Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Caledonia, Fiji

Noumea, New Caledonia
Justin and I had wanted to visit the South Pacific, but when we did the research it seemed out of reach, budget wise.  Then doing research for something else Justin came upon a cruise deal for 12 nights in and out of Sydney to New Caledonia and Fiji.  So we decided to book this since it was probably the only opportunity we had to visit someplace in the South Pacific.  We boarded the ship and all went to Justin’s cabin to watch our exit from Sydney Harbor.  Justin and I had to book separate cabins to accommodate all of us.  Justin got a veranda cabin and had Caleb, Joel and Danielle.  I had an interior cabin a few doors down and had Eden with me.  From the veranda we had a wonderful view of the Opera House.  It was so stunning to see it from this vantage point.  Also, Justin and I really enjoyed the route out to the Pacific Ocean.  Right where the harbour channel ends and the sea begins, either side of the land ends in these huge cliffs down to the ocean, very impressive and beautiful.  I had not realized that Sydney itself was not directly on the Pacific Ocean, but somewhat inland.  Once on the ocean Danielle noticed dolphins jumping from wave to wave not far off of the side of the ship.  We also noticed tons of flying fish.  It was impressive to see just how far they could “fly”, flapping their fins throughout the flight!  

Good view of the Sydney Opera house on our way out of port
Leaving Sydney Harbour on the cruise ship with the pilot boat guiding us
The first two days were sea days and we had a great time exploring the ship.  Some favorite activities were playing chess in the Explorers lounge, hanging out at the pool or hot tub, the kids loved the kids club (btw, so did Justin and I), and getting ice cream just because.  Within 48 hours Eden was a rock star on board, everyone knew her name from the staff to the passengers, and she was given special snacks and treats.  The waffle man recognized her by the third morning and had her order ready, one fresh waffle with chocolate sauce and sprinkles, very healthy.  While on the pool deck one of the nice waitresses, named Ann Marie, brought Eden cheesy fries and a drink as a nice little swimming break.  Needless to say, Eden was in heaven, she ate up all of the attention, even blowing kisses to people when she walked by and called her by name.  I watched thinking, “Oh my goodness, we have a diva on our hands.”   Danielle, being such a social and outgoing kid, made friends with all the kids onboard.  Once a little girl on her way to kids club asked me if Danielle was there, when I told her no, that she was playing a game in the Explorers lounge but would be there in about an hour, the little girl looked at her mom and said, “can you drop me off in an hour instead?”  I just chuckled to myself.  The boys had tons of fun playing with other boys and since they were the oldest ones in their group, really enjoyed the younger boy’s infatuation with them.  Eden went to kids club twice but would have preferred not to, unless she could stay with Danielle, which the staff accommodated the 2 times she went.  

Formal night on the Cruise

We had three stops in New Caledonia and by far our favorite one was Easo.  From the cruise ship veranda we spotted a sea turtle and watched him for a few minutes until we lost sight when he dove down into the water.  It was a beautiful beach that we reached via tender.  Once on the beach we went swimming and gathered tons of shells. Justin and I got a quick snorkel in and we saw some pretty amazing fish.  I even spotted a sea turtle in the distance but once we got closer it dove down and we lost sight of it.  Our 2 other stops in New Caledonia were Tadine, a small village, and Noumea, the capital city.  It has a large French influence and everyone speaks French.  Apparently they have croissants as good as France, but unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to try them.  When the ship was departing that evening Caleb, Joel and I spotted 3 manta rays swimming near the surface just off of our side of the ship which I learned is called starboard.  

