I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Saturday
Jan282017

At last, Deck 4

 

Though there are obviously further decks below here with staff accommodation and suchlike, Deck 4 is the last general public access level of the ship.  There is one notable exception on Deck 3 which I’ll include here as well.

 

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I’ll begin with the theatre.  Superficially, it’s an attractive space with a clever design of the stage area to create a wide screen effect.  However, as I’ve mentioned previously, there are some practical design issues which only become apparent when the theatre is in use and it will be interesting to see how these are addressed as the ship develops.

 

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At each entrance to the theatre on Deck 4 is one of four variations on this piece of art worked in glass “feathers”.  The aqua coloured one here, is set alongside the same design in opaque white glass.  On the opposite entrance walkway it can be seen in amber and clear, colourless glass.  It’s rather striking I think and reflects the light beautifully.

 

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I’m not so sure I feel as warm towards the next piece of art I come across.  It’s one of a few in this general area which I find a little troubling for some unknown reason.  I’ll share the others in a while.

 

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The main feature of this area of the ship is the Boutique.  We both feel that this is rather better stocked on the Explorer than on the other ships, though there are many who disagree.  Thinking about it, we haven’t seen the “bargain basement” style sales of jewellery or local souvenirs here in quite the same way as on the other ships and that could be a factor.

 

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Generally speaking, we don’t shop here at all, tempting though some of the offers could be.

 

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But for those seeking souvenirs, there’s quite a choice.

 

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Directly across from the general boutique is a fine jewellers with some beautiful and more extravagant souvenirs.

 

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and adjacent to that, a store with rather lovely accessories too.

 

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In stark contrast, the view from those lovely, stylish boutiques are what I regard as the two most aggressive and troubling pieces of art on the ship.  At least they steer my eye in the direction of prettier things.

 

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One thing I very much appreciate about the Explorer is represented here, however.  The marble floors throughout are absolutely stunning and this particular one is a fine example.  The craftsmanship involved in creating the design is first class and in several places around the ship we find ourselves admiring the floor we are stepping or sitting upon.

 

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Standing on the centre of that rose design, then, and turning to look along the length of the ship, here is another expansive lobby area.  The grand staircase comes down from the Reception area on Deck 5 here and there’s a great view.

 

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Since we boarded a couple of weeks ago, there has been a beautiful flower arrangement on this table, but today it has been removed, allowing a clear unimpeded view of that gorgeous Lalique vase.  It’s one of a pair – though I can’t recall where I’ve seen the other one!

 

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There’s a pretty, curved area of seating just along here, with niches containing attractive vases and vessels.  Last evening, as the Captain announced that there would be a heavy swell and high seas overnight, I spotted a fellow passenger checking that those items were all securely placed – they are all fixed in place, she was assured.  The symmetry is maintained with a mirror image of this area on the other side, forming a circular “frame” for the table and flower arrangement.

 

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No area is left unadorned then, and under the staircase is a piece of white sculpture, mirrored by a similar piece under the other staircase.

 

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The next area is punctuated by another marble motif in the floor.

 

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and a pair of paintings, either side of the central walkway.

 

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Turn left into the Casino.

 

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Turn right into the Explorer Bar.

 

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Like the Meridian Lounge upstairs, this isn’t really somewhere best viewed during the daytime.  In the evening it’s a darker, cosier setting for a pre dinner drink, with music played on a small stage to the right.  The chairs here are a strange, squat design – thankfully, comfier than they appear!

 

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There are seating areas outside here to, in the central area, with further niches containing objects of interest and very comfortable seating.  Actually, we prefer to enjoy our pre dinner drinks out here than in the bar, where a little passing traffic offers conversation and occasionally, entertainment Winking smile

Step straight ahead and here’s the main restaurant, Compass Rose.

 

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There’s actually a table for the Maitre D’ at the point, but my eyes go immediately to the spectacular lighting installation and the lovely atmosphere it creates.

 

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Sadly, this stylish atmosphere doesn’t continue to all four corners of the restaurant and there are areas where I think the decor has been rather overlooked in comparison to details elsewhere.  So we have chosen to request a table in the shiny area each evening we’ve dined here, with our favourite sparky team of lovely staff and have enjoyed some memorable dinners as a result.

