Nashville Vintage Wine Train – It’s a Thing!

Speaking of Nashville and all the reasons I love it, one of the best-kept secret events here is the excursion train, specifically, the vintage wine excursion train! If you haven’t heard of it, you’ll want to check it out, and you’re welcome!

All excursions are boarded from the Tennessee Central Railway Museum near downtown Nashville. The destination for each excursion changes based on theme, for example, the train robbery and murder mystery excursions travel to Watertown and back. The Spring Festival and Fall Foliage trips travel to Monterey. I have had the fortune of enjoying several: train robbery, murder mystery, and my favorite, the wine train!

What many people don’t know is, there are two versions of the wine excursion. The first is included on the published schedule at Tennessee Central Railway Museum‘s site. The second is called Wine on the Rails and is hosted by Muddy Roots Records. To purchase tickets to the Muddy Roots version, you must go to their website.

Both versions of the wine train include riding on a classic streamlined stainless steel passenger train, wine tasting on board and live music at DelMonaco Winery in Baxter, TN. At the winery you may also purchase lunch or an additional wine tasting. You may also enjoy a tour of the winery where you can see where all the magic happens.

In November I first tried the Muddy Roots Vintage Wine excursion, which they call Wine on the Rails. The theme is vintage dress, but dressing the part is not required, so I didn’t. In January I attended the Muddy Roots wine excursion for a second time, and decided to spice things up by dressing up this time. Because the trip was in cold weather, the theme was (vintage) Fancy Coat. I have to say, dressing up made it much more fun!

When you take the Muddy Roots version of the excursion, you will also enjoy live music at the winery, and, depending on your train car, you may also enjoy a private performance on the train! Here is a sampling:

So if you’re looking for a new adventure, give yourself the gift of an excursion – you won’t regret it!

Final Thoughts on My South Pacific Adventure

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Gosh! What a crazy, scary, EMPOWERING trip! At a time when I was feeling broken, I made a drastic change in my life, and “launched” that change by hopping a ship to Fiji!

In the year or so leading up to this trip I had been feeling less than inspired at work. I had worked for five years for a really great company and was doing work I loved, but somehow it wasn’t satisfying anymore. I was having trouble getting up in the mornings and I would return home each night physically and emotionally drained. I had also been struggling with some physical symptoms that had me wondering if I would ever feel good again. I knew I was in need of a change in my life, but wasn’t sure what that would look like. Making the decision to do this trip was the first step.

Going through the exercise of planning the trip helped me begin to look forward to things again. As scary as it would be, I knew I needed to quit my job. I had been thinking about making a change anyway, and to do the trip right I was going to need to take much more time off than I had left in my PTO bank. I also didn’t want to feel the pressure of “what I’m coming back to” at the end of the trip.

One thing leading to another, I decided that since I would be leaving my job anyway, I’d give myself a year to do whatever I needed to do to feel better. I didn’t know for sure what was causing my physical symptoms, I only knew I needed to fix them. But that wasn’t all. Feeling tired and unwell all the time meant I wasn’t spending time with my two loves, art and writing. I decided I would go on my trip, and then I would spend the rest of my “year off” creating art and writing.

Even many of my closest friends don’t know this, but writing has always been my first love. I haven’t shared that a lot because of old tapes in my head that tell me “you can’t make a living as a writer,” and “well, I hope it’s at least cathartic” (i.e., nobody would want to read your dribble). Rubbish! I’ve been sitting on a draft of my memoir for more than ten years. Time to dust it off!

The story I told on my way out of  my job was that I was leaving to pursue my art. I told that story because I felt it would be more readily accepted than, “I’m going to write.” To most people, that would not compute. “How will you pay your bills?” sigh. Well, now I’m saying it. I’m going to write!

Back to the trip…

While traveling on my own in a foreign country did cause some additional stress, it also forced me to think about things in different ways. It broke my patterns. I couldn’t run to my safe place and hide. I had to find my way around. I spent 24 days figuring things out for myself and making decisions for myself without consideration for someone else. I tried new things. I started conversations with people I didn’t know. I began to feel less anxious and more powerful!

