Category Archives: Historic Landmark

Historic Landmark

The Great Wall of China, MAR 11 2024

We arrived at the port of Tianjin, China for an overnight stay. The cruise terminal is 110 miles from Beijing, China.

The first day we booked an excursion to The Great Wall, outside of Beijing. We knew when we booked the tour that it was a three and a half hour bus ride each way. But we also knew this was our chance to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We had to bite the bullet and endure the ride. 

But first, a delay getting off the ship. Chinese regulations require cruise ships to use their gangway. Problem was their gangway had an electrical problem and they had to wait for a mechanic to arrive. As time passed and tour buses waited, they refused to allow Holland America to use their own gangway. As you can see in this photo the wheels are pointed in opposite directions to what was needed.

Then Chinese officials had to come onboard to clear the ship. Their rigid, strict regulations meant this took longer than most clearances in other countries. This is also the first port that had a strict overnight curfew that required the gangway to be dismantled at night. During the hours of 11:00 P.M. and 5:30 A.M., no passengers or crew would be allowed to enter or exit the ship. This was important because we were staying in the port and some people taking private tours could arrive back late.

Finally we were on our way. Near the Cruise Terminal is many apartment complexes that were built for people to move to, but our guide said people don’t like it because there is no restaurants or other normal city amenities.

Many Workers in China Use Branches to Sweep

Don’t Throw Banana Peels

If you ever wondered where some of the shipping containers come from, we think we found the factory that makes them.

Brand New Empty Shipping Containers

They Are Waiting To Be Delivered To The Owner Companies

We would pass around Beijing along our route. There were twenty Holland America buses on the road, some going to the Great Wall and others headed to Beijing for a tour of the capital city. As we reached a police checkpoint, we were pulled over. We could see the other Holland America buses had already been stopped and more followed behind us. Our tour guide got off and we waited an hour before our guide came back onboard and said the police wanted to see our passports. Evidently in Beijing they were having the second session of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and therefore security was very tight. The ship had everyone’s passports, so we gave him our passport copy with the official immigration stamp their immigration officials on the ship had given us. The police didn’t seem to know what to do with these passport copies given to us by their own officials. A supervisor had to be called. After another 30 minute wait we were wondering if we needed to call the ship’s emergency number for help, but just then our guide came back with our passport copies and we were again on our way But this delay of 90 minutes made an already long trip even longer.

Very Large Windturbines

We Saw two Power Plants

This Very Tall Building is in Beijing City Center

After what felt like an endless ride, we arrived at The Great Wall of China, 31 miles from central Beijing. This section of the wall is located at Juyong Pass, a mountain pass. The Great Wall is a series of fortifications built across the northern border of China as military protection against nomadic groups such as the Mongolians. It is not really a wall but a series of fortifications. The total length was 13,171 miles, making it the longest man made structure in the world and half the length of the Equator! The height ranged from 20 to 23 feet with the highest being 46 feet. The average width was a little over 21 feet. The construction lasted over 2,300 years from 680 BC to 1681 AD during more than nine dynasties. More than 1,000,000 laborers built the wall. Of the Seven Wonders of the World, it the largest and took the longest to build. Due to natural erosion, earthquakes and other natural disasters and human activity, only 10% is still standing today and 30% has vanished with no trace. The part that we visited, and the parts seen on television and those that tourists see, was rebuilt in modern times.

The Cloud Platform at Juyongguan is a mid-14th-century architectural that was repaired in 1961.

Cloud Platform

We had a little less than two hours here. In an attempt to make up for the late arrival due to the police checkpoint, our guide bought each of us a Snickers bar to snack on before our walk. Nice of him since what happened was not his fault and out of his control. The guide warned us several times about the steep, unlevel steps of varying heights. He told us many people fall here, especially going down the steps. We had our walking sticks with us and we took his warning very seriously. The last thing we wanted was to get hurt and end up in a Chinese hospital! I did not walk up as far as Bill. Our guide told us we were very lucky as there were not big crowds of people today. The Great Wall has 50 million visitors a year.

After leaving the Wall we went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. A very late lunch since it was 3:30 instead of the planned 12:30.  We were seated at tables of ten with a Lazy Susan in the middle of the table with many beef, chicken and fish dishes, as well as soup. We were given the choice of water, Coke or beer. Dessert was orange slices.

