Category Archives: Exploring


Singapore, MAR 23 2024

We had one sea day before we reached Singapore. It was a busy day. We attended a Mariner’s Club brunch In the morning and a reception in the afternoon. I forgot to mention that between the two Vietnam ports we had a personal tour of the print shop. Each evening, the Daily Planner with the next day’s activities is delivered to each stateroom. This four page planner is delivered to approximately 850 cabins each evening. In addition, the daily breakfast, lunch and dinner menus must be printed along with any letters and announcements from guest services. This is all done by one, solitary man. We enjoyed meeting and talking with him. 

I also forgot to mention the Mariner’s Awards Ceremony we attended. Bill and I each received a bronze medal which was placed around our necks by the captain. Really not that big a deal since some passengers received silver, gold and platinum medals. These awards are given when you reach a certain number of sailing days with Holland America. 

We arrived in Singapore which was the end of our cruise. We were very sad to leave all the wonderful crew we had gotten to know so well. It was not farewell, but until we meet again. We certainly hope our paths will cross with them again someday.

Our Greeters in the Terminal

We were last in Singapore in 2020.  See this link: Singapore, JAN 15, 2020 What I remembered about Singapore was the incredible heat and humidity, how clean it is, and how strict the country is. They do not allow chewing gum, cigarettes and drugs to name a few forbidden items. I heard a crew member was fined $200 Singapore dollars because he forgot he had a pack of cigarettes in his pocket when he left the ship and went ashore. Our tour guide told us anyone caught with a certain amount of drugs was hung. I don’t know the quantity that led to this penalty. 

Before entering the country we had to fill out an online arrival card where we answered health questions and listed where we were staying and for how long. When we exited the ship we had to present our passport which was linked electronically to our arrival card. They also fingerprinted our thumb. 

Our travel agent had arranged for us, as well as two other passengers, to spend two nights in Singapore with a hotel and a guided tour. Like clockwork our guide was waiting for us after we collected our luggage and completed immigration. With a van and driver, we began our tour. 

First we went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The Gardens, made up of 202 acres, were founded in 1859 and is the only tropical botanical gardens on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It has three gardens but our guide only led us through the National Orchid Garden with 1,200 species and 2,000 hybrids. It was hot, but the heat would only get worse as the day progressed.

Named For Princess Diana

See more pictures of the orchid garden by selecting this link:

Next our guide took us on a whirlwind tour of Singapore. He had an itinerary to complete and he was determined to finish it, no matter how fast we had to move, how tired we became, or how miserably hot it was.

Swissôtel The Stamford, one of the tallest hotels

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Esplanade Concert Hall

200-year old building which was once home to Singapore’s first parliament.

St Andrew’s Cathedral, Anglican church

Merlion, statue with the body of a fish and a head of a lion.

Lunch brought us to Chinatown where we ate at a Chinese restaurant. The tour really moved too quickly and we would like to have had more time to look around Chinatown and Little India.

Sultan Mosque

Thian Hock Keng Temple

Sri Mariamman Temple, Hindu temple

Laughing Buddha

After lunch we were taken to our hotel, the Marriott Tang Plaza, where we had a little over three hours to rest up before part 2 of our tour.

At 6:00 P.M. we were picked up by a different guide and driver. This guide was more relaxed and easy going, more than willing to go at our speed.  We spent the evening at the Singapore Night Safari, the world’s first nocturnal wildlife park. With 99 acres, it has 2,500 animals.

First we had dinner at one of the restaurants inside the park. We then went to a wildlife show followed by a tram ride around the park.

Showing An Owl’s Head Turning

Racoon Opening A Big Jar

Our guide then took us on a walking tour in the park. It was unbelievably hot and humid. The park was nice but we much prefer going to these parks in the daytime when the animals are much easier to see. We got in some heavy traffic on the way back and arrived at the hotel at 11:30 P.M. We had been going since 6:00 A.M. that morning and had logged over six miles on our watches. 

See more pictures of the zoo by selecting this link:

We had the next day free so we relaxed, worked on blogs, and walked to a nearby shopping mall.

Sidewalk Traffic

Lucky Plaza

The next morning a driver picked us up at 3:00 A.M. for our trip to the airport for a 6:40 A.M. flight.

Beautiful Singapore Changi Airport.

It would take us 33 hours to get home on three flights; Singapore to Tokyo, Tokyo to Chicago and Chicago to Orlando. We found that jet lag from the twelve hour time difference to be pretty rough for several days when we arrived home.

