Time for the next instalment!
So — this is The Plantation, which is the buffet / cafeteria style eating area on the Pacific Pearl. They serve the usual main meals, and are only closed for a few hours in the afternoon. Hygiene is a big thing on the ship (easy for germs to spread!) so every time we entered a food area, there was someone dispensing 'water-free antiseptic gel' which we had to rub on our hands. You don't need a reservation to eat here, just line up, get a tray, and choose what you like! The food was good, pretty standard fare - lunch and dinners had salad fixings, bread rolls, soup, roast meat and veg, a curry and rice, and other options. Not a lot of Asian or spicy food, though.
There was only one laundrette on board for the use of 1,800 passengers! There used to be two (still inadequate!), but the one which was on our floor has recently been 'decommissioned'. You can pay to have your laundry done, but at a "per item" cost, we decided it was better just to wash one or two things a day in our tiny bathroom sink. The shower has a clothes line installed in it, too, so that was easy.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was our dinner at the Salt Grill on Monday 22 August — this is Luke Mangan™ restaurant on board (and everything was stamped with Luke's name — glasses, plates, bottles of olive oil etc etc, all a bit much, the man is a brand). We had to make reservations to eat here, and there was an additional charge of $40/head — which is incredibly reasonable for a 5 star restaurant! We paid extra for some mineral water and wine to go with the meal.
The food was utterly superb. First time I've had truffle anything too ...
I had :
Sea scallops with blue cheese polenta and truffle oil-infused mushrooms
Grilled barramundi with chipotle aioli
Ralph had :
Anchovies in the tin with garlic bread (pictured in the link above, so check it out) - the most melt in your mouth anchovies, and not too salty!
A whole flounder with butter/tomato/caper sauce
Sides we shared were :
Truffle and parmesan french fries (OMFG), zucchini with bacon and basil, carrots with dukkah.
We had the same dessert, which was sublime:
Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango. Served with a scoop of mango sorbet, a ginger snap filled with whipped cream, and leaf of coriander (cilantro) which tasted amazing sweet in combination with the rice pudding!
Because it was a special occasion (our 26th wedding anniversary, well not that day, but close enough) ... they also gave us a little cake! We had to take it away with us, as we were stuffed as googs (eggs)!
If you're really keen, you can see the whole menu here :)
The cabin stewards present you with these funny towel animals, who decorate your room while you're there ... Eldose brought us this little fellow, WiFi Elephant, so called as we stuck our WiFi modem thingy on top of him when we were close to shore (onboard internet via satellite was horrendously expensive so we mostly did without).
I managed to do a few little painting sketches while on board, which I hope to work up into full paintings before too long.
We sailed past Willis Island on Tuesday 23rd. This was mainly so the ship entered international waters, and the Duty Free Shop could actually offer Duty Free prices! It hosts a weather monitoring station. That night we went to the Pirates show in the theatre, which was really well done, fine singing and dancing, and ended up being pirates vs ninjas, which was hilarious (and most of the audience didn't get, of course!).
Wednesday 24th was our first shore trip! We had reached Port Douglas at last, and it was time for our Low Isles trip. The whole 'tendering process' (getting passengers off the huge ship and onto land via smaller boats) is a right pain the ass. Very slow. They had commissioned the use of this catamaran to act as an additional 'ferry', which was good, as the Pearl only has two tenders, which seat about 60 people (you can do the maths — getting the majority of 1,800 passengers off the ship, with a 20 minute ride each way, 60 people at a time...). This photo shows the catamaran docked at the Pearl, and the little walkway connecting the two!
This is the catamaran (white) and one of the Pearl's tenders (orange and white). And below is the catamaran we went on for our snorkelling trip, at the Port Douglas marina.
A nice view of the Pearl from the Port Douglas harbour ...
The trip out to the Low Isles took close on an hour. The weather was really windy and rather chilly still, and the ride was very rough. Quite a few people suffered from sea sickness :p
Finally we could see our destination! It has a lighthouse and research station on it, and is a Marine National Park.
More 'tendering' of us from the catamaran to the island, along with snorkelling gear (supplied by the tour operators). There were some 'grass huts' - more huge umbrellas with palm fronds tied on top. It was very windy.
Hubby walking along the shore ... he suffers very badly from the sun (CFS complication), so wore this all-over body sun gear / rash suit, which worked a treat!
A sea cucumber!
We both went snorkelling, which was good fun ... we weren't supposed to touch the corals at all, and I found that difficult as it was low tide, and not much water covered the corals, so you couldn't really swim over them safely. And the water was very murky from the wind, so visibility was limited. And cold. But nevertheless it was enjoyable (mostly), although the weather conditions really did impact on the experience a lot for me. Hubby stayed in longer than me, and went out further.
We had a little underwater bag for our digital camera to go in ... (the cheapskate's underwater camera option) — limited success, it was impossible to see the viewing screen underwater (the murky water conditions didn't help here) and the black rim of the bag section over the lens kept impinging on the field of view! But by shooting 'blindly' he still managed to get some good shots. The turtle having a rest was an exciting discovery!
We went back on board the catamaran for some lunch — a fairly basic buffet lunch, but the huge pile of prawns made up for the rest of the meal!
Afterwards, most of the other people went back to the island, but Hubby and I were pretty exhausted, so we stayed on board. I did a watercolour / ink sketch of the island, which I'm quite pleased with.
Finally it was time to go ... and en route back to Port Douglas a whale was sighted! Hubby was incredibly lucky in having his camera out — the ship was bounding all over the place (very rough ride again) so getting this shot, when the whale was only visible for a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, was amazing! Maybe a humpback whale?
The Pearl from afar ... it is bloody big, isn't it!?
The end of a long and tiring day at sea ...