Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Voyage of the Vikings Cruise - Cruise Day 5: Corner Brook, Newfoundland

Today we are in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.  We slept in this morning and didn’t get out of bed until 10:00.  Oddly enough the clocks were moved forward thirty minutes last night as Newfoundland is one of the few places in the world that has a time zone with only a half hour difference.  Since our shore excursion was leaving at noon and we would not be getting lunch on our tour, we filled up on snacks at the Neptune Lounge and visited with some of the other suite guests until it was time to be off on our tour.

The name of our excursion was "On the Trail of Captain Cook" and we follow the path of some of his explorations up the Newfoundland coast.  There were two bus loads of us and we left just after noon.  Each bus did a slightly different schedule so there was not a large group of people getting off at any one stop.  Our guide was Glenda who was a lifelong resident of the area and she was both knowledgeable and entertaining.  The weather was quite cool and overcast when we started out, but we soon saw blue sky ahead and it turned into a beautiful day with blue skies and lots of sun.  The scenery was wonderful as we passed through many small fishing villages and made our way up the coast.  Here are a few pictures Val took from the bus.


We stopped at Little Port and had a chance to walk around and take some pictures of the beautiful terrain and fishing boats.   

We went on to another scenic area where we had time to hike around a bit and go down to the beach.  It was just a beautiful day with blue sky and the deep blue water.

Unfortunately, at this point things started to go wrong.  When we were all back on the bus, the driver was having trouble with some control on the bus and we were unable to go on.  The second bus had pulled up as this was where we crossed paths and we all loaded on to that bus with many of us standing in the aisles for a short drive down to the town of Lark Harbor to a local church where we waited for a new bus to be brought in.  The church was a planned stop anyway and the local church ladies prepared snacks and displayed their local crafts.  We ended up waiting for two hours until a replacement bus showed up and it turned out to be a school bus.  This delay meant we would miss the second half of our tour.  This was disappointing, but it was just one of those things that happen when you travel and you have to make the best of it.

There certainly could be worse places to be stuck in.

Patiently waiting for our bus.

Everyone was patient and made the best of it instead of complaining and criticizing, which made things easier for everyone.  I have to commend our guide who under a bad situation stayed calm and kept her sense of humor which certainly helped keep everyone happy.  We finally made it back to the ship late, but luckily since this was a ship’s excursion, they didn’t leave without us.  Despite it all, I think everyone had a good time and thanked our guide Glenda for all her effort when the tour ended.

Almost there, you can see our ship docked in Corner Brook.
Soon after we got on the ship, it cast off and headed for our next port.  We went up on deck and watched as we left Corner Brook and took a few pictures.

Open sea ahead.
After the ship left the harbor and not having had much to eat today, Val and I made our way to the Neptune Lounge for snacks.  We took it easy until dinner as we sailed through the islands and peninsulas of Newfoundland into the open seas.  We did our usual thing of dinner and the casino and then called it an early night as we have to be up early tomorrow.   

Val ponders the menu and decides what to eat tonight.
Tomorrow we’ll be in Red Bay, Labrador and we have an excursion that leaves at 7:30 so it’s an early morning for us.  Thankfully after tomorrow, three of the next four days will be sea days so hopefully we can catch our breath a bit as it seems like we have been continually in motion since we left home.  We ended the day with a late, but beautiful sunset.

Believe it or not, this photo has not been enhanced, the sunset was that intense.

Voyage of the Vikings Cruise - Cruise Day 4: Sydney, Nova Scotia

Today we had to get up at 7:00 and if that wasn’t bad enough, we had a time change last night and we lost an hour of sleep.  The ship was docked at 8:00 AM in Sydney, Nova Scotia and we wanted to be off the ship as soon as possible as we had rented a car for the day and wanted to make the most of it.  Our goal was to drive to Cape Breton Island and see as much as possible before we had to return the ship.

We sail into Sydney, Nova Scotia.
The town of Sydney.
After getting dressed and a quick breakfast in the Neptune Lounge, we were off the ship just after 8:00 and found the Avis shuttle waiting for us.  Getting the car went quickly and we were on our way out of Sydney by 8:45.  The weather was overcast with drizzle this morning, but at least it wasn’t cold.