The restaurant was part of a large jade store, so of course after lunch they wanted to show everyone their large collection of expensive pieces of jade for sale. 

With the three and and a half ride back to the ship, lengthened by rush hour traffic, most buses arrived back at the ship three hours later than expected. It was 9:30 P.M. and everyone was tired and hungry. Usually the dining room and buffet closes at 9:00 P.M. and we wondered what we would find to eat. Imagine our surprise and joy when we found the buffet open with a full menu and service. The ship knew we would be arriving late and rearranged the buffet schedule. How nice! On mornings when excursions are leaving very early, they open the buffet at 5:00 A.M. rather than 6:30 A.M.. It means the cooks and servers need to get up at 3:00 A.M. to have everything ready. And yet, they always have a smile on their faces. 

What a day! 

Next up: Visiting Tianjin and Bill almost gets hurt

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

Saipan, Mariana Islands, FEB 19 2024

Overnight we sailed from Guam to the nearby island of Saipan, the largest island in the northern Mariana Islands. The island was formed millions of years ago by an underwater volcano. The island, has a population of 44,000, is 12 miles by 5 miles. 

Saipan has been under Spanish rule, German rule, Japanese rule and then after WW2 it was put in a United Nations Trust to determine its fate. Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands have been a commonwealth of the United States since the 1980’s.

Hyatt Regency

We were told Saipan is only visited by three cruise ships a year! We were greeted by dancing ladies welcoming us to the island.

The water was several gorgeous shades of blue.

We decided to take a Holland American excursion to learn more about what happened there during WW2.  The Battle of Saipan from June 15 to July 9, 1944 was one of the major battles of WW2.  The United States Marines and United States Army landed on the beaches on the southwestern side of the island and engaged in heavy fighting with the Japanese for more than three weeks before capturing the island. The American casualty was 3,426 with 10,364 wounded. The Japanese casualties were 27,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilians, including 1,000 who jumped from “Suicide Cliff” rather than being taken prisoner. 

With the takeover of Saipan, the United States military was only 1,300 miles from the Japanese islands, striking distance for the United States’ B-29 bombers. The loss of Saipan was a big blow to the Japanese military, forcing the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister. 

Visible from Saipan is the island of Tinian where the US Navy had shipped the atomic bombs. The Enola Gay B-29 bomber plane took off on August 6, 1945 carrying the atomic bomb to Hiroshima, Japan.

View of Tinian Island

Our tour guide was a native Chamorro. He gave us some background on the island. At one time it was a popular place for Japanese tourists to vacation and shop. It changed some time ago as Guam became the favored destination and Saipan has fallen on hard times. At one time a huge casino was built and now stands deserted. The roads were obviously in need of repair and our guide remarked they have been waiting over 20 years for infrastructure funding. In 2018, Saipan was devastated by one of the strongest hurricane/typhoons ever to hit the island . The island sustained widespread damage and is still struggling to recover. We saw tent structures sent by the United States that are being used as schools.

Typical House

Our guide took us to several WW2 sites. First up was a former Japanese jail. Built between 1929 and 1930, it was originally surrounded by a security fence and later a concrete wall.  During WW2, two U.S. pilots were held and died here. Some people believe Amelia Earhart was held here in 1937 when she disappeared on her round the world flight. From what I have previously read, I don’t believe Earhart was ever here.

We stopped at one of the beaches where we could see the remains of American tanks in the water destroyed during the battles.

A Pillbox or Concrete Guard-post

Tank in the Water


In the distance were two unmarked US ships that our guide said were supply ships stationed with supplies in case they are quickly needed in the Pacific region.

Our guide showed us a traditional Chamorro paddling canoe he is helping to build under a large thatched structure. When finished it will be able to hold eight or more people with supplies to travel to other islands.

All around Saipan are reminders of Japan’s air power. Massive concrete vaults were used as bunkers for Japan’s aerial bombs and as air raid shelters.

In the fields are old, rusted remains of tanks.

Underground Bomb Storage

The bus took us to the Saipan airport to use the bathroom facilities. First time that has ever happened on an excursion! The men and women bathrooms were accessed from outside the main terminal building and were very clean and well supplied.

