Monday, July 27, 2015

First Rhapsody Cruise April 17-May 3 Sydney to Singapore



Hello!  This is the first of 3 or 4 posts about the cruises we took between April 17 and June 12.  If you don't care about reading this, but want to know what we have been doing recently, go to the blog post just below this one.

Rhapsody Cruise #1
After 5 very enjoyable days in Sydney in our Airbnb apartment, we boarded the Rhapsody of the Seas for the first of 4 consecutive cruises.  We always enjoy cruising but especially like unique ones, such as these.  These 4 cruises will take us from Sydney to Singapore, Singapore to Dubai, Dubai to Istanbul, and then through Turkey and Greece and back to Istanbul.  Here is a picture of us in Circular Quay, with the Rhapsody docked behind us.  You can also see the world famous opera house across the harbor:

One of the delights of cruising is being onboard with friends.  Our very good friends, David and Diane Wilson, had done a land trip in New Zealand, and then relocated to a hotel within a block of our apartment.  We had spent some quality time with them exploring Sydney and also having them over to our apartment (see previous blog post about Sydney).  Now we were all on the ship together, so we joined them for dinner at Izumi, the Japanese Restaurant on the ship:

On April 19 the first port stop was Brisbane.  We had been here before in 1999 when we visited friends here and enjoyed the city but mostly saw the friends.  This time friends also picked us up at the ship.  Pam and Barry Finn were with us on a China tour in 2000, and we have kept in touch through the years.  When they heard that we were stopping there, they insisted on picking us up and showing us around.  We were very happy about this because the ship docked pretty far outside the city.  Barry and Pam had the day all planned.  First, Pam dropped the 3 of us off at the first terminal for the Ferry Cat, which is a catamaran service running up and down the Brisbane River.  Here is the route map:

And here is a picture of the City Cat Ferry:

This is a picture of us with Barry at Brett’s Wharf, where we got on the ferry.  These amazing people even had Senior Passes for us, which they had arranged ahead of time, so the cost was minimal. 

As we cruised along the river, we saw lots of the city on both banks:

One of the more interesting areas we saw as we cruised past was Southbank, an area which became dedicated for public use after the 1988 World Expo changed it from a mostly derelict area to more upscale place.

One of the more interesting bridges we went under was this one, the Kurilpa Bridge, which has won an engineering award:

Once we were through the main part of Brisbane, Pam picked us up and we drove to Mt. Koot-tha, the highest point in Brisbane.  From there, we could see all of the business district as well as the river coursing through it, where we had just been:

And here is a picture of us with Barry and Pam up at the viewing area:

Then they drove us to their home, which wasn’t very far away, so we could see their neighborhood and appreciate their lifestyle there.  Following that, we all went to Southbank for lunch.  There are lots of restaurants there and we ate at one where we tried the local ForeEx beer and some seafood:

Southbank has a wonderful arbor of flowers undulating through part of the park:

And we were very impressed with the pool and beach like area which had been created for the use of residents.  It even has a sand beach for sun bathing:

We also visited some nearby vendor stalls, and then they drove us back to the ship.  A wonderful day with friends we hadn’t seen for 15 years!!!
The next port was Airlie Beach, on April 21.  Elaine and I had been here in 1999 and enjoyed it.  This is a port where some people go to the Great Barrier Reef, but it is fairly far away and the shore excursion to get there was very expensive.  David, Diane, Elaine and I walked around the town, first on the waterfront, and then through the main street.  Here we are along the waterfront where some of the apartment dwellers have a great view and a nearby boat dock:

Right on the beach we passed a guy who was making a very difficult and unique sand sculpture:

Another event happening on the beach was camel rides.  Since we have done this on 4 different occasions in several countries and for long (uncomfortable) periods of time, we skipped doing this.  Notice that the adult camels have people on them and the baby camel walks alongside the mother.

Again there was a very beautiful and scenic lagoon situation which had been created inland for the use of the residents because there are threats from box jellyfish and salt water crocodiles in Australian waters, so they do not swim in the ocean:

It was pretty hot here, so we were fairly hot after our walk.  We stopped at an outdoor beer garden for a taste of the local beer:

Back on the ship, we always enjoy the benefits which we get from being frequent cruisers on Royal Caribbean.  One of them is that there are several lounges where there are hot and cold appetizers and free cocktails available for us every evening from 5 to 8:30PM, and it is here where we enjoy schmoozing with our cruise friends – and it is here where we meet new cruise friends.  On this cruise we had been enjoying some lectures about Australia by a guy named Phil Smart, a geologistt, and we were lucky in that he and his wife, Faye, were friends with other friends of ours, so they joined our group in the lounge in the evenings.  Here is a picture of them:

Additionally, Karlene and Art Bacca, were on all of these cruises, they achieved Pinnacle just before we did, and they joined our group as well:

And here is a picture of part of our group in the lounge, AKA the 5 o'clock drinking club.  You can see David and Diane, and next to them are Tom & Sandy Wills, and beyond them are Mark Alberthal, and Alice and Bruce – all of these people were with us until Istanbul – great fun!!!