Sunrise From The Plane

Flying Above The Clouds

With that, our trip has ended. We had a great time! We enjoyed every minute, despite the cold weather in Japan and China, the extreme heat in Brazil and Singapore, and the filthy Chinese bathrooms and difficult immigration officials. 

Next up: yet to be determined


Da Nang and Phu My, Vietnam, MAR 19 2024

We had one day at sea before our next sea port. It was St Patrick’s Day and the ship celebrated with cakes and decorations in the dining rooms.

We were thrilled that the weather was warming up considerably and we were once more able to enjoy our breakfast and lunch out by the Sea View pool each day. We were also enjoying very calm seas. No seasickness pills needed. 

With the weather getting hotter, we found 2 one gallon jugs of drinking water in our stateroom provided by the ship with a card warning us to stay hydrated.

Our next port of call was Da Nang, Vietnam.

See this link to Da Nang, Vietnam JAN 27, 2020. The shipping port is extremely busy and for that reason we were not allowed to walk anywhere in the area. Very understanding considering all the trucks and forklifts. Definitely not a picturesque port. We were last here in 2020 right before the pandemic. On that visit we had a nice excursion to the charming little city of Hoi An. See this link to Hoi An, Vietnam JAN 26, 2020. This time we didn’t see any excursions of interest and hoped the cruise ship or city would offer a shuttle bus into the city of Da Nang. The shuttle never materialized so we decided to stay on the ship. They did offer a golf cart to the port gate.

We were told outside the security gate some locals had set up tents with souvenirs and handicrafts for sale. We rode the golf cart to the drop off point, only to discover a large group of young men aggressively wanting us to take taxis into the city or take us on private tours. They were very insistent and refused to take no for an answer. We never saw any items for sale and quickly took the golf cart back to the ship. 

The ship celebrated Viet Nam with food and decorations.

We had a day at sea before reaching Phu My, our second Vietnam port. It is a deep water port and another busy shipping port. Ships docked here offer excursions to Hanoi. We did this in 2020 and remember the long bus ride to and from Hanoi. This time we found an excursion to the nearby town of Ba Ria. This is a rural area where many of the people have lived their lives the same way for generations, untouched by urban development. 

Our first stop was a Buddhist temple. The property itself is large and we were told 700 elderly homeless people live here and are cared for.

Here are some of the city scenes.

Wood Is Need For Many Small Businesses

Statues Cutting Beside The Road (Mother Mary)

Everything Carried By Motorbike

Nhà thờ Kim Hải Catholic Church

County Government Office

Next we visited the home of what the guide said was a local wealthy family. It was rather strange since it appeared to be more of a museum than a home someone lived in.

With the weather getting hotter by the minute, we stopped to see the process of making rice paper. We were all offered the chance to make rice paper, but it was so hot in the cramped space, none of us lasted longer than the time it took to take pictures.

Drying In The Sun

The Kitchen

We noticed that the same vendors that had been at the temple were at this location. Our guide told us the vendors knew the tour schedule and followed us during the day on motorbikes from one location to another. They figured they would wear us down by the end of the day and everyone would eventually buy something. They not only followed our schedule, but managed to beat the bus to each location!

Next we stopped at a distillery to learn how to make moonshine or rice wine. Once again it was dreadfully hot inside. We noticed black flies on the drying white rice. Certainly did not make us want us to drink the wine, and none was offered. However they did offer us fresh pineapple, bananas and bottles of drinking water.

We stopped along the side of the road at a rice field where we were given the opportunity to look at the rice up close. Too small for a clear picture.

We visited the Cao Dai temple. The Cao Dai religion was founded here in 1926. Within a year the group had 26,000 followers. By the mid 1950s, eight percent of the South Vietnamese were CaoDaist. It is a combination of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism and native Vietnamese spirits. The official symbol is the “divine eye”, an inset into the front of the temple above the altar.

Our last stop was at a local market with food and a bit of everything else. Similar to a mini Walmart. By this time we were too hot and tired to do any shopping.

One thing we have noticed is an increase in the number of cases of colds, coughs and bronchitis among the passengers and crew. The bronchitis is of greatest concern because it seems to be making the passengers the sickest. Some are blaming it on the fact it was so cold in Japan and China and then warmed up quickly in Hong Kong. Some are blaming it on the severe smog in China. Someone told us the ship doctor called it the “Chinese Crud”. One passenger was taken off the ship in Phu My by ambulance because the ship doctor said his lungs were full of fluid and he needed to be hospitalized.  Bill and I are fine and taking precautions. We brought plenty of cough drops and cough syrup on the ship. We gave them to some sick “neighbors” on our deck. We can always buy more in Singapore if needed. 

