Vulga…………….no not me ……….the car. The Vulga is the famous car made in Russia and whenever you think of movies about Russia you see these big ugly black cars bumping past the Kremlin. However, having spent the last 9 hours I saw more BMW ‘s and Mercedes than Vulgas. It seems that St. Petersburg has lots of new rich people and they all want to show it off as much as possible. Then of course there is the uber-rich and that was evident today when we stopped outside a restaurant where a gold Rolls Royce Phantom was guarded by three huge bodyguards and three more stood outside the place………….it was a scene from a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

Today I fell in love and my hatred for Estonia Air and yesterday’s nightmare my hatred was eclipsed by my love of this amazing city. When I was here in 2002 on the Carnival Legend I had little time to explore because of my onboard commitments but today, I explored the Hermitage, Catherine’s Palace and so very much more.

The day started at 9 am which considering I didn’t get to bed until 1 am that wasn’t too bad although without Heidi there I didn’t sleep too well.

We were collected by our guide and driver and it has rained since that moment until now at 9 pm. However, the rain has done nothing to spoil the day. There is so much to see and today it’s hard to pick out a highlight although that has to be The Hermitage. For those of you who are not aware of this wondrous place it’s a museum ……………… although calling it just a museum is like calling Lawrence Olivier just an actor……………or an Aston Martin DBS…………just a car……………or the Queen Mary 2 a boat……………….

The Hermitage used to be the palace of the Tsars and now it contains possibly the greatest collection of paintings, jewelry, statues and rare items from all over the world. Everywhere you turn there are moments of “wow” and “Oh my goodness look at that!” and even stronger emotions when you enter the Throne Room from where the Tsars ruled Russia. There are paintings by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet and in the Gold Room a collection of precious stone objects that are quite simply indescribable.

You need about three hours to see the Hermitage at a rush and more to enjoy and ponder every room………………….you actually walk 1.1 miles if you want to see the whole thing. ……….. now don’t panic………..I did so therefore can you. As we came out of the Hermitage we were given an amazing treat …………………the armed forces were rehearsing for the famous May Day parade. Now, I thought this just took place in Moscow but apparently there will be a huge parade in the main huge square this year and it will be attended by President Putin. Now, he was born and raised in St. Petersburg and for this May Day he will be taking the salute.

Today there were probably a thousand or more men… women …………marching and parading to the mass brass bands that play the typical Russian music that we have all seen again most probably on TV. What a sight it was, especially the high stepping that Russian soldiers do…………..once again I was reminded of the movies and those old Michael Caine spy films that I grew up with as a kid.

In a moment I am going to talk about some of the restrictions that apply in St. Petersburg ………………but first the news.

Let’s chat about the Bloggers Cruise. Today I have been e-mailing the office regarding this great adventure in February next year. We now have opened communications with the Port Authority and have a list of charities that wish to be part of what we do. We now have to choose which one and then we will start planning what we can do to help. Meanwhile we are also working on Hotel information and again thanks to the Port of New Orleans we should be able to have some great rates and a large conference room to hold the pre-cruise events. I will keep you all up to date but things are now moving along very quickly.

Now it is time for another report from Bubba in Alaska. He is nearing the end of his trip and I think he will provide us with three more reports. This one is excellent and I hope you enjoy it…………..Bubba over to you.

Alaska Fam 2008 – So long Sitka, Hello Ketchikan

So it’s just a brief stop for us in Sitka…up and out the door before 9 am and headed over to the airport to check our bags for our flight to Ketchikan. We quickly checked our bags…well most of us…Kat & Grant accidentally checked “yes” on the question “Are you carrying any firearms?” and that slowed us down a bit…but once they had that sorted we were back out of the airport and back into town as we had a few more meetings before our flight.

