Bar Harbor

cruise ship at anchor

Veendam in Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor (pronounced Bah Habah by the locals) may have its prime tourist season when people come to see the trees in their glorious fall colors, but it is a nice place to visit earlier in the season as well. We came in May on one of Holland America Veendam’s earliest cruises for the New England cruising season. The ship anchors up just outside of town and smaller boats called tenders – which are also used as lifeboats – bring passengers to shore. A walk up the dock brings the visitors to the main touristy area full of quaint shops in charming wooden buildings from Bar Harbor’s heyday as a playground for the wealthy in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. The gift shops carry plenty of lobster related gift items and the area’s signature dish, lobster rolls, were available at a restaurant right on the dock.

Buildings in Bar Harbor

Our first view of Bar Harbor from the dock area

In our pre-cruise planning we had thought of taking a trolley tour with Oli’s Trolley, which you could either book in advance or just wait to get off the boat and sign up at their office near the dock assuming they had openings. We decided to wait on the weather rather than booking in advance. The forecast called for rain and we imagined open sided trolleys so we went with a bus tour to Acadia Park from the ship instead. We ran into someone later in the day who said they had done the trolley tour and it was closed in rather than out in the open like those we have seen other places so it would have worked out fine if we had taken that tour.

tour bus

the tree shuttle

My aunt was quite excited when she saw trees painted on the side of our tour bus. She had accidently sent my mother a message mentioning the tree shuttle at our hotel in Boston when she meant free shuttle, so here we had an actual tree shuttle ready and waiting for photos. Later on the cruise we saw crew people wheeling some potted trees out to the dock to set up for photos, a very literal tree shuttle since they were actually shuttling trees.

mansion turned hotel

Some of the remaining mansions are hotels now

On the way out of town our driver told us a bit about the history of the region. At one time lots of big mansions occupied an area on the outskirts of town. Some of those and part of Acadia park burned in a huge fire in 1947. Now smaller homes of 1950’s construction fill the formerly burned area where mansions once stood. The fire did not extend to the entire town so some mansions remain in the unburned area. Famous people like Martha Stewart still have homes in Bar Harbor, but it’s not exclusively a rich area like in the past. Bar Harbor’s earliest vacationers stayed in local’s homes, then hotels got built. As other people who stayed shorter times started coming to the hotels the “seasonals” built their own mansions to avoid the tourists. The fire brought an end to that era.

trees at Acadia Park

Evergreens in the mist

Evergreens come back last after fire, so the abundance of birch trees make fall colors spectacular in the burned area, though enough time has passed now that the evergreens have started to return and eventually that area will look the same as the rest of the park.

evergreen tree

evergreen tree close up

Due to the foggy day our tour guide would say to use our imaginations as she pointed out where the sights should be and we looked out the windows to see the immediate roadside and fog shrouding whatever distant interesting thing we couldn’t see. As we passed the sandbar to Bar Island (taking her word for it as we could not see the water at all) she said that in a low tide people could walk across the sandbar and it was what gave the town of Bar Harbor its name. People have lost their cars driving across and parking on the sandbar, only to have the tide come in and wash their cars away.

Acadia Park

an entrance to the carriage roads

Acadia National Park takes up much of the land on Mount Desert Island, the second largest island on the east coast. The park also has land on some nearby smaller islands as well. It is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi. Some of the land for the park was donated by wealthy people who once spent their summers in the area. One of the park’s biggest supporters was John D Rockefeller Jr. who built 50 miles of carriage trails including 17 granite bridges, much of which is still in use today.

Cadillac Mountain

At the top of Cadillac Mountain

Our bus climbed to the top of Cadillac Mountain. On a clear day we would have had an awesome view, but we mainly saw mist in the nearby trees. We got out and walked around a bit. On the way back the bus took a different road and our guide pointed out one of the granite bridges as well as an entrance to the carriage trails where motor vehicles are not allowed.

Mount Desert Island, Maine

one of the better views out the bus window as the fog began to lift

On the way back the sky cleared a bit and we saw a few peek-a-boo views of the sea. A deer wandered along the roadside unconcerned with the bus passing by. Back in town the driver gave people the option of getting off 0n the far side town and walking back through the shopping area or riding the bus all the way to the dock. We opted to get out, as did quite a few other people. We wandered into a few shops on the way back and found a path leading to a great view of the ship at anchor.

Bar Harbor has lots of interesting architecture

interesting old church seen from bus

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Holland America, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, USA, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scalloped Potatoes Recipe

scalloped potato recipe

Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes


2 Tablespoons butter                                    2 cups milk

2 Tablespoons flour                                       4-5 medium russet potatoes, peeled and sliced

1 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease bottom of large casserole dish with butter.

Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in flour until thoroughly blended. Add salt. Slowly add milk while whisking constantly. Stir frequently with whisk on bottom of pan until sauce boils and thickens. Add potatoes and heat until it boils again, stirring often with spoon.

Pour potatoes into prepared casserole dish. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees fahrenheit. If you want the tops of the potatoes to brown bake uncovered. For white creamy potatoes bake covered.

To make Au Gratin Potatoes stir one cup of shredded cheese into the sauce just before adding the potatoes.

Scalloped potatoes are easy to make and go well with any meat.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
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Carnival Breeze

looks like paradise

Breeze in Grand Turk

Until the Vista launches in 2016, the Breeze is Carnival’s newest ship. It is from the Dream Class, currently Carnival’s biggest.  The Breeze launched in 2012. Decor on the ship is Caribbean casual. Breeze is 1004 feet long with a passenger capacity of 3690 and crew of 1386.

things to do on a cruise ship

SportsSquare has an assortment of fun and games

Breeze has the features of other dream class ships with outdoor movies on the Lido deck, waterslides, and a splash park. Like her sister ship, the Magic, Breeze has SportsSquare with a ropes course, mini golf, pool tables, and other games. There are also features unique to the Breeze like the 5D Thrill Theater, which will also appear on the new Vista.  This theater down on deck 5 plays short 3-D action movie features with moving seats and well-timed air and water that will really make you feel like part of the action.