Okay, I’ll be honest. While on the ship, there were times I would seek out the safety of my cabin, but mostly I was out experiencing. I slathered my body with mud in Fiji. I danced on the pool deck. I made friends with a wonderful Ukrainian couple from Melbourne. I watched a glass blowing demonstration and had wine and cheese on the upper deck. I donated money to the casino. I sat at the stern of the ship after dark watching as the foamy tail of our departure reached back to meet the reflection of an invisible moon.

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Now, two months later, my trip is a surreal memory. Admittedly, some of the euphoria has worn off as real life takes over again, but I am finding the energy to do the deep work of fixing myself. Through working with a therapist, I have discovered that most of my physical symptoms were stress related. Turns out I have some grieving to do.

These days, I do spend time on my art, but I spend equal amounts of time meditating and writing. Rather than pushing myself into a specific direction, I’m listening to my body and going where my heart leads me.

So…I’ll continue to “do what I do” for the next few months and see where I end up. I would love to continue writing and creating art as my primary activities indefinitely, but if I must go back to working for someone else, I know I’ll be better prepared to handle the ups and downs that go with it.

This trip has helped to set me on a course of self-discovery and healing. And so, as I wrap up “the story of my trip” I raise my glass to toast my new life, whatever it turns out to be!

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Cruising the South Pacific: How it Came to Be

So how did I come to leave my corporate job and hop a cruise ship to Fiji? Well, it went something like this:

For several years I’ve been receiving emails from a group called Abraham-Hicks. The Abraham-Hicks group does several cruises a year to various parts of the world, and I have been receiving emails describing these fantastic trips for years, always with the same result: I would open the email, read all the exciting details, sigh, and then…delete the email. Those trips were for other people, not me.

Finally, one morning while at work, I opened my Abe Hicks email, read all the details (well, most of them), and said to myself. I’m doing this! I bookmarked the website and started thinking about how I might pull it off. It would take careful planning and a bit of money, but I was determined!

On further study of the details, I realized the cruise set sail from the Port of Sydney. For half a second I thought, I can’t do that. Sydney is halfway around the world! That’s crazy! But then I came to my senses and thought, Of course I can do this. Other people do this sort of thing all the time. Why not me? And so I set about planning the details.

I decided I was comfortable doing the cruise on my own because I’ve participated in Abraham-Hicks events in the past so I know for sure that people who attend those events are generally happy, friendly folks. I was sure I’d find people to hang out with.

As I was planning the details around getting to the cruise ship, I decided that since I probably wouldn’t get to Sydney again any time soon, I should probably spend a few days there and see some sights.

The idea of a 23 hour flight from Nashville, TN to Sydney was daunting. One night, as I shared some of my thoughts about the trip with friends, I was given the idea to split up the flight by stopping over in Hawaii. Perfect! I hadn’t yet been to Hawaii either!

When it came to booking my lodging, I decided not to stay in a conventional hotel. I would use Airbnb for all my stays. I am not interested in the downtown party life, so staying outside the city sounded like a perfect fit for me. Airbnb would provide me a connection to local folks with inside information on best ways to get around and best sites to see – without the influence of tourist industry hype. I had used Airbnb a total of one time prior to this on a short trip to Charlotte, NC, but that was enough to sell me on the idea.

Due to the length of the Sydney and cruise portions of the trip, I decided I would keep my Hawaii stays short. I could take a longer trip to Hawaii another time, so I planned for only 1-2 full days on the island of Oahu for each leg of the trip. That would be enough time to hang on the beach for a day and maybe see a site or two. I was mostly concerned about being able to rest up between flights. I also decided to book different Airbnb locations for each of my Hawaii stays so I would have perspective from slightly different areas of Honolulu – for next time.

I booked my air travel as two separate round trips, one from Nashville to Honolulu, the other from Honolulu to Sydney. I ended up on three different airlines. The Nashville/Honolulu leg was on American Airlines. Honolulu to Sydney was JetStar. Sydney to Honolulu was Hawaiian Airlines. I booked it all through the eDreams website, which I had never before heard of, but after searching on Kayak, that is the booking site where I found the best fares.