Easo, New Caledonia
Tadine, New Caledonia
On the Pier in Noumea, New Caledonia
In Fiji, we stopped twice.  The first stop was Lautoka, a port town, it was a little bit of a dud, and the second was Dravuni Island, which was amazing.  At Dravuni, we had a beach day and had a great time swimming and walking along the beach collecting shell and taking in the scenery.  In fact, Caleb found a huge shell that weighed about 30lbs and carried it back to our spot on the beach.  Along the way, people stopped him and asked to take a picture of him with it.  When he brought it back and announced that he wanted to bring it home, I unfortunately told him that we could not because, A) It weighed about 30lbs and B) It weighed about 30 LBS!!  Disappointed he put it down, but we did get tons of pictures of it.  We did gather lots of appropriately sized shells to bring home.  The water is a magnificent blue going from a light turquoise to a deep navy, and the sand is soft, and a nice light beige color.  It was not the sunniest day, but it was still warm and the water was easy to get into, so my favorite.  Along the beach front we came across a large rock formation at the edge of the water and Caleb, Joel and Danielle quickly climbed to the top, we got few great pictures of that.  

Dravuni, Fiji
Caleb found a big seashell in Fiji
On the beach in Dravuni, Fiji
Eden getting thrown into the air in Fiji
Back on the ship we enjoyed wonderful meals in the dining room, some fun nights of entertainment, and fantastic blues music from a group of musicians from Tennessee!  Eden learned how to swim in deeper water in the ship pool.  She could swim underwater as long as she would be able to touch the bottom whenever she wanted.  So one day Justin and I stood a few feet from each other and started to send her back and forth, getting further apart very slowly, in the pool that was about 4 feet deep.  Eventually, she would need to actually swim to reach one of us and once she realized it, she was over the moon and so proud.  She also had lots of compliments and support from her adoring “fans”.  Justin and I went to one of the many cooking classes and got tons of recipes to try of the food that we had been served during dinner.  I even got to ask a bunch of questions to their head chef.  The boys and Danielle entered a ship building competition, where they had to build a boat using materials from around the ship.  Before they started they had a lesson on buoyancy and then Justin and I let them loose on the design and fabrication, WITHOUT our help.  I decided this was a great way to slip in a science lesson without them even realizing it, they thought it was just a little contest.  Hehehe.  One of the rules to the competition was that it could not be tested beforehand and that it needed to hold 6 cans of soda.  They came up with a concept using empty milk boxes as the hull.  One morning the 3 of the set off to drink enough milk boxes for the hull, 12 in all.  I told them that they needed to make sure that they did not waste any food, I had no idea that they had planned on collecting all 12 boxes in one sitting.  We had a ton of comments about how they must really love their milk and that their bones must be so strong.  They had a great boat that floated and held all 6 cans, unfortunately, balance was an issue and the boat tipped to one side and dropped its load.  Justin and I were so proud of them, because they were the only kid team, everyone else were mature adults, and they did it all themselves.  They learned so much that they even came up with a better design to take into account balance.  They are just waiting for me to buy them 12 milk boxes.  All in all, we had a wonderful time on the cruise and were very happy that we were able to add a couple of stops in the South Pacific to our list.  

The kids at the boat building contest
Joel on the veranda of our cruise cabin

Saturday, December 19, 2015


We arrived in Sydney Australia after an overnight flight and we were beat.  We picked up the cars, we rented 2 smaller cars instead of 1 van because it was significantly cheaper. Then headed to the little house we would be staying at in a suburb called Eastwood.  We were so tired we just stayed there and tried to not sleep until bedtime.  I didn’t make it.  I fell asleep for 30 minutes and it felt great.  The following day was our wedding anniversary.  We found an Outback Steakhouse and had a wonderful romantic dinner, well as romantic as it can get with 4 kids in tow.  Justin and I thought it was pretty funny that they have Outback Steakhouses in Australia.  It is exactly the same as the ones in the states, except the staff’s accents are not fake and they don’t sell Fosters, apparently it is not Australian for beer.  We knew that when we arrived in Australia we would be replacing some items that we had run out of or outgrown.  Everyone kept telling us that Australia is “just like the United States.”  Well, they are right.  It felt very familiar.  There are a few differences like driving on the opposite side of the road, they DON”T sell Aussi hair products and Burger King is called Hungry Jack, but other than that things felt familiar.  We spent a day getting the things we needed and the rest of the time visiting some sites.  One of the days we took the River Cat (ferry) for 10 kilometers into Sydney harbor itself.  It was a great trip down the river towards the harbor and we got to see some fantastic sites.  While riding the ferry we got to ride under the Harbour Bridge.  It is huge.  We also saw quite a bit of people walking along the structure to get to the very top of the bridge.  That seemed like a terrible idea.  I have been told that each person is strapped to the next and so forth, great if one moron falls they all do.  Needless to say we were skipping that particular activity.  Once off the ferry we walked around the harbor and headed to the Sydney Opera House.  It is very impressive and I loved the magnificent view it has of the surrounding area and the harbor is indeed very nice.  I was surprised that the Opera House is off white and beige.  Seeing pictures of it I always assumed it was pure white.  Also, the entire outside structure is covered in 4x4 inch tiles.  The structure itself resembles large shells and it took over 15 years to build.  The architect finally resigned after many delays and cost overruns.  We walked around the outside and took in the views from every point.  I can see why this location was picked for this impressive building, it is quite a stunning area and building to welcome people arriving from the sea.   We heard an Aboriginal man playing a didgeridoo near the wharf.   We listened to him for a while and then the kids got a photo while looking at some boomerangs.

