As with any trip, long or short, a lot of waiting is involved.
It was once said by a world traveler (I can’t recall whether it was Marco Polo, Marcus Aurelius, or Mark Twain), “Every great adventure begins with a miserable plane ride.”
And so it was with the one-hour flight from Oakland to LAX. Yet, we made it, and the promised shuttle drove us to the Long Beach Hilton, where we’d be staying one night before proceeding to the Island Princess. (It’s recommended you arrive near the port a day early since a failed connection means you’d have to get to Honolulu on your own.)
The shuttle driver did eventually show up and shuttled us from LAX to the Long Beach Hilton, where we spent an unmemorable night. Actually, the one memorable experience there was me walking five blocks from a local pizza place back to our hotel carrying our dinner in a box, only to find that my cautious walking had not prevented all of the toppings from sliding to one side of the pizza. (I can hear the announcer saying: “Double the cheese, mushrooms, and spinach—only half the dough!”)
Later, as we ate our pizza and salad while sharing the one plastic fork we found in the bag, we watched an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. An abused woman and/or her teenage son electrocuted the woman’s abuser by throwing a plugged-in hair dryer into his bath.
You don’t find out until the end whether it was the woman or her son who tossed in the hair dryer (each claims to be guilty, trying to protect the other) and frankly I can’t remember whodunit. What I do remember is that each 10 minutes of the show was followed by 15 minutes of commercials, many of which featured prescription drugs that “you should ask your doctor about.” It seems each medication is effective in relieving your Crohn’s Disease, Anxiety, or Diabetes Type X, but features side effects that will surely cause your heart, liver, lungs, or kidneys to fail. (I’m reminded of Side Effects, a New Yorker feature written by Steve Martin that describes a new back-pain medication whose primary side-effect is back-pain.)
I woke at 1 am and watched a SpanishPodcast.net episode on my iPhone. It described (in Spanish, of course) how different types of Spanish words are named according to whether their accent falls on the first, second, or final syllable of the word. As in music, one type is called “sharp” and another is called “flat.” The third type translates as “compass,” I think—it was a bit confusing, and (surprise!) written in a foreign language. The point of watching these episodes is not to actually learn such ephemera; rather, it is to understand in general what the narrator is talking about. I’ve listened to over 440 episodes, many more than once, and my comprehension has indeed improved. (Come back in six years and see how much—or little—I’ve improved.)
I woke again at 6 am. The blackout curtains, which we don’t have at home, seemed to be effective. Since Sharon was still sleeping and it was too early to get up, I plugged in my earphones and watched clips of Family Guy on Facebook for an hour. I never watched this program on TV, but love the writing and characters—Quagmire is my particular favorite.
The shuttle bus from the hotel to the Long Beach cruise port took three or four times as long to get there as it should have. But the transfer was part of the package we bought, and we were assured that we’d get to the ship on time. Two angels relinquished their front-row seats to Sharon and me, which made the drive easier. Once at the cruise port, everything went smoothly. “Everything” means Sharon negotiating her walker and her carry-on duffle to the port entrance, and me schlepping two suitcases and the rest of the carry-on stuff you all take on a 3 ½ month ocean journey, such as your trombone.
After checking-in and confirming our ID and Covid bone fides, we went through security and walked (Sharon pushed) up the long ramp to the ship.
Princess utilizes a device called a Medallion that electronically contains our photo, passport information, cabin number, food allergies, your mother’s high school yearbook photo, and God-knows-what-else, and you carry this instead of cards, visas, or other devices. It also contains information about our dinner reservations, which I painstakingly entered using my computer, for the 111 days of our planned cruise.
The Medallion system has never failed to unlock my cabin door when I am within two or three feet of it. That said, it has never succeeded in helping to seat us for dinner at the appropriate time or place. Perhaps the designers of the system have no idea what it’s like when hundreds of people are lined up outside the Provence dining room waiting to be seated. Our cruise agent, Zoe, does not seem to like the Medallion system very much, preferring personal contact with, say, the head waiter or Guest Services rep, and I understand why. (She probably feels it led to the Titanic’s tragic demise.)
