An absolutely beautiful evening onboard Ovation.
There is something about cruising that engenders genuine excitement. Think kids at Christmas like! Your cruising friends start posting countdowns on Facebook and/or Twitter. There are a range of sites and apps which will do it for you. Why is cruising so exciting? I’d argue it’s because the moment you get on board, you are on vacation. From this aspect it’s different to any other holiday. Normally if you are going anywhere you have to fly ✈️ , and flying sucks 😞 ! Dealing with airport security 🚨 , immigration 👮 , leg space 💺, the monotony of sitting in an aluminium tube for hours on end, farting neighbours 💨, and very ordinary food 🥘 . Flying - no thanks!! It’s only benefit, it makes getting to where you are vacationing quickly 🛫 🛬.
But cruising 🛳 is different. Yes, you have the security and immigration, but the moment you set foot on board your holiday has begun 😊 . The bars are open 🍻 🍷 , there is entertainment 🎶 💃, the buffet 🍴 is in full swing. And there’s the ship 🚢 to explore 😎!! A week or more (I do not understand short cruises) of no work, cooking, cleaning. Have you checked-in to the ship? Sure, but more importantly, you have checked-out of reality.
Normally in the late afternoon, early evening the ship will then make it’s way from port, and you get to enjoy the sail away! Take in the views, with a drink 🍸, party 🎊. That evening when you head to bed, your stateroom attendant will prepared your room for the evening, and on your bed is the ships newsletter, The Cruise Compass, with all the information of what and where tomorrows events and activities are happening on the ship.
You will probably also come face to face with a towel creature. These delightful little art forms are a cruising staple. With monkey’s 🐒 , bats🦇 , elephants 🐘 , dogs 🐕 , and many more, carefully constructed and placed on your bed 🛏 welcoming you to your room for the night. (On a personal note, I now instruct my stateroom attendant not to bother with the creatures. My room just gets filled up with towel animals, it takes the attendants time, and creates extra laundry, and after 200 nights on board, I am pretty sure I have seen almost every variety of them at this time. But they are one of cruising little pleasures, so no judgement by me if you enjoy them).
In addition to your towel critters, you may come back to your room to find chocolates, fruit, wine, certificates, tickets, or any other manner of things which are all designed to enhance your experience. Yes, it may just be a flyer for the spa, or a certificate to use in the casino. But they are all in aid of the cruise. But little do you suspect that lurking somewhere on the ship is your departure survey, and at some stage this nasty reminder that reality does exist will find its way to your room. It is included in the other paraphernalia on your bed. But departure is still many days away, and after you fill in the survey, this little break in reality continues.
And yet, the magic bubble just feels a little diminished, a little less sparkly for the intrusion into your reality free zone. Little do you suspect at this time, that the real threat to your cruise is just around the corner.
And then with 2-3 nights left you come back to your room to this...
And bubble the bursts. Reality is imminent. The departure forms, instructions and luggage tags. There is even a shift in the atmosphere on board. People who you may have only met in the elevator, with some passing joke on its stopping at every level, or the mystical express ride, the little old lady you have been talking to in the buffet almost every day, yet still don’t know her name, and the pool bar fly you discuss the sea conditions with, the countdown to probably never meeting again has begun. Farewells are on the tip of your tongue, for you don’t know when it is the last meeting.
With the magic cruise bubble burst, your vacation is almost over. At least when you are flying, the vacation bursts at the airport.
There is one exception - when you just can't wait to get off the ship. For whatever reason it is, a plethora of bad guests (there needs to be a collective noun for these people, I nominate “a killjoy”), a GI outbreak, or perhaps you just haven’t enjoyed it; these departure luggage tag days may just be the sweet relief you desire.
What’s your worse day on the cruise? Has departure luggage tag day ever give you sweet relief?
If you stop and look at your calendar (which is really a silly thing to do) you will see it’s now mid-March. How is that possible? 2.5 months into 2018 already. Less than 10 months till Christmas! Jeez!
