Navigating Yourself Around A Cruise Ship

cruise ship docked in Quebec

Veendam in Quebec City

No doubt cruise ships are big, and getting bigger all the time as cruise lines build increasingly more extravagant ships with bigger and better attractions and more of everything.  It’s no wonder passengers often get lost trying to find their way around the ship. There are ways to make finding your way around the ship easier though.

Start with the deck plans guide usually included in a packet with your ship card at check-in. This guide shows all the different decks and what is located where on each deck. It is a great help in finding your way around and knowing on what section of which deck to look for things.

deck plans

pocket map of the Veendam

If you don’t have your handy pocket guide with you, help is as close as the next set of elevators. There’s always a deck plan posted next to the elevator, with a map of the deck you are on and a list of what is on each of the other decks. On most decks you can walk from one end to the other, but some ships have decks where there are things at the front and back, but the middle is crew area and passengers have to go up or down a deck to get through. This was true on the Veendam, which had the dining room at the stern of deck 7 and the showroom and other public areas at the front, but no way to get from one to another on that deck. Taking the wrong stairway or elevator was not a complete tragedy though as people could go to another deck to get through.

It also helps if you know some ship terms.  The front of the ship is the bow, the back stern or aft.  Port means left and starboard right.  You often see these words on directional signs around the ship.

Finding your room is sometimes an ongoing challenge throughout the cruise. The stairways and elevators come down into the center of the ship with identical looking hallways on either side. Though these hallways are marked with signs indicating which room numbers are in either direction, and most ships have odd numbers on one side and even on the other, it is easy enough not to look at the signs and to get all the way to one number away from your room only to realize that the next room is 2 numbers away and yours is in the hallway on the other side of the ship.

Ships also have more than one set of stairways and elevators, so you won’t always head the same direction down the hallway once you have gotten to your floor. So how do you find your way through this confusion without having to stop and read all the signs? Landmarks is the answer, or in this case possibly shipmarks. Look for things that are different for while at first glance everything seems the same, there is always something that is not.

a newer Veendam

the Veendam’s front stairs had photos of different renditions of the ship throughout the years

Stairways usually have some sort of artwork at the halfway level between each deck. Usually there is a theme to this, and it often differs from one stairway to another. For instance on the front staircase the Veendam had photos of different renditions of the ship that got older and older as you go down the stairs. There must not have been quite enough for the entire stairway though since both the top and bottom levels had other things. The back stairway had various plaques the ship had received throughout the years.  Bigger ships have three main stairways and sets of elevators, but the Veendam had just two.

clues to finding your cruise ship cabin

Run From Fire (or at least walk away from the fire extinguisher to get to our room)

On the Veendam we noticed that at both ends as you left the stairs or elevator there was a fire extinguisher in the wall on the side closest to the odd-numbered rooms. We had an even number so no matter which way we came, thinking run from fire would head us in the right direction and was quite easy to remember.

cruise ships have lots of artwork

We used a flower painting as a directional guide in finding our cabin on the Veendam

Once we got to our hallway we had to decide which way to go. It’s a bit inconvenient to go look at the room numbers sign each time, but we noticed the front end had a painting of flowers just before the hallway, and the back had a painting of strawberries. So that made it easy, go toward the pretty flowers, but run from the evil strawberries. (Evil strawberries is a running joke for us because on my grandson’s first cruise he wouldn’t eat his breakfast because of a strawberry garnish on the plate.)

cabin location aid

the evil strawberries

We could even get right to our door without looking at the room numbers because there just happened to be a lighted exit sign hanging from the hallway ceiling right in front of our door, though it just meant go down the hall for the exit as none were actually nearby. Using these landmarks we could go straight to our room from either end of the ship without stopping to look at any signs.

you know you're at the back when you see a plaque

plaques on the Veendam’s back stairway

It helps to know which end of the ship things are at before going there in order to take the right stairs or elevators. On the Veendam besides being especially important to remember to take the back stairs/elevators (or lifts in some countries) to dinner because you could not get to the dining room from the front of the ship on that deck, some other areas had easier access from one end over the other.  The front way went right to the spa and showroom, and the while the Lido deck was easily accessible from either end, the back went straight to the food area.

how to get off a cruise ship

go up these stairs to find the gangway

On port days you often find help in locating the exit from the ship in the form of gangway signs with directional arrows conveniently placed near stairways and elevators.  The gangway may change places from one day to the next depending on whether you exit straight onto a dock, through a building, or onto a tender (a smaller boat that brings passengers to shore when the ship anchors rather than docking). It can be on different decks or different sides of the ship.

By the end of a cruise it gets easier to remember how to get where. Then you get off that ship and start over again on a different ship next cruise – but finding landmarks that stand out to you in a way you can remember them for directions will make learning your way around each new ship much quicker.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Holland America, Shipboard Life, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cruising Through the Ballard Locks


Hiram M Chittenden Locks

Wilderness Adventure in the Ballard Locks at Night

People take cruises through the Panama Canal and marvel at the 3 sets of locks they pass through as the ship transits the canal.  You don’t have to go all the way to Panama to find locks.  Seattle Washington has locks of their own, officially the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but commonly known as the Ballard Locks.  When I lived in Ballard as a child I never heard of them referred to as anything but The Locks.

Ballard Locks

a visitor to the locks walks across the gate

Completed in 1917, the locks complex includes large and small locks, a fish ladder (which was updated in 1976 to make it more attractive to both fish and visitors), a spillway to maintain the level of water in the lakes, a visitor’s center, and a botanical garden.  Visitors to the locks can watch fish in the ladder through glass windows in the underground visitor area.  From ground level they can watch boats pass through the locks.  This fish ladder uniquely brings fish from salt water to fresh while most fish ladders are located completely in fresh water.

