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Sept 14 Sydney - Embarkation Taxi from Mercure about 11.30 to Circular Quay -OPT - due to construction work on the new light railway being built, half of George street is closed, involving a circuitous route as many streets are now closed. Traffic very heavy and we arrived shortly after 12.00. Taxi cost $AUD28 Quayside was quite chaotic with passengers being disgorged from cars and taxis and although there were a few Princess personnel in attendance, when asked where the porters were, we were told there aren't any!! In all fairness the Princess Representative we spoke to, did offer to drag our luggage to the registration desk! After our cases were labelled and taken away, we began the tortuous journey to get onboard the Sun. Whilst the procedures are the same for embarkations on all ships, i.e. passports shown, Health declaration completed, cruise cards issued, credit card details taken, exit papers to fill in - in this case, for Australian immigration, baggage and passengers to go through security and the immigration desk, then the final walk onto the ship where your picture is taken. This seemed to be so much more protracted due to the amount of passengers trying to embark. The Sun holds 1960 passengers - so many more than we are used to, and to our dismay we were told that the passenger count was in fact 2416!! "Pack ‘em in and pack ‘em high" springs to mind; this figure was revised later to 1,968. This became evident very quickly with queues everywhere and a sea of people milling around. As we expected, it was not possible to get any seat to be able to eat in the Horizon Cafe, but we did manage a sandwich in the International Cafe, although the requested coffee (ordinary - otherwise there is a charge) never materialised. The time for the lifeboat drill came round all too soon, and our muster station was the Wheelhouse Bar. To ensure all passengers attend, a member of staff is supposed to scan your cruise card, but there was such a melee around the entrance that I saw no one in evidence and made my way to the Wheelhouse, but it was already chock-a-block with passengers, so much so that members of the crew directed passengers to the theatre instead. This too quickly filled up and some people ended up staying in the corridors. Eventually after demonstrating that passengers could actually put on their life jackets correctly, we were dismissed. We returned to our cabin - a mini suite on Baja deck. We knew from experience that all Sun class ships had small cabins, hence our choice. Even so, space is tight, particularly with drawer space and the hanging area within the walk in wardrobe, the latter certainly not big enough for more than a 7 day cruise. We did however have a Jacuzzi bath, small but useful, particularly when we found that they have not upgraded the fixed shower head in the shower enclosure, which is definitely not user friendly, particularly for ladies. The other lovely feature of a mini suite is the large sitting area with a three seater settee and armchair with table and a drinks cabinet and fridge. Outside this area is a balcony door with seating as well as another balcony accessed from the bedroom area, thereby giving us two balconies which is lovely. Unfortunately both chairs on the balcony were absolutely covered in paint splatters and looked not only disreputable but dirty. The table was equally bad, made of metal, it had been painted where it had rusted, although not well, so the paint had bubbled and was peeling away. Not what you would expect from a 4 star cruise line. Our cabin steward was most concerned. I think that he thought we felt that he hadn't cleaned it - a guy from Thailand with limited understanding of English. He was very willing to please us, but worried that we would report it to his supervisor, as he said he would get into trouble. However bless him, we returned to the cabin later to find two chairs with the wrapping still half attached - proving they were new! The table was also replaced with one that was marginally better, but had still suffered the same fate. We were horrified to hear that cabin stewards are now given 16 cabins to clean without any help of an assistant, and for our guy, included several mini suites. It was with a heavy heart that we left our berth at Circular Quay, the ferries both large and small, manoeuvring out of our way on their way to Manly and other destinations in the Sydney area, and we were soon heading out to the Heads, dropping our pilot and heading north east to our first port of call of Alotau. The weather was overcast with a strong headwind and a high sea, more like Atlantic troughs than just white horses. Fortunately the ship remained stable and during dinner, one was almost unaware of being at sea. Arriving outside our allotted restaurant - the Regency, at just before 19.45, we gave our pre-assigned table number to the member of staff manning the door and were escorted to our table by one of the many assistant table waiters lined up for the purpose. The oval table for eight was in a good position adjacent to a window and we were the first to arrive. As it turned out we dined a deux! Waiter Michael from Philippines, his assistant from Ubud Indonesia. Both were good and service was prompt. Our chosen dishes turned out to be exceptionally good and joy of joy, not only the veg supplied with the dish, but also the extra we ordered, was well cooked and both plates and food were hot!! If the food and service continues as tonight, we will be very pleased. After our first day on board, our observations - the number of passengers will be a problem, not only does there appear to be a problem with the lift buttons on our deck - 10, but it is nigh impossible to ride in one - when they do appear they always have the maximum capacity, and the waiting in the lift lobbies becomes a throng of people, so you are not sure whether they wish to go up or down. Something that also proved to be the case over the next three weeks, was the footfall in the lobby areas for the lifts at meal times. One would expect the traffic to be down to the dining rooms! When in reality, more passengers went to the Horizon Cafe, the buffet restaurant on Deck 14. We also wondered if this was a conscious decision to avoid any likelihood of tipping dining room staff at the end of the cruise! Due to the number of passengers, it would also be a nightmare on tender port days, as you have to queue to obtain a tender ticket. We had expected long lines for everything in view of the number of the passengers -the vast majority of whom are, naturally, Australian. It is also interesting to note the change in the demographic profile, since our last cruise on the Sun in 2008. Our cabin definitely has an advantage, with both the seating area inside the cabin and the extra room we were afforded on the balcony, both areas were very comfortable, and we retreated here on many occasions. Princess have also invested in new beds, Silversea please note, which are extremely comfortable, and the lighting is superior to that in the suites on Silversea. However there is a dichotomy - Princess appear to be too tight to send passengers proper luggage labels, and expect passengers to print their own!! How long they expect a piece of A4 paper to last on a case, after being manhandled by airline and ship's personnel, and the hope that they will still be in situ when distributing the cases to passengers' cabins - I have no idea. Yet each night returning to our cabin, our "post box" was full with pieces of paper offering "sales opportunities" for the following day. September 15 at sea After a good night’s sleep, we went to the dining room for breakfast and made up a sharing table, all Aussies. Service was good and the waiter was friendly and we received what we asked for. Weather was equally grey and overcast as the previous day and we had several rain showers, the temperature barely reaching the low 70'sF. Very disappointing as we were sailing alongside the Sunshine Coast of NSW, and Brisbane, and we had expected not only higher temps but also at least a glimmer of sun! We managed to find a table in the Horizon cafe after 2.00 pm and had some rolls, cheese and olive oil with some salad. Pastries unfortunately are not of a good standard and are very stodgy. We went to one of the lectures - an Australian guy who had worked for the Australian Government and had been sent out to PNG as an "overseer" but in fact became responsible for running the whole island from the jails, to the court and general administration. His talk was very good and we learned some history of these intriguing islands. Shop merchandise much of the same which can be found on any ship, from the high end, to ship's logo items. Much to my surprise they are still selling the "inch of gold". I would have thought they would have learned their lesson of some twenty years ago, when passengers returned their items on subsequent cruises when the "gold" wore off! They omit to say that it is not real gold, merely gold plated, and particularly in sea air "rusts" more quickly. There appears to be a new high-end kid on the block - Effys - seemingly only sold in the US and some Caribbean islands, has been in existence for six years with some very expensive and pretty jewellery, some of which appears to have copied Sterns with their multicolored gemstones which the latter mine from Minas Gerais in Brazil. I was very disappointed to find that they did not sell any jewellery cleaner, which is particularly good, and which I was recommended by a Future Cruise Consultant on Silversea. At dinner tonight we were joined by an Aussie couple from Manly, so we were four. Unfortunately tonight did not mirror the previous night's meal in any respect. The fish was overcooked, the vegetables were not, and the food was cold. Our dining companion who had had the lamb shank said it was inedible, as he was unable to cut it off the bone and left it, refusing any alternative. We were in time to see the cabaret, an Aussie guy who does impersonations of singers, actors, and famous people. Unusual and quite good. September 16 - at sea Another day dawned much like the day before, it had obviously rained in the night as our balcony chairs and rail were wet, so disappointing once again. Breakfast again in the dining room, with two other couples and a lady whose husband had forgone breakfast to go to a lecture! All Aussies once again, and we were exchanging stories of the errant TVs! Passengers in mini cabins and above, have two TV sets, one in the bedroom area and the other in the seating area. You are supplied with two remote handsets, but strangely when trying to view one TV, it changes the other, and the other couple had had words like us, and had accused each other of changing what they had been watching!! Not so. Breakfast was good this morning, both content and service. Stewards on the whole with whom we have interacted seem to be very friendly and willing to help. With the weather showing no signs of changing, we repaired to the cabin to read etc., and for me to continue this daily log. However as the day wore on the clouds broke, the sun peeped through and by early afternoon it was brilliant sun with a few scattered clouds. The temperatures have risen considerably, but as the ship's information did not give any readings this morning - we have no idea of current temperatures. As we continue to sail up the Australian coast and within the borders of the Great Barrier Reef - invisible unfortunately, we are accompanied by several gannet type birds, but too small to be albatrosses. We managed a swim, the water not too cold, at least once you were in. However with the sun disappearing it was too cold to remain by the pool and we came down to the cabin for a hot shower. Tonight was formal night and it was surprising to see how many had made the effort to don tuxedos and evening dress, although there were the usual few who we saw in the public areas in the evening in shorts and T shirts! Expecting a "special" dinner as usual, we were second guessing whether it would be Lobster Thermidor or Beef Wellington. To our astonishment, there was nothing on the menu which was any way out of the ordinary. In fact it was less appetising than previous evenings. Our waiter Michael and his assistant I Wayan continue to be very good and service is consistently good and fast, despite us having another couple from another table who found themselves alone after the first night, and asked if they could join our table. Princess continue to have the champagne waterfall and all the passengers gravitate round the Atrium, hoping for a free drink, and the privilege of seeing the Captain's head from two or three decks above! I am afraid we are far too long in the tooth to get any enjoyment out of this bean feast and eschewed the whole event. We did the first of what is customary on cruises for us, our post dinner walk round the deck. The night was lovely, with a bright full moon and the balmy temperatures which are so associated with being in the tropics. However it was after 11.00 pm before we returned to the cabin and bed. Sept 17 - at sea We awoke to a lovely sunny morning with warmer temperatures than we had previously had, although there was quite a wind blowing, evident by the white horses on the sea. The menu at breakfast offered smoked haddock. What is it about restaurants and cruise ships in particular, that they are incapable of cooking fish correctly? Apart from the fact that the fish on my plate did not even resemble haddock, it was completely dry and it was impossible to cut - what a waste of probably, would have been a tasty dish. Surprisingly we managed to find two sun loungers round the pool, where we stayed for a few hours - about the extent of time it is possible to sit on these as they are so uncomfortable, with no padding whatsoever, and the towels supplied for the pool, are not even long enough to cover the lounger anyway. After having a bite on the outside deck of the Horizon cafe, we returned to our cabin and our lovely double balcony. There are a dearth of waiters serving drinks round the pool area, and many of these stewards have a poor command of the English language and do not understand, which makes it quite frustrating and time consuming to try and obtain any information. Apart from the uncomfortable sun loungers, the main annoyance in the pool area is the extremely loud music which is broadcast from the bar, making it impossible for anyone to carry on an ordinary conversation, much less to relax. After repeated requests for it to be turned down, which were ignored, we gave up. Some days later when mentioning this problem to a member of the Cruise Director’s staff, he agreed and also said that the recordings were inconsistent, some very much louder than others, but that nothing had been done. During a cocktail demonstration held by the Pool, a member of the Cruise staff, despite using a microphone, became inaudible due to the loudness of the music. Dinner tonight was again only four, us and the couple from South Australia who had moved from their allotted table as they had ended up on their own. The original couple from Manly had already told us that they were not eating in the dining room as they wanted to watch the match on live TV. Princess appear to have been very accommodating in showing the current rugby league and Australian football matches being played now in Australia as they draw to a climax. Dinner service continues to be good, unlike the menus, Princess have definitely cut back on their food budget, as witnessed for the Captain's welcome dinner, the size of the menu has shrunk, and for a cruise line which boasted of their pasta and pizzas, the former have been dire, with only two options each night, although in actuality, one as every night there is their classic - Fettucine Alfredo, which by rights should be on the "always available" menu, also decreased in size. The smoked roast pork which resembled gammon steaks, were quite tasty, but very salty. Vegetables not cooked again, and for two night running my dessert has been sorbets, very nice, but obviously not made correctly, as both nights they contained ice crystals. After a walk round the deck again, determined for an early night we returned to the cabin, but it was still post 11.00 pm before we turned out the light. September 18 Alotau After three days at sea, we awoke at 7.00 am, just as the Captain was bringing her alongside our berth. Skies very overcast with rain not long ceased, so there were more than a few muddy pools on the quayside. The vista which greeted us was so similar to many of the West African ports we had visited, and being a Christian country and a Sunday, only the town market was open, many attending the number of churches here in Milne Bay province. Not long after being tied alongside, the local dance tribe performed on the quayside, a small party of about ten mainly men and boys but with two women. This part of the town, being a port had much industry, with oil storage tanks and many containers lined up on the quayside. We were told by our guide Sarah, that there are several ferries leaving from here to the outlying islands. For breakfast we had a full table, all Aussies again, although one elderly couple had emigrated from the UK in the 1960's, he a Londoner and she from Dublin. Many of the Aussies seated at breakfast, had cruised on P & O and enjoyed it, but were quite scathing about “the Poms who insisted on dressing up every night” Mustering in the Marquis restaurant, we were "stickered" and after waiting for about ten minutes we were released to the gangway, where we were shepherded to a waiting mini-bus to begin our tour. After the introduction from our guide, Sarah, on where we were visiting, I realised that we were on the wrong tour!! I wasn't to know where the blame lay until I returned to the ship to check what we booked! I suppose there is a first time for everything, but in future I will check thoroughly!! As it turned out, whilst a lot more expensive, it was probably the better option, as we got to go to the lookout, a lovely view over Simpson Bay graced by the presence of Sun Princess a small speck in the distance. From there we went to Cameron Secondary School, which surprisingly enough was most enjoyable and informative. It started with about eight girls singing the Papuan New Guinea National Anthem, unaccompanied, and then each girl was assigned to a small group of passengers who walked us round the school buildings explaining what took place in each of these buildings. It holds 850 students of both sexes, and is for boarders as well as day pupils. The two dormitories separating the sexes are a long way apart, and both are fenced. Needless to say it is forbidden to enter into one another's sleeping quarters, if found there is severe punishment! Alongside the tarmacked road are flowers and shrubs tended by the "naughty" students, and our little girl, Kate who looked about 12, but was actually 20, giggled and said it was looked after mainly by the boys! Kate was unusual in her colouring, having merely a "tan" and with very definitely auburn hair. It was obvious that either her father or mother had been Caucasian. She was very self-assured, spoke perfect English and explained what subjects were taught and telling us that class sizes had about 45 pupils. Leaving the school we retraced our steps, returning to the outskirts of town to visit the market. A little disappointing, maybe being a Sunday there were not many stalls, with many having the same produce, bananas, green vegetables, sago, coconuts, copra and fish, which looked freshly caught, being put on the tables from an iced container, where one person waved a little flag-like stick to keep the flies off. However there were several stalls selling what resembled plaited rope, and we were told it was tobacco. This seemed incongruous, unless it was put in a pipe to smoke. There would need to be quite a lot of preparation to convert this to cigarettes! Adjacent was another building which sold batteries, lighters, kitchen graters, as well as some "cooked" items, and when questioned, said it was shell! The allotted 20 minutes being up we all walked back to the minibus and returned to the ship. One wonders how the money is distributed, as the $AUD115 cost of this two hour trip seemed excessive. Having seen so many places like this on our journey up the west coast of Africa, we were underwhelmed, and the only highlight was the interaction with the schoolgirls from Cameron Secondary School. As Princess do not serve luncheon in either of the dining rooms, we opted for room service. Quoted twenty five minutes for delivery, we were pleasantly surprised when it arrived within fifteen. Unfortunately, the order was incorrect, substituting what tasted like spam, instead of tuna salad, the fillings were very meagre, and both the vegetarian option of avocado, and the "spam" were very dry. The accompanying French fries - they had run out of potato chips by Day 4 - were mainly hard, cold and extremely salty. We had a dessert consisting of chocolate chip cookies - two only to be precise - these were like dog biscuits, and so stale as to be almost inedible. Certainly a poor offering. Dinner again with only four of us - menu uninspiring but there was an interesting pasta dish, long noodles with bacon and a sauce which was very good. We followed this, living dangerously, by ordering the lemon sole. Luckily it had not been annihilated, but was rather tasteless, and the extra veg which the lovely Michael served was hot and well cooked. It seems meals, particularly dinners are a lottery, sometimes very good, but at others, mediocre, bordering on the poor. Once again we eschewed any evening entertainment and attempted our round deck perambulation, only to find sections of both the forward and aft deck shut for cleaning. We asked of one of these guys why this was done at 9.30 at night, rather than the early hours of the morning, as on other ships. We did not get a real answer, but we ascertained that this cleaning was only done twice a week!! Our favourite Captain on SS would be reeling at this news! Actually walking more extensively round the ship, it was obvious this ship is not well maintained. There is much rust, and as on our balcony, when painting had taken place, the work was substandard. This latter was illustrated when we noticed much of the teak balcony rails were in great need of a varnish, but in some places these resembled a Dalmatian dog, with white spots covering the rails. Whether this is because of lack of resources or a general malaise is not known. However it took four days, with our cabin steward reporting it on a daily basis, for our broken cabin light bulb to be replaced!! Sept 19 Dioni Island Anchoring off the island at 7.00 am, the current was not conducive for the ship to start tender operations, and we began to wonder if this would be another casualty to many other tender port debacles we have experienced in the past. God was kind as sometime later the tender boats were lowered and the mammoth task of getting off potentially 2000 passengers began. Princess have always been known for fast and efficient embarkations and disembarkations, and today was no exception. There was still quite a high sea running with a strong inter-island current when we went ashore mid-morning. I always revel in these tenders ashore, but realise a lot of passengers are not happy at negotiating steps etc., despite the willingness of the helping crew. The island proved to be a cross between a remote island we visited in the Amazon, and any other tropical island. We had been told the locals greeting us would have come from the outlying islands. This was obvious in little cardboard written signs asking for donations for a secondary school's new classroom, a church's new seats and even donations for the children's' birthdays!! Similar signs asking for 3 and 5 Kina to take pictures. Two were upsetting, one was a small possum who looked decidedly dejected and the other was another small animal which seemed to be tied to the post. When I enquired, I was told he was sleeping! We walked quite a long