Just how empty is the ship?

Viking announced a temporary change to their cancellation policy last week due to Coronavirus concerns which allowed anyone who canceled at least 24 hours before the cruise to apply the full fare to a future cruise within 2 years. Apparently a number of folks on this crossing took advantage. Based on our CruiseCritic rollcall (obviously not a very scientific sample) it appeared about 20% canceled.

However after seeing how few there were at the muster drill, in the World Cafe (buffet) and in the Restaurant (the main dining room) I think it may be a higher percentage. No word on an upgraded cabin yet…we had a voice mail stating we could meet with the guest services manager tomorrow between 5 and 7 pm to discuss any “offers”. Hmmmm, I was hoping for a complimentary one. 😢

I purposefully took the picture of Mike to emphasize how empty the room was, there were actually full tables to his right. But typically the room would have been full or close to it at 6:55 when that picture was taken. During our two hours at dinner (great conversation with our neighbors), no one was ever seated at the banquets along the interior wall to his left.

Dinner was tasty as expected-I had the only new dish to us-bacon wrapped plantain on a guava sauce. Very interesting and tasty!

Mustard! lol

Civilized “mustard” drill (we are “Stone Ground” today😂) aboard Viking Sky. Hope we never have to actually participate in a real muster but happy to review the safety procedures each cruise just in case!

Doesn’t seem as crowded as previous so it will be interesting to learn just how full the ship actually is.

Next up, time to sailaway and the weather has cleared!

Miami.

Landed 10 minutes late so of course no one to operate the jetway so we sat on the plane for another 10 minutes. Our new luggage worked great as it is the largest size that will fit overhead so we were able to go straight to the hotel shuttle area shown above.

Jeez, I had forgotten how hot and humid Miami is 😅

We just got to the Hyatt Place (scored for free on points!) and are soon going to head to bed.

Tomorrow morning to the ship!😁

Almost time!

We are finishing up our packing today and Mike is at the barber getting his old man faux hawk. Lois is taking us to Greensboro airport tomorrow afternoon for our 6:30 pm flight to Miami.

Monday, we met with the flooring people and they had a sample of wood that matches what is already in the entry, dining, and kitchen. We are going to extend it to the rest of the unit except for the bathrooms which are tiled. We then also met with the painter and after reviewing the paint samples Mike had put on the walls earlier, we selected Sherwin Williams “Crushed Ice”. It’s a white that has a little bit of gray to it, it looks good with the existing builder’s beige tile and white trim. We are hoping that the paint and floor will update the condo from it’s early 2000s!

Yesterday was another long day. With the help of Lois’ Danville fireman friend, we loaded up a rental sprinter van with the few things we had stored here in Danville and unloaded them at our new place in Raleigh. After the firemen left, Mike and I got all the kitchen stuff unpacked, run through the dishwasher and into the cabinets. So we are as unpacked as we can be. Doesn’t take a lot when you don’t have much! LOL

We left the little bit of furniture (bed, chair, dining table) in the center of the dining room and kitchen so that while we are gone, the wood floor can be extended . And so it will be out of the painter’s way. Hopefully when we return in May we will be able find some furniture and get settled into our new home.

May? But wait Clay I thought you were going to be gone until June? We got a notice last week from American that our flight home in June had changed and we both read it as saying our first flight from Bilbao to Madrid was leaving late in the afternoon and we would have to overnight in Madrid. On the same day, all the One World partner’s announced a biz class sale from Paris to various places in the US. So we figured we would use the schedule change to cancel and redeposit the award points for our original flight and come back early.

So we are now booked on the same flights that our niece Madison and her friend Katie are on from Paris to Charleston (RDU wasn’t included in the sale). We will spend a few days with my brother and his wife and then take the train to Raleigh.

Unfortunately, either we read the schedule change wrong or it was a mistake originally-the schedule change was actually on our connection from Philadelphia to RDU and would have gotten us back an hour or two earlier. But since corona is playing havoc with airline schedules, we are keeping our fingers crossed that their is another schedule change that allows us to freely redeposit our points. If not then it will cost us $175 and another wasted $160 for the exit row seats we bought. But given the business class seats were only $1,291 each roundtrip we believe it is still a good exchange.

