A taster weekend of pictures . .

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The advert was attractive for a weekend cruise that was classed as a ‘taster’ – a cruise that people might take to see if they would like cruising for their next holiday.

The ship was Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas and we hadn’t sailed with Royal Caribbean before, although we have sailed with two other companies in the Royal Caribbean International Group.
We thought it would be a nice break after the madness of the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

We made a mistake, because the ‘taster’ should have been titled ‘booze party’, but to be fair we should have realised that a three day cruise over a weekend (Friday to Monday) would not be a true ‘taster’ that we expected.

Regardless Maureen & I and another couple enjoyed ourselves, but we were glad that we were in company as we were ‘slightly’ older than most of the other ‘tasters.’
Plus, we felt a little out of place, because none of us had thought of getting tattooed before we joined the ship.

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Royal Promenade and shops

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A lovely library area, but not a large choice of books, and many were not in English, but German and other European languages.

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We had a balcony cabin, the balcony was smaller than we were used to, but the cabin was one of the best sized cabins that we’ve experienced on any ship.

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The above is from the internet, my photograph didn’t come out as clear, due to the light.

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The above came out a little better.

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A walk down the Royal Promenade & shops.

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The local pub was open of course.   :- o)

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Inside the Pig & Whistle.

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A short distance from the pub  . . I don’t think the phone box worked, as for the car I’m not sure.

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The casino area was one of the largest casino areas that I’d seen on any ship – slot machines, gaming tables, private tables, there was little chance that you would not be parted from your money if you chose to use the facilities. We had to walk through casino to get to the bar that we preferred.

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The Schooner’s Bar

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The Schooner’s before the daily rush  . .

The ship offered plenty of outside attractions, from pools, to surfboard riding, a helter- skelter, and for the more mature, put-put golf.

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Adults only –

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The Pool area was quite large.

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Or you can go surfing (costs about US $19 a day)

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On the other hand, perhaps not . . .

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But then when someone can surf he makes it look easy . .

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Some fancy rock climbing . . . the rock ‘face ‘ was the outside of the funnel.DSC06490r

Others may prefer a water slide with a difference –

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The end of the slide can just be seen – I expected people to come out like a shot from a gun, but they didn’t.
I was told by a lady who tried the helter-skelter that she was not travelling all that fast and at the end of the ‘run’ there was a flattish bit that slowed you further. None of the people I saw ‘shot’ out as I expected.
On reaching the exit that can be seen in yellow, they came to a dead stop in a large ‘bowl’ area of water, and the slider had to climb out, most did so on their hands and knees.

Before using the slide one had to be under a certain weight (but the weight in question was quite high), and over a certain height (small children couldn’t use the slide), and the user had to take in to account various medical conditions, bad heart, high blood pressure, joint problems etc.
If you had any medical condition listed you couldn’t use the slide.

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This was more my style, but I never even got to have a go – on the first day at sea the wind was so strong that this put-put area, the surf ride, helter-skelter & rock climbing were all closed for safety reasons, and we were not allowed into this area of the deck either. I’m not surprised because the wind was quite strong.

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The ship had an ice rink and at certain times they had a show.

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The ship’s skaters were very good, and the show went for about 40 to 50 minutes.. . .

They must be very fit.

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At the end of the show they would have about an hour’s break before repeating the show.

The theatre (a different area than the ice rink) was over three decks and could seat many passengers.
On other cruises we usually found a seat about 30 minutes before the show started to make sure we had a seat, so of course we did the same on the Voyager of the Seas.
It was a surprise to us that people didn’t arrive for the show until about ten minutes before the beginning, and there were still many empty seats once the show started. Perhaps the casino was a bigger attraction.

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The show was excellent and very professional.

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There were some very powerful singers, both male & female.

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and slick dancers.

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The scenery complimented the singers and dancers.