First we went back down to the docks to meet up with the folks who run the semi submersible excursions in Sitka. Of which I had the pleasure of doing when I was in Alaska last season. I know you are thinking, underwater wild life like the Caribbean….well the answer is yes and no. You will see a variety of life in these waters, but they are very different from that of the Caribbean. The boat is very similar to the ones you will find in Mexico or Cayman. It’s like a glass bottom boat but one step better where you sit below the water line and the entire hull is made up of window. The boat also has an outside deck as well were you can view some of the waterscape and they also have a touch tank there where they will have example of some of the creatures that are form below. You can reach in and give them a pet.

This is the view from inside. They have plenty of room down there to sit approx. 48 people with flat screen televisions showing live camera feeds from around the boat, so not only do you see what’s in front of you but what might be on the other side of the vessel. They also do a stop where they will send Diver Dave into the water to see what he cane see….he’ll even bring it right to your window.

This is a sunflower fish…looks like a star fish gone wild!

So we visited the fish and also met a few other operators who told us about their products, but then it was that time again to head back to the airport. Alaska Airlines Flight 62 was calling. Flight 62 runs from Anchorage to Seattle and stops at like every city from one to the other. So we hopped on the air bus and headed on down. The flight was only 35 minutes. Ketchikan is located to the south east of Sitka and is our furthest southern port while we are in Alaska…that is not counting Vancouver which is our home port.

The airport in Ketchikan is actually not in Ketchikan. It’s on its own private island. So you land, get your bags and then have to take a ferry over to the main land. We got straight into it with our touring in this port and went to Taquan Air’s hanger. One of the big things to see when you come to Ketchikan is the Misty Fjords National Monument. Something I meant to look up today was what is the difference between a National Park and a National Monument. I hope to find out tomorrow. The fjords are amazing and probably one of the best ways to see them is from the air. The way you do that in Ketchikan is via float plane.

Taquan Air has a brand new facility that they were very proud of and I could see why. It was laid out beautifully. They gave us there presentation and again that same theme popped up again when it comes to flight seeing and that was “safety.” They were very proud of a lot of the awards that they had because of their safety records and standards. This company not only does tourism flights, but they also are contracted for delivering the mail to remote areas of Alaska. The Alaskan bush pilots are amazing at what they do and so is their ground staff in keeping the plane running.

This company runs two excursions. One is the fjords which I mentioned and the other flies out to a remote bear watching platform. Either of which is an excellent way to spend your day.

After our visit with the pilots, we headed down to the docks for something that I have been looking forward to the whole trip. This is a brand new excursion for this year and I am sure lots of you will want to come up and do this. If you watch the Discovery Channel like I do, you are probably familiar with the show “Deadliest Catch.” A show about the people who fish for Alaska King Crab off the Aleutian Islands. If you have not seen this show, it’s crazy what these guys do to bring back the haul. If you have seen the show, you may be familiar with an episode about the ship getting hit by a rogue wave. It’s one of the most requested video on the Discovery Channels website. Well the owner of that boat has since retired from fishing and has converted that boat into touring boat where you can learn about how these guys go out and do what they do. You will watch them set lines and traps. Learn about the history of the boat from its colorful crew. If you ever wanted to see what it was like up close and personal, here’s your chance. I let the pics doing the speaking…..

The put over $2 million into this boat converting it from crabbing boat to touring boat. As you can see there is stadium style seating so everyone can see all the action and the seating area is heated.

The guides who are with you are all retired fisherman who worked this boat when it ran full time. They are mic’ed up so you can hear all the details of life on board plus they will tell you stories of what it was like working at sea. Above is a guy named Kiwi. He is setting long lines to catch other fish as they don’t just catch crab when they go out.

This is a touch tank that they will place some of things they catch so guest will have a chance to interact, but be careful, they can pinch! Oh and by they way, the whole tour is catch and release.

Everyone is encouraged to hold one and take pics if you want. Not sure about the look on my face with this….this is cool, but at the same time, get it away from me!

A face only a mother could love.

This was a fantastic experience. All though I have said that I am not a fisherman, I do love crab and I love the snow. So if either of those things interests you, do this. I am looking forward to when I will get to return to Alaska in about month to get the opportunity to go back out again on this boat. It was amazing and the captain and the crew really bring you in for an amazing experience.

