Majestic Princess Day 3 (at sea)

Izaac had been super keen to try Bingo so Luke and I met him with Michael in the morning. They bought paper tickets but there were also tablets on offer that automatically kept track of which numbers came up. These cost more but, in the end, not one round was won by the tablet players so make of that what you will. The Bingo was hosted by ‘Lady Fortuna’ who I initially thought was a drag queen but wasn’t. I guess getting very spangly and having big hair is part of hosting Bingo. She told terrible jokes but kept up a steady patter during the round. Neither Michael nor Izaac won any rounds but it was kind of fun, if a little pricey at $40 for the 6 x 6 game sheets.

After all that excitement Luke went to the talk on Tauranga and managed to stay awake through most of it. Then he also went to the ‘welcome to cruising’ talk, which was about the various jobs onboard and other aspects of cruises.

I spent a short time in the gym trying to get to 10k steps for the day (eventually achieved) and we finished off the day playing Poker in Hollywood Lounge with Michael, Izaac, Dad and Luke. Michael brought chips and a wealth of knowledge, which was lucky because the rest of us needed a lot of help. I hadn’t played it before so I feel like I learned a lot, although unfortunately I came second to Luke.

The Hollywood Lounge is a huge indoor area at the front of the ship on deck 17. I’m told it used to be an adults-only area and currently has a pool and two spas, plus heaps of curtained-off cabana areas that people seem to claim for the whole day.

There are basically two ways to get food and drinks onboard, outside of the restaurants. First, you can go up to the bar or to the buffet and get it yourself. The other way to go is to use the Medallion app, possibly the most unpopular, frustrating and confusing aspect of life aboard. Everyone hates it but it does allow you to order food and drink to wherever you are on the ship. Your photo is attached to your account so waiters can find you by looking around for you. During the poker game we discovered a new down-side to the app: the bar can cancel your order at any time and if you aren’t keeping an eye on the app you won’t realise for ages. Also they don’t say why the order is cancelled, so if you’ve ordered drinks for several people, they might cancel the whole order because one of the items isn’t available at the nearest bar and you have no idea which item it was. Fortunately we had a waiter who told us what was going on so we ended up just ordering drinks individually. The wait staff seem as frustrated by the whole system as anyone else but complaining about it brings us all closer together!

We’re all looking forward to our first stop tomorrow; Bay of Islands! Fingers crossed the weather improves as it’s become progressively more foggy as we’ve gotten closer to NZ.

Sunset from our first evening aboard. Little did we know it wouldn’t be beat until we reached Auckland!

Majestic Princess Day 2 (sea day)

Our first full day aboard. We filled in the room service card the night before and were impressed by the gigantic quantity of tea and coffee delivered. We also had some fruit, a danish and yogurt.

The ‘Princess Patter’ newsletter is delivered each evening for the next day, so we ticked off a list of things to do. The first two full days of the voyage were at sea so there was plenty of time to fill. We managed to fit in:

A fruit carving demonstration.

A very interesting and informative talk on the bay of islands.

A Poi demo. No photos as I was too busy joining in:-) . While I was doing that Luke got us coffee from the ‘best’ coffee place on the ship. It was not good, but it wasn’t filter coffee. If you love coffee and you’re going on this cruise maybe bring some chocolate coated coffee beans or something because the coffee onboard is 2/10. Just don’t bother – and I’m not even a proper Melbournian coffee snob.

For our 6pm meet up I grabbed a selection of cheeses from the buffet and we enjoyed them with our drinks at the Wake View.

In the evening there was a 50s night at the piazza so Luke and I hit the dance floor. Michael took a video but I don’t think I have time to load it today. Here’s a pic of the piazza though.

Westfield vibes… but it also reminds me of the inside of a geode. The ship is so plain on the outside but the inside is like a glittering crystal.

After getting quite hot from dancing, Luke and I headed to the top deck for a spa and found one that was unoccupied. The pool level is kid-central during the day, but in the evening it was very quiet. A lovely way to end our first full day onboard!

Majestic Princess: Cruising to NZ, Day 1

A HCTP first: a family holiday featuring the entire Lenon family! Something that hasn’t happened for decades and our first holiday as a family outside of Australia. The whole thing was Mum’s idea a couple of years ago, and after Covid has now ebbed somewhat, here we are.