Entertainment on the Breeze also includes trivia and other games, stage and comedy shows, a piano bar, nightclub, and Hasbro the Game Show. After all the fun and food it’s good to know that if you need to wash your clothes the Breeze, like all Carnival ships, has self-serve launderettes. You don’t even need quarters as these machines operate from your sail & sign card.

veggie burger

Guy’s Veggie Burger – it’s not on the menu, but available if you ask

Breeze has plenty of food options. Besides the main dining rooms and Lido buffet passengers can also eat at the Blue Iguana Cantina or Guy’s Burgers at no extra charge.  Guys now has veggie burgers. They’re not on the menu. You have to ask and then wait for them to cook, but it is nice that they are finally available. On Sea days at lunchtime anyone willing to brave the long line can have barbecue at Fat Jimmy’s also for no charge.


Fat Jimmy’s has good food and a long line

For a little extra the Red Frog Pub serves up some excellent Pub Grub. I do mean a little.  At just $3.33 per item or $2.22 for the cake it is well worth it. Bonsai Sushi serves sushi by the piece, the boatload, or anywhere in between. Cucina del Capitano has a surcharge of $15 at dinner, but at lunchtime it’s free. For those looking for an evening of fine dining a visit to Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse may be in order. It’s the fanciest eatery on board and comes with a surcharge of $35. Room service has both free and pay extra items.

cruise ship pool

Aft pool on the Lido

Breeze has two pools on the Lido and hot tubs on several different decks including on the adults only Serenity deck. The Serenity deck also has a hammock. Just one. It had four when we took the transatlantic crossing several years ago. It could have used more rather than less.

cruise ship at the dock

Breeze in St. Kitts

A few other things have changed since our first cruise on the Breeze. The EA Sports bar is gone and the large screen TV’s have moved into the casino. This is not a good thing as the casino is now larger and more open to other areas. With the greater number of people smoking in there now that they aren’t supposed to smoke on the balconies it means some smoke escapes into Ocean Plaza on one end and part of the hallway by the shops on the other.

We had a balcony room on the ocean crossing and never could use the balcony due to other people’s smoke. Carnival has tried to do the right thing by making balconies non-smoking, but they need to give the smokers an enclosed lounge of their own where they can keep the smoke to themselves rather than allowing it in the casino where their smoke drives away other passengers who might otherwise use it.

fun on Carnival Breeze

orange drainpipe and yellow twister slides at the waterpark

The waterpark on the Breeze is a good one. It has two slides, the twister and the drainpipe. I liked the twister better, John liked the drainpipe. It also has a lot of water features in the splash park which besides giving people a place to splash and play they also keep the area at the slide exits and stairways up to the slides through the waterpark wet which means not having to walk on hot decks in bare feet on the way up to the slide.  There is a dry way up for those who want to go up the deck stairs, but the wet way is much kinder to bare feet.

if it ain't broke, don't fix it

the old FunTimes was bigger and more informative than the new version

The Breeze is trying out a couple of Carnival’s new ideas. They have the American Table menu in the Main Dining Room. It gets a lot of complaints on facebook, but we liked it just fine. Some of the complainers sound uninformed enough to have never actually tried it. They also have the new format for the FunTimes, which we did not like at all. It is a lot smaller than the old one. It doesn’t have as much useful information and what it does have is hard to find and all crammed together in microscopic writing. Of course some people have gone all electronic and don’t use the paper copy at all any more, but there are still plenty of people using the paper version. Its one redeeming feature is less paper used so less waste generated.

cruise ship stateroom

TV’s in the stateroom have multiple uses

The stateroom TV’s have a lot of useful options. Besides watching TV on them you can do things like see the menus for the whole cruise, check your sail and sign account, buy shore excursions, see where the ship is, or check out the bow cam view. It also has the dining room dress codes which is a good thing because they are no longer published daily in the FunTimes like they were in the old version. On the Breeze the bow cam channel is still a full screen view of just what the bow cam sees which is really nice, especially for those in an interior room who want to use it like a window. Some other ships now show just a small bow cam view and all sorts of stats which is informative, but useless as an electronic window.

keeping fit on a ship

outdoor fitness equipment station by the track

There is always something to do on the Breeze, whether it is relaxing in a hot tub or on a deck chair, trying to work off all the cruise food at the gym or on the outdoor walking track and fitness equipment, participating in games or activities, watching shows or movies, or just watching the ocean go by. Spa appointments are available for all sorts of different massages or treatments. Of course eating is always an option. Besides all the different options for meals three times a day, Pizza and ice cream are available 24 hours and free popcorn is ready at the start of the evening’s outdoor movies.

you never really want to need to use this

Carnival Breeze Life Ring

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Breeze, Carnival, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Carnival Ecstasy

cruise ship at the dock

Ecstasy in Key West

Carnival Ecstasy is a Fantasy class ship. Fantasy class ships make up about a third of Carnival’s fleet. The Ecstasy launched in 1991. It is 855 feet long and holds a maximum of 2056 guests with a crew of 920.

Dining Room Dress Code – Carnival’s dress code is not too strict. In the daily FunTimes they don’t say what to wear, just what not to wear. Casual nights make up the majority of the cruise with just one elegant night on the Ecstasy’s short cruises. There is a more extended version on Carnival’s website. which has do’s as well as don’ts. The general dress code information on the website says no jeans on formal night, but the version in the Ecstasy’s Fun Times did not.

Cruise Casual: No gym or basketball shorts, flip flops, bathing suit attire, cut-off jeans or men’s sleeveless shirts.