So, there it is! In October 2015, I (over)packed my bags and got on a plane, headed for the biggest adventure of my life (so far)!

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Life On The Celebrity Solstice

Final Thoughts on My South Pacific Adventure

I just realized I hadn’t posted anything about the amenities and activities on the ship, save a short blog about bar hopping one night. So, here’s a rundown of some of the things I saw and did while on board the Celebrity Solstice.

Accommodations

My cabin was beautiful and very comfortable:

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Crew

My cabin steward, Anselmo, and his assistant, Arfa, did an excellent job taking care of me! I was greeted every morning with a smile and a “Good morning! What are you doing today?” They would ask if there was anything I needed. We would have a nice chat and I’d be on my way.  When I was cabin-bound the last three days of the cruise due to illness, Anselmo called my room to ask if I needed anything!

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Arfa and Anselmo

Food

The food in the main restaurant was usually pretty good. I would give them an average rating of three out of five stars. Everything here (except drinks) was included in the price of the cruise. Chefs were traded off from port to port so there was plenty of variety in style of food over the course of the cruise. Sometimes the chef for the night would be brought table to table and introduced to the guests. On Top Chef Night, the menu featured recipes from the Bravo TV show.

The one thing that disappointed me (and why I give them three stars instead of 4) was the lack of seafood (specifically, shellfish). There was a shrimp cocktail appetizer available every night. Other than that, there were some entrees that “featured” shellfish, but it was really just a couple bites of crab or lobster as part of a larger dish. Not what I would expect on a cruise.

On the plus side, you could order multiple entrees and desserts if you wanted or if you didn’t like a dish, just ask for something different – no problem. While I did not order multiple desserts at a meal, I did enjoy one dessert every night of the cruise!

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On one of the upper decks there was a huge cafeteria-style cafe that offered a wide variety of food all day long. There were 15 or so stations with different options, like Mexican, Stir Fry, Deli, Fruit & Cheese, Desserts and an Entree of the day. This was also included in the cruise price, and was great for breakfast and lunch. I never ate dinner here, but dinner was offered. Water and coffee were included from a self-serve area. Water here was by the glass from a fountain. If you ordered from any of the wait staff that wandered the area you would receive bottled water and would be charged. Coffee served at the table was also charged, however, you could order juice from a wait person and that was included. Confusing.

There was a small cafe just outside the spa and adjacent to the indoor pool. The cafe featured prepared-ahead small dish salads of all different types that were very nice. You could just grab one as you walked by on your way to the pool.

I ordered room service a couple times when I wasn’t feeling well, and later discovered that room service burgers come from the grill adjacent to the outdoor pool. While the burgers are just so-so, I tried a hot dog one day and it was pretty good. (Yes, that’s mayo on my dog. I blame my mother.) The fries, however, were fantastic! They were nice and crispy on the outside and had just the right amount of salt cooked right into them!

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There were three other restaurant options, but they were additional cost, so I did not try them.

Wine & Cheese

There was a wine & cheese event one afternoon on the lawn accompanied by live music. Fruit and cheese plates were complementary. Wine was charged to your on board account.

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Entertainment

One night on the pool deck there was a surprise guest.

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There were shows every night in the theater. One evening featured a musician playing Queen on an electric violin!

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Corning Glass

There was a glass blowing demonstration on the upper deck.

 

Oktoberfest

My trip coincided with Oktoberfest, so we had a celebration for that. The bartender in one of the pics below was the drink server assigned to my table in the main dining room.

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Other Activities

Many activities were available daily including shopping deals, trivia, bocce ball competitions, casino challenges and art shows. A spa, fitness center and several hot tubs offered additional options for whiling away your time at sea. There were places to sit quietly and meditate or read. And let’s not forget napping by the pool! There really was no excuse for boredom!