Well now that I have gotten temporal shock out of my system and probably transmitted it to you, I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath, maybe get a cup of tea or coffee ☕️ or do you need something stronger 🍻 🍹 🥃.
As for me, I have just left Picton, 🇳🇿; which is, for many, the starting point after arriving on the south island of New Zealand, but for me it’s basically my finish point (with just Wellington left tomorrow). Then I will be crossing the ditch back to Sydney. Which pretty much brings a close to my adventures cruising in the Southern Hemisphere .
Back in Sydney I will disembark the Radiance. It’s been my home for 61 nights so far in 2018. Which, at years end, will make it my longest place of residence for the year. For the rest of the year, I will be on the move every few weeks. Either changing ships, or changing cities. wow
The Radiance of the Seas is definitely a favourite for myself and with many old hands to Royal Caribbean. If you spend any time talking with the long time cruisers they love the size and intimacy of this of ship and its sisters. (The Radiance is the namesake for the class, which includes Brilliance, Serenade, and Jewel). Even for many of the crew, these ships are some of the most preferred in Royal Caribbean fleet.
The lack (and that's a relative term when compared to the biggest ships in the fleet) of facilities is easily trumped by it’s intimacy and the breathtaking vistas that can taken in from many points of the ship. With guest numbers around 2000 and staff around 800 you really begin to get to know each other (especially after 2 months on board).
But time is running out for these ships, Radiance is 17 years old, and beginning to show her age. She is in need of some TLC. With her last refurbishment in 2016 (it’s hard to believe that was only 2 years ago) she is need a decent update and some repairs.
But of all the ships I have been on the Radiance class is definitely one of my favourites, I would love to see a Radiance v2 come online, but RCI is moving to bigger ships, with all current builds catering to 4000 or more guests. (2 Quantum, 1 Oasis, and 2 (completely mysterious) Icon class)
Anyway I digress; this season I have completed; 9 cruises, on board 4 ships, visited 7 countries (🇳🇿, 🇳🇨, 🇻🇺, 🇫🇯, 🇦🇺, 🇹🇴, & 🇮🇩), and around 22 ports. And I am now just over ½ way to the Pinnacle Club, RCI’s top tier in the Crown and Anchor Society (the loyalty program). That 700 points required is a LONG journey!
The one main observation I have taken away from this season, covers all ports, and countries. Is the inadequate facilities, tour operators (ranging from disreputable to just none); and poor (or costly) transport options. (My pick of transport would be Adelaide who have a cruise ship transport card for $10 which covers all transport in city, but it can still take over an hour to get to town with trains running every ½ hour, if you just miss one, make sure you have a book, or a device to kill time with). Pretty much every port needs to up its game, with deep water facilities for the bigger ships, better (faster) transport to town, and tour operators willing to work around the strict schedules that cruise lines have. I would also like to see ships spend more time in ports, especially places like Cairns, or other ports where the key attractions are a decent journey away,
Personally the biggest disappointment, has been the lack of scuba diving, how can you spend so much time on the water, and so little time in it? With the only dive happening in Vanuatu, and even then it was only a single dive (where’s the scuba emoji? Huh unicode?) With most ports being tender ports the whole process of disembarking and getting anywhere punctually is near impossible. The dive boats have already left, and very few operators cater to the cruise ship crowd. I am sure there are an opportunities for these operators to start catering to cruise ships (whether it be scuba or other active excursions), if not today with the older cruisers, certainly in the not too distant future with many younger folk getting into cruising.
The real surprise this season has been New Zealand. I have loved almost every port we have sailed to, my only disappointment (again), we didn’t stay longer in several places. Picton, Tauranga, and the Bay of Islands been my pick for an extended stay.
The South Pacific Islands have their charm, but I am in no rush to re-visit them on a cruise ship, (trans-Pacific crossings excluded).
I would definitely be interested in more Australian cruises! How is it an island continent, where 85% of the population live within 50km of the ocean doesn’t have more ports and facilities to appeal to cruise ships? Or why aren’t the cruise lines going there? My guess, is a lack of government planning in these places.