Seattle, WA

view of the spillway on approach to the Locks

Similar to the Panama Canal which uses natural waterways connected by manmade cuts, a partially manmade ship canal connects Puget Sound to Lake Union and Lake Washington by way of the locks.  The lakes sit 22 feet above sea level so the locks serve to raise or lower boats from one waterway to another as well as preventing infiltration of salt water from the sound into the freshwater lakes.  The locks were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.  Each lock has a set of gates at each end and valves for filling or draining depending on which direction the boats need to go.  The draining valve works by gravity when opened.

at the locks

Securing the boat before the water rises

UnCruise Adventures home ports at Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle. This freshwater port sits in Salmon Bay on the freshwater side of the locks just west of the Ballard Bridge.   A lot of fishing boats from Alaska home port there in the winter, including some seen on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.  Fishermen’s Terminal also has shops and a restaurant.

locks building

tower at the locks

Before my Un-Cruise Adventures Washington Coastal Cruise it had been years since I’d been through the locks on a boat.  I went through the small lock sometimes as a child on boating adventures with the family.  On one trip through a full lock we tied up next to a cranky fisherman.  This happened ages ago so nobody remembers the exact story.  For some long since forgotten reason he was quite mad, yelling and swearing at my parents.  He must have had some luck fishing though because at some point between tying the boats up and before the lock filled to the point of untying them and sailing away he cooled down and apparently felt bad about his actions.  Many years before one of the fishmonger stalls at Pike Place Market made flying fish a popular thing in Seattle by tossing fish to their customers, we had one flying across the deck from his boat to ours by way of his apology. Now you might say this apology stinks (as fish tend to do) but it tasted good!

lots of lights

passing through the locks at night

At the beginning of our voyage the Wilderness Adventurer passed through the locks in the dark of night.  I went out on deck anyway and took some photos of the night crossing under the electric lights.  I did not see anyone else out on deck at the time, but I can’t resist a photo op proper lighting or not.  Maybe because I’m not a professional photographer and have no idea how to use the right light to make better photos anyway.

dangerous living

How long until the bluff falls?

Our trip on the Wilderness Adventurer returned through the locks with an early morning daylight passage.  On the way there we had a view of fancy homes clinging to an eroding bluff.  Approaching the locks we passed under a railroad bridge wide open and high in the sky.

almost to the locks

railroad bridge with locks and spillway in the background

Captain Ron had mentioned the possibility of a wait to get through if the locks had too much traffic in his after dinner talk the night before, but we lucked out and got right in.  We had the large lock nearly to ourselves.  Only one other boat tied up just behind us.  We passed through the locks that morning with the Victoria Clipper, a catamaran famous for taking passengers back and forth from Seattle to Victoria B. C. on Canada’s Vancouver island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.


Victoria Clipper in the locks

Victoria Clipper has 3 ships.  In Seattle they normally depart from the Seattle waterfront in Puget Sound at Pier 69 and would not venture through the locks.  I’m not sure what this clipper was doing there, but perhaps it needed to go to drydock for repairs or had some sort of special trip that day.

Ballard Bridge

Turning at the Ballard Bridge

Just as it looked as if we would go under the Ballard Bridge the Wilderness Adventurer made a turn into Fishermen’s Terminal and tied up at the dock.  After one last breakfast on board we sadly had to leave the ship as our voyage was over.

Fishermen's Terminal

Fishermen in a safety drill at Fishermen’s Terminal

Walking down the dock on our way out we saw a group of summer fishermen practicing sea rescues in preparation for the fishing season in Alaska.

copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Lake Washington ship canal

map of the ship canal

map from the internet
Posted in Un-Cruise Adventures, Washington, Wilderness Adventurer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Grand Turk Semi-Sub

from dock to semi-sub

Splendor from the transport boat in Grand Turk

Lots of Carnival ships visit Grand Turk since the company built a cruise port there.  Carnival Splendor stopped in as the last port on the Puerto Rico to Miami cruise, the first leg of our back to back cruise. It has a dock and cruise center with all the usual cruise port shops. It’s also right on a nice beach with plenty of sandy areas for swimmers and some rocky areas for snorkelers. Margaritaville in the shopping area has a large shallow pool with swim-up bar.

open boat

this boat waited at the dock to take us to the semi-sub

Major cruise ports see lots of ships, so they also offer lots of shore excursions. Offerings at Grand Turk include a semi-sub, something I have often seen but never done since we usually choose snorkeling to see what’s underneath the surface of the water. This trip we had other family members along, in an age range from 12 to 90.  None of them had snorkeled before or were sure if they wanted to. So we booked the semi-sub.


Semi-Sub waiting for passengers

We took the long walk down the dock and entered the port through the duty-free shop, a standard at many cruise ports, though something we did not see at our other port stops this trip since they had all been on islands that do not see many ships and had their own local things near the dock.

into the semi-sub

A passenger climbs down into the semi-sub

Several booths in the plaza on the other side of Dufry had signs for a variety of shore excursions. We found the sign for the semi-sub at the Chukka booth. Chukka provides a lot of tours on a variety of Caribbean islands.  We had a good tour with them river tubing on their home island of Jamaica.

seeing what's under the sea

people sit on the bench down the middle and look out the windows

We checked in at the booth and got wristbands for our tour. Once everyone arrived we took a walk through part of the cruise center toward a smaller dock with several boats tied to it waiting to take people on their tours. Our group boarded the appropriate tender, which took us out to the waiting semi-sub.

fish in the wild

we saw lots of fish

The guides gave everyone a briefing and then opened the hatch where passengers descended below one at a time. A cushioned bench ran the length of the interior with a row of windows on either side. Everyone sat on the bench facing a window so every seat had a good view. We saw a small shark before we even sat down. A large school of yellow-tailed snappers circled around constantly. Blue tangs made frequent appearances as well.

more fish

lots of yellow snappers followed the semi-sub

A semi-sub looks something like a barge on top, but is a self-propelled boat with underwater viewing area. It does not submerge like a submarine, which is why it is called a semi-sub.