way through a clearing and the demonstrations of small children with their one note drum beat, looking so woebegone as if they were made to do this for us. Unfortunately, like Boca de Valeria in the Amazon we felt it too contrived. Back onboard around 2.30. AT dinner we finally had nearly the full complement - the couple from Manly returned tonight, apparently she had been under the weather last night and hadn't eaten. Seemingly there is a friction we feel between the couple from Adelaide, i.e. South Australia, probably much like the rivalry of people who live in London and the population north of Watford Gap!! Dinner as usual was mediocre and to cap it all, the dessert offered chocolate ginger ice cream - ooh I thought how lovely- only to find they had made it with powdered ginger, not only did it not go with it, it made the chocolate powdery and was frankly, quite horrible. We caught the cabaret act tonight, husband and wife, he a guitarist and singer, and she a violinist and singer. She proved to be better than him but they are definitely cruise fodder. As it was once again gone 11.00 pm, we retired for the night, checked emails before turning out the light - Kiriwina tomorrow - and maybe snorkelling. Sept 20 – Kiriwina Island Once more anchoring off the island at 7.00 am, we were greeted by an island similar to that of Dioni yesterday, only differing from the wider expanses of sandy beaches here, and the island appeared not only longer but also deeper. Once on the island, the thick growth interior seemed to stretch to infinity. We waited on the balcony, listening to the endless call from the Reception desk with numbers which ranged from 1-100 (the number each tender holds) right up to 1200! We had thought, as previously that both Elite and Suite passengers could go straight to the tender station without queuing in the Marquis Restaurant for the tender ticket. We were questioned the first time we did this as to whether we had been given permission to come, only to be told we still needed to muster at the Marquis for a tender ticket!! The following day this was ratified when it appeared in the Princess Patter, with the proviso that we would be able to get on the first available tender. However due to the pouring rain, we decided to wait to see if the weather cleared. Fortunately by the time we decided to go, it had stopped raining, but more importantly, we were able to go straight down and get on a tender. The ride ashore was only about ten minutes and we alighted onto a long concrete jetty with a rail on one side, stretching some forty yards to the shore. Walking along this jetty we were bombarded by kids in small canoes asking for money. Reaching the shore, it was surprising how steeply the beach shelved to reach the water's edge. It was obvious that this more closely resembled the island in the Amazon which we had visited previously because of the outward show of begging was more prominent. The locals as we were to find out later, were segregated from the passengers, by a little fence - a tree branch stuck in the ground and a bit of wire strung between it. Behind this was a constant stream of villagers going about their normal daily lives, but the sellers were strung along the shore side with their goods laid out on huge banana leaves. These ranged from carved wooden items, made from two different sorts of wood, one unknown, but the other ebony. Some beautiful intricately carved bowls, ornaments etc. with beautiful prices to match! You could also buy betel nuts by the hundreds, many sellers were only selling this, surprising as they obviously thought we would be interested in buying. As we had seen in Alotau, objects resembling black plaited small sticks turned out to be tobacco. Here they also had little mounds of tobacco, obviously cut from the plait, which were like thick snuff, whether this was rolled in paper is unknown. But people were either prodigiously chewing betel nuts or smoking Western manufactured cigarettes, or both. The telltale red mouth and teeth of the former was more in evidence here than in Dioni, maybe because there were many more people. Also on sale were both cooked and uncooked small lobsters and crabs. These too were not cheap, particularly considering they had only yards to travel having been caught. Much to our surprise on one of the little banana leaf mats, were two different sorts of fridge magnets, one depicting this beach and the other Alotau and the man said they were five Kina each. Two therefore would cost us $AUD 5. Not wanting to get out a wallet with lots of Aussie dollars in such a crowded place we told him we would return. Needless to say after our walk along the beach and my paddle, most of the vendors had gone on our return, and our little man with the fridge magnets was nowhere to be seen! Lesson No 1 - buy when you see - but in the circumstances, it would have been unwise. Observations - less people seemed to speak any English, unlike those in Dioni, but those who did spoke good English. Most of course knew Hello and Bye Bye. Foreigners/Westerners are called "Dim dim" by these islanders - aptly titled for some of our passengers (!), and my blonde hair was a magnet for many of the curious, mainly the children, of which there are a lot. Stopping to speak to a little boy about two who was sitting on the ground with his family, I held out my hand to shake his, pointing to myself and saying "dim dim", his curiosity overcame his shyness and he took my hand, only to recoil in horror, rushed back to his mother and threw himself into his mother's arms. She smiled, but I felt I must have appeared to be an alien to him! In the middle of the main area, we saw a huge black pig eating. Indeed many of the vendors were eating food whilst still trying to sell their wares. There was also the inevitable cockerel, which we encountered in a clearing trying to scratch from the bare earth, and of course many dogs. One unsettling moment, when a dog's yelp resounded round this little enclave of huts and he appeared running on three legs to what was obviously his owner, and then appeared to lie on his back, by this time merely barking intermittently and we wondered if he had been bitten by a snake. At first until we saw the dog, we wondered if it was a pig about to meet its end! Another surprise was that all the locals were fully clothed, men and boys wearing tee shirts and shorts, and the ladies, dresses, with only the young male children bare breasted. This seems to indicate that the "dancers" of Dioni specifically put on this show for the tourists, and away from the attention, wear normal Western clothes. As we retraced our steps back to the jetty, there was a man who we had heard with a loud speaker talking in the local tongue and we asked what he was saying. Apparently he was the local Consul whose job it was to keep the villagers under control, hence the fence, saying they had now had their "sales" opportunity and to return to their tasks etc. He reiterated that he was doing this for the security of the passengers from cruise ships. He realised of course, that no trouble, would mean the return of the cruise lines. Dinner as usual with our full complement of six. We did our usual walk, but tonight there was only a glimpse of the moon, as it was very cloudy. Later in the night, there was a big storm virtually overhead with both lightning and thunder. Luckily I only saw one flash of lightning and went back to sleep. Sept 21 Kitava As seems to be normal now, the anchors went down just before 7.00 am, but due to strong currents, the captain had to retract them, sail further out and redo the process. Expecting the violent storm to have cleared the weather, we were to be disappointed, and rain, low cloud and poor visibility greeted us as we went out onto the balcony. Also ever present is the smell which appears to circulate round the AC. When we first boarded the ship in Sydney and came to the cabin, there was a strong smell of cabbage. We assumed we were above the galley - albeit many decks distant, but the various smells now definitely seem to be transmitted via the AC, as they are still strong with both balcony doors closed. Quite frankly the smell of boiled cabbage is quite noxious, although various other smells appear throughout the day, but none are very pleasant. With the rain holding off for longer periods now, we ventured ashore to the island to see if we could find out why the Kitavans are so healthy, having a diet so similar to that of the Kiriwinis, who apparently have a large percentage of child mortality, and do not live to old age. Seeing how near relatively speaking, the two islands are, this seems to be an enigma. We are also hoping to find someone selling fridge magnets! Unfortunately once it was open house for the tenders, the rain came down, but as we were waterproof, with only shorts and sandals, we decided to go ahead. Once again the jetty was of concrete with hand rails all along. Shorter than Kiriwina, unlike yesterday there were only a few small steps and you were on the sand. The beach here was level and the trees were much taller and denser and reached almost to the sea. Unfortunately the rain came on even harder, and though there were many trees under which to shelter, these afforded very little, as the downpour was so bad that the rain came through the branches, and it was better to walk outside the line of trees, to avoid the drips. Most of the villagers were sheltering under banana leaves, many had umbrellas, or were in little old fashioned market stalls. Most had their goods laid out on banana leaves or pieces of material. The items on sale here were mainly wooden ornaments and shells, although we did see one baseball cap, but no fridge magnets. It was even too wet to take photographs with the risk of a wet camera. Not to be outdone we stood under the awning of the Princess security at the edge of the jetty leading to the tender and took a few pictures, although not near enough to take the people. They really are totally different to any of the other islanders we have previously seen. More akin to the Polynesians, they really are a lovely looking people without the extreme curly hair of the previous inhabitants of the other islands we had visited. It was a pity that we did not see any of the healthy food for which they are famous. Soaked to the skin, we walked along the jetty to the waiting tender. This was tender No. 3, one we had previously experienced, this one has one window pane missing, and the roof leaks like a sieve, and was dripping down on us like a waterfall. We were half way back to the ship before an oil skinned member of the crew, decided to pull down the side flaps, where the rain was coming in, in a steady torrent! By the time we had arrived back to the ship ten minutes later, we were wetter than we had been ashore! It was time for a hot shower and both of us had to ring out all the clothes we had been wearing. Tender No 2 is also faulty and potentially dangerous. It appears to go into full throttle when the gearbox drive is engaged. This creates a hefty thud and lurch forward or backwards which makes maneuvering very difficult. Watching the tendering operation from our balcony, this tender kept hitting the tender pontoon as its driver tried to bring it alongside. Going into Kiriwina was not a smooth ride each time he engaged or disengaged propulsion. We are awaiting the joys of No 1 and No 4! We later went to the spa, and recounting our story to one of the masseurs, she told us that her treatment room also leaked! One of the two fountains in the gym area is either broken or has not been filled since leaving Sydney, six days ago. Maintenance generally round the ship seems to be non-existent. September 22 - Rabaul Erroneously, before arriving in PNG we had pronounced the old capital- "Rabool" when in fact it is "Rabal". We chose Kaibaira Tours out of three companies who have a presence on Trip Advisor, for several reasons. Their website was clear and informative, and they would customise the tour to suit individuals, accepting payment either by cash or credit card, in PNG Kina or Australian dollars, and the tour would be only for us, unlike their competitor where you would be one of a party. Yolanda confirmed by return email that they would be waiting on the quayside on the morning of our arrival in Rabaul, and they were. They were not allowed to come inside the port area, although I noticed the other two operators each had a desk, and were taking new bookings, a bit unfair and not a level playing field. Walking outside we found a guy with my name on a board and we were shown to a minibus, and were told to wait for other passengers he was expecting. We explained that we had booked a private tour for just us, and we were asked to change to another minibus, as they had already started to load provisions on ours, for a dive tour. Walking a few paces behind, we got on another bus. This unfortunately did not have complete A/C, so we ended up with some of the windows open (those that would close), we had some semblance of A/C. Our driver/guide introduced himself as Jerry and off we went at 09.10 am, having been waiting for about thirty minutes for his arrival, enough time to get a lovely Papua New Guinean (PNG) baseball cap. We started with a tour of old Rabaul, the original capital of PNG, which was devastated by an eruption of Mount Tavuvur in September 1994, virtually exactly twenty two years ago. Ash and lava covered most of the old town, and building started on a new city about 15 kilometers down the coast in Kokopo. We drove round what is left of the old city, the few buildings which had not disappeared, now derelict and rusty. It was incredible to see the mounds of ash still piled up by the side of the road, making huge embankments. We stopped at the New Guinea club, an old officers club from the 1920's, still with its parquet flooring and wood panelling walls. It now houses memorabilia from this period and even has bits of Japanese ironmongery that was shot down. Very interesting, particularly some of the original pictures and texts. Driving through the old airfield, where the topography had clearly been flattened, built by the Japanese with allied forces’ labour in the 1940's, it was still in operation until the volcanic eruption in 1994, but is now reverting back to nature with trees sprouting on the very fertile soil of the ash. This area is quite extensive and we eventually arrived at a little clearing in the woods after paying a fee to two men who had barred the way with a makeshift fence. This was also a sales opportunity with the familiar pieces of cloth lying on the ground on which was neatly displayed their wares. Lying in a gully were two rusty parts of Japanese planes which had been found there. Not too far from here we came to the hot springs, adjacent to the bay. Here a man was cooking peanuts on a string, dangling them into the hot water. The heat and smoke which emanated from this little piece of boiling water was quite incredible. It also showed clearly the minerals which leach out of the ground, which were a rich orangey brown colour. Needless to say there was also a large shopping opportunity here to satiate the needs of the disgorging passengers from all the minibuses on the Princess's tours. We drove off and left them to it. Next stop was the Volcanological Observatory which monitors 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes in PNG, as well as offering breathtaking views across Simpson Harbour, and our ship, appearing as a tiny model, nestled in the calm waters, so different from the mayhem which must have ensued there during the war. Housed in a small room are many seismic graphs which monitor activity twenty four seven. There are also still photographs of various stages of the eruptions. One in particular was quite frightening. It depicted half a dozen kids standing on a rock and behind them like a curling surf wave, was a big black ash cloud which threatened to engulf them. The guy who was in charge of this told us that the previous night there had been a minor earthquake at 2.20 am, only 100 kilometers east of Rabaul! When asked what force it had been on the Richter scale, he said they had not had time to work it out but thought it was only about 4.5 or 5.0! Our last stop before leaving Rabaul, was to the cave where the Japanese hid three barges. This is now a haven for tiny bats, which were darting in and out of their tiny nests, which resembled tiny round holes in the roof. Apparently recently the Japanese returned and took out the engines! One speculates if they felt they could reuse these, looking at the state of the bare rusted hulks that were left, it is questionable why they should want the engines anyway! Leaving here it was off to what is now the capital, Kokopo. Despite only been around fifteen kilometres distant, it takes over half an hour to drive. Initially the road is good, but it then deteriorates to little more than a dirt track, with deep gullies and pot holes, which really rattled us about. This continues for several miles. As this is the main highway between the two, we queried why the Government had not improved the surface. Seemingly corruption between the mining companies. Plus ca change! Eventually we came to the outskirts of the town, and the difference is marked. New houses sit on the hills surrounded by landscaped trees and shrubs, and there is even more than one roundabout! There is quite a bit of traffic, and lots of hustle and bustle with the locals going about their business. Cheek by jowl are two large banks, and there are many small supermarkets and restaurants. We stopped at the market here, which is virtually identical to that in Rabaul, but much bigger. It is very well planned with about four long barn-like, open sided buildings adjacent to each other. Each caters for different items. There are several selling only fruit and vegetables, and others clothes and perfume, oils and jewellery, together with many touristy goods, although we only saw locals here, but presume other passengers from the ship had also visited. . All these building are linked by slopes, so no stairs need to be negotiated. There is also a grid running round the entire buildings for discarding liquids. Interesting also, to see the materials which make up the many red-mouthed population who chew betel nuts. These were on sale raw, together with a small plastic bag containing white powder. This contains lime - not the fruit, but in fact crushed up coral. These two ingredients are then ground together to make the familiar red staining. One wonders whether crushed coral is harmful, or acts as a sort of calcium. For sure, eating betel nuts is very harmful to the teeth if it is continually chewed After having a good look round, not being tempted to purchase, we left to continue our drive back to Rabaul, but first stopping at the Japanese war museum where toilets were available. Various Japanese military artefacts from the Second World War were displayed in the grounds, together with a cage housing one cockatoo and a couple of parrots, all of whom looked a little forlorn and should not to my mind be there at all. Neither should the two crocodiles, one smaller than the other which were in little more than a pit with not much water. At the time of booking we had agreed that we could make payment by credit card. When it came to making the payment, we were told that the operator's bank charged a five percent surcharge for use of credit cards. This came as an unwelcome surprise and should have been made clear at the time of booking and left a rather nasty taste after what had been a very enjoyable day. The operator told us at this time that several people from our ship who had booked the dive excursion had failed to show up. Something for which we apologised - this is hardly acceptable behaviour and meant that this company could have lost potential new clients. After the financial transaction was completed, Jerry drove us the short distance back to the wharf, from where we had left six hours previously and we think that he was pleased with the tip he received. Sailing at 17.30 pm, we were serenaded off the wharf by the local singers, forty strong, resembling a Welsh male voice choir, the same singers who had welcomed us here at 7.00 am as we came alongside. September 23 - at sea After the long day in the heat of Rabaul and Kokopo we were pleased to have a relaxing day at sea, particularly as we also lost an hour's sleep, as the clock went back in readiness for Honiara. After room service breakfast, we managed to find two loungers by the pool well after 11.00 am. This is something you probably wouldn't be able to do on any other ship, other than with Aussies, with their predilection to shun the sun. Despite the noisy kids who ran the gamut of one pool and then the other, we managed to get a couple of swims, but after a couple of hours on the uncomfortable unpadded loungers, we retired to the solitude of our lovely balcony. Although not as long as the sun loungers on the pool deck, they are infinitely more "bottom and back" friendly particularly being doctored with our lounge cushions! Tonight was the second and penultimate formal night of the cruise, the last of which will be the Captain's farewell party. It was also the Captain's Circle party, which acknowledges all past passengers. Due to the amount of passengers travelling, this had been staggered, and tonight’s party was only for Platinum and Elite passengers. Nevertheless the Vista Lounge was full and my meagre 504 days travelled, cut no mustard here. The top two had over 700 days, and the most travelled had sailed for over a thousand days. Some achievement. Being typically British, with an invitation reading 19.00 pm, we arrived about ten to fifteen minutes prior. Seemingly others had the same idea, and the queue was already very long with some fifty passengers, all waiting patiently in line. If the doors had opened at 19.00, it wouldn't have been quite so bad, and but the time we got to meet the Captain it was some twenty five minutes later. Choosing a seat very near the back, we were fortunate to be offered a drink. We both chose champagne, which we regretted as it was almost unpalatable. Stopping a passing steward, I enquired if she had any real champagne, and the substituted glass was infinitely better. We were also offered canapés, the tuna mousse being particularly tasty. By the time the Captain's speech was over together with the announcement of the most travelled passengers and the raffle from the passengers' invitations, it was past our dinner time, so we beat a hasty retreat to the Regency Restaurant and Michael, unfortunately to a nondescript menu, so much so, and having seen the menu for the following night, we booked for the Sterling Steakhouse. Regardless of the ingredients, we know that it will be cooked to order, and not the banquet catering we have had for the last ten days. The evening ended as previously, with our nightly walk round Deck 7, and to bed. September 24 - Honiara Solomon Islands This port had conjured up for both of us, WWII history, in particular Guadalcanal and the tremendous battle for victory in 1942/3, so we were eager to see how this place had fared over the ensuing years. We had been told, prior to arriving, that the Solomon Islanders had have a massive clear up of litter and rubbish which was strewn about in honour of our visit. It appeared not to have been successful. We had pre-booked a tour with Destination Solomons over the Internet some months previously and everything had been confirmed by email. With documentation to hand we got off the tender and approached their desk and located Christina, the lady with whom I had email communication. Having handed over the tour ticket which had been sent to me, we were told to get into the waiting minibus. I queried why the coloured ticket I had been given was not the same colour as those getting the same minibus, but was told that it was because I had pre booked. The bus held nine passengers plus the guide - Stanley. I had also printed the complete itinerary before leaving home detailing the length of the tour, what sights we would be driving through, as