Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hawaii / Tahiti 30 Day Cruise - Medical Evacuation Update

I found further information on the medical evacuation which occurred on the last day of the cruise.  The aircraft were in fact US Military aircraft and the hand painted number was just a temporary number.  The following is from the Huffington Post:

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The California Air National Guard has rescued a man who fell seriously ill on a cruise ship hundreds of miles off the coast.  The agency says crew of the Holland America line's Westerdam contacted authorities for help late Saturday and changed course to reduce the distance to shore.  National Guard aircraft reached the ship Sunday about 300 miles from Southern California.  The 73-year-old passenger, who suffered kidney failure, was flown to a hospital in San Diego for further treatment.  The National Guard crew was deployed from North Island Naval Air Station, Coronado.

Video of Rescue

Some pictures I got from a cruise critic discussion.

For more information and discussion clink on this link to the Cruise Critic Discussion

It's amazing what can be done in that type of situation and we can only hope the person involved made it to a hospital in time, a truly frightening experience.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hawaii / Tahiti 30 Day Cruise - The Trip Home and Final Thoughts

Arriving in San Diego and the Trip Home

We arrived at the entrance to the San Diego Harbor before 6:00 AM under cloudy and drizzly weather and were docked before 7:00.  I got up to watch us arrive in San Diego and then went back to be bed as it would be a while before we could disembark. 

We arrive in San Diego near dawn under cloudy skies.
Just about ready to dock, the trip is over.  :-(
We got up around 7:30 and had our last light breakfast in the Neptune Lounge.  We packed the last of our stuff and waited for the announcement that we could leave, but before they let anybody off the ship, all the non-US citizens on board had to clear customs on board.  The called each deck to do this and it should have been done in a quick and orderly fashion, but as always there was a few who didn’t show up and so a few names were called over and over again until finally they were found and the debarkation could begin.  They give out priority numbers so that not everyone rushes off the ship at once and because of our cabin class we had priority debarkation privileges which we took advantage of.  They called our number around 9:30 so we were quickly off the ship, claiming our luggage, going through customs, and getting into a cab before 10:00.  A quick taxi ride to the hotel we stayed at pre-cruise to claim our car and we were on our way home.
We drove home via the 405 and 101 freeways which were remarkably free of traffic, and anyone that knows the area knows that this is pretty unusual.  We drove through intermittent rain showers almost all the way home, but this didn’t pose any problems.  We made one stop in Camarillo to eat at Los Arroyos, our favorite Mexican restaurant, and were home just after 4:00 PM.  It was good to be home, but also kind of sad, the trip we had looked forward to for so long was over.

Final Thoughts

When I was young, one of my hobbies was listening to the shortwave radio which allowed me to listen to radio stations around the world.  Living on the west coast, I listened to many stations from Asia and the South Pacific and I was fascinated by the exotic music and culture I heard over the airwaves.  I always fantasized about traveling to the South Pacific, but never really thought I’d ever get there so this trip was definitely a dream come true for me.  

This trip was everything and more than we hoped it would be. You know you’ve had a great trip when you start out with high expectations and they are exceeded.  We just loved the South Pacific Islands.  My favorites were Fanning Island, Bora Bora and Nuku Hiva, but enjoyed every place we visited.  The weather was near perfect, the people on the islands were very friendly, and the beauty of the turquoise and blue lagoons and lush green interiors were beyond description, we had truly visited a tropical paradise.

We wondered if a 30-day cruise might be too long, but it turned out to be just fine.  We never got bored and always had something to do, whether it was participating in the ship activities or just relaxing, it seemed like time just flew by.  As Cruise Director Armen said, "you can do as much or as little as you want, just make sure you enjoy yourself".  Life on the ship was great.  How could it not be!  The food was plentiful and excellent, the entertainment was great, and the staff was so friendly and helpful.  I have mentioned them before, but our dining room stewards Pram and Mega, and our cabin stewards Ricardo and Muhammed were just wonderful, they made life so easy and enjoyable.  The whole Westerdam crew was great, always a friendly greeting and smile, always ready to make sure your needs were met and doing all of this despite long hours without days off for months at a time.  It really spoils you to have to return home and do all the daily chores yourself again.

One of the really nice things about this cruise was all the nice people we met through Cruise Critic and on board the ship.  We made many new friends and acquaintances during the cruise, in particular there was Ken and Kathy who we actually met  while waiting in line to board the ship. They were traveling with friends Mark and Shirley who we met later and were equally nice.  Ken and Kathy live pretty close to us, in Thousand Oaks, so we will be seeing them again. And Mark and Shirley live in Denver and invited us to drop in on them when we are in that area.  This was a cruise bonus we didn’t expect.