inside a semi-sub

Watching the diver

Once everyone got settled in the boat got underway. As we moved over the ocean floor the guide would point out things like “that big green one is a parrot fish.” We saw what looked like an old cannon, which could actually be one that dropped off an old-time ship in a past century, or it could have just been something else that resembled a cannon as it sat half covered on the sea floor. At one point we saw a cable, possibly the one that ran all the way to England in the early days of landline phones.

fish under the sea

lots of fish

We passed over several types of coral on our way to the drop-off. When we got to the edge we saw structure and sea life and then sudden deep blue nothingness. Grand Turk has a drop-off that goes down over a mile. After giving everyone on both sides a chance to see the drop, the boat withdrew to shallower water and a scuba diver went in to feed the fish.

diver from the semi-sub

diver with a ball of yellow snappers

We soon saw why the yellow snappers continuously circle the craft. The diver had a ball of them swarming him for handouts of sardines. He circled around so every window got a chance to see him go by surrounded in hungry fish.

water rings

the diver blew water rings

Once he ran out of sardines the fish dispersed and he blew water rings to entertain the passengers. Something like a person blowing smoke rings, the guide said. As the water rings floated to the surface sometimes two would collide. They made a big, but shaky oval upon collision which quickly fell apart and became ordinary seawater once more.

up the ladder

a passenger leaving the semi-sub

At the end of the tour we ascended on the opposite side of the craft and re-boarded our tender back to shore where we had lots of time left to spend in Grand Turk.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Caribbean, Carnival, Shore Excursions, Splendor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

In Search Of Tasmanian Devils

cruise ship dock

Carnival Legend in Hobart, Tasmania

The mere mention of Tasmania conjures up images of Tasmanian Devils, the one thing most associated with that Australian island.  Both my Australian daughter Sheri and I wanted to see Tasmanian Devils while in Tasmania on our cruise on the Carnival Legend.  You would think that should be as easy as spotting alligators in Florida swampland, but Sheri said there aren’t that many left in the wild now.  80% of the wild Tasmanian devil population has died from an infectious cancer, putting them on the endangered species list. The way to make sure we could find some was a visit to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary on our port stop in Hobart.

wild animals

Tasmanian Devil

The Wildlife Sanctuary is far from the cruise dock and Hobart does not have the sort of public transportation found in Sydney so the best way to get there was through a shore excursion.  You can book a visit to the wildlife center on the ship or through an outside source.  The excursion from the ship cost significantly less then the independent one Sheri found, although that one did include the Cadbury chocolate factory where the ship’s excursion did not.  While the chocolate factory would have been nice to see (especially if they had free samples) we opted to watch the budget and go with the ship’s tour.


baby wombat

The wildlife refuge is not a zoo, but rather a rescue facility for orphaned and injured animals. They started our tour with baby wombats drinking milk from bottles. Most of the wombats come as infants who safely in the protection of their mother’s pouch survived the car that killed their mother.

tasmanian devil

snarling devil

Tasmania has the highest roadkill rate of wild animals in the world. All these dead things are a feast for the Tasmanian devils, who then put themselves in danger while they stand in the road eating roadkill.  Their communal eating habits also contribute to spreading the cancer.  They scream loudly with the eerie screech that gave the species its name during feeding.  While fights over food may not result in serious injury, any bite or scratch could transmit disease.

Australian animals

Tasmanian Devils may look cuddly, but would likely bite if anyone tried to cuddle them

The refuge releases most of their recovered animals into the wild, but they have a disease free population of Tasmanian devils kept for breeding to try and help the species survive as no cure has yet been found for the cancer decimating wild Tasmanian devils.

sleepy marsupials


The cute cuddly baby wombats are tame and sweet. Our tour guide said at about age 2 these distant cousins of the koala turn mean, making them easy to return to the wild. Wombats live on the ground and use the hard plating on their backsides to defend themselves should something try to invade their lair. The koala’s hard back plate has a v shape to help it stay in the crook of a tree where it spends up to 20 hours a day sleeping. The name koala means no drink as these slow moving animals would be in grave danger if they came down from the trees to find water. They get the moisture they need from their diet of young eucalyptus leaves.



One pen held an echidna who would never return to the wild as she lost a leg in the dog attack that landed her in the wildlife refuge.

Australian birds


Other enclosures around the wildlife sanctuary held a variety of birds and some lizards. The largest enclosure held a number of kangaroos and wallabies. Upon arrival at the park each person received a small bag of kangaroo food. Once the guide finished talking about other animals people could enter the kangaroo enclosure on their own.  The big red kangaroos of the Australian outback don’t live in Tasmania, but the smaller grey kangaroos and wallabies do.


Hannah coaxing a joey to peek out of the pouch

The kangaroos knew what the little paper bags meant and a large one quickly stole the whole bag from 5-year-old Hannah, who preferred to try and feed the joeys in the pouches over trying to feed kangaroos who were bigger than her. While pictures always show a baby with just the head hanging out of the pouch, these joeys seemed to prefer sticking tails or limbs out instead, making the mother look as if she had extra limbs or a tail hanging out in odd places. Hannah had good luck coaxing the joeys’ heads out, though the mothers usually ate the food. Eventually another kangaroo came along and stole the bag of food her grandpa gave her after the big kangaroo stole her first bag.

wild goose

wild goose knows where to get a free meal

dances with kangaroos

getting molested by a kangaroo was NOT on my bucket list

Some pretty wild geese flew in to join the kangaroos in eating the bounty provided by a group of cruise ship passengers.  Wild birds know where to find an easy meal.