Cruise Elegant: No cut-off jeans, men’s sleeveless shirts, shorts, t-shirts, sportswear, baseball hats, flip-flops or bathing suit attire.

dining table set with fancy folded napkings

Ecstasy Wind Star Dining Room

Most people did not get overly fancy on formal night on this ship, which is understandable since the majority probably would not pack a lot of clothes for such a short trip. Dresses or skirts suitable for church or school were the norm for females and nice pants and shirt for males, with the occasional suit or sport coat thrown in on the males and a few fancy dresses on females. We did see one family walk by in black tie formal attire.

washers, dryers, and ironing boards with irons

self serve launderette

The Ecstasy has two launderettes, a fact we greatly appreciated having come straight there from a 17-day cruise on a ship without any self-serve laundries. I hadn’t thought they’d get much use on a ship doing only short cruises, but on the first day one of the washers already had a load going when I went looking to locate the launderetts and several people came in to use the iron while we were in the laundry room. Washers and dryers on this ship still take quarters, $3 each for wash and for dry. Quarters are available at guest services or the casino, but I brought my own so I could get things washed before the casino opened without having to wait in the long line that always builds up at guest services on boarding day.

center of the ship

Atrium on the Ecstasy

Carnival Ecstasy currently mainly takes short 3-4 day cruises out of Miami, allowing for people with busy schedules or lower vacation budgets to take a short getaway. Short cruises also make a great way for people who have never cruised to try it without making a long time commitment to something they know nothing about. Shorter cruises and trips to warm places tend to attract a younger crowd so this cruise had a lot of younger couples and plenty of families with children. Many of the kids on our cruise came from Tennessee because they had some sort of fall break from school there. I’ve learned a lot more about the world through traveling than I ever did in school so these kids probably gain a lot of knowledge from their travels.

fun central

Lido Deck pool area

Carnival’s motto is the fun ships, and the vibe on the Ecstasy is party. They have sail away parties at every port and scheduled ship events such as comedy shows and night clubs that last well past midnight. Music plays around the ship a good portion of the day, though the Lido deck by the pool could do with turning the volume down a bit.

cruise ship waterslides

Waterslides on the Ecstasy

The back outside deck has waterslides and a bit of a splash park. The tallest slide, the yellow twister which Carnival has on a lot of their ships is fun and usually fast, though wind direction can affect the slide speed. They also have a smaller 2-lane blue slide where people can race if they want and this one is also pretty fast. A miniature 2-lane blue slide sits next to it for the younger children and in between the slides a few different sprinkling apparatus give kids a place to splash and play.

spacious hallway

Wider than the average cruise ship hallway in the guest cabin area

Though Carnival’s oldest and smallest ships make up the Fantasy class, the ship does not feel small. The hallways are wider than the average cruise ship and the foyers where stairs and elevators meet between floors are big enough to be a room. The ship has lots of public spaces and a couple different shopping areas. The theater reminds me of old style Las Vegas style showrooms with booths around the edges that were for the VIP’s in Vegas, but anyone can sit there on the ship. The smaller theater and one-story dining rooms are where the smaller size of this ship shows.

cruise ship decor

Bright colors are found all over the ship

Décor on the ship is bright colors, setting the tone for a happy mood. Walls in the cabins are not magnetic, but the cabin and bathroom doors are.

cruise ship kid's activities

Dr.Seuss Parade

Like all Carnival ships, Ecstasy has activities for kids that extend beyond their Camp Ocean children’s program.  Seuss at Sea includes a Dr. Seuss Parade, storytime, and the fun for all ages Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast.  Towel Animal Theater is another hit with kids that is fun to watch for any adults who love the towel animals as well. Hasbro the Game Show is fun for all ages, as is the mini golf.

things to do on a cruise ship


There is plenty of entertainment for adults as well with nightly shows, comedy, bars, nightclubs, and the serenity deck for child-free relaxation. Daily activities are listed in the Fun Times, which is delivered to each stateroom in the night before. Activities include fitness classes, trivia and karaoke.

fun for all ages

Hasbro the Game Show

The Ecstasy had a lot to like, but it also had one huge problem. Indoor smoking is allowed in the casino and in one of the nightclubs when open. The casino is open to a large area of other public places including the coffee bar and candy store as well as a couple nightclubs and some shops. Since no walls separate the casino from these other public spaces the whole area is smoky. It also wafts out into the multi-level atrium so on this ship with my tobacco smoke allergy that’s a pretty large area I had to avoid. It’s not just me either. Carnival loses lots of casino business due to the smoke. Ever since they made the balconies non-smoking lots of smokers congregate in the casino just to smoke, driving out would-be casino users. Carnival needs to re-think their policies and make a fully enclosed lounge into a smoking lounge. Add smokeless ashtrays and good ventilation and require the door to stay closed so the smoke stays contained within that room giving smokers somewhere to go where they can be comfortable and nobody else has to breath in their smoke.

two porthole windows

spacious porthole cabin

We picked porthole cabin R4 near the bow on deck 4 because in the deck plans it looked bigger than the average size cabin. It was indeed a large cabin, but although it was not near any public smoking areas a smoke smell sometimes permeated the cabin, particularly in the evenings and into the night. At first we weren’t sure if that meant our room was above a crew bar since deck plans never show the crew areas, or if the smell came in through the air conditioning unit, which could be turned up or down but not off. Later after talking to other guests with the same issue we figured it was probably the air conditioner, though it didn’t affect all rooms because some other guests we talked to said they did not have that problem in their room. Luckily it was more smell than actual smoke and not constant.

cruise ship

Ecstasy in Cozumel

Because of the smoke issues this class of ships would not be my first choice for future cruises unless Carnival decides at some point to do something about the smoke. Making all indoor areas of the ship non-smoking on all their ships sounds good until you look around the ship and realize that there seems to be a greater percentage of smokers on Carnival ships than there is either in the general population or on ships from some of the other cruiselines. Sending them all outside would probably make the outer decks uninhabitable for all the other passengers. They already smoke in non-smoking areas on the outside decks and nobody does anything about it even though it is a fire hazard as there is nowhere to safely dispose of the cigarette butts. So it seems like the answer would lie in confining all smoking to a fully enclosed lounge.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
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Celebrity Infinity

Celebrity Infinity cruise ship

Infinity in Costa Rica

Celebrity Infinity is a  Millennium class vessel. It entered service in 2001.  Millennium class ships are smaller than Celebrity’s newer Solstice class.  Infinity has a maximum capacity of 2170 guests and a crew of over 1200.  The ship is 965 feet long, 105 wide and has a cruising speed of 25 knots.  The draught, draft, or depth of ship under the waterline is 26 feet.  The ship is pretty close to Panamax, or the biggest a ship can be and still fit through the current locks and channels of the Panama Canal, an important fact when taking a Panama Canal cruise.  When the new locks open, which is scheduled for next spring, larger ships will be able to transit the canal.