 

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Much has been said about the Versace designed tableware here, too, so let’s not continue without capturing one of those beauties!

 

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Unlike the other ships, the restaurant on Explorer has no aft entrance and so we return the way we came, paying attention to a couple of small points such as these beautiful cushions.  They are fine examples of the soft furnishings throughout the ship, elegant and beautifully made of high quality fabrics and trimmings.  They definitely add to the luxurious feel and I hope they will withstand careful use!

 

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The other aspect which is so easily overlooked is the spotless condition of every area of the ship I have explored.  Continual maintenance, cleaning and polishing, quietly done throughout the day ensures that every surface is immaculate.  Of course, it doesn’t magically happen but is as a result of a team of staff whose eye for detail and dedication to the task in hand is reflected in every glass tabletop.

That, I think, completes my walkthrough of the Explorer, with just two notable exceptions.  The first is the Spa, which I’ll share in a shorter post later today.  The other is a place on deck 3 which we all hope we won’t need to visit.

 

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The clue on the design of the door.  It’s the Medical Centre.  I have it on good authority that it’s well equipped and staffed by a team of capable and very experienced people.  I’m thankful for that, but here’s hoping their skills are not challenged too frequently.

Time for coffee, I think!

Saturday
Jan282017

Cartagena today

 

We’d been here before and stayed overnight, so when choosing what tour to reserve this time, we tried to choose something new.  Except there wasn’t really anything new on offer, so we simply booked the walking tour, thinking that at least we’d get some exercise.

 

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We arrived to find another of our sister ships in port.  We last saw Mariner in Buenos Aires a couple of years ago and it was good to see her again.   Actually, the last time we were here in Cartagena, it was on board that very ship.

 

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Cartagena hadn’t changed a great deal, though the main thing which we noted was the difference between this South American city and those we saw in Central America.  In a different league, I’d say.

 

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Bearing in mind we’d tried to avoid places we’d been to previously, our hearts sank as we pulled up by St Philips Fortress.  It was already hot and the thought of climbing to the top of the structure didn’t appeal one bit.

 

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So I began to take photographs and make a few observations.

 

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Paying particular attention to the statue, really doing my best to avoid the constant stream of vendors selling everything and anything.

 

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With two cruise ships in town, there were plenty of potential customers but some returned to their shady spot to wait for the next group to appear.

 

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Thankfully, our guide M C Victor (!) had no intentions of spending long at the fortress and we were soon on our way again.

 

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As soon as we started to walk, we recalled how much we enjoyed being here in the small, colourful streets, full of flowers.

 

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Offset by that clear blue sky, the colours sing.

 

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The fruit vendors were doing better business than the tourist tat lot.

 

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I was just wishing I could spend longer composing better shots, to capture the colours and the atmosphere more effectively.  But Victor kept on walking and we just had to follow.

 

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Even the pavement goods were colourful.

 

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It’s just that sort of city.

 

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Before long, we reached another familiar place.  Please, no visit to the Palace of the Inquisition.  (I hated it last time)

 

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Thankfully not.  We walked through the Square, paid homage to Simon Bolivar up there with a bird on his head and joined in a jolly Salsa lesson.

 

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Well, you know, we seasoned salsa dancers Winking smile

 

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I admired the bicycle being used as a kind of shop window.

 

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and the row upon row of fabric shoes.  But no time to try, or to buy.

 

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Now, we were near the Cathedral.

 

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Well, there was quite a large clue, even if we didn’t go inside.

 

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Instead, we admired the artwork outside.  I guess you can tell what you need to rub for good luck?

 

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A few more streets and I had totally lost my bearings.  A good job my Hero has an inbuilt compass (and we had Victor to follow)

 

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Next stop was Colon Square, with the statue of Columbus up there, shining white in the sunshine.

 

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And just as we were thinking that we’d done well to avoid the inevitable shopping opportunity, we were led into the Emerald Museum.  Hah!  As if.

 

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As we walked about the city, we noticed a pair of “painted” statues.  you know the kind of thing; they paint themselves all over and then stand still for a while, hoping to gather some money in their pot.  Well, two black statues were following us around a bit – they’d pop up here and there and were quite recognisable since one had a fish on a stick and the other, well, he was just the other half!  Of course, as soon as we’d noticed them in one place, we spotted them everywhere.

