About Charles W. Davis

Charles W Davis Jr. is the author of the “Subic Bay Travel and Dive Guide”, the most referenced source of information on the wrecks of Subic Bay. He is also the author of six other diving and travel books and has ghosted written a number of other books. A Freelance writer attracting clients from his own website www.charleswdavisjr.com and working on the upwork website as “Travel & Scuba Diving Specialist Have WIFI, Will Travel”. He is also a staff writer for deeperblue.com

The Perfect Dive Vacation for Families and Small Groups.

The Perfect Dive Vacation for Families and Small Groups.

Nataraja at Sea

Nataraja at Sea

They dream of the perfect dive vacation. Diving at remote dive sites with perfect visibility, warm waters and more marine life than they could ever imagine in one place. They want a liveaboard that is more than just a dive platform and someplace to eat and sleep. They want something comfortable, even luxurious, but not stuffy and snobbish. Someplace as suitable for a bottle of local beer as it is for a bottle of imported Champagne. It needs to be modern with all the comforts of home, but still maintain the feel of an era long ago past.

They see themselves watching the sunset with a love one as the rays of lights highlight the grain of the teak wood decks. When those dreams come true, they find themselves on a handcrafted Phinisi yacht sailing and diving the Indonesia archipelago. A vessel that pays homage to the culture and craftsman who created her. They find themselves on the Nataraja.

The Phinisi Yacht Nataraja

Nataraja is the Hindu connection between the spirit and the arts, and is the perfect name for this 32 meter Phinisi yacht. Since ancient times, the boat builders of South Sulawesit have been building boats. First it was simple fishing boats, so they can feed themselves, later larger vessels such as a Phinisi for exploration and trade. As the builders skills improved, they passed it to the next generation becoming in itself an art form. A Phinisi is a traditional Indonesian two-masted sailing ship, generally built from Ironwood and Bangkirai with teak being used as finishing. Yacht owners took notice of the craftsmanship of these vessels and soon the were being built as custom designed yachts.

The keel of the Nataraja was laid in 2015, making her first sailing in 2016. She was built with an eye on comfort and luxury. Nataraja’s deck plan is one with an open living concept as well as privacy. There is a large shaded dining area for al fresco dining, and a spacious lounge at the stern. Nataraja has 5 cabins aboard, 1 master cabin and 4 Double cabins with an optional 3rd Bed. The master cabin boasts a private terrace in the stern with two large windows, offering splendid views of the sea. It has 1 large bed and two smaller ones, with a bench and desk. Each cabin is air-conditioned and has a private bathroom with a hot water shower, sink and toilet. She is designed to carry 9 adult passengers and 4 children in four beautiful cabins, with the fifth cabin generally reserved for the cruise director/tour guide.

Nataraja Phinisi Master Cabin

Nataraja Master Cabin

Diving Indonesia

Depending on the season and your personal preference you can charter the Nataraja for sailing Komodo National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site or Raja Ampat.

Komodo National Park is best known for being the home of the Komodo dragon, the world’s last living dragon and the largest lizard. Komodo National Park includes three major islands: Komodo, Rinca and Padar, as well as numerous smaller islands. The scuba diving is some of the best in the world and there is diving for all skill levels. The Nataraja can take you to Pink Beach for an unforgettable picnic after snorkeling in the crystal clear waters with manta rays. Later trek to the peak of Padar for one of the most incredible views in the world. The balance between land excursions and diving is up to you, it is your yacht.

Raja Ampat translates to “Four Kings” a name to honor the 4 main islands. It is a land of breath taking land and seascapes. These easternmost islands of Indonesia have drawn adventurers and explorers for centuries. Today they also draw scuba and free divers. Indonesia is included in the Coral Triangle, the area considered the most bio-diverst in the world, and the Raja Ampat area has one of the highest number of different species within the coral triangle. Being remote and in an area of scattered population and low urbanization means you will find pristine conditions for both diving and sailing.

The traits and details that make the Nataraja the perfect liveaboard for scuba and free diving also lend themselves for making the Nataraja perfect for other styles of sailing vacations. Feel for yourself why yacht owners around the world hold Phinisi style yachts in such high regard.