Celebrity’s demographic includes a lot of retired professionals. On a longer cruise such as our 17-day Panama canal cruise this was especially apparent since longer cruises generally attract an older crowd, as do cruises to colder places such as Alaska or New England. The vibe of the ship is serene. For the most part it is calm and peaceful and a great place to relax. It’s a nice added touch that the bathroom in the stateroom had a soft low level light that stayed on even when the main light in there was turned off.  Our cruise had a quiet crowd with just 11 children on board and nothing on the ship staying open all night.

cruise ship dining

Trellis Dining Room

Most cruise ships have dress codes for their dining rooms. Each cruise usually has at least one formal night, with more the longer the cruise lasts.  Dress codes for formal nights are more strict than for casual nights and vary from one cruiseline to another. On a 17-day cruise we had 3 formal nights.

Celebrity’s Dining Room Dress Code

Smart Casual and Above – most nights. Ladies: skirt or pants with no holes, rips, or tears complimented by sweater or blouse. Gentlemen: Pants (no holes, rips or tears) with sports shirt or sweater. Shirt must have sleeves.

Formal – Ladies: Cocktail dress, gown, or dressy pantsuit. Gentlemen: Tuxedo, suit or dinner jacket with slacks.

T-shirts, swimsuits, robes, bare feet, tank tops, baseball caps and pool wear are not allowed in the main restaurant or any of the specialty restaurants at any time. Shorts and flip flops are not allowed in the evening hours. In all indoor public areas shirts and shoes are required at all times and no wet swimwear is permitted.

You can get food at the pool grill or the AquaSpa Café while wearing swimwear. The solarium containing the thalassotherapy pool and AquaSpa Cafe is enclosed mainly with glass, but since the pool is the main focal point of the room swimwear is allowed in there.

one of Infinity's best features

Thalassotherapy Pool is open to all adults. It has racks where you can lay in the bubble jets and water fountains to stand under.

Most ships have a free spa tour on boarding day. On this one the spa tour included a short free neck & shoulder massage.  Their thermal suite is called a Turkish bath and has multiple steam rooms with different steam levels in different rooms, a shower with multiple heads, and a heated ceramic bench. It’s named the Persian Garden and they have day passes available which are only $19 for port days, $25 for sea days. Other options for the Persian Garden include 3 day passes for $50 or 6 day for $75. AquaSpa cabins get free access. Other spa treatments also have lower prices for port days, as do the ship’s two main specialty restaurants.

alternative dining

Chicken crepe from the Bistro. Delicious.

Infinity has 5 specialty restaurants, Qsine, Bistro on 5, Cafe al Bacio, the AquaSpa cafe, and when we were on the ship they had SS United States.  The ship went into dry dock a couple weeks after our cruise with SS United States, which was a French restaurant, slated for replacement by Tuscan Grille steak house.  Other scheduled renovations included adding a new rooftop terrace with outdoor movie screen and a much-needed upgrade to the internet.

fun with food

When Qsine says spring rolls they mean it.

Qsine has extraordinary presentations for their food, and is quite a fun place to eat.  Bistro on 5 specializes in crepes, but serves other food as well.  At just $10 it is the lowest priced specialty restaurant serving full meals at a premium.  Their new Tuscan Grille steakhouse is probably an upscale place since that is what the SS United States it replaces was. Cafe al Bacio serves up specialty coffee and tea on one side of the room and gelato on the other.

looks expensive, costs nothing

Fancy Desserts, free for the asking at Cafe al Bacio

A couple of the ship’s best kept secrets involve their cafes.  Though the specialty coffee, teas and gelato at Café Al Bacio cost extra, the pastries and fancy desserts in the case by the coffee counter are free for the asking. Most things at the healthy options AquaSpa Café are also free. Smoothies and yogurt sundaes cost extra, but there is a good selection of free food including cooked to order meals served there at breakfast and lunch.

The Infinity has no self serve laundry or ironing so having laundry or pressing services done by the crew is the only option for clean and wrinkle free clothes other than handwashing in the bathroom sink and anti-wrinkle spray. Like most cruise ships the Infinity has a small clothesline in each stateroom shower. Mostly these get used for hanging wet swimming suits, but if you just handwash a few clothes at a time it works for that as well.

cruise ships have magnetic walls

organizing papers on the cabin wall

Stateroom doors and walls on the Infinity are magnetic which makes it easy for people who like to decorate their cabin door.  It also comes in handy for keeping paperwork organized under magnets on the wall.  Magnets make things like the daily newsletter or shore excursion tickets easy to find.

enjoying a smoke-free casino

I won my way into this blackjack tournament final and was the chip leader going into the last hand, but lost by $50 to the only other woman. She won a couple splits and a double that round.  Before that nobody else was anywhere near close enough to catch up to me.

It was a quite a pleasant surprise for us to find the casino on the Infinity totally non-smoking. Usually I can’t even walk through the casinos on cruise ships due to an allergy to tobacco smoke.  On the Infinity I actually got to play in poker and blackjack tournaments.  Stopping in to play slots or blackjack now and then was fun too. This ship had no indoor smoking and I really appreciated the clean air throughout the entire vessel. Definitely a plus for cruising with Celebrity.


juggler at a stage show

Cruise ships never used to allow taking photos of stage shows, but Celebrity has changed their policy to keep up with the times. People like to post things on social media sites so passengers can take all the photos they want and post away, giving Celebrity free advertising and everybody wins. They brought in quite a variety of performers throughout the cruise and had several production shows from the ship’s cast.  Their entertainment crew includes two very talented aerialists as well as singers and dancers.

outside decks on Infinity

Plenty of deck chairs in sun or shade and towels available for all

Infinity has deck chairs in all sorts of nooks and crannies around the upper decks so if the ones in the more popular area by the pool fill people have other options. These are also nice for anyone wishing to sit in a quieter spot. The large thalassotherapy pool sits in an adults only solarium between the outside pool area and the spa and is available to any adult without having to pay anything extra to use it. The area has a couple hot tubs, lots of deck chairs, and floor to ceiling windows with views of the sea.  The indoor pool area was one of our favorite hangouts on the ship.

