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Travel 2016: Day Eight -Sorrento, Italy and Ancient Pompeii

Hazy Sunrise over Sorrento.

Hazy Sunrise over Sorrento.

Sorrento, Italy. is our port of call today. It was a hazy morning as the sun rose, revealing more and more detail on shore. We couldn’t dock so we had to be tendered on and off the ship to the port.

Booking Excursions. We’ve had good experiences with most of the tours we’ve taken in the past. The success most often depends on the guide. Some are terrific, humorous and informative, some have great English while others struggle a little more; and some just talk way too much.

Some of the Broadway performers go out on the excursions with the guests and sometimes they do their own private tours. Today, Kate Baldwin and her friend (BFF) Amber were on ours.

We had a number of interesting choices for shore excursions from Sorrento. Way back when we booked the trip, I only had one in mind….. Visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii.

The Dog of Pompeii. My fascination with Pompeii goes back to childhood and the short story, The Dog of Pompeii by Louis Untermeyer. It’s the tale of a young blind boy named Tito and his beloved dog, Bimbo. Bimbo stole raisin bread from the street vendors of Pompeii and that’s how he and Tito ate to stay alive. When the Volcano errupted, Tito was saved only because of Bimbo. Tito was frightened but not able to tell what was going on. It was up to Bimbo to save him. Bimbo nipped at Tito’s feet, keeping him moving away from the city to the ships in the harbor and to safety. With not enough room, Bimbo, sadly– was left behind. Eighteen hundred years later, when excavating the city, the skeletal remains of a dog were found. In his mouth was a petrified piece of raisin bread.

The story is more heartbreaking to me now than I remembered it. Still, pieces of that story have stayed with me my whole life.

So, yes. Pompeii was a must.

A little hitch at the start of the day– our coach bus had mechanical issues. We were able to squeeze on the second bus without too much overcrowding and proceeded on the hour drive to our destination. Since we joined that bus, the other tour guide had control of the intercom. She never- stopped- talking. More than one person commented, wondering how and if she ever to took a breath.

When we arrived at Pompeii, we stopped briefly at a small hotel and street market at the entrance. We split up into our two original groups and we were on our way. Our guide was also pretty talky but made up for it by being very witty and keeping our group moving.

Ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii

Ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii.

Discovering Ancient Pompeii. It is believed that Pompeii was settled around 7 BC. It is also believed that there were approximately 11,000 inhabitants at the time that Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying it under as much as 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice. Approximately 2,000 people died as Pompeii was buried. The city was lost for 1,500 years until portions started to be uncovered in the 1599. Actual excavation began in 1748.

The ancient ruins of Pompeii are one of the highly valued, UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Plaster Cast of one of the victims.

Plaster Cast of one of the victims.

As excavation advanced, it was discovered that much of the city was preserved having been sealed from air and moisture all those years. Scientists found that they were able to make castings of victims by carefully pouring Plaster of Paris into the voids as they were discovered. This resulted in capturing the exact poses of victims when they died.

The excavation of Pompeii is much larger than I’d thought it would be. Because of its massive size, it’s probably best to tour it with a guide; or at least, a map designating the highlights. There are some incredibly well-preserved rooms, complete with frescos and tile flooring.  There are many, many streets; most with just the suggestion of the original shape of the foundations surviving.

At the time of our visit, there was an incredible display of bronze sculptures by artist Igor Mitoraj that are a beautiful addition to the archaeological site. They are set to be displayed only through January 2017. In my opinion, they should stay as a permanent exhibition.

 

One of the larger bronze sculptures by Igor Mitoraj on exhibition throughout Pompeii.

One of the larger bronze sculptures by Igor Mitoraj on exhibition throughout Pompeii.

 

We each had ear piece devices for the tour. It was especially handy for me when I’d get sidetracked, or veer away from the group to take pictures.

 

Standing among the massive ruins of Pompeii.

Standing among the massive ruins of Pompeii.

 

A portion of one of the amphitheatres in Pompeii.

A portion of one of the amphitheatres in Pompeii.

 

Close of of surviving wall art.

Close up of surviving wall art.

 

One of the more complete, excavated rooms in Pompeii.

One of the more complete, excavated rooms in Pompeii.

 

Ruins of one of the streets in Pompeii.

Ruins of one of the streets in Pompeii.

 

Ruins of Pompeii.