While none of these kangaroos made any attempt to hurt anyone, some were definitely more aggressive than others about trying to get the food. One of the bigger ones decided to try and get my whole bag. It’s not every day you get hugged by a kangaroo. This one got up close and perhaps a bit too personal.


old Catholic church

inside the oldest church in Tasmania

After the wildlife center our tour included a few stops at viewpoints for photo ops of the oldest catholic church in Tasmania (and I think maybe they said all of Australia), a couple bridges, and the ship.

bridge in Tasmania

historic bridge

On a drive through the countryside we learned that Tasmania grows most of the world’s supply of legal opium poppies, used by pharmaceutical companies to make painkillers. While the food grown in Tasmania is all genetic modification free, these are GM poppies and lethal in their natural form. Every so often someone dies after stealing some poppies from a field. Other farm products of the area include vineyards, dairy, olives, and Tasmania’s own leatherwood honey, which has a very strong honey taste appreciated by true honey aficionados.  We always learn random interesting things when we take ship’s excursions.

Tasmanian products

Leatherwood Honey

We spent a bit of time in historic Richmond before returning to the ship.  The small town had some tourist shops and a park near where the bus stopped.  Back in Hobart we had a bit of time to wander about the docks before the all aboard time.

cute, but mean

one more Tasmanian devil

Hopefully they find a cure for the Tasmanian devils soon.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Australia, Carnival, Legend, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Seattle Tourist Attractions

cruise ship in Puget Sound

Cruise Ship leaving Seattle

Many Alaska cruises start and/or end in Seattle. Anyone who has some extra time there can find numerous things to see on or near the waterfront. Some attractions are even free, such as the Gold Rush Museum in Pioneer Square. For Alaska-bound cruisers this museum may be of special interest as it ties Seattle to the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska.

history and a park

Klondike Gold Rush Museum

You can learn a lot about the hardships Klondike gold rushers faced at the museum.  What the thousands of people heading to Alaska in hopes of striking it rich did not know when the steamship Portland landed in Seattle in 1897 with 68 miners and a million dollars in gold was that Alaskan locals had already staked their claims all along the gold-bearing creeks.

Steam engine, White Pass and Yukon railway

Historic Steam Engine in Skagway

Seattle’s economy got quite a boost from many would-be miners passing through town on their way to Alaska from all over the world. They bought supplies and passage onboard ships. Once in Alaska these gold-fevered hopefuls faced difficult passage over either Chilkoot Pass from Dyea, a long-established Native American trading route at the time, or White Pass from Skagway where cruise ship passengers and other Skagway tourists can now take a ride on the train which was finished too late to help the would-be miners of the Klondike Gold Rush. Nothing remains of Dyea after many people died in an avalanche on the trail there. The trail up White Pass once had the name Dead Horse Trail because people would buy a horse to get their supplies up to the top of the pass and then sell it to the next person until eventually the poor overworked and underfed horse collapsed and died along the trail. Sadly several thousand horses died in the rush to get supplies over the pass.

Seattle's Klondike Gold Rush Museum

gold rush museum display of the amount of goods would-be miners had to carry

The main reason people had to work so hard to cross these passes was because the Canadian Mounties would not let them into Canada without 2000 pounds of supplies per person, which obviously one person alone could not carry up the mountain in one trip. Anyone who could not afford to hire help had to make the trip repeatedly. Many did not get over the pass in time to make it to Dawson before winter made traveling impossible. They endured a very cold winter in the mountains living in tents, eating those supplies they worked so hard to get up the mountain. They spent their time building boats while they waited for the river to thaw so they could continue their journey, arriving in Dawson after the spring thaw, too late to stake a claim. Some went home and others worked for people who had claims. More people made money selling goods than mining gold. Only 300 people made a significant amount mining there. Of those only 50 stayed rich for the rest of their lives. The Gold Rush Museum in Seattle is part of the National Park Service. It has two floors of artifacts and educational displays and a movie about the gold rush.

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square is more an area than an actual square, but this is a bit of it

It all starts with a toilet. At the beginning of the Underground Seattle tour, everyone gets the scoop on how Seattle’s toilets once flowed in both directions. Early Seattle, in the area now known as Pioneer Square, existed on tideflats and landfills. When the tides came in the water came right up the plumbing and out the toilets. Then came the great fire of 1889. With a large portion of the city burned to the ground Seattle’s early settlers didn’t give up, they started over. Retaining walls raised the streets up to what had been the second story of buildings. New unburnable buildings made of brick and rock rose faster than the streets. New sidewalks added at the raised street level and new doors put into what was once the second story of the buildings left the old sidewalks down below all but forgotten. During prohibition the aging corridors made a great hiding place for those not inclined to obey the new laws.

skylight to the underground

skylight in the sidewalk

Walking on the sidewalks above, the glass squares, some of which have now been replaced by circles, escape notice.  Decorations maybe, not worth a second thought.  Looking up from below, underground tour takers see windows from the sidewalks of the present to the sidewalks of the past in the form of skylights providing light to the underground.

Seattle's historic public market

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market is another one of Seattle’s famous landmarks that almost didn’t happen.  Developers once wanted to raze the building.  Now it is an icon of Seattle, home of the famous fish-throwing fish mongers.  Across the street, visit the original Starbucks.

Starbucks #1

Seattle’s original Starbucks

Pike Place Market has shops selling just about everything new, used, or good to eat.  The public market section offers booths of local produce and crafts of all sorts.  A stairway leads from the waterfront level across the street from the Aquarium up to Pike Place Market.

Seattle gum wall

tourists flock to the gum wall

There’s a ramp off to the right nearly at the top of the stairs leading to Pike Place Market.  Following that ramp leads to Post Alley on the right, where the brick wall of an old theater provides one of the grossest unofficial tourist attractions ever.  Very uniquely Seattle, the famous gum wall.  People flock to see or add to these walls with their bright colorful sticky disgusting coating of gum, which in some places oozes off the windowsills. Fallen gum wads sit on the ground next to the wall.  Probably one of the most unsanitary tourist attractions ever.

chewing this gum is not recommended

gum oozes off the windowsill of this old theater

no need to weed this garden

metal flowers

Keep on going down Post Alley and you will come to a garden of metal flowers along a wall.  Follow it even farther and you end up in Pioneer Square.

