Reflecting on Eight Weeks of Cruising

May 1, 2017
We’ve been back home in Boise, Idaho, for a little over a week, but these past nine days pale in comparison to the fifty-six days we were cruising in Southeast Asia. I’m not complaining; I consider it a blessing that Celebrity Cruise Lines likes the presentations that I give to its passengers and that they continue to invite me back to speak on their ships. These recent cruises, starting in Singapore and ending in Yokohama were on the Celebrity MILLENNIUM, a ship that I’ve now been on for seven cruises.


The typical reaction from other guests at dinner when they found out what I was doing, or they recognized me from coming to my presentations in the theater, was “That’s a pretty good gig.” And I agree; it is a good gig, and I don’t take it for granted. In case you’re curious, more information on my speaking on cruise ships can be found by clicking here.

One of the nice things about speaking on ships I’ve been on before is that I see many of the staff and crew that I’ve previously met. The Master of the Vessel, Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis, is a very warm and engaging leader. He always greets me by name, tells the other guests about me and my novels, and is widely liked by all. His wife and young daughter were also aboard, and we would typically see all of them at the evening show in the theater. Manuel, the Activity Manager, was always smiling even as he was rushing from one Celebrity Life event to another. There were a few of the wait staff that had been on last September’s Vancouver to Tokyo crossing that I was on who were just finishing their “contract” and looking forward to the trip home and a two-month break. I don’t blame them — everyone on the ship works very hard seven days a week.

Life on the ship is a little different for the speakers and the entertainers. Our schedules are fairly simple, and we’re not required to do anything extra. I typically let the Cruise Director and his staff know that I’m available to help with anything they need, or to give extra talks in case a “port day” turns into a “sea day.” This doesn’t happen very often, but we did have a day of total fog where we sat anchored outside Shanghai because the port pilot felt it was too dangerous to move — we could see over two dozen ships that spent the day there. Some of the guests were disappointed because we then had to skip our next scheduled stop in Nagasaki, Japan, after I had given a talk highlighting the wonderful sights and people there. Lucky for my wife and me was that we’d already been there twice in the past month so we’d already been able to visit the Peace Park, Glover Garden, etc.

The weather wasn’t always the best at times, including the day our small-group tour went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall; it was cloudy, rainy, windy, cold! But . . . we were at the Great Wall of China!

We did have some very good meals while we stayed in Beijing for the three days. One evening we went to a restaurant recommended by our guide, and the six of us had Peking Duck, vegetables, rice, beer, dessert — all for a grand total (for ALL six of us) of just under $60! On the way back to the hotel, we saw this bottle of wine and just couldn’t pass it up.
While in Beijing, we also went to Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, and we did a Hutong tour. It was interesting to hear first-hand from long-time hutong residents about the life in those small areas where the housing is somewhat communal. Four families might live in one building; they each have their own separate living and eating areas, but there is usually a central courtyard to be shared by all. The rooms are small and sparse, but they have what they need and seem quite content.

Overall we went to seven countries (Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, China — mainland and Hong Kong) on the four cruises. Besides our time in Beijing, I think the most interesting places were Halong Bay and Hoi An in Vietnam. The limestone caves in Halong Bay are amazing and colorfully lighted. Even the locals go to view them so you know they must be special! Hoi An looks like a sleepy little town but the life along the riverfront is amazing — full of shops and hotels. Our tour group ventured through the central market and took a cooking class before Darlene and I headed out on our own to wander the small streets.

Back to why we were on the cruises. I gave two types of presentations: on two of the cruises I gave a series of talks I call “Now That We’re There” — highlights of the locales we’re visiting; tips on getting around; where to get local information, free Wi-fi, etc. These talks are greatly appreciated by the independent travelers. “Music of the Masters” was the title of the classical music presentations (most of the time was music) that I gave on the other two cruises. There were many devoted music fans watching and listening and completely absorbing the beauty of the music from Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. On one of the sea days, I led a matinee presentation in the theater accompanied by the classical string duo. You can watch the videos from that presentation on my YouTube channel by clicking here. The videos are titled “SeaConcert part1” and “SeaConcert part2.” I hope you enjoy the great music from the duo.

Eight weeks — yes, it’s a long time (and some people take 100+ day round-the-world cruises), but it was a great opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, share some of my travel and music knowledge, and to visit some very interesting parts of Asia. What’s in the forecast for more travel?

    Leaving again soon:

  • May 6-13: leading a small-group tour in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico — details here
  • July 9-23 and July 25 – August 9: speaking on 80-passenger boat that tours Hudson River, Erie Canal, 4 Great Lakes with Blount Small Ship Adventures — details here
  • August 28 – October 9: speaking on 4 cruises in the Mediterranean aboard Celebrity CONSTELLATION — visiting such amazing places as Venice, the Greek Isles, Malta, Barcelona, and many more!