Ruins of Pompeii.

 

Mitoraj's art exhibition compliments the landscape.

Mitoraj’s art exhibition compliments the landscape.

 

Standing guard over the ruins of Pompeii.

Standing guard over the ruins of Pompeii.

 

We reached a point in the tour where, having visited the main highlights, our guide gave us the option to head back to the market or continue on with her. At the end of the tour there was to be some time for shopping or a bite to eat before heading back to the ship.

Michael and I opted to head back and had our first (delicious) slice of pizza (in Italy) from one of the vendors. Shortly after, we saw one of our new friends, Paul, who said the group was making its way back our direction. We also saw Kate and Amber strolling through the marketplace. Since we were told we’d have time for shopping, Michael and I got gelato and proceeded to walk through the rows of market vendors.

Left behind? We never saw the rest of our group and also lost track of Paul. We just figured they still weren’t back yet. I put my ear piece back in and after a moment, could hear the guide saying something about getting on the new bus and then she turned off the audio system!

Wait, what?

Michael and I shifted into high gear but had no idea where the bus was parked. We left the market square went out to the street. We looked left and right and couldn’t figure out which way to go. I happened to see the other bus from our cruise leaving and we flagged it down. The guide said ours– was looking for us– so we headed to where that bus had pulled out. We found our bus– only our guide had gone back to the market to look for us. Oops!

We apologized to everyone as we got on, found empty seats near Kate and Amber, who seemed to be enjoying the humor of the situation. Eventually our guide came back, told us she was going to kill us, everyone laughed– and we drove off.

We got back to the port and had just missed the tender to our ship, meaning a 40-minute wait until the next one. (I guess this was our fault!) So some members of our group stood in line waiting, some shopped and others grabbed a snack.

At the port in Sorrento.

At the port in Sorrento.

 

While we waited for the tender, Michael kept wandering off, out of sight, going in and out of the shops. He was making me nervous because I saw the tender coming and didn’t want to miss the next one. He reappeared and we made it on with no problem. I joked that ‘we made it‘ to Amber and Kate– and Amber said they were keeping an eye on us so we didn’t get left behind. (This became our running joke.)

 

Sorrento from our ship.

Sorrento from our ship.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to miss that tender was because it was getting close to time for the late afternoon BOTHS activity, a talkback with playwrights Charles Busch and Douglas Carter Beane.

Charles Busch is an actor, playwright, screenwriter and female impersonator known for his high-camp style. He is an iconic figure in the New York Off Broadway scene and beyond. Charles is responsible for the cult classics Die Mommie Die! and Psycho Beach Party, both of which were also made into films. His best know work is The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, that played Broadway in 2000.

Douglas Carter Beane is a prolific writer for the stage, having worked on many familiar productions you may not realize he had a hand in. He was Tony-nominated for his wonderful play, The Little Dog Laughed and more recently, his play The Nance appeared on Broadway. Douglas wrote the book for the musicals Xanadu, Lysistrata Jones and the new adaptation of Cinderella. Many probably don’t realize he also wrote the screenplay for the cult hit, Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar.

I found their stories and experiences fascinating and enlightening.

 

Douglas Carter Beane discusses his writing process.

Douglas Carter Beane discusses his writing process.

 

Charles Busch sharing stories of acting and performing in his own work.

Charles Busch sharing stories of acting and performing in his own work.

 

We had a large group for dinner (as we did most every night) at The Restaurant (that’s actually the name) followed by one of the best sunsets of the trip.

 

Stunning Sunset as we sailed from Sorrento.

Stunning Sunset as we sailed from Sorrento.

 

A gorgeous view as Sunset framed this rock formation jutting out of the sea.

A gorgeous view as Sunset framed this rock formation jutting out of the sea.

 

Laura Osnes in Concert. The main event onboard was a concert featuring Laura Osnes, accompanied by Seth Rudetsky on piano.

I started following Laura’s career when she appeared on Broadway in Bonnie and Clyde (with Jeremy Jordan) receiving high praise from the critics.

She is probably best known as the winner of Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, giving her a starring role as Sandy in the 2007 Broadway revival of Grease. I had failed to make this connection until the cruise.

Among her many credits, Laura recently starred on Broadway in Cinderella, in the title role.

It was a great concert. One of the fun highlights of the evening was bringing her high school sweetheart– now husband, Nathan Johnson on stage for a sweet duet.