Seattle Aquarium

fish at the Seattle Aquarium

Seattle’s waterfront has many things to see.  The Seattle Aquarium highlights local sea creatures, but has many exotic species as well.  You can even find Nemo there. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop has curious things indeed.  Mummies and shrunken heads among them.  Ferries take passengers across Puget Sound to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island.

day cruise

Argosy cruises sail multiple times daily from Seattle’s waterfront piers

Small local cruise ships take people on day-trips and short harbor cruises around the sound.  Large cruise ships from many major cruise lines start their voyages to Alaska from Seattle’s port.  The Seattle Great Wheel dominates the waterfront view from many locations.

city view

view of Seattle and the Space Needle seen from Seattle’s Great Wheel

Just up a hill  from the waterfront lies the Seattle Center, a remnant of the 1962 world’s fair.  Home of Seattle’s best known landmark, the Space Needle.  Take a ride to the top and enjoy the view. If your ship is in port you may see it from there. Or enjoy a meal with a 360 degree view in the revolving restaurant.  Discover the history of music, or make some of your own at the EMP (Experience Music Project.) The Seattle Center also has a great science center with lots of exhibits.

Ride the Duck amphibious vehicle

Ride the Duck in Lake Union near the Space Needle

Across the street from the Seattle Center near the space needle you can find the starting point for Seattle’s Ride the Duck – an amphibious vehicle that takes passengers on a land and sea tour. It drives down a boat launch right into Lake Union where passengers can see the houseboat from the movie Sleepless in Seattle and maybe catch a glimpse of another uniquely Seattle place, Gasworks Park. Once a gasification plant that turned coal into gas, it’s now now a 19 acre park with much of the old gasworks still standing.

Seattle waterfront

fish statue at Miner’s Landing near the Great Wheel

Things mentioned here just begin to scratch the surface of the many things Seattle has for tourists to enjoy.

copyright My Cruise Stories 2015


Posted in Port Cities, Washington | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Walking Boston’s Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Walking Boston’s Freedom Trail

If you have a day to spend exploring Boston, walking the freedom trail brings you to a lot of historical sites and unless you choose to go inside any that have a fee or donation box it doesn’t cost anything.  Though the trail does not have much in the way of signs, it does have a brick line in the sidewalk to lead people along the way.

lots of churches means lots of graveyards

Cemetery with Paul Revere’s Grave

Boston’s Freedom Trail runs for 2 1/2 miles from Boston Commons to the USS Constitution at the Boston Naval Yard. It’s fun to walk the trail and to look at historical places from the revolutionary war.  Some sites like the cemetery with Paul Revere’s grave let people in for free.  Others such as Paul Revere’s house allow tourists inside for a fee.  Some of the churches just ask for a donation. Some buildings house shops and welcome anyone through the door, others you just look at from the outside.

sights along the freedom trail

You see interesting things that aren’t part of the tour – like this tunnel building

The brick line in the sidewalk clearly marks the trail for most of the way, though in a few spots it has become a bit worn and one place had fruit stands from some sort of farmer’s market making a small detour off the brick line necessary as it passed under a fruit stand. You do have to pay attention to the ground though as the line may suddenly veer off around a corner so anyone looking straight ahead could miss the turn and find themselves lost if they went too far before wondering where the line went.

government building

State House across the street from Boston Common

We took the train into town, which on the previous day had mainly college kids who jumped right up to give their seats to anyone older than them. The second day the people mostly looked around 30-40 and none of them even glanced up to see who got on the train at any stop, let alone offered anyone a seat.  Not that I wanted anybody’s train seat, but these people seemed so lost in their cell phones, tablets or books that they probably wouldn’t have noticed if a 95-year-old blind one-legged person on crutches got on the train.

Ruth's Chris Steak House

Old City Hall – now a restaurant

We got off at the Park Street station again in the Boston Commons. We knew the trail started somewhere in the park, but found no signs and no painted stripe, which we had heard marked the trail. We did find a brick stripe leading to the state house, and knowing it was one of the destinations we followed that to see if we could find any other information there, but other than the brick trail we found only a sign about a black heritage trail. We followed the brick line again figuring it must be the marker rather than paint, which it did turn out to be.  The brick line meandered through the park in more than one direction from the state house, but following it uphill on the sidewalk by the train station led to the rest of the trail.

cobblestone road

The road by Paul Revere’s house has the original cobblestone pavement

The trail went past quite a few places of historical significance from the revolutionary war. A lot of other buildings in the area also had interesting old architecture whether or not they had any revolutionary war ties.

historic church pew

box pew at King’s Chapel

We went inside a couple churches, both of which had the pews in cubicles rather than the open pews modern churches have. Back in the day families had to buy a pew to attend church there. Central heating hadn’t been invented yet so the walls helped keep out drafts.  People brought blankets or even the family dog to help them stay warm. Some worshipers had little coal burning heaters, which could not have been good for people’s lungs. The pews in the galleries on the second floor were available for people who could not afford the downstairs pews.

one if by land and two if by sea

The Old North Church and a statue of Paul Revere

At the old North Church of One if by land and two if by sea fame (from Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) they said the person who hung two lanterns to warn people of an approach of the British by sea had to climb the very tall tower in total darkness.  Apparently they didn’t light the lanterns before reaching the top. Neither church let anyone upstairs or into the bell tower.

historic building

Green Dragon Tavern

At lunchtime we came across a narrow cobblestone street surrounded in historical buildings, one called the Green Dragon Tavern.  Revolutionaries used the tavern as a meeting place for planning their resistance to England.  The British held councils there as well so when a concealed spy overheard their plans to capture Sam Adams and John Hancock it led to the plot involving Paul Revere’s ride which meant the British found the Americans armed and awake rather than sneaking into a sleepy village.  When the war ended the constitution was ratified at the Green Dragon.