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House
Danielle and Eden looking at the boomerangs with an Aboriginal man
We headed over to visit Darling Harbor.  We walked a few kilometers though town to get to Darling Harbor.  This harbor is geared more towards shopping and entertainment, definitely less industrial. We walked around and lo and behold found an amazing park were all the kids enjoyed some play time.  Although it is summertime in Australia, the weather during our stay was not very warm.  We had lower temperatures and cloudy days, but none of us minded. 

Darling Harbour
Another thing that we enjoyed while in Australia was visiting an animal sanctuary.  I had never encountered these animals before and at this place we could touch most of them.  We saw kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, wombats, and dingoes.  The koalas were the most adorable animals.  They had quite a few babies and it was fun seeing them snuggle with their moms.  Although it is illegal to handle a koala in New South Wales we were given permission to pet it while taking a photo with one.  They are so soft!  Yet I did see one of the handlers arms after one of the koalas scratched her for no reason. Ouch!! We also got to pet the kangaroos and wallabies.  Almost as soft as the koalas. One of the mothers had a little joey in her pouch and every once in a while he would peek out of the pouch, very cute.  I was a little nervous that one of them might try to kick me, but thankfully that never happened. They must be pretty used to having people around.  

Eden and Caroline with a Koala
During our visit they had an echidna presentation. We headed over to that.  Caleb had done a school project a couple of years ago about echidnas and until then I had never known this animal existed. They kind of look like porcupines, but they do not “throw” their quills.  We got to touch and pet them also, very different feeling, sort of hard and scaly. Their noses are pretty long in order to dig into to ant hills to eat.  During the presentation they were feeding them and I will admit that the smell of their lunch made me gag, some kind of raw meat and fly eggs, yum.  

Caleb with an Echidna
We also enjoyed presentations on dingoes and “little” penguins.  They are actually the littlest penguins that exist and are found along the western coast of Australia and are actually called little penguins.  We watched a Tasmanian devil run around this enclosure repeatedly.  I felt sorry for him and it made me appreciate seeing animals in their natural surroundings so much more.  We saw an enormous crocodile with his mouth gaping open. He had a huge mouth and I could see how he could easily swallow someone whole! I watched him for about 10 minutes and he did not move a muscle. There was a nice animal handler who was transferring a snake and a lizard who stopped pulled out each animal and let the kids pet them.  Eden was terrified and so to show her that it is not so bad, only because I don’t want her to have unreasonable fears, I touched the snake.  Yuck.  My fear is NOT unreasonable to me!  Once Eden saw me touch it she mustered up some nerves and pet the snake herself and said, “It’s kind of slimy.”  I thought it felt leathery.  We had a really wonderful time at the animal sanctuary.  It was neat to see animals that are not in the US.  

Tasmanian Devil
Kids examining a snake

A couple of side notes:  They do call everyone “mate” in Australia, so this cliché is true.  I did think it was funny.  Lots of people told us they love our “cute accents”.  Not sure what they are talking about because they are the ones with the cute accent.   Driving on the left side of the road is getting pretty easy.  We knew parts of Europe would be expensive but were very surprised that Sydney was so expensive, considering the strength of the US dollar. It was a close second to Singapore.