 

Laura Osnes with husband Nathan Johnson.

Laura Osnes with husband Nathan Johnson.

 

Laura Osnes.

Laura Osnes.

 

Laura Osnes in Concert.

Laura Osnes in Concert.

 

Tomorrow– Sicily!

Travel 2016: Day Seven: From Villa Borghese to the Silver Wind

You go on vacation either to relax, for a holiday or event (usually family-related) or to go sightseeing. Most of us joke about needing a vacation to recover from vacation because- let’s face it: vacations are exhausting. I’ve found that no matter what type of vacation you have planned, it’s always important to allow for some down time. It’s good to take a breath, relax and let it all soak in.

Our last three big vacations have allowed us to see the world. We’ve experienced the Baltic region, Southeast Asia and now London and Italy. Having already explored two amazing cities, and barely reached the midpoint of this adventure– Michael and I were both ready for a little relaxation time.

What to do? Our suitcases had to be packed and ready for transport (early) leaving us about four hours before boarding the coach bus. From there, it would be about an hour to Cittavecchia, where we would meet our ship.

So what do you do with time to spare in one of the world’s most famous cities?

You go for a walk in the park.

Villa Borghese Gardens. After breakfast, Michael and I headed to Villa Borghese just to wander around. No rush, no set destination– just a relaxing walk on what was to be another beautiful day with perfect weather.

Who knew that we would spend our time, sitting on a bench, enjoying ducks swimming around the Temple of Aesculapius (built in 1786)?  Or, that we would find a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (2003)  hidden among the trees? Well, we did.

Here are some of the images I captured along the way:

Strolling through Villa Borghese Gardens.

Strolling through Villa Borghese Gardens.

 

The Temple of Aesculapius.

The Temple of Aesculapius.

 

Statuary at the Temple of Aesculapius.

Statuary at the Temple of Aesculapius.

 

A peaceful scene at Temple of Aesculapius in Villa Borghese.

A peaceful scene at Temple of Aesculapius in Villa Borghese.

 

The Galleria Borghese.

The Galleria Borghese.

 

Rome's replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in Villa Borghese.

Rome’s replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in Villa Borghese.

 

One of several beautiful fountains in Villa Borghese.

One of several beautiful fountains in Villa Borghese.

 

A morning stroll through Villa Borghese Gardens.

A morning stroll through Villa Borghese Gardens.

 

The Tempio di Annia Faustina e Cerere.

The Tempio di Annia Faustina e Cerere.

 

Mephistopheles and Faust - part of the Monument to Goethe by Gustav Eberlein.

Mephistopheles and Faust – part of the Monument to Goethe by Gustav Eberlein.

 

Monument to Goethe by Gustav Eberlein.

Monument to Goethe by Gustav Eberlein.

 

Tempio di Diana in Villa Borghese.

Tempio di Diana in Villa Borghese.

 

Villa Borghese Gardens.

Villa Borghese Gardens.

 

The view across the Piazza di Siena in Villa Borghese Gardens.

The view across the Piazza di Siena in Villa Borghese Gardens.

 

Leaving Rome. We walked through the streets after leaving the gardens, arriving back at the hotel with plenty of time before boarding the bus to Cittavecchia.

 

Standing guard at the American Embassy in Rome.

Standing guard at the American Embassy in Rome.

 

We found Bernini's Triton Fountain in Piazza Barberini.

We found Bernini’s Triton Fountain in Piazza Barberini.

 

Upon arrival at the port, we were greeted by the ancient Cittavecchia fortress at the harbor. In just a matter of minutes, we were on board the Silver Seas ship, Silver Wind.

 

The fortress at the harbor of Cittavecchia.

The fortress at the harbor of Cittavecchia.

 

Sailing on the Silver Wind. Since we weren’t technically leaving Italy, boarding was fast and simple and our luggage was to be delivered directly to our room. We got our keys and checked out the room before exploring the ship.

The Silver Wind is a small ship with a modest passenger capacity of  296 and a crew of 222. Silver Seas has paid great attention to detail, providing most of the amenities of a larger cruise ship. Pool, spa, gift shop, casino and four restaurants all beautifully provided.

Shortly after boarding, we ran into Lindsay Mendez (Wakefield) and her husband Philip– they remembered us from last year– and they had just enjoyed a beautiful honeymoon (pre-cruise) in Tuscany.

