Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To cruise or not to cruise?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that I like to cruise - so why you ask would I be asking such a question in the title page.

Well you see - there is this thing called the Canadian $$$ - and well like lately it has been in the tank - dropping almost daily in value - it has long been associated with the price of oil and despite gas prices not dropping enough we all know what has happened to the price of a barrel of oil - it is in the tank as well and no pun intended - so you get the connection.

In other words - it is now costly me almost 35 - 40 % more to cruise than a couple of years ago.

While cruise lines do allow you to pay in Canadian $$ at a discounted rate - the rest of my expenses - hotels, train rides, excursions etc have to be paid in US $$$.

It should now be coming clearer why I have given this post that title.

I have two cruises currently booked.

1. A 10 Pacific Coastal in April and 

2. A 14 day Caribbean repo from Boston to New Orleans.

What are their future?

That is a question that I have been mulling for awhile and now the decision has been may.

I will be canceling #1 and doing #2.

While the dollar is a factor in the cancellation there are other factors also in play.

I will be having cataract surgery sometime in the New Year but may not know the dates before final payment date in early February.

I am also hoping to get hired once again by Stats Canada for the 2016 census - I have applied for both a supervisor and/or canvasser position.
If I get the former I will need to have the dates of the cruise available for training of workers etc. I am also unlikely to know the dates for this before final payment.

If I get either job it will provide me with some funds for the second cruise.

When I booked this repo almost two years ago it was partly because I don't know how many more years I am going to want to spend four or five days taking a train ride across the continent to take a cruise.

So I want this trip to be a little different - one way I can save on some costs is by taking Via Rail across Canada - when compared to Amtrak it looks like quite a bit more but when you factor in the exchange rate it is is more competitive plus I haven't used Via rail since my student days when I took it as far a Winnipeg for a convention.

I will take the train across Canada to Toronto and then onto Ottawa for a day tour and then to Montreal for a couple of days before taking the train to NYC - where I will overnight and then head to Boston the day before the cruise.

One major concern I found was finding a place to stay in Boston that wasn't $300.00 a night and that was before the exchange rate - I know I could stay in the outlying areas but there are challenges with that as well.

I finally found a place called "the Copley House - looks like it is a step up from a hostel and a step down from a B and B -  but it is close to the Back Bay train station and many of the attractions in Boston.

For New York I will once again stay at the Vanderbilt YMCA - it's near the UN Building and Grand Central Station and an easy subway ride from Penn Station to the Y.

Next up - booking the train from Montreal to NYC and then from NYC to Boston.

More in 2016.



Thursday, October 8, 2015

Canadian election Oct 19, 2015 - My thoughts

RE:Canadian Election - some thoughts 

What do I think will be the outcome? - it will be a minority government - no one party will have 170 seats and none are likely to be close to that number.

Which party will have the most seats and is likely to be asked to try and form a government? At one time any of the three major parties appeared through polling etc to have a chance with emerging with the most seats.

All three main parties have they geographical strong points - the Liberals in the East sans Quebec, the Conservatives in the West and parts of Ontario and the NDP in Quebec and somewhat in Ontario and BC.

In the last week or two the NDP campaign seems to have faltered and their support for the most part seems to have moved to the Liberals and as of this morning many of the polling firms have the the Conservatives and the Liberals neck and neck in the popular vote and the Conservatives with a slight lead in the seat count.

Some of my political friends feel the Liberals will come out on top and one even suggests a Liberal majority. I have one die in the wool Young Conservative who volunteers at the BC Lions games who still thinks the Conservative will win a majority.

Having studied the parties, platforms, polls etc over the past weeks I still can't determine whether Harper will still be Prime Minister with a minority or Trudeau will follow in his dad's footstep and be Prime Minister elect.
However since I am used to having egg on my face and tears in my eyes over wrong predictions I will predict that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will end up with the most seats.

Let the flaming begin.


Postscript - well I did predict the Liberals winning and i did say they would have the most seats - so I will gloat and say that i got it right this time.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Upcoming cruise

In two weeks I will once again be back at sea - doing a 10 day Alaskan cruise starting in Seattle and ending up in Vancouver.