But our Medallions allowed us onto the ship, and (masked) we took an elevator to the Horizon Court on Deck 14.
After lunch at the buffet, we found our cabin in the stern of the ship on the Promenade deck, and dumped our carry-on stuff (including one’s trombone).
Our luggage eventually arrived. Our steward (Jacinto) aims to please, and our ADA cabin and balcony are certainly large enough for two people. We’re happy with it.
We unpacked. I changed into my bathing suit and explored the ship a little, checking out the fitness room (disappointing), and found my way to the men’s sauna (carefully hidden in a remote part of the ship). I grabbed a towel, entered, sat down, and my journey finally began. I met Andy, who mentioned in conversation that he was fluent in Spanish. I responded that I describe myself as only “conversational,” and then struggled through my oft-told story about the quinceañera in Zihuatanejo. Andy was not only fluent, but he was also quite kind in listening to my disjointed narrative en español. Meanwhile, the sauna drained every bit of moisture from my body.
Dinner was wonderful—mostly because I did not have to shop for it, prepare it, cook it, or clean up after it; I only had to eat it. And that’s what made it wonderful.
On the first night of any cruise the passengers and crew are struggling to get it all right, and this takes time and patience (each of which I possess in limited supply).
Regardless, the Island Princess left the port without mishap, and as far as I’m concerned, the cruise is off to a good start.
We experienced rough seas all night long—not enough to make us sick, but enough movement to make us aware.
If you ever saw the film Master and Commander, there’s a scene below deck where the sound effects include ship movement that translates into a lot of squeaking. There is no way, according to people I’ve spoken to, that you can prevent a ship from squeaking when seas are rough. It’s just the way it is. The ceilings squeak, the furniture squeaks, the door frames squeak. (Sharon reminded me that I always complain about this. I’ll assume she’s telling the truth.)
At one point I wedged some folded paper between the ceiling and the corner molding, which seemed to help. Since then I’ve become aware of squeaking that occurs all around the ship, so it’s not just my cabin. (I’m a person gifted/afflicted with acute hearing, and it’s both a blessing and a curse.)
At about seven in the morning I went for a walk on Deck 15 (a mostly outdoor deck). It was clear, bright, cold, windy, and invigorating.
In the dining rooms the staff is obviously still working on meal service. Although this cruise originated in Ft. Lauderdale and spent two weeks navigating the Panama Canal and various seas, many guests and new staff came on in Long Beach. Because Patience is my middle name, I’ll give them a few days to get their act together. Then I’ll talk to the captain, who displays a “Hail-Fellow-Well-Met” demeanor, which drives me nuts.
Deb Fraioli is referred to by Princess as the ship’s “Destination Expert.” She’s traveled virtually everywhere, and regularly offers travel slide shows in the large Princess Theater. We met her on our 2020 World cruise and she now counts us among her 15,000 friends (that number is probably not far from the truth). Deb is a delight, and actually remembered us from 2020. Her husband, Dan Downey, is a wonderfully talented entertainer who sings and plays guitar, specializing in music from the 70s and 80s including James Taylor, John Denver, Crosby Stills, Nash (and Young), and many more, although he’ll throw in some show tunes, Sinatra favorites, and other standards along the way. He’s an excellent singer and guitar player, and has a strong following on the ship.
There was a Meet and Greet organized by CruiseCritic.com, during which I met Matt, a retired fourth grade music teacher who plays the French horn, and his wife Heather. He laughed when I described the horn as being one of the “money instruments” (along with the oboe and the viola).
Sharon went out to find the mah-jongg game, which magically appears like fairies and unicorns on sea days. I took the opportunity to assemble my trombone and practice for 90 minutes in the cabin using my new SofMute, which is so much better to play with than my Yamaha electronic mute system, which causes a lot of back pressure and pitch change. (I’ll talk more later about trombone practice in an effort to bore all or most of you.)