Next up: Singapore and the cruise ends


Hong Kong, MAR 16 2024

We arrived in Hong Kong on a very foggy morning. Visibility was practically zero. We were last here Hong Kong, FEB 1, 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. During that cruise, after Hong Kong our cruise ended unexpectedly.

Unlike last time, we did not get up early to see the sail into the harbor due to the fog. This time we were going to be in Hong Kong overnight. Like many of our ports, we were welcomed by local entertainers.

During our last visit to Hong Kong we took the Hop On Hop Off Bus around the island. This time we booked an excursion. We took a bus under the Victoria Harbour by tunnel and then the bus climbed a steep, winding road to a funicular.

The Peak Tram Entrance

We rode a funicular tram (1,300 feet) to The Peak Tower. The Peak Tower (1,376 feet above sea level) is Hong Kong’s highest viewing platform where on a clear day we would have had an exceptional view of Hong Kong. Due to the fog, we saw absolutely nothing. One passenger said she had been to Victoria’s Peak three times and had yet to have a clear view. But riding the funicular tram was fun!

The funicular began operating in 1888 and takes about 17,000 riders to six stations to the upper levels of Hong Kong Island. The tram was renovated and upgraded in 2022.

Posing With Benedict Cumberbatch

The excursion bus driver drove much too fast on the curvy road back down the mountain, leaving some passengers feeling queasy.

Sandy Public Beach

Our next stop was in Aberdeen, an area on the southwest side of Hong Kong where we took a sampan ride. A sampan is a small wooden boat normally propelled by oars. We had an enjoyable ride around the harbor.

An elderly lady maneuvered the boat.
Our last stop was at Stanley Market. This is a street market typical of traditional old open air markets in Hong Kong. It is a major tourist attraction known for bargains and haggling. We bought nothing.

Our second day in Hong Kong we thought about taking the Hop On Hop Off Bus again but it was another very foggy day. We decided to visit the garden on top of the huge cruise terminal beside our ship. How like Hong Kong to create a garden and walking area on top of the roof of a cruise terminal. We not only enjoyed the exercise but we also found two geocaches.

View Of The Cruise Terminal

We saw a group of children having a kindergarten graduation ceremony. In Asia the school year ends in March and the new school year begins in May.

During sail away the ship provides special music, snacks and drinks.

We Waited For the Cruise Ship Behind Us To Go First

The Pilot Pickup Boat

Next up: Da Nang, Vietnam

Shanghai, China PT 2 MAR 8 2024

The second day our excursion was Shanghai Old and New.

Today’s Guide Was Younger

We saw more of the new area and then went to People’s Square. A large square, it is the commercial, cultural and political hub of the city. Shangai’s municipal government headquarters building is located here.  This area was once a former colonial British horse racing course and a popular place for the Chinese and British for gambling on horse racing.

In the winter of 1986-1987, the park was the site of tens of thousands of protesters who demanded democracy and political changes. In 1989 there was the famous Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing and once again tens of thousands gathered here in support of the Beijing protesters.

We went over the Nanpu Bridge.

All The Best Cars: BMW, Telsa, Mercedes

Bicycles and Scooters have their Own Lanes

Armored Truck Being Loaded

We drove through French Town or French Concession, is an area in Shanghai that the French government ruled from 1849 to 1946.  It continues to be a popular and sought after residential area. Huaihai Road in the area is one of the busiest shopping areas in Shanghai with many expensive designer stores. 

Here are some of the photos we took from the bus.

Bicycles and Scooters at the Train Station

A Few Phone Booths

Next up: Dalian, China 

Shanghai, China PT 1 MAR 7 2024

After a day at sea, we arrived at Shanghai, China for an overnight stay, giving us two  days to explore. There would not be any independent exploring here. We did not have a visa so we could only leave the ship if we were on a Holland America excursion. Fine with us. We had no desire to go off in our own in China. These are early morning photos before we docked.

Fog or Maybe Smog?

With 9,010 miles of coastline, China has a population of over 1,409 billion. Shanghai has a population of over 24 million making it the second largest city in China. Shanghai has the largest seaport in the world. Chopsticks were invented here 5,000 years ago.

Some interesting facts given us by our tour guides:

  • Country’s biggest problem is how to feed over a billion people
  • Two generations ago, Chinese families were very large. Our generation was limited to one child. Now that the birthrate is shrinking and is at minus one, the government is encouraging young people today to have more than one child and give the parents monetary supplements for additional children. 
  • Current problem is young people today do not want to marry and have children. They know life is very hard if you marry and have children to be responsible for. They have to work harder to get a bigger apartment, pay for schooling, etc. They want an easier life with less responsibilities and more time to relax and be with friends.