 

Our room on the Silver Wind.

Our room on the Silver Wind.

 

Our Bathroom on the Sivler Wind.

Our Bathroom on the Silver Wind.

 

Once everyone was on board, we had the required muster drill, which was fast and painless. Our luggage didn’t reach our room until about that time; so afterwards, we quickly changed for the cocktail reception and dinner.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset shortly after sailing. It was difficult not to pause and enjoy it– with the flurry of excitement and meeting many new people that was all happening at the same time.

 

Our first Sunset on the Silver Wind, off the Italian Coast.

Our first Sunset on the Silver Wind, off the Italian Coast.

 

Luckily, George had made dinner reservations for the four of us at The Grill prior to the cruise. We enjoyed dining outside with the ‘Black Rock experience’– cooking our own choice of meat on preheated volcanic rock at our table. It was unique. Our meat cooked perfectly– but bibs were required! Lots of pops and sizzles on the hot stones.

Broadway On the High Seas. Our first concert of the cruise was a special treat: Andrea Burns, taking a break from her Broadway run in On Your Feet and traveling with her husband Peter and son, Hudson.

She is an incredible performer with great versatility and talent. Andrea Burns was in the original casts of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For a New World among many other theatre, film and television credits.

 

Andrea Burns with music director Seth Rudetsky in the background.

Andrea Burns with music director Seth Rudetsky in the background.

 

Andrea Burns pulling out all the stops.

Andrea Burns pulling out all the stops.

 

The wonderfully versatile, Andrea Burns.

The wonderfully versatile, Andrea Burns.

 

After the concert (and some unavoidable raving,) we said our goodnights and headed to our room for some much-needed sleep.

 

2016 Vacation Preview: London, Rome & Broadway On the High Seas 7

Eight Months. That’s how long we’ve been researching and anticipating this trip. Including travel, we’re on a 16 day journey exploring parts of Western Europe. Unlike past travels abroad, nearly half of this trip we planned on our own, without any pre-planned itinerary.

I’ll be updating blog posts throughout the trip, with lots of pictures along the way.

 

London

I’ve never been to London. Michael lived there for six months while completing an internship (with the BBC) in college. He didn’t do a lot of the touristy things while he was there, so it will still be like experiencing the culture and the history of London for the first time.

We have our Oyster Card, our London Pass and booked a tour of Buckingham Palace and the gardens. With only four short days to try and absorb it all– we’ve made lists and itineraries of  what we most want to see. Doing the research ahead of time and knowing we can’t see everything, we plan to go and just have a great time, seeing what we can without the pressures or expectations of doing everything.

In addition to experiencing the city, we’ve booked tickets to see five shows. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time, The Play That Goes Wrong and Funny Girl.

Rome

We have three days to run around Rome. We’re staying, as what is considered part of the ‘pre-cruise’, with all sightseeing on our own. We plan on doing a lot of walking– from the Spanish Steps to the Colosseum. We’re saving the Vatican until after the cruise.

Broadway On The High Seas 7 Cruise in Italy

 

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We’re sailing on the Silversea ship, Silver Wind which only accommodates  294 passengers with a crew of 208.

The entertainers this time around are an eclectic, exciting mix of Broadway alumni.

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Broadway Stars will shine on BOTHS7 in Italy.

 

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We leave Civiavecchia with stops in Sorrento;  Taormina; Valletta, Malta; Trapani; Cagliari; Bonifacio, France; and returning to Civiavecchia.

We’ll have daily land excursions (including a visit to the ruins of Pompeii) with wonderful concerts aboard ship at night. It’s like two vacations in one.

Following the cruise, we’ll be back for one more full day and night in Rome.

We’re looking forward to an incredible adventure.

VIDEO: Eighteen Days in South East Asia with Mike & Jeff

I finally finished the video montage of our South East Asia trip with Broadway On the High Seas 5 through Playbill Travel in November 2015. You can watch it here but I highly recommend watching it full screen to get the full effect of the incredible scenery.

 

 

 

If you haven’t already read my daily blog posts from the trip and want to know more– start reading my previous posts at the end of October 2015.

I hope you enjoyed it!

The Haunting Faces of Angkor Thom: A Photo Essay

A Sweaty Selfie at Angkor Thom.

A Sweaty Selfie at Angkor Thom.

