Senior Travel: 82-day cruise summary

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – December 21, 2018

by Tom P Blake

Senior Travel: 82-day cruise summary

Today’s eNewsletter is short. I want to wish you all Happy Holidays: Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

This morning at 7 a.m., the Holland America Line ship ms Amsterdam docks in San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles. After 82 days cruising through Asia and the Pacific, it’s time to disembark and go home.

My partner Greta and I feel blessed to have been able to take this trip and are grateful to be home safely.

Thanks for your comments regarding the trip. If you’d like to read and see more photos than what have been posted here in the newsletters, I’ve written about every port we’ve been to on

Our last two ports were Honolulu, Hawaii, and Lahaina Maui. Below is a short recap of our visit there.

Going forward, the newsletter will once again address dating and relationship issues for people 50-90. Please email me your comments, questions and observations.

Part 2 – Honolulu and Lahaina December 14 – 15 2018

Hawaii was the final stop of the cruise. On day one there, the ship docked at a pier near the Aloha Tower in the port of Honolulu. About 100 yards from the ship, there was a bus stop for local buses.

 Aloha Tower in distance at Honolulu port

For $2, a passenger can purchase an all-day pass, which is what Greta and I did.

Our first destination was the Ala Moana Shopping Center, which must be the largest shopping mall in the world. Shopping at a mall was not how we wanted to spend our day in Honolulu, but I felt I could find a replacement wrist band for my Fitbit, which had become detached a month prior from the Fitbit itself.

We tried the Target Store first, and then Macy’s. Both stores sell Fitbits, but replacement bands are too small of a purchase for them to carry in-store; they told us to order them online. That was it for shopping in Honolulu.

We boarded another bus and headed for Waikiki Beach. Our destination was to have lunch on the beach at Duke’s Honolulu restaurant located in the Outrigger Hotel. At 11:30 a.m., the restaurant was packed.

 Duke’s Honolulu sign when entering the restaurant from the beach

After lunch there, we strolled around Waikiki, enjoying the perfect weather. We saw the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, considered to be the father of surfing. Duke passed away in 1968.

Waikiki – statue of Duke Kahanamoku, father of surfing

Waikiki from Duke’s Honolulu restaurant

Hawaii on a beautiful day

A while later, we boarded another bus and enjoyed sightseeing in the downtown area. We saw a lot of Honolulu, while riding around with the locals. It was a perfect way for us to spend our day in Honolulu. We saw some sites we had not seen before on previous visits to Hawaii. By day’s end, the Fitbit—not on my wrist but in my pocket—registered 15,000 steps.

Day 2 in Hawaii – Lahaina, Maui

When visiting Lahaina, cruise ships must anchor a mile or so out in the ocean. Tender boats take passengers from the ship and back to the ship. Seas were pretty choppy that day, and our tender boat was delayed out in the water for at least a half hour, tossing and turning. Finally, we disembarked in the center of the quaint and beautiful city of Lahaina.

The first stop ashore: the Maui Tourist Office, which is just across the street from the Pioneer Inn and adjacent to the largest Banyan tree in the world. The tree was planted in 1873. The Tourist office welcomes visitors with a fresh bowl on yummy Hawaiian pineapple.

Pineapple at the Tourist Information Office

Largest Banyan tree in the world on the town square in Laihaina Maui

Greta and I opted to take a local bus, #28, from the Lahaina Cinema Complex, which serves as the bus station, to Napili Shores, where we had stayed years before with Ted and Mary Kay Bowersox who live in San Juan Capistrano. The cost: $4 per person for the entire day.

Our destination? Of course! Another restaurant with which we were familiar. The Gazebo restaurant, located on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s a classic in Napili Bay. Fortunately, for us, we arrived there at 1:40 p.m., 20 minutes before they stopped serving (it’s more of a breakfast hangout but does serve some lunch items). Our food server told us she had seen the ship pass by at 7 a.m. in the morning a mile or so off shore.

Gazebo Restaurant in Napili Shores in Maui

A while later, we enjoyed the hour-long bus ride back along the coast, and returned to the pier in Lahaina. The seas were bumpy and the ride back to the ship was a rocking and rolling one.