Yes, that’s right, it means we will be headed back to Paris in November and hopefully catching a deal on a cruise back before Christmas. We think we may spent a week or so and visit some Christmas markets in France and Germany. Time will tell what we end up doing.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll stay tuned as we make our third Viking transatlantic cruise!

Hong Kong

This post is being written in Raleigh in February 2020 about our stay in Hong Kong back in October 2019.

We awoke to our final full day aboard Viking Orion while sailing into Hong Kong. This massive city is very vertical, both architecturally and geographically.

That’s Victoria (as in Queen) that you can see in the background of the picture above. It was our first stop on our included tour here.

To reach the peak, we took a bus to the funicular and then rode up. The ride under the river and to the base took about an hour. Traffic was crazy. Once there we had a short wait to get on the tram. I felt good that they had a line for locals and another (linger!) for us tourists.

After the short but very steep ride to the peak, our guide pointed out the various sights to be seen and we had a few minutes of free time to enjoy the view including that of the new building housing the tram shop, shopping mall, and roof top viewing platform. We elected to not pay the crazy price to use the roof.

From Victoria Peak we headed back to sea level on our bus which was waiting for us at the top. Viking (or their hires tour company?) did a great job here of splitting up the routes of the buses so we weren’t all at the same place at the same time. We rode the tram up and bussed down while others had done our stops in reverse and therefore rode the bus up and trammed down.

Our next stop was the harbor to take a “junk” on a quick harbor tour. While not a historic junk, it was a fun ride.

In addition to a number of houseboat “villages” and racks of dragon boats, we passed by China’s (maybe the world’s?) largest floating restaurant-Jumbo! We discussed coming back and having dinner here mostly to see it all lit up, but decided that will have to be on our next trip. The night picture is from my friend Mr. Google.

Once back ashore, we went to the seaside neighborhood of Stanley. This area has a market which covers two blocks or so as well as a nice waterside walkway. We spent our last Chinese money and then headed back to the ship.

In Stanley, I was also able to get a picture of the bamboo scaffolding I had seen throughout China and Japan. Amazing I wonder if they engineer it or just put it together and cross their fingers it doesn’t fall down?!

For our last dinner, we returned to the Chef’s Table and enjoyed the Lotus Menu. We had loved it when it was first introduced on our transatlantic on Sea with Mike’s Mom. It was still tasty but the Thai lamb chops (no picture sorry) weren’t quite as good-maybe different supplier? Anyway, if you have the opportunity to have this Asian fusion menu, be sure and do so. The lamb chops are quite good as is the Singapore Spicy Softshell Crab.

As Vanna is pointing out, Hong Kong’s buildings also light themselves up at night. And at 8 pm, they do a synchronized show to music. Viking made an event is this and served bubbly on the open decks. We attended but frankly while fun, the show was nothing compared to Shanghai!

After the “show” was over, we returned to our cabin and put our remaining clothes in our luggage and set it outside the door for pickup. I always find the picture below the saddest one we take-it means the cruise is over. 😢

You’ll note what appears to be a new bag in the pile. That duffel is our folding bag which we always carry (it takes no room) “just in case”. Because we are flying economy (HORRORS) each bag has a maximum 50 pound limit and the big suitcase was a little overweight. Perhaps even alot since it broke somewhere between Bejing and when it got to our stateroom in Tianjin-luckily Viking without us even asking, called and offered to fix the handles! There is that incredible service again. Anyway, to get below the limit we had to pull out the folding duffel. We have sworn we will never ever travel with this much again- from now on we are back to rollaboards only!

You may remember that one of the big reasons we changed our plans and decided to take this Viking cruise was that they threw in air. Unfortunately, their rules only allowed it to/from a North American gateway so we had to buy our own from Japan to China. This was disappointing since we know it would have been cheaper than the flight from the state but those were their rules. Anywho, they booked us on a nonstop from Hong Kong to Seattle on Cathay Pacific which according to our research was about twice the cost of other nondirect flights. So we can’t complain too much.

Part of the air was transfers to the airport and since our flight wasn’t leaving until close to midnight, Viking booked us a day room at the hotel connected to the airport. Those who had flights before six pm, were provided a meeting room with coffee, tea, water and some packaged snacks & cookies in the hotel’s conference center. While better than sitting at a gate, we were much happier with our room.