Angkor Thom was probably my favorite location of all that we visited in Southeast Asia. There’s an aura that is simply magical. I found myself standing– high up amongst the faces in the ruins– and I got kind of emotional. How incredibly lucky was I to actually be standing there? It was one of those moments that words fail. Hopefully, these images will explain it all.

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

 

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

Angkor Thom (Photo credit: Jeff Linamen)

The Never-ending 36 Hour Day

Southeast Asia Travel -11/16 – Day Eighteen & a Half:Today was the longest day ever!” People always say that when a day seems extremely slow or stressful– it’s the longest– but 24 hours is still just 24 hours. Unless, of course, you are flying back through time zones from the other side of the world and 24 hours becomes 36 unbearable, long hours.

Michael and I got up at 4:30 AM Monday morning to get ready to leave for the airport at 6 AM. Plenty of time. Michael had prearranged transportation online before we even started our crazy adventure. All we had to do was call and confirm a day in advance.  Only…. No answer.

IMG_1502We’d allowed plenty of time, being an international flight, customs, etc. and we still hoped the car would show up as scheduled. We made repeat phone calls and no answer, no recording… nothing.

At 6:20 AM we gave up and had the hotel call us a taxi. Which, by the way, was cheaper than the original arrangement we’d made in advance. (We did get a full refund through Viator later.)

The simple story is that we flew from Singapore to Seoul, Seoul to San Francisco; and after a five-hour layover, home to Chicago. We flew business class to boot. Easy huh?

Except- it really wasn’t easy. It was like torture. Mainly because with the extremely dry air on the plane, I got a bad sinus infection early on that had me in pain and irritable most of the trip. I couldn’t breath, my throat was sore and I was starting to develop a cough. I started calling it ‘the airplane flu’. This made sleeping extremely difficult as well.

I need moisture. I looked it up and airplane air is down around 10% humidity– almost nonexistent. I had plenty of fluids but I couldn’t stay hydrated. It’s not the airplane air itself that makes you sick but the extreme dryness leaves your body unprotected to any germs you might be exposed to on the plane or from others.

We had turbulence (nothing severe) much of our flight time; preventing even standing up and stretching from being an option.

I just kept reminding myself that it would soon be over and we’d be home with our dogs. I also kept imagining what it would have been like if we’d flown coach. I think I would have been ready to jump out the window! In addition to being sick, my body was aching and my cramps had cramps.

By the time we reached San Francisco, I was desperate for a break. I would have given anything to just walk around for a while. Except, immigration and customs took almost two hours! 1) Because the person in charge of line control for the automated immigration kiosks was clueless and half the machines were always empty; and 2) Michael got randomly pulled for his bags to be checked at customs. I find it somewhat amusing (and sad) that airports and customs all over the world can get it right– but the US is the most unorganized and slow. It was a good thing we had the five-hour layover before our final leg to Chicago. We needed nearly four hours of it just to get into the country and then through screening for our flight home.

Everything from Singapore was on time… until we reached Chicago. Surprise, surprise. We landed and had to sit on the plane waiting for a gate for nearly an hour. Not because the gates were full—but because O’Hare had shut down all the gates for the night– making all incoming flights wait and take turns at the few open gates.

Then of course, it was the same situation at baggage claim. It took another 30-45 minutes for baggage while Peggy was patiently standing by to pick us up.

By the time we got home, we were so tired and wired at the same time. It was good to be home. Best of all– almost better than anything you can imagine– was seeing my old boy Cash. He was happy to see us, greeting us with kisses and a big warm puddle in the driveway because he was so excited.

We pick up Belle and Dudley from boarding tomorrow after we (hopefully) have had some rest.

There’s a reason the saying, “there’s no place like home” has had such longevity. I love traveling and experiencing new adventures but there is nothing like your own bed, your pets nuzzling you– and the tranquility of your own space. It’s been such a whirlwind adventure. It will take time just for everything we were privileged enough to experience–just to sink in and sensory overload to catch up with us in real time.

For now, it’s all about getting back to normal, getting over this stupid cold and steamrolling into the holidays.

Next stop? London and Italy in September.

Maybe we can teleport there.

Too Little Time in Singapore

Southeast Asia Travel -11/15 – Day Seventeen: Packed and ready to go, our suitcases outside our door, we were ready to disembark Le Soleal for the last time. We had to go through immigration and customs in Singapore before we could take the shuttle to our hotel.