not your average lobster roll

Green Dragon’s Lobster Roll

The tavern had a sign out front with lobster rolls as one of the lunch specials. I kept hearing how when in New England one must try a lobster roll, and I wasn’t even sure what exactly that was so I wanted to try it. It turned out to be a lobster salad type filling in a hoagie roll, but rather than the roll sliced in half like a regular sandwich, this one was sliced through the middle of the top and the filling stuffed in the crack. It tasted good, but was kind of hard to eat because the filling tended to fall out when taking a bite.  Later in our trip at port stops on our cruise on the Holland America Veendam I saw lobster rolls advertised in various places, all with hot dog buns instead of the hoagie roll so perhaps that was an upscale pub version of the lobster roll.

street performer

music from old plastic buckets

The trail passed through a little square where a busker played music on overturned plastic buckets.  He sounded good enough to attract a pretty big crowd.  We stopped to listen awhile and gave him a tip, which led to several other people offering up tips as well.

Paul Revere lived here

Paul Revere’s House

Somewhere along the way we came to Paul Revere’s house.  It just costs a few bucks to go inside so we took the tour.  Some sort of building project took up most of the yard and the entrance through the construction fence was so easy to miss that a group of schoolkids started knocking on a door that was not the entrance.  The workers tried to ignore them in hopes they would either go away or find the way in, but they didn’t stop knocking until someone finally gave up and went outside to tell them how to get in.

old ship on dry land

masts of the Constitution behind other ships

The freedom trail leads to the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned navel vessel afloat.  (It was named by George Washington – it’s that old.)  People normally can see the Constitution (Old Ironsides) up close and even go on board for a tour, but currently it is in drydock so it’s not actually afloat for the next few years.  Not only can people not go on board, but it is behind a fence where you can’t get any good pictures. We didn’t bother crossing the bridge to walk all the way up to it since the trolley tour had stopped by there the day before so we already knew there wasn’t much to see.  From across the water we just saw the masts.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
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Dominica Island Tour

big ship at a small dock

Carnival Splendor in Dominica

Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti, Dominica is its own island.  Gaining independence from Great Britain in 1978, it remains part of the British Commonwealth.  Throughout our journey from the Carnival Splendor on our port stops from St. Croix to Martinique, Grenada, and Dominica we noticed that all these volcanic Caribbean islands have one thing in common – steep terrain and narrow roads.  I wouldn’t want to drive on any of them, but the drivers we’ve had on our taxi tours have all done a good job of driving in two lane traffic on a road often narrower than the average American drives for one. They politely pull over in wide spots to let traffic by whether it is going the other way or coming up behind them.  I also did not see any litter by the roadsides, which sadly is a rare thing just about anywhere in the world these days.

tropical island

Roseau, Dominica buildings and ruins

Like most cruise ships that visit Dominica the Splendor docked at the cruise port in Roseau.  In town near the dock pedestrians wove through traffic closer to moving cars than I would ever be comfortable.  Cross traffic seemed to have no visible rules as to who went or who stopped, but if one direction had nowhere to go the other would slip between cars whether it looked like they had room or not.  I asked if many people got ran over or hit by cars and our driver said no. He also said that the unemployment rate in Dominica is quite low.

making use of what is there

Cafe in an old ruin

We took a lot of taxi tours on our Splendor trip, partly because it is an affordable way to see the islands, partly because we traveled with a group of people with ages ranging from 12 to 90 and it is something everyone can do, and partly since most of the places on this itinerary are not on the usual cruise ship rounds the choices for shore excursions from the ship are more limited.  It’s nice to get to see new places and local drivers sometimes go places where tours never would.  Sometimes they miss some of the area’s main attractions though, like Dominica’s boiling lake and other geothermal features like geysers and mud pots in the nearby Valley of Desolation – neither of which our guide even mentioned as existing.  It’s possible they are not easily accessible by car.

ancient church

old church in Roseau

Dominica did not have a lot of options of things for people to do on their own.  The town of Roseau is right at the end of the dock so walking around and shopping is an easy option.  Taxis could take people to a beach about 25 minutes or so away, which had a rocky shore and then a dropoff, but was OK for swimming.  There was a guy walking around with a sign about taking people fishing, but he wanted a very lot of money for that.  Quite a few people offered taxi tours.

geothermal features

steaming creek seen from a bridge

The taxi tours went through town and out into the countryside. Our tour cost $20, with an option to take a 15 minute hike and swim in a natural pool for an extra $5, which we did not do.  After working his way through the pedestrian-laden traffic he drove us up into the rainforest.  We saw some houses built on poles due to the steep terrain, but not as many as in Grenada.  Also unlike some of the previous islands, healthcare on Dominica is not free except for senior citizens.  The children attend primary school together, but boys and girls are separated in older grades.  At least in the catholic schools anyway, he did say the girls were taught by nuns so I’m not sure if that separation includes public schools.

tropical flower

wildflower in Dominica

Our first stop brought us to a viewpoint on a hill where we could look over the city and our big ship at a tiny dock. Like anywhere where tourists may stop, this stop had a number of locals selling all manner of things in little booths.

roadside stand

Snake Oil for sale

Lots of different fruits and things grow on the roadsides.  We saw some of the same things as on previous islands.  In one place an avocado tree grew near trees with cocoa beans and breadfruit and we had not come across an avocado tree before. While the roadside stands on Grenada had mostly spices, on Dominica they sometimes had fruit and other times little trinkets mixed with a few spices.  One even had some bottles labeled snake oil.  Which is actually oil from a snake that they believe has medicinal uses and not a joke product.

old ruin with squatters

Squatter camp in a roofless ruin

The island had some ruins from past hurricanes. Mostly abandoned roofless buildings, though walking through town after the tour we found a cafe in a ruin called the ruin cafe.  It did have a roof, though it may have been a floor to an upper level in the past.  There was also a squatter settlement in a roofless ruin in town across the street from 2 churches, one of which looked like a ruin and the other as if it was in current use.

what nature can do

Baobab tree fell on a schoolbus in a hurricane and continues to grow over it

On the tour we saw one of the most interesting hurricane remnants of all.  In a botanical garden a mammoth tree had one trunk going straight up like normal trees, and another growing sideways over a mostly crushed bus that ended up there in hurricane David years ago. It’s not often that the most interesting thing in a botanical garden is an old schoolbus.