Ship time on Celebrity is the same as shore time, which sometimes requires time changes forward or back on board. Notices of time changes are given in the daily newsletter (Celebrity Today).  While this did make for a lot of clock changing on our Panama Canal cruise, it does prevent confusion among passengers about what time the ship leaves port.

how to tell who is who among ship's officers

the anchor on his sleeve says he is a bridge officer – and four gold stripes means captain

Ship’s officers are identifiable by the color of the stripes between the gold stripes on the epaulettes on their shirt sleeves. White means hotel and restaurant, which includes guest services. Red is medical, of which the Infinity had 4, and green environmental of which they had just one. Marine officers wear dark navy blue, which may appear black. Navigational bridge officers have an anchor on theirs. Engineers wear purple with a propeller emblem. Oddly enough the HR manager wears marine blue though he is never in control of the ship. Number of gold stripes indicates rank with four worn only by the captain and a few other top people.

What sets Celebrity apart from lower cost cruise lines comes mainly in the little things, though a major one is their no smoking indoors policy which makes almost the entire ship accessible to all passengers. They also seem to have less smokers or better enforcement of rules onboard than some other lines as we never noticed anyone smoking outside of the designated smoking area.

celebrations on cruise ships

The waiter brought us this special dessert on our anniversary

If you let the staff know you are celebrating a special occasion they just might surprise you with a special cake after dinner.

Public restrooms have real little cloth hand towels and sometimes paper towels as well, which most everyone prefers over blow dryers. They put chocolates on the pillows at night, alternating between dark or milk chocolate unless passengers indicate a preference for one or the other. At dinner rather than just butter for the bread there is a tray with cream cheese and hummus as well. The bread basket has a nice selection including dark breads and breadsticks as well as white bread or rolls.

grand staircase

Stairway in the Grand Foyer leads from the guest services and shore excursions desk area on deck 3 up to public areas on 4.  Photo taken from deck 5.

Guest Services are quite helpful and will even swap the free bottle champagne sometimes given to passengers for one reason or another for wine if asked. There’s plenty of deck chairs in the shade as well as in the sun, and beach towels available in all pool areas for anyone to take whenever they need one. The bathroom in the stateroom came supplied with little jars of shampoo and conditioner as well as hand lotion and a little box containing a couple Q-tips, cotton balls, and a nail file.

celebrity ship funnel

X marks the spot – Celebrity logo

We enjoyed our time on the Infinity and look forward to booking with Celebrity again sometime in the future when sailing with just ourselves or other adults.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Celebrity, Infinity, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How To Fold a Towel Bat

how to make a bat out of towels

Towel Bat

A Bit About Bats

Vampire tales give bats a bad name, but very few bats are vampire bats – only 3 out of well over 1000 bat species – and even those feed on animals rather than humans.  Some bats function as pollinators and seed disperses in ecosystems that wouldn’t survive without them. Some even pollinate crops like bananas and agave.  About 70% of bat species are insectivores and perform a very beneficial role in pest control as bug eaters.  These bats can save crops as well as keeping yards mosquito free.  Bat droppings, called guano, make excellent fertilizer.

Supplies Needed to Make a Towel Bat

1 bath towel

1 washcloth

2 eyes

How to Fold a Towel Bat Body

making a towel bat body

roll both ends of a bath towel to the middle

Use a bath towel for the towel bat’s body.   Lay the towel out flat and roll both ends to the middle from the short sides.

folding a rolled towel

tuck one end of the rolled towel underneath the long rolls

Fold one end of the towel rolls under the rolled towel.

making towel bat wings

unroll outward leaving a wide opening at the unfolded end

Partially unroll the long top rolls, leaving a wide opening at the unfolded end.

batty towels

the body also makes the wings

How to Fold a Washcloth Bat Head

making a washcloth animal head

fold the corner down from the folded end

Lay the washcloth out flat.  Fold washcloth in half.

washcloth triangle

fold both sides over like triangles

Fold both ends over into triangles, with the original fold at the peak of the one big triangle left after folding the two corners.

roll the washcloth animal head

showing one side rolled, but you can roll both at the same time

Roll both sides of the triangle to the center.

how to fold a washcloth bat head

both sides rolled to the center

making a washcloth bat head

put a rubber band near the wide end

Place rubber band around rolled washcloth near the open wide end.

hiding the evidence

fold the flap of washcloth down over the rubber band

Fold flap of washcloth over rubber band.

Finishing the Towel Bat

finishing the towel bat

put the head on the body and add eyes

Place the head at the center of the fold in between the towel rolls and shape bat ears as desired.  Add eyes.  Felt or paper eyes stay on pretty well on their own, but if you have googly eyes use a bit of double stick tape.  While you could make a towel bat any time of year, October is best since they make excellent Halloween decorations.

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
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Carnival’s New American Table vs. the Traditional Menu

what's for dinner on a cruise

American Table Menu

I first heard about Carnival’s new American Table menus on Carnival spokesman John Heald’s Facebook page, where people constantly complain about it. While taking away the white tablecloths in the cruise ship dining room and calling the menu American Table sounded more like roadside diner anywhere USA than cruise ship elegance to me, I decided to reserve judgment until after experiencing it for myself.

cruise ship dinner

Pork Steak from the Ecstasy, traditional menu

Since we had a cruise booked on the Ecstasy with the old menu followed immediately by back-to-back cruises on the Breeze featuring the new menu I had a great opportunity to compare the two.

cruise ship dining room

Breeze Dining Room Without Table Cloths

I thought I would miss the tablecloths, but the table décor looked like upscale bistro and fit in well with the Caribbean casual décor on the Breeze.  It might not fit in so well with the over the top décor on a ship like the Splendor, but then again the way they had it set up seemed almost more elegant without the tablecloths so it might. Each table had fancy little bread plates, wine bottles with a stone on a rope around them with the table number, and a water carafe. The bread plates have different scenes on them and one day we had one with the space needle and Seattle’s Pike Place Market. They should probably add coasters under the glasses because they leave water drops on the bare tables.  Other than the wet spots we liked the new set up and it is more environmentally friendly since they just wipe the table rather than having to wash all those tablecloths every day.

dress up for dinner on elegant night

On Elegant Night the Breeze has tablecloths, but no fancy folded napkins

On Elegant nights they brought out the tablecloths and had silver colored table decorations and all white dishes with the feast menu.  Changing the table decor made it stand out more as a special night since everything looked different from casual dining evenings.