Visit remote islands in the Raja Ampat that get few if any tourist. See what it is really like to live here. If you enjoy kayaking, let the Nataraja bring you to places that are so incredibly beautiful that words alone cannot describe.

Being the one responsible for planning a dive vacation for a scuba diving family or a small dive club is a daunting task. Even after shifting through dozens of suitable dive destinations, you then have to find a liveaboard that is just perfect for your group. Diving a Phinisi style yacht  in Indonesia is the perfect solution.

Thousand Islands

As Summer was winding down, I decided to take a trip to the Thousand Islands. The Thousand Islands has a rich history that helped shape both the United states and Canada. It was a factor in the War of 1812, was popular with Presidents in the late 1800s, and many millionaires built summer retreats here in the 1930s. The area is still a very popular summer getaway.
Thousand IslandsHover over the photo above to show the next arrow. Click on an image to go to the flicker album

For those not in the know, The Thousand Islands is in the area where the Saint Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario. The Saint Lawrence River is the passage allowing the Great Lakes to empty into the Atlantic Ocean. The first fifty miles or so has many islands. While the area is known as the Thousand Islands, the official count is 1,864 islands. To be considered an island, the land must have at least one square meter of surface always above water. It also most have at least one tree and additional vegetation.

The Saint Lawrence River also forms the border between the US and Canada. So some islands are in Canada and some in the United States. The border is not a straight line nor does it follow the center of the river. A treaty at the end of the War of 1812 divided the islands so that each country received the same land mass. However, Canada received more islands. The division impacted the border.

The largest island is Wolfe. This island is about 29 kilometers (ca. 18 miles) long, with its width varying from around 9 kilometers (5.59 miles) to a few hundred meters at some points; its area is about 124 square kilometers (48 square miles). The smallest island is Tom Thumb.

tom thumb island

Tom Thumb Island

Just Enough Room Island /Mother-in-Law House

Just Room Enough Island, also known as Hub Island is the smallest inhabited island in the world. The island is about the size of a tennis court. Purchased by the Sizeland family in the 1950s, the island has a house, a tree, shrubs, and a small beach. Local tour guides often misrepresent this house as being built by Bolt for his mother-in-law. Heart Island home of the Bolt Castle is the closest island to Just Room Enough Island.

Just Enough Room Island by Charles Davis

Just Enough Room Island

Just Enough Room in front and Bolt's Boat house behind. Please note the telephoto lens makes them look closer together than they are.

Just Enough Room in front and Bolt’s Boat house behind. Please note the telephoto lens makes them look closer together than they are.

Heart Island and Bolt’s Castle

Bolt Castle is a 120 room mansion that was never completed. There are many stories about it. I am going to borrow some text about it from wikipedia 

“George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, and his family enjoyed an earlier frame cottage on Hart Island (the island’s original name) for several summers, which they greatly expanded. In 1900, George Boldt launched an ambitious construction campaign to build a huge masonry structure, one of the largest private homes in the United States. He engaged the architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt and hundreds of workers for a six-story “castle” as a present to his wife. In addition, four other masonry structures on the island are architecturally notable. Equally distinctive is a huge yacht house on neighboring Wellesley Island, where the Boldts had another summer home and a vast estate, incorporating farms, canals, a golf course, tennis courts, stables, and a polo field.

Heart Island and Bolt's Castle

Heart Island and Bolt’s Castle

The construction of Boldt Castle ceased abruptly in early 1904 after the death of Boldt’s wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt. Boldt never returned to Heart Island, leaving this structure as a monument of his love. For 73 years, the castle and other stone structures were left exposed to the harsh winter weather and occasional vandals. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Heart Island and the nearby yacht house in 1977, for one dollar, under the agreement that all revenues obtained from the castle operation would be applied towards restoration, so that the island would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. In the two decades after acquiring the property, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority spent some $15 million for restoration and improvements here, and work continues annually. The initial goal of the restoration of Heart Island was not to finish what had not been completed, but to restore the island to the state it was in when construction was halted.”

The Shortest International Bridge Hoax

The Fake News International Bridge

The Fake News International Bridge

I remember 30 years ago taking a boat tour of the Thousand Islands and the tour guide pointing out the “shortest International Bridge in the world”. On the tour I went on, they also pointed out the bridge and added a story about the owner having to pay taxes in two countries. However, maps from both the US and Canadian governments show that both islands belong to Canada. Still, it a nice story and great photo op.