All-in-all this was a great trip, we traveled 9,579 nautical miles (just over 11,000 regular miles), met wonderful people, and visited amazing and beautiful exotic places.  I retired just over a year ago and in that time Val and I have made two “trips of a lifetime”, it just doesn’t get any better than that, we are very lucky people.

It was a bit of a challenge keeping the blog up for the full 30 days, particularly with the slow Internet speed.  I kept up with the writing pretty well, but ended up having to post most of the last part of the trip after I got home. It just took too long to upload pictures on the way home, until the last couple of days.  We have no immediate trips planned for a while, we don’t usually like to travel in the summer due to the crowds and heat, but we’ll see.

Well, this wraps up our amazing South Pacific cruise.  I'm sure we'll get cabin fever in a little while and we'll be off on another adventure soon.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hawaii / Tahiti 30 Day Cruise - Day 30 Sea Day

Sunday Day 30 – At Sea

Anyone reading this is probably tired of hearing about how I’m feeling and I guess I’m pretty tired of writing about it, but it has dominated the landscape for Val and I for the last four or five days.  I haven’t been sick since I retired, and here I have gotten sick twice on a thirty day cruise.  The last thing I will say about being sick is I woke up feeling great!  It’s amazing, the change I felt last night has kept on and I feel pretty much normal.  This is our last day as we will be in San Diego early tomorrow morning and our cruise will be over.

Today we opted to have our last breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill and made it there just before the 9:00 deadline.  After breakfast we attended a briefing on the debarkation process which was also a crew farewell.  All crew members who weren’t doing critical duties were brought in with each department being recognized.  It gave all of us a chance to applaud the great work they all do.  The crew was absolutely great on this cruise, they work long hours of ten or eleven hours a day with no days off for months on end and yet maintain a happy smile and warm greeting when they serve you or pass you in the hall.

This may not look a very big crew, but the stage goes back a ways.
That is Armen, the Cruise Director in the white shirt.
After the crew appreciation it was time for the inevitable, we went back to the room to begin the packing process.  As we started packing we were interrupted by an announcement by the captain, the ship would be slowing so a critically ill passenger could be evacuated by helicopter.  It was very sobering and saddening to hear, but also everyone was very interested as to how the evacuation would be carried out.  They have cameras at the bow and stern of the ship which are shown on the room televisions so we would be able to see the evacuation.  Right after the announcement you could tell the ship was slowing and according to the TV screen, slowed to three knots.  Soon a large plane appeared which we later found out was a tanker as the helicopter would not have enough fuel to get back without refueling.  Soon the helicopter appeared and we alternated watching the plane and helicopter fly by from our balcony to watching the helicopter maneuver near the bow of the ship on the TV.  The ship wasn’t big enough for the helicopter to land on so the first thing that happened was two men and a stretcher were lowered as the helicopter hovered over the bow.  The helicopter flew off to be refueled while the patient was prepared for evacuation.  It was very dramatic to see all this happening and very interesting, but also very sad when you consider what the patient and his family were going through.  Not a very good way to end a vacation, but we hope that he reached medical attention in time and recovered.  The ship has a doctor and fully staffed infirmary, but there are limitations as to what they can do.  Sadly, we saw someone taken off the ship for medical attention at almost every port, even Nuku Hiva.  Not surprising considering the older demographic of Holland America passengers, but very sad and frightening – what if that would have been one of us going to a hospital in a strange and remote country thousands of mile from home?  One final thought on the evacuation, we thought the evacuation would be done by the Coast Guard or US Military, but if you look at the aircraft there are no typical marking and the number on the helicopter actually looks like it was hand painted.  We started speculating that the passenger would be evacuated to Mexico as that is much closer, I guess we’ll never know.

The evacuation helicopter with the tanker in the background.
The helicopter drops a second person, the stretcher and the first person were already down.
The helicopter circles the ship after refueling waiting to pick up the patient.
The stretcher with the patient is raised back into the helicopter.

After that excitement it was lunch time so we went up to the Lido and found it very crowded.  Even though it was close to 1:00, everyone had watched the evacuation so everyone ended up going to lunch late at the same time.  After lunch we went back and finished most of our packing.  Except for carry-on luggage and what we need tomorrow, all luggage has to be outside the room in the hallways where it will be picked up and brought below in anticipation of our arrival in San Diego early tomorrow morning.