cruise ship dining

Ecstasy Dining Room had tablecloths every night with fancy folded napkins

I’m not really sure why the American Table menu gets so many complaints and not much else on facebook. The biggest differences were the lack of tablecloths and the menu presentation more than the food itself, which contained some items from the original menu and a similar variety of other choices.  Overall it seemed like it had more items to choose from.  We have noticed the food quality will vary from ship to ship, but that may have more to do with the chef, galley staff, and galley equipment than it does with the menu as this went on long before any menu changes came into effect.  On this trip we liked the food on the Breeze better than what the Ecstasy served.

meal starters

Kale and Pork tart appetizer from the new menu on the Breeze

The new American Table food on the Breeze  was prepared better than what the Ecstasy with the traditional menu served even when it was the exact same menu item.  The American Table menu still has items like frog legs from the “Didja” (as in didja ever try) section, but the new menu calls it rare finds.  I’ve never ordered those items off either menu, but those who liked them might feel happy to find them still there.

cruise ship menu

Today side of traditional menu on Ecstasy

The traditional menu had two pages. One side had the every day offerings which had a list of standard American food items for appetizers and mains and the other had a different selection of both each day. The American Table menu has 3 pages, the first two with the appetizers including some that vary and some offered daily as well as mains that change daily and off the grill items that remain constant. It also has a third page with port inspired selections that change daily. Both menus contain steakhouse offerings for an extra charge.

lobster and shrimp

lobster tail from the Breeze elegant night

On elegant nights ships with American Table have a “feast” menu which contains items similar to what they have on elegant nights on the other ships including lobster tails on sailings over 5 days in length.

vegetarian cruise food

Vegetable Lasagna from the Breeze

While the items offered on the new American Table menu include some of the same things from the old menu, it also has some things new and different like the vegetable lasagna, which was one of our favorite meals of the cruise.

vegetarian cruise food

This Eggplant and Zucchini Parmesana from the Ecstasy was good, but not as tasty as the vegetable lasagna on the Breeze

With the off the grill and port of call menus it had more total things to choose from than the old menu.  The American Table menu also had additional sides that people could order along with their regular meal if they wanted extra things.  The meats still come with side dishes so it isn’t necessary to order the additional sides to make a complete meal.  They are available for people who want extra or maybe who don’t like what comes with the meal.  They include potatoes, vegetables, and macaroni & cheese so someone could just order several sides and make a meal of it if they wanted to.

too much bread

Breeze bread basket

Both ships had a bread basket for each table.  On the Ecstasy they just had white bread, but the Breeze had a couple other choices with a darker bread roll and some seed bread.  Seems like just offering people to choose a piece or two rather than leaving the whole basket would be a lot less wasteful.

tasty as well as fancy

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake from the new menu was one of the best desserts

While the addition of a pie offering each night actually increased the dessert options it seemed like we had less choices of desserts we thought we would like on the American Table.  Probably because all the good things came out on the same night while other nights had nothing much that we thought sounded good. On a typical cruise we usually have the chocolate melting cake about once when nothing else sounds that appealing.  This time we both had it more than once in the same week. The melting cake is still available every night on the new menu  which also still includes the cheese plate, fruit, ice cream, and a sugar-free option.

bread pudding

the new menu had the old favorite Bitter & Blanc

Overall we were quite happy with the new menu and don’t know what all the fuss is about.  Perhaps they could have named it better since it does include items that are not traditionally American food like the port of call selections and a nightly Indian vegetarian dish.  A fancier title that sounds more like something served on a cruise ship and less like roadside diner fare might give people a better perception of their new menu.

key lime pie

Key Lime Pie from the Ecstasy

The Ecstasy served Key Lime Pie one night as one of their regular dessert choices.  They did not have a daily pie option as an extra dessert choice like the American Table menu does.  The ship visits Key West where Key Lime Pie is a big thing so that is probably why they served it.  We liked it almost as much as the Key Lime Pie we bought at a little cafe in Key West.

sitting down to dinner

American Table place setting

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Breeze, Carnival, Cruise Food, Ecstasy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Beer Cruise Experience

dock for boats too big for the marina

Wilderness Adventurer in Port Townsend

The Olympic Wilderness and San Juan Islands cruise on Un-Cruise Adventure’s Wilderness Adventurer sometimes has themed sailings.  Sometimes the theme is beer.  On a beer-themed cruise, each day brings about a new adventure in a new place just like a regular sailing, often with options for things like kayaking or hiking.  In addition this cruise also brought a new beer themed activity every day.  The welcome aboard cocktail this cruise was a St. Germain shandy made with Fremont Interurban IPA.

making beer

Stoup Brewery in Seattle

Our sailing started with an impromptu tour of Stoup Brewery in Seattle, near Fishermen’s Terminal where Un-Cruise home ports.  This unplanned tour came about due to a short delay in our departure.  We all got to see the beer-making equipment and those who wished sampled the beer.  The host of all things beer on our sailing, Kendall Jones of Washington Beer Blog and his wife Kim showed they could entertain on the fly as well as their planned daily events.   They also hand-picked the beer served on board throughout the cruise with beer on tap from Airways Brewing, Bale Breaker Brewing, Fremont Brewing, No-Li Brewhouse, Silver City Brewing, and Schooner Exact Brewing and a selection of other Washington beers in bottles and cans served throughout the cruise.

beer and oyster pairings

oysters ready for sampling

Our first full day brought us to Hoodsport on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.  After a rainy hike in the rainforest (it’s a rain forest, what do you expect?) we had a visit to the ship from the locals at Hama Hama Oysters  who showed everyone how to shuck an oyster and let people try their hand at it before sampling them in a beer and oyster pairing with beers from American Brewing Company in Edmonds and Seattle’s Elysian Brewery when they were still independent.  Certain beers were chosen to pair with specific oysters so each could bring out the flavor of the other.