I am very lucky to have gotten in on the circumnavigation of Australia this year, as the Radiance (or any other RCI ship) is not scheduled to do it next season. I hope that it is added to future ship schedules, possibly with alternating ports every season. This is something I want to do again (with scuba dives in the appropriate places)
So that’s it, next up is the Ovation of the Seas, which will take me to Singapore 🇸🇬 and my adventures for the Northern Hemisphere begin.
How did I end up here?
(yes, I drop the F bomb once below).
So 3 weeks ago I started scouring the Internet looking for dive companies to take me diving at the various ports on my circumnavigation of Australia. You would think that around an island nation, with some of the best diving in the world, this would be an easy task. But no, no it is not.
- Brisbane - none
- Cairns - nope
- Darwin - not even a dive company open
- Bali - yes
- Geraldton - call us the day before arrival
- Perth - nah
Generally the reason for all these no's ties into schedules. With most ports being tender ports everything is delayed. So even though the ship arrives 7am. You are probably looking at arrival on land closer to 9am if you are lucky. Closer to midday if you don't want to take part in the morning rush. Given that most dive boats head out around 8am this makes diving (especially Cairns) very difficult. I also found the dive companies there were rather rigid in their policies, eg I like to dive with a bigger tank 12-15l. My size, lung capacity and still learning to SCUBA with more efficiency mean I burn my air. And while a smaller diver may get 40 minutes or more out of a tank, I am generally 10-15 mins less.
Neptune Scuba Dive Bali is the only company that replies in the positive. Absolutely, we will pick you up from the port. Drive you to the dive site. Provide gear as reqd. Yay! 😀 Finally a dive is organised.
The next happens over a series of emails.
I ask about water temperature. Julian (the owner) tells me is 27-28°. I tell him I don’t need a wetsuit.
He says you really should have a wetsuit.
I replied that I was ok. I can dive 27° without. He says it’s not about thermal protection. It’s about protection from scorpion fish, fire coral and stone fish. (I’m not really sure how much protection a 3mm wetsuit provides against any of those but I then agree after all he’s the local expert).
We also discuss dive sites. The first is a drift dive in Nusa Penida, with the possible sighting of manta rays ands mola mola. This I am excited about. The other is much closer to shore and often used for training grounds Pedang Bai. Lots of smaller fish and maybe, some white and black tip reef sharks. And maybe just maybe some sun fish if you’re lucky.
The Nusa Penida is the option we both agree is the better dive to do. But time is of the essence. I have to get from the ship to the dive shop ASAP so as to make it to the dive location.
I manage to get myself a spot on the first tender, so things are looking up. Nusa Penida here we come. But then the tender operation is delayed by 15 minutes. There are 2 tenders, the ship ones (slightly tweaked life boats, which are slow). And the local fast ones, of course they first tender is a slow one. (Fast tenders do the run to the wharf in around 20m, slow 30-40m). The long and the short I am ashore almost an hour later than I had hoped. Looks like Nusa Penida is scrapped.
I get ashore, and after a few minutes meet the driver and off we head. He navigates Bali traffic well, (Bali's traffic is pretty chaotic, not the most chaotic I have encountered, but I really would be uncomfortable driving there) and gets me to the dive shop remarkably without any damage to the vehicle. I meet Julian and his wife Joe, and we have a bit of a chat on where to go. Joe thinks there is time for the Nusa Penida. Julian is less sure. He wants to play it safe and go to the local dive at Pedang Bai.
As I really don't want to fly to Perth in wet speedos, a t-shirt and no passport, I agree with Julian and choose Pedang Bai.
So just to give you some idea of the decisions and actions that have lead to this.
- I have agreed to wear a long 3mm wetsuit
- I managed to secure a position on the first tender
- tender boat operations are delayed and the first tender is the slow boat delaying my arrival
- risk it with Nusa Penida, play it safe for Pedang Bai, we choose Pedang Bai.