The Singapore Business District.

The Singapore Business District.

We arrived at Raffles Singapore and were escorted through the magnificent lobby to a waiting area on the second floor while the staff checked everyone in. Our rooms wouldn’t be ready until the afternoon so we headed out to start touring the city with only one day to take in as much as we could.

Raffles Singapore

Raffles Singapore

Instead of taking a planned tour, we had already planned to use the hop on hop off bus to see Singapore with our friends George and Mary, who were staying a couple extra days. We decided we could either settle on seeing just a couple things; or by taking the bus around the city instead, we could at least get a nice overview. I think we made the right decision.

We rode the first line and then went back to the hotel to get settled in our room.

Our room in Raffles Singapore.

Our room in Raffles Singapore.

I could go on and on about the Raffles Singapore. It is the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The hotel itself (built in 1887) is massive and elegant. Our room was huge! The bathroom alone was almost as big as our room on the ship had been. Michael and I were both disappointed we could only enjoy Raffles for one night.

The stunning lobby of the Raffles Singapore Hotel.

The stunning lobby of the Raffles Singapore Hotel.

In all, Michael and I rode three of the five bus lines around the city. Though we didn’t really get to explore; we saw most of the different districts in Singapore. We saw much of the eclectic mix of modern and historic architecture and only wished we’d had the time to wander through the vast markets in Chinatown and Little India. Instead of being overly wordy- here are some of my favorite images I took throughout the day.

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The Original Singapore Sling at Raffles' Long Bar.

The Original Singapore Sling at Raffles’ Long Bar.

We went to Raffles’ Long Bar for their famous Singapore Sling, which was celebrating it’s 100th anniversary. A busy place and always a line out the door, Long Bar is full of old world atmosphere. I have to say that they have quite a racket going with the Singapore Sling though. One drink is about $28 USD!

We had hoped to go to Gardens by the Sea for the light show but were seeing lightning in the distance. Exhausted after a long day, we decided to call it a night. Sadly, we said ‘goodbye for now’ to George and Mary. We’d had a great time with them throughout our vacation and I’m sure we’ll see more of them in the future.

Tragedy and a Deserted Island

Southeast Asia Travel -11/14 – Day Sixteen: We woke up early to the news of the Paris attacks, as they were in progress; and we were instantly glued to the TV. Outside our balcony door, we could see our ship was cruising closer to the peaceful, sparsely populated island of Tioman, Malaysia… our destination for the day.

In the marketing materials for the cruise, Playbill touted (what other sources have as well) that Tioman was the island used to represent Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific but this isn’t true. Those scenes were actually filmed in Hawaii. Nevertheless, this beautiful island was here waiting for us.

The island of Tioman, Malaysia.

The island of Tioman, Malaysia.

The chaos playing out in Paris was diametrically opposed to the serenity before me. It just wasn’t right.

We broke away from the TV and headed to breakfast. Only a few people had started straggling in. Of course we wondered if anyone else knew what was going on in France. Our ship is French—did the crew know yet?

We checked the news again after we ate, and then decided to catch the first tender, figuring it was only going to get more crowded if we waited for a later one. We got down to the deck only to find out it had temporarily been postponed. After an hour, the temporary delay had become a questionable, permanent decision. No Tioman.

A captivating little lagoon on Tioman. Used my zoom lens, shot from our ship. It was as close as we'd get.

A captivating little lagoon on Tioman. Used my zoom lens, shot from our ship. It was as close as we’d get.

The story of what actually happened will probably always be a mystery. We were told that the resort we were supposed to visit (and use their beach)– suddenly went bankrupt overnight. This was odd as we were also told that as of the night before they were excited we were coming. I should also note that the population of Tioman (in 2008) is estimated at 432. So to believe this story, you’d have to believe that a small beach resort, knowing a ship was bringing over two hundred customers for the day– suddenly decided to close shop and not even wait an extra day, collecting whatever income it could. It makes no sense.

Add to this, there were two other resorts visible from our ship and no one could be reached at either of them. From our viewpoint, the coast was completely deserted.  A rumor started on our boat, early on, that initially I didn’t give much credence. A few people were suggesting that because of the Paris attacks and because our ship was French; the islanders were afraid to let us come ashore. Later I had no choice but to believe it, especially after seeing movement on shore as soon as our ship started drifting further away. A few small fishing boats also started to appear. It was curious to say the least.