After a late breakfast (yes lamb chops!) we joined other late departing folks in the Living Room to wait for our bus to the airport to be called. This happened about 9:30. After some minor confusion we were soon aboard our bus and headed to the airport after one last selfie with Orion-I guess since we are smiling we weren’t in too bad a mood.

The ride to the airport told us over a huge suspension bridge. I was amazed at the size of the supporting columns.

Soon we were at the airport, given our room keys by a Viking representative and in our room by 10:45.

Unfortunately our view was only of a parking garage, I had hoped to watch some planes. 😢

After settling into the room, we walked over to the airport. It was a short 5 minute walk through the air conditioned corridor which connected the parking lot to the airport. We were in Hong Kong during the height of the protests so the airport only had two entrances working. Luckily, this was one of them. After a short delay to show our passport and ticket and to go through a security scanner we were inside the terminal. We had some great Chow Fun (wide Chinese noodles) for lunch) and then went back to the rooms and attempted to nap.

We woke up around eight pm and took a shower and left the hotel about 9 and walked back to the terminal and after security at the door and then again after immigration, we headed to the lounge to await our flight.

I’ll cover that in my next post.

Oops-a little more Xiamen

This post is being written in February 2020 well after the events described below.

Sorry for not including this information with my post about Xiamen yesterday. I have sorted my pictures by locale and accidentally put these of our sailaway and final afternoon tea in the Hong Kong album.

As I noted, we only spent a day and a half in Xiamen, we sailed away around lunchtime. The sail down the river to the sea was interesting in that we got to see quite a few modern buildings across the inlet.

Since we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast we skipped lunch and enjoyed our final tea. As I believe I related previously, I had been disappointed at having whipped rather than “proper” clotted cream for my scone and had mentioned it in an Instagram post. Apparently, Ricky, the waiter in charge of tea saw that post and stopped me one day to let me know he had a stash of clotted cream and to come to tea again.

When our scones were first delivered we got the dreaded whipped cream but soon Ricky brought us the real stuff! 😊 Just another example of the incredible service aboard Viking Ocean.

You will note that we didn’t have sandwiches and pastries, only scones. That’s because dinner that night was Mike’s favorite lobster. So we ate small at tea and went to dinner relatively late. As usual, the lobster was delish.

Next up, overnight in Hong Kong.

Xiamen Overnight

This post is being written months after the visit described below.

While our iteniary showed a two day stop in Xiamen it actually was only a day and a half. Which turned out to be just fine as this city of 5 million had the typical shrines and temples but frankly just as tends to happen in Europe with cathedrals, we were about templed out! As our friend Peggy says, it’s an ABC tour-another bloody church. In this case, an ABT tour! 😂

The included tour here was another panoramic tour with stops at a beautiful park with a lake and the aforementioned Buddhist temple.

The park is focused on the lake which includes their version of the the little mermaid.

The park itself was lovely and I’m sure even more so when all the flowers were in bloom.

At the entrance to the park was a sculpture of a Dragon Boat. The lake is used for races and practice. The carving style reminded me of the modern facade of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. When we lived in Houston, one of my coworkers was on a dragon boat team, it was great fun to watch their races. I wish one had been taking place while we were in Xiamen.

From the park we headed to the temple. Our guide was new (it was her first day) so while knowledgeable she was very timid. When one couple didn’t return at the appointed time, she spent at least 30 minutes trying to locate them even though she had no idea who she was looking for. Turns out they had decided to leave the temple early on another. Tour bus without telling anyone. When they reboarded our bus at our last stop they got some nasty looks from those who stood and waited while our guide looked for them. Oh well, it was the only instance of that sort of rude behavior so I guess we should count ourselves lucky.

The temple compels was beautiful but crowded-this was the last day of the holiday as I recall.

I was particularly impressed with the ancient carved and painted details of the buildings. Especially in contrast to the very modern buildings of the city in the distance – see the title shot of this post.

From the temple we were driven to Xiamen’s pedestrian only shopping street where we had free time. We walked down it but enjoyed our time on the back streets more.

