sunset party on the bow of the ship. At 6:30pm he stopped the ship, turned it around to face west, and we all gathered on the bow for a fruit punch, good music, and wonderful memories!

Tuesday we were in Nawiliwili on the island of Kauai and we had our final Virtuoso event. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed sightseeing at the 3,000' deep Waimea Canyon, referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It was lush and green, the waterfalls were overflowing, and skies were partly cloudy. We finished with a delightful lunch at a plantation estate, and were entertained by Hawaiian music and dancers. It's amazing we were able to have good results on all five of our shore events on this world cruise.

The following day we were in Honolulu and I got to see my cousin, Ken Stanley. I gave him a tour of the ship and we had lunch together on board. He agreed that he could probably suffer through a world cruise, living as we must on the Seven Seas Voyager. It's tough, but somebody has to do it. We stayed in Honolulu until midnight and the ship arranged a huge western BBQ out on the pool deck, complete with hay bails and elaborate decorations. Unfortunately, it started raining about 15 minutes before dinner and they quickly had to move everything under cover. The food was delicious regardless, but we felt bad for the staff that had worked three days preparing everything. This was to have been a last hurrah deck event. We have lots of great memories anyway, and we surely have had enough good food!

Farewell until another adventure. I hope you enjoyed the cruise through my chapters.

kent kauffman

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