well as the stops to be made and the time allotted for each stop - 20 minutes. There seemed to be a hiatus before we finally left the dock area, and Stanley said the first place to see would be the market, where we were supposed to stay for the twenty minutes originally agreed. The driver drove into the entrance but there was no parking space, so he drove out again and tried to park on the verge, thereby blocking the exit - and was promptly moved on by the police. Stanley then said we were running late and we couldn't stop here! In the event, it was only us that wanted to go into the market and all other passengers declined. Stanley walked us quickly through the market, which was very higgedly piggedly, extremely busy and one had to be careful not to fall over children lying on the floor. We were of course looking for our fridge magnets which we had missed out on previously, but this town was predominately majoring on shells, and taflouaie, the shell money. Feeling we were delaying the others, it was not a shopping opportunity, so after about five minutes we returned to the bus. We drove past the big Catholic Church in front of which were many concrete steps with no hand rail, seemingly a daily or weekly ritual not for the faint hearted. There were a few well constructed buildings in the middle of town, a few banks and offices. However the air of dilapidation was evident everywhere, with rubbish strewn by the side of the road in piles. We drove through China Town, but did not see any Chinese, maybe they were all inside these shops, which bore Chinese names on their facades. We were told that this was the wholesale area, and it was certainly obvious that business was good, owing to the locals milling around with huge raffia type bags full of various products, from vegetables, fruit and presumably household goods, as well as clothes. From here the road climbed steeply up the hills, there was some habitation but these appeared to consist of corrugated roofed barn-like properties, built on stilts. We asked Stanley if they were built like this due to snakes, but his reply was unbelievable, when he said they could build on the lower level at some future date!! If this was so, they would have been underground! Our next stop turned out to be the National Parliament building built by the Americans in 1994. This was very surprising as the bare concrete was stained and appeared much older than it was. We went inside, and the interior was considerably better, built naturally in the round. We were shown where each member sat from the President down. Coincidentally there was another shorex party inside already, with a gentleman explaining how Parliament operated. Lucky for us, as Stanley did nothing by way of explanation. It was here when we said - we have a 20 minute stop here, and he replied 40, that we realised he was not able to tell the time, the forty to which he referred was the time on his watch! After returning to the bus he told us we would be returning to the wharf. We asked why we were not going to the Skyline ridge where the monument stood. He said it was not part of the tour. We replied we had paid for this, our trip should have been two and an half hours, and this was not even two! Needless to say all the rest of the bus were satisfied, which was not too much of a surprise, considering their obvious lack of interest in everything they saw. We went straight to see Christina and said we had not done the tour we paid for. The excuse was that the skyline ridge memorial was only open on a Sunday, and she had to email everyone to explain this, change the itinerary, making it shorter and seemingly she had forgotten to email us! This did not ring true, she knew originally our ship was docking on a Saturday, and as far as I know, the Skyline Ridge memorial is an open site on top of the hill. However she was apologetic, and refunded us fifty percent. This however didn't compensate for not visiting the memorial, we are unlikely to come again to Honiara, and what we did see was not what we had expected. Very much down at heel, with nothing to commend it. There was one lady on the quayside amongst many others selling crafts, but she alone had fridge magnets, which she said she makes herself, but unfortunately she had sold them all! Thwarted once again! To finish the day, we stood in a long queue for the tender, for about fifty minutes, but the line of passengers behind us snaked all along the wharf, and some poor people had to wait 90 minutes in what was by then, very hot sun with no vestige of shade. The joys of tender operation on a large ship!! So finished a very disappointing day. We had chosen to eat in the Sterling Steak House that night. The standard of service, and food quality fully justified the $AUD 29 per head cover charge. A meal we both thoroughly enjoyed. September 25 - At sea We had been invited as one of the forty most travelled passengers to a luncheon in the Marquis Restaurant - a bit unfortunate, as despite an extremely light breakfast, we were still full after the dinner last night in the Steak House. We were seated at the Chief Engineer's table, a charming Italian from Naples who has been at sea for some years and has done service on most of the Princess fleet. He too prefers the size of ships, like the Sun, rather than the new behemoths. Lunch and his company, together with a delightful couple from Los Angeles, plus two Australian couples, who did not engage us in conversation, was good. The usual story of food being cooked for only a small number of people, as opposed to banquet catering. At the end, many guests said - same time, same place tomorrow! We spent virtually the rest of the day on the balcony only stirring to see our first production show from the Sun Princess singers and dancers. Entitled the British Invasion, it concentrated on the music of the 60's in Britain. The production was very good, with some slick pyrotechnics. The music of course was very much to our liking, however the choreography was repetitive, and the decision to give females, songs which had been made famous by men was wrong. Many of the female singers' voices were not compatible to the songs they performed, but there was one guy with a very good voice. It was difficult to be certain but it did seem as if the production team had utilized Musical Instrument Digital Interface, rather than the just the Sun's house band, but the finished product was good. Despite the above comments, we enjoyed it, and the audience in the full house were enthusiastic. Unfortunately an ex old stage hoofer is bound to be more critical! As always we did our perambulation round deck, this time on Deck 14, trying to get some darkness as the stars were brilliant, with the Southern Cross and the Milky Way visible, although no moon. We forwent dinner for an earlyish night in readiness for our two trips the next day in Luganville, Vanuata. Despite our good intentions, once again it was still around 11.00 pm before lights out. September 26 - Luganville. Early morning found us tied alongside the "work in progress" new wharf. With the skeleton of a new warehouse, on one side, the half erected dock offices on the other, the passengers had to walk straight through the middle of a building site, albeit roped off with flags showing where to walk. Work by the Shanghai Construction Group started on this project in 2015, utilising some 50 local Vanuatu workers, although some key managerial posts were being filled by the Chinese. Due to the area resembling a dusty building site it was difficult to see anything of the town, only the hinterland in the background, and unfortunately being so dusty, not conducive to sitting on the balcony. We had two Princess's shorexes booked. The first was a water music show coupled with a Kava demonstration. This is a drink made from cassava root, tapioca, ground-down, mixed with water and a kind of ginger. It is served in a coconut shell and is common in all the South Seas' countries. In Fiji for example it is very strong and is alcoholic. Vanuata's tastes are not for the alcoholic variety, and its ingredients are very herby, with a strong taste of ginger. However it is considered very beneficial to health and is supposedly a cure for a lot of common illnesses, including cancer. Whilst this might be a little optimistic, it is definitely medicinal, and the locals drink it every day. We left the dock area in a tiny minibus and were instructed to put on our seat belts, a slightly bizarre request, considering where we were and also in view of the destination, only a few kilometers from the ship. Indeed, we were packed in so tightly, it was impossible to even find a seat belt! After the short drive, we left the main road and turned off into what was virtually a dirt track, although not nearly such a poor road surface as that we experienced in Rabaul!! We finally arrived at this typical local villager's house. Differing in only one respect, to the others in the road, there was quite a large rectangular swimming pool in the grounds, surrounded by raised seating in a lovely tropical garden setting. We were seated on wooden benches overlooking this pool and half a dozen ladies plus one little girl, all dressed in local costumes, i.e. Coconut dresses, all stood in the water and performed several musical movements by using their hands to slap the water in rhythm to produce a lyrical sound. The "songs" of which there were about half a dozen, were all traditional, one of a sea snake and another of fishes, all handed down as part of their long history. This spectacle was quite unique and most unusual and was enjoyed by those who attended. The Kava which, having already tried years before and decided I did not like, was offered round to try in a small coconut cup, and I would have eschewed the offer, but as it smelt strongly of ginger and herbs, tried some, and found it tasted exactly what it was. Strong ginger taste with an overwhelming flavour of oatmeal (tapioca), and not at all unpleasant. Just before leaving we were offered a coconut, both the drink and then the flesh, after the lady behind the counter sliced it open. There must be various different sorts of coconuts in the South Pacific, and some have a slightly acid taste, this however was really good, although the flesh was a bit "green" and a bit slimy as of course only minutes previously, it had held the milk. We were offered cut pieces of grapefruit, papaya and banana before leaving this oasis behind and returning to the ship. The afternoon tour left at around 12.30 and once again it was a short drive. Arriving on an adjacent road to that we had been on in the morning, we again stopped at a villager's house. This was quite extensive, and we were greeted by two ladies, mother and daughter, the latter 16 years of age. We then were taken through their "little" garden and were shown what trees, bushes and flowers they had, and their uses. Unfortunately this little preamble was similar to doing a 'bush' walk, the paths were extremely narrow, room for only one person at a time, and in most places the vegetation was taller than most of the passengers. We resembled a conga line, the only trouble being that the middle and back of the queue, could not only not see to what the mother was alluding, but also could not hear what she was saying! After spending some fifteen minutes walking through this little bit of local flora, we merged into the sunlight to an oblong piece of ground next to the meeting house. This tour was ostensibly billed as fire walking, but also incorporated a demonstration of Kava making. As we were told in the morning this too also has great significance and can only be done by the chief or his son, never women, as too is the fire walking. The latter was quite disappointing. I have seen people walk and jump up and down, over bright red searing coals with flames licking round the unburnt coals. What our guy was walking on was really a pile of grey ash, which was smoking a little. Like all these performers, he put his feet in a bucket of cold water after his act, to show you his feet to prove that he has no blisters. The chief then showed us some sand painting, which is performed with only one finger which does not leave the board. This was quite clever, but after seeing a Russian perform some amazing drawings using the same method with some small amount of sand on a board, this was not as good, and appeared quite amateurish. The villagers also played musical instruments to entertain us, and resembled a beat combo from the 70's. It was then the ladies turn, to show how they make various items from the coconut, from mats to clothes. Intriguing to note that they also grow a variety of bamboo, and this they cut down to act as a knife. They must have to shape this piece of bamboo to make it more "knife" like, but it was certainly very sharp, and cut through their rough materials, like a knife through butter. We asked if they cut their hands whilst making these objects, but were told they were experienced so therefore the answer was no. One wonders what happens when they were raw novices! After thanking them for their time and hospitality, the Chief bade us farewell, no doubt waiting for the tips, which were unlikely to come from the Australian passengers, and we returned to the ship. It was unfortunate that despite the early return of our afternoon shorex, it was too far to go into town. This was disappointing but we heard later from some passengers who had done so, that it was only marginally better than Honiara with regards to rubbish strewn around, so perhaps it was better to retain our memories of the still simplistic life of the two families we had visited. Sailing around 6.00 pm for Champagne Bay, only a short sail away, we knew we would not be travelling at too many knots during the night. At dinner, we were interrupted by an announcement by the Captain, telling us that he had had a request from Noumea to pick up five fishermen who were stranded in mid ocean, from the afternoon before, but a plane had spotted them and therefore gave us their last known coordinates. The captain said he had agreed, we would make full speed in the opposite direction, make rendezvous around midnight to one in the morning, and God willing would be back to dock in Vila as planned. This brought forth spontaneous clapping from most of the dining room. September 27 – Champagne Bay True to his word we arrived at Champagne Bay at the allotted time, and were informed that onboard were the five fishermen, alive and well, had been checked by the doctor, and would be going ashore later. It turned out that there had been two females on this little boat, one an old lady of 89 and a younger woman in her mid-30’s, one of whom, was a relative of the Minister of Finance and our ship had made the headlines in the local papers. One enterprising local tried to get us to buy a copy for $AUD2, whilst we were having a drink in a local café in Vila the following day!! Apparently there was also going to be a small ceremony on board whilst the ship was docked in Vila... Once again Champagne Bay was a tender operation and this lovely island is known, as are so many in this area, for its sweeping curve of pink-tinged sand framed against a classic south-seas turquoise lagoon, and it is also probably the most famous of Vanuatu’s beaches. Located on the northeast coastline of Espiritu Santo, its name is derived from a natural phenomenon. At low tide when the water is at its shallowest, the sound the water makes is a fizzing noise like champagne as it passes through the volcanic rocks on the sea bottom. We had intended once again to snorkel here, but first went ashore and looked at the sales opportunity, and for the elusive fridge magnets, which remained so. It was also very interesting to watch the crabs, lobsters and various other sea creatures which were being sold on the beach prior to the vendors dumping them into a cauldron of hot water and giving them cooked to their buyers on a banana leaf. There were many people swimming and snorkelling in the Bay, and were surprised at some people’s comments that the water was cold. Apparently there are local cold water springs which feed the Bay in this area, so we decided against snorkelling and returned to the ship. Although we recognised the bay at Vila, there is work going on at the quayside to enlarge the dock area - and surprise, the company contracted to do the work is of course Chinese, but the donkey work was being done by the locals. Running the gamut of many more stalls selling a variety of goods than eight years previously, we got a cab into town at a cost of five dollars per head. He crammed fourteen passengers into this small minibus and then had the gall, due to traffic to drop us off well before the landmark and the supposed drop off, of the post office. However we then walked along the road, gradually remembering the street we had last seen eight years ago. We found the chemist where we had originally bought antibiotics and repeated our purchase. Vila is a duty free port and liquor is very much cheaper, certainly much less than the ship, so we bought two bottles of gin, which as previously, would be delivered to the ship. Our final port of call was to a lovely little cafe facing the ocean where we bought two lovely fresh fruit juices and got free Internet, albeit not terribly fast, a bit frustrating as we needed to book airline seats for a flight to Valencia in a few weeks’ time. Our "chores" done, we found a taxi who would return us to the ship for $AUD 5 each. Once again we had to walk through all the stalls to get back on the ship, and this time we bought six coasters and finally - a fridge magnet! We sailed around 6.00 pm, and had a lovely three days before our penultimate port, Brisbane. We were fortunate with the weather, and life at sea continued with the rhythm of the ocean, with one day rolling effortlessly and imperceptibly into the next. October 2 - Brisbane The journey into the harbour, Portside, is a long sail up the river, and land appeared long before we docked at 7.00 am. This was a turn round port. The 20 day cruise actually started in Brisbane two days before ours, so there were some four hundred passengers disembarking. Princess have also sold a two day cruise from here back to Sydney, but there are also passengers continuing on past Sydney to New Zealand. Our poor cabin steward was losing six but gaining six - unlike his counterpart further down the corridor, who was losing more than he gained. This of course means that he had to strip those cabins completely and remake them, as well as dealing with the rest of us. We had ordered room service breakfast, as we had to have a face to face interview with the Australian Border Force, having first to collect a card from the Marquis dining room, before proceeding ashore to go through immigration. We had friends meeting us about 8.00 am, so didn't want to keep them waiting. The queue for the interview was not long and we were soon through this new terminal building which was not built eight years ago when we last here. Unsure exactly where we would meet, we finally got together, and we were soon speeding out of the city. We drove on the state highway No 26 and turned off to visit a small seaside town called Woody Point in the Moreton Bay area, which is in sight of the Brisbane port far away in the distance. Obviously a large and expensive residential area, there were a great many lovely houses and apartments with large balconies, some of the latter appeared to be fairly new. We had a walk by a jetty, and looked across to a community across the bay which used to have a regular ferry. We then drove to Redcliffe, another lovely Oceanside town. The town was heaving with cars and progress was slow. This was exacerbated because part of the town is closed on a Sunday for a street market, and it was difficult to find a parking space, so we were grateful to find someone leaving in the Woolworths car park. It was a beautiful sunny day and it was very interesting to wander through the thronging street market, which had various stalls on both sides of the road, offering both food, clothes, and unusual gifts from wind chimes to wooden bow ties. In a side street off the main street, there is a montage and exhibition of the Gibb brothers, the Bee Gees who lived in this area. There are cast statues of them, and various pictures of the family along the entire street with their music being played over a speaker. Leaving here we drove to Suttons Beach Parkland and Pilpel, the restaurant where we had a table booked. This restaurant is run by a charming Israeli, married to an Australian. The restaurant is situated virtually on the beach front. Our party of five were shown to an ocean side table. There are various options on the menu, but we opted for the "feast" aptly named as we were presented with fifteen different entrees as diverse as falafel, hummus, tzatziki, and small squares of warm pita bread. This was followed by an enormous dish placed in the centre of the table containing beef, lamb, crevettes and calamari. This really was a feast, but the joy, was that each individual dish was of top quality, well cooked and flavoursome, followed by typical Middle Eastern dessert items, such as rose Turkish delight and baklava. This too was of a very good quality and finally to finish a cup of authentic mint tea. The service from the staff was extremely attentive, and we were only sorry that living on another continent, we could not patronize Adiel's restaurant on a regular basis. Feeling more than replete, our friends drove us back to the port of Brisbane in time to sail to our final destination, Sydney. October 3 At Sea The weather on our final day at sea, was cloudy and therefore it was no hardship to embark on the chore which is packing, and two of the three cases were finished well ahead of our normal schedule. October 4 disembarkation in Sydney As usual the disembarkation process was handled seamlessly and we had chosen to take the Princess's shuttle to the airport. Leaving the ship at around 10.00 am we stood in a short queue to a get on the coach, which as usual was not full, allowing for passengers to keep their carry-on bags with them inside the coach. By the time we reached the airport there was not too long to wait before we were able to check in for our flight to the UK. In conclusion, we enjoyed our cruise which was enhanced by three people, Michael and I Wayan our dining room waiter and his assistant, and our Thai cabin steward Tuhma. Our mini-suite 310, the layout, the bed and the double balcony, as we have said, was our oasis of calm, and without these, many aspects of the cruise would have been unbearable. We also thought that generally the staff on board were not friendly, and in some cases, bordered on the supercilious. It was unfortunate that it was deemed necessary to put a new member of staff on the reception desk who had obviously not had adequate training, was left on his own, and therefore needed to refer to other staff for assistance. We had occasion to speak to the Future Cruise Consultant on more than one occasion and found her off-hand and abrasive, as indeed did many other passengers to whom we spoke. She was also not au fait with information on the other ships in the fleet, and considering she is trying to sell future cruises, her attitude was extremely unfortunate. The Destination Expert is also a member of the Cruise Director’s team. She gave talks and showed slides on the ports to be visited, acting therefore as another member of the Shore Excursion department. She was certainly an unfortunate choice, as her command of the English language was appalling and she also suffered from Malapropism. It was very difficult to concentrate on what she was saying, when one needed to decide what word she should have used. Two examples, “outlaying islands” instead of outlying islands and “underwater “visualisation”, instead of underwater visibility. There were very many more but these are two that were used in much profusion. Unfortunately having sailed with Princess for a great many years, this was by far our worst experience, and it is unlikely that we will sail with Princess again.