Our final stop of the day was at the American Memorial Park Visitors Center. The park is run by the National Park Service. We found out when talking to one of the rangers that they are usually closed on Monday but they opened today just for the cruise ship passengers. We thanked her for their cooperation and thoughtfulness.

When we arrived back at the pier, once again security boarded the bus to check our ship cards. They even opened and inspected the lower bus compartments.

Since it was close to the time for the ship to depart, another group of Saipan performers had already arrived to give a farewell performance. This time the group included some precious children. After the performance ended they waited until the ship pulled away from the dock so the children could wave to all those gathered at the deck railings and balconies.

The captain mentioned later in his departure announcement that the governor of Saipan deeply appreciated our visit and said Saipan is working hard to bring tourism back to the island. 

Next up : Three days at sea and Ishigaki, our first Japanese port

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????


Kona Hawaii FEB 6 2024

We had six sea days between Mexico and Hawaii. Everyone was kept busy attending lectures on the history, animals, sea life, etc of Hawaii. Also available were lessons on making leis and learning to hula dance. 

The days would have been very pleasant except for the gale force winds and rough seas on days 4, 5 and 6. The Captain had warned us of 17 foot sea swells, common in the Pacific Ocean during the winter. It was so windy we could barely get our balcony door open. The rolling of the ship was constant and relentless. 

One morning the Cruise Director’s “Coffee Talk” was with the Captain. For thirty minutes he answered questions from the audience. He has a quick wit and is very open with the passengers. They put a box at Guest Services for people to submit additional questions and he promised to answer one or two questions each day during his noon commentary.

When we boarded the ship back in January, Holland America took our passports to hold. We were now required to have a face to face meeting with immigration officials at our first port in Hawaii. This requirement was because we had been out of the country since leaving Fort Lauderdale on January 3rd.  We picked up our passports and met with an immigration official at our assigned time.  As we filed through the line, the immigration official barely glanced at our passports. Obviously just a formality.

Two of our Hawaiian ports is on The Big Island, with the first being the town of Kona. The Big Island is really an island of contrasts with Kona on one side and Hilo on the other.  Kona is a major beach resort area with less than ten inches of rain a year.  Hilo is the largest city on the island and tropical with more than 150 inches of rain annually.  The total population of the island is around 185,000.

The Big Island is the biggest of all the Hawaiian islands with 4,028 miles, twice the size of all the other islands combined, and most importantly, it is still growing!!  It is the youngest of all the islands, estimated to be about 800,000 years old.  This is the most volcanic of all the islands, with Kilauea near Hilo being the world’s most active volcano.  Kilauea has been sending rivers of lava since January 1983, adding more real estate to the island every day.  It is also an island seeped in history.  It is the birthplace and deathplace of King Kamehameha, a great king who united all the Hawaiian Islands under his rule.  He died in 1819.

British Captain James Cook, after exploring in 1778 the islands of Kauai and Oahu, arrived on the Big Island in 1779.  At first, thinking Cook was perhaps a god, the natives welcomed him with great feasts.  After discovering he was in fact not a god, they became hostile.  Cook and four of his men died on the Big Island during a battle.  A small bronze plaque at the north end of Kealakekua Bay marks the spot of his death.  Cook’s countrymen erected a 27-foot memorial near the plaque to honor him.

We had spent a week on The Big Island in 2014 so we didn’t feel the need to pay for an excursion. Our plan was to walk around the port area and go to Walmart. Problem was we had forgotten how hilly Kona is and it was a steep uphill walk to Walmart.

On the way back we saw a man with his dog on a surfboard. Really cute.



Kona is a great place to snorkel. Living coral can be found in 57% of the waters surrounding this island. 

Kahalu'u Bay

Kahalu’u Bay

 Also on the Big Island is the South Point, the southernmost point in the United States.  (Sorry Key West).  This South Point has a latitude 500 miles farther south than Miami.  It is believed in 150 A.D. the first Polynesian explorers set foot on the island near this point.  IMG_3047 IMG_3053 IMG_3055

These pictures are from our trip in 2014.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park is one of the most famous black sand beaches in Hawaii.  The black sand is made from basalt created by lava flowing into the ocean which exploded as it reached the ocean and cooled. IMG_3074 IMG_3068 IMG_3069

Again, these pictures are from 2014. On the island you can find sandy beaches or lava rock beaches. IMG_3076


As we went through security to get back on the ship, the Hawaiian port authorities had us show both our ship ID and also our driver’s license and each passenger was wanded. Most thorough security since we left Fort Lauderdale.