Security was tight getting off the ship with Chinese officials checking our passports at two different checkpoints as well as scanning bags twice we were taking off the ship. On the first day we took an excursion that including a short train ride and tour of Shanghai. Our guide was a young, energetic guide who spoke good English with a heavy accent.

Unique Buildings Everywhere

The first stop was at the Maglev Longyang Road Station to ride a Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) train. The Shanghai Maglev is the world’s first commercial high speed maglev with a maximum cruising speed of 186 mph. The line uses German Transrapid technology. The driverless powerful electromagnetic train floats on an electromagnetic cushion over guideways using the basic principles of magnets to replace the old steel wheel and train tracks. The trains can reach high speeds because there no rail friction. The trains float, rarely if ever touch a track. As we turned corners there was definitely a feeling of flying. There is less noise and vibration than a train on a track which also means fewer mechanical breakdowns or weather related delays.

We rode the train round trip from the Longyang Road Station to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

We Whizzed By this Church

The 19 mile mile trip takes eight minutes and ten seconds each way. We rode one way, waited about ten minutes on the train, and then rode back to our starting point. Think of all the road traffic jams we avoided. We know it well because our ship is located 17 miles from the city center and it is an hour bus trip ride from the ship, more time in heavy traffic. 

After that exciting ride we went to the new area of Shanghai, the Pudong area. We saw the Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower. Completed in 1994, it was the world’s first steel antenna. At 1,535 feet, it is the fourth tallest in Asia and sixth in the world.

The Jin Mao Tower is an 88 story building and is the third tallest skyscraper in Shanghai. It was completed in 2001 and is 88 stories because the Chinese think the number 8 is lucky and symbolizes wealth. So a building 88 stories high would be doubly lucky and bring wealth. The design blends modern and traditional technology. We rode a large elevator to the observation deck on the 88th floor. The ride took 45 seconds and we could feel the fast ascent in our ears. There was a great view of the “Bund” or waterfront area and Huangpu River which surrounds the financial district.

Well, the view was great except for the smog. The captain had told everyone that he received a poor air quality alert for Shanghai. The smog was not that noticeable until we were at a high level.

Shanghai Tower, The Tallest

You can pay to walk around on the outside ledge of the tower. None of us took them up on the offer. The Jin Mao Tower also contains a shopping mall, offices and the Grand Hyatt Shanghai hotel.

Looking Down into The Hollow Area of the Hyatt Hotel

We had time to go to a bank on the third floor to use the ATM and get some Chinese yuan. 

Along the Jin Mao Tower is the 128 story Shanghai Tower, the tallest in Shanghai, this area has the world’s first trio of adjacent super tall skyscrapers.

Next up: more Shanghai

Kobe, Japan PT 2 MAR 3 2024

On day two in Kobe we had a great excursion with an excellent guide that took us to several places in nearby Kyoto. Kyoto, about an hour drive from Kobe, was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years from 794 to 1868. First up was the Heian Shrine, listed as an important cultural property in Japan. Built in 1895 the shrine property has a Tori gate, main gate, castle, garden and a lake, to resemble the 11th and 12th century design periods. In 1976 several buildings were destroyed by fire and rebuilt. We have learned in Japan, over thousands of years, many shrines and temples were destroyed by fire, earthquakes or bombing during WW2.

We enjoyed walking around the grounds, though at 35 degrees, it was cold.

A tree was full of white strips of paper tied to the tree. The wish tree has good fortunes tied on the tree to bring good luck. Another example of Japanese superstitions.

In the garden we came across a happy couple having wedding photos taken.

Next we went to Nijo-jo Castle. Built in 1626, this is from the feudal period and was the home of Tokugawa shoguns. It was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1867 and rebuilt in 1893.  What makes the castle unique are the nightingale floors as they are known in Japan. They are a type of floor that makes a squeaking, chirping noise like nightingales when walked on. These floors were built for security so the shogun would hear if anyone came into the castle.

Before entering the castle for a tour we had to take off our shoes while walking on the floors.

Even with socks on our feet were freezing and we couldn’t feel our toes by the end of the tour. We did hear the floors chirping. I did not see the “no photos” sign so I was in the process of taking my first picture when a guard walked up behind me and loudly said, “No photos!!” Almost gave me a heart attack. Here is that picture.