As part of this cruise’s “special deal,” we signed up for three features that were somehow linked. This included an internet, tips, and drink package. Since I don’t drink alcohol and Sharon barely drinks, this part of the package is wasted on us, although it does include special coffees and non-alcoholic drinks. On our last cruise, I discovered the “Nojito,” a non-alcoholic (virgin) Mojito—no rum.
I ordered one for dinner, and when it came I took a big sip through the straw at which point my head almost exploded—they forgot to not include the alcohol. Needless to say, I was buzzed for about an hour. I have no idea what I had for dinner.
That night we turned our clocks back an hour as we headed toward Hawaii.
This morning was warmer and less windy as I walked around the upper deck at 7, pausing to do 10 push-ups each time I got to the bar, which was not open yet. It was a good walk—not spoiled by golf, although there is some kind of putting/chipping enclosure, as well as a pickle ball court and a basketball hoop. (I’m told pickle ball is fun. Personally, I try to avoid fun.)
After breakfast, Sharon went to play mah-jongg and I worked on the trombone.
I’ve divided my trombone sessions into four parts. About half of the 1.5 to 2 hours I play on good days includes the Remington warm-up, which is familiar to virtually all trombonists, and the Reichert Daily Exercises, which are familiar to no trombonists other than myself. The reason for this is that Reichert composed these studies for his flute students, and I transposed them for trombone after using them with some success when I played flute.
The Seven Daily Exercises cover virtually all the major and minor scales, arpeggios, and many patterns in all 12 keys, thus fulfilling many essential areas in the warm-up and learning process. (I’m happy to share them with you.)
The other two areas of my practice include sight-reading and improvisation.
After lunch and a well-deserved nap, I again made my way to the Secret Sauna where I met Robert, a retired army officer. He lives with his wife in South Lake Tahoe. He was pleased to learn that we share the same first name and threw me a question I’d never been asked before: Do I know what my name means? (I do.)
At 6 pm, we went over to the room where Dan Downey was singing and playing guitar, and Deb Fraioli, his wife, came over to chat with Sharon. I knew she would be there, and gave her the one signed copy of The Rabbi Finds Her Way I’d brought with me.
For dinner we were finally seated at a table we could call our own, and the meal was even better because of the alstroemeria on the table. I’ve fallen in love with this flowering plant, and wonder if I’d have any success growing it at home.
We again moved our clocks back yet another hour, and are now on Hawaii time.
I awoke to a beautiful morning and was up on Deck 15 for a 15-minute walk and pushups—not enough time for anything longer. It is now t-shirt weather, warm and humid, with a slight breeze. After breakfast Sharon read and I practiced trombone till after lunch. Then I made an excursion to the Excursion desk to book an excursion to Nawiliwili.
There are two types of shipboard credits on one’s account. The first is refundable and the other non-refundable. Our job is to use up the non-refundable credits before we arrive home. This will not be very difficult on such a long cruise; but on shorter cruises we’ve ended up buying stupid items and gifts nobody wants rather than leave money on the table. Refundable shipboard credits are, indeed, refundable, and we typically receive a check from Princess a few weeks after our trip ends. You can get an up-to-date accounting at any time using the readily available kiosks or by going to Guest Services (I call it the Front Desk).
This morning all passengers and crew were tested for Covid, and (allegedly) the ship is Covid-free. Some passengers were mask-resistant before the test, so good luck now getting any of them to wear a mask. Sharon and I have decided to keep our masks on in the elevators, the Princess Theater, and other common meeting places. (In spite of that, each of us came down with colds; more on that later.)
At noon, there was a reunion lunch held for passengers who had been on the 2020 Pacific Princess World Cruise, which was aborted after 60 days due to the pandemic. Virtually all of us were flown to our home ports, while a small percentage stayed on the ship back to the U.S. due to medical or other reasons for not being able to fly. (I know of at least one woman who was on the ship with 14 or more suitcases, and refused to fly home. I have no idea what happened to her or her suitcases, one of which, I was told, was filled with wigs. During meals, I was able to identify at least seven or eight of her wigs even thought I know nothing of wigs—that’s how unique they were.)