On the small backstreets we saw the local food shops where the dishes were washed in tubs on the street and we watched a woman making dumplings? Spaetzle?

From there we returned to the ship and had a relaxing afternoon, evening and morning before departing for our last port of Hong Kong. As I recall, rather than go ashore the last morning, we did laundry and packed up all but our Hong Kong clothes.

Okinawa & Ishigaki Island Japan and the last Sea Day

This post is being written in February 2020 well after our visit to Okinawa last October.

We arrived at the port of Naha which was our first stop in Southern Japan. During the included excursion we visited the Peace Park which is adjacent to the cliff seen in the photo above.

This cliff was the scene of mass suicides during the last days of WWII. Japanese has retreated to caves on these cliffs and when it was apparent that they were going to not withstand the American invasion, many chose to jump rather than be captured.

The nearby park serves as a memorial to both Japanese and allied soldiers who died during the invasion. There are large tablets with the names of the dead in alphabetical order with each country having a section. Like all such places it was beautiful, peaceful, somber and sad. At the center is a plaza overlooking the sea with a fountain that has both water and on certain days, flame all in a map of the area.

From the park, we drove along the coast and were dropped in the downtown.

We wandered up the shopping street enjoying the unusual items and people watching including the ladies in uniform offering tourist information-flight attendants in another life? We also had some purple yam ice cream. Very tasty!

Apparently the chef on the ship thought it was tasty too-look what was one of the desserts that evening!

The next day we stopped on Ishigaki Island just a little further south. This is mostly a resort community where northern Japanese come to get away from the cold..or retire to for the same reason.

Our included tour this day took us up to an overlook where the picture above and the two below were taken.

From there we headed to a cove where black pearls are cultivated and sold-very expensive-that’s a $1200 necklace and was among the cheapest on offer! We had a nice walk along the beach before returning to the bus.

Our final stop was at a weaver which was really a shopping place. This was the one tour that got pretty low marks from us on our review. Glad we hadn’t paid for it!

We did use up the last of the yen we had been carrying since we left Kyoto on some KitKat bars. KitKats are a favorite snack in Japan and they come in hundreds of flavors-we couldn’t decide between apple pie and yam but ended up with the yam. These (like the ice cream) were delish.

As in our previous port, we returned to the ship along with many other buses and found a long wait. This time is couldn’t be blamed on customs, it was purely having all 930 passengers arriving back to the ship about the same time.

I went and sat in the shade on one of the ginormous cleats that they use to tie up the ship while others waited in the hot sun. About the time Mike was on the gangway, the line was down to just a few and I was aboard five minutes after him cook and comfortable whether than hot and sweaty!

Our final sea day was the next day. I don’t know what we did but I suspect it was mostly be lazy. I do know we had a big breakfast and no lunch so we had room for Afternoon Tea. We really enjoy this complimentary affair on Viking. It is held in the Winter Garden each afternoon from 4-5 pm. Typically one of the musicians plays appropriate music, you select your tea from a huge menu (gunpowder? Green? Oolong? You have about 20 to choose from) and with your pot they bring a tray of sandwiches (menu changes daily) and pasteries. Then they pass warm scones. Usually these are accompanied by clotted cream and jam. However, we were served whipped cream instead of the clotted variety. Our Scottish friend Lady McGrath (we met she and Sir Brian aboard our first Viking transatlantic) complained about this and had been pleased when we reported that on our second transatlantic we were served “proper” clottted cream. I instagrammed some of these same pictures and was stopped the next day by the assistant waiter in charge of tea (that’s him in white chatting with the ship’s manager in charge of all the food venues) to invite me back. He said they had trouble provisioning clotted cream in Asia but had a small amount for those who asked. I guess we will have to come back!

As you can see, in honour of Lady McGrath we took the bottle of bubbly that was one of the perks for the upgraded cabin and made it a “Champagne Tea”. We can’t have tea everyday as it makes it impossible to enjoy the sushi and crab legs at Happy Hour! #FirstWorldProblems

We attended the show this evening as the whole cast was performing a show they put together, it was quite good.

We returned to our room to a beautiful moon lit night. Tomorrow we arrive in Xiamen for two days.