Time for lunch. We were taken to a very nice Japanese restaurant located in a high end hotel. Each place setting had a bento box which is the Japanese version of a boxed lunch. Very nicely done. It included soup, sticky rice, tofu, shrimp, a sweet potato cake and salmon. Chopsticks and forks were provided. Lucky Bill enjoyed his lunch and mine!

Japanese Has Small Vehicles

Our final destination was the beautiful Kinkaku-ju Temple, also known as The Golden Pavillion. Several people on the cruise ship who had been to Koyoto before, said this was their favorite place. It did not disappoint. It is a Zen Buddhist temple that at one time was a family villa. Built in 1397 as a shogun palace, it later became a temple. The pavillion burned down in 1950 and was rebuilt in 1955. It is a three story building with the top two stories covered with pure gold leaf.

Picture of Their Interior Picture

We were not allowed to go inside. A one way path for tourists led past the temple. Our guide told us the guards would not allow people to go part way and then turn around and walk back. The problem was 100 steps that had to be navigated on the one way path. It turns out the steps were not too bad. I hope people didn’t decide not to go because of the steps. It is such a beautiful place, it is a shame they don’t make it accessible for people with mobility issues. There were lots of tourists there but it was not crowded.

Three young Japanese girls were visiting in traditional dress. We asked if we could take their picture and they gladly agreed.

It was a long day with an hour ride back to the ship, but a very enjoyable day. Back at the ship, it was very close to the time the ship was leaving. We had to go through Japanese immigration again (we had to do this every time we left or came back to the ship while in every Japanese port). As we were walking toward the ship we heard a band playing. We were so surprised to see a band and a crowd of people at the top of the cruise terminal with banners and flags to see us off.

On the ship, passengers had crowded all the decks and balconies to wave goodbye. It was quite a party with the crew passing out drinks, appetitizers and blankets for warmth. We quickly joined the crowd. As the band played “Anchors Away”, the people released pink and green balloons and waved goodbye to us. Wow! What a send off. Thank you, Kobe!!

When we got back to our cabin, we had another nice surprise. An invitation had been placed in our cabin mailbox. A coveted invitation for a tour of The Ship’s Bridge, which is where all the ship’s navigation takes place. Bill has been wanting to do this for a long time. We were under the impression tours had been stopped years ago for security reasons. Bill was thrilled. Can’t wait! 

Next up:  The last Japanese port, scenic cruising and a tour of “The Ship’s Bridge” 

Kobe, Japan PT 1 MAR 2 2024

In the last blog I mentioned the captain hinted that bad weather might prevent us from docking at Omaezaki, Japan. Did we get there? The answer is no. The seas were very rough during the night with the wind howling continuously. There is something spooky about a dark night with howling winds. 

The next morning we were not surprised when morning arrived and the captain announced the port was canceled. It was too rough for the pilot boat to bring the local pilot to join the ship, and local regulations required a regional pilot onboard when docking. The port was closed. 

The captain had an unexpected sea day so he slowed the ship down to a scenic cruising speed. A couple hours later we were sitting inside on the upper deck when Bill suddenly saw Mt Fuji. Until now it had been clouded in, but there it was in all its glory. We headed to the open aft deck to take pictures. Just then an announcement was made and everyone headed outside. It was like a big party with people taking pictures, selfies and exclaiming over Mt Fuji’s beauty. Disappointment over the missed port was quickly forgotten.

The rough seas continued all day. At one point we went down to deck two where people were standing in front of the large windows, memorized by the huge waves right outside the windows. We tried to get pictures, but it was too difficult to get a perspective through the glass. I walked through the indoor pool area. There is a retractable roof that slides open when the weather is warm and sunny. Today the roof was closed and it was making a very loud combination of a squeal and bang as the roof flexed in the rough seas. 

At bedtime I told Bill I was physically tired from trying to stay upright all day. It seemed like whatever direction I wanted to move, the ship pushed me in the opposite direction. But neither of us were seasick, and for that we were very grateful. 

The next day we arrived at Kobe, Japan. Even though it was very cold, it turned out to be our favorite Japanese port.

As we arrived in the harbor, a fire boat met us and put on a welcoming water display with changing colors.

Kobe has a population of 1.5 million, making it the seventh largest city and third largest port city in Japan. Several companies such as Eli Lilly, Proctor and Gamble and Nestlé have their Asian or Japanese headquarters in Kobe. It is also famous for a very expensive beef called “Kobe beef”. The beef comes from Japanese Black cattle and is known as a delicacy because of its flavor, tenderness and fatty, well marbled texture. It has only been exported since 2012.