Shortly after leaving Kona someone reported seeing whales. That caused everyone to scatter to all the decks.  We were at the rear of the ship and saw quite a few whales breaching and spouting. It was as if they were putting on a farewell show for us.

Next up: Hilo, Hawaii

Transiting the Panama Canal JAN 24, 2024

After a day at sea with gale force winds and 17 foot swells, we arrived in the early morning of 6:00 A.M. for our Panama Canal reservation. Holland America paid a $35,000 reservation fee to secure a daytime passage as well as a fee of $331,735 to transit the Canal, for a grand total of $366,735.  We felt fortunate to make this passage since Panama has cut back on the number of daily passages due to a severe drought. Our sailing on the Amazon River had been impacted by shallow water due to a drought as well.  This was the second time we have transited the Panama Canal. The first time was in April, 2022.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, The Panama Canal stretches 50 miles. Initially began in 1882 by French builders of the Suez Canal, they gave up in Panama. The U.S. acquired the construction of the canal in 1904 and began work.  American crews persevered with tens of thousands of workers drilling dynamite holes, driving steam shovels and laboring with pickaxes to build the canal, all the while fighting the heat, yellow fever and malaria. There were 25,600 fatalities. It took ten years to complete, and shorten, a ship’s voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific by 7,800 miles.   In 1999, control of the canal was handed over to Panama from the U.S.  It is truly one of the world’s greatest engineering achievements.

In 2016 an expansion more than doubled the canal’s capacity, allowing ships with a capacity of more than 14,000 containers to pass through. Today more than 12,000 to 15,000 ships transit the canal each year. More than 52 million gallons of water is used during each ship’s transit through the three locks. Recently they have added new locks that recycle some of the water so as not to deplete the lakes and rivers.  As in 2022, we transited using the old locks. We were told much larger vessels use the new locks. 

More than 100 species of mammals and reptiles as well as 500 different birds live in nature reserves on islands and lakes along the canal. As like last time, we saw a large crocodile in the water. Different location, different crocodile! 

Since the average transit time is 8 to 10 hours, we had to get up before sunrise to see the transit begin. They opened up the bow of the ship, so that is where many people first gathered. The cruise director was up on the bridge of the ship with the captain and other officers and provided commentary throughout the day. Even early in the morning it was very hot outside. We spent much of the day watching from our balcony where we could easily go inside to cool off. We could hear the commentary on our cabin TV. It takes all day to complete the transit, from 6:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

We first passed under the Atlantic Bridge, spanning the Atlantic entrance to the canal. The best way to show you the transit is with Bill’s pictures rather than with words. 20220428_062103~3PXL_20220428_11321589820220428_063325 PXL_20220428_115004723~2PXL_20220428_115944563PXL_20220428_120521045.MP

On the bow of the ship at 7:00 A.M. some crew members brought around warm “Panama Rolls” which is a tradition when transiting the canal. They are yeast rolls with an apricot filling. PXL_20220428_133737851They were very good and available in the dining room and buffet areas throughout the day. They were only available as a special treat that one day. 20220428_07164520220428_07170620220428_083719PXL_20220428_13390699520220428_08512520220428_085130PXL_20220428_140401811~2


Some of the Culebra Cut

We passed through the Gatun Lake to the second bridge. 20220428_123802~220220428_125014

When your ship approaches the lock a positive arrow sign directs you to the correct side. 20220428_131507

At the Miraflores locks we saw tug boats preparing to help ships transits. PXL_20220428_185824717PXL_20220428_202047018



We passed the Miraflores Locks and Visitors Center. A very large group of people had gathered on the top deck of the Visitors Center. As we passed by, a man with a microphone would say something in Spanish and then everyone on the deck would yell, cheer and wave to us. It was fun to wave back at them. 20220428_155306