Alexandria Belle, One of the tour boats of Uncle Sam boat tours

Alexandria Belle, One of the tour boats of Uncle Sam Boat Tours

Boat Rides

There are boat rides from both side of the border that will take you around the islands. Uncle Sam Tours from Alexander Bay is the one I used and highly rate it. The boat stops at Heart Island before returning to Alexander Bay. You can get off here and pay the entrance fee to visit the island and the castle. To return to the mainland you can take the next tour boat or a shuttle.

Paddle Wheel

Paddle Wheel

Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island National Seashore

Having an unexpected trip to Delmava, I decided that I should check off one of the items on my to do list. Namely, visit the Assateague Island National Seashore and stay overnight. It was a fast look online for camping equipment and a trip to Field and Stream and I had a nice small tent and a sleeping bag. Both on sale I might add.

After finishing a car rally with my brother, I headed to Ocean City Maryland and then the nearby national seashore. I had bought a multiple agency senior pass last year before the prices went up and that allowed me free entrance as well as a 50% discount on the camp site.

Assateague Island Wild Horses Photograph by Charles Davis

Assateague Island Wild Horses Photograph by Charles Davis

I drove around the park and it was not long before I sighted a few horses. Sadly the only time I spotted horses was when I was in the car.

Being a chilly Sunday, the camp grounds were near empty. I found a wonderful site on the bay side, registered at the camping office and returned to the site to set up the tent. Then it was a another drive in the park, followed by a walk along the sand dune.

Camping by the bay side of the island

Camping by the bay side of the island Photo by Charles Davis

The walk was very interesting and I found out why they suggested aqua shoes instead of hiking boots. It was hard going along the dunes but much easier by the surf. I then went for a hike along one of the nature trails.

I did not see anymore horses, but did come across some deer.


The camping ended up pretty good, it was a little chilly but the sleeping bag was warm enough. Did not like the sleeping bag. I sleep on my side and the bag would not move well enough. So come spring, I will spring for a new bag.

For my first overnight camping trip in decades it went very well. Come spring, I will start camping.

Here is a link to more of my photos from Assateague Island National Seashore

Surface Interval; Worldwide Scuba Diving Reviews.

Surface Interval; Worldwide Scuba Diving Reviews.

Scuba diving in Puerto Galera Photograph by Charles Davis

Scuba diving in Puerto Galera Photograph by Charles Davis

As a writer that specializes in Scuba Diving and Scuba related travel, I spend a great deal of time looking at websites. Recently, Surface Interval (www.surfaceinterval.co) has announced they are now launching their new website. Surface Interval is looking to create a site that highlights Worldwide Scuba Diving Reviews. Scuba divers can leave reviews of the dive centers they have used.

Surface Interval is quoted as saying:

Information about scuba diving is scattered across different websites. Our goal is to bring all the information divers need together on this website. We are convinced that the more people we can convince to start scuba diving, the more people care about what’s under the surface. They will be more aware about the plastic they use, the things they throw away etc.”

For those of you who are familiar with my writing and may follow me on Deeperblue.com, will see that their quote hits a topic I strongly believe in. It sort of hits two. I totally agree that as a group scuba divers are more concern about the environment. In the news recently was the launch of The Ocean Clean Up device — System 001, “Wilson”. That company’s goal is to help clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. They are doing a test run of the technology they developed and if the test run is successful, they will start a full effort of gather plastics and other items from the garbage patch. How does this relate? Boyan Slat, the 18-year-old CEO and founder was shocked at the amount of plastics in the water on his very first scuba dive. He set his mind to changing that.

The other point that Surface Interval makes is the need to introduce more people to diving. Any effort like that I applaud.

For Divers:

As with any new business or website, growing can be slow. I am adding a few reviews of dive centers I have visited in the last six months, maybe you can do the same. To be effective, the site will need current information from the divers that have been there. Let other divers know what you liked and disliked on your recent dives. How was the dive center? What was the condition of any rental equipment? How was the diving? Anything else that might help a diver to understand how your trip was.

If you are planing a new trip, take a look at the dive centers they have listed. They show having over 2,000 dive centers around the world.

Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera photograph by Charles Davis

Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera photograph by Charles Davis

For Dive Centers:

If you are a dive center check the website and see if your information is there. They state they have 2337 dive centers listed. While they have been in contact with many dive centers, the listing have come from different sources. It is possible that the information for your dive center came from an outdated source. Take a look at the listing, update it as needed and let your clients know that it is available on the site.

About Surface Interval

Here is some additional information from their website:

What are the best places in the world to go scuba diving? The best way to find out is by hearing other scuba divers’ opinions. And this is exactly what Surface Interval is for!

Reviewing dive operators

The possibility to review dive operators worldwide (dive shops/schools, liveaboards or dive resorts) decreases your chances to choose the wrong operator. Do they use new equipment, safe dive boats, small diving groups and do they care about conservancy? Important things to know before choosing your scuba diving operator, right?

Getting inspired

When you read what other scuba divers have experienced while diving, it easy to get inspired and plan your next trip.

Surface Interval

Toilets — When You Got To Go, You Got To Go!


Imagine you are enjoying a walk around Paris and find yourself needing a restroom. You do not really see anywhere nearby and a quick check on your map program shows the nearest fast food place is 2 kilometers or a mile away. The few places serving food and drinks near you look crowded and while there has to be one you do not spot a restroom.

You keep walking and soon it becomes a little more important to find something. Across the street you spot a directional sign with “WC” on it. A water closet okay we are saved. You cross the street and you see a small line of people in front of a pod on the sidewalk. Is that a restroom? YES

I do not have to imagine it as that was me one day while sightseeing in Paris. Finding toilets in Paris and many other locations in Europe is not always simple. When you do find them, they might be something you never seen before.

toilet paris france europs

A Free Toilet in Paris

Sidewalk Convince.

This restroom is available 24 hours a day and is free. It allows one user at a time. When I finally got inside of the pod shown above, I was surprised about the size. I am going to guess the inside was about 5 feet wide and 8 feet deep. By the door was a sink with a mirror and a hot air hand dryer. Along the back was a toilet and there was a changing shelve for a baby. Plenty of room for a stroller or a wheelchair.

entry panel Paris toilette

Entry Panel


When the person in front of you opens the door and comes out, you can not rush right in. As you can see from the instructions above there is a procedure to follow. When the door opens, the light on the panel turns red for out of service. About 10 seconds later, the door closes, the wash cycle light comes on and it goes into a wash cycle. This takes about an hour. Okay it takes about five minutes, it just feels like an hour as you are waiting in line.

During the wash cycle the toilette bowl is cleaned and sanitized, the sink is washed and dried and the floor is washed and dried. I have no idea exactly what is going on, but it reminds me of the sounds of an automatic car wash, including a vacuum that gets the water off your car to dry it. When the wash cycle is finish the vacant light come on. You can then push the button to open the door. Pushing the button while in the wash cycle does nothing.

When you step inside it is all stainless steel and everything was dry. It even had a nice clean and fresh smell to it. A recorded voice, in different languages, tells you to hit the close door button and informs you to press the button again to leave. The voice also says that additional information is available by pressing the information button. Take your time and relax but not too long. If you are not done in 19 minutes, a voice will warn you that the door will open in one minute.

Paid sidewalk Restroom in Cannes France photo by charles davis

Paid Sidewalk Restroom in Cannes France

In other places, similar rest rooms are available but they may cost you. The rest room shown here in Cannes was a pay for use. It also cleaned between guest.

Train & Bus Stations.

Train and bus stations have a great deal of foot traffic and many people will need to use the facilities. Seldom will you find one free but they are there and very handy when you need one. Some will have an attendant collecting the fee, while others will use a turnstile like a subway. Expect it to cost about 50 cents, some may be a Euro or even higher.

Most train stations and bus stations will have large public bathrooms. However, you may come across smaller private ones similar to the ones on the street in concept.

Stop in a Fast Food Restaurant

I am sure we have all done it. You need a restroom so you stop in at a nearby fast food restaurant. You see the rest room sign and the smaller sign that says restrooms are for customer use only. You keep going, do what you need to and leave. That might not work in some places in Europe. See, you need to key in a code to open the door, and the code is on your receipt.

Trotters Harness Racing Paris Style

Standardbred Racing with a Twist.

The evening I spend watching the trotters race at the Vincennes Hippodrome in Paris was great. I mention some of the highlights of the track in the post VINCENNES HIPPODROME OF PARIS. The racing experience was different as well. Yes they were racing standardbreds, but there were many differences in how they raced. Here are some of my observations.

trotting trotters

Standardbred Racing Paris


In the United States there are more pacers than trotters. In Canada there seems to be more trotters but there is still a good number of pacers. In Europe, they have trotters. When I was living in Germany, I only saw trotters racing. In fact the name of the sport translates to trotting horses. The French counter part of the United States Trotting Association is LeTrot. The night I went to the races there were eight races. All of them trotters. Another difference was that two of the eight races were under saddle. While there are some races under saddle in the United States they are primarily demonstration races. The coloring is more varied in the European trotters.

Breaking Rules.

In the US, when a horse goes off stride (changing gaits) the rules require the driver to pull the horse to the outside and bring them back on gait. The horse must also not gain a distance advantage. If these actions happen, then the horse can rejoin the race. A prime example here is the November 25th race that my 1% horse Nower Power was in. Approaching the finish line in a clear second place, he broke stride. The driver tried to bring him back on stride and took him outside. He cross the finish line still off gait. However, as he did not gain a distance advantage, he was declared to finish second.

In Europe, if a horse changes gaits, they are disqualified. There seem to be more horses going off stride but part of that is likely how they race. More later.

Drivers and Jockeys

In the US, we use drivers behind the horses and riders if mounted. In Europe, they are jockeys. Also in the US, drivers register their own colors to wear while racing. In Europe, the jockeys wear the colors of the owners.


Here is a surprising one for me. When we race in the US almost all of the races are at 1 mile, that is 1,600 meters. Some fair racing might be longer, but races where you bet are all 1 mile. Thoroughbreds race at different distances but not Standardbreds. My evening at the races in Paris saw the shortest race at 2,100 meters or about 1.3 miles. The longest race of the evening was 2,850 meters or about 1.75 miles.

The Course.

a look at the track

An Aerial View of Vincennes Hippodrome. Image by Vincennes Hippodrome. paris standardbred horse racing

An Aerial View of Vincennes Hippodrome. Image by Vincennes Hippodrome.

In the US we have bank oval tracks. Generally you will find a race track has a track that is ½ mile, 5/8 mile or a mile long. Having each race at one mile the horse always start at the same position on a track. Vincennes Hippodrome is different. Not only do you have different starting points, you can have different tracks. If you look at the aerial photograph and the diagram you can see how the track is laid out. The day I attended they only used the smaller track PP. These videos will help understand the course.

By historicair - Created by historicair., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=579417

The different track arrangements.

Take a look from ground level.

Here is the 2100 meter Grand course


The Start

In the US and Canada, we have a starting car that the horses start behind. Europe sometimes uses a starting car. Of the 8 races I watched, 1 used a starting car. The rest are too hard to explain, you have to see to believe. Here is a start under saddle, later is a full race video with a sulky.

The Entries

Horseman often complain getting stuck in the 8th or 9th post position. The night I was visiting a couple of races at 10 horses, two had 12 horses, but 15 and 16 horses were the most common.


The Prix d’Amérique is the final of a series of races at the Vincennes Hippodrome.

Created in 1920 as a tribute to the United States’ commitment to World War 1, the Grand Prix d’Amérique is the planet’s biggest trotting race. The star harness event brings together the World’s best performers over the classic distance of 2,700 meters. (about 1.7 miles)

This series and the final race is the most prestigious in Europe. It is also considered the world championship. The Prix d’Amérique is raced in January each year with over 40,000 in attendance. It is broadcast live to 35 nations. The betting handle for the race is over 40 million euro and over 9 million betting slips are printed. The purse is a cool Million Euro (1.2 Million USD).

I was at the race in 1996, and watched David Wade from Rosecroft race SJ Photo.

Putting it All Together

Take a look at this video of the Prix d’Amérique 2017 to see how races are done Paris style.

Vincennes Hippodrome Paris Racetrack


The Vincennes Hippodrome located near the Vincennes Palace in Paris is one of the most famous racetracks in the world. It is here you will find the World Trotting Championships as well as Harness Racing World Triple Crown. The track dates back to 1863 and is one of the largest in the world. It has a seating capacity of over 60,000 in the clubhouse and grandstands. It also has an infield area for parking and other spectators. The restaurants will seat 1,800 people.

Of the three days I was in Paris at the end of October, I was lucky because one evening of those days they had racing at Vincennes Hippodrome. On the way to the race track, one of my transfers was closed. An attendant directed me to another subway line going to where I was headed. My maps gave me another stop to get off and a transfer by bus to within a 10 minute walk. It was interesting because the walk took me by way of a hiking trail. Still it did bring me to the “race track”. Actually it brought me to the back side of the track and the parking lot there was closed. The entrance was a mile away. For the record, if my internet had been working, I would of found that there was a shuttle from the bust stop to the racetrack, I was just early.

An Aerial View of Vincennes Hippodrome. Image by Vincennes Hippodrome. paris standardbred horse racing

An Aerial View of Vincennes Hippodrome. Image by Vincennes Hippodrome.

My walk around the outside of the track took me pass the paddocks. The paddocks are on the front side of the track away from the barns, next to the clubhouse. For those not familiar with horse racing, the paddock at a racetrack is the staging area for the races. Horse must be inside the paddock a prescribed time before the start of the race. It is here that the horses are prepared for the races. They looked outstanding, much better than any I have ever seen elsewhere.

Hippodrome de Vincennes standardbred racing

Hippodrome de Vincennes Paddock Area

First Impressions

owners entrance standardbred racing sir charles stables

Owners Entrance

I arrived about 15 minutes before the gates open. The gates seem to be from the original track built in the 1800s.

The first thing I did notice is that the owners have their own entrance, in fact, it seems

they have their own club house. Looking in from the outside it was very upscale. However, even the portion for the general public was outstanding.

As I mentioned, I was there early. I would have been the first one inside, however, the girl at the ticket counter had no change. The entrance fee is 3 , the smallest I had was a 10. so I had to wait until she sold some tickets. When I stepped inside I was impressed by the size. I had been there once before years ago, but that was a day of a major race and there were over 50,000 people there that day so did not really get to look around much. Now, there were only a hand full of people at this time.

As you entered the building, you were in a hall with four levels of grandstands in front of you.

Hippodrome de Vincennes entrance sir charles stables

Hippodrome de Vincennes entrance

Food and Drinks

While some of the food outlets were closed, there were at least 5 that were open. From simple sandwiches to 5 course dinners.

Hippodrome de Vincennes

Hippodrome de Vincennes On the ground floor, restaurants on the upper levels.


La Prestige fine dining Restaurant Photograph by charles Davis

La Prestige Fine Dining Restaurant Photograph by Charles Davis

After watching a few races outside ( more on the races in another article) I went looking for a place to eat. Was not up to the fine dining. On the ground level were a couple of places with sandwiches and hot dogs, but I went up to a pub.

standardbred racing france paris

After Work Hippodrome Pub Photograph by Charles Davis

I decided to grab a soft drink and get a hot dog as I watched a few races from inside the Pub

Hippodrome Pub photograph by Charles Davis

View from the Hippodrome Pub By Charles Davis

View from the Hippodrome Pub By Charles Davis

If you enjoyed this article please share.

Track Side

I will write an seperate article about the track and the racing, but here is a preview of the track area itself.

Grandstands from track side. Photograph by Charles Davis

Grandstands from track side. Photograph by Charles Davis

winner circle

Winner Circle and Paddock Entrance. Photography by Charles Davis


Winners Circle Photograph by Charles Davis

Winners Circle Photograph by Charles Davis

A Wasted Day– At Sea on the Norwegian Epic

A Wasted Day — At Sea on the Norwegian Epic

studio cabin

Studio Cabin on the Norwegian Epic

I guess I just wasted a vacation day here aboard the Norwegian Epic. Today (Tuesday) was a day at sea. The early morning hours the sea was a little rough and you could feel a little movement that kept me from falling right to sleep. I woke super early, it was just before 9am. I put on the changing mood lights and read for a while. Got up and showered around 9:40, then walked up two decks to the fitness center on deck 14. There I had a body composition analysis done. It analyzes your weight and using electrical impedance tells you how much fat you have and where. Also, your water retention. I already knew I was overweight, now I know where.

It was after 11 and I had not eaten, so it was off to get something. I really did not feel like eating breakfast so I skipped the buffet at the Garden Terrace and headed down to deck 6 for O’Sheehan’s. O’Sheehan’s is set up as an Irish pub and starts serving lunch at 11. It is also one of Norwegian Epic’s included restaurants. The Norwegian Epic has a number of different dining options, some are included in your fare, while some are extra.  I just ate lightly, having a grilled chicken sandwich. After my snack, I walked up to deck 15 and enjoyed the fresh air as I walked around the deck.

Blackjack King

So around 1:20 pm, I head on down to the casino to enter the daily blackjack tournament. I wore the “I Got Lucky” t-shirt I won last year at another NCL blackjack tournament. On the Epic they run their contest differently. They run separate tournaments that start and finish the same day. On the Getaway, the top 7 money winners in the elimination rounds went to the final held the last day of the cruise.

epic casino blackjack winner

Epic Casino

On the Epic, the winner of each elimination moves to the final. In the first elimination round, I did okay but was not the top player. I did much better in the second elimination.

Going into the final hand I was second in money, but I was first to bet. I bet large but held back some chips. This forced the others to bet large as well. I drew low cards and had to keep hitting. I got a 21 in five cards, so even if the dealer got a 21, I still win. Everyone else either busted or was beaten by the dealers 20. I won the elimination round. Since there were only two elimination rounds, there were only two of us in the final. I only bet a little in the first hand and got my only blackjack.

It seems that me and the other player were close in our winning in the first three hands. However, in the fourth of the seven hands the other guy bet all he had and lost. I just had to play out the remaining hands. I won the contest, got another t-shirt and a small cash prize.

More Food

Since the Garden Cafe was still serving lunch, I went up and got some fresh pasta. They have a pasta station where they cook it to order. Fresh pasta only takes three minutes to cook. As the pasta cooks, they prepare your sauce.

lunch Norwegian epic

Fresh Pasta and a Stuff Pepper

After my pasta, I went back to the studio stateroom and read for a while. Around 4 pm, it was back to the fitness center for 45 minutes on a reclining stationary bike. Then next door for the Thermal Spa.

Chill in the Heat

When I was on the Norwegian Getaway last year, I tried the thermal spa and liked it. So I made sure I purchased a pass when I booked my cruise. The pass is good for the whole cruise. This is an adult only spa with saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs and lounge areas. This one is set up a little different as the steam rooms are not coed like they were on the Getaway. It does not have the salt spa either that the Getaway did. However, there are two large saunas with unbelievable ocean views. Also, they have a balcony that overlooks the stern.

I spent about an hour in and out of the sauna followed by some time in the lounge. I selected one of the tiled lounge chairs. They are heated and really helps you to relax. From my chair, I could see out the glass wall that separates the balcony from the lounge. We were traveling east, so the view was to the west and the sunset. It was the most magnificent sunset I have experienced in years. The colors were all so vivid and alive. I though about going to get my camera, but did not want to take the time to change. After the sunset, I changed and went back to the stateroom to change for dinner.


I went to the Manhattan Club Restaurant. It is modeled after a New York Supper Club with live music. However, it is one of the complementary restaurants onboard. I started with a chicken Cesar salad I had planned on getting a steak, however, I “settled” on the rack of lamb instead. Desert was a chocolate lava cake with a strawberry compost.

epic dining

Norwegian Epic dining late night on deck

I had some time to waste, so I went up on the top deck and relaxed under the stars. Around 9:30 was the show “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert”. It is a Broadway musical play about three drag queens in Australia. It was very good lasting about an hour and a half.

epic show

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert Show

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert Review

The Show, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, is a musical with a book by Australian film director-writer Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, using well-known pop songs as its score. Adapted from Elliott’s 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the musical tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman, who contract to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs, a resort town in the remote Australian desert. As they head west from Sydney aboard their lavender bus, Priscilla, the three friends come to the forefront of a comedy of errors, encountering a number of strange characters, as well as incidents of homophobia, while widening comfort zones and finding new horizons.

Norwegian Cruise lines adapted a shorter version that premiered on the Norwegian epic in October 2015. This version last about an hour and a half and I found it very good. I am including a short video clip as part of this review so you can get a feel for the performance and the presentation. I will admit, I was not very excited about the story line when I first heard what it was but decided to go anyway since I had made the reservations and it was a sold out show. There is no extra charge for this show but seating is limited and the show is done only twice during the weeks sailing.

The story line was interesting and I felt that it was a true representation of the times that the three main characters where experiencing. The musical abilities of the singers were outstanding and the acting portion was equally good. Some of the backdrops and props were a little corny, but have to give them some lead way since it is a stage production.

That is one Day

That was basically my day at sea. I bypassed most of the planned activities on-board and just planned my own day. I will present some other post in the next few days talking about the ports that i did visit.

Erie Canal

This week marked the 200 anniversary of the Erie Canal. Growing up the “barge” canal was just a few miles away. The “barge” canal was built a hundred years later that rerouted certain sections of the Erie canal and improved the original. The Eire Canal was the first “superhighway” of the United States. It had a huge impact not only on the western New York but was instrumental in westward expansion.

Found on Wikipedia we learn this about the Erie Canal: “First proposed in the 1780s, then re-proposed in 1807, a survey was authorized, funded, and executed in 1808. Proponents of the project gradually wore down opponents; its construction began in 1817. The canal has 35 numbered locks, plus the Federal Black Rock Lock,[ and an elevation differential of about 565 feet (172 m). It opened on October 26, 1825.

In a time when bulk goods were limited to pack animals (an eighth-ton [250 pounds (113 kg)] maximum, and there were no railways, water was the most cost-effective way to ship bulk goods.

The canal, denigrated by its political opponents as “Clinton’s Folly” or “Clinton’s Big Ditch”,was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage.

Early Passenger Transportation

It was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%. The canal fostered a population surge in western New York and opened regions farther west to settlement. It was enlarged between 1834 and 1862. The canal’s peak year was 1855, when 33,000 commercial shipments took place. In 1918, the western part of the canal was enlarged to become part of the New York State Barge Canal, which ran parallel to the eastern half of the Erie Canal, and extended to the Hudson River.

In 2000, the United States Congress designated the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor[9] to recognize the national significance of the canal system as the most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America.”

The New York State Canal System (formerly known as the New York State Barge Canal) is a successor to the Erie Canal and other canals within New York. Currently, the 525-mile (845 km) system is composed of the Erie Canal, the Oswego Canal, the Cayuga–Seneca Canal, and the Champlain Canal.In 2014 the system was listed as a national historic district on the National Register of Historic Places in its entirety, and in 2016 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The Erie Canal connects the Hudson River to Lake Erie; the Cayuga–Seneca Canal connects Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake to the Erie Canal; the Oswego Canal connects the Erie Canal to Lake Ontario; and the Champlain Canal connects the Hudson River to Lake Champlain. The Erie Canal is a canal in New York that is part of the east–west, cross-state route of the New York State Canal System (formerly known as the New York State Barge Canal). Originally, it ran about 363 miles (584 km) from Albany, on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, at Lake Erie. It was built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

erie canal

Pittsford on the Canal

Today. The Erie Canal still had a major impact. While barges are rare, locals and tourist alike take to the canal for recreation and sight seeing. The canal pathways that were once used by mules, are now used by hikers, runners and bicyclist. Romantic walks on the river have replaced the luxury barge travel . Where passengers would exit from the barges for refreshments waiting for their turns through the locks, now people enjoy the quaint restaurants and pubs that are along the banks.

Erie Canal lock 32

Lock 32 in Pittsford , is a “modern” lock started a hundred years ago as the Erie Canal route changed by passing Rochester.

erie canal today

In May 2017, a local brewery was renovating, they purchased 6 new tanks which were transported on 2 barges. The media and public followed them as they follow the Canal from New York to their new home. Here they are entering lock 32

The barge being raised within the lock