The ship was scheduled to stay overnight in Kobe which gave us two full days to explore. We had an excursion booked for the second day but decided to explore on our own the first day. Bill found a Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios located in the nearby city of Osaka. The Kobe Port Authority provided a well-staffed information center at the port terminal. We asked the friendly, helpful staff the easiest way to get from Kobe to Osaka. No problem. Just take the monorail from the port to the train station and then take three trains to Universal Studios Osaka. Bill was confident we could figure it out, so off we went.

Buying tickets for the monorail and trains was easy since they had a button for English instructions and we had plenty of Japanese yen. The hardest thing was trying to figure out which platform each train left from since everything here was in Japanese only. We only needed to ask for help a couple times. They have guard rails that come up and down to stop people.

They also have floor instructions to control the flow onto and off of the trains.

The third train let us out right at Universal Studios where many stores and restaurants were located, including the Hard Rock Cafe. Fortunately, everything was outside the entrance to Universal Studios, so we didn’t have to pay to go in.

We bought Bill a shirt, had lunch nearby and reversed directions back to the ship with the three trains and the monorail. The biggest problem was it was just so cold. We stopped at an outside mall before getting back on the monorail but it was so cold we gave up.

Our appetizer of hot French Onion soup for dinner that night was especially tasty and warmed us up. 

After dinner the city put on fireworks display, we could see from the outer decks of the starboard side of the ship. It was very cold, but the always thoughtful crew were outside handing out deck blankets to drape around us for warmth.

Next up: Kobe part 2

Ishigaki, Japan FEB 23 2024

After three rough days at sea, we arrived at our first Japanese port, the island of Ishigaki. The island is located surprisingly close to Taiwan. 

Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands of which 416 are inhabited. It has 18,486 miles of coastline. It has four writing systems and the main language is Japanese. The currency is the Japanese yen. Ishigaki has a population of 48,000 and is 86 square miles in size.

We decided not to take an excursion but instead explore on our own. We were very pleased to find that Ishigaki provided free shuttle bus service from the port into town.  A very nice, large, clean bus.

First we had to have a face to face meeting with the Japanese immigration authorities on the ship and turn in our declaration forms. We received stamps in our passports and colored stickers on our ship cards and we were then free to go off the ship. After stepping off the ship we once again had to show our passports and ship cards to more Japanese officials in the terminal. They also had people standing with large signs with pictures of all the things we could not take off the ship including meat, vegetables and fruit. No way people could later say they didn’t know the rules. Some people try to take fruit and sandwiches off the ship from the buffet area to snack on. It is prohibited in all ports but usually they get away with it. In Japan they do random checks of bags taken off the ship. We were all warned if caught, you face a very large fine and even the ship can be fined.

The ship always provides us with a map of the area which also shows the location of the ship, how to say “Take me back to the ship” in the local language, and the ship’s emergency phone number. 

We had studied the map and selected a few places within easy walking distance. It was the Emperor’s birthday, a big holiday in Japan. Some things were closed such as banks. We had a little trouble finding an ATM that would work with our bank cards so we could get some Japanese currency. We could have gotten it on the ship but knew the exchange rate was better off the ship. We finally found an ATM that worked, most machines appear to be for local bank accounts.

We enjoyed the sights walking through town. Throughout Japan you will find “shisas” on rooftops and entrance ways of homes and businesses. It is believed they protect you from evil. The left shisa has a closed mouth and the right shisa an open mouth. The open mouth wards off evil spirits and the closed mouth keeps good spirits in.

We visited the Tourinji Temple and Gongendo Shrine. The original was built in 1614 and was washed away in a tsunami in 1771.  It was then rebuilt and has been restored several times.

Inside the Closed Temple

Gongendo Shrine


It is always interesting to walk in a food market and compare it with what we have back home.

The Euglena Mall was a fun, colorful place to walk through.

We caught the shuttle bus back to the port where an official boarded the bus to check our passports and ship cards. Once in the terminal there were more Japanese officials to once again carefully check our passports and ship cards to be sure the names matched.

Next up: Okinawa, Japan

Oahu Hawaii FEB 8 2024

After another rough night sailing from the Big Island to the island of Oahu, we arrived at the port in Honolulu in the early morning. We were welcomed with a beautiful rainbow.