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What disappointed me was the price of the beers – all in USD, which included an 18% tip (for your convenience).
To take Corona (considering the current global problem, why not?) at USD $7.75 or AUD $11.92 at the exchange rate offered by the ship.
At a local liquor store near my home, I can buy a bottle of this beer for AUD 2.16, which includes Australian taxes.
I expect a business to make a profit, and my local liquor store is doing so, but cruise ship companies buy the beer tax free, and in such bulk that AUD $5 or $6 would give a decent return on their investment.

With my evening meal I like a glass of wine –

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The above is part of the red wine list – USD $9 to USD $14 per glass (AUD $13.85 to $21.54) perhaps you’d like to buy the bottle, which is cheaper than buying by the glass. USD $31.00 to $49 (AUD $ 47.70 to $75.38).

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Let’s use the NZ wine Kim Crawford at USD $12 per glass (AUD $18.46) or by the bottle USD $42 (AUD $64.62), as against my local wine shop at AUD $14.60 a bottle, and he is making a profit after shipping it from New Zealand to Australia.

The cruise companies buy wine in such large amounts, which will be tax and duty free, because it is being exported and drunk in international waters, so why the huge price increase?

When we booked the cruise we were given AUD $55.50 each ‘cabin money’ to spend on board by Royal Caribbean. If we didn’t spend it we lost it, which is normal for many cruise companies.
The ‘cabin money’ was appreciated and only because Maureen doesn’t drink alcohol our drinks bill at the end of the weekend was ‘acceptable’

The soft drinks were USD $3.50 (AUD $5.38) and a ‘mock’ tail was USD $7.00 (AUD $10.77).

On the Saturday & Sunday morning around 10.30 am we four attended a game of trivia, which we have enjoyed on most cruise ships.
On Saturday we were well down the success ladder, but on Sunday the Team Shire won! Team Shire being Maureen & I and our two friends.

Trivia is a popular game on most cruise ships and is always well attended for the social side of meeting other ‘cruisers’ rather than for the prizes.
Some cruise companies offer prizes of company logo pens or pencils, or a voucher for coffee or an ice cream, or even drinks at the bar, nothing expensive or elaborate.

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The above four signs were our prizes for winning. Whale done, Smarty Pants, I am a Clever Cookie, Our team is a-merzing at Trivia.     

We split our winnings, and I have Whale Done & I am a clever Cookie for my young grandsons.

In my opinion the cruise company made a big PR mistake during this weekend – the cost of all cruises from Australia / New Zealand include gratuities (tips) because the culture in each country is to pay people a decent wage, and we only tip for service over an above what is expected when buying a drink or a meal in a restaurant etc

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On the last night of the cruise envelopes were left in cabins – we had three nights on board, and we had paid the gratuities in our ticket price, which is to cover all those that we have contact with, plus the staff who support the system behind the scenes that we don’t see or meet.

Plus, we mustn’t forget the 18% drinks tip. . . but they still had a final squeeze, which left a bad taste.

Anyway, overall, we had a pleasant weekend, but I doubt that Royal Caribbean will be our future cruise company of choice, unless they offer particularly ‘sharp’ prices and destinations that we are keen to visit.

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Sydney at 5.45 am on the day that we returned. . . .

There are rivers and there are rivers

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You can sail the Danube or

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the Mekong

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or even the Amazon

for pleasure, and not have a worry, but I doubt that you would choose to sail up or down the Shatt Al Arab for your annual holiday.

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The map will give you an idea of where we were heading  – we bunkered (refuelled) at Abadan, then sailed to Basra (which is in the province of Al Basrah) Iraq for dates, and later to Khorramshahr  (Iran) for pistachio nuts.

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Shatt Al Aarab from the internet taken in the early 1970’s.

Shatt al-Arab, (which means the river of the Arabs in Iraq), but it is also known as Arvand Rud (Swift river) in Iran (Persia).

The river is 200 km (120 miles) long from the confluence of the Euphrates and the Tigris to the Persian Gulf.  Just above where these two rivers meet is thought to be the location of a well known garden – The Garden of Eden.

The pilot joined us at 4.00 am at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab and we made our shaky way upstream to Abadan in Iran. Being so light (empty of cargo and nearly empty of fuel) we didn’t have to worry too much about running aground, just the hope that the vibrations, caused by the propeller, would not shake us to bits.