At noon, the crew organized a brief gathering on the rear deck to remember the people of France and lowered the French flag to half-mast. Yes, all over the world- even on a small ship floating in the South Pacific– people were touched and solidarity ruled over despair.

It was announced that at 2 PM the Broadway performers were rallying together to put on a variety show to entertain the ship. This thrown-together event turned out to provide some pretty exciting moments. All the performers (except Liz Callaway whose concert was scheduled for tonight) performed; giving us a wonderful show. For many of us, it was probably a better way to spend the afternoon than basking in the sun anyway.

All the performers, giving their all, in the afternoon's surprise variety show.

All the performers, giving their all, in the afternoon’s surprise variety show.

This was our last night on the ship; tomorrow we’d dock in Singapore.

The incredible Liz Callaway.

The incredible Liz Callaway.

Liz Callaway’s show was moved up to an hour before dinner. She pulled out all the stops and gave us a terrific show. I was especially thrilled because her final song was, The Story Goes On, from the musical Baby. Particularly poignant for many reasons. Liz is another of the many Broadway performers that gives her whole heart when she sings. It was a perfect last concert among so many great performances we received.

Following the concert, we had the introduction of the ship’s crew and our final toast to the end of a great cruise. Michael and I just happened to be sitting in front of Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody, so we got to clink our glasses of champagne with them.

I regret not getting to say goodbye to a lot of people after dinner. I really wasn’t thinking about the unlikelihood of seeing many of them in the morning. We were smart enough to get most of the email addresses exchanged early though, so we’d be able to stay in touch.

We spent the last couple of hours before bed packing and dealing with the reception desk. The cruise has gone way too fast and I’m just thankful for all the wonderful memories. Luckily, we have a full day in Singapore tomorrow before we start the long journey home.

Seasick & Show Happy

Southeast Asia Travel -11/13 – Day Fifteen: Breakfast… show… lunch… show… show… dinner… show. That was today’s schedule.

Christine Ebersole preparing to sing "Around the World".

Christine Ebersole preparing to sing “Around the World”.

I was really excited about the first event of the day—Seth Rudetsky interviewing Christine Ebersole and Rachel York about their roles in the musical, Grey Gardens. Christine won a Tony Award in 2007 for her dual roles of Edith and Edie Beale. We were fortunate to see her performance on Broadway. Rachael York just finished playing the same role(s) this summer starring opposite Betty Buckley. The highlight of this session was Christine Ebersole singing Around the World from the show.

 

Christine Ebersole, Seth Rudetsky & Rachel York discuss Grey Gardens.

Christine Ebersole, Seth Rudetsky & Rachel York discuss Grey Gardens.

 

Here’s a YouTube clip from the Broadway production:

 

 

Pat Birch is probably not a name familiar to a lot of people though her work is everywhere. A dancer/choreographer/director with credits a mile long, she has definitely left her mark in many forms of media and entertainment. Film, theatre, TV, music videos… she’s done it all.

Pat entertained us with stories from her career, hosted by John Fahey, in the afternoon.

Patricia Birch with Tommy Tune at the Opening Dinner.

Patricia Birch with Tommy Tune at the Opening Dinner.

Patricia Birch started as a dancer and quickly segued in choreography. She played the role of Anybodys in the 1960 revival of West Side Story. Among her many credits she was responsible for choreographing stage and film productions of Grease, Candide, A Little Night Music, Parade and her work was regularly seen on Electric Company, 6 seasons of Saturday Night Live, and the film, The First Wives Club. That’s just a sample. Pat is a friendly, gifted and fascinating artist.

The Playbill Cocktail Hour became The Newlywed Game today. Better stated: The Broadway Newlywed Game. All the questions had some Broadway connection. Three couples married less than a year participated: One older couple, one young gay couple, and one couple I’d guess to be in their late 30’s. The game itself was fun but it was the banter between the hosts that made it the best. Married couple, Jennifer Cody and Hunter Foster were hysterical—much of the time, not trying to be! From making the instructions more confusing than reading the U.S. Tax Code to Jennifer’s constant quick wit—it was a ball.