Tralfalgar Falls

One hilltop stop included a view of Trafalgar Falls from a distance.  This double set of falls is one of the islands main attractions, though from our distant viewpoint we saw just one waterfall.  The ship had a tour to the falls, which was marked as including a strenuous hike.  At that stop some local ladies had costume jewelry and trinkets set out on tables to sell.  They also had cold drinks and fresh sugarcane and coconut.

hot spring

bubbling hot pool

After passing through an area with a number of signs advertising hot tubs and massage parlors we wound our way around to a sulphur hotspring where once again locals peddling their wares flanked the road, though these included mineral spring products such as handmade soap.  They also had a stand selling smoothies and one for massages.

jungle stairs

stairway to the sulphur spring

A pathway up a steep uneven staircase past a steaming creek led up to a bridge to an observation deck with a view of a steamy bubbling hot spring filling the air with a strong sulphur smell.  The bubbling pool frequently made a loud gurgle followed by a large splash of water spraying upward.

tropical flowers

wildflower in Dominica

Back in town we worked our way through the stream of cars and people in the narrow streets back to the cruise ship dock, making all the passengers glad not to be the driver.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
where is Dominica?

Map of Caribbean from World Atlas


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How to Fold a Towel Octopus

Once upon a time…OK maybe not as long ago as fairytales,

towel origami

Towel Octopus

but quite some time ago my daughter challenged me to make a towel octopus.  I figured out how to make towels into an octopus, but at the time I just took a photo and posted it on facebook.  I had not seen one on a ship before I made them to leave in the cabin for the stewards now and then, but have seen them on ships since.  I have no idea if they copied mine or figured it out on their own.  I never put up the directions on the blog before though so I’ll do it now.

Supplies Needed to Make a Towel Octopus

One Beach Towel

Two Bath Towels

One Hand Towel

Eyes (googly eyes or make your own from paper or felt)

How to Fold a Towel Octopus Body

how to fold a towel animal body

Roll bath towel to the middle from each end

The towel octopus body is made from two standard towel animal bodies put together.  Start with one bath towel.   Lay the bath towel out flat.

towel art

try to make the rolls as even as possible

Roll each end to the middle from the short side.

towel sculpture

fold the towel rolled side out

Fold the rolled towel in half with the rolls to the outside.  Pull the tips out of the ends of each roll.

how to fold cruise ship towel animals

take the tips of both ends of one roll in one hand and the other roll in the other hand

Take the tips from both ends of one roll in one hand and the tips from both ends of the other roll in the other hand.

towel animal folding directions

pull both ends at once

Pull on all of them at once until the rolls stretch out into legs and the center comes together for the body.  Repeat with the other bath towel.

step by step towel animal instructions

one body rolls up and one rolls down

Place one towel animal body with the open bit where the rolls come together in the middle facing up.  Take the other towel animal body and turn it so the open part where the rolls come together faces down.

how to make a towel octopus

the two bodies fit together in the open space between the rolls

Insert the body with the rolls facing down into the one with the rolls facing up at the middle between the rolls, perpendicular to each other so it becomes one body with eight legs.

How to Make a Towel Octopus Head

how to make a round towel head

make a towel ball, no specific way just make a ball

Wad the hand towel up in a ball.  Starting with one corner of the beach towel, wrap it around the hand towel making sure to keep it round.

making a towel octopus head

wrap the beach towel around the hand towel

Or just wad most of the beach towel up around the ball of hand towel and smooth about the last third of the towel around the rest of it so if forms a ball.

towel animal folding instructions

make adjustments as necessary while rolling to keep the round shape

Whatever works for you, just make a towel ball.  If you want a smaller head leave out the hand towel and just make a ball with the beach towel.

Finishing the Towel Octopus

towel animal

finished towel octopus

Set the towel ball head on top of the eight-legged body.  Smooth out the lumps and adjust head to the desired shape.  Decorate with eyes.  Position the legs as desired.

For instructions on how to fold a variety of other towel animals please visit My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
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Sucia Island Beach Bonfire

San Juan Islands

The Wilderness Adventurer is actually much larger than the sailboat, but it is also much farther away

After exploring around Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands, the Wilderness Adventurer made a final stop at the state marine park on Sucia Island.  Washington has a number of marine parks throughout the San Juan Islands.  Sucia Island had some mooring bouys where smaller boats tied up, but the Wildernes Adventurer anchored a bit farther out.  Next to a regular cruise ship this 60-passenger expedition vessel would look tiny, but compared to ordinary boats it appears gigantic.

Sucia Island Marine Park

Landing at the beach on Sucia Island

The crew quickly launched the skiffs to take passengers to shore.  Options included a bluff hike around the edges of the island, a meander through the woods, or just chilling out on the beach.  We picked the meander.


wild roses

The first trail took us through wild rose bushes and up to a bluff trail view.  After following along the edge of the island for a bit we took a turn into the forest.  At one point the trail got a bit steep and a few people turned back, but most went on.

sea view

view from the bluff trail

We saw a lot of wildflowers along the way.  Eventually the trail crossed a small bridge.  Further on we came to an outhouse in the middle of the woods.  Or perhaps it was a composting toilet, I’m not sure since I didn’t go inside the little building housing the rustic facility, but it was open and available and some people made use of it.

beach cave

little caves in the rock wall

Not far from the toilet the trail opened out onto a deserted beach with small caves in the rock wall running from the beach up to the bluff.

under the water

Water so clear you can see the bottom of the sea from the top of the bluff.