Looking the other way, here are Faye and Phil Smart, Vicki & Randy Sheppard, and Rick Martinez:

The next port of call was Cairns, Australia, another place where Elaine and I stayed in 1999.  It was from here that we took a snorkeling boat out to the Great Barrier Reef at that time.  This time, we merely explored the town with David and Diane.  Again they had a very fabulous lagoon for sunbathing and swimming which had been man-made inland for the use of residents: 


Back on the ship, we enjoyed the views of the channel where the ship was parked in Cairns:

At the next port of call, Darwin, we enjoyed the views on entry since we had never been here before.  One of the main attractions is the Oil Storage Tunnels.  These tunnels were built in 1942 when Darwin was bombed by the Japanese and they realized they needed a safe place to store the oil reserve needed for World War II.  The Civilian Conservation Corps built them, but by the time they were operable, the war was over.  In 1992 they were reopened as a tourist site:

We visited them with Diane and David, and Randy and Vicki were there when we arrived:

Nearby was the Parliament Building:

Then we walked to the park, where there was a big war memorial which commemorated the groups of Australians who fought in WWII and where they were engaged.  Mostly the Aussies fought in the Pacific:

Many of the old buildings in Darwin were built from this distinctive stone, and are a marked contrast to the modern buildings such as the Parliament building :

It was very hot here, since Darwin is tin he most northerly part of Australia, so we headed back to the ship.  On the way, we visited the Waterfront Park, which wasn’t far from our ship.  There was a huge area where there were restaurants, bars, and a huge lawn area for people to picnic and barbeque.  This is a picture of the area where there were water toys set up for people to swim and play:

There was also a big wave pool where people could play in the waves and on the shallow part, there was a sand beach.  This was a marvelous area for locals, and we were sorry we weren’t staying here longer to enjoy it.

On April 29 our port of call was Komodo Island, Indonesia.  This is a national park on an island in Indonesia, which is really a nation of a LOT of islands, (18,110 islands!). 

There are approximately 2000 people on the island, who are descendants of the original convicts who were exiled to the island.  Nowadays, they live there and lead tourists around, and try to sell them handicrafts.  The Komodo dragon is type of monitor lizard, which inhabits this island and a couple of nearby islands.  The lizards are capable of living more than 50 years, and can recognize individual humans after multiple exposures.  They are a variety of sizes but some get to be as long as 7 feet.  We booked a ship’s excursion because we didn’t want to miss seeing these creatures, and we were unable to find an alternative, which we usually find to be more cost effective and better.  We went ashore on the tender and were met by a guide and another guy who walked behind our group to “protect” us by carrying a long stick to fend off any attacking dragons. Before our group left on our hike, we viewed some deer nearby, which apparently is part of the food opportunities for the dragons.

 After a long and HOT hike through rather unremarkable foliage, we came upon an area where there were a number of dragons, and other groups viewing them.  We got some good pictures, because the dragons don’t want to move much in the heat either:


In this picture, you can see that Elaine is pretty close to the dragon behind her:

Of course, in leaving, our ship sailed by lots of small islands, which are part of Indonesia.  Many of their islands are uninhabited.

We also had a beautiful sunset:

In the year 2000, we flew over to Bali and spent 17 days exploring before we did 5 weeks in Hong Kong and mainland China.  The next port of call for us was Benoa, about 45 minutes away from the main sights and tourist areas, such as Ubud.  We had arranged for a private tour for 4 of us, and Faye & Phil Smart decided to join us at the last minute, since there was room in the car.  Our driver and guide, Gede, showed us around a lot of areas, and tailored the days events around our requests.  In driving around, I managed to get a few pictures on the fly, so they aren’t framed as well as I would like.  Most Balinese are Hindu, although there are also Buddhists and Muslims too.  There are shrines and sculptures of religious deities all over the place.  Here is a very ornate wall we passed on our drive:

The first planned stop was at a jewelry making factory with a very nice shop for selling.  First we had a picture of our group outside:

Then we enjoyed the interior water garden with koi fish in it, which was the centerpiece of the buildings:

There were about 15 people hard at work making silver jewelry in the workshop.  They were happy to explain the process and didn’t mind having pictures taken.