Our goal today was to take the city bus from the port to Waikiki Beach to get Bill a shirt at Hard Rock Cafe. We then wandered around the area looking for a food truck on the beach that had garlic shrimp. When we were on Oahu in 2014 we found a roadside stand on the North Shore of the island that had the best garlic shrimp that Bill had ever tasted.  Unfortunately this time around, we didn’t find any garlic shrimp on Waikiki. To show you how wonderful the crew of Holland America are, that evening on the ship one of the chefs stopped by our table. He asked how our day in Honolulu had gone. Bill casually mentioned that he was disappointed he never found any garlic shrimp. The chef immediately pulled out his notebook and made a note to have garlic shrimp especially made for Bill the next night. He said just tell the waiter. Sure enough, the next evening Bill told our waiter, and sure enough the garlic shrimp was prepared for him. How nice is that!

We had a great view of Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach and even from the ship.

In 2014 we rented a car and spent a week on the island of Oahu. The following pictures are from that visit.

Houses are built everywhere

Houses are built everywhere

Diamond Head is the most recognized landmark in Oahu.  The actual name of the volcano is Le’ahi.  It is believed to have been formed about 300,000 years ago during a single brief eruption.  The broad crater covers 350 acres with its width being greater than its height.  The southwestern rim is highest because winds were blowing ash in this direction during the eruption.  Since the eruption the slopes of the crater have been eroded and weathered by wind, rain, and the pounding sea.

Diamond Head got its nickname because in the late 1700’s, Western explorers and traders visited Le’ahi and mistook the calcite crystals in the rocks on the slope of the crater for diamonds.  Imagine their disappointment when they discovered it was not diamonds!  Because of its panoramic view, Diamond Head has been used over the years as a site for coastal defense. Most pictures of Waikiki will have Diamond Head in the background.IMG_3223


Kalaniana'Ole Highway

Kalaniana’Ole Highway

Halona Blowhole

Halona Blowhole

Eastern shore

Eastern shore


Puu Ualakaa State Wayside Park is on a cinder cone with a breathtaking sweeping view of downtown Honolulu and Diamond Head.  IMG_3228

Overlook of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki Beach hotels

Overlook of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki Beach hotels

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is otherwise known as the Punchbowl.  The cemetery is located in the Punchbowl Crater, an extinct volcanic tuff cone that was formed 75,000 to 100,000 years ago.  The Hawaiian name is Puowaina which means “Hill of Sacrifice” because the area was first used as an altar where Hawaiians offered human sacrifices to pagan gods.  In 1948 Congress approved funding to make it a national cemetery as a permanent burial site for the remains of thousands of World War II servicemen.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

It is a very lovely, peaceful setting with beautiful views of Honolulu and Diamond Head.

How does one even begin to write about Pearl Harbor, such a hallowed place? The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the sunken hull and honors the 1,177 crewmen who died.  The memorial was dedicated in 1962 and the hull is a tomb for over 900 sailors who died inside. IMG_3242

Display of what the USS Arizona looks like underwater

Display of what the USS Arizona looks like underwater

The names of all those who died are on a wall inside the memorial

The names of all those who died are on a wall inside the memorial

Some survivors later chose to be buried inside the memorial

Some survivors later chose to be buried inside the memorial

Also nearby is the USS Oklahoma honoring 429 sailors who died when the ship capsized, as well as the visible hull of the USS Utah Memorial commemorating its 58 dead.

The ships in red were sank during the attack

The ships in red were sank during the attack

Bill took a tour of the Battleship Missouri Memorial which was docked nearby.  The USS Missouri was launched on January 29, 1944, and is the last U.S. battleship ever built.  She is three football fields long and towers over twenty stories tall.  Most importantly, after joining the battle of Okinawa, she became the site of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.IMG_3244 IMG_3253 IMG_3254 IMG_3255 IMG_3258 IMG_3259 IMG_3262IMG_3260

The attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,400 people and sank or damaged 21 vessels and 323 military planes.

The North Shore area of Oahu is made up of beautiful beaches with dramatic mountains  towering above the shore.  This area is famous for its “pipeline” waves, the massive waves you see at the beginning of the tv show “Hawaii 5-0”.  It is a surfers paradise.  We saw larger waves than we had seen on other parts of the island, but the massive pipeline waves usually occur during the winter months.IMG_3396 IMG_3402

Turtle Beach with no turtles

Turtle Beach with no turtles

Watching the world go by

Watching the world go by

Nuuanu Pali State Wayside Overlook which at an elevation of 1,200 feet had amazing views of Oahu from a stone terrace on the edge of cliffs.  The Hawaiian word “pali” means cliff.  This area is of historical importance to the Hawaiian people because on these cliffs in 1795 is where King Kamehameha won a battle that united Oahu under his rule.  The battle was fierce and during the battle hundreds of soldiers lost their lives, including some who were forced off the edge of the sheer cliffs.