The water surrounding the island looked calm and crystal clear.  It looks inviting, but most people wouldn’t want to swim there because it is too cold.

island beach

beach on the hike

After spending some time on that beach we hiked back to the beach where the skiffs landed.  While we enjoyed nature on our hike the crew had come to the beach and started a bonfire in one of the fire pits the park provides.

Sucia Island State Park

bonfire at the beach

On a nearby picnic table they had barbecued chicken wings and other tasty treats ready for passengers to enjoy.  Since this was a beer themed cruise, our beer hosts, Kim and Kendall of Washington Beer Blog presented the beers for the day’s theme – good beers that come in cans.  Cans are better for hiking because they are lighter than bottles and can be crushed to take up minimal backpack space after use.

beach party

One of the crew plays guitar while another serves beer

One of the crew pulled out a guitar and we had some time for songs and relaxing and enjoying tasty snacks on the beach with views of the forest and bay.  A great way to celebrate all the fun we had on that cruise.


wildflowers on Sucia Island

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Cruise Food, Un-Cruise Adventures, Washington, Wilderness Adventurer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cruise Ship Decor on Carnival Splendor

Lido Deck

Splendor at night

The décor on the Splendor seemed so unusual that I decided to investigate the story behind it.  Its style seems somehow more out there than the other Carnival ships I’ve sailed on.  Probably due to the fact that it was originally designed for Costa and the European market, though Carnival Corporation did used to use the same designer for both cruise lines.  The last ship he fully designed for Carnival was the Dream, but he did have a hand in some spaces on the Magic.  The newer Breeze has a quite different and more modern look with its Caribbean casual décor by Partner Design of Hamburg.

cruise ship Atrium

Looking down into the Splendor Atrium

Designer Joe Farcus decorated Carnival’s ships from the cruise line’s second ship the Carnivale in 1975 to 2008’s Dream.  The Breeze which launched in 2012 was the first Carnival ship decorated completely by someone else since the original Carnival Cruise line ship the Mardi Gras in 1972.

cruise ship decor

the Lido restaurant area is decorated to resemble an old steamship

Splendor’s unique décor theme evident on the Lido is remembering the White Star Line.

open back deco of Lido

model of the Queen Mary

The Lido is representative of the Queen Mary.  It even has models of the Queen Mary and her sister ship Normandie by the stern pool.

unique cruise ship bar

bar by the aft pool looks like an old steamship

It has different unique themes in other public areas around the ship as well as a pearls theme running through most spaces. Each lounge has a story behind it and represents or replicates the original place that inspired the decor for that lounge.  Even the coffee bar is a replica of an actual place designer Joe Farcus once visited in Columbia.

Columbian cafe look

coffee bar on the Splendor

The Splendor is officially listed as Conquest class, but according to the hotel director on board it is actually in a mini-dream class of its own.  It has some differences from other Conquest class ships and some features otherwise only found on Dream class ships.

pearls everywhere

Black Pearl Dining Room

The theme of pearls runs throughout the ship, but becomes most obvious in the Black and Gold Pearl dining rooms with their tubular horn-like shapes spouting pearls all around the walls.  The light fixtures on the ceiling also have strings of “pearls” snaking around them.

didn't look like pearls to me

the railings reminded me of hamburger buns

The row of round shapes that made up the stairway railings in the dining rooms reminded me more of hamburger buns than pearls.

odd cruise ship decor

Fried eggs or pearls on the oyster?

What looked like fried eggs all over the ceiling was probably supposed to be pearls in the oyster.

I see spots before my eyes

circles everywhere

Round pearl-like shapes are found in unlikely places all about the ship.   Tables in some public areas have pink zebra-striped rings referred to as pink donuts by ship’s staff, and pink zebra-striped dots or rings cover many walls, particularly stairways and the halls in public areas.

round everywhere

stairway railings, ceiling lights, and pink dots

Even the stairway railings have round shapes, as do the ceilings and light fixtures near the stairs and elevators and other places around the ship.  Besides the circular pearl shape the light fixtures also carry the old steamship theme in their looks-old-and-worn coloring.

What was the designer thinking?

Are the nipples really necessary in this hallway painting?

Returning to the White Star Line theme, paintings of people from an earlier era line the walls in hallways to guest rooms. Many of the women are in bathing suits in styles from early last century, some with too much showing even though it is covered.  Some of the men are pictured smoking, which would have been far more acceptable in the era the pictures represent than it is now.

who calls this art

ugly statues at the spa

I’m not sure what it is with cruise ships and weird statues, but no matter who the ship belongs to a lot of them seem to have either really ugly or really odd statues.  Then again odd and ugly statues are pretty common on dry land as well.  Actually strange things are pretty common in all types of art and some people must like them or nobody would buy them.

fish pictures

stairway art

Each Carnival ship has unique décor and artwork. While a lot of the paintings hanging around the ship belong to the art auction, some are permanent.  A considerable amount of the artwork throughout the Splendor contains nudity.  As a Costa ship it would have sailed in the European market where nudes are more commonplace.  People there are accustomed to the old Greek and Roman naked statues.

naked toilet man

inappropriate yet entertaining elevator art

Americans are not so comfortable with nudity and on some ships Carnival has removed nude décor. The strangest piece of artwork among all the odd things that we found on the Splendor was a painting in an elevator which we dubbed “Naked Toilet Man.” It’s painted in mosaic style and many people in the elevator don’t notice what it actually is, but if you stand outside the elevator and look in it becomes much more obvious.  It would be a shame if they removed it though because it was a good source of amusement – for us anyway. (We’re easily amused.)

cruise ship pool

Lido pool with dome closed

We were told future plans to update the ship did not include the decor.  Odd though it is, it does provide a contribution to the personality and history of the ship.  With a name like Splendor perhaps people expect the over the top decor.  Plain and simple just wouldn’t feel splendid.

cruise ship decor

The El Morocco Lounge has a Sahara Desert look

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
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