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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Beginning the Next Cruise

March 20, 2017
Our first cruise on the Celebrity MILLENNIUM ended in Hong Kong where we spent an overnight before starting out on cruise #2.


Hong Kong — March 10th
The weather was quite overcast and cool so we didn’t feel like taking any extended trips especially since we’d be back in port for three consecutive days at the end of cruise 3/beginning of cruise 4. We took the complimentary shuttle from the cruise terminal to Plaza Hollywood where we did find a nice place for lunch, and then out for a stroll. There is an amazing garden and nunnery right there in the middle of the city, and so we sent a couple hours walking around enjoying the sighs and serenity of the Nan Lian Garden.
Aerial photograph of garden layout
Highways pass directly overhead
A delightful pagoda
One of many interesting rock formations
The first “Rockery” I’ve ever visited!
More great rock formations
Sign over some rocks
What the sign says
Another amazing rock

After visiting the gift shop where Darlene got a nice pair of earrings, we crossed the overpass to the Chi Lin Nunnery that is mostly closed to the public.
Louts flower lamp
Decorations on enormous doors
View along the roof edging



Keelung, Taiwan — March 13th
After a rather stormy 36 hours at sea, we pulled into the port of Keelung, gateway to Taipei. Because we’d be returning to this port on two other cruises (for one day and for t days, respectively), we opted to just walk off the ship and into town. Our first stop was in the Passenger Terminal where we exchanged some more for local currency.
They’ll take most Asian currencies

We then headed off for a walkabout.
Let’s go to the “park”
There were a lot of steps
The mist made for careful walking
Green was the color of the day!
Those leaves were huge!
We passed one small pagoda
Our destination — visible from ship
We took the steps DOWN from the Martyr’s Shrine

We did see some interesting plant formations along the way.
Just hanging there
Visible roots
Looks intriguing
Pansies were the popular flower

We crossed the river and noticed that each bridge had different animal symbols
Bridge 1 – Dog
Bridge 2 – Rooster?
Bridge 3 – I thought Monkey; Darlene thought Bear

We worked our way into the famous Miaokow Night Market; most night markets are also open during the day. All the local delicacies are there.
One of the main entry points
This did NOT interest us!!!
Our meal – crab soup and rice
Where we ate
There’s an ornate temple in the market area
Dedicated to ships and sea merchants
Even a dark-skinned statue



Nagasaki, Japan — March 15th
We began four consecutive port days with a stop in Nagasaki, Japan.
A temple, a shrine, and a church — all close by
We ordered way too much food!

We continued our walk up the street and entered Glover Garden.
There were escalators to take us to the top of the hill
The namesake Scot
Flowers in front of his house
More flowers
Inside the house
View from building at top of hill
Windows in the house
Puccini set “Madame Butterfly” in Nagasaki
Madame Butterfly


Our three next ports of call were in South Korea where we didn’t do much — we were saving energy and health for our upcoming 3-day/2-night stay in Beijing!

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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Singapore to Thailand

After a couple days in Singapore to rest up after our 17.5 hour flight from San Francisco, we checked out of our hotel near Chinatown and took a taxi to the Mari Bay Cruise Centre. Along the way we passed the iconic Marina Bay Sands Resort, the tall tri-tower hotel with the “ship” on top connecting the three towers. In the background we could see the Singapore Flyer with its 28 cabins that make one complete revolution every 28 minutes. As we went through thte Gardens by the Bay we could see some of the metal sculpture Supergrove Trees that are quite the lighted sight at night. Arriving at the terminal, our check-in process was super-efficient and we were on board the Celebrity MILLENNIUM sipping a glass of champagne by 12:40.

Our sailaway began about 6 PM under a sky of gray clouds that eventually opened up to wet the decks. Spirits weren’t dampened, however, as the guests were excited to begin our journey through Southeast Asia. The special cocktail, Singapore Sling, helped to brighten the mood along with the party band playing some high-energy songs.

The first two days were spent at sea as we sailed east and then north into the Gulf of Thailand where we docked in Laem Chabang, Thailand. We did a long tour on our first day in port, going into Bangkok – a 2+-hour drive each way. I thought our first stop – Suan Pakkad Palace Museum, aka, “Cabbage Field Museum” – was going to be very interesting. The garden area was nice, but the decaying wooden walkways and the rushing from “house” to “house” made the visit less than memorable.

Because King Rama IX died recently, streets around the Grand Palace were barricaded and so we had to walk about a mile in the heat to get to the entrance. The place was crowded with tourists and school children. Once inside our main sights were the Emerald Buddha – Thailand’s most revered image of Buddha – and a few other ornate buildings and structures.

Leaving the Grand Palace we once again set out on foot, this time walking to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is difficult to take it all in as he 46.5 meter statue is in a building that was built to house it, not to display it.

We all boarded three-wheeled tuk-tuks for a ride around the city. These little “taxis” can dart in and out of traffic, making them a desired choice for the locals. We went up and down so many streets and traffic circles in our 25-minute venture around the super-crowded city, ending up at our lunch hotel where we re-boarded our bus to head back to the ship.

It was a long day, and it was nice to get to the cool environment of the ship

Our second day was much shorter. Our bus ride into the beach town of Pattaya was less than an hour to our first stop, the Sanctuary of Truth. The massive wooden structure is very difficult to describe, yet the workmanship that is constantly being done to add to, to repair, etc., is truly unbelievable.

We went for a drive along Pattaya’s super-busy beach before arriving at the man-made Floating Market. Basically a tourist trap, it didn’t hold much appeal to us. What was good, however, was the large bottle of Singha Beer for under three dollars – that was nice.

Then it was time to re-board the bus back to the ship so we could head back out to sea and make our way to our first port of call in Vietnam.

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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Day 1 in Singapore


We managed to make it through the 17.5 hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore, losing Wednesday in the process. We did get some sleep on the way so we were able to get back out once we checked into our hotel (at we had reserved for the previous night so we could get in no matter when we arrived today). Here are a few more shots of the display screen from our 787.
Our hotel is in the Clarke Quay area just on the outskirts of Chinatown.
We weren’t here for the January 28 festivities of the Chinese New Year as they ushered in the Year of the Rooster, but some of the items, such as the giant rooster, are still on display. We walked around, winding our way into some of the back streets until we found a place that looked busy and good. Darlene had a bowl of noodles as her first meal here in Singapore, and I had a bowl of Sour and Spicy Soup — yes, it was!

We continued our walk through more of Chinatown, found a shop with postcards AND stamps, bought some, and then headed back to the hotel to give our feet some rest.

We’re rested up, and so it’s time to get back out and do some more walking. We’re going to meet a former co-worker of mine who’s here in Singapore on business, then go have some dinner and maybe even a cool beverage! It’s been a great first day here in Singapore; so much has already gone on and we landed not even 10 hours ago!


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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