Many things have happened over the previous year. Mum suffered through extremely successful but painful chemotherapy after learning that cancer had spread quite significantly through her body. The news was a shock to everyone and, although she responded very well to the treatment, she has suffered permanent nerve damage in her hands and feet that makes her quite unsteady. Her hair fell out and she stopped dying it when it regrew, so it has gone from medium brown to snow white in a matter of months. It’s also curlier and softer. She is thinner and so is Dad. He is very stoic but it was very hard on him too.

The chemo finished in May and Mum regained some strength in time for Luke’s and my wedding, on Friday the 11th of November (our 11 year anniversary).

The event started with a family dinner at the Firehouse in Ringwood so each side of the family could meet the other. Our actual wedding was in our newly-landscaped backyard the following night, with a larger group of family and friends. Then we had a picnic at H.E. Parker Reserve on the Saturday afternoon with a jumping castle, petting zoo, face painting, an ice cream truck and coffee van. After the picnic we moved to the bowling club next door for dinner and dancing. Although I can’t say it all ran perfectly, it wasn’t far off and we had a wonderful time.

This is the longest preamble I’ve ever written but I suppose that’s my fault for not actually making these events separate posts of their own. Anyhow! We are currently aboard the Majestic Princess, a behemoth of a ship, on our way to New Zealand to (and I quote a woman I overheard at Circular Quay this morning) ‘ruin the landscape’ of every harbour we visit. Or maybe she said ‘blight the horizon’? Words to that effect, anyhow. While I am aware enough of the environmental horror of cruise ships, I am also aware that this is possibly the last time we’ll go this far for this long as a family so I’m just going to enjoy it, while still feeling weirdly like I’m aboard a floating mega mall that’s giving ‘last days of Rome’ vibes.

To board the ship, Luke and I first took the XPT (country train) from Melbourne to Sydney. At a not-insignificant 11 hours, it was about a quarter of the price of flights for that day. In hindsight, we should’ve just booked the overnight sleeper and saved the hotel cost, but I’d booked the Sir Stamford ages prior.

The Sir Stamford had an air of faded elegance, as befitted the name I suppose. On first glance it looked fancy, but the wallpaper was peeling a bit and things were slightly tatty. It was a short walk to the long pier though, so it suited us fine. The one thing to note was the hotel pool was undoubtedly the hottest pool I’ve ever been in. Michael reckoned it was about 35-36 degrees Celsius. I agreed and we’re pretty good at guessing water temperature.

The next morning Luke and I got up early and walked around a fairly deserted Circular Quay. This is the best spot in Sydney Harbour to view the Opera House and Harbour Bridge up close and it was nice to see it so quiet.

After our reconnoiter we went back to collect our family for breakfast. Izaac set the tone for his meals for the next fortnight.

We decided on a drink at the pub before our time to board. Arriving at the correct time might’ve been a mistake, since the queue at our boarding time (12:30) turned out to be enormous. We joined the bag queue, which took quite a while (attach your tags prior to arriving if you can) then went to the little bar by the terminal to wait for the line to die down as the day was hot and most of the line was in the full sun. If you’re doing a cruise I don’t know whether I’d advise you to turn up super early or just wait until the last of the line goes in, either would work better than turning up in the middle of the whole thing. Bring a hat or umbrella too!

The only shady spot.

We finally boarded at about 3pm and the ship sailed at 4:15. We spilt up to put our things in our rooms (Mum and Dad had a room slightly bigger than ours with a long lounge so we could all go sit in there together) and had a walk around to explore then had dinner in the big open buffet area.

Our finest achievement of day 1 was finding the Wake View Bar, where we’ve decided to meet every evening at 6.

And that was day 1!

Here Comes The Planet 88 – Goldenpass to Montreux and CERN in Geneva (2018)

We take the GoldenPass panoramic train from Lauterbrunnen through to Montreux, and visit the amazing European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. After watching this video Amanda reminded me that there was also some interesting graffiti in Geneva, but I remember it being part of an art installation and therefore temporary. Even if it wasn’t, unless you are specifically going there to visit CERN I can’t recommend Geneva as an interesting place to visit. That’s something we both agree on.

Here Comes The Planet 86 – Lauterbrunnen and Schilthorn (2018)

We attend a “Folklore Night” at a campground in Lauterbrunnen, and then the next day we take a cable car up Schilthorn mountain to take a look at “Bond World” (Schilthorn is where they filmed “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) and have lunch at a revolving restaurant.