The thing is, they’d discovered a bit of a trick. They’d stand in front of a popular tourist location and then expect money from those taking a photograph.  I’m pretty sure that had this sweet family not posed in front of the statue of the Pope as we passed, one of them would have been draped over or around it.  They were certainly by the statue of St Francis de Claver – so I’m afraid I just kept on walking.  I don’t like being pressured.

 

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Anyway, our walking tour at an end, we jumped on the minibus and drove along the seafront back to the ship.  I recalled making a note of these individual sunshades previously.  No common or garden umbrellas here!

 

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As we neared the port, we could see the two ships side by side.

 

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Mariner was preparing to leave, and as we got off the bus, we waved goodbye to her.  Bon Voyage!

 

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As for me, I had one activity in mind for when we returned.  I was going to head straight for the infinity pool!

 

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As I enjoyed the fresh blue water and admired the beautiful tile work, I took a few more photos to share in a post tomorrow. 

It was utter bliss!

Friday
Jan272017

Not lunchtime yet!

 

But I promised to post a couple of lunchtime menus from around here.  Previously, the speciality restaurants were open only for dinner, but a new development offers a wider selection of midday treats for us to choose from.  We like that very much indeed.

Chartreuse is the new, updated French restaurant on board, elegantly styled with art nouveau influenced decor.  Yesterday, we had seats by the aft windows and enjoyed the company (and first class service) from Nik (from the Ukraine) and Morgane, from France.

 

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We feared that the lunchtime offer would be as lavish as the evening menu, but we needn’t have worried.  The plates are perfectly proportioned I think, and though my Hero might have both starter and main course, I have found one or the other to be ideal.

 

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But then I find it hard to resist dessert!

 

Another lunchtime option is Prime 7, the American grill.  We find the plates here a little overwhelming in the evening, though have noticed (and appreciated) the smaller portions in this interpretation of the concept.  At lunchtime, it’s still more manageable for those like me, who can feel a little overwhelmed by a huge plate of food.

 

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Again, the appetisers are of a size which makes a great main course for me.  My Hero chose the Shrimp and Grits the other day and found it ample for a lunchtime meal, even though he couldn’t resist a main course too.

 

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Well, who could resist some of those fine plates?  We’ve both really enjoyed the salmon, cooked perfectly to our preference and again, served with first class care by Catherine and accompanied by frequent top ups of our favourite NZ Sauvignon Blanc from Irfan, a Regent staff member we have known for many years and whose company is as delightful as ever.

 

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I think I’ve posted these two pictures before, but will attach them here as well, to illustrate the Pulled Pork Sliders (yum!)

 

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and the clever, clever presentation of the small portioned desserts which are brought to the table for us to help ourselves.  Have one or have all six… Winking smile

If only!

Friday
Jan272017

OK, that’ll be £250k, then Sir…

 

A conservative estimate, that is, of a “commercially sensitive” piece of information.  $s or £s?  Who knows (cares?)  All we understand it that it costs a lot of money to transit the Panama Canal.

 

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We’d been here before, but the other way round, as it were.  This time, we were travelling West to East, from the Pacific to the Atlantic and woke to the same queue of ships waiting just outside the canal entrance as we recalled from the last time. 

 

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This time, however, the city of Panama was on the horizon.  Who knew there were quite so many skyscrapers there?  Not me!

All of this was happening as we were getting up.  I’d poked my head out of the door to see what was going on as soon as I woke and then continued to look out every ten minutes or so between cleaning my teeth, showering, getting dressed and so on.  Getting up never took me quite so long! (contrary to whatever you may hear elsewhere…. Winking smile)

 

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Before long, we were approaching the first locks, the Miraflores.  There was a container ship in front of us, the SCT Distinction but the most important part of what was going on was, which lock would we be transiting?  Because, our suite is on the starboard side and if we were going to see what was going on in comfort, we rather hoped we’d be using the lock on the left hand side.

Guess which one we were assigned?  Correct.  The right hand side.

 

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As we went under the bridge, we couldn’t decide where to go for a better view of what was going on.  For all the luxurious details of this ship, one thing lacking is an open, forward vantage point to watch things like this.  Many were gathering in the forward facing Observation Lounge, which is great but which also has darkened windows.  We wanted to the in the open air and to be able to see everything which is going on but for now, stayed on our own balcony to see how things went.