Speaking of tours, I am leading two small-group tours in 2018 during the summer months (June and July), making them ideal for teachers and others in the school system. Have you ever wanted to go to Cabo San Lucas (with someone who’s been there over 20 times), or what about Copenhagen and Norway? Click here to see the tours and what we’ll be doing. Remember, each tour group is only 8 to 12 guests!

If you’ve ever thought about cruising, do it! Don’t start with eight weeks, but start with a cruise to someplace fun, warm, and adventurous. If you want help in finding the right cruise, send me an email and I can send you the name of a travel agent I’ve used who can find the perfect trip for you!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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In Central and Northern Vietnam

The final Vietnam ports for the season for Celebrity MILLENNIUM.
Hoi An
The Chan May port is an isolated commercial port that juts out into the South China Sea, making it subject to the vagaries of the weather. Such was the case a couple years ago when strong winds and high waves prevented us from docking. Nicer weather this time enabled us to dock and send most of the guests out to various tours in Hue, Danang, and Hoi An. We chose the cooking class in charming Hoi An, a 90-minute drive from the port.
Since we stayed along the coastline, we passed by many inlets and bays where our guide explained some of the methods used by local fishermen.

Once we got to Hoi An, we walked to the Central Market where fresh meats (only beef and pork, no chicken or other animals), herbs, and fruits are sold. We stopped at a couple stalls for detailed information first on the fruits, and then on the herbs.

We were pleasantly surprised as we walked along the river; we weren’t expecting to see such a vibrant area filled with locals and tourist. It reminded me of our stay along Canal St. Martin in Paris a few years ago.


The sign for Fresh Beer for 5,000 Dong (about 23 U.S. cents) was too tempting to pass up. It was a glass of beer that was pretty light in flavor – thus the price. We later on were able to pick up cans of Saigon Beer for 15,000 Dong (less than 75 cents) as we walked along – a much better taste.

There were shops for just about anything you’d want (that is that you’d want to figure out how to pack it up and take it home). One of the more interesting items was the selection of silk sleeping bags; a cute idea, but not sure of their practicality. It was definitely fascinating to see the stick and paper lanterns being made.

Our cooking class was a lot of fun; we made spring rolls, made a marinade for our chicken and beef kabob, and then sliced a mango for a delicious mango salad. Only one person cut a finger using the knives, but that didn’t slow her down at all.


One our way back to the ship we crossed over the Dragon Bridge in Danang; that was a nice view.


Ha Long Bay
The next day we arrived in Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we dropped anchor. There are over 1,900 “islands” jutting out of the bay, and we went on a “junk” out to one of the more famous ones.

The story goes that a poor farmer was on this island about twenty years ago, and he accidentally discovered a cave that was covered by bush. As he pulled the bush aside, he discovered an entrance to the enormous limestone cave system of stalagmites and stalactites. He then became very rich by selling tickets to view the cave (nice story, huh?). As you can see by the number of boats, the cave is a very popular place.


The colored lights inside the cave create some interesting, although artificial, views.

There are some other fascinating rock formations, one of the more popular pairs being the “Kissing Rocks.”

Our short tour of “Halong Bay by Boat” ended and we came back aboard the ship for a restful evening. Then we have one more sea day until we pull into the port of Hong Kong where we’re actually in port for one full day before the last day of the cruise. Many will be leaving, but we’re staying on as this is just our first of four cruises in SE Asia.
It’s so long for now, but there’s more to come.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Going Cruising in SE Asia

We just got back from two glorious weeks in Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Mexico. The weather was beautiful(remember that we left sub-freezing temperatures and lots of snow on the ground in Idaho); the food was delicious (as always!); we had a great time with my brother, his wife, and a friend (including our annual lobster dinner at Maro’s), and then we returned to Boise where most of the snow had melted freeing up the streets and the lawns. Relaxation time, right? Well, not exactly. We have to get our taxes done, do some shopping, and then lots of packing before we head over to SE Asia for two months.

Speaking of Cabo, I’m leading a third annual Los Cabos Highlights Tour next year — June 17-23, 2018 — that I guarantee you WILL enjoy. If you’re not interested, tell your friends because I’ve been going there every year since 2003; I know the people; I know the best places to go — and we’re going there! CLICK HERE to learn about the tour and see how to register.

Get your EARLY Booking Discount when you register by April 1, 2017!



Did I say, “Cruising for two months?”


Yes, We’ll be on four cruises (total of sixty days) on Celebrity MILLENNIUM that I’ll be speaking on as we visit many, many ports in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and mainland China. I’ve been to most of the places before, but these will all be new experiences for my wife. We’ll be going on many ship excursions, but we also have a couple private tours set up for us — the main one is a 3-day tour in Beijing where six of us will be treated to many of the main highlights of this 6,000-year old capital city.
CLICK HERE if you’d like to see the cruise schedule.