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New Friends

One of my favorite parts of the cruise was meeting these lovely folks – Tatiana and Max, from Melbourne, AU! Tatiana is the Concert Master and Principle Violinist for the Melbourne Opera! We had dinner together every night. Tatiana also guided me through my first casino experience, and I tagged along with both of them for one of the island excursions.

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Someone recently asked me if I would ever do another cruise. Maybe. I prefer the freedom of seeing sites on a timing that I decide rather than on someone else’s schedule. When you’re on a ship, you’ve got to see location x on day y, and you have a block of time in which to do it. But. A cruise allows you to potentially visit several different locations that you might not be able to fit into a land-based trip. And being on the water is such a beautiful, calming experience! Maybe I would do it again. In a bit.

Final Thoughts on My South Pacific Adventure

Hawaii – Redux

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I had one full day to spend on Oahu, Hawaii, on my return trip from Australia. My intention for this visit was to 1) Ship home a suitcase full of souvenirs, and 2) rest. My flight had departed Sydney, Australia at 9:20 p.m. and arrived (on time) at 10:20 a.m. – on the same day!

Traveling from Australia to Hawaii means I had crossed back over the International Date Line, which gave me back the day I lost on my way out. It also gave me a really long day! By the time I made it to my Airbnb room and got settled in, it was early afternoon. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do much that day because of low energy, so I walked to a nearby ABC Store for some snacks and headed to the recreation deck in my building.

Hotel

This location turned out to be much nicer than where I stayed on my trip out! My room was inside the Aqua Skyline Hotel at Island Colony. My room, being that is was through Airbnb, was privately owned, and therefore less expensive than rooms rented directly from the hotel. As a comparison, my rate for the time I traveled (early November 2015) was $95/night for a Studio Kitchenette. The rate for a hotel-owned room of the same type booking for November 2016 starts at $149/night. The downside to this is, the privately owned room may not be as up to date as the hotel-owned room. I was happy with the trade-off. Another bonus was the last visitors had left two beers in the fridge!

The hotel is located five blocks from Waikiki beach – a very reasonable walking distance! The view from the recreation deck and my room are beautiful! The water in the pictures below is the Ala Wai Canal. The aerial photo is from my room looking down at the pool deck.

My Previous Hotel

As a comparison, on my first stay in Hawaii, the room I rented through Airbnb advertised “‘To die for ocean views’ over Yacht Harbor, Surf and Boating. Comfortable, clean, efficient.” Well. There was no balcony on the unit and the windows began at about waist height, so the only way to see those “to die for” views was to stand at the window.

To be fair, there were plenty of pictures on the listing, and the room was “as advertised.” But when I got there and couldn’t sit at the cute little table next to the window and see out the window, I thought, “Well, this kind of sucks!” Lesson learned!

There was no deadbolt on the door and the lock set was wonky, so at night I propped a vacuum cleaner I had found in the closet against the door as a sort of alarm.

Also, there was only one working elevator in the building, and that elevator only worked some of the time. One day I had called a cab to take me around town and when I left to meet them, the elevator refused to stop on my floor. I could hear it buzzing by over and over again, but it would not stop! I made a phone call to the unit owner, who then called the building management office. I was a good ten minutes late for my cab, but thankfully the driver had waited for me because he knew about the elevator issues in the building!

Dinner

After a bit of rest, I ventured out to find dinner. Within two blocks of the hotel was a place called Heavenly Island Lifestyle. And heavenly it was! The venue is open air, with an inside space and a patio. I sat on the patio. The view was pretty awesome as well. There’s a busy street on the other side of the fence, but I did not find it at all distracting.

I had a Mai Tai and a scrumptious dish called Kahuku Shrimp Ravioli Nalo Herb Cream Sauce with Organic Cauliflower Saute. It was a green curry sauce, and the flower petally-looking things sprinkled on top are the leaves of baby cauliflower. OMG! I wanted to lick the bowl!

Day Two

The following day (after sleeping way in), I rolled my overstuffed carry-on suitcase down to the USPS office to ship it home. I had had quite enough of carting around heavy luggage and finagling suitcase contents to abide by carry on and checked baggage limits. One less suitcase for my final leg was well worth the cost to ship it!