 

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We watched the pilots arrive, way down there beneath us.

 

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I took pictures of tugs for my “tugs of the world” series.

 

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We tried to decide which was the front and which was the back of this tug.  (no answer!)

 

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And the officer on the bridge looked relaxed…so were we.

 

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We spotted the rope throwers preparing to row over to throw the rope to us.

 

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We spotted the arrow pointing to the lock we were to use.

 

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But we seemed to be awfully high and way above all the action.  We looked down and spotted somewhere we’d rather be, lower down.  Maybe we should head for Deck 5?  We did.

 

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That’s better!  By now we’d entered the lock and we could get a good view of the goings on.

 

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Even if there was an orange rope to keep us safe from the edge.  I mean, no-one wanted to get their fingers caught, did they?

 

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Thankfully, Sunil was there to take care of us and in return, we all dutifully stood behind the orange rope.

 

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In all seriousness, we were to get pretty close to that concrete side of the lock and really, no-one wanted to take any risks.

 

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We had a good view of the little train, holding us steady as we squeezed into the lock, and of the people who work here.  It’s big business and there are a lot of people employed to manage the safe transit of these mega-ships.

 

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Ooo.  Speaking of mega ships, some of them these days are too big to pass through these locks, so they’ve built a slightly bigger canal to accommodate them – or rather, a set of larger locks.  So as we looked out over the greenery, there was a ship’s superstructure visible.  There was a larger vessel, using the new, enlarged locks.

 

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As we sailed out, another ship –the Maersk Malaga pulled into the adjacent lock, alongside.

 

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Looking over the deck of the Malaga, we could get a great view of the ship in the new channel, the Oak Spirit.

Now, we’d not had any breakfast and it was getting on for 9.30am.  Not wanting to fade away (!), we decided to take a break and head for the coffee shop, now we were through the Miraflores locks.

 

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Did someone say how easily bored I get?!   Not really – the whole transit is interesting and yes, rather exciting too, but it takes all day and a woman has to keep body and soul together, don’t you agree?  A blueberry muffin and a mug of coffee was the least I could manage!

 

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See?  In no time at all, we were back out there, watching!

 

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But we returned to our suite on the other side, to watch from a different viewpoint.  After all, there’s really something to see wherever you happen to be – and in this case, it was a canal employee wanting a photo with the Explorer (and us, I suppose) in the background.  A good job I was dressed by then, looking respectable, at least.

 

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At this point, we heard a siren and a small fire engine tootled along through the training area with all bells and lights going.  But it was driving no more than 20 mph and there didn’t seem to be any emergency we could see, so who knows?  Maybe it was an exercise?

 

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Terry Breen had been our commentator on our last canal transit and had pointed out this facility, including the training area for the rope throwers.  All very interesting.

 

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Watching the Malaga inch into the lock beside us, we were glad of an opportunity to see the whole little train process from the other side.  The little trains don’t actually pull the vessel through the lock but merely hold it steady.  There’s so much going on, it’s all really entertaining!

 

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Leaving the locks behind then and entering “the cut”, we relaxed a little.  Nothing much to see for a while, then and perhaps time to take a breather.

 

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But then someone pointed out a crocodile on the waters edge.  Oooo.

We decided it was probably lunchtime, so made our way to Chartreuse, the French restaurant for a bite to eat – Croque Monsieur for me and Croque Madame for my hero.  Very good it was too!

 

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But whilst we were in there it started to rain.  We’d crossed the continental divide and perhaps that was the place where the weather turned, too? 

 

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It didn’t look too promising ahead.  Oh well, we are in the tropics after all.

 

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The next action was scheduled for 2.30pm and so we looked out in the hope of something to see.  Actually, there wasn’t much going on – the Oak Spirit was parked up a short distance away from us,

 

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in front of the new larger Gatun lock gates.

 

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The STC Distinction was waiting on our other side, by the old locks, with the Malaga nearby.  I guess we were all waiting for something to happen!

 

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Around 3.30pm the first moves were made.  The SCT Distinction moved into the lock first.

 

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As it did, I notice the rope throwers getting ready for their moment of glory.