I will take the train down to Seattle and stay overnight - hope to meet up with Hazel who lives in the area and do a little exploring and then have dinner somewhere.

Next day board the Norwegian Jewel and join up with a group called the Cruzin Cuzins - I know some of them from previous cruises and they were on my Boston to New Orleans repo cruise last year.

The port of call will be Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Icy Strait Point and Victoria.

I have been to all of these ports except Icy Strait - although it as been many years since I was in Sitka.

This is one of the last Alaskan cruise of the season and hopefully the weather won't be too bad.

Regardless with all the volunteer work I have done the last few months including almost 100 hours in August I will be glad to be able to take a step back and relax.

I haven't booked any excursions partly because NCL unlike Princess requires payment at time of booking and partly with the Canadian $$ in the tank it has added an additional 30 % to the cost so I am likely to just do things on my own.

Weather permitting I want to return to the Mendenhall Glacier and do the short hike to Nugget Falls - about 1 mile from the Visitor's Center.

While I have brought up the suitcase and printed off the packing list I haven't really started to put anything into it.

More later.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

FIFA and me

I am currently volunteering for the FIFA Women's World Cup that is been hosted by 6 cities across Canada.

Vancouver is considered the hub city for the tournament - that is where the officials etc are based and then dispatched to the various cities as there expertise is required - referees, doping, media etc.

My basic job has been in the transport area - airport arrivals, departures and game day shuttling between the hotel and the stadium.

When an event of this size and scope is planned many assumptions are made usually using the worst case scenario as the planning tool. This is particularly true in the area of transport and as a result we have on many days far more drivers than assignments so some different roles were offered to us.

Many of the drivers have jobs, family or sport commitments so they can't take extra shifts.

I of course don't fit that criteria so I volunteered to help out in the area of media relations - there are two aspects to that - practices at the practice fields and game day.

For security reasons I won't mention the practice field sites but basically we are to ensure that the protocol in place is followed as per team instructions - teams can have open or closed practices - if opened media have access on the field for the entire time - if closed - the first fifteen minutes they are allowed on the field and then at the end their is either a post practice news conference and/or individual request for an interview. The actual clearing of the field is done by the media liaison person for each team.  

There is also a media tent with wi-fi and power - it is opened one hour prior to one hour after the practice - only media with proper ID are allowed on the site  - they must show the accreditation and sign in.

The other part of the media task is game day - I got my first experience with this at Monday night's game between Japan and the Netherlands.

There are two main media areas at the stadium - broadcast - ie - on air radio and TV and print - I worked in the print area for that game.

But before I could do that there was the little matter of my own accreditation - our initial accreditation was issued on the basis of what we were approved and scheduled for. 

I my case that was transport - media requires additional access so it was a quick trip to the accreditation trailer - a new picture and more access stickers - I was off to the media center and then up to media area.

While working transport we get a meal voucher from our base hotel to order from their room service menu - when doing the stadium we get a ticket and a catered meal is provided - water and pop from the sponsor is free and unlimited.

I was also lucky enough to get to see part of the Canada/Swiss game and did see the only goal of the game.

As for last night game - it was a clear view of the field from high up in the stadium.

I have a day off today and then return to driving tomorrow - at least that is what is scheduled.

Canada next plays on Saturday against England - because of some other commitments I didn't schedule myself to work that day but did buy a ticket for the game.

The game is a sellout so there will be around 54,000 screaming fans, mostly wearing Canada's red and white.  