The Shah had celebrated his coronation only three months earlier –

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At that time Abadan was an international cosmopolitan city, and the people appeared happy and carefree. Eleven years later the Shah had been deposed and the people were under Ayatollah Khomeini. How things have changed in the last forty years.

After a short stay in Abadan to bunker (refuel) our next stop was Basra in Iraq.

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Ships alongside in Basra.

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Basra was the end of the line for the British India Steam Nav Co passenger ships from Bombay (now Mumbai). The above shows one of the passenger ships arriving in Basra. The picture is off the internet.

We anchored in the river and waited for about five days to go alongside, why we waited so long I don’t have any idea, perhaps because the cargo wasn’t ready, or perhaps the berth was occupied, or the agent hadn’t ‘looked after’ the right people, but for us it was stinking hot, and a very uncomfortable time.
Once again we swapped old pieces of wood for uncut water melons – wood was valuable to the locals and the water melons a nice change for us.
In the evening, during the our ‘beer time’ it was melon pip flicking time to see who could flick the pip the furthest as the river was only about 37 metres (120 feet) wide at this point and we were not far off the river bank. Life at sea could be stimulating at times. . . .

Basra was the departure port for Sinbad on his third voyage. It is also renowned for being one of the hottest ports to visit. 50 c (122 F) on the Persian Gulf run.
This port is a destination that has never been on my return ‘bucket’ list, even though it used to be known as the Venice of the East, due to the canals.

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Venice of the East?

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Venice of the East

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This picture is off the internet of one of the Company’s cargo ships, very like the one I sailed in, alongside at Basra in the late 1960’s.

The reason for our visit to Basra was to load dates – it was harvest time.

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While we loaded the dates and other cargo, the only form of distraction in our free time, was the British Club, which had a swimming pool and a bar that sold cold beer.

Khorramshahr in Iran was our next port of call where we loaded bags and bags of pistachio nuts, as well as general cargo.

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Pistachio nuts before harvesting.

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As we know them . . .

There wasn’t much to do ashore and after our shift we would sit on the river side of the ship, drink a beer or two and see how far we could flick the shells of the pistachio nuts, I told you a life at sea could be stimulating . . .

Once our cargo was loaded,we sailed down the river to the Persian Gulf, and to our next port, which was Bushire, which is a port in Iran. I’ve indicated the port on the map.

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We were warned before we reached Bushire not to bother posting any mail because it would never reach the UK, because the locals would steal the stamps and throw away the letter.
We were told to hold our letters until we reached Karachi. A small thing to remember so many years ago, but for us, at that time, mail was important. The internet was 25 or 30 years in the future.

We anchored off Bushire and barges came out to us – so to speed up the process we worked three holds.
The problem was that the labour was paid 1/ 9d a day or in today’s money AUD $2.52 a DAY! (USD$1.70).
If there wasn’t a ship in port to load or unload they didn’t get paid.

The Iranian company that hired the ashore labour considered that they were being generous, because they knew that the labour would steal anything from the ship that was not screwed down.
We had to post two crew members down each hold to stop the labour breaking into the cargo. At times the ship’s officers had to threaten violence to the shore side labour to stop them broaching cargo (breaking in to the cargo).
Even so some of the crew lost various items of of clothing, cargo went missing and various large crates were broken in to and some of the contents stolen.
The officer’s accommodation had been locked down, and all windows and other openings bolted shut, which made the accommodation extremely hot when off duty.

Stealing cargo was a common occupation across the world and it was a constant battle with shore side labour to put a stop to the thefts, but the labour in Bushire had it down to a fine art.

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MV Juna 

I was 3rd Mate of the above ship during our ‘cruise’ to Basra & the Persian  Gulf.

A couple of years ago I visited Dubai on the way to Europe, and I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever stop over for a ‘holiday’ of four days in the Persian Gulf, but I did because we flew with Emirates Airlines. At least the bus stops in Dubai were air-conditioned.