Last year we went to a concert by Natalie MacMaster who lives on Cape Breton Island and during the concert she described and showed pictures and movies of the Island.  After seeing the photos of Cape Breton we really wanted to see the area and here we are today.  We won’t have nearly enough time to see very much, but hopefully this will prepare us for a return trip.  It took us about forty-five minutes to get from Sydney to the Englishtown Ferry that took us across the mouth of St. Ann's Bay to Cape Breton Island.  The ferry was kind of interesting as the channel was very narrow and the ferry went back and forth via a cable.  The whole journey took less than five minutes.

The Englishtown Ferry

Foggy weather greeted us as we drove up the Cape Breton Coast.
After crossing the channel, we headed up the coast, but the fog and overcast had deepened and we didn’t really see much.  As we went further up the coast and out of the highlands, the weather started to clear and it turned into a very nice day.  The area was not very commercialized and it seemed like there were mainly just small fishing villages.   

The northern part of Cape Breton is in Cape Breton Highlands National Park and it is a beautiful area.  We went as far north as we had time for, but turned back after visiting the fishing village of White Point.

As we drove back we stopped along the way to take some pictures, but as we neared the ferry, we put away our cameras and headed straight back to Sydney.  We didn’t want to take any chances on missing the ship as they will leave without you if you are not there.

We made it back in plenty of time so after getting gas, we looked for a store where we could buy a case of bottled water as it expensive to buy on the ship.  After stocking up on water we took the car back to the rental agency to drop it off.  The office was closed as expected so we dropped the key in the lock box, called a taxi and were soon back on the ship.

The Sydney and Cape Breton area is known for its music, which is symbolized by the giant fiddle in front of the cruise terminal.
This turned out to be a great day and my only regret is that we didn’t have more time.  One of the items on our travel wish list is to drive up through New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces and this trip is just whetting our appetite for that.  To squeeze as much time as possible out of the day we skipped lunch so the first thing we did after returning to the ship was to head to the Neptune Lounge for some snacks.  Thank goodness there is some sort of food available there all day as a makes a quick bite very easy and without the crowds of the Lido.

After getting settled back in, Val decided to take a nap so I rested for a while then worked on the blog.  I finally was able to publish what I had written for our train trip west, but didn’t use any pictures as I didn’t want to take time to edit them.  This trip has really been short on spare time so I’m beginning to question how much I’ll actually be able to publish before we return home.  After working on the blog I downloaded today’s pictures and backed those up and then read for a while.

It was soon time for dinner so we headed off to the dining room.  We made our usual trip to the casino after dinner, but after gambling for a while we decided to go to the show tonight.  The entertainers were Cassie and Maggie McDonald who performed Celtic music.  They came from Nova Scotia and were only on the ship for one night and we really enjoyed the show.  After the show we called it a night and returned to our room.  Tomorrow we have a ship’s excursion, but it doesn’t leave until noon, so we are looking forward to sleeping in and catching up on our sleep.

Voyage of the Vikings Cruise - Cruise Day 3: At Sea

WE slept in today and again had our breakfast in the Neptune Lounge.  Today was the Cruise Critic Roll Call Meet and Greet so after breakfast we headed off to that.  Cruise Critic is a web site devoted to cruising and has a number of forums with general tropics as well as some devoted to a particular cruise line.  They also have what they call roll calls, where people booked on the same cruise can communicate.  It allows you to get to know your fellow cruisers, plan private excursions for ports and just chat about the upcoming cruise.  We have planned several private tours with people from our roll call; yesterday in Bar Harbor was an example of that.

This was a very large roll call and over 160 people attended the meet and greet.  It was very well organized by roll call member Eddie and I have to say that he went above and beyond the call of duty.  There were name tags for everyone as well as a small gift.  The ship's Cruise Director and Hotel Manager showed up representing Holland America and overall it was a very nice meet and greet.

After the meet and greet we headed to the showroom to see a presentation by the ship’s location guide.  She talked about our upcoming Canadian ports and gave background information on each stop.  After that presentation, it was time for lunch so Val and I headed off to the Lido.  We got our lunches and found a place to sit down that turned out to be right next to some people we had met at the Meet and Greet earlier.  We had an interesting talk with them as they had traveled to many places in the world and had done the world cruise three times.

After lunch, Val was off to trivia which doesn’t interest me so I went back to the room to download our pictures from yesterday and work on the blog.  I have not posted any blog pages since we left and am trying to at least get the train trip portion published, but with so many ports, it’s difficult to get it done.

We had seen in the daily guide that one of the guest lecturers for the cruise was Tommie Sue Montgomery who had been on our Inca Empire cruise.  We really liked her and saw she was talking today on the US / Canada connection so when Val was through with trivia we went to that.  It was a good lecture and it was followed by a talk on the Boston Tea Party, but we were tired so decided to skip it and go back to the room for a nap.