One thing though you should expected from Ketchikan. Since we landed today and until now it has not stopped raining. This town is the heart of the Tongass National Forest which as I have mentioned in previous blogs is a temperate rain forest. They get something like 300 days of rain a year here. It’s just part of the life, so be prepared for it. Rain coats are a good idea for you to bring. Hopefully you are here on a sunny day, which I have seen in Ketchikan in my past travels. It is amazing. We are going to be here for two days as there is lots to see. We will be visiting one of the largest collections of totem poles there is, jeeping, canoeing, and believe it or not snorkeling!!!! We’ll be telling you about that in blogs to come. Thanks again for letting me be a part…


Thanks mate, it sounds like you are having fun and I know many people will be reading this and picking up a phone to book the Carnival Spirit or one of our sister ships and visiting these amazing places themselves……………I know I want to.

By the way, sorry about blog number six which never was. Someone asked if I was good at Math and the answer as you saw yesterday is no. I may be writing more blogs using my Raspberry tomorrow as we have a full day again.

OK, back to St. Petersburg and our forthcoming trips there. I have been told that there are questions and comments being asked on the boards about Visa’s and restrictions. Well, today we met with the authorities here in Russia and I wanted to pass on what we learned…………… apologies to those Bloggers who this may not apply to but I wanted a chance to keep the many who are sailing this year or next year on the Carnival Liberty the right information. Let me start with the subject of Visas

No guest can disembark unless they have one of the following.

A tour ticket purchased from the vessel or a full tourist Visa in their passports. Now, I have seen on line that some independent tour operators promise to have a visa waiting for you. This may well be true however you cannot disembark unless you have that visa in your passport. Every guest has to go through Immigration every time they disembark the vessel and if you do not have a visa or a tour ticket you will not be allowed ashore.

It was also explained to us by the authorities today that they have had a few occasions when guests have purchased a tour from the vessel and then leave the tour to spend time on their own returning to the ship by taxi. It should be pointed out that this is strictly forbidden and also if for some reason they do not take action you will have a mile or more to walk from the gates of the port to the vessel as no taxi drivers are allowed on the pier.

Now, most guests will purchase tours on both the first and second day we are there and we will give priority to those guests in disembarking the ship………….again…………..these rules are set by the authorities in St. Petersburg. I saw a comment on Cruise Critic stating that this was unfair. I sincerely apologize for this but those are the standards which we must follow and therefore may I suggest that you call the operator and arrange for them to meet you at 9:30 am which is the approximate time we will be allowed to take you ashore…………..we will do our best to expedite this as quickly as possible ……………….. most importantly, please make sure you have a VISA with you before going ashore if your tour is not booked through the vessel.

Finally, all guests must have a PHOTO COPY OF THEIR PASSPORT with them …………….in fact if you disembarking on both days you will need TWO photocopies as these are handed to the Immigration officers each time you disembark.

PHEW…………….that’s a lot of hassle I know but the reward……………well, that’s St. Petersburg itself which is just unbelievable. One more thing I should point out is that all the Museums and Palaces are closed on a Monday………………nobody can visit ……………… however………….today……………we arranged with the Hermitage that they would open just for guests on a Carnival Tour.

This evening we saw a brilliant folkloric show and tomorrow we are going to the ballet to see Swan Lake……………..these are held at St. Catherine’s Palace and the National Theatre and are shows that our guests will see. We also have arranged a special private nighttime classical evening in the Hermitage………….again………………just for our guests ………………. unbelievable.

Rather than me go on about how everything was here are a few photos from today. I apologize if the quality is not good as I took them as Heidi has buggered off to Holland.

Well, I am, as always tired. I must have walked miles today but my aching feet and chapped thighs are worth it from what I have seen.

You may have noticed that today’s blog has been devoid of my usual poor attempt at humour. Well, I just felt that today having bared witness to some of the most extraordinary sites I have seen in a long while that St. Petersburg deserved a more professional blog and I will not be writing anything funny or even making fun of the French


Except this

Ahhhhhh, normal service has been resumed.


Your Friends
John and Heidi

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.