This is a just a little summary of my activities of late.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cruise update and port report April 29, 2015

Well it has been a busy four days with visits to San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Catalina Island and Los Angeles.
We are now on our way back to Vancouver - we will spend the next 2.5 days cruising up the Pacific Coast, throught the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into Georgia Strait and Burrard Inlet before tying up at Canada Place.
I have taken lots of photograph but with the slow internet on the ship I will post those on my return.
Well today should be one of those days where you sit back and enjoy a day at sea - well fine in theory but in reality it is not all that enjoyable on board - we have heavy seas, high waves and the boat is root tootin rockin.
Hard to concentrate when you don't knwo nwhen the next major shake is going to occur - the Captain did warn us last night that it would be a rough day - the skies are sunny but there is a very strong persistent northerly wind.
I am sure that many people are feeling ill at ease and in the stomach as well. 
Fortunately I haven't had problem with sea sickness in the pass so hoping to continue that string.
Tonight is formal night which menas that it will be the buffet for me and where is the buffet - up on deck 14 where the winds are most noticeable.
Unlike Norwegian when they have a dress up night they designate on the dining rooms for causal dressers - not so with Princess.
More later.

A review of my ports:
1. Victoria - walked along the seashore to the Quadra street entrance to Beacon Hill Park and then explored park before heading into the downtown core. I stopped by the Legislature and went inside and looked around. There was a private function for the MLA's in the main rotunda. First time inside the building since the 1970's when I sat in the visitor's gallery and we were introduced by our MLA Garde Gardom as part of a visiting student Liberal delegation.
I did spot the office of my current MLA Sam Sullivan but didn't knock on the door.
Then proceeded along the waterfront to the houseboat marina and Barb's Fish and Chips. 
The waterfront walk is now called the David Foster Heritage Walkway in honor of one of Victoria's more recent native sons.
Then it was back to the ship.
Weather - sunny, windy but cool.
2. San Francisco - lots to write about here but will only provide the highlites.
Once cleared of customs headed for the Embarcadero station and the "N" line train to Golden Gate Park - I started near the 6th Ave entrance and worked my way down to the Ocean Beach by 1:30 which was also my turn around time.
Back on the train and straight to the Golden Gate ferry for the 35 minute trip across to Sausalito to meet up with Adele and Cliff for dinner.
After dinner a brief walkabout and then back on the ferry and back to the ship.
The following morning I headed out early and walked all the way to Fort Mason - about 4 kms.
Then it was back on the ship for an early afternoon departure and we are headed for Santa Barbara.
Weather - mixed - started out nice then late afternoon and evening shower and then sunny for the sail away.
3. Santa Barbara - I wasn't originally going to do a ship's tour but onboard decided to do a tour to Montecito where many of the stars lived. It wasn't the tour that I hoped for - We saw none of there million dollar homes - only the gated entrance and long driveways.
After the tour I walked through the town taking in the Stearns Wharf and the Red Brick walking tour that I had downloaded from the internet. It was quite worthwhile.
Weather - Sunny and warm
4. Catalina Island - another ship's tour - I had been here once before so had seen some of the sights - today's tour would lead us pass some of the famous Wrigley family houses and up into the interior of the Island. We are travelling in an old 1953 bus that was in great condition and handled the nearly 20% grade without do much trouble.
Our first stop was a a bald eagle reserve near the Middle Ranch.
Our seciond stop was at an overlook looking down onto Little Harbour - beautiful pristine looking beach and apparently where the surfer's like to surf.
Our last stop was at the Airport in the Sky - would have liked more time here but as we were running late only time to grab a side of fries and a pop.
Back on  the bus for return trip to town - then walked along the waterfront in both directions. 
Weather is sunny and warm and my arms and newck are getting fried.
5. Los Angeles - we were originally suppose to dock at Long Beach at the Carnival dock next to the Queen Mary but the Captain announced the night before that because the gangway was having mechnical trouble we would dock in San Pedro instead.
For me this wasn't much of a concern as I had a 5 hour Los Angeles tour booked.
This was my best tour of the cruise.
We may our way through various neighbourhoods and Century City - pass the Fox studios - Beverly Hills and finally came to the Farmer's Market - this is a real tourist area and entertainment and upscale shopping destination. As we had an hour here it was our lunch stop as well. I ordered a burger combo and couldn't finished it.
I was joined on this tour by Charles and Phyllis McLean - I have known Charles for years when he was a member of the downtown Y - saw him on board on Day 2 and we have chatted a few times since.
Our next stop was at the Chinese Theatre - at Hollywood and Orange which is also where the Dolby Theatre is located - this is where the Oscars are presented. It was a fun stop - a little too short for some.
We continued to see the sights including the Capitol Records builkding at Hollywood and Vine before heading to our last stop at the Pueblo de Los Angeles - where LA was founded.
I had visited the area once before as it is only a couple blocks from Amtrak's Union Station.
Then it was through downtown LA, passed the Staples Center and back to the ship.
Weather was sunny and hot.
Hope you enjoyed this brief summary of my port visits.
Once back I will add some photos.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Almost there.