So off we (driver, dive guide and myself) head to Padang Bai. On the way we intercept a motorcyclist from the local gear supplier with a 3mm shorty wetsuit (it looks like it will fit, but I will never know). I tell the dive guide that Julian is pretty adamant that I wear a long wetsuit to protect me from all the things that can sting me in the water. So the dive guide calls ahead to the dive site to organise a long wetsuit from another gear provider.
So adding to the list of actions/decisions -
- The wrong wetsuit is delivered
- another company has to provide a different wet suit
We arrive at the dive site and the local guy shows up with a wetsuit that’s definitely seen better times, not only that but I also think it’s not going to fit.
They say try it on, wetsuit guy says it’s the biggest they have. I know it’s not going to fit. But try it on they encourage.
Meanwhile the 3 young local teens have come to the car to help unload it and pack the boat.
I put my foot into the first leg.
I Feel a sharp pain on the back of the knee. I think it’s just some plastic or poor stitch in the wetsuit.
I roll it down to look
To see this guy scurry away 👉🏼
I try to tell my guide I’ve been sting by a millipede (I incorrectly identified it, turns out it was a centipede), but he doesn’t understand and thinks it’s just some problem with the wetsuit. He goes to put his arm down the leg and I shout out "STOP" "Be careful". He then carefully flips the wetsuit inside out, the boys helping have now gathered and they all gasp when the centipede comes out.
My guides next actions all occurred very quickly. He jumps back like a child who has just touched an iron (that's not good!) He takes a series of "out of focus photos" (see above) and asks the local guy do you have medicine (this is done in Balinese, but it seems the bite has given me a super power of now understanding Balinese) wetsuit guy goes back to his shop, guide goes elsewhere. The teens all sit down and begin to watch me react. It's like "lets watch the white boy die!"
At first the pain, isn't even that. It's just an awareness that I have been bitten. But then the pain begins to grow. Spreading down into my calf, and now my calf and knee feel like I have an red hot iron poker just hovering over the back of my leg. It's not hurting yet, but damn that heat is growing.
The guide returns and says "we go to clinic". After trying to find the clinic (hidden behind a school) the nurse there declines to see me for a reason that is never made clear to me, and my superpower of understanding Balinese has now faded. She directs us to a slightly bigger clinic about 10 minutes away. My guide shows despair, and I have to be honest, between boys watching me, nurse not treating me, and guides despair my concern over what has happened is now well and truly greater than the pain. Am I dead? How toxic is this thing? Do I lose my leg? Muscle tissue decay? Just what has happened to me? We drive up to the clinic and I’m rushed into the ER. Blood pressure is taken (170/110), oxygen given and a injection which I later learn is a mild pain killer, administered.
A nurse comes over grabs my hand reassuringly and says in broken English (she may have been clearer than that, but as it was already in my head, along with amputation, muscle rot, you know, all the worst case scenarios), "Younna die!"
Internally I scream "YOUNNA FUCKING WHAT!!!" 😱
Her colleague rushes over "You not die!!" and tries to explain exactly what has happened, it helps, but not much.
The pain in my calf continues to grow, that poker is now almost touching my calf.
I am kept in the hospital for a while longer for further observation. A Doctor 👩🏾⚕️ comes over and tells me what has happened, and tell' me what i’s going to happen and adds you probably won’t sleep because of the pain, blood pressure taken, medical report issued and then I’m discharged.
- My night out of Bali was unbelievably painful.
- Neptune Dive Bali were awesome, made sure everything from pickup to drop-off went smoothly and pain free. (excluding the centipede bite). My Tripadvisor review is here
- Tendering is always a pain. Bali is a bit more so, probably best avoid time sensitive activities unless you book with your cruise line. Ensuring the ship will wait for your return (and priority departure)
- If you missed the irony; I put on a wetsuit to protect me from the stinging things in the ocean. I got stung before I entered the ocean
And for those who have asked, P2 of living on board is coming...