Second Class Sun Princess Ill serves the Southern Hemisphere

Sun Princess Cruise Review by Master Echo

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: September 2016
  • Destination: South Pacific
  • Cabin Type: Mini-Suite with Balcony
Sept 14 Sydney - Embarkation

Taxi from Mercure about 11.30 to Circular Quay -OPT - due to construction work on the new light railway being built, half of George street is closed, involving a circuitous route as many streets are now closed. Traffic very heavy and we arrived shortly after 12.00. Taxi cost $AUD28

Quayside was quite chaotic with passengers being disgorged from cars and taxis and although there were a few Princess personnel in attendance, when asked where the porters were, we were told there aren't any!! In all fairness the Princess Representative we spoke to, did offer to drag our luggage to the registration desk! After our cases were labelled and taken away, we began the tortuous journey to get onboard the Sun. Whilst the procedures are the same for embarkations on all ships, i.e. passports shown, Health declaration completed, cruise cards issued, credit card details taken, exit papers to fill in - in this case, for Australian immigration, baggage and passengers to go through security and the immigration desk, then the final walk onto the ship where your picture is taken. This seemed to be so much more protracted due to the amount of passengers trying to embark. The Sun holds 1960 passengers - so many more than we are used to, and to our dismay we were told that the passenger count was in fact 2416!! "Pack ‘em in and pack ‘em high" springs to mind; this figure was revised later to 1,968.

This became evident very quickly with queues everywhere and a sea of people milling around. As we expected, it was not possible to get any seat to be able to eat in the Horizon Cafe, but we did manage a sandwich in the International Cafe, although the requested coffee (ordinary - otherwise there is a charge) never materialised. The time for the lifeboat drill came round all too soon, and our muster station was the Wheelhouse Bar. To ensure all passengers attend, a member of staff is supposed to scan your cruise card, but there was such a melee around the entrance that I saw no one in evidence and made my way to the Wheelhouse, but it was already chock-a-block with passengers, so much so that members of the crew directed passengers to the theatre instead. This too quickly filled up and some people ended up staying in the corridors. Eventually after demonstrating that passengers could actually put on their life jackets correctly, we were dismissed.

We returned to our cabin - a mini suite on Baja deck. We knew from experience that all Sun class ships had small cabins, hence our choice. Even so, space is tight, particularly with drawer space and the hanging area within the walk in wardrobe, the latter certainly not big enough for more than a 7 day cruise. We did however have a Jacuzzi bath, small but useful, particularly when we found that they have not upgraded the fixed shower head in the shower enclosure, which is definitely not user friendly, particularly for ladies. The other lovely feature of a mini suite is the large sitting area with a three seater settee and armchair with table and a drinks cabinet and fridge. Outside this area is a balcony door with seating as well as another balcony accessed from the bedroom area, thereby giving us two balconies which is lovely.

Unfortunately both chairs on the balcony were absolutely covered in paint splatters and looked not only disreputable but dirty. The table was equally bad, made of metal, it had been painted where it had rusted, although not well, so the paint had bubbled and was peeling away. Not what you would expect from a 4 star cruise line. Our cabin steward was most concerned. I think that he thought we felt that he hadn't cleaned it - a guy from Thailand with limited understanding of English. He was very willing to please us, but worried that we would report it to his supervisor, as he said he would get into trouble. However bless him, we returned to the cabin later to find two chairs with the wrapping still half attached - proving they were new! The table was also replaced with one that was marginally better, but had still suffered the same fate. We were horrified to hear that cabin stewards are now given 16 cabins to clean without any help of an assistant, and for our guy, included several mini suites.

It was with a heavy heart that we left our berth at Circular Quay, the ferries both large and small, manoeuvring out of our way on their way to Manly and other destinations in the Sydney area, and we were soon heading out to the Heads, dropping our pilot and heading north east to our first port of call of Alotau.

The weather was overcast with a strong headwind and a high sea, more like Atlantic troughs than just white horses. Fortunately the ship remained stable and during dinner, one was almost unaware of being at sea.

Arriving outside our allotted restaurant - the Regency, at just before 19.45, we gave our pre-assigned table number to the member of staff manning the door and were escorted to our table by one of the many assistant table waiters lined up for the purpose. The oval table for eight was in a good position adjacent to a window and we were the first to arrive. As it turned out we dined a deux! Waiter Michael from Philippines, his assistant from Ubud Indonesia. Both were good and service was prompt. Our chosen dishes turned out to be exceptionally good and joy of joy, not only the veg supplied with the dish, but also the extra we ordered, was well cooked and both plates and food were hot!! If the food and service continues as tonight, we will be very pleased.

After our first day on board, our observations - the number of passengers will be a problem, not only does there appear to be a problem with the lift buttons on our deck - 10, but it is nigh impossible to ride in one - when they do appear they always have the maximum capacity, and the waiting in the lift lobbies becomes a throng of people, so you are not sure whether they wish to go up or down.

Something that also proved to be the case over the next three weeks, was the footfall in the lobby areas for the lifts at meal times. One would expect the traffic to be down to the dining rooms! When in reality, more passengers went to the Horizon Cafe, the buffet restaurant on Deck 14. We also wondered if this was a conscious decision to avoid any likelihood of tipping dining room staff at the end of the cruise!

Due to the number of passengers, it would also be a nightmare on tender port days, as you have to queue to obtain a tender ticket. We had expected long lines for everything in view of the number of the passengers -the vast majority of whom are, naturally, Australian. It is also interesting to note the change in the demographic profile, since our last cruise on the Sun in 2008. Our cabin definitely has an advantage, with both the seating area inside the cabin and the extra room we were afforded on the balcony, both areas were very comfortable, and we retreated here on many occasions. Princess have also invested in new beds, Silversea please note, which are extremely comfortable, and the lighting is superior to that in the suites on Silversea.

However there is a dichotomy - Princess appear to be too tight to send passengers proper luggage labels, and expect passengers to print their own!! How long they expect a piece of A4 paper to last on a case, after being manhandled by airline and ship's personnel, and the hope that they will still be in situ when distributing the cases to passengers' cabins - I have no idea. Yet each night returning to our cabin, our "post box" was full with pieces of paper offering "sales opportunities" for the following day.

September 15 at sea

After a good night’s sleep, we went to the dining room for breakfast and made up a sharing table, all Aussies. Service was good and the waiter was friendly and we received what we asked for.

Weather was equally grey and overcast as the previous day and we had several rain showers, the temperature barely reaching the low 70'sF. Very disappointing as we were sailing alongside the Sunshine Coast of NSW, and Brisbane, and we had expected not only higher temps but also at least a glimmer of sun!

We managed to find a table in the Horizon cafe after 2.00 pm and had some rolls, cheese and olive oil with some salad. Pastries unfortunately are not of a good standard and are very stodgy. We went to one of the lectures - an Australian guy who had worked for the Australian Government and had been sent out to PNG as an "overseer" but in fact became responsible for running the whole island from the jails, to the court and general administration. His talk was very good and we learned some history of these intriguing islands.

Shop merchandise much of the same which can be found on any ship, from the high end, to ship's logo items. Much to my surprise they are still selling the "inch of gold". I would have thought they would have learned their lesson of some twenty years ago, when passengers returned their items on subsequent cruises when the "gold" wore off! They omit to say that it is not real gold, merely gold plated, and particularly in sea air "rusts" more quickly.

There appears to be a new high-end kid on the block - Effys - seemingly only sold in the US and some Caribbean islands, has been in existence for six years with some very expensive and pretty jewellery, some of which appears to have copied Sterns with their multicolored gemstones which the latter mine from Minas Gerais in Brazil. I was very disappointed to find that they did not sell any jewellery cleaner, which is particularly good, and which I was recommended by a Future Cruise Consultant on Silversea.

At dinner tonight we were joined by an Aussie couple from Manly, so we were four. Unfortunately tonight did not mirror the previous night's meal in any respect. The fish was overcooked, the vegetables were not, and the food was cold. Our dining companion who had had the lamb shank said it was inedible, as he was unable to cut it off the bone and left it, refusing any alternative.

We were in time to see the cabaret, an Aussie guy who does impersonations of singers, actors, and famous people. Unusual and quite good.

September 16 - at sea

Another day dawned much like the day before, it had obviously rained in the night as our balcony chairs and rail were wet, so disappointing once again. Breakfast again in the dining room, with two other couples and a lady whose husband had forgone breakfast to go to a lecture! All Aussies once again, and we were exchanging stories of the errant TVs! Passengers in mini cabins and above, have two TV sets, one in the bedroom area and the other in the seating area. You are supplied with two remote handsets, but strangely when trying to view one TV, it changes the other, and the other couple had had words like us, and had accused each other of changing what they had been watching!! Not so.