Well the time has come. In a few minutes I will shut off this computer - put on my shoes and coat and grab my suitcase and day pack, lock the apartment door and start the 20 minute walk down to Canada Place to board the Grand Princess and the start of a 10 day round trip cruise.

I am quite familiar with that ship as I spent 49 days on her two years ago doing a South American cruise and again last year on a coastal repo cruise.

Hope to be able to post to this blog along the way - will depend on how good and fast my internet will be - I get 250 minutes so should be able to post text - photos will have to wait my return.



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Just about time for my cruise


  On Tuesday I board the Grand Princess at Canada Place and embark on a ten day round trip cruise with stops in Victoria, San Francisco overnight, Santa Barbara, Catalina Island and Long Beach before returning back to Vancouver.

  This cruise is somewhat unique in that it is a Pacific Coastal southbound when most ships are doing northbound at this time of year in preparation for the Alaska cruise season.

  After this cruise the ship will stay in Port and due a wet dry dock - mostly upgrades etc that don't require the ship to be taken out of the water.

  As for what I might do in the various port - here is a rough outline.

  Victoria - we have an early arrival and a 2 PM departure - depending on the weather intend to walk into town via Beacon Hill Park and then have lunch at Barb's fish and chips on the waterfront before returning to the ship.

  San Francisco - as this is an overnight stop once I have cleared customs intend to head for Golden Gate Park and explore it and then return to the ship and freshen up and then take the Golden State ferry across to Sausalito and meet up with my friends Adele and Cliff who I met on a cruise about 10 years ago and have become good friends - we will have dinner at a restaurant I first visited a number of years ago and then take the last ferry back to the ship.

  The following morning I will spent a little time exploring the Fishermen's Wharf area - we have an early sailing time 11 AM so I won't be far from the ship.

  Santa Barbara is a tender port - haven't booked any excursions as it looks like it is fairly easy to see the sights by walking or grabbing a hop on hop off shuttle. It will be my first time visiting Santa Barbara by cruise ship - have stopped there on car trips but never really did a lot of exploring the area.

  Catalina Island - is another tender port - was there once before where we had a light rain - this time have booked a ship's excursion to visit more of the inland areas of the Island.

  Long Beach - we will be docking at Carnival's dock in Long Beach instead of the usual Princess dock in San Pedro. This is apparently what is done when it is a day visit only and not an embarkation/debarkation stop.

  I have booked a ship's excursion to see some of LA - Hollywood and Rodeo Drive - a fairly longest drive but as I have spent time in Long Beach on a few others cruises I decided to go a little further afield.

  Then it back to the ship and a straight non-stop return to Vancouver.

  As I have a fair number of internet minutes I will try and post some reports as the cruise progresses.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cruise season is starting early this year

The first cruise ship on the season arrived in Vancouver this morning - about a month earlier than normal. The Grand Princess is here - it will do two fifteen day round trips to Hawaii and then a 10 day Pacific Coastal to LA and back before starting its regular summer Alaska cruises.

I will be on the 10 day coastal - really nice that I only have to walk down to Canada Place - about 10 blocks to board the ship and repeat it again when it returns.

In anticipation of this I did my usual and walked down to Canada Place to see the ship and take some pictures and talk to some of the others whom were also down taking in the event.

Two of the TV stations - Global and CBC were there when I was down there.

Here's a link to my photo essay of this visit.