Impressive view of windward O'ahu from Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation

Impressive view of windward O’ahu from Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation

A view of Waimea Valley and the northern shoreline from the Puu O Mahuka Heiau on O’ahu

King Kamehameha the first

King Kamehameha the first

The statue is of King Kamehameha the Great (1756-1819), perhaps Hawaii’s greatest historical figure.  There are four statues of the King; this one in downtown Honolulu, on the Big Island at his birthplace, another in Hilo, and in Washington, DC.

We sailed out of Honolulu at 11:00 PM, so no whale watching on our last sail away in Hawaii.

Next up: eight days at sea as we sail towards Guam, including crossing the International Date Line. What day is it????


Hilo Hawaii FEB 7 2024

As we sailed around The Big Island to get from Kona to Hilo, the rough waters continued throughout the night.

At 7:00 A.M. we were luck to see this fat rainbow and the nearby mountain appeared red in the early morning light.

In 2014 we rented a car and drove around the Big Island, including visiting Hilo. Many of these pictures are from that trip. We decided not to pay for an excursion on the cruise since we had already visited most of the places.

Widescreen view of Akaka Falls, 422 feet tall

Hilo is known as Hawaii’s Little Big City and is nestled on the slopes of three volcanoes. It has a population of around 41,000.  It is one of the wettest towns in the United States.  The University of Hawaii has a campus there as well as on other islands.  Hilo was hit by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960.  

We love the huge, lovely trees called Monkeypod we noticed around the town of Hilo.

The Monkeypod trees look like large umbrellas

The Monkeypod trees look like large umbrellas

Rainbow Falls usually make rainbows in the morning hours

Rainbow Falls usually make rainbows in the morning hours

There is a lighthouse on the easternmost point of the state of Hawaii called Cape Kumukahi.  Since this is where the sun first shines in Hawaii every day of every year, it is of spiritual importance to native Hawaiians.  In 1960 Kilauea erupted, destroying a town near the lighthouse and crops nearby.  Just as it appeared the lighthouse would be engulfed by the lava, it split into two streams and flowed into the sea on either side, sparing the structure.  People were amazed by this phenomenon and felt it was a message from the god Pele telling them of the lighthouse’s importance to the people.

This Cape Kumukahi lighhouse was saved in 1960 when the lava flow split and went around the lighhouse fence

This Cape Kumukahi lighhouse was saved on 1960 when the lava flow split and went around the lighhouse fence

Here is the height of the 1960 lava flow next to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse

Here is the height of the 1960 lava flow next to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse


Volcanoes National Park was established in 1916 and became a World Heritage Site in 1987.  The Big Island is the largest and the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, home to the world’s most active volcanoes, and this park is a good example of why and how this is true.  The overcast sky is due to increases in gasses called “volcanic smog”, also called “vog”.  This vog blows west towards Kona during trade wind weather. The park is 33,000 acres of lava land on the slopes of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest mountain by volume and the world’s tallest when measured from the ocean floor.  Five volcanoes make up the Big Island. 

Mauna Loa is not only 56,000 feet above the ocean floor but also has a large volume.

Kilauea is a relatively young volcano estimated to be 600,000 years old and first erupted 2,500 years ago.

Kilauea Crater leaks lava through its top and side rift zones

Kilauea Crater leaks lava through its top and side rift zones

Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume at the summit of Kilauea Crater/Volcano

Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume at the summit of Kilauea Crater/Volcano

The newest Hawaiian island, already named Loihi, is being created 22 miles offshore from volcanic activity growing on the ocean floor.  It will be thousands of years before the new island emerges, so don’t let anyone try to sell you a cheap condo there!

Night view of Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume

Night view of Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume

Thurston Lava Tube is a 500 year old massive lava cave.  It was an easy walk through the well lighted cave.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Kilauea Iki Crater created in 1959

Kilauea Iki Crater created in 1959

Kilauea Iki Crater with Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume in the distance

Kilauea Iki Crater with Halemaumau Crater emitting gas plume in the distance

Pauahi Crater

Pauahi Crater

Younger lava flows are dark

Younger lava flows are dark

Some of the newest coastline looks like this

Some of the newest coastline looks like this

Sea arch within the Volcanoes NP

Sea arch within the Volcanoes NP

The port is located in an industral area, not very attractive and not convenient to the city.

View of Hilo from the Ship

These are pictures we took of the city and breakwater that protects the harbor.

Once again as we sailed away from Hilo, whales were spotted off the back of the ship and they put on quite a show. Everytime one was spotted the crowd would cheer, making for a very fun, festive atmosphere.

Next up: Island of Oahu and Honolulu