Breakfast was good this morning, both content and service. Stewards on the whole with whom we have interacted seem to be very friendly and willing to help. With the weather showing no signs of changing, we repaired to the cabin to read etc., and for me to continue this daily log. However as the day wore on the clouds broke, the sun peeped through and by early afternoon it was brilliant sun with a few scattered clouds. The temperatures have risen considerably, but as the ship's information did not give any readings this morning - we have no idea of current temperatures. As we continue to sail up the Australian coast and within the borders of the Great Barrier Reef - invisible unfortunately, we are accompanied by several gannet type birds, but too small to be albatrosses.

We managed a swim, the water not too cold, at least once you were in. However with the sun disappearing it was too cold to remain by the pool and we came down to the cabin for a hot shower. Tonight was formal night and it was surprising to see how many had made the effort to don tuxedos and evening dress, although there were the usual few who we saw in the public areas in the evening in shorts and T shirts! Expecting a "special" dinner as usual, we were second guessing whether it would be Lobster Thermidor or Beef Wellington. To our astonishment, there was nothing on the menu which was any way out of the ordinary. In fact it was less appetising than previous evenings. Our waiter Michael and his assistant I Wayan continue to be very good and service is consistently good and fast, despite us having another couple from another table who found themselves alone after the first night, and asked if they could join our table. Princess continue to have the champagne waterfall and all the passengers gravitate round the Atrium, hoping for a free drink, and the privilege of seeing the Captain's head from two or three decks above! I am afraid we are far too long in the tooth to get any enjoyment out of this bean feast and eschewed the whole event.

We did the first of what is customary on cruises for us, our post dinner walk round the deck. The night was lovely, with a bright full moon and the balmy temperatures which are so associated with being in the tropics. However it was after 11.00 pm before we returned to the cabin and bed.

Sept 17 - at sea

We awoke to a lovely sunny morning with warmer temperatures than we had previously had, although there was quite a wind blowing, evident by the white horses on the sea. The menu at breakfast offered smoked haddock. What is it about restaurants and cruise ships in particular, that they are incapable of cooking fish correctly? Apart from the fact that the fish on my plate did not even resemble haddock, it was completely dry and it was impossible to cut - what a waste of probably, would have been a tasty dish.

Surprisingly we managed to find two sun loungers round the pool, where we stayed for a few hours - about the extent of time it is possible to sit on these as they are so uncomfortable, with no padding whatsoever, and the towels supplied for the pool, are not even long enough to cover the lounger anyway. After having a bite on the outside deck of the Horizon cafe, we returned to our cabin and our lovely double balcony. There are a dearth of waiters serving drinks round the pool area, and many of these stewards have a poor command of the English language and do not understand, which makes it quite frustrating and time consuming to try and obtain any information.

Apart from the uncomfortable sun loungers, the main annoyance in the pool area is the extremely loud music which is broadcast from the bar, making it impossible for anyone to carry on an ordinary conversation, much less to relax. After repeated requests for it to be turned down, which were ignored, we gave up. Some days later when mentioning this problem to a member of the Cruise Director’s staff, he agreed and also said that the recordings were inconsistent, some very much louder than others, but that nothing had been done. During a cocktail demonstration held by the Pool, a member of the Cruise staff, despite using a microphone, became inaudible due to the loudness of the music.

Dinner tonight was again only four, us and the couple from South Australia who had moved from their allotted table as they had ended up on their own. The original couple from Manly had already told us that they were not eating in the dining room as they wanted to watch the match on live TV. Princess appear to have been very accommodating in showing the current rugby league and Australian football matches being played now in Australia as they draw to a climax.

Dinner service continues to be good, unlike the menus, Princess have definitely cut back on their food budget, as witnessed for the Captain's welcome dinner, the size of the menu has shrunk, and for a cruise line which boasted of their pasta and pizzas, the former have been dire, with only two options each night, although in actuality, one as every night there is their classic - Fettucine Alfredo, which by rights should be on the "always available" menu, also decreased in size. The smoked roast pork which resembled gammon steaks, were quite tasty, but very salty. Vegetables not cooked again, and for two night running my dessert has been sorbets, very nice, but obviously not made correctly, as both nights they contained ice crystals.

After a walk round the deck again, determined for an early night we returned to the cabin, but it was still post 11.00 pm before we turned out the light.

September 18 Alotau

After three days at sea, we awoke at 7.00 am, just as the Captain was bringing her alongside our berth. Skies very overcast with rain not long ceased, so there were more than a few muddy pools on the quayside. The vista which greeted us was so similar to many of the West African ports we had visited, and being a Christian country and a Sunday, only the town market was open, many attending the number of churches here in Milne Bay province. Not long after being tied alongside, the local dance tribe performed on the quayside, a small party of about ten mainly men and boys but with two women. This part of the town, being a port had much industry, with oil storage tanks and many containers lined up on the quayside. We were told by our guide Sarah, that there are several ferries leaving from here to the outlying islands.

For breakfast we had a full table, all Aussies again, although one elderly couple had emigrated from the UK in the 1960's, he a Londoner and she from Dublin. Many of the Aussies seated at breakfast, had cruised on P & O and enjoyed it, but were quite scathing about “the Poms who insisted on dressing up every night”

Mustering in the Marquis restaurant, we were "stickered" and after waiting for about ten minutes we were released to the gangway, where we were shepherded to a waiting mini-bus to begin our tour. After the introduction from our guide, Sarah, on where we were visiting, I realised that we were on the wrong tour!! I wasn't to know where the blame lay until I returned to the ship to check what we booked! I suppose there is a first time for everything, but in future I will check thoroughly!!

As it turned out, whilst a lot more expensive, it was probably the better option, as we got to go to the lookout, a lovely view over Simpson Bay graced by the presence of Sun Princess a small speck in the distance. From there we went to Cameron Secondary School, which surprisingly enough was most enjoyable and informative. It started with about eight girls singing the Papuan New Guinea National Anthem, unaccompanied, and then each girl was assigned to a small group of passengers who walked us round the school buildings explaining what took place in each of these buildings. It holds 850 students of both sexes, and is for boarders as well as day pupils. The two dormitories separating the sexes are a long way apart, and both are fenced. Needless to say it is forbidden to enter into one another's sleeping quarters, if found there is severe punishment! Alongside the tarmacked road are flowers and shrubs tended by the "naughty" students, and our little girl, Kate who looked about 12, but was actually 20, giggled and said it was looked after mainly by the boys! Kate was unusual in her colouring, having merely a "tan" and with very definitely auburn hair. It was obvious that either her father or mother had been Caucasian. She was very self-assured, spoke perfect English and explained what subjects were taught and telling us that class sizes had about 45 pupils. Leaving the school we retraced our steps, returning to the outskirts of town to visit the market. A little disappointing, maybe being a Sunday there were not many stalls, with many having the same produce, bananas, green vegetables, sago, coconuts, copra and fish, which looked freshly caught, being put on the tables from an iced container, where one person waved a little flag-like stick to keep the flies off. However there were several stalls selling what resembled plaited rope, and we were told it was tobacco. This seemed incongruous, unless it was put in a pipe to smoke. There would need to be quite a lot of preparation to convert this to cigarettes!

Adjacent was another building which sold batteries, lighters, kitchen graters, as well as some "cooked" items, and when questioned, said it was shell! The allotted 20 minutes being up we all walked back to the minibus and returned to the ship. One wonders how the money is distributed, as the $AUD115 cost of this two hour trip seemed excessive. Having seen so many places like this on our journey up the west coast of Africa, we were underwhelmed, and the only highlight was the interaction with the schoolgirls from Cameron Secondary School.

As Princess do not serve luncheon in either of the dining rooms, we opted for room service. Quoted twenty five minutes for delivery, we were pleasantly surprised when it arrived within fifteen. Unfortunately, the order was incorrect, substituting what tasted like spam, instead of tuna salad, the fillings were very meagre, and both the vegetarian option of avocado, and the "spam" were very dry. The accompanying French fries - they had run out of potato chips by Day 4 - were mainly hard, cold and extremely salty. We had a dessert consisting of chocolate chip cookies - two only to be precise - these were like dog biscuits, and so stale as to be almost inedible. Certainly a poor offering.

Dinner again with only four of us - menu uninspiring but there was an interesting pasta dish, long noodles with bacon and a sauce which was very good. We followed this, living dangerously, by ordering the lemon sole. Luckily it had not been annihilated, but was rather tasteless, and the extra veg which the lovely Michael served was hot and well cooked. It seems meals, particularly dinners are a lottery, sometimes very good, but at others, mediocre, bordering on the poor. Once again we eschewed any evening entertainment and attempted our round deck perambulation, only to find sections of both the forward and aft deck shut for cleaning. We asked of one of these guys why this was done at 9.30 at night, rather than the early hours of the morning, as on other ships. We did not get a real answer, but we ascertained that this cleaning was only done twice a week!! Our favourite Captain on SS would be reeling at this news! Actually walking more extensively round the ship, it was obvious this ship is not well maintained. There is much rust, and as on our balcony, when painting had taken place, the work was substandard. This latter was illustrated when we noticed much of the teak balcony rails were in great need of a varnish, but in some places these resembled a Dalmatian dog, with white spots covering the rails. Whether this is because of lack of resources or a general malaise is not known. However it took four days, with our cabin steward reporting it on a daily basis, for our broken cabin light bulb to be replaced!!

Sept 19 Dioni Island

Anchoring off the island at 7.00 am, the current was not conducive for the ship to start tender operations, and we began to wonder if this would be another casualty to many other tender port debacles we have experienced in the past. God was kind as sometime later the tender boats were lowered and the mammoth task of getting off potentially 2000 passengers began. Princess have always been known for fast and efficient embarkations and disembarkations, and today was no exception.

There was still quite a high sea running with a strong inter-island current when we went ashore mid-morning. I always revel in these tenders ashore, but realise a lot of passengers are not happy at negotiating steps etc., despite the willingness of the helping crew.

The island proved to be a cross between a remote island we visited in the Amazon, and any other tropical island. We had been told the locals greeting us would have come from the outlying islands. This was obvious in little cardboard written signs asking for donations for a secondary school's new classroom, a church's new seats and even donations for the children's' birthdays!! Similar signs asking for 3 and 5 Kina to take pictures. Two were upsetting, one was a small possum who looked decidedly dejected and the other was another small animal which seemed to be tied to the post. When I enquired, I was told he was sleeping! We walked quite a long way through a clearing and the demonstrations of small children with their one note drum beat, looking so woebegone as if they were made to do this for us. Unfortunately, like Boca de Valeria in the Amazon we felt it too contrived.

Back onboard around 2.30.

AT dinner we finally had nearly the full complement - the couple from Manly returned tonight, apparently she had been under the weather last night and hadn't eaten. Seemingly there is a friction we feel between the couple from Adelaide, i.e. South Australia, probably much like the rivalry of people who live in London and the population north of Watford Gap!! Dinner as usual was mediocre and to cap it all, the dessert offered chocolate ginger ice cream - ooh I thought how lovely- only to find they had made it with powdered ginger, not only did it not go with it, it made the chocolate powdery and was frankly, quite horrible. We caught the cabaret act tonight, husband and wife, he a guitarist and singer, and she a violinist and singer. She proved to be better than him but they are definitely cruise fodder. As it was once again gone 11.00 pm, we retired for the night, checked emails before turning out the light - Kiriwina tomorrow - and maybe snorkelling.

Sept 20 – Kiriwina Island

Once more anchoring off the island at 7.00 am, we were greeted by an island similar to that of Dioni yesterday, only differing from the wider expanses of sandy beaches here, and the island appeared not only longer but also deeper. Once on the island, the thick growth interior seemed to stretch to infinity. We waited on the balcony, listening to the endless call from the Reception desk with numbers which ranged from 1-100 (the number each tender holds) right up to 1200! We had thought, as previously that both Elite and Suite passengers could go straight to the tender station without queuing in the Marquis Restaurant for the tender ticket. We were questioned the first time we did this as to whether we had been given permission to come, only to be told we still needed to muster at the Marquis for a tender ticket!! The following day this was ratified when it appeared in the Princess Patter, with the proviso that we would be able to get on the first available tender. However due to the pouring rain, we decided to wait to see if the weather cleared. Fortunately by the time we decided to go, it had stopped raining, but more importantly, we were able to go straight down and get on a tender.

The ride ashore was only about ten minutes and we alighted onto a long concrete jetty with a rail on one side, stretching some forty yards to the shore. Walking along this jetty we were bombarded by kids in small canoes asking for money. Reaching the shore, it was surprising how steeply the beach shelved to reach the water's edge.

It was obvious that this more closely resembled the island in the Amazon which we had visited previously because of the outward show of begging was more prominent. The locals as we were to find out later, were segregated from the passengers, by a little fence - a tree branch stuck in the ground and a bit of wire strung between it. Behind this was a constant stream of villagers going about their normal daily lives, but the sellers were strung along the shore side with their goods laid out on huge banana leaves. These ranged from carved wooden items, made from two different sorts of wood, one unknown, but the other ebony. Some beautiful intricately carved bowls, ornaments etc. with beautiful prices to match! You could also buy betel nuts by the hundreds, many sellers were only selling this, surprising as they obviously thought we would be interested in buying. As we had seen in Alotau, objects resembling black plaited small sticks turned out to be tobacco. Here they also had little mounds of tobacco, obviously cut from the plait, which were like thick snuff, whether this was rolled in paper is unknown. But people were either prodigiously chewing betel nuts or smoking Western manufactured cigarettes, or both. The telltale red mouth and teeth of the former was more in evidence here than in Dioni, maybe because there were many more people. Also on sale were both cooked and uncooked small lobsters and crabs. These too were not cheap, particularly considering they had only yards to travel having been caught.

Much to our surprise on one of the little banana leaf mats, were two different sorts of fridge magnets, one depicting this beach and the other Alotau and the man said they were five Kina each. Two therefore would cost us $AUD 5. Not wanting to get out a wallet with lots of Aussie dollars in such a crowded place we told him we would return. Needless to say after our walk along the beach and my paddle, most of the vendors had gone on our return, and our little man with the fridge magnets was nowhere to be seen! Lesson No 1 - buy when you see - but in the circumstances, it would have been unwise.

Observations - less people seemed to speak any English, unlike those in Dioni, but those who did spoke good English. Most of course knew Hello and Bye Bye. Foreigners/Westerners are called "Dim dim" by these islanders - aptly titled for some of our passengers (!), and my blonde hair was a magnet for many of the curious, mainly the children, of which there are a lot. Stopping to speak to a little boy about two who was sitting on the ground with his family, I held out my hand to shake his, pointing to myself and saying "dim dim", his curiosity overcame his shyness and he took my hand, only to recoil in horror, rushed back to his mother and threw himself into his mother's arms. She smiled, but I felt I must have appeared to be an alien to him! In the middle of the main area, we saw a huge black pig eating. Indeed many of the vendors were eating food whilst still trying to sell their wares. There was also the inevitable cockerel, which we encountered in a clearing trying to scratch from the bare earth, and of course many dogs. One unsettling moment, when a dog's yelp resounded round this little enclave of huts and he appeared running on three legs to what was obviously his owner, and then appeared to lie on his back, by this time merely barking intermittently and we wondered if he had been bitten by a snake. At first until we saw the dog, we wondered if it was a pig about to meet its end!

Another surprise was that all the locals were fully clothed, men and boys wearing tee shirts and shorts, and the ladies, dresses, with only the young male children bare breasted. This seems to indicate that the "dancers" of Dioni specifically put on this show for the tourists, and away from the attention, wear normal Western clothes.

As we retraced our steps back to the jetty, there was a man who we had heard with a loud speaker talking in the local tongue and we asked what he was saying. Apparently he was the local Consul whose job it was to keep the villagers under control, hence the fence, saying they had now had their "sales" opportunity and to return to their tasks etc. He reiterated that he was doing this for the security of the passengers from cruise ships. He realised of course, that no trouble, would mean the return of the cruise lines.

Dinner as usual with our full complement of six. We did our usual walk, but tonight there was only a glimpse of the moon, as it was very cloudy. Later in the night, there was a big storm virtually overhead with both lightning and thunder. Luckily I only saw one flash of lightning and went back to sleep.