Southern Cassowary

Black Necked Stork

Friday, December 4, 2015

Bali and Singapore

Flying knight statue
We arrived in Bali, Indonesia and the sun had already set, yet the air was so hot and humid it felt like walking into a steam room.  We took a cab ride to the hotel and along the way saw some pretty awesome statues depicting Hindu stories.  One in particular, the flying knight, which is located near the airport looked amazing all lit up.  The following day, we headed over to the pool to cool off. Getting in to the water was great.  The water was so warm that you could just dive in without feeling that uncomfortable cold on your tummy.  The pool was very deep, about 10-12 feet.  They have the pool this deep to keep it relatively cool.  They do have a kiddie pool that was about 1 foot deep and it was significantly warmer, too hot for me, but Eden loved it.  Also, along one side of the deeper pool they had 3 in pool loungers that Eden loved to play on, and Justin and I liked relaxing on.  Danielle went off to the kids club and really had an amazing time with all of the activities they had planned daily. The kids made sand art, did palm weaving, made muffins and played lots of games.  

Joel and Eden at the pool

Making muffins
We had decided to keep a low profile and stick to the area where we were staying.  So every day we went to the pool, ordered some fun drinks, checked out nearby restaurants and amenities.  One of the days all of us except Eden, went for a massage.  I had thought that the cost of massages in Phuket were reasonable, but here in Bali they were downright cheap.  A one hour massage turned out to be $4 including tip!! We went in turns, so I went first with Caleb and Danielle.  Once done, it was Justin and Joel’s turn.  Needless to say, we were all feeling rather relaxed and my back felt great.  That afternoon, Danielle learned Balinese dancing at the kids club.  They also dressed her up in a traditional Balinese costume.  Danielle asked if I could take her back to our room to show everyone else and they told her she could go.  Once Eden saw her, she wanted to get dressed up too.  In the end, the boys even decided to try the traditional men’s costume.  They all looked amazing.  They had done full makeup on the girls and even did their hair.  The costumes are so colorful and very pretty.  I personally loved all of the adornments in their hair.   

Danielle in Balinese attire
Eden liked being dressed up

All the kids dressed up in Balinese attire

On another day the ladies went for pedicures.  This was a little pricier at $5 including tip, but what the heck it was worth it.   The place we stayed offered cultural shows every other night and man was this a treat.  We experienced the traditional Kecak dance which is also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant.  The troupe of 30 men chanted “cak” while moving their hands and arms. There are also 4 other characters/dancers that appear at different times in the story.   The dance depicts a battle from Ramayana, a Hindu poem.  It was very interesting and almost trance like.   

Ramayana Monkey Chant Performance
With the performers after the show

On another evening we were treated to the lion dance.  This was done by a troupe of teenagers that used only percussion instruments.  There were 4 other teenagers that were in 2 different lion costumes (2 performers per costume). This is a traditional dance that is done for the New Year or religious festivals.  Eden was terrified of the lions.  We had to take her over to the side, away from the main stage.  Eventually one of the lions came over and they were very nice, trying not to act scary.  After a while, she warmed up to it and pet the lion.  My favorite dance was the fire dance. This dance was accompanied by 3 drummers.  Two of the dancers were female and they came out several different times with different fire accessories. Some looked like candelabras, others were rings of fire.  Each dance was beautiful and mesmerizing.  There were also two male dancers that came out with fire poi balls and batons.  At one point they twisted the 2 poi balls together and then pulled them apart to have them spin quickly.  The fire actually resembled a blade on a saw!  They took this and slowly traced a circle around their head, at a very close proximity to their face.  It was amazing.  Caleb especially liked it.  Last year in school Caleb participated in a hooping and spinning class.  Their last showcase consisted of them each doing at least one performance with one object on fire.  Caleb had chosen the poi balls. I know, right, I couldn’t believe they had a class like this in public school, no less with middle school boys, very brave teacher.  I will say I was more at ease watching the strangers perform then my own son.  I was the parent that kept gasping every time the fire came too close to Caleb, which during a fire performance is the whole time.  We all fully enjoyed the fire performance and Caleb was excited to share pictures of it with his teacher.  