At the reunion lunch, we sat with two ladies and had a good time, plus an even better tuna-melt sandwich (off which someone had cut the crusts. I don’t think my mother ever did that).
There is often live music offered in the large three-deck high atrium in the center of the ship. Today the violin-cello duo, a Ukrainian husband and wife team, switched from exciting classical music to more forgettable duets (think “Strangers in the Night” and other insipid pop tunes). I later met the couple near an elevator, and told them how much I loved their playing—they are excellent musicians. Conservatory-trained, I have a feeling they’re happy to be on the ship rather than back in Ukraine. Their English, I believe, is about as good as my Spanish.) Married entertainers get a cabin for themselves.
At dinner, we sat near a couple who lived in both Ellicott City and Columbia, Maryland, towns that Sharon and I are very familiar with. It is not uncommon to meet retired military families who have lived in a wide variety of places in the U.S. and overseas.
As predicted, there are fewer mask wearers on the ship than ever before.
After a nice walk, a good breakfast, and a decent trombone practice, I ate lunch while on a Zoom meeting in Oakland (I was the only one on Zoom). There was more division on this book (The Word Is Murder, by Anthony Horowitz) than I’ve seen on other books. Personally, I found it cleverly written and entertaining, and was actually moved to watch Foyle’s War, a British TV detective series that takes place during World War II, written by the same author. (Disclosure: I typically listen to the audio book whenever I can. I discovered decades ago that I am an audio learner.)
Coincidentally, I attended another Zoom meeting a few hours later. The East Bay Institute for Contemporary Studies (casually known as the EBI) has been meeting every two weeks or so since 1985, with half of the original members still part of the group. During the pandemic, we moved from in-person dinner meetings hosted by various members (all men) to Zoom meetings. At least two participants have moved from the East Bay area, so we’ll probably continue as a Zoom group going forward.
This evening’s entertainer in the Princess Theatre was a good vocalist whom you’ve never heard of, Lou Gazzara. (I don’t watch American Idol either.)
Bad news—I’ve got a cold. I have passed through the sore throat stage followed by congestion. It’s always something. This in spite of wearing a mask most places.
It’s a lovely day outside, and a recovering day for me. I was successful in snagging a 9 am reservation online for the Bishop Museum. Unfortunately, the ship doesn’t arrive at the pier until 9 am! I’ll be playing this one by ear.
What is drawing me to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu is not the museum but rather the planetarium. I love planetariums, and have visited several around the world including one in Ecuador where I decided to pay the admission fee for several strangers who were not planning to attend because unless we had a minimum of 10 people they would not run the Planetarium show. One of the people I coerced to go was a three-month old attached to the back of one of his Bolivian parents, both of whom were wearing those cool-looking Bolivian bowler hats, called cholitas. The admission fee was about 72 cents per person, and the guy at the gate grudgingly ran the show for us after I paid him.
As soon as I could get off the ship I walked the approximately 3 miles to the museum, and was reminded of my Walk Across America. There was trash everywhere along the street, and a fair number of tents where people were living. It’s been six years since I first encountered this, and it still brings me pain.
When I arrived at the museum, I scored a reservation for the 11:30 am planetarium show for an extra three bucks. Many of the current museum themes center around Hōkūleʻa, the celebration of the Voyager Canoe.
This full-dome program puts you on the deck of the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa as you explore the nearly lost art and science of non-instrument navigation in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.
Much of the special material was about the re-creation of the voyaging canoe journey from Hawaii to Tahiti using only stellar navigation. The woman who gave the Planetarium talk was extremely knowledgeable and not afraid to flaunt her knowledge.
I took a Lyft back to the ship—it was hot and humid and I was exhausted from fighting a cold and cough. Lunch and a nap helped. A little.
Tonight featured a Production show, Encore! in the Princess Theater. It is an encore performance. (We’ve seen it before and I can guarantee you that we’ll see it again and love it then, too.) It includes arias from several operas, including La Boheme, Carmen, and music by Mozart, along with songs from Rogers & Hammerstein and other Broadway composers. The dance numbers and orchestrations are wonderful.