Sept 21 Kitava

As seems to be normal now, the anchors went down just before 7.00 am, but due to strong currents, the captain had to retract them, sail further out and redo the process. Expecting the violent storm to have cleared the weather, we were to be disappointed, and rain, low cloud and poor visibility greeted us as we went out onto the balcony.

Also ever present is the smell which appears to circulate round the AC. When we first boarded the ship in Sydney and came to the cabin, there was a strong smell of cabbage. We assumed we were above the galley - albeit many decks distant, but the various smells now definitely seem to be transmitted via the AC, as they are still strong with both balcony doors closed. Quite frankly the smell of boiled cabbage is quite noxious, although various other smells appear throughout the day, but none are very pleasant.

With the rain holding off for longer periods now, we ventured ashore to the island to see if we could find out why the Kitavans are so healthy, having a diet so similar to that of the Kiriwinis, who apparently have a large percentage of child mortality, and do not live to old age. Seeing how near relatively speaking, the two islands are, this seems to be an enigma. We are also hoping to find someone selling fridge magnets! Unfortunately once it was open house for the tenders, the rain came down, but as we were waterproof, with only shorts and sandals, we decided to go ahead. Once again the jetty was of concrete with hand rails all along. Shorter than Kiriwina, unlike yesterday there were only a few small steps and you were on the sand. The beach here was level and the trees were much taller and denser and reached almost to the sea. Unfortunately the rain came on even harder, and though there were many trees under which to shelter, these afforded very little, as the downpour was so bad that the rain came through the branches, and it was better to walk outside the line of trees, to avoid the drips. Most of the villagers were sheltering under banana leaves, many had umbrellas, or were in little old fashioned market stalls. Most had their goods laid out on banana leaves or pieces of material. The items on sale here were mainly wooden ornaments and shells, although we did see one baseball cap, but no fridge magnets. It was even too wet to take photographs with the risk of a wet camera. Not to be outdone we stood under the awning of the Princess security at the edge of the jetty leading to the tender and took a few pictures, although not near enough to take the people. They really are totally different to any of the other islanders we have previously seen. More akin to the Polynesians, they really are a lovely looking people without the extreme curly hair of the previous inhabitants of the other islands we had visited. It was a pity that we did not see any of the healthy food for which they are famous.

Soaked to the skin, we walked along the jetty to the waiting tender. This was tender No. 3, one we had previously experienced, this one has one window pane missing, and the roof leaks like a sieve, and was dripping down on us like a waterfall. We were half way back to the ship before an oil skinned member of the crew, decided to pull down the side flaps, where the rain was coming in, in a steady torrent! By the time we had arrived back to the ship ten minutes later, we were wetter than we had been ashore! It was time for a hot shower and both of us had to ring out all the clothes we had been wearing. Tender No 2 is also faulty and potentially dangerous. It appears to go into full throttle when the gearbox drive is engaged. This creates a hefty thud and lurch forward or backwards which makes maneuvering very difficult. Watching the tendering operation from our balcony, this tender kept hitting the tender pontoon as its driver tried to bring it alongside. Going into Kiriwina was not a smooth ride each time he engaged or disengaged propulsion. We are awaiting the joys of No 1 and No 4!

We later went to the spa, and recounting our story to one of the masseurs, she told us that her treatment room also leaked! One of the two fountains in the gym area is either broken or has not been filled since leaving Sydney, six days ago. Maintenance generally round the ship seems to be non-existent.

September 22 - Rabaul

Erroneously, before arriving in PNG we had pronounced the old capital- "Rabool" when in fact it is "Rabal". We chose Kaibaira Tours out of three companies who have a presence on Trip Advisor, for several reasons. Their website was clear and informative, and they would customise the tour to suit individuals, accepting payment either by cash or credit card, in PNG Kina or Australian dollars, and the tour would be only for us, unlike their competitor where you would be one of a party. Yolanda confirmed by return email that they would be waiting on the quayside on the morning of our arrival in Rabaul, and they were.

They were not allowed to come inside the port area, although I noticed the other two operators each had a desk, and were taking new bookings, a bit unfair and not a level playing field. Walking outside we found a guy with my name on a board and we were shown to a minibus, and were told to wait for other passengers he was expecting. We explained that we had booked a private tour for just us, and we were asked to change to another minibus, as they had already started to load provisions on ours, for a dive tour. Walking a few paces behind, we got on another bus. This unfortunately did not have complete A/C, so we ended up with some of the windows open (those that would close), we had some semblance of A/C.

Our driver/guide introduced himself as Jerry and off we went at 09.10 am, having been waiting for about thirty minutes for his arrival, enough time to get a lovely Papua New Guinean (PNG) baseball cap.

We started with a tour of old Rabaul, the original capital of PNG, which was devastated by an eruption of Mount Tavuvur in September 1994, virtually exactly twenty two years ago. Ash and lava covered most of the old town, and building started on a new city about 15 kilometers down the coast in Kokopo. We drove round what is left of the old city, the few buildings which had not disappeared, now derelict and rusty. It was incredible to see the mounds of ash still piled up by the side of the road, making huge embankments. We stopped at the New Guinea club, an old officers club from the 1920's, still with its parquet flooring and wood panelling walls. It now houses memorabilia from this period and even has bits of Japanese ironmongery that was shot down. Very interesting, particularly some of the original pictures and texts.

Driving through the old airfield, where the topography had clearly been flattened, built by the Japanese with allied forces’ labour in the 1940's, it was still in operation until the volcanic eruption in 1994, but is now reverting back to nature with trees sprouting on the very fertile soil of the ash. This area is quite extensive and we eventually arrived at a little clearing in the woods after paying a fee to two men who had barred the way with a makeshift fence. This was also a sales opportunity with the familiar pieces of cloth lying on the ground on which was neatly displayed their wares. Lying in a gully were two rusty parts of Japanese planes which had been found there. Not too far from here we came to the hot springs, adjacent to the bay. Here a man was cooking peanuts on a string, dangling them into the hot water. The heat and smoke which emanated from this little piece of boiling water was quite incredible. It also showed clearly the minerals which leach out of the ground, which were a rich orangey brown colour. Needless to say there was also a large shopping opportunity here to satiate the needs of the disgorging passengers from all the minibuses on the Princess's tours. We drove off and left them to it.

Next stop was the Volcanological Observatory which monitors 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes in PNG, as well as offering breathtaking views across Simpson Harbour, and our ship, appearing as a tiny model, nestled in the calm waters, so different from the mayhem which must have ensued there during the war. Housed in a small room are many seismic graphs which monitor activity twenty four seven. There are also still photographs of various stages of the eruptions. One in particular was quite frightening. It depicted half a dozen kids standing on a rock and behind them like a curling surf wave, was a big black ash cloud which threatened to engulf them. The guy who was in charge of this told us that the previous night there had been a minor earthquake at 2.20 am, only 100 kilometers east of Rabaul! When asked what force it had been on the Richter scale, he said they had not had time to work it out but thought it was only about 4.5 or 5.0!

Our last stop before leaving Rabaul, was to the cave where the Japanese hid three barges. This is now a haven for tiny bats, which were darting in and out of their tiny nests, which resembled tiny round holes in the roof. Apparently recently the Japanese returned and took out the engines! One speculates if they felt they could reuse these, looking at the state of the bare rusted hulks that were left, it is questionable why they should want the engines anyway!

Leaving here it was off to what is now the capital, Kokopo. Despite only been around fifteen kilometres distant, it takes over half an hour to drive. Initially the road is good, but it then deteriorates to little more than a dirt track, with deep gullies and pot holes, which really rattled us about. This continues for several miles. As this is the main highway between the two, we queried why the Government had not improved the surface. Seemingly corruption between the mining companies. Plus ca change!

Eventually we came to the outskirts of the town, and the difference is marked. New houses sit on the hills surrounded by landscaped trees and shrubs, and there is even more than one roundabout! There is quite a bit of traffic, and lots of hustle and bustle with the locals going about their business. Cheek by jowl are two large banks, and there are many small supermarkets and restaurants. We stopped at the market here, which is virtually identical to that in Rabaul, but much bigger. It is very well planned with about four long barn-like, open sided buildings adjacent to each other. Each caters for different items. There are several selling only fruit and vegetables, and others clothes and perfume, oils and jewellery, together with many touristy goods, although we only saw locals here, but presume other passengers from the ship had also visited. . All these building are linked by slopes, so no stairs need to be negotiated. There is also a grid running round the entire buildings for discarding liquids. Interesting also, to see the materials which make up the many red-mouthed population who chew betel nuts. These were on sale raw, together with a small plastic bag containing white powder. This contains lime - not the fruit, but in fact crushed up coral. These two ingredients are then ground together to make the familiar red staining. One wonders whether crushed coral is harmful, or acts as a sort of calcium. For sure, eating betel nuts is very harmful to the teeth if it is continually chewed After having a good look round, not being tempted to purchase, we left to continue our drive back to Rabaul, but first stopping at the Japanese war museum where toilets were available. Various Japanese military artefacts from the Second World War were displayed in the grounds, together with a cage housing one cockatoo and a couple of parrots, all of whom looked a little forlorn and should not to my mind be there at all. Neither should the two crocodiles, one smaller than the other which were in little more than a pit with not much water.

At the time of booking we had agreed that we could make payment by credit card. When it came to making the payment, we were told that the operator's bank charged a five percent surcharge for use of credit cards. This came as an unwelcome surprise and should have been made clear at the time of booking and left a rather nasty taste after what had been a very enjoyable day. The operator told us at this time that several people from our ship who had booked the dive excursion had failed to show up. Something for which we apologised - this is hardly acceptable behaviour and meant that this company could have lost potential new clients. After the financial transaction was completed, Jerry drove us the short distance back to the wharf, from where we had left six hours previously and we think that he was pleased with the tip he received.

Sailing at 17.30 pm, we were serenaded off the wharf by the local singers, forty strong, resembling a Welsh male voice choir, the same singers who had welcomed us here at 7.00 am as we came alongside.

September 23 - at sea

After the long day in the heat of Rabaul and Kokopo we were pleased to have a relaxing day at sea, particularly as we also lost an hour's sleep, as the clock went back in readiness for Honiara. After room service breakfast, we managed to find two loungers by the pool well after 11.00 am. This is something you probably wouldn't be able to do on any other ship, other than with Aussies, with their predilection to shun the sun. Despite the noisy kids who ran the gamut of one pool and then the other, we managed to get a couple of swims, but after a couple of hours on the uncomfortable unpadded loungers, we retired to the solitude of our lovely balcony. Although not as long as the sun loungers on the pool deck, they are infinitely more "bottom and back" friendly particularly being doctored with our lounge cushions!

Tonight was the second and penultimate formal night of the cruise, the last of which will be the Captain's farewell party. It was also the Captain's Circle party, which acknowledges all past passengers. Due to the amount of passengers travelling, this had been staggered, and tonight’s party was only for Platinum and Elite passengers. Nevertheless the Vista Lounge was full and my meagre 504 days travelled, cut no mustard here. The top two had over 700 days, and the most travelled had sailed for over a thousand days. Some achievement. Being typically British, with an invitation reading 19.00 pm, we arrived about ten to fifteen minutes prior. Seemingly others had the same idea, and the queue was already very long with some fifty passengers, all waiting patiently in line. If the doors had opened at 19.00, it wouldn't have been quite so bad, and but the time we got to meet the Captain it was some twenty five minutes later. Choosing a seat very near the back, we were fortunate to be offered a drink. We both chose champagne, which we regretted as it was almost unpalatable. Stopping a passing steward, I enquired if she had any real champagne, and the substituted glass was infinitely better. We were also offered canapés, the tuna mousse being particularly tasty. By the time the Captain's speech was over together with the announcement of the most travelled passengers and the raffle from the passengers' invitations, it was past our dinner time, so we beat a hasty retreat to the Regency Restaurant and Michael, unfortunately to a nondescript menu, so much so, and having seen the menu for the following night, we booked for the Sterling Steakhouse. Regardless of the ingredients, we know that it will be cooked to order, and not the banquet catering we have had for the last ten days.

The evening ended as previously, with our nightly walk round Deck 7, and to bed.

September 24 - Honiara Solomon Islands

This port had conjured up for both of us, WWII history, in particular Guadalcanal and the tremendous battle for victory in 1942/3, so we were eager to see how this place had fared over the ensuing years. We had been told, prior to arriving, that the Solomon Islanders had have a massive clear up of litter and rubbish which was strewn about in honour of our visit. It appeared not to have been successful. We had pre-booked a tour with Destination Solomons over the Internet some months previously and everything had been confirmed by email.

With documentation to hand we got off the tender and approached their desk and located Christina, the lady with whom I had email communication. Having handed over the tour ticket which had been sent to me, we were told to get into the waiting minibus. I queried why the coloured ticket I had been given was not the same colour as those getting the same minibus, but was told that it was because I had pre booked. The bus held nine passengers plus the guide - Stanley. I had also printed the complete itinerary before leaving home detailing the length of the tour, what sights we would be driving through, as well as the stops to be made and the time allotted for each stop - 20 minutes. There seemed to be a hiatus before we finally left the dock area, and Stanley said the first place to see would be the market, where we were supposed to stay for the twenty minutes originally agreed. The driver drove into the entrance but there was no parking space, so he drove out again and tried to park on the verge, thereby blocking the exit - and was promptly moved on by the police. Stanley then said we were running late and we couldn't stop here! In the event, it was only us that wanted to go into the market and all other passengers declined. Stanley walked us quickly through the market, which was very higgedly piggedly, extremely busy and one had to be careful not to fall over children lying on the floor. We were of course looking for our fridge magnets which we had missed out on previously, but this town was predominately majoring on shells, and taflouaie, the shell money. Feeling we were delaying the others, it was not a shopping opportunity, so after about five minutes we returned to the bus. We drove past the big Catholic Church in front of which were many concrete steps with no hand rail, seemingly a daily or weekly ritual not for the faint hearted. There were a few well constructed buildings in the middle of town, a few banks and offices. However the air of dilapidation was evident everywhere, with rubbish strewn by the side of the road in piles. We drove through China Town, but did not see any Chinese, maybe they were all inside these shops, which bore Chinese names on their facades. We were told that this was the wholesale area, and it was certainly obvious that business was good, owing to the locals milling around with huge raffia type bags full of various products, from vegetables, fruit and presumably household goods, as well as clothes.

From here the road climbed steeply up the hills, there was some habitation but these appeared to consist of corrugated roofed barn-like properties, built on stilts. We asked Stanley if they were built like this due to snakes, but his reply was unbelievable, when he said they could build on the lower level at some future date!! If this was so, they would have been underground! Our next stop turned out to be the National Parliament building built by the Americans in 1994. This was very surprising as the bare concrete was stained and appeared much older than it was. We went inside, and the interior was considerably better, built naturally in the round. We were shown where each member sat from the President down. Coincidentally there was another shorex party inside already, with a gentleman explaining how Parliament operated. Lucky for us, as Stanley did nothing by way of explanation. It was here when we said - we have a 20 minute stop here, and he replied 40, that we realised he was not able to tell the time, the forty to which he referred was the time on his watch!

After returning to the bus he told us we would be returning to the wharf. We asked why we were not going to the Skyline ridge where the monument stood. He said it was not part of the tour. We replied we had paid for this, our trip should have been two and an half hours, and this was not even two! Needless to say all the rest of the bus were satisfied, which was not too much of a surprise, considering their obvious lack of interest in everything they saw.

We went straight to see Christina and said we had not done the tour we paid for. The excuse was that the skyline ridge memorial was only open on a Sunday, and she had to email everyone to explain this, change the itinerary, making it shorter and seemingly she had forgotten to email us! This did not ring true, she knew originally our ship was docking on a Saturday, and as far as I know, the Skyline Ridge memorial is an open site on top of the hill. However she was apologetic, and refunded us fifty percent. This however didn't compensate for not visiting the memorial, we are unlikely to come again to Honiara, and what we did see was not what we had expected. Very much down at heel, with nothing to commend it.

There was one lady on the quayside amongst many others selling crafts, but she alone had fridge magnets, which she said she makes herself, but unfortunately she had sold them all! Thwarted once again!