Click here to read Amanda’s entry about this section of our trip!

Lamai Beach

I am writing this from home, having discovered that the last two posts I wrote about Lamai (our last stop) have disappeared. This means that several paragraphs of me complaining about Justin Bieber on high (and I mean HIGH) rotation in every hotel, restaurant and bar in Thailand will just have to be done without – sad, I know. It honestly seemed as though some governing body in Thailand had issued the same 10 track CD to every likely establishment in the country and by the end of our three weeks I thought seriously about sticking a fork in my ears.

Lamai Beach

Audio-torture aside, we had a nice time during our last week. Lamai is a beach just south of the more famous Chaweng Beach, which runs down the eastern side of Koh Samui. This was our third trip to the island and we had decided to try Lamai as it seemed a bit quieter – the parade of hawkers, spherical and sunburned eurotrash, and whizzing jet skis of course has it’s charms (in terms of cautionary tales, perhaps) but we’d heard good things about Lamai.

Lovely lush tropical gardens in our resort.

We definitely experienced quiet. In the evenings the beach was almost deserted as it was the low season and some of the bars and restaurants were completely closed. Despite this, our resort (The Pavilion) was at least half full and there were families and groups out on the beach throughout the day. Only one jet ski at a time seemed to be in operation too, so that was also something.

Lamai main street.

A big sign on the beach warned that it was jellyfish season so I did get in the sea a couple of times but tried to keep Luke between myself and the open water.

On our second last night I made the mistake of looking up the kinds of jellyfish and related incidents to be found locally and scared myself out of going back in. Fortunately the hotel pool was perfectly fine – although Luke wasn’t happy that it had not been heated to bath temperatures.

We ate out every night and enjoyed a great number of 70-140 baht cocktails. If you’re heading to the area we highly recommend Pik’s Bar. They have a list of 140 cocktails and they’re all the equivalent of $3 AUD each.

Pik’s Bar

Lea decided Pina Coladas were the best thing since sliced bread and after her first we barely saw her without one in her hand, even at breakfast! Just kidding, of course. We didn’t usually start drinking until we’d spent at least 8 hours reading books on our sun loungers.

Our only activity, apart from eating, swimming, reading, and drinking, was watching the local gang of dogs wrestle each other up and down the beach. A form of entertainment familiar to everyone who has ever been to the coast of Thailand.

We became quite familiar with the pack and one morning I found one of them (who looked a bit like our old dog Penny) asleep on the walkway right outside our room. After that I bought a little packet of dog treats from the 7-11 and handed them out whenever they came near.

We did find a few really lovely places to eat in Lamai, one of which wasn’t Thai (all the Thai places are excellent, mind you) called Emporio Caffè.

The proprietor and chef was an Italian fellow from Rome who made the pasta by hand and shared some of his grappa and limoncello with us. The pasta was outstanding and so of course we went back two nights later. Although it was a very simple cafe it had the typical frescos. If you find yourself in Lamai be sure to go!

Luke and I left Samui on a very early flight and spent a night at the Novotel in Bangkok before a daytime flight back to Melbourne. I ended up with a headache from watching three movies and the entire available catalogue of Big Bang Theory (it’s the show I watch when there’s nothing better to watch) and disembarked at about 8:30pm to find Melbourne airport the busiest we’d ever seen it.

The lady managing the extensive Sky Bus queue told the people in line that the trouble was that the Cox Plate (a prestigious horse race), Pax (a games convention) and a Taylor Swift concert were all happening on the same weekend.

Once we got into the city we discovered that in fact the Taylor Swift concert had just emptied out from the stadium beside the station and there were crowds five deep to get onto the trains. We ended up standing up for the 50 minutes it took to get home and then walked the last kilometre. The guy at the local kebab stand spied us walking past (this was at almost midnight) and asked Luke if we were going hiking.

Arriving home was a bit weird. Last time we’d come back we’d had a house full of people and Penny to greet us. This time it was more like letting ourselves into another Airbnb. Luke had paid for professional cleaners to go through the house before we returned and they’d cleaned some things well – and some things not so well. A lot of our belongings were in boxes as friends had lived in the house while we’d been gone.

We lay down on a mattress in the spare room, turned out the light, and agreed solemnly that really, there’s no place like home.

Pik’s Bar