Lunch

After the Post Office, I headed over to Waikiki Beach for lunch. I landed at The Edge of Waikiki – Sheraton where I sat at the outdoor patio right next to the beach. I ordered a Margartia and the North Shore Basket, which is fried prawns and calamari. The prawns were huge! It was the perfect thing for me at that moment, as it was simple, and I was in need of some comfort food!

The view was pretty awesome as well.

Catamaran

After lunch (and another margarita) I realized I had not yet sat on the beach – on the sand – in Hawaii. When I stopped in Hawaii on the way to Australia I walked on the beach, but I had not had butt on the sand. I needed to fix this.

There was a small patch of sand very near the entrance to The Edge, and I had been watching a catamaran launch and land from there. As I sat on the sand I saw the catamaran coming in for what I assumed would be the last time, as the sun was not going to be around much longer. After unloading, they hung a banner across the front and a line formed. It suddenly hit me – sunset cruise!

The line was very long, but I thought I should at least ask. I went to the booth and was told they always sell out in advance, but I should go speak with the person who was managing the line. She said they had room for one more! Better yet – if I was paying cash, it would be $40, not the usual $45. I had exactly $40 cash! Yes!

The boat is called Maita’i Catamaran, and get this – free Mai Tai’s on tap! Granted, they’re not strong, but that’s a good thing, as they go down very easily and the trip takes just over an hour, so there’s plenty of time to down a few of them!

This turned out to be one of the best parts of my trip! I sat next to a couple from – Australia – and they were very nice! I also was situated very near the front of the boat (near the nets) so I had a totally unobstructed view. Here are some of the photos: (There are 11 photos in this batch, so get comfy!)

The Australian lady next to me offered to take my picture against the sunset, and this Japanese guy was standing where I wanted to be. Instead of asking him to move, I asked if he wanted to take a picture with me. He gave me a big smile and said, “yes!” As we were getting ready to leave the boat, he made his way over to me and said, “Thank you for taking a picture with me!” Isn’t that great?!

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Dinner

On my walk back to the hotel I decided to stop at Tapas Lanai Bar, which is where I had been heading when I stumbled onto Heavenly the day before. I chose Heavenly over Tapas the first night because, frankly, Tapas Lanai looked a bit like a dive bar. It’s located on the second floor above a touristy shop and the stairway leading up to the entrance is dark and…scary. It just doesn’t say, “Come on in – it’s safe here!” But…I had had several Mai Tai’s, so my inhibitions were numb.

When I entered the place, I saw only a handful of tables and a bar along the wall. Not much seating inside, and there were maybe three tables outside on what they call the “lanai,” but it’s really just a narrow, rundown porch area on the street and next to an alley. I opted to sit outside in spite of the lack of ambiance, as I felt an escape would be easiest from this vantage point.

Surprise – I had a really nice meal! I ordered a salad with green apples, feta and walnuts on mixed greens with a  nice vinaigrette. I also ordered their crab cakes, which were very tasty! It was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

Honolulu After Dark

It was such a warm evening, I decided to take advantage of the pool and hot tub on the recreation deck. It was quite nice! Back in my room, I snapped a couple photos – Goodnight Hawaii!

The next day it was back to the airport for the final leg home!

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Goodbye Sydney, My Love!

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The Celebrity Solstice arrived back at the Port of Sydney at 6:30 a.m., right on schedule. I was booked for a 9:20 p.m. flight to Hawaii on the same day.

I had originally planned to spend the final day of my “out of country” experience seeing some additional sites in Sydney before heading to the airport, but a few days before the ship arrived back in port, I came to my senses. I realized spending the day in Sydney would mean either:

  1. Schlepping my luggage around town all day – or –
  2. Paying for my luggage to be stored for the day.

I didn’t like either option. Also, there was the issue of transportation to the airport, and, frankly, I was too tired to even think about that.