Kids with the lions

We celebrated Thanksgiving in Bali and there was no turkey in sight.  We had wonderful tapas and traditional Balinese food with some amazing drinks.  All of it was delicious and we had a wonderful, yet unconventional, Thanksgiving dinner.  

Getting to Singapore from Bali ended up being much more difficult than expected.   There is a volcano in Indonesia, Mount Barujari, in Lombok, the island adjacent to Bali, that has been erupting on and off for a few weeks.  The ash from it got so bad that, in early November, the airport in Bali was closed.  Justin and I had been keeping ourselves abreast of the situation in case we needed to change our plans.  Everything seemed to mellow out so we went forward with our plans.  Once at the airport to leave Bali, we got a different story.  Our airlines, Jetstar, had turned the plane coming from Singapore back to Singapore when it was ¾ of the way to Bali, they said, due to the volcano.  So, in fact we had no plane for us because it was in Singapore.  While keeping informed of things in Bali before we even arrived, we had heard that Jetstar was pretty conservative and had cancelled flights longer than all the other airlines, for about 10 days.  Justin and I went to the board and no other airlines had cancelled any flight, in fact the volcano had not had any new eruptions since the earlier part of November.  Justin and I decided to get our luggage back from Jetstar and rebook our flight with another airline.  What a headache!! Oddly enough Jetstar refunded our full amount and we were able to leave Bali 10 hours late.  We could not miss our flight because we had booked a cruise out of Sydney and we could not miss that.  Once in Singapore we all breathed a sigh of relief.  

The following day we had a very late night flight to Sydney so we had the entire day to visit Singapore.  Justin and I had wanted to stay longer but since Singapore is now considered the “most expensive city in the world” we did not want to break the budget.  We had a great time in Singapore. Our first stop was Chinatown.  It is so lively and animated.  There are hundreds of different shops and restaurants.  I had wanted to get each of the girls a cheongsam, a Chinese dress, and a pair of embroidered Mary Janes.  We found both and got them each one. It looks totally adorable, they will be wearing it on the formal dinner nights on the cruise, can’t wait.  We picked up a few other items and grabbed a drink at one of the restaurants.  Justin and I had a Tiger beer, it is brewed locally in Singapore.  It tasted great and really hit the spot since it was about 95 degrees and 90% humidity. We were all so hot!! Caleb’s hair looked like a sponge, and we all had sweat pouring down our backs.  

Singapore Chinatown
We headed to the metro which was a little cooler and after a couple of stops ended up in an area called Marina Bay.  This place is incredible.  They have a botanic garden with these huge structures that look like enormous, 50 meters tall, trees called the super trees.  Around the outside of each “tree” is a living wall.  The super trees are surrounded by beautiful gardens and it is all free to the public. We had a great time exploring the gardens and taking in the views.  But it was still really hot.  We then headed over to the building that is adjacent to the super trees.  This building is called Marina Bay Sands, and is 3 separate towers that are connected at the top by a building that looks like a large ship.  It is the oddest and coolest thing that I ever saw.  It is said that the architect built it that way in case there was another worldwide flood, he at least had a place he could go, his own personal Noah’s Ark?  We headed toward the shops and ended up getting lunch at a food court that consisted of every different kind of Asian food imaginable, the kids were in heaven.  It was very nice to see the city of Singapore decorated for Christmas.  It was the first time it felt a little Christmassy.  We walked around the harbor and took in the sights then headed to the airport for our overnight flight.  I will say if we had more time and money both Justin and I would have loved to stay in Singapore longer.  The city is beautiful and clean, the architecture is amazing and the people are so nice.  We all loved it.  

At Marina Bay

The Super Trees
Marina Bay Sands with ship-like structure on top of 3 buildings

Overnight flights are horrible, full grown humans trying to sleep in a tiny seat that barely reclines while tiny humans try to use you as their own personal pillow.  No one really sleeps.  I hate overnight flights!!  

At the mall with Christmas Tree

Helix bridge

Singapore skyline at dusk