To finish the day, we stood in a long queue for the tender, for about fifty minutes, but the line of passengers behind us snaked all along the wharf, and some poor people had to wait 90 minutes in what was by then, very hot sun with no vestige of shade. The joys of tender operation on a large ship!! So finished a very disappointing day.

We had chosen to eat in the Sterling Steak House that night. The standard of service, and food quality fully justified the $AUD 29 per head cover charge. A meal we both thoroughly enjoyed.

September 25 - At sea

We had been invited as one of the forty most travelled passengers to a luncheon in the Marquis Restaurant - a bit unfortunate, as despite an extremely light breakfast, we were still full after the dinner last night in the Steak House. We were seated at the Chief Engineer's table, a charming Italian from Naples who has been at sea for some years and has done service on most of the Princess fleet. He too prefers the size of ships, like the Sun, rather than the new behemoths.

Lunch and his company, together with a delightful couple from Los Angeles, plus two Australian couples, who did not engage us in conversation, was good. The usual story of food being cooked for only a small number of people, as opposed to banquet catering. At the end, many guests said - same time, same place tomorrow!

We spent virtually the rest of the day on the balcony only stirring to see our first production show from the Sun Princess singers and dancers. Entitled the British Invasion, it concentrated on the music of the 60's in Britain. The production was very good, with some slick pyrotechnics. The music of course was very much to our liking, however the choreography was repetitive, and the decision to give females, songs which had been made famous by men was wrong. Many of the female singers' voices were not compatible to the songs they performed, but there was one guy with a very good voice. It was difficult to be certain but it did seem as if the production team had utilized Musical Instrument Digital Interface, rather than the just the Sun's house band, but the finished product was good. Despite the above comments, we enjoyed it, and the audience in the full house were enthusiastic. Unfortunately an ex old stage hoofer is bound to be more critical!

As always we did our perambulation round deck, this time on Deck 14, trying to get some darkness as the stars were brilliant, with the Southern Cross and the Milky Way visible, although no moon. We forwent dinner for an earlyish night in readiness for our two trips the next day in Luganville, Vanuata. Despite our good intentions, once again it was still around 11.00 pm before lights out.

September 26 - Luganville.

Early morning found us tied alongside the "work in progress" new wharf. With the skeleton of a new warehouse, on one side, the half erected dock offices on the other, the passengers had to walk straight through the middle of a building site, albeit roped off with flags showing where to walk. Work by the Shanghai Construction Group started on this project in 2015, utilising some 50 local Vanuatu workers, although some key managerial posts were being filled by the Chinese. Due to the area resembling a dusty building site it was difficult to see anything of the town, only the hinterland in the background, and unfortunately being so dusty, not conducive to sitting on the balcony.

We had two Princess's shorexes booked. The first was a water music show coupled with a Kava demonstration. This is a drink made from cassava root, tapioca, ground-down, mixed with water and a kind of ginger. It is served in a coconut shell and is common in all the South Seas' countries. In Fiji for example it is very strong and is alcoholic. Vanuata's tastes are not for the alcoholic variety, and its ingredients are very herby, with a strong taste of ginger. However it is considered very beneficial to health and is supposedly a cure for a lot of common illnesses, including cancer. Whilst this might be a little optimistic, it is definitely medicinal, and the locals drink it every day.

We left the dock area in a tiny minibus and were instructed to put on our seat belts, a slightly bizarre request, considering where we were and also in view of the destination, only a few kilometers from the ship. Indeed, we were packed in so tightly, it was impossible to even find a seat belt! After the short drive, we left the main road and turned off into what was virtually a dirt track, although not nearly such a poor road surface as that we experienced in Rabaul!! We finally arrived at this typical local villager's house. Differing in only one respect, to the others in the road, there was quite a large rectangular swimming pool in the grounds, surrounded by raised seating in a lovely tropical garden setting.

We were seated on wooden benches overlooking this pool and half a dozen ladies plus one little girl, all dressed in local costumes, i.e. Coconut dresses, all stood in the water and performed several musical movements by using their hands to slap the water in rhythm to produce a lyrical sound. The "songs" of which there were about half a dozen, were all traditional, one of a sea snake and another of fishes, all handed down as part of their long history. This spectacle was quite unique and most unusual and was enjoyed by those who attended. The Kava which, having already tried years before and decided I did not like, was offered round to try in a small coconut cup, and I would have eschewed the offer, but as it smelt strongly of ginger and herbs, tried some, and found it tasted exactly what it was. Strong ginger taste with an overwhelming flavour of oatmeal (tapioca), and not at all unpleasant.

Just before leaving we were offered a coconut, both the drink and then the flesh, after the lady behind the counter sliced it open. There must be various different sorts of coconuts in the South Pacific, and some have a slightly acid taste, this however was really good, although the flesh was a bit "green" and a bit slimy as of course only minutes previously, it had held the milk. We were offered cut pieces of grapefruit, papaya and banana before leaving this oasis behind and returning to the ship.

The afternoon tour left at around 12.30 and once again it was a short drive. Arriving on an adjacent road to that we had been on in the morning, we again stopped at a villager's house. This was quite extensive, and we were greeted by two ladies, mother and daughter, the latter 16 years of age. We then were taken through their "little" garden and were shown what trees, bushes and flowers they had, and their uses. Unfortunately this little preamble was similar to doing a 'bush' walk, the paths were extremely narrow, room for only one person at a time, and in most places the vegetation was taller than most of the passengers. We resembled a conga line, the only trouble being that the middle and back of the queue, could not only not see to what the mother was alluding, but also could not hear what she was saying! After spending some fifteen minutes walking through this little bit of local flora, we merged into the sunlight to an oblong piece of ground next to the meeting house.

This tour was ostensibly billed as fire walking, but also incorporated a demonstration of Kava making. As we were told in the morning this too also has great significance and can only be done by the chief or his son, never women, as too is the fire walking. The latter was quite disappointing. I have seen people walk and jump up and down, over bright red searing coals with flames licking round the unburnt coals. What our guy was walking on was really a pile of grey ash, which was smoking a little. Like all these performers, he put his feet in a bucket of cold water after his act, to show you his feet to prove that he has no blisters. The chief then showed us some sand painting, which is performed with only one finger which does not leave the board. This was quite clever, but after seeing a Russian perform some amazing drawings using the same method with some small amount of sand on a board, this was not as good, and appeared quite amateurish. The villagers also played musical instruments to entertain us, and resembled a beat combo from the 70's.

It was then the ladies turn, to show how they make various items from the coconut, from mats to clothes. Intriguing to note that they also grow a variety of bamboo, and this they cut down to act as a knife. They must have to shape this piece of bamboo to make it more "knife" like, but it was certainly very sharp, and cut through their rough materials, like a knife through butter. We asked if they cut their hands whilst making these objects, but were told they were experienced so therefore the answer was no. One wonders what happens when they were raw novices!

After thanking them for their time and hospitality, the Chief bade us farewell, no doubt waiting for the tips, which were unlikely to come from the Australian passengers, and we returned to the ship.

It was unfortunate that despite the early return of our afternoon shorex, it was too far to go into town. This was disappointing but we heard later from some passengers who had done so, that it was only marginally better than Honiara with regards to rubbish strewn around, so perhaps it was better to retain our memories of the still simplistic life of the two families we had visited.

Sailing around 6.00 pm for Champagne Bay, only a short sail away, we knew we would not be travelling at too many knots during the night. At dinner, we were interrupted by an announcement by the Captain, telling us that he had had a request from Noumea to pick up five fishermen who were stranded in mid ocean, from the afternoon before, but a plane had spotted them and therefore gave us their last known coordinates. The captain said he had agreed, we would make full speed in the opposite direction, make rendezvous around midnight to one in the morning, and God willing would be back to dock in Vila as planned. This brought forth spontaneous clapping from most of the dining room.

September 27 – Champagne Bay

True to his word we arrived at Champagne Bay at the allotted time, and were informed that onboard were the five fishermen, alive and well, had been checked by the doctor, and would be going ashore later. It turned out that there had been two females on this little boat, one an old lady of 89 and a younger woman in her mid-30’s, one of whom, was a relative of the Minister of Finance and our ship had made the headlines in the local papers. One enterprising local tried to get us to buy a copy for $AUD2, whilst we were having a drink in a local café in Vila the following day!! Apparently there was also going to be a small ceremony on board whilst the ship was docked in Vila...

Once again Champagne Bay was a tender operation and this lovely island is known, as are so many in this area, for its sweeping curve of pink-tinged sand framed against a classic south-seas turquoise lagoon, and it is also probably the most famous of Vanuatu’s beaches. Located on the northeast coastline of Espiritu Santo, its name is derived from a natural phenomenon. At low tide when the water is at its shallowest, the sound the water makes is a fizzing noise like champagne as it passes through the volcanic rocks on the sea bottom. We had intended once again to snorkel here, but first went ashore and looked at the sales opportunity, and for the elusive fridge magnets, which remained so. It was also very interesting to watch the crabs, lobsters and various other sea creatures which were being sold on the beach prior to the vendors dumping them into a cauldron of hot water and giving them cooked to their buyers on a banana leaf. There were many people swimming and snorkelling in the Bay, and were surprised at some people’s comments that the water was cold. Apparently there are local cold water springs which feed the Bay in this area, so we decided against snorkelling and returned to the ship.

Although we recognised the bay at Vila, there is work going on at the quayside to enlarge the dock area - and surprise, the company contracted to do the work is of course Chinese, but the donkey work was being done by the locals. Running the gamut of many more stalls selling a variety of goods than eight years previously, we got a cab into town at a cost of five dollars per head. He crammed fourteen passengers into this small minibus and then had the gall, due to traffic to drop us off well before the landmark and the supposed drop off, of the post office.

However we then walked along the road, gradually remembering the street we had last seen eight years ago. We found the chemist where we had originally bought antibiotics and repeated our purchase. Vila is a duty free port and liquor is very much cheaper, certainly much less than the ship, so we bought two bottles of gin, which as previously, would be delivered to the ship. Our final port of call was to a lovely little cafe facing the ocean where we bought two lovely fresh fruit juices and got free Internet, albeit not terribly fast, a bit frustrating as we needed to book airline seats for a flight to Valencia in a few weeks’ time. Our "chores" done, we found a taxi who would return us to the ship for $AUD 5 each. Once again we had to walk through all the stalls to get back on the ship, and this time we bought six coasters and finally - a fridge magnet!

We sailed around 6.00 pm, and had a lovely three days before our penultimate port, Brisbane. We were fortunate with the weather, and life at sea continued with the rhythm of the ocean, with one day rolling effortlessly and imperceptibly into the next.

October 2 - Brisbane

The journey into the harbour, Portside, is a long sail up the river, and land appeared long before we docked at 7.00 am. This was a turn round port. The 20 day cruise actually started in Brisbane two days before ours, so there were some four hundred passengers disembarking. Princess have also sold a two day cruise from here back to Sydney, but there are also passengers continuing on past Sydney to New Zealand. Our poor cabin steward was losing six but gaining six - unlike his counterpart further down the corridor, who was losing more than he gained. This of course means that he had to strip those cabins completely and remake them, as well as dealing with the rest of us.

We had ordered room service breakfast, as we had to have a face to face interview with the Australian Border Force, having first to collect a card from the Marquis dining room, before proceeding ashore to go through immigration. We had friends meeting us about 8.00 am, so didn't want to keep them waiting. The queue for the interview was not long and we were soon through this new terminal building which was not built eight years ago when we last here. Unsure exactly where we would meet, we finally got together, and we were soon speeding out of the city.

We drove on the state highway No 26 and turned off to visit a small seaside town called Woody Point in the Moreton Bay area, which is in sight of the Brisbane port far away in the distance. Obviously a large and expensive residential area, there were a great many lovely houses and apartments with large balconies, some of the latter appeared to be fairly new. We had a walk by a jetty, and looked across to a community across the bay which used to have a regular ferry. We then drove to Redcliffe, another lovely Oceanside town. The town was heaving with cars and progress was slow. This was exacerbated because part of the town is closed on a Sunday for a street market, and it was difficult to find a parking space, so we were grateful to find someone leaving in the Woolworths car park.

It was a beautiful sunny day and it was very interesting to wander through the thronging street market, which had various stalls on both sides of the road, offering both food, clothes, and unusual gifts from wind chimes to wooden bow ties.

In a side street off the main street, there is a montage and exhibition of the Gibb brothers, the Bee Gees who lived in this area. There are cast statues of them, and various pictures of the family along the entire street with their music being played over a speaker. Leaving here we drove to Suttons Beach Parkland and Pilpel, the restaurant where we had a table booked.

This restaurant is run by a charming Israeli, married to an Australian. The restaurant is situated virtually on the beach front. Our party of five were shown to an ocean side table. There are various options on the menu, but we opted for the "feast" aptly named as we were presented with fifteen different entrees as diverse as falafel, hummus, tzatziki, and small squares of warm pita bread. This was followed by an enormous dish placed in the centre of the table containing beef, lamb, crevettes and calamari. This really was a feast, but the joy, was that each individual dish was of top quality, well cooked and flavoursome, followed by typical Middle Eastern dessert items, such as rose Turkish delight and baklava. This too was of a very good quality and finally to finish a cup of authentic mint tea.

The service from the staff was extremely attentive, and we were only sorry that living on another continent, we could not patronize Adiel's restaurant on a regular basis.

Feeling more than replete, our friends drove us back to the port of Brisbane in time to sail to our final destination, Sydney.

October 3 At Sea

The weather on our final day at sea, was cloudy and therefore it was no hardship to embark on the chore which is packing, and two of the three cases were finished well ahead of our normal schedule.

October 4 disembarkation in Sydney

As usual the disembarkation process was handled seamlessly and we had chosen to take the Princess's shuttle to the airport. Leaving the ship at around 10.00 am we stood in a short queue to a get on the coach, which as usual was not full, allowing for passengers to keep their carry-on bags with them inside the coach. By the time we reached the airport there was not too long to wait before we were able to check in for our flight to the UK.

In conclusion, we enjoyed our cruise which was enhanced by three people, Michael and I Wayan our dining room waiter and his assistant, and our Thai cabin steward Tuhma. Our mini-suite 310, the layout, the bed and the double balcony, as we have said, was our oasis of calm, and without these, many aspects of the cruise would have been unbearable.

We also thought that generally the staff on board were not friendly, and in some cases, bordered on the supercilious. It was unfortunate that it was deemed necessary to put a new member of staff on the reception desk who had obviously not had adequate training, was left on his own, and therefore needed to refer to other staff for assistance.

We had occasion to speak to the Future Cruise Consultant on more than one occasion and found her off-hand and abrasive, as indeed did many other passengers to whom we spoke. She was also not au fait with information on the other ships in the fleet, and considering she is trying to sell future cruises, her attitude was extremely unfortunate.

The Destination Expert is also a member of the Cruise Director’s team. She gave talks and showed slides on the ports to be visited, acting therefore as another member of the Shore Excursion department. She was certainly an unfortunate choice, as her command of the English language was appalling and she also suffered from Malapropism. It was very difficult to concentrate on what she was saying, when one needed to decide what word she should have used. Two examples, “outlaying islands” instead of outlying islands and “underwater “visualisation”, instead of underwater visibility. There were very many more but these are two that were used in much profusion.

Unfortunately having sailed with Princess for a great many years, this was by far our worst experience, and it is unlikely that we will sail with Princess again.
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Cabin Review

Mini-Suite with Balcony
Cabin ME B310
We returned to our cabin - a mini suite on Baja deck. We knew from experience that all Sun class ships had small cabins, hence our choice. Even so, space is tight, particularly with drawer space and the hanging area within the walk in wardrobe, the latter certainly not big enough for more than a 7 day cruise. We did however have a Jacuzzi bath, small but useful, particularly when we found that they have not upgraded the fixed shower head in the shower enclosure, which is definitely not user friendly, particularly for ladies. The other lovely feature of a mini suite is the large sitting area with a three seater settee and armchair with table and a drinks cabinet and fridge. Outside this area is a balcony door with seating as well as another balcony accessed from the bedroom area, thereby giving us two balconies which is lovely.