When Greta was stepping off the tender unto the ship’s platform, the tender crashed hard against the platform and then moved away from the platform. The gap was too wide to step across. I heard other passengers watching her gasp and shout. However, the ship’s crew members had a good hold on her, thank heavens, and she crossed over to the platform safely. For me, seeing that happen to her, was the scariest moment of our 82-day trip, and gratefully, she was OK.

Our short visit to Hawaii was blessed with beautiful sunshine. Local buses are the way to travel around the islands of Oahu and Maui.

And now, after five sea days of crossing the Pacific from Hawaii, we are back in Southern California. Hurrah!

Here is Greta with some of the luggage waiting for our Lyft driver to take us home to Dana Point from the San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles:

Greta at San Pedro after getting off the ship
Greta is happy to be home after 82 days of cruising

Senior Travel: Mission Accomplished in Pago, Pago American Samoa

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – December 14, 2018

by Columnist Tom Blake

Senior Travel: Mission Accomplished in Pago Pago American Samoa

Pago Pago (pronounced “Pango, Pango,”), the capital of American Samoa, was the last port of call, except for Hawaii, on this 82-day Asia and Pacific cruise that my partner Greta and I have been on.

Although not a state, American Samoa is a United States territory, that closely identifies with the USA. The currency is American; the primary language is English, and there is a McDonald’s near the pier where our Holland America ship, the ms Amsterdam, docked.

The country is made up of five islands and has a population of 180,000 people.

American Samoa was an important military base for the USA in World War II. It was attacked once when a Japanese submarine slipped into its harbor. The country has the highest rate of enlistment in the United States military services of any state or territory.

There are 30 Samoans in the National Football League. The two best known were Jr. Seau and Troy Polamalu.

As we sailed in, you couldn’t help but notice how green the vegetation is. The islands get lots of rain. It’s a beautiful place.

Located on the earthquake-prone Pacific Ring of Fire, American Samoa suffered a terrible tsunami after a major earthquake in 2009.

In visiting Pago Pago, Greta and I had a goal. One of our Champs, Mark Flannery–who lives in Orange County, but whom we’ve never met–mentioned in an email that in 1975, his father was buried in the Satala Naval Cemetery in Pago Pago. Mark has never been to American Samoa.

I said to Greta, “Let’s try to find the cemetery where Mark’s father is buried.”

When I mentioned that to Mark, and asked for more information, he wrote, “My father, George Flannery retired from the Air Force around 1970 and shortly thereafter took a job with the government of American Samoa. He died of lung cancer. My mother stayed on the island for about five more years before returning to the mainland.”

Mark added, “I certainly wasn’t asking you to look for my father’s grave, but while you are there, I have a small request. Will you see if there is any sign of my mother Ellen in the same place? She died in Texas about 25 years ago, and her ashes were sent to a friend in Pago Pago, who promised to put her near my father. You are the first people I know who have traveled to Pago Pago since then and therefore able to check this for me and my siblings.”

I said, “I know you didn’t ask, but Greta and I would like to do this for you. And it will give us a goal to achieve on our day ashore in Pago Pago.”

Mark was aware that our visit to the Satala Cemetery might not happen. Our port visit to Apia, Samoa, the day before, had been cancelled for safety reasons by the ship’s captain because of a dangerous swell pushing the ship against the pier.

Mark did research that helped us. He contacted an American Samoa government official about the cemetery and the location of George Flannery’s grave and Ellen Flannery’s grave. The official sent pictures, which helped me see what the cemetery looked like from the road and where the graves were located.

Pago Pago Harbor is more protected from wave surges than Apia Harbor and it was smooth sailing into the pier where the ship docked. I was excited that Greta and I would at least be able to go ashore and search for the cemetery.

At breakfast in the dining room, I saw an American Samoan official who had just come aboard. I asked if he knew where the Satala Cemetery was located. He seemed pleased that we had an interest in it. He walked me over to the window and said, “You see that red transmission antenna across the Harbor?”


“The cemetery is adjacent to it on the left.”

I recognized it from the pictures Mark had sent. My feeling was: oh my gosh, this is going to happen.

“How would you suggest we get there?” I asked the official.

“Walk out the gate and to the curb where the local buses pull in. Get on one in that direction, tell the driver to stop at the cemetery. You pay $1 each when you get off the bus.”

And that’s what we did. The bus driver had a bunch of white gardenias on the bus’s dashboard. He handed one to Greta. We were at the cemetery in five minutes. We paid the driver two bucks.

Inside our bus on the way to the Satala Cementery in Pago Pago. Notice the flowers on the dash

  A typical Pago Pago local bus. No air conditioning, hard wooden benches, but delightful

We found the markers immediately. Greta placed the flower on George’s marker. I went into the adjacent jungle and picked a tropical red flower for Ellen’s marker.

 Satala Cemetery in Pago Pago American Samoa

George Flannery’s grave with white flower on marker

Ellen Flannery’s grave with red flower, located next to her husband’s grave

Greta and I spent an hour there taking pictures. Our mission was complete. Except, of course, to email the photos to Mark when we got back to the ship.

We enjoyed the bus ride so much, we got on the next bus to see more of the island. And the bus happened to be the same one as before, with the same nice driver. What a delightful and informative way to see the island. Locals who were on the bus asked us where we were from. They were so friendly and proud of their country, being a territory of the USA.

Later, we took a different bus in the opposite direction from the ship, to see the other side of the island. Our total bus fare for the day, $10.

Mark expressed his appreciation for the effort Greta and I had made and for the eight photos I emailed to him.

The next day, I emailed two more photos—to Mark–I thought. But, in my haste, I wrote, “George, here are a couple more photos.”

Mark replied lightheartedly, “George isn’t able to receive the photos you sent. But I got all of them, and, have forwarded them to my relatives. Thanks again.”

I was horrified at the mistaken salutation. But, Mark made me feel better. He said, “I had a good laugh about this.”

At lunch the next day, our table mates asked how we had enjoyed our day in Pago Pago. When we told them about our mission to visit the cemetery, they said, “When we rode past the cemetery in our bus, we noticed tourists taking pictures of a gravestone and wondered what that was about. My gosh, it was you two, and now we know why you were there.”

Greta and I will never forget our day in Pago Pago, American Samoa. It had special meaning for us.

Note from Tom: Our trip ends Friday, December 21, when we dock in Los Angeles. So, this may be the last newsletter about the cruise (maybe a few trip tidbits and summary will be included next week).

Some Champs have asked for more details. I added the trip’s blog posts to The home page will open on the most recent post and you can click on the archives in the right-hand column for December, November, October and September posts, which are all about this trip.

But one travel tip learned in Pago Pago I will mention here. A great way to see a city is to board a local bus and ride it to the end of the line and then ride it back. You see countryside that organized excursions don’t always see, and you meet and get to talk to the locals. Plus, the cost is minimal; the experience priceless.

Back in California, Greta and I met with Mark Flannery and his significant other, Donna, for dinner and to talk about Pago Pago American Samoa.

Senior Travel: Is this a cruise senior singles would enjoy? And, visiting Fiji

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – December 7, 2018

by Tom Blake Columnist

Senior travel: Is this a cruise singles would enjoy? And visiting Fiji

Champ Wayne asked, “Is the cruise you’re on one that singles would enjoy?”

My partner Greta and I are in the final two weeks of an 82-day cruise visiting the Pacific and Far East. We return to the port of Los Angeles on December 21. Our ship is the Holland America ship ms Amsterdam. I’ve thought about Wayne’s question often on this 82-day cruise that Greta and I are on. We are nearing the end with only two weeks remaining.

The first answer that comes to mind is: It depends what a single is hoping for when he or she signs up for the cruise. If the purpose is to meet a potential mate, I don’t think it’s the right cruise for that, although it could happen.

Why? On this cruise there are about 850 passengers. I’m estimating the average age of most passengers is 75. I’ve only seen a couple of singles under 50 on the trip. A few times per week, there is a “Singles & Solo Travelers Meet” event listed in the daily calendar, which is placed in each stateroom.

Greta and I attended one of those events, an afternoon gathering, and there were 22 women and eight men (besides us) who attended. That isn’t too bad of a ratio for senior singles events—about 3-to-one, women to men. The average age for that event was closer to 80.

But, from what we observed, we didn’t see any potential couples forming at that event. And, as women often say to me regarding singles events, some of the men were not relationship material.

Granted, couples may have met on this cruise that we don’t know about. But after 82 days, you develop a pretty good idea who is hanging out with whom, and we didn’t notice any newly formed couples.

That doesn’t mean older singles never meet on cruises.

We’ve met five or six couples, usually at dinner, who met on previous cruises and now travel together.

How about the cruise positives for a senior single who isn’t hoping to meet a mate on board? There are many:

  1. The incredible service and food. On this cruise, we’ve been treated like royalty by the hard-working staff. The food: mind-boggling
  2. Events around the ship: movies, lectures, happy hours, morning trivia and evening trivia, a walking deck of about 1/3 of mile, afternoon tea, cocktail parties, workshops, exercise classes, dance lessons and computer classes, and nightly live entertainment, which has been fabulous, with no driving home afterwards.
  3. Fascinating ports of call. Cities such as Tokyo, Tianjin (Beijing), Shanghai, Hong Kong, Keelung (Taipei), Ho Chi Ming City, Singapore, Bali, Darwin, Cairns, Mooloolaba, Sydney, and about 20 lesser-known ones.
  4. Friends you make on board. Many couples have traveled on previous cruises with people they are traveling with now.

True, if a cruise ship doesn’t have a single supplement, the cost for a single can be the same as for a couple, or double. That can be a huge drawback. To my knowledge, singles paid full fare on this cruise.

If singles want a little more singles-type action, there are other cruises that would be more suited to that. Plus, at 82 days, if you’re looking for love, you might take a considerably shorter cruise because once you’ve met everybody on this cruise, you will still have a lot of days with the same people left with no new prospects. That could be a bummer.

Part 2 – “Bula Bula” and “Fiji Time”: A description of the ship visiting Fiji

After three days visiting New Caledonia, the ship made two port calls in Fiji.

On Wednesday, the ship anchored at Port Denarau, which serves as the port for Nadi (pronounced nandy). When Greta and I got off the tender boat that brought us ashore, we didn’t have a plan for the day other than to visit the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, Fiji’s largest orchid collection. On the way there, we passed sugar cane fields near the Nadi International Airport. I took this photo through the front windshield of a truck carrying sugar cane.

     Sugar cane truck in front of our taxi 

The garden was founded by actor Raymond Burr in 1977, who wanted a place to keep his own orchids. The garden was a 20-minute ride by vehicle from the port. We ended up hiring a guide with a taxi for a three-hour visit, including the garden plus some other highlights in Nadi.

When our taxi didn’t arrive at the scheduled time, our guide, Peter, explained to us the term “Fiji Time.” He said, Fiji is a relaxed, laid-back society. If something didn’t happen as scheduled, it was “no worries, life is good, we’ve still got the earth and sky, and beauty all around us.” As we passed the Nadi International Airport, I wondered if they operated on “Fiji Time,” but didn’t ask him.

I did, however, ask Peter if he played Rugby. I was only guessing, but at about 6’4”, 250 pounds, he looked like he could play the part. He was so big he could barely fit in the front passenger seat of the taxi. He smiled and said yes. Then, he proudly told us about Fiji winning its first Olympic gold medal in 2016, for its Ruby 7 (7 players) team. He said, “The government printed a special $7 bill to honor the team.”

I have a friend from New Zealand who is a rugby nut. Loves his New Zealand “All Blacks” rugby team. I said to Greta we’ve got to get one of those seven-dollar bills to tease him a bit. New Zealand and Rugby are big rugby rivals.

Suva Fiji

The second term we learned in Fiji was “Bula, Bula.” That means hello or good-bye or both. That was especially apparent to us in our second day in Fiji when we docked at Suva, the capital of Fiji, a five-minute walk to one of the largest fruit, vegetable and seafood markets we’ve seen in our lives.

From our stateroom on the ship, I counted at least 30 buses parked in the lot next to the market, and another 10 or more waiting on the street to come into the market lot until another would leave. People arrive by bus from all around the island to pick up their produce for home. From what I could see there is no rail system in Fiji, a sharp contrast to the major cities we had visited earlier in the trip.

Everybody in Suva says “Bula” or “Bula Bula.” I mean everyone. And as we walked beyond the market to the heart of downtown Suva, the natives, probably recognizing us as foreigners, love to say Bula. I think Fiji is one of the friendliest countries we’ve ever been to.

And yes, in Suva, we went into a sporting goods store and asked if they had a $7 rugby bill. They did. I bought it. Cost me $5 USA. I’m gonna surprise my buddy with it.

The Fiji seven-dollar bill honoring the gold medal 2016 Olympic Champions for Ruby 7s