Here we passed the concrete foundations for the swing bridges that were used to cross the canal with by car. 20220428_160816~2

We finally reached the water level of the Pacific Ocean. 20220428_14040620220428_161045

We had a great day and an amazing experience. We were amazed at how narrow the locks were and how little room there was between the ship and the sides. 20220428_083557~2The captain and crew really had to be on their toes all day!! On each side of the ship were four “mules”.  As a safety feature, ships were guided though the lock chambers by electric locomotives known as mules. Mules are used for side-to-side and braking control in the locks. Forward motion into and  through the locks is provided by the ship’s engines. PXL_20220428_122720547.MPPXL_20220428_123918060.MP

Time to go in, we see the third bridge. 20220428_16265120220428_162552~2

Next up: A sea day and then the port of Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica. I wonder how kind the Pacific Ocean will be? 


Lisbon Portugal Part 2 JUL 8, 2023

Lisbon has many beautiful and interesting places to visit. We decided the best strategy was to buy the 48 hour Hop On Hop Off bus. What we didn’t know was how much the long waits for the trolleys and buses would really slow us down. Another complication was due to it being high tourist season, the lines to get into many places were ridiculously long, often in the hot sun. So we could only do what we had the time and energy to do. 

The Lisbon Cathedral is Roman Catholic and the oldest church in the city. Built in 1147, it has survived many earthquakes and been renovated several times. It suffered major damage during the 1755 earthquake and underwent a major renovation at that time. There was a small entrance fee of five euros.

Inside were several Gothic tombs from the mid 14th century.

Tomb of María de Villalobos, wife of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco

Up a steep flight of stairs was the treasury with national ancient jewels and relics. Picture taking was not allowed and there were security people watching over everything. 

Another church, possibly our favorite, was the Estrela Basilica. We went in there on a whim while we had time waiting for the next bus. Queen Maria I of Portugal ordered it built as a fulfillment of a vow she made to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is the first church in the world dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the most well known and practiced Catholic devotions. The church was constructed from 1779 to 1789.

We went into the National Pantheon which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Built in the 17th century, it was originally the Church of Santa Engracia and was converted into the National Parthenon in 1916.  The inside was not nearly as beautiful and elaborate as we expected. Many famous people are entombed here including Presidents, famous singers, writers and sports athletes. Of most interest to us were the tombs of explorers Vasco de Gama and Henry the Navigator.

Belem Tower, also called the Tower of Saint Vincent, is a 16th century fortification built along the Tagus River. It was the point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and was considered the ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.  Constructed of limestone, it has a bastion and a 100 foot four story tower. We wanted to go inside and climb up the tower, but the line of people waiting in the hot sun was very long. A tourist sign updating people said the current wait was one hour.

Nearby was the Monument of the Discoveries, built between 1958-1960. The monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Here are many monuments we saw during our visit.

King Dom Joseph I (1714 – 1777)

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquês de Pombal (1699 – 1782) Secretary of State for the Kingdom

King John I (1357–1433)

The Great Heroes War Memorial

Afonso de Albuquerque (1453 – 1515), 1st Duke of Goa, Portuguese general, admiral, and statesman

On July 12th, an Uber was promptly waiting at our door at 6:45 A.M. for our ride to the airport.  The Lisbon airport could teach other airports about efficiency. We quickly checked into Air Portugal and dropped off our bags, went through security and passport control, and still had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast. Well done, Lisbon!  Our nine hour flight to Miami was uneventful. We had one meal and one snack that were both truly awful, but at least they gave us food and drink. Either no food or bad food was what we found on all our flights this year, including our flights to and from Israel in the early spring. 

After the scary landing in Lisbon, I was apprehensive about this landing but all went well.  Looking out the window of the plane, we were happy to see Miami, a little fuzzy with the hot, humid weather.

After collecting our luggage we went through passport control where a friendly official welcomed us home. We picked up our rental car for the five hour drive home.  Miami is definitely not our favorite place to drive home from. It was good to be home! 

Thanks for following along with our travels. We had a wonderful time, visited many beautiful and interesting places, saw amazing scenery (especially in Norway) and met many kind people along the way. 

We don’t have any trips on the horizon, but we have many places still on our very full bucket list. 

See you next time! 

Bill and Diane