 

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The rope catchers were ready too.

 

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Bingo! 

 

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Job done, they returned to their station and we progressed into the lock.

 

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This time, we were on the right – left – side, so we could sit on our balcony in comfort and watch it all going on.

 

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The commentator pointed out the small traffic bridge across the lock here.  I recalled the small purple bus I’d spotted last time and noticed that this time, it was a yellow bus, doing (nearly) the same thing.

 

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As we inched through into the lock, over the trees I could see a familiar white superstructure of the Oak Spirit, progressing through the new locks over there.

 

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But a bit nearer to us, something different was happening.  A new ship, the Morgenstond 1 was just beginning its transit and my hero just had to investigate.  What is is?  What’s it carrying?  Where’s it from?  Such things are so easily answered and it’s awfully interesting to find such things out.

 

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As a small private yacht squeezed in behind the Morgenstond 1, another larger container ship was already forming a queue.

 

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As we stood watching, we spotted the Oak Spirit sailing out of the new locks.  Soon, we too would be back on our way, sailing towards Cartagena tomorrow.  Transiting the Panama Canal is a fascinating process and we had found the whole thing as interesting today as we did the previous occasion.

But oh my goodness, what a way to spend a quarter of a million, eh?

Wednesday
Jan252017

Decks 5 and 6

 

I had intended to complete my walkthrough of the Explorer  in this post, but discovered so much art work on Deck 5 that I decided to leave Deck 4 until next time.

 

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Deck 6 will not detain us long, for it’s mostly suites.  The photographic theme along here is fashion-related and there are some lovely images along the way.

 

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I didn’t do well with the reflections this time, so forgive the suite numbers appearing here and there from the doors on the opposite side of the corridor.

 

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I liked the fact that the images are not all of female fashion, for there are some stylish gentlemen pictured too!

Though there is an entrance to parts of the Spa on this level as well, I’ll leave that until later.  For now, let’s go down just one level and explore Deck 5. 

 

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As soon as I step out of the stairwell, I notice the art.  Much was written about the art collection on board and indeed, I’ve referred to it already in earlier posts.  I felt I wanted to take particular note of it, especially on this deck where the larger pieces are placed.

 

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Many pieces have opposing partners on the other side of the ship, so this first piece is echoed by a similar one right opposite.

 

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And one has the Ladies WC sign to the right and the other has the Gents to the left.  (I didn’t include the washrooms on my walkabout, feeling that perhaps that would be a detail best left for first hand experience) Winking smile

 

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So, let’s walk into the reception area, where this large piece hangs on one side, and yes, on the other side is this one

 

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I’m sorry, I’m unable to attribute any of these works, though I understand a booklet of details is in production.  Good  idea!

 

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This large work hangs outside the Business Center, where four computers are available for guests to use.  It replaces the larger computer rooms on the other ships, since I guess most people travel with their own tablets these days – and if not, there are ipads available for the use of guests too.

 

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Another large piece hangs on the wall nearby,

 

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close to the Cruise Consultant’s office.  Gudrun is available most of the time to discuss future plans and answer queries.  We have an appointment with her this afternoon Winking smile

 

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Next door to Gudrun’s office is Restaurant Reservations, where you can book a table at any of the three speciality restaurants.  Or if it’s too much trouble to see the young lady in person, you can always just ring her up from your suite!  The portrait is of Princess Charlene of Monaco, Explorer’s Godmother.  I find it rather haunting and slightly unsettling, though understand the context as a reference to her background as a swimmer.

 

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The reception area is a large, spacious and very comfortable part of the ship.  It’s here where it’s hardest to imagine one is on a ship at all.

 

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Large comfortable sofas make this area inviting, though we’ve never even thought about sitting here!  From here, the whole length of the ship can be seen, another way of increasing the feeling of space.

 

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There are some statement pieces of art hanging on the wall here as well.

 

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If I turn around and look back towards the staircase I used just now, I can see the amazing chandelier which hangs in the atrium.  It’s beautiful and much admired.

 

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Turning back to continue towards the stern of the ship, there’s a pair of intriguing paintings hanging on the wall by the coffee shop.

 

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I’m not sure what I make of either of them, though there’s a spirit and a sense of fun apparent, which I find lacking in other works around here.

 

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The coffee shop itself is comfortable and rather nicely furnished.

 

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Considerably smarter than any Starbucks you could imagine and a warm and friendly place for a quick help yourself breakfast or mid morning snack.

 

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Good barista-made coffee too.

 

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Right opposite the coffee shop is the Meridian Lounge, one of the bars.

 

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We haven’t found this to be somewhere we want to linger for some reason, preferring the lighter, airier Observation Lounge upstairs.

 

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There’s a long bar here too, though needless to say, at this time of the day, it’s closed!

 

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Stepping outside the Meridian Lounge, then, is where a collection of the largest and in my opinion, most challenging pieces of art are hung.  In order, from the coffee shop, they are arranged along the right hand wall walking towards the stern, first the one above, then in order

 

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A closer look at this one reveals a small detail, easily overlooked.  My Hero has the eagle eye and spotted it, though

 

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“Sin ti”.   Without you.  Hmm.  OK.

 

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I understand, my poor photography does not do them justice, but hopefully, you can get a flavour of how it is.

Across the way is a somewhat amusing and more colourful painting

 

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and on the wall opposite, this one is hung

 

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Now, I don’t have the knowledge to understand the juxtaposition and would love to learn a little of the thinking behind the choices.  I hope the new art brochure will cover that as well as simply documenting the details of the works themselves.

 

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In the midst of this gallery area is the table with the jigsaw!

 

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Just beyond, moving on into the lift and staircase area is a collection of three blue and white images.  Smaller and fresher in feel than the large works we’ve just passed, they are a little more accessible, I think!

 

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I’m afraid that in haste, I cut the top off the third one, but I include it because it give a better impression of the texture.

 

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No artwork to distract in this important corner, but something of interest to those who sail on cruise ships, I think.  On this ship, the lifeboats are accessed directly from Deck 5 – step out of that door and up a couple of steps right into the lifeboat, or rather, hopefully not!

 

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They are the first lifeboats/tenders I’ve seen with curtains (I think?)

 

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Progressing to the aft now, there’s the entrance to the Spa.  It’s a long, cool and airy walkway with the beauty salon to the left and the reception straight ahead.  Very beautiful!

 

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These two large works of art hang here, in similar vein to other abstracts nearby.  I feel their rather aggressive tone strikes a different note from the otherwise calming atmosphere of the spa entrance.  But maybe they offer a contrast – leave your worries and all pressure here and go on into the peace and tranquil haven beyond?  Or are they simply paintings of shower fittings?

 

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On the opposite corner to the aft of the ship to the Spa is the Asian restaurant, Pacific Rim.  The entrance is dominated by the largest work of art on the ship, this huge “prayer wheel”.

 

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Full of small details, I could spend a while turning the wheels and reading the words and patterns which are there.  Each one is individual and absolutely fascinating.  Unfortunately, when I’m here, it’s usually when I’m hungry and eager to dive into a plate of something delicious!

 

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I love the grand entrance and the design and decor here.

 

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Returning to where I began, I pass the “other” staircase; the aft one we have not used, as our suite is at the front of the ship.  It’s another area where I feel the design has not taken into account the practicalities, for the space is tight and the staircase narrow.  Waiting for a lift here means standing in the way of people coming up and down the stairs and I would imagine it’s the source of irritation for some.   In typical Regent fashion, maintenance is continual and ongoing – the attention paid to the smallest detail is so very impressive.

 

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Whilst in reception, I didn’t note the General Manager’s office on the opposite side to the business centre.  The door always open, this is command central as far as the “hotel” aspect of the ship is concerned, at least.

 

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A well chosen and appropriate poster is hung here,

 

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and the light fittings too, give a touch of glamour to the entrance.

 

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This is balcony level and until now, I hadn’t realised that the seating is on high stools here.  Interesting!

 

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The light and sound controls are up here and we’ve noticed the state of the art technical facilities used during the shows on board and during the presentations and lectures too.

 

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With a glimpse of the chandelier, the mosaic on the back wall of the auditorium, there’s the staircase down to the main theatre level and deck 4, which I’m going to leave for another day!

Had enough art yet?  I know I didn’t spot every picture hanging there but perhaps, for today, the answer from me was “I think so”.

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