I have to say I was feeling a little seasick today. At least the constant, slight rocking back and forth wasn’t helping how I was feeling. To say that I was grumpy at dinner was an understatement. Feeling the way I did, the extremely slow service started to make me crazy. Dinner took an hour and 50 minutes to get through—with big breaks between courses. I wanted to pull my hair out. We barely had time to run back to the room before the evening’s show.

Rachel York

Rachel York

Rachel York has a powerhouse voice that doesn’t quit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer do so many big power numbers in one set before– each using the full range of her voice. She loves doing impressions. She gave us Julie Andrew, Liza Minnelli. Cher, Celine and a whole lot more. One example, Rachel sang I Will Always Love You, starting with Whitney, switching to Dolly, throwing in a few others and ending with Whitney’s big ending.

 

Rachel York accompanied by Seth Rudetsky.

Rachel York accompanied by Seth Rudetsky.

 

With all the performers there has been a great variety in content and style of performances… Not to mention the contrasts of the different personalities. In spite of the changes in the originally announced list of performers, Playbill has done an excellent job of entertaining us with a wide range of Broadway talent.

Riding Elephants in Thailand

Southeast Asia Travel -11/12 – Day Fourteen: Was it really necessary for us to be up and ready to go at 7:15 AM? (We’d be glad later.) With a limited serving schedule, breakfast was a rush. At least we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise to start the day.

Sunrise off the coast of Koh Samui, Thailand.

Sunrise off the coast of Koh Samui, Thailand.

Koh Samui is an island belonging to Thailand. There is not a port or large enough dock to accommodate our ship so we were tendered in to shore.

Of the excursion choices we had, we decided to take the Jeep & Elephant Experience. We soon learned that ‘jeep’ meant a small Toyota pickup truck with two benches and a plastic tarp for a top.

Shopping village at Namuang.

Shopping village at Namuang.

Maybe I expected too much but I really thought we’d be exploring some rural terrain in an actual jeep. I thought the jeep ride was part of the experience. In fact, it was just the vehicle that transported us from location to location.

Most of the tour was spent at Namuang Safari Park. First we visited a waterfall, hidden largely by too many trees. We then had a few minutes to wander a little shopping village. Instead, Michael and I watched an elephant bathing in the water downstream of the waterfall.

An adorable baby elephant at the safari park.

An adorable baby elephant at the safari park.

From there we went to the elephant camp. I have to say, riding an elephant is a pretty incredible experience. We got on from tall loading platforms. Our guide rode on our elephant’s shoulders while we sat on a bench seat on his back. He encouraged our elephant to walk by rubbing his ears with his feet. At one point, our guide got down and let me ride on our elephant’s shoulders.

 

Michael & I riding our elephant as he shows of for the camera.

Michael & I riding our elephant as he shows off for the camera.

After that we watched a short elephant trick show in the same park. This was followed by a monkey show… or, as we renamed it a ‘coconut show’. There was only one monkey– they made him spin coconuts before climbing a tree and dropping prop coconuts. Then he was gone. The rest of the ‘show’ was spent watching a guy open and shred a coconut. If that wasn’t enough, we then had to move to a different pavilion to watch a cooking class. By cooking class, I mean they made a salad. One of the ship’s photographers was with our group and laid down and took a nap.

By this point, it had started raining. As we were leaving we saw others holding umbrellas, riding the elephants. We were so glad we had our rides before the rain started.

The Mummified Monk of Koh Samui.

The Mummified Monk of Koh Samui.

The ‘jeep’ took us to the temple, Wat Khunaram to see the mummified monk, Loung Pordaeng. The monk died in 1973 at the age of 79. His body is displayed in a glass case at the temple. Sunglasses were put on him to hide his deteriorated eyes. No one can explain why his body has not decomposed with the humidity and high heat. Many Thai people believe it is a miracle.

I was sitting in the very back of the pick up… er, I mean jeep; and got completely drenched with rain on the way back to the dock. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ship and dry out.

Before dinner, we attended a reception for past BOTHS cruisers and the stars. It was just a nice way to thank us for supporting and traveling with Playbill Travel.

Our only Broadway performance today was Seth Rudetsky’s Deconstructing Broadway. It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the cruise that Seth became a more active part of the daily entertainment, aside from accompanying the performers. So we were ready for some Seth-time. He is a total showman—super funny; and knows more about Broadway than anyone else alive.

Our last sea day is tomorrow and there are four big Broadway events scheduled. Can’t believe how fast the time is flying!