Val and I made our last trip to the casino with the last of our money, although I am sorry to say, I had to borrow some money from the trip money as I had run out.  Val also gave we some money so we were able to have some fun in the late afternoon.  I was actually able to win enough to pay the trip money and Val back, but she refused it saying it was a gift.  We both ended up losing all of our gambling money we brought (which we expected), but our time in the casino was a fun diversion, plus Val did win $500 in the slot tournament.  I have to add that our gambling money was budgeted out each day from the amount we brought for that purpose so we were in no danger of loosing our retirement nest egg.

It was down to our last dinner so the trip was really winding down.  Tonight was a bit festive as before the deserts were served, the culinary staff came out and were recognized, as were the wait staff.  There was also music and a song by the staff.  We sadly said goodbye to our dining stewards Pram and Mega and made our way back to the cabin for our final night on the cruise. 

Pram and Mega were really wonderful dining stewards, they were very professional, our service was perfect, plus they were friendly and interesting with their stories from their home in Indonesia.  Val wanted to learn a few words in their language so over the 30 days we saw them for dinner, they managed to teach us how to say "thank you, good evening, how are you, good, and you're welcome" in Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia.  So to Pram and Mega, terima kasih!!

Hawaii / Tahiti 30 Day Cruise - Day 27 - 29 Sea Days

Thursday Day 27 through Saturday Day 29 – Sea Days

These last few days have not been very good ones for me, the antibiotics are doing their job, but they are making me feel nauseous most of the time.  I went back to the doctor to get a different type of antibiotic, but he said to “just tough it out” so I am.  I spent a lot of time just laying down, but there were times when the nausea would lift and I would get out and about a bit.  The worst part was, I had no appetite and wasn’t able to enjoy all the good food in the last few days, I even missed the chocolate extravaganza.

It has been hard on Val also, she worries about me and anything she does she does by herself.  On a thirty day cruise you meet and get to know many people so at least she had some new friends to hang out with.  She did attend a memory improvement workshop one day, but said it wasn’t very helpful because it only taught techniques to memorize lists, and she wondered how often she would need to do that. 

On Friday, I started to feel a little better and we attended a virtual tour of the Bridge by Captain Rens Van Eerten.  Because of security concerns, passengers are no longer allowed on the Bridge so it was quite interesting to everyone.  He used a Power Point presentation to explain the operations and equipment on the Bridge as well as some of the workings of other parts of the ship.  Afterwards he took questions which lasted quite a while.  It was a very informative and entertaining talk as the captain speaks well and has a great sense of humor.

Early this morning we had been awakened at 6:00 AM by the very loud fire alarms going off on the ship. Every room and area on the ship has speakers so you can’t miss it.  It was cancelled almost immediately as it turned out to be a small fuel leak in the engine room, but you can imagine the captain took several questions about that during his presentation.  He pointed out that although it turned out there was no real emergency, the system worked keeping the ship safe.  I don’t think any of us felt too bad about losing a little sleep when it means keeping the ship safe. 

We went to dinner in the dining room tonight and although feeling better, my appetite is still not good so I again couldn’t appreciate the excellent food.  We had gone to the casino before dinner so it was early to bed again for me.

Saturday morning I had a setback as I wasn’t feeling very well again.  I spent most of the day until late afternoon just laying around so it was a mostly wasted day for me.  Val attended the finale of the team trivia completion and her team did well. On a daily basis they were usually in the top four, but because of some problem early in the competition they missed a day, which was reflected in their cumulative score. There were about 150 people competing in 33 different teams.  Anyway it’s fun and Val has enjoyed playing and getting to know the members of her team.

The Smarty Pants, Val's trivia team (minus one).

As it got near evening time, I suddenly realized that my stomach wasn’t bothering me anymore, hallelujah!  Tonight was the last formal night of the cruise and even though we didn’t feel much like getting all dressed up again, we decided to attend.  For the first time in several day I was hungry and really enjoyed dinner.  It was amazing how much better I felt.  After dinner it was off to the casino where I had my usual poor luck and retired to the room early, but Val was having a very good night and decided to stay on to parlay her winnings to even more, but unfortunately it rarely works that way and she gave almost all of it back.  Amazingly though, as she was down to her last few dollars she was able to win a hundred dollars, which she smartly saved for Sunday our last day.

Our dining room stewards Pram (left) and Mega (center).  They were super!

These have been lost days for me and it makes me mad that I haven’t been able to enjoy the last few days of our cruise, but things could be a lot worse. I will say this though, I was not seriously ill.  It was basically like being a little seasick all the time, and I’m very grateful that this didn’t occur during our time in French Polynesia.  Tomorrow is another day and I hope I wake up feeling as well as I do tonight.