I coughed on and off all night long. Before we fell asleep (the first time) I had the brilliant idea to call room service for breakfast, which they insisted would be delivered at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am. Big mistake. The meal was not up to the ship’s usually high standards. But we needed to eat early, and this was a decent solution.
Regardless, cough syrup with codeine seems to have done the trick for me to a great extent..
As I write these notes, we are in the tour bus to Waimea Canyon. We again wrangled front row seats, and the tour guide is both an excellent driver and a non-stop talker. He rated a good tip.
We’d been to Waimea Canyon before (Sharon reminded me), as well as the blow holes featured along the coast. Some people call this the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii.” I’ve been to the Grand Canyon. I’ve also seen the Copper Canyon in Mexico, and guess what they call that?
(Answer: The Grand Canyon of Mexico. This is ironic, since “…the 20 spectacular canyons span a larger area than the Grand Canyon in the USA.”)
Back at the ship, we switched dinner tables again and I think this will work out. Really, I should not have to use up my small supply of patience on waiters who can’t get a simple order right—especially if it’s the same thing I ordered last night. Our new waiter, Sebastian, is from Mazatlán and is bright and attentive, and it’s a pleasure to be in his section.
I’m feeling (and getting) better, but begin to cough when I lie down. Not too bad.
Our dinner companions tonight were quite interesting. Jackie was in the computer industry and also a professional violinist, so she and I had plenty to talk about (music, not computers). Her husband, Ed, invented Powerball for the lotto industry, and was involved with worldwide government lotto games.
It was a nice day at sea. At 7 am I was on deck 15, which is outside, and walked for almost an hour. I interspersed each lap with 10 push-ups, which works well enough. As I’ve been told by wiser persons than myself, life is about “balance.” I try to exercise, but I also try not to take risks. (Some might object that my walk across America was full of risks, but so is working in a hospital or driving a semi, or flying a plane. And so on. Risks can be tempered by thoughtful logic, planning, and reason.)
Breakfast was fine. As I begin my experiment with the keto diet (some might say that at this point it’s just a low-carb diet), I had an omelette instead of the usual oatmeal. (See how exciting life can be?) On keto, high fat is in; most carbs are out. I’m not trying to lose weight, so don’t worry about me. I’m just curious, and this long cruise is a good opportunity to try new things.
We shopped for a new watch for Sharon, then she went off to mah-jongg while I practiced the trombone. After lunch she read, I took a nap, and then played some more until it was time to visit the sauna where I met Arnie, a retired dentist from Minnesota. Later, I met his wife Harriet, as well as his sister Yvonne and her husband Bob with whom they’re traveling. (I found later that they too are big fans of guitarist Dan Downey.)
Tonight’s show in the Princess Theater featured David Meyer, a talented mallet player—playing xylosynth, which is just what it sounds like—a xylophone + synthesizer. The music and light show were terrific as was his wife Dawn, who danced with extraordinary costumes embroidered with thousands of colored LED bulbs. The music selections were a mix of 70s rock and opera. Fascinating.
I walked about 50 minutes this morning. It was a little wet but not raining enough to call it rain. I continue to intersperse 10 pushups when I get to the unoccupied bar area, using the foot rests as pushup bars.
No one cares what I’m doing. People are pre-occupied with their own lives, as well they should be. Occasionally I’ll get a comment, a nod, or a thumbs-up from someone else who’s walking. I’m the only one who knows that up until six or eight weeks ago I was doing 20 sets of five pull-ups three times a week, which is more impressive than pushups or lots of other stuff. But rotator cuff-related pain has sidelined me, and my pull-up career may be over. We’ll see. (Yes, I did see the doctor and my physical therapist gave me exercises to do, which I did until I left home almost two weeks ago.)
An omelette (mushroom, spinach, and Swiss cheese) and decaf latte, with fruit as always (but no berries, sadly) made for a substantial breakfast. The absence of bananas, bread, cereals, grains, and sweetened food or drink is the major difference from my “normal” diet. I’ll keep this going for at least 30 days, and then evaluate.