this ship had just one bar

Bar on the Wilderness Adventurer

Next day the ship moved north and into a dryer area at Port Townsend.  Western Washington has a number of micro-climates where areas less then 100 miles apart differ dramatically in annual rainfall.  For example on the Olympic Peninsula Forks in the rainforest near the coast averages nearly 120 inches of rain each year while Sequim just 70 miles away on the other side of the Olympic Mountains has less than 16.  Hoodsport gets over 100 and Port Townsend about 19.  The San Juan Islands vary in the 20-something inches range.  Most islands have a wet and dry side.  San Juan Island for instance averages 20 inches of rainfall annually at American Camp and 29 at British Camp.  Seattle with all its reputation for rain receives around 36 inches, and Mount Olympus in the Olympic Mountains gets 220, making even Forks look dry in comparison.

a variety of beer

beer tasting at Port Townsend Brewery

In Port Townsend passengers had the option of touring Port Townsend Brewing Company before exploring the town, or just going straight into their explorations.  The brewery tour included a guided and narrated walk through the brewing facilities and a visit to the tasting room.  Those who wanted to sample more beer took a walk to a taproom called the Pourhouse.  That evening brought a tasting of Washington beers on the top deck while watching a beautiful sunset.

On day 4 the ship anchored up near Deception Pass State Park and brought people ashore for hikes in the woods.  Dinner that night included beer pairings for each course with free samples of the selected beers for anyone who wanted them.  Each course had a different local craft beer paired with each menu selection.  Dinner selections included a lovely green salad with breaded goat cheese and candied sunflower seeds, paired with Pike Brewing’s Saison Houblon; Scallops seared in a white wine butter sauce, paired with Bellevue Brewing’s 425 Pale Ale; grain mustard glazed pork paired with Pike Post Alley Porter; and a chocolate decadence cake with raspberry ice cream paired with Iron Horse’s Irish Death.  After dinner brought more beer tastings out on the top deck with entertainment provided by jets at a nearby naval base practicing touch and go landings.

craft beer

one day’s highlighted beers

The next day the ship docked in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.  People explored the town on their own and returned to the ship for Happy Hour, with hors devours and a sampling of several beers from Silver City Brewing of Bremerton and Silverdale on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula.  While San Juan Island is probably most famous for the Pig War in the mid 1800’s when ownership of the San Juan Islands was in dispute between the USA and England, Pig War Beer is made in Oregon and didn’t qualify as a local beer.

A visit to Orcas Island started with explorations of Moran State Park and a visit to the top of Mount Constitution.  Stormy seas changed the afternoon’s brewery tour to a visit to the ship from people at Orcas Island’s Island Hoppin Brewery – who brought plenty of their beer to share.

bottles or cans

Beer choices on Sucia Island

The last full day of the cruise brought us to uninhabited Sucia Island, a marine state park.  After passengers finished hiking around on the island the crew served up some fantastic hors devours accompanied by a beach bonfire.  Kendal presented premium beers in cans – perfect for hiking.  One was called Trailhead Beer – brewed specifically for easy portability traveling or in backpacks.  Of course anyone who wanted could try the beers.

the beach had several fire pits

Bonfire on Sucia Island

Most of the beer info in this blog is from our beer expert Kendal’s post on Washington Beer blog.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Shipboard Life, Un-Cruise Adventures, Washington, Wilderness Adventurer | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Visit to Grand Turk

cruise ship in port

Carnival Splendor in Grand Turk

After visiting several lesser traveled islands between Puerto Rico and Miami, Carnival Splendor made its last port stop at the private cruise ship beach on Grand Turk. We got a good view of the ship docking from the window of our port side cabin on deck 1. After taking our semi-sub excursion we had lots of time left to enjoy the port. John took off for an island tour, which you can get on the spot at the cruise port.  The rest of our group went back to the ship for lunch and then headed out to the beach.

swimming pool in port

Margaritaville pool at Grand Turk

Tina, Justin, and I went back out together. We tried out the pool at Margaritaville on our way to the beach. The shallow pool winds around with several little bays and a couple of bridges crossing over it. It even has a swim-up bar.

rocket replica

The cruise center has a commemorative display for 1962’s splashdown there

Out on the beach we found some shady beach chairs for our things. We didn’t sit there long before heading to the water. After hanging out in the sandy area for a bit Justin decided to try out his snorkel mask. Eventually we talked him into using the snorkel as well. Then Tina tried it. After moving down to the rocky area of the beach for better snorkeling I got my mask and snorkel as well, and then Tina got one too. They did have a booth on the beach with snorkel gear for rent, but we had our own. We just used the masks and snorkels though as fins were not really necessary in the calm shallow water on the beach. That also meant not having to worry about getting sand in the fins, the biggest drawback of beach snorkeling.

flowers at Grand Turk

Gardens near the rocket display have pretty flowers

The rocky end of the beach had shallows pocketed with deeper pools. Most of the fish stayed in the deep pools, but flounders seemed to prefer skating along the rock surface of the shallows. They blend right in until they move.

how to determine the weather at Grand Turk beach

the shell tells all – weather predictor at Grand Turk

Down in the holes we saw small brain coral, a spiny urchin, lots of little fish, some of which were brightly colored, and a few big fish. Even the sandy area where we first started out in the water had large schools of very tiny fish. While the beach snorkeling there isn’t fantastic, there is stuff to see. For two novice snorkelers who had never tried snorkeling before it gave them enough to decide that they liked snorkeling after all, something they were not initially sure they wanted to try.

tropical beach

beach at Grand Turk

As the beach got less and less crowded we decided it might be a good idea to go check the time on my watch in the beach bag on shore. We had about an hour until all-aboard so Justin and I went back to the ship and joined a trivia game while Tina visited the shops.

jewelry bargin

Larimar necklace from Grand Turk – for under $10

Back on board we met up with John, who had a great time on his island tour. He saw a lighthouse, a new cruise port under construction, and a lot of very friendly feral donkeys. He also found Larimar jewelry in local craft booths at an even lower price than we have found in the Virgin Islands. Larimar is a blue and white stone mined only in the Dominican Republic, which sits very close to Grand Turk.  The farther you get from the Dominican Republic the more Larimar costs.