Unfortunately both chairs on the balcony were absolutely covered in paint splatters and looked not only disreputable but dirty. The table was equally bad, made of metal, it had been painted where it had rusted, although not well, so the paint had bubbled and was peeling away. Not what you would expect from a 4 star cruise line. Our cabin steward was most concerned. I think that he thought we felt that he hadn't cleaned it - a guy from Thailand with limited understanding of English. He was very willing to please us, but worried that we would report it to his supervisor, as he said he would get into trouble. However bless him, we returned to the cabin later to find two chairs with the wrapping still half attached - proving they were new! The table was also replaced with one that was marginally better, but had still suffered the same fate. We were horrified to hear that cabin stewards are now given 16 cabins to clean without any help of an assistant, and for our guy, included several mini suites. Our cabin definitely has an advantage, with both the seating area inside the cabin and the extra room we were afforded on the balcony, both areas were very comfortable, and we retreated here on many occasions. Princess have also invested in new beds, Silversea please note, which are extremely comfortable, and the lighting is superior to that in the suites on Silversea.
Baja Deck Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Alotau Town Tour
    After three days at sea, we awoke at 7.00 am, just as the Captain was bringing her alongside our berth. Skies very overcast with rain not long ceased, so there were more than a few muddy pools on the quayside. The vista which greeted us was so similar to many of the West African ports we had visited, and being a Christian country and a Sunday, only the town market was open, many attending the number of churches here in Milne Bay province. Not long after being tied alongside, the local dance tribe performed on the quayside, a small party of about ten mainly men and boys but with two women. This part of the town, being a port had much industry, with oil storage tanks and many containers lined up on the quayside. We were told by our guide Sarah, that there are several ferries leaving from here to the outlying islands.

    Mustering in the Marquis restaurant, we were "stickered" and after waiting for about ten minutes we were released to the gangway, where we were shepherded to a waiting mini-bus to begin our tour. After the introduction from our guide, Sarah, on where we were visiting, I realised that we were on the wrong tour!! I wasn't to know where the blame lay until I returned to the ship to check what we booked! I suppose there is a first time for everything, but in future I will check thoroughly!!
    As it turned out, whilst a lot more expensive, it was probably the better option, as we got to go to the lookout, a lovely view over Simpson Bay graced by the presence of Sun Princess a small speck in the distance. From there we went to Cameron Secondary School, which surprisingly enough was most enjoyable and informative. It started with about eight girls singing the Papuan New Guinea National Anthem, unaccompanied, and then each girl was assigned to a small group of passengers who walked us round the school buildings explaining what took place in each of these buildings. It holds 850 students of both sexes, and is for boarders as well as day pupils. The two dormitories separating the sexes are a long way apart, and both are fenced. Needless to say it is forbidden to enter into one another's sleeping quarters, if found there is severe punishment! Alongside the tarmacked road are flowers and shrubs tended by the "naughty" students, and our little girl, Kate who looked about 12, but was actually 20, giggled and said it was looked after mainly by the boys! Kate was unusual in her colouring, having merely a "tan" and with very definitely auburn hair. It was obvious that either her father or mother had been Caucasian. She was very self-assured, spoke perfect English and explained what subjects were taught and telling us that class sizes had about 45 pupils. Leaving the school we retraced our steps, returning to the outskirts of town to visit the market. A little disappointing, maybe being a Sunday there were not many stalls, with many having the same produce, bananas, green vegetables, sago, coconuts, copra and fish, which looked freshly caught, being put on the tables from an iced container, where one person waved a little flag-like stick to keep the flies off. However there were several stalls selling what resembled plaited rope, and we were told it was tobacco. This seemed incongruous, unless it was put in a pipe to smoke. There would need to be quite a lot of preparation to convert this to cigarettes!
    Adjacent was another building which sold batteries, lighters, kitchen graters, as well as some "cooked" items, and when questioned, said it was shell! The allotted 20 minutes being up we all walked back to the minibus and returned to the ship. One wonders how the money is distributed, as the $AUD115 cost of this two hour trip seemed excessive. Having seen so many places like this on our journey up the west coast of Africa, we were underwhelmed, and the only highlight was the interaction with the schoolgirls from Cameron Secondary School.
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  • Brisbane
    We had ordered room service breakfast, as we had to have a face to face interview with the Australian Border Force, having first to collect a card from the Marquis dining room, before proceeding ashore to go through immigration. We had friends meeting us about 8.00 am, so didn't want to keep them waiting. The queue for the interview was not long and we were soon through this new terminal building which was not built eight years ago when we last here. Unsure exactly where we would meet, we finally got together, and we were soon speeding out of the city.
    We drove on the state highway No 26 and turned off to visit a small seaside town called Woody Point in the Moreton Bay area, which is in sight of the Brisbane port far away in the distance. Obviously a large and expensive residential area, there were a great many lovely houses and apartments with large balconies, some of the latter appeared to be fairly new. We had a walk by a jetty, and looked across to a community across the bay which used to have a regular ferry. We then drove to Redcliffe, another lovely Oceanside town. The town was heaving with cars and progress was slow. This was exacerbated because part of the town is closed on a Sunday for a street market, and it was difficult to find a parking space, so we were grateful to find someone leaving in the Woolworths car park.
    It was a beautiful sunny day and it was very interesting to wander through the thronging street market, which had various stalls on both sides of the road, offering both food, clothes, and unusual gifts from wind chimes to wooden bow ties.
    In a side street off the main street, there is a montage and exhibition of the Gibb brothers, the Bee Gees who lived in this area. There are cast statues of them, and various pictures of the family along the entire street with their music being played over a speaker. Leaving here we drove to Suttons Beach Parkland and Pilpel, the restaurant where we had a table booked.
    This restaurant is run by a charming Israeli, married to an Australian. The restaurant is situated virtually on the beach front. Our party of five were shown to an ocean side table. There are various options on the menu, but we opted for the "feast" aptly named as we were presented with fifteen different entrees as diverse as falafel, hummus, tzatziki, and small squares of warm pita bread. This was followed by an enormous dish placed in the centre of the table containing beef, lamb, crevettes and calamari. This really was a feast, but the joy, was that each individual dish was of top quality, well cooked and flavoursome, followed by typical Middle Eastern dessert items, such as rose Turkish delight and baklava. This too was of a very good quality and finally to finish a cup of authentic mint tea.
    The service from the staff was extremely attentive, and we were only sorry that living on another continent, we could not patronize Adiel's restaurant on a regular basis.
    View All 207 Brisbane Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Brisbane Cruise Port Review
  • Champagne Bay (Vanuatu)
    Once again Champagne Bay was a tender operation and this lovely island is known, as are so many in this area, for its sweeping curve of pink-tinged sand framed against a classic south-seas turquoise lagoon, and it is also probably the most famous of Vanuatu’s beaches. Located on the northeast coastline of Espiritu Santo, its name is derived from a natural phenomenon. At low tide when the water is at its shallowest, the sound the water makes is a fizzing noise like champagne as it passes through the volcanic rocks on the sea bottom. We had intended once again to snorkel here, but first went ashore and looked at the sales opportunity, and for the elusive fridge magnets, which remained so. It was also very interesting to watch the crabs, lobsters and various other sea creatures which were being sold on the beach prior to the vendors dumping them into a cauldron of hot water and giving them cooked to their buyers on a banana leaf. There were many people swimming and snorkelling in the Bay, and were surprised at some people’s comments that the water was cold. Apparently there are local cold water springs which feed the Bay in this area, so we decided against snorkelling and returned to the ship.
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  • Kiriwina and Kitava (Trobriand Islands)
    Kiriwina - The ride ashore was only about ten minutes and we alighted onto a long concrete jetty with a rail on one side, stretching some forty yards to the shore. Walking along this jetty we were bombarded by kids in small canoes asking for money. Reaching the shore, it was surprising how steeply the beach shelved to reach the water's edge. The locals as we were to find out later, were segregated from the passengers, by a little fence - a tree branch stuck in the ground and a bit of wire strung between it. Behind this was a constant stream of villagers going about their normal daily lives, but the sellers were strung along the shore side with their goods laid out on huge banana leaves. These ranged from wooden items, intricately carved bowls, etc. with beautiful prices to match! Objects resembling black plaited small sticks turned out to be tobacco. Also on sale were both cooked and uncooked small lobsters and crabs, these too were not cheap.

    Observations - less people seemed to speak any English here, unlike those in Dioni, but those who did, spoke good English. Most of course knew Hello and Bye Bye. Foreigners/Westerners are called "Dim dim" by these islanders - aptly titled for some of our passengers (!), and my blonde hair was a magnet for many of the curious, mainly the children, of which there are a lot. Stopping to speak to a little boy about two who was sitting on the ground with his family, I held out my hand to shake his, pointing to myself and saying "dim dim", his curiosity overcame his shyness and he took my hand, only to recoil in horror, rushed back to his mother and threw himself into his mother's arms. She smiled, but I felt I must have appeared to be an alien to him! Another surprise was that all the locals were fully clothed, men and boys wearing tee shirts and shorts, and the ladies, dresses, with only the young male children bare breasted. This seems to indicate that the "dancers" of Dioni, specifically put on this show for the tourists, and away from the attention, wear normal Western clothes.
    As we retraced our steps back to the jetty, there was a man who we had heard with a loud speaker talking in the local tongue and we asked what he was saying. Apparently he was the local Consul whose job it was to keep the villagers under control, hence the fence, saying they had now had their "sales" opportunity and to return to their tasks etc. He reiterated that he was doing this for the security of the passengers from cruise ships. He realised of course, that no trouble, would mean the return of the cruise lines.

    Kitava With the rain holding off for longer periods now, we ventured ashore to the island to see if we could find out why the Kitavans are so healthy, having a diet so similar to that of the Kiriwinas, who apparently have a large percentage of child mortality, and do not live to old age. Seeing how near relatively speaking, the two islands are, this seems to be an enigma. Unfortunately once it was open house for the tenders, the rain came down, so, with only shorts and sandals, we decided to go ahead. Once again the jetty was of concrete with hand rails all along. Shorter than in Kiriwina, there were only a few small steps and you were on the sand. The beach here was level and the trees were much taller and denser and reached almost to the sea. Most of the villagers were sheltering under banana leaves, many had umbrellas, or were in little old fashioned market stalls. Most had their goods laid out on banana leaves or pieces of material. The items on sale here were mainly wooden ornaments and shells, although we did see one baseball cap. It was even too wet to take photographs with the risk of a wet camera. Not to be outdone we stood under the awning of the Princess security at the edge of the jetty leading to the tender and took a few pictures, although not near enough to take the people. They really are totally different to any of the other islanders we have previously seen. More akin to the Polynesians, they really are a lovely looking people without the extreme curly hair of the previous inhabitants of the other islands we had visited. It was a pity that we did not see any of the healthy food for which they are famous.

    Soaked to the skin, we walked along the jetty to the waiting tender. This was tender No. 3, one we had previously experienced, this one has one window pane missing, and the roof leaks like a sieve, and was dripping down on us like a waterfall. We were half way back to the ship before an oil skinned member of the crew, decided to pull down the side flaps, where the rain was coming in, in a steady torrent! By the time we had arrived back to the ship ten minutes later, we were wetter than we had been ashore!
    View All 31 Kiriwina and Kitava (Trobriand Islands) Cruise Port Reviews
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  • Port Vila
    Although we recognised the bay at Vila, there is work going on at the quayside to enlarge the dock area - and surprise, the company contracted to do the work is of course Chinese, but the donkey work was being done by the locals. Running the gamut of many more stalls selling a variety of goods than eight years previously, we got a cab into town at a cost of five dollars per head. He crammed fourteen passengers into this small minibus and then had the gall, due to traffic to drop us off well before the landmark and the supposed drop off, of the post office.
    However we then walked along the road, gradually remembering the street we had last seen eight years ago. We found the chemist where we had originally bought antibiotics and repeated our purchase. Vila is a duty free port and liquor is very much cheaper, certainly much less than the ship, so we bought two bottles of gin, which as previously, would be delivered to the ship. Our final port of call was to a lovely little cafe facing the ocean where we bought two lovely fresh fruit juices and got free Internet, albeit not terribly fast, a bit frustrating as we needed to book airline seats for a flight to Valencia in a few weeks’ time. Our "chores" done, we found a taxi who would return us to the ship for $AUD 5 each. Once again we had to walk through all the stalls to get back on the ship, and this time we bought six coasters and finally - a fridge magnet!
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  • Highlights Tour
    Our driver/guide introduced himself as Jerry and off we went at 09.10 am. We started with a tour of old Rabaul, the original capital of PNG, which was devastated by an eruption of Mount Tavuvur in September 1994. Ash and lava covered most of the old town, and building started on a new city about 15 kilometres down the coast in Kokopo. We drove round what is left of the old city, the few buildings which had not disappeared, now derelict and rusty. It was incredible to see the mounds of ash still piled up by the side of the road, making huge embankments. We stopped at the New Guinea Club, still with its parquet flooring and wood panelling walls. It now houses memorabilia from this period Driving through the old airfield, where the topography had clearly been flattened, built by the Japanese with allied forces’ labour in the 1940's, it was still in operation until the volcanic eruption in 1994, but is now reverting back to nature with trees sprouting on the very fertile soil of the ash. This area is quite extensive and we eventually arrived at a little clearing in the woods after paying a fee to two men who had barred the way with a makeshift fence. Lying in a gully were two rusty parts of Japanese planes which had been found there. Not too far from here we came to the hot springs, adjacent to the bay. The heat and smoke which emanated from this little piece of boiling water was quite incredible. It also showed clearly the minerals which leach out of the ground, a rich orangey brown colour. Next stop was the Volcanological Observatory which monitors 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes in PNG, as well as offering breathtaking views across Simpson Harbour. Housed in a small room are many seismic graphs which monitor activity twenty four seven. The guy who was in charge of this told us that the previous night there had been a minor earthquake at 2.20 am, only 100 kilometres east of Rabaul! When asked what force it had been on the Richter scale, he said they had not had time to work it out but thought it was only about 4.5 or 5.0!
    Our last stop, was to the cave where the Japanese hid three barges. This is now a haven for tiny bats, which were darting in and out of their tiny nests. Leaving here it was off to Kokopo. Despite only been around fifteen kilometres distant, it takes over half an hour to drive. Initially the road is good, but it then deteriorates to little more than a dirt track, with deep gullies and pot holes, which really rattled us about. This continues for several miles. Arriving In the outskirts of the town, the difference is marked. New houses sit on the hills surrounded by landscaped trees and shrubs, and there is even more than one roundabout! There is quite a bit of traffic, and lots of hustle and bustle with the locals going about their business. Cheek by jowl are two large banks, and there are many small supermarkets and restaurants. We stopped at the market here, which is virtually identical to that in Rabaul, but much bigger. It is very well planned with about four long barn-like, open sided buildings adjacent to each other. Each caters for different items. All these building are linked by slopes, so no stairs. Interesting also, to see the materials which make up the many red-mouthed population who chew betel nuts. These were on sale raw, together with a small plastic bag containing white powder. This contains lime, crushed up coral. These two ingredients are then ground together to make the familiar red staining. After having a good look round, not being tempted to purchase, we left to continue our drive back to Rabaul, but first stopping at the Japanese war museum where toilets were available. Various Japanese military artefacts from the Second World War were displayed in the grounds, together with a cage housing one cockatoo and a couple of parrots, all of whom looked a little forlorn and should not to my mind be there at all. Neither should the two crocodiles, one smaller than the other which were in little more than a pit with not much water.
    At the time of booking we had agreed that we could make payment by credit card. When it came to making the payment, we were told that the operator's bank charged a five percent surcharge for use of credit cards. This came as an unwelcome surprise and should have been made clear at the time of booking and left a rather nasty taste after what had been a very enjoyable day. The operator told us at this time that several people from our ship who had booked the dive excursion had failed to show up. Something for which we apologised - this is hardly acceptable behaviour and meant that this company could have lost potential new clients. After the financial transaction was completed, Jerry drove us the short distance back to the wharf, from where we had left six hours previously and we think that he was pleased with the tip he received.
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