Tonight is the first formal night (or Gala Night as the call it now) and we had reservations at the Pinnacle Grill which is the upscale restaurant on the ship.  There is usually a surcharge for the Pinnacle Grill, but our travel agent had paid for our dinner, which we were taking advantage of tonight; thank you Maureen.  It was an excellent dinner and we enjoyed all from the appetizers to the dessert.

After dinner it was back to the casino where I had a much better night and actually left with some of my daily allotment still in my pocket.  All in all, a good day, but we’re back in port tomorrow in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Voyage of the Vikings Cruise - Cruise Day 2: Bar Harbor, Maine

We weren’t due to arrive in Bar Harbor until 10:00 AM so we slept in and then went down to the Neptune Lounge to get some breakfast.  There are no docking facilities in Bar Harbor so today we had to tender in.  A couple from the Cruise Critic roll call arranged a private tour today and we are joining them for a tour of Acadia National Park and the surrounding area.  I didn’t realize this, but Bar Harbor is actually on an island connected to the mainland by a causeway.  The island is Mount Desert Island and is the second biggest island on the east coast.  Besides Bar Harbor, there are several other towns on the island.  Our guide told us that the population of Bar Harbor is 18,000 in the summer but drops to only 4,500 in the winter.

We sail into Bar Harbor, Maine.
We got on one of the first tenders (another suite perk) and were in Bar Harbor by 10:30.  The tour people were there to greet us, but our new friends from the roll call were not there so we waited for a while.  The weather was clear and beautiful and unusually warm for Maine, but not too hot to ruin the day.  We chatted with our guide Judy while we waited for Steve and Jan to show up.  They didn’t make it until 11:30 because of the long wait they had for the tenders.  We were finally underway.

We drove into the park and were shown the sights of the park by our guide.  We had a great time, but it was very crowded everywhere we went.  Acadia National Park was very nice, but it was not as spectacular as we thought it would be; I guess we are a little spoiled by the parks of the west.  The best season is the fall when the trees start to turn colors and I would like to return sometime to see that, it sounds spectacular.  The first place we went was up to the top of Cadillac Mountain which is the tallest mountain on the east coast of the US at 1530 feet.

The view of Bar Harbor and our ship from Cadillac Mountain.

We had plenty of company on top of the mountain.
After Cadillac Mountain we drove through the park and stopped at various viewing points.

It was a nice warm day and many were out enjoying the beach.

We left the park and visited some very beautiful botanical gardens that had an amazing array of flowers blooming; that’s not something we see in the summer in California.


Next we stopped at the Thuya Garden Preserve which was a very beautiful and peaceful place.  There were many paths that wound through the dense foliage and passed by small ponds and a stream.  There were many secluded and quiet places where you could sit and enjoy the nature around you.

It was getting to be mid-afternoon so we stopped for a late lunch at Beal's Lobster Pier.  Val and I had never had lobster in the shell so that was something we thought we had to do while we were in Maine so we ordered one hard shell and one soft shell lobster to share.  Lobster is not Val’s favorite, but she gamely tried it all and we managed to finish off both lobsters.  I really liked the soft shell lobster the best, but for the high cost and little meat you get, I will probably not be eating lobster on a regular basis.  Steve and Jan were from New Hampshire so they gave us pointers on how to peel away the shells and get to the meat.  It is a pretty messy experience, but we did enjoy and are glad we did it.

Before ...
and after.

By the time we finished our lunch it was time to head back to Bar Harbor and end our tour.  We were back by 5:00 and after walking around town for a little bit, we caught the tender back to the ship.  It was a very enjoyable day in Maine.

After boarding the ship, we spent the evening relaxing until it was time for dinner.  Next to our table there is another table for two and last night it was empty, but tonight there was a couple sitting there who we met and spent dinner talking with them.  They were Ken and Mary Beth from the Chicago area and were very nice.  It’s nice having a nearby table that’s close enough to have a conversation, but we still have the room of a table for two.

The ship left Bar Harbor at 8:00 so that meant the casino would be open when we finished dinner so after a good meal and good conversation, Val and I made our way to the casino.  My night’s allotment went quickly and I spent the rest of the evening watching Val.  Ultimately she lost all her money she had allotted for the night, but much slower than I did.  Tomorrow is a welcome sea day.