Grand Turk cruise ship dock

swimming area roped off next to the dock

Grand Turk has the usual array of shops found in frequently visited cruise ports and a very nice beach you can walk to right off the ship with a roped off area for swimming and snorkeling.  The area where the ship docks is private for cruise ship passengers, but a short stroll down the beach leads to a public beach area with bars that put chairs out on the beach to try and get people to stay so they might buy something and little stands on the beach where locals sell things.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Caribbean, Carnival, Ports of Call, Splendor | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Camp Carnival

cruise ship docked

Legend in Hobart

Carnival has programs for kids from ages 2 through 17.  Older teens go to Club O2 where they can socialize with other kids their age and attend planned activities like dances or scavenger hunts.  Tweens and younger teens hang out at Circle C where they can play computer games or participate in group activities. The younger set go to Camp Carnival (which is morphing into Camp Ocean on some ships now).

dinosaur in a porthole

porthole window in the Camp Carnival room

My Australian grandkids were quite happy to find out they could attend the same group in Camp Carnival with 3-year-old Daniel and 5-year-old Hannah both falling into the same age category.  On boarding day we toured the Camp Carnival room.  The kids wanted to stay and play.  They were sad to find out it was only open for tours that day.  One of the camp counselors showed people around the room, but never mentioned a thing about pre-registering the kids.

kids doing what kids do best - play

testing the Camp Carnival room

The next day the kids were anxious to go play at Camp Carnival.  After waiting through a long line to drop them off we found out they had to be registered first.  Someone behind us in line said he’d randomly come across the registration somewhere else the day before while wandering about the ship.  We had to go to the next room and wait in another line to register the kids.  Luckily this was a one time thing and through the rest of the cruise it didn’t take long to drop the kids off.  It definitely would have been helpful if on embarkation day they had offered pre-registration in the Camp Carnival room or at least told every person who came in where to find it.

Upon registration each child got a tag with their name and age to wear while at Camp Carnival.  When they checked out their tag went on a board in front of the door where it would be handy the next time they checked in.  Camp Carnival had specific hours when kids could be dropped there randomly to play. They couldn’t just stay all day.  Certain times throughout the day they had family activities or specific projects and only those involved with those activities could attend so others had to be picked up before the activity started.  I don’t know if it is always like that or if this was an Australia thing because that is the only time I have cruised with kids of Camp Carnival age.

wild cruise ship decor

Kids and Medusa

Sometimes Camp Carnival had activities outside of their designated room. They gave the parents of enrolled kids a schedule of what took place and when and these activities were not listed in the daily Fun Times given to all passengers on the ship.  The grandkids didn’t go to any of their kid’s dinners on the Lido, but they did join in a couple of Camp Carnival’s other outside activities.  One day they had a digital scavenger hunt.  The kids met up at Medusa’s Lair Lounge and then went off with their families to gather all the pictures on the list they were given, or at least as many as they could get in the 45 minute time period given.

proof we were on deck 7

They ran up the stairs all the way from the bottom to top of the ship, stopping for a photo at each floor

We started with the pictures of the kids on each deck, of which they were not allowed to use elevators while taking.  It didn’t take too long to run up a floor of stairs and then stop by the elevators to take a picture of the kids at the floor level number, which gave definite proof of them on that deck.

crew from here there and everywhere

photo scavenger hunt – one of 10 crew members needed with tags from a different country each

A family member with ice cream on their face was easily handled at the ice cream machine on the Lido – hand a small kid an ice cream cone and it doesn’t take long before they have ice cream all over their face.  Name tags of ten different crew members from ten different countries proved a bit more challenging as many of them come from either Indonesia or the Philippines. Crew members we couldn’t use as we already had that country were quick to point out any other crew member in the area from somewhere else though, and we ended up with a bonus 11th country in the end.

whatever it takes

helping the kids out with their Camp Carnival photo scavenger hunt

It was a bit of a cold day for a family member on a waterslide and we really didn’t have time to change into suits, but I took off my shoes, rolled up my jeans and went to the kiddie slide only to find out you have to go through sprays of water to get there. Oh well, got the photo. A smiley face drawn on Daniel’s forehead, Hannah and I in the shallow bit of the pool and doing the funky chicken, and random people gathered into a conga line on the lido later and we finished our list and headed back to the Medusa’s Lair Lounge.

yay we won

The kids show off their scavenger hunt winnings

Everyone who participated in the Camp Carnival photo scavenger hunt got a medal.  Plastic Camp Carnival medals for the kids and the real ship medals like they hand out for the adult games for the adults. We got back first and they gave the kids a ship-on-a-stick trophy along with their medals.  A ship on a stick was a major prize on that cruise, for the adults anyway.  It took adults winning two medals to trade for a ship on a stick to get the trophy in the regular games.  They told us the kids got the trophy for being first, but since they took it out of a box full of trophies I have to wonder if they actually gave every group one or just happened to have the whole box there because they had ran out and had to get a new supply for Camp Carnival activities.  They had to cut open the previously unopened box to get one out for the kids so it was definitely a new box.  We didn’t stick around to find out if any later arriving kids got a trophy though.

One night John and I went to a magic show in the main theater.  The cruise director  kept making announcements that day about the costumes in this show not being appropriate for kids to see.  Sheri and the kids did not go due to his warnings.  Lo and behold just before the show started, who should file into an entire balcony section but the camp carnival kids.  I can only imagine what all the parents who had sent their kids to Camp Carnival so the parent could attend the “inappropriate” show child-free thought then.  The show was excellent and while the costumes did resemble lingerie, kids see far more revealing outfits at the beach or pool and anyone old enough to know what lingerie is would be too old for it to be inappropriate.

We wondered how many kids missed a great show because of the cruise director’s announcements.  If the Camp Carnival kids are attending a show they should be confident that show is appropriate for children and not warn parents against bringing their kids to see it.  If they are going to make warnings against children seeing a particular show then the Camp Carnival kids should not be there.

kids have fun

Camp Carnival end of cruise party

On the last sea day Camp Carnival had a good-bye party at the Medusa Lounge where the kids had lots of fun dancing and batting balloons around. They had some free dance time and a lot of little games and even a contest in the dances to keep it fun and interesting for small children.  Both of them really enjoyed Camp Carnival.

kids love cruising

An early start for two lifelong cruisers!

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2015
Posted in Australia, Carnival, Legend, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments