Eclipse at Sea
aboard the Celebrity Millennium

Wednesday, 14 Nov 2012

C2:  31° 43' 36.4"S - 176° 40' 51.1"E
31° 43' 41.6"S - 176° 41' 2.1"E
C3:  31° 43' 46.7"S - 176° 41' 13.2"E

Totality: 3m 30s

My wife and I saw this eclipse (her first!) from the cruise ship
Celebrity Millennium, about 300 miles north of New Zealand



This eclipse was going to be my first in Australia.  After having been to Australia in 1993, I was very much looking forward to going back (mainly to see if the initials I'd carved into a certain tree were still there - or whether the tree was even still there!).  And having missed the TSEs there in 2002 and 2003, I had made plans to go to Cairns along with thousands of my fellow eclipse chasers.  I even had some designs on making this the first leg of very large trip, where I would visit some places that remain on my bucket list - and manage to fly all the way around the world in the process.

At a point that I can't really define, though, I started having misgivings about observing an early morning eclipse on the Australian coast.  The combination of so many people packed into such a very small space, the eclipse being so low in the sky in the morning, and the bad-weather-egress roads into the bush being very small, tree-lined and without shoulders, combined in a way to make me very worried about my chances of seeing totality.

Many wonderful Australian eclipse chasers were actively involved in helping arrange logistics and tours for their guests, hoping to ensure that no one would be disappointed.  But I didn't want to take space on one of those expeditions - I wanted to do my own trip.  To come to such a wonderful country and not do some exploring on my own seemed like such a waste, so I booked a room in Kuranda near Cairns (two years in advance!) and planned to basically go into the bush the night before and sleep in the car, staking out my location far away from the beach with the die-hard folks - I could always head back toward the beach in case the weather looked promising on eclipse morning.

Then, I got the idea of taking my wife.  I'm not really sure why, but on this tenth eclipse trip, my wife and I decided that it might be a good time for her to come and see one with me!

And she was not about to sleep in any car, in the middle of the Australian nowhere - when a perfectly good beach was lurking nearby.

So what would be a good plan B?  Knowing that the next two eclipses in 2013 and 2015 were very iffy, very risky, and not conducive AT ALL to a good first-time experience for her, she really did need to see this one.  I thought that an eclipse cruise was beginning to look more and more like the only way to go for this trip, but there weren't very many to be found.  As usual, the people who organize these trips are of the opinion that the people taking the trips always want the full meal deal - a 14- or 21-day itinerary.  (Not me, I only want to see the eclipse and go home - 5-6 days max!)  So the best cruise I could find was one where we would join the boat only for the time that we could stand to be on a boat, and for the amount of time that we could safely take off work.  That meant the Celebrity Millennium, which was planning its eclipse cruise for a Hawaii-to-Australia extravaganza lasting 18 days.

We decided that it would be worth it to simply pay for the cheapest room on that ship, embark late (in Pago Pago) and disembark early (in Auckland NZ).  that would give us 8 days on the ship, a VERY good chance of seeing the eclipse, an extra minute and a half of totality over those in Oz, and a couple more countries to add to my list (the ship was also making a stop in Fiji).

Not that this would be a cheap trip by any means, but it would be the best compromise - and most importantly, it was wife-approved!

For the flight, I chose to break up the excursion to Samoa into segments, to avoid spending more than 5 hours on the plane.  In retrospect, that was a bit of a mistake due to all the lengthy layovers.  Not that it was bad, though - and after all, there are no non-stops from Indianapolis to any gateway cities any more - and we did plan to have a daylong layover in Hawaii.

Note to any entrepreneurs out there: Many, many people experience layovers in Hawaii, where they arrive early in the morning and then depart that afternoon.  Rental car companies are very accommodating in providing a car for the day, but there are no longer any hotels/shower facilities for the mid-range person.  One's current alternatives appear to be to either (a) TAKE A BATH IN THE AIRPORT SINK, or (b) to fork over about $200+ for a day-use room - and that's IF you can get them to give you a reservation! That is just insane.  In the states, you could always visit a truck stop, but in Hawaii, let's face it - there aren't any truck stops!  (Why would there be?)  There is an Airport Hotel in Tahiti, which serves EXACTLY this purpose, and does it very well.  So would someone please decide that they want to get rich, and open up a day-use hotel that could serve those mid-range travelers during their layovers?

We had planned to climb Diamond Head, but of course once settled into our very spartan accommodations, we found that the best thing we wanted to do was just relax.  So, we walked around Waikiki, had breakfast and then visited our favorite - the Dole plantation.  We ate the biggest pineapple ice cream concoction I've ever seen, and then headed back to the airport.

A quick (5-hour) flight got us to American Samoa, where it was raining but otherwise quite pleasant.

American Samoa is an interesting place.  Officially part of America (so, no Visa required, and they use dollars and speak English gladly with you when you don't speak Samoan), it is very familiar and at the same time very exotic.  It was cloudy and a bit gloomy on the day we were there, but the hotel was fabulous, and I enjoyed seeing the sights during the long drive to the port.  Fiji would appear to be about the same to me - a great place to come and spend a couple of days out in nature - just maybe not optimal for city sightseeing.  Exotic nonetheless, but assuredly not THE reason for our trip.

Lots of things had to have come together for us to ultimately meet up with our ship, and so pulling into the port alongside it in the taxi was a very good feeling.  We did find that the cruise companies really don't appear to have it completely together with their many downline-embarking passengers (and there were indeed many), but they did their best to accommodate us, and protect us from the throngs of tourist-attacking locals which seem (alas) to be the norm in every port worldwide.

And a quick note about that - since it appears that the cruise ships' primary function is to bring mountains of dollars to these folks, you would think that they'd be a little less - how shall I say - forceful with their approach.  It's pretty safe to say that if someone is getting off a cruise ship they likely do not want to feel like they just stepped into a carmival environment.  They're there to relax, and if what you have is worth buying, then you might sell some of it. It's just a bit tiring to be subjected to the same thing, port after port, as you wonder what the real purpose of a shore visit is - given only a few hours to try and see something of the country and break up the monotony of the ship.  It would be nice to have a ship in port long enough to rent a car to drive yourself around - but I'm certainly not the first cruise-ship passenger to have thought that!

And I found out later that the port stays had been intentionally shortened in order that we would wound definitely be able to make it to the eclipse rendezvous point in time for the eclipse!  As I found out later, this prioritization had not been fully understood by all tour companies, and one ship in fact missed totality altogether!

*to be continued*

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