I’ve been on the MILLENNIUM several times previously, and the crew and staff are marvelous. The ship’s Master of the Vessel is really fun, and he attends many of the talks and evening shows — he truly cares about everyone who’s on the ship. And Steve, the Cruise Director, and Manuel, the Activity Manager, are awesome folks to work with; they make it so easy for me and all the other speakers and entertainers to put forth our best so the guests have a magnificent time. After all, isn’t that what cruising is all about? Of course it is!!!

I hope you follow along on our two-month set of cruises in SE Asia. I know we’ll enjoy the journey; I hope you do, also.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Otaru, Japan; in Sapporo’s Shadow

September 14, 2016 — Otaru, Japan
One of the [many] interesting benefits of being on a re-positioning cruise is that you will often stop in ports that most cruise ships never visit. The port of Otaru, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, is a lovely area that many people use just as a way to get to Sapporo — yes, they make the beer there! There’s nothing wrong with going to Sapporo, but Otaru deserves a visit all on its own. That’s what I did today, and here is my story.

It had been five days at sea since we’d left Dutch Harbor, Alaska (and that was our first port after four sea days out of Vancouver, B.C., Canada). We even crossed the International Date Line so the calendar looks as if we’ve been at sea for six, but it was only five nights and lots of changing our clocks and watches. The passengers were eager to step on solid ground, but we first had go through the mandatory immigration procedures as this was our first stop in Japan.


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I’d made my list of places I wanted to go and activities I wanted to do. This was my first time in Otaru so naturally I wanted to do some “tourist” things — visit the Otaru Canal; see the Music Box shops; visit the aquarium and museums; sample sushi at various places. The big question is, Will I have enough time to do it all and be back on the ship by 6:30 tonight?

Given that I did a lot of walking, went into a lot of shops and museums, I can’t list everything in this posting. If you want more detailed information on Otaru, contact me via the CONTACT page and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Below are some of the places and sights of Otaru on Japan’s northern Hokkaido Island.

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Similar to the “Dollar stores” in parts of t world, Japan has its “100 Yen” stores, although the items actually 108 Yen. I found a pair of earbuds to replace the ones I brought with me — one of the wires must have come loose. But now I have a good set; perhaps I’ll stop in another store (Daiso is one of the big players) and pick up spares!



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It’s not the right time of year for cherry blossoms, but there were still some pretty flowers to enjoy.



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Music boxes are very popular in Otaru; the first picture is the Music Box Museum and the other two are one of the many music box stores in town along the famous Sakaimachi Shopping District Street.

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Steam powered clock in front of the Music Box Museum.



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Otaru Canal — an awesome place for a relaxing ride or just a place to stroll or sit and watch people.



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The Otaru Beer Hall on the Otaru Canal in Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan, is — of course — a German Beer Hall!!!



Yes; I have many more photos but I don’t want to bore you. I found Otaru to be a very vibrant city that was originally a fishing village in a protected bay. The people were friendly and we had great weather! If you have the chance to go on a cruise that has a stop in Otaru, I hope you’ll consider taking it.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out a monthly newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2016 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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Heading to Unalaska!

September 4, 2016 — in the Pacific Ocean
Celebrity-MillenniumYes; you read that correctly. I’m currently cruising on Celebrity MILLENNIUM heading out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to our first port of call in Alaska. The port is called Dutch Harbor, home of the TV show The Deadliest Catch, and it’s on the island of Unalaska — look it up; that’s it name!

It’s not surprising that the weather is “not ideal” for cruising as the weather has been cool and damp. We left Vancouver two days ago on the 2nd, and we are having four straight Sea Days before we get Dutch Harbor. We are holding steady on a 285 degree heading; I thought we would head more northerly, but in looking at a chart, Unalaska is almost due West from Vancouver! Dutch Harbor is a small port with a few museums, and I hope to walk around and visit all of them (there are no organized ship tours).

I gave my first talk yesterday and it was on “Journaling Your Trip.” I received many suggestions (no surprise) on how other travelers do their organizing of their trip information. Some of the suggestions were excellent, such as adding sketches into your journal (even if you’re not an artist). I liked that idea. This afternoon I begin my “Music of the Masters” series of talks with an overview of classical music and an introduction to the five masters I’ll present later in the cruise. Speaking of music, the evening entertainment has been excellent. We had a great pianist last night; the night before was a brief introduction of a vocalist and a magician — I watched closely and I still don’t understand how the cut rope becomes whole again! Perhaps that’s why they call it magic!

For those not fond of Formal Nights — they’re gone! We now have what’s called Evening Chic — tuxes and ties are no longer required for the men. Let’s see how it turns out. I brought my ties, so I’ll probably wear one.

There’s not much to talk about on Sea Days; I’ll be back after we’ve been to Dutch Harbor on the 7th.

Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out a monthly newsletter (almost every month!), and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2016 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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