While the cruise had been relaxing, I was still struggling with congestion and cough, and the idea of public transportation and managing luggage for the day felt too complicated. I opted instead for option 3, which was to pay $30 to have my bags picked up at my cabin door the night before arriving in port and then having them loaded onto a bus first thing in the morning, said bus also transporting me to the airport straight away. This would mean passing on the downtown site seeing I was hoping to do on my last day, like the Botanical Garden, but…it had been a long trip. Unfortunately, option 3 also meant spending a full day in the airport. Fun.

When I chose this option, I thought the part about picking up bags at my cabin and loading onto the bus would be accomplished without my intervention. I was wrong.

As I disembarked with the thousands of other passengers who had also chosen this option, I found that my bags had been removed from the ship and placed along with bazillions of other bags in the cruise terminal! (I was not the only one surprised by this.)

I was to pick out my bags from one of the loosely organized, massive groupings of bags and transport them to the bus, which would be located outside the terminal. There, my bags would be loaded into the cargo area on the bus.

Turns out the reason you must pick up your bags in the terminal and transport them to the bus yourself is because there are several buses making the same trip and they are loaded to capacity and driven to the airport as people arrive, so this is the only way to keep the buses running smoothly, and to ensure that your bags travel with you on the bus. Makes sense now, but was a bit frustrating at the time.

So, by 9:00 a.m. I was on a bus and headed to the airport for my 9:20 p.m. flight! It was such a beautiful day, and I was so sad I would be spending it in an airport instead of beautiful gardens, but…

As the bus traveled away from the terminal and through the city, I caught one last glimpse of the city that had won my heart! It was with sweet sorrow that I was leaving such a beautiful city and country!

I have often thought, since my first day in Sydney, that if I ever needed to choose another country to live in, I would definitely pick Australia! It is so beautiful, and the people are so friendly and nice! You can have a conversation with just about anyone here, and they will treat you as if you belong!

At the airport, I found a great place to hang out – The Terrace Bar, Bistro and Cafe. Here I had breakfast (Eggs Benedict, of course!), then came back later for a beer and finally dinner. Between meals I wandered the airport, pushing my trolley full of luggage from store to store. I bought more souvenirs as well as some postage stamps, and then sat down to write out the post cards I had purchased on the Sydney portion of my trip. I wanted my Sydney post cards to have a Sydney stamp and postmark! (See my earlier post, Touristing in Sydney).

At about 6:30 p.m. the line began forming at the ticket counter. I was on my way home!

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NEXT STORY: Hawaii Redux – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page

Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

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The final stop on the Celebrity Solstice South Pacific cruise was the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. This island was hands down the most beautiful island on the trip, which was upsetting, because I was SO SICK! (I had come down with something that felt like bronchitis, but I think it was really allergies.)

Anywho, I almost didn’t leave the ship at this stop because I felt so bad, but then I thought, If I don’t see it now, I’ll have missed it forever! So I pulled up my big girl pants and hopped on a tender for the trip to the island – and I’m so glad I did! Here is what I could see from the ship:

On shore, there was a long, white beach near the dock, where many people chose to do their swimming and sunbathing. It was also a popular place for small boats to throw anchor and stop for a while.

A dirt road ran through the trees behind the beach, and if you crossed the road, there was more beautiful sand and water and gorgeous vignettes for photos, though not the best place for swimming.

There was a little cove just down from there where most of the tourists preferred to swim.

Interesting views here, for sure! The tree on the beach looks like it’s doing the limbo. The other pic looks like one tree is hugging another, or maybe it’s a gigantic slingshot!

And of course there was shopping, as well as some beautiful natural landscapes and flowers!

It was such perfect day, and this was the perfect last stop on a fabulous cruise!

Wikipedia says:

The Isle of Pines (French: Île des Pins; name in Kanak language Kwênyii: Kunyié) is an island located in the Pacific Ocean, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas collectivity of France. The island is part of the commune (municipality) of L’Île-des-Pins, in the South Province of New Caledonia. The Isle of Pines is nicknamed l’île la plus proche du paradis (“the closest island to Paradise”). It has snorkeling and scuba diving in and around its lagoon. Species of tropical fish and corals can be seen in the transparent water.

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Suva, Fiji

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The second Fiji stop on the Celebrity Solstice South Pacific Cruise was Suva, Fiji. Also a city on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji, Suva is the capital.

For this stop I also chose an excursion; this time to a resort called The Pearl. Once again, we were loaded onto a bus and driven via dirt roads about 45 minutes to the resort.

Upon arrival at the resort, we were once again welcomed with music.

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We were given the lay of the land and then sent out on our own to explore until lunch. The resort is beautiful! Unfortunately, it was a bit chilly and very windy, so no water play today! I was with my dinner buddies from the ship. We found a table at the pool and had a couple drinks from the tiki bar!

Lunch was a delicious buffet with many different barbecued meats, vegetables dishes and desserts. As we were wrapping up our lunch break, some native dancers came in to entertain us. (All my girls out there, you really want to watch this!) Watch the video here

There was even an audience participation segment – watch the video (girls, you’ll like this one, too)!

A new section is being added to the hotel and it includes a large sculpture of a bird. Looks interesting!

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I noticed some construction workers taking a break. They were chopping open coconuts to drink the water.

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The guys in the pond noticed me taking pictures and started waving.

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At the end, a little more music to send us on our way…

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Wikipedia says:

Suva is the capital and the second most populated municipality of Fiji, after Nasinu. It is on the southeast coast of the island of Viti Levu, in the Rewa Province, Central Division. In 1877, it was decided to make Suva the capital of Fiji when the geography of former main European settlement at Levuka on the island of Ovalau proved too restrictive. The administration of the colony was moved from Levuka to Suva in 1882.

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Lautoka, Fiji

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Stop number three on the Celebrity Solstice Pacific Island Cruise was Lautoka, a city on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji.

On this stop, I opted for an excursion to a natural thermal mud spa. Located at the base of the Sabeto mountains, the spa promises an invigorating and rejuvenating experience!

The spa is a 45 minute bus ride from the port. As I was boarding the bus, a very happy Fijian kept shouting at me. It sounded like “boo-lah”. I had no idea what it meant, so I just smiled. Turns out, “Bula” is the Fijian word for “hello!”

For the duration of our ride, our guide kept us entertained with stories about the land, the people and the culture.

The Fijian people are a very happy and proud people. Sugar and Tourism are their largest foreign exchange commodities. Fijians are always happy to see a busload of tourists driving by – we got many smiles and waves as we traveled the dirt roads to the spa.

Upon our arrival at the spa, we were greeted with music and dancing (video)! The national dress in Fiji is a skirt called a “sulu.” Both men and women wear them. The men’s version of the skirt contains pockets. Our guide referred to them as “pocket skirts.” He joked that they were kind of like kilt’s, except that they wear underwear under…there!

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Before leaving the bus, we were instructed to remove our sunglasses and hats prior to meeting the chief. We then were taken to a pavilion where we sat on woven mats and were treated to a Kava ceremony.

The Kava ceremony includes the chief and several other males. The chief offers the Kava cup to each of the “leaders” in our group. There is a specific set of steps to be followed, including some very precise and deliberate hand clapping, and shouts of Bula! Once the leaders have gone through their exchange, the cup is offered to each visitor. The females are the servers of the cup to the visitors. The drink doesn’t have much flavor. It’s kind of like drinking chalky water with a slightly nutty aftertaste.

Wikipedia says:

Yaqona (pronounced yung-gohna), otherwise known as kava – another important traditional custom – is an infusion prepared from the root of Piper methysticum, a type of pepper plant. The plant itself is also often referred to as yaqona or the kava plant. Yaqona is extremely important in indigenous Fijian culture – in the time of the ‘old religion’ it was used ceremonially by chiefs and priests only. Today, yaqona is part of daily life, both in villages and in urban areas and across all classes and walks of life. ‘Having a grog’ or ‘drinking grog’, as drinking kava is sometimes known, is used for welcoming and bonding with visitors, for storytelling sessions or merely for passing time.

Next we were taken in groups of ten to start the mud spa experience. We stripped down to our swimsuits and were escorted to the first stop – a bucket of mud. It was thick and slimy and slightly green. We were told to smear the mud all over any exposed skin, including our faces. It’s important to put it on thick enough to cover, but not so thick that it’ll never dry. Many in our group were even slathering it on their heads and underneath swimsuits! I didn’t put it on my head, but…

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Once we were fully coated in mud, we were led to a shaded area where we could dry without burning up in the sun. We were told about how the mud has so many benefits because it contains volcanic ash. We were shown a hot spring, which was roped-off for our protection, where the water bubbles up out of the ground at a whopping 72 degrees Celsius (161 F)!

After we had thoroughly dried, we were taken to a small pool filled with cool water (and all the mud from hundreds of previous tourists that squished between our toes). Here we soaked for a few minutes as we scrubbed the mud off all the body parts we had covered.

Next it was over to the hot spring pool to float for a few minutes and just relax.

After leaving the hot pool, we were brought back to the pavilion for massages.

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Finally a little more singing and dancing to send us on our way!

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Back at the pier, there were a pair of Fijians in native dress for photo ops, and several tents waiting with beautiful things to see and buy.

Um…

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More from Wikipedia:

Lautoka is the second largest city of Fiji. It is in the west of the island of Viti Levu, 24 kilometres north of Nadi, and is the second port of entry in Fiji, after Suva. Lying in the heart of Fiji’s sugar cane growing region, it is known as the Sugar City. Covering an area of 16 square kilometres, it had a population of 52,220 at the 2007 census, the most recent to date.

Also:

Lautoka is the only city in Fiji’s Western Division, and is the industrial hub of Fiji which contains more than 50 percent of the nation’s population.

That’s all for now! Vinaka! (Thank you!)

NEXT STORY: Suva, Fiji – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page

 

Lifou, Loyalty Island

NEXT STORY: Lautoka, Fiji – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page

The second stop on the Celebrity Solstice Pacific Island Tour was Lifou, Loyalty Island.

Wikipedia says:

Lifou Island or Drehu in the local language is the largest, most populous and most important island of the Loyalty Islands (Loyalty Islands Province), in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean.

For this stop, we were not able to dock on the island, so we were transported via “tender.” Tenders are the lifeboats on a ship of this size. The ship anchors just off shore and then several tenders are lowered into the water and run back and forth between ship and island from about 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Celebrity Solstice Tenders taking passengers to island.
Celebrity Solstice Tender taking passengers to island.
anchored offshore
Celebrity Solstice, anchored offshore

As before, excursions were available for purchase on board, and some are also available for purchase on the island. Some travelers prefer to purchase excursions on the islands because they tend to be cheaper. The downside to these is that you don’t know what they are until you get there, and the timing may not be exactly right for your needs. Quality may also be an issue, but if you’re up for adventure, you probably don’t worry much about that!

Once again, I chose to pass on excursions for this visit in favor of wandering on my own. Several local vendors offer hair braiding and massages. Coconuts are also very popular. The vendor will chop the top off a coconut for you and insert a straw for you to drink the coconut water.

Fresh Coconut Water, Lifou-style!
Fresh Coconut Water, Lifou-style!

When you’ve finished drinking the water, you can bring the coconut back to the vendor and they will slice it in half and give you a small piece of coconut shell to use to scoop out the flesh. My coconut wasn’t ripe enough for scooping actual flesh. The most I could get was the slimy coating that covers the flesh. It was still a nice treat!

Fresh Coconut meat!
Fresh Coconut meat!

In my wandering I found some huts that looked interesting.

Native Hut in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Native Hut in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Native Hut
Native Hut

I eventually headed back to the beach for a refreshing dip in the water!

Beach in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Beach in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Beach in Lifou, Loyalty Island
Beach in Lifou, Loyalty Island

NEXT STORY: Lautoka, Fiji – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page