After a beautiful drive through the countryside, and some housing areas, we stopped at the Goa Gajah Temple, which is commonly called the Elephant Cave Temple.  It is called that because the central figure on the fa├žade was thought to be an elephant.  As always, there were stalls along the walkway to the site, with people trying to sell us tourist goods.

This picture is of one of the many deities statues which are various places, especially near temples:

This statue was located right before the actual entrance to the temple complex:

This is our gang after the guards at the entrance made 5 of us put sarongs on because they decided our shorts weren’t long enough.  They provide the sarongs.  Diane’s capris were longer, so she didn’t have to wear one.  We are posed in front of the ornately carved entrance to the cave:

Here is the entrance without us blocking the view:

There were several big bathing pools in the complex which were only uncovered in the 1950’s.  This temple complex is a UNESCO world heritage site.  On the way out, we stopped to take a picture of the elephant statue and since the people are always opportunists, a guy selling carved elephants:

As we drove around some more, we passed places where people were doing their daily work, such as carving figures out of stone:

This really reminded us of Mandalay, Myanmar which has huge stone carving businesses, and most of them carve lots of Buddha’s. 
There are many wood carving places, and they make beautiful furniture, carved doors, etc. but we elected to stop at a batik factory instead.   This is a technique where they take cloth and use a pencil to draw patterns and images on it, then cover the pencil with wax, then dye it, and the wax areas don’t absorb the dye.  So they do it multiple times and get a variety of colors.  Again the workers were happy to have their pictures taken, and the entire process was explained to us.  Here is a girl just starting a piece:

The following picture is an example of how pretty the images are once they have finished:

Then we spent some time in the very large and fully stocked shop, where there were nice items priced very reasonably, going all the way up to very expensive.  The more intricate patterns and large pieces were the most expensive.  We bought a few small coin purses to use for gifts for our granddaughters (we like inexpensive, unbreakable, and small items to bring back).
     There was a little extra time, so Gede suggested that we stop at Sanur Beach.  It was on the way back to the ship and caters to tourists, as well as local fishermen.  It was a wonderful suggestion.  The beach was beautiful:

The fishermen’s boats are pulled up on the beach and are painted very colorfully:

Because lots of tourists (especially Aussies) come to Bali for vacation in the winter, there are restaurants right on the beach, and hotels nearby:

One reason Bali is so popular is because it is beautiful, the traveling is easy because many people speak English, and staying and eating are inexpensive.  We walked along the beach walkway past a lot of bars and restaurants and wished we had more time to stay there to enjoy the hospitality!!  In the future, if we want a place to kick back and relax and not pay a lot of money to do it, we will go here!!!
That was our last port of call for the first Rhapsody cruise.  On May 3 we arrived at Singapore in the early morning.  Elaine and I had been here on a land trip in 2013 and had spent extra days exploring after the tour, so we had already enjoyed many of the attractions of this beautiful city.  Here is the view from the ship of the main downtown area:

Looking in the other direction, we see most of the important attractions.  


 The tall building with what looks like a ship on the top is the Marina Sands Hotel and Casino.  It is billed as the world’s most expensive stand alone casino valued at 8 Billion dollars..  It is right on Marina Bay and has more than 2500 rooms.  It has theaters, an indoor ice skating rink, restaurants, etc. and a sky park.  People enjoy going to the top for wonderful views.  There is a very nice upscale shopping center on ground level connected to it.  Evenings there is a wonderful sound and light show on the bay right in front of this building.  Near the Marina Bay Sands is a very large Ferris wheel, called the Singapore Flyer.  It is the second largest one in the world and it takes about 30 minutes to go completely around and costs $33.  There are cocktail flights, and even a one hour dining experience with a butler (2 rotations) for $269 per couple in the evening.  Of course, they also have other venues to try to suck more money from you, such as shops, restaurants, a rainforest, and a multimedia presentation. 
     Also in the same area is Gardens by the Bay, a fantastic botanical garden complex with beautiful flowers (of course), some fantastic sculptured trees, lakes, a skywalk overview walk, etc.  We didn’t go there this time, but we certainly will next year when we are there.  The outside gardens are free and you pay for each pavilion you wish to visit.  Here are a few pictures: