Trip Report: 5 Different Cruise Ports

May 15th, 2019, 12:30 PM
  #21  
 
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We were traveling in Japan about the same time and agree that the cherry blossoms were magical!
There were no crowds when we visited the Samurai house and we enjoyed it and the whole neighborhood very much.
We are not cruisers but this ship and itinerary are so interesting that we may consider it in conjunction with another land trip. Great report!
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May 15th, 2019, 12:41 PM
  #22  
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April 26 (Fri) Sunny and upper 60’s Yatsushiro (for Kumamoto)

This ended up being a very expensive day (all due to transportation) for not much benefit. I had planned to go to Kumamoto to see Suizenji Jojuen Garden, Kumamoto castle and maybe the Prefectural Museum of Art. But, it took 20 mins to go through Japanese immigration in the terminal (since the prior day was in Busan, South Korea, each person had to re-enter Japan); then 30 minutes on the shuttle to downtown; then 15 mins to the train station, so the first train I could get from Yatsushiro to Kumamoto was a 10:57 – it was a fast train at 11 minutes but cost about 1500 yen ($15). Get to Kumamoto and take the A tram (using Suica card) to Suizenji Jojuen Garden (the garden was a 5 minute walk from the tram stop and there was plenty of great signage). This was a small park but interesting since it featured lots of open, manicured grass areas with hills, including a mini Mt Fuji. A lake, rounded shrubs, gnarled wrinkly pine trees, bridges - no flowers. Fresh spring with bubbling water. Some smaller shrines but also a large one - Izumi Shinto Shrine which had a large selection of amulets, wood plaques and charms. Some of the amulets were made of special local agate so I asked the girl what the different stone colors meant and she knew a few (good luck and good health) but she had to ask the monk about another one and he looked it up on his phone (“to make clear, remove confusion”). Both smiling and helpful. I bought 3 of them. Interesting water stations with bamboo ladles which had very clear photos and signs explaining the proper way to purify yourself using them. Also good photos and signage on front of the Shrine explaining how to bow (slightly vs deeper), clap twice, etc.

I had used all of my cash buying the amulets, so took the tram back to the castle and looked for a 7 11. Found one right on the main drag, just inside a pedestrian shopping street. Next stop was to visit the castle, which I knew had been badly damaged by the 2016 earthquake, but I thought the grounds were open. Walked to castle but the first two entrances were closed off (for earthquake reconstruction); rather than traipsing all the way around, I googled and it turns out that the entire complex, including the grounds, are closed for 1-2 years. Sheesh. On my way back to the tram stop, I talked to a guard who spoke very colloquial English and told me he lived nearby and the earthquake was very scary; he was afraid that he would die. He explained that I could go across the street to the City Hall and take the elevator to the 14th floor for a great view of the castle “and the best thing is, there’s no admission charge” and we laughed. So up I went and it was a good view. And opportunity to use the bathrooms!



Now, I was short on time so took the tram to the station- which took 30+ minutes including waiting. Use HYPERDIA to check trains and the fastest one leaves Kumamoto at 3:22, arrives at Shin Yatsushiro at 3:47 (and the pier is 20 minutes by taxi from the station). All aboard on ship is 4:30!! The train is 1850 yen ($19 one way) which is very expensive but it turns out it’s a special train - the Kawasemi scenic train. Only two cars - looks very old, like the Orient Express but it’s new, built and designed by an expert. (Look it up!). Parquet cypress walls, elaborate decorated ceilings with blue and gold flowers/leaves. Carved wood light sconces. So, for my 1850 yen, I got to experience a special train!

Then, I had to take a cab from the station to the dock and was worried that there won’t be any cabs waiting since it’s the middle of the day and the station isn’t huge. But I was very lucky that a cab was dropping someone off just as I came down the stairs, so I flagged him down, gave him the little slip of paper the tourist office lady had given me with the name of the port in Japanese and off we went. Only took 20 mins but cost 3100 yen ($30).

So I made it to the ship 20 minutes before sail away and spent over $65 on transportation, just to see a so-so garden and the view from the City Hall. Oh well, some days aren’t top notch, but enough others are….

Next….Tokyo and home
vickiebypass is online now  
May 15th, 2019, 01:07 PM
  #23  
 
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We’ve had carefully planned days that didn’t go exactly as planned, to say the least! Just part of traveling and going with what comes up lol.
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May 15th, 2019, 01:36 PM
  #24  
 
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Vicki thankyou so much for your detailed report on your day ashore in Sakaiminato. After reading about how much you enjoyed your time in Yusein Garden we will definitely visit the garden during our day ashore late June. You have confirmed my research that getting to Matsue via public transport during a cruise ship shore day is difficult (Matsue Tourism Office sent me bus/train timetables). The only way would be via taxi or ship excusion both of which are very expensive. It is an excuse to plan another land-based trip to Japan and include a stay in Matuse (and Hagi)!
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May 16th, 2019, 08:51 AM
  #25  
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April 28 (Sun) Sunny and mid 60’s Tokyo

This was another expensive day! I got off the ship by 8:00am, picked up my luggage and got a cab to the shin Yokohama train station. The driver seemed very nice and asked where I was going, when I told him Tokyo, he wanted to know the name of the hotel and told me he could drive me there for •6000 in 40 minutes. I had bought my train ticket in advance which I told him. The cab ride to the station was •5100 – ridiculous! We went through a long tunnel (the Yokohama tunnel) and I don’t know if he was taking me the long way around, but my research had said the cab would be about $30, not almost $50. I should have asked him before we took off, but he was asking about Tokyo and I never thought it would be so much. I actually didn’t have enough cash because I was estimating on •3000; luckily he took credit cards otherwise he would’ve been out of luck. The Shin Yokohama station was pretty busy at 8:15 on a Sunday morning so I asked a couple of ticket takers and showed them the ticket I had bought (on local trains), which they all said wouldn’t work. Alrighty.

I ended up taking a train from Shin Yokohama to the Yokohama station and then transferring to a local train to the Shibuya station in Tokyo (my hotel was near Shibuya). There were a fair number of steps and I felt like I was pushing that suitcase for miles. But, as always, people were very helpful, the signs are pretty clear and I did ask a few people just to confirm I was standing in the right place so that piece all worked out fine. The Shibuya Tokyo station was crazy but I stood off to the side to get my bearings. Another 50 miles or so of pushing my suitcase to get to the correct station gate/exit for my hotel, Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyo. It’s located on the upper floors of a very tall office building and I was there by 10:30. As I expected, my room wasn’t ready so they took my luggage and I asked them for directions to visit two museums and the Imperial gates. It was an interesting comparison to the Kyoto hotel because these folks didn’t have a map of the entire city, just a map of Shibuya and they were not terribly fluent in English so it wasn’t clear how/where to go, but off I went.

Back in the Shibuya station, I took the Yamamoto line to Hajudka which is a busy shopping area. I was going to the Ota Memorial Museum of Art which is dedicated to the genre of Japanese art known as ukiyo-e, which translates to “pictures of the floating world" (often synonymous with woodblock prints). The museum has over 12,000 pieces from a private collection, including works by Katsushika Hokusai (the famous artist of the big blue wave and Mt. Fuji views). Every few months, they display a small themed exhibit from their collection and now it was “Hokusai – The Road to Mt. Fuj”. The museum had good directions on their web site so I found it easily but since it didn’t open for a few minutes I wandered along the main shopping drag for a while. One or two international chain stores, but mostly local stores. Went into a few, but I’m not sized for Japanese clothing plus it was relatively expensive, although very fashionable (for under 40’s, I think….maybe under 30’s.)

After meandering, I went back to the museum - •1000 admission was definitely worth it! A steady flow of people (no tours) but there was room/time to stand in front of each exhibit and read the explanation. The exhibit’s objective was to show how Hokusai depicted Mt Fuji throughout his long life, so they had a whole variety of his illustrations including from his younger years when he did black-and-white book illustrations. I was interested to see his attention to detail way back then and the way he developed his treatment of water and waves. I spent about 90 minutes/2 hours there.

They have a very nice shop in the basement that sold a huge variety of the great towels that are also used for wrapping gifts (tenugui) so I bought 3. The upstairs admission desk also sells books so I bought two books that weigh a ton but I wanted them. One is sort of a dummy‘s guide to ukiyo-e that covers different artists, the history, themes and the actual way the prints are made - it was about $21. The other one was marked down from 2800• to 500 • and was an exhibition catalogue of a modern ukiyo-e artist so I think it will be very interesting to study the masters and then see what this new guy is doing.

The admission desk only accepted cash so I used everything yen I had and went to an ATM right around the corner to replenish cash. The streets were really crowded for the annual Tokyo Gay Pride parade which was in this exact area – it was a beautiful day for a parade. Next stop was the Imperial Palace to find the Hirakawa Gates (long story, but was looking for the location of the post-war Reader’s Digest building across from these gates which has been long demolished). Took the subway and walked about 20 minutes to the palace; I didn’t realize the palace gardens were open to the public (I know you have to apply in writing for permission to enter the palace itself). So I was pleased that I could go in through the Ote-mon gate and wander through the East Gardens to get to the Hirakawa gate. Lots of people out and about; no cherry trees or plum trees in bloom, lots of azaleas; they did have various iris and some other flowers - it was a nice garden overall but I’ve been spoiled by all the spectacular gardens I’ve seen so far! Took photos of the Hirakawa gate from inside the gardens and from outside and a view of the office buildings across from the gate since apparently that’s where the Reader’s Digest building was.

My books were starting to weigh me down and I was starving (it was now almost 3:00 & I hadn’t eaten anything all day) so I decide to go back to the hotel. Figured out how to take the subway and transfer and get right to Shibuya - pretty smart of me, if I do say so myself! Checked into my room and decided to go to the food hall in the train station department store and get dinner. That was a mob scene - every time I’ve been to a food hall, it’s always jammed. I suspect I’m always there at dinner time but there were crowds around each shop. I circled around about three times and dumplings vendor caught my eye. I thought I was getting four pieces but I ended up with about 14 pieces - four of them were little round guys that seem to have some vegetable in the bottom - a firm vegetable like a slice of water chestnut that had absolutely no flavor; the other ones were moon shaped dumplings and she told me they were pork and vegetable. I would’ve gotten yakitori but the line was about 20 people and I didn’t have the patience; went to a bakery - not Anderson because their line was also about 20 people - and I got a macadamia & walnut roll. Before getting back to the hotel, I stopped at the info station in the station to find out where the Narita Express left from and how to get there via elevator/escalator. They were very helpful and it’s a good thing I asked, because I don’t think I would have figured it out on my own!

April 29 (Mon) Narita for flight home

My flight was about 10:30 and I was thinking I needed to get to the airport 3 hours in advance, so had bought a ticket on a 6:00-ish am Narita Express. The hotel front desk staff conferred and figured out that the building’s elevators wouldn’t stop on the 3rd floor until 7:00 am so they told me how to walk outside the hotel and which station entrance to use. Armed with the guidance from the info desk, I trundled up, down and along corridors but ended up at the correct platform.

Once on the train, instead of using the baggage section with locks, I slid my suitcase behind the last row of seats in the designated luggage area. Hopped off at terminal 2, checked in and spent a few hours in the lounge.

Overall thoughts:
It was easier to get around and navigate trains, buses, trams, cabs, than I had expected. Even in the smaller towns, the train station had English signage and areas that get a fair number of tourists had tourist info centers with English-speaking staff and materials. And, once I was out and about, I asked many people for help – whether by showing them my paper map and pointing to where I wanted to go, and then gesturing left, right, ahead or asking in English. Without fail, every person tried to help. Even the construction guys I asked pointed and gestured to the left.

So great to have clean toilets readily available all over. And I liked the fancy options (I had watched a few You Tube videos about how to use the toilets which sounded like a goofy idea at first, but I was glad I had watched them since not all toilet controls had English translations or pictograms). I think one of those videos also mentioned that paper towels aren’t typically provided in public toilets, so many people bring a small towel or cotton scarf. I brought a bandana and was very glad I did, instead of drying my hands on my slacks.

Trash was interesting – another video mentioned that it’s hard to find garbage cans on streets in Japan which was definitely true. The idea is that you bring your garbage home with you, so that’s what I did (to the hotel). Since eating or drinking while walking is considered very rude, there’s no need for garbage cans….and the streets are litter free. Someone said that when children first go to school, they’re trained to bring their garbage home.

Vending machines were all over – selling hot & cold drinks. As someone said, you could be walking along a road with very little commercial activity and there would be a vending machine! I used them at least once a day and never had a problem with cash or Suica not being accepted, choices being sold out, etc. Water, soda, juices, coffee, energy drinks, seltzer and more.

Luggage forwarding – what a great idea! Inexpensive and reliable. It eliminated some of the daily nuisance factor. The fact that hotels will gladly arrange this for you makes it super easy; and it’s available in airports too (and I’m sure the larger train stations).

Queuing up to board trains, buses, etc; or enter buildings at opening time; etc. I like the orderliness and overall fairness of this.

These are the things that jumped out at me. I really don’t have any negatives to highlight.
vickiebypass is online now  
May 16th, 2019, 09:00 AM
  #26  
 
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Thanks again for your detailed report!
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May 16th, 2019, 09:44 AM
  #27  
 
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I agree with all the things you've said about traveling in Japan. It's so civilized! Much more so than the US. And the luggage forwarding service is maybe my favorite travel amenity in Japan. I wish we had it here in the US!
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May 16th, 2019, 10:50 AM
  #28  
 
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Thanks for your report. We were planning to go to the Ota Museum in conjunction with the Nezu Museum in Omotesando on our last visit. Unfortunately the Nezu was closed getting ready for the next exhibition so we decided on something else that day. The Ota is definitely on our to do list for our next trip, especially after your description and experience there.
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May 16th, 2019, 11:58 AM
  #29  
tt7
 
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Originally Posted by vickiebypass View Post
April 28 (Sun) Sunny and mid 60ís Tokyo

This was another expensive day! I got off the ship by 8:00am, picked up my luggage and got a cab to the shin Yokohama train station.
Sorry to hear about your issues getting to Shibuya. Where did the ship dock - the Osambashi Terminal in Yokohama? Iíve never done it, but looking at the map it appears that the way to do it would be to walk the 600 or so metres from the pier to Nihon-odori station and take the Minatomirai Line from there. Nihon-odori - Shibuya.
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May 16th, 2019, 01:02 PM
  #30  
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Tt7 - unfortunately, the ship docked at the other pier (Daikoku) which is significantly farther away. My original plan involved walking to Nihon-Odori and taking the train from there, but the change threw me off!
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May 16th, 2019, 01:45 PM
  #31  
tt7
 
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Originally Posted by vickiebypass View Post
Tt7 - unfortunately, the ship docked at the other pier (Daikoku) which is significantly farther away. My original plan involved walking to Nihon-Odori and taking the train from there, but the change threw me off!
Yikes! Had to search to find it - basically an industrial island in Yokohama Bay with the Metropolitan Expressway running through it. No convenient public transport .... except possibly a # 17 bus to Tsurumi Station or a # 109 to Nihon-Odori. Not exactly a great way to arrive in Tokyo! Did you depart from there as well? Did the ship (Cunard/QE?) not provide a shuttle bus to somewhere useful or provide any guidance? If it was me, Iíd be less than happy at having to try to figure out my way from there, an area that (from the satellite image) looks like an industrial wasteland.
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May 16th, 2019, 03:10 PM
  #32  
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Exactly - industrial wasteland is an apt description! Since this was a disembarkation port, shuttle service wasnít provided but the cruise line did organize coach transfers to Tokyo Station or Narita (about $80 per person). Since I wanted to go to Shibuya, I had that locked in my mind and a 20 min local train ride for 360 yen sounded so easy. Live and learn.
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May 17th, 2019, 04:49 AM
  #33  
 
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Last October, we took a taxi from Osanbashi cruise terminal to the Yokohama station and the fare was 1600 Yen. If we were to go to the Shin-Yokohama station the taxi fare would have been around 3500 Yen.

Since your cruise ship docked at Daikoku, further away from the city center, perhaps 5100 Yen taxi fare to Shih-Yokohama is about right. Judging from the distance on Google map, 6000 Yen to your hotel in Tokyo would have been a very good deal.

Thanks for your detailed report, a very enjoyable read!
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May 17th, 2019, 05:24 AM
  #34  
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Cruise Two Cents

A couple of folks have mentioned this unusual itinerary and commented that they’re not “cruise people” so I thought I’d provide my two cents. I’ve been on about 48 cruises (as a solo traveler) all over the world; in the 90’s I did a lot of Princess cruises, but as they became more mid-market, I moved to Cunard, Holland-America and Azamara. Over the past 3 years, I’ve sailed only on Cunard and Holland-America since they’re the best fit for me.

The experience you have on a cruise depends on the cruise line, the ship and the itinerary. (Of course, you have to have a good attitude but these 3 criteria form a huge part of the overall experience.) For me, I enjoy a ship that offers elegant & sophisticated dťcor; a cultural focus (e.g. lecturers on diverse topics, not shopping; opportunities to hear classical music in some venues); no pool parties, beer games or rowdiness; no daily sales bazaars of junk clothing or jewelry; and limited announcements over the ship’s loudspeaker system. That has evolved into Cunard being my preferred cruise line. Some cruise lines are known for being “fun ships”, others are family focused, others are party ships, etc. For me, I like a ship with 2000 or less passengers (except for the Queen Mary 2 which holds 2700). Any bigger and the ship itself has to be massive so to me the public rooms start feeling like airplane hangars and I feel like one of many thousands (which I am.) To a degree, the itinerary determines the fellow passengers – the longer cruises or farther away tend to get an older, more affluent mix. Japan is a relatively new market for most of the cruise lines and is therefore a great revenue stream. In addition to Cunard, I know that Princess, Celebrity & Holland-America all do Asian cruises that include Japan to some degree (I believe the Celebrity Millenium does a 14 day Japan cruise). For me, the passengers on Cunard ships are a good fit for me. I don’t know if I mentioned in my posts above what the passenger mix was: 1,300 Japanese; 160 UK; 140 Australia & NZ; and 120 USA (with other countries represented here and there). This was unusual to me, but of course it was my first cruise departing from a Japanese port (similarly, when I board the ship in Southampton, there are a lot of British passengers) which makes sense since they don’t have to fly to an embarkation port. A lot of the Japanese were with tour groups and they each had their own tour leaders; in addition, Cunard brought on a number of employees who spoke Japanese. The captain’s noon announcements were translated into Japanese, as was the safety drill; in trivia games, the questions and answers were also translated. As with any groups, some folks stayed with the group, but others chatted with passengers in the buffet, lounges, etc. Mid-way through the cruise, most of the trivia teams were multi-national; even if they weren’t fluent in English, they had enough words to chime in on answers. That was a lot of fun!