Deb Fraioli gave an excellent presentation on Gauguin. (Why? We’re on the way to Tahiti.) she’d studied in France and give a comprehensive slide talk.
(I once heard this definition of an expert: “A guy from out-of-town with slides.”)
After her talk I worked about 50 minutes on Remington & Reichert.
Lunch was a disappointment and I went to the buffet for a salad and more fruit.
More trombone, song of the day: “But Beautiful.” Flat keys. It’s a tougher song than some.
On our way to dinner we listened to a pianist in the lounge and chatted again with Jerry and Suzanne from Henderson, NV, whom we’d met earlier. He’s a retired marine as well as an emergency manager for Marine Corps bases in the Western US. She is a former cancer researcher and hospital administrator. It’s easy to talk to them, and they’ll be joining us for dinner tomorrow.
Dinner was fine, sat next to a couple from Boise who run a logistics company arranging shipments of goods all over the world. …
The Elton John impersonator gave a decent show. I knew all the tunes but one, having owned the Greatest Hits LP. The songs are certainly iconic, but the lyrics are not well-crafted in the traditional sense. But that’s a discussion for another day. (The analogy is like me trying to explain why I am not a fan of Debbie Friedman—a controversial stance that never fails to get me in trouble with Debbie fans.)
Sharon seems to have caught the cold I had, sadly.
The sea has been rough, the ship is going through some movement, and the stabilizers are earning their pay.
I’m having vivid dreams every night, with dramatic dialogues, and casts of characters that often include myself at various ages. (Last night’s dream also included the police.)
Again walked 50 minutes, did 7-8 sets of 10 pushups.
It was windy, and my hat blew away in an early gust. I watched it sail away and was reminded of the Oakland A’s baseball cap I lost in Santa Cruz when my son Adam (then age 15) and I were on the roller coaster, and the subsequent quick trip to Walmart to replace it—the Athletics we’re having several winning seasons and how could I support my team without an appropriate hat?
Breakfast alone; Sharon slept in with her cold.
Breakfast: Omelette (mushroom, spinach, smoked salmon, and Swiss cheese) plus a decaf latte. Fruit as always.
Deb Fraioli gave another well-researched presentation—Magic, Ritual, and Art in the South Pacific. She included stories about Captain James Cook, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (of Tasmania and Tasmanian Sea fame), and Margaret Mead.
Sharon (and her cold) slept on and off through the day. I brought her some food and hot tea from the buffet.
I was able to Facetime with Catherine deCuir, my music and writing partner, and we discussed the logistics of writing this essay.
At 6:30 pm we went to hear the Princess Band, a wonderful band of performers that included trombonist Rodney Lancaster, whom I met and chatted with on our recent family cruise in the Caribbean.
We’d invited Jerry and Suzanne to join us for dinner, and had a good time chatting and sharing life and travel stories.
Today was my daughter Marna’s “big” birthday, a landmark event for all of us who love her.
A fair number of friends and regular readers of my Notes Along the Journey memoir essays suggested that I write about this World Cruise. I’m sure they meant well.
As I write this, on Day 13, it is 6:20 am and the ship is pulling in to Papeete in Tahiti. There are many boats moored in the harbor, with clouds and the sun just above the surrounding mountains. It’s all very dramatic and beautiful.
But frankly, I’m not enjoying writing about this trip. Rather, I’d like to just enjoy it without thinking all day (and night) about what I should write. Producing a 111-day long travelogue was not what I’d intended to do on this voyage, and it’s proven to be a burden in more than one respect.
No one is forcing me (or paying me) to do anything I do at this point in my life. So when I step back and evaluate why I’m doing something that I’d rather not be doing, I have the luxury of pushing the Eject Button.
My commitment to myself was that I’d post an essay twice a month, on the first and fifteenth of the month, and I’ll try to do that. But other than incidents and experiences that fit into my memoirs in a specific way, I’ll step away from the role of “travel writer” and leave it to others.
As I’ve occasionally observed, life is short and it’s getting shorter all the time.