In general, I believe nearly all the cruise lines provide a free shuttle service from the pier to the town center or train station. The shuttles start running as soon as the ship arrives and the last shuttle is about 30 minutes before the ship sails – these times are clearly spelled out in the ship’s daily newsletter and are posted on the gangway.

All ships offer ship arranged shore excursions to local points of interest; almost always via buses. In my early cruising days in Polynesia, I did these tours but stopped after a few years and planned my own activities in port. The excursions are expensive, and for me, I don’t like following someone else’s timeframe; you have a proscribed amount of time at each site, there’s a fair amount of stopping for photo opportunities and usually a shopping stop; plus, there’s a fair amount of time waiting for everyone to get off the bus, back on again and wait for the inevitable person who is late. Of course, the benefits of an arranged tour is that a guide is provided so you learn about what you’re seeing and you don’t have to research or plan on your own – just pay your money and get on the bus! This works for many people. (I should also add that if you’re on a ship’s excursion and it is late in returning to the dock, they will hold the ship until you arrive; if you’re exploring on your own (or taking a tour you arranged yourself, you’re out of luck since they won’t hold the ship.)

In terms of rough seas, I don’t get sea sick but I know there are so many medical options that I don’t think anyone should worry about that (unless you’re crossing the North Atlantic in the winter!) Some people use the patches, etc as preventive measures, but ships’ doctors and passengers have told me many times that if someone is feeling seasick, they should go to the medical center at the first sign of feeling bad and they’ll give you medicine that resolves it quickly. Also, when ships are sailing in shallower waters (near the shore) versus crossing large expanses of open ocean, the water is generally calm. If there’s a storm or bad weather, the captain makes every effort to avoid it if possible since they don’t want sick/cranky passengers. (Sometimes they speed up at night to outrun bad weather while everyone’s asleep.) And ships have all kinds of stabilizers built into the ship to limit the amount of pitching, rocking/rolling. So, you typically won’t have rough seas on these kinds of itineraries and if you do, the ship’s doctor can give you something that will solve it ASAP.
vickiebypass is online now  
May 17th, 2019, 10:52 AM
  #35  
 
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I really enjoyed your trip report, Vickie, and appreciate your general comments on cruising. We will be taking our first ocean cruise in September and I'm really looking forward to the experience. If we love it, I expect it will be the first of many.
Kathie is online now  
May 17th, 2019, 01:52 PM
  #36  
 
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Thanks for taking the trouble to give your thoughts on cruising, Vicki . i really don't think it's for me as I get such bad sea sickness, even if I'm not sick at that moment I'm always worried I'm going to be in the future. But for that you would have converted me.
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May 18th, 2019, 12:24 AM
  #37  
 
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Vickiebypass: I just finished reading your trip report. I had forgotten that I hadn’t finished it days ago. I’m a real night owl. Smiles.

Great information on your trip and also on taking cruises. It sounds as if you had a really great trip and I love the part where the students came and practiced English with you. I like those types of cultural exchanges and am glad that I get to talk to a lot of people on trips which is one really good reason to travel solo as I have found that being a solo traveler, people feel comfortable to approach me and chat and ask me where I’m from etc.

Where do you plan to take off on your next adventure?

I’m getting my stuff together for a quick trip to Europe next month and then I’ll come home for a few weeks before taking off to Japan again for 3 weeks. I'm really look forward to going back to Japan. It’s 3 summers straight now and 20 years of going to Asia as I love going to Asia. Smiles.

Happy Travels!
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May 18th, 2019, 08:04 PM
  #38  
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Iím doing a westbound transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 in November 2019 - itís a literary themed trip in conjunction with the cheltemham literary festival. Many authors on board who will give lectures, panel discussions and book signings, plus generally be around to chat w passengers. I booked as soon as I read about it since it combines two of my favorites: reading and days at sea.

Then ill probably do a week in Florida in December. January/February is usually my time to spend 10 days in a European city but I just saw a post about going to japan in January.... that would be cool (pun intended&#128512.
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