Spruce Railroad Trail

sign at the trailhead

Olympic National Park on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula sprawls across the majority of the interior of the peninsula as well as including some areas of the coast. Ecosystems in the park include everything from rugged glacier topped mountains to ocean beaches. Temperate rainforests fall into the mix as well as lakes, rivers, and less rainy forests.


On a short getaway to Lake Crescent with my mother, we decided to take a day hike on the Spruce Railroad Trail. This paved and mostly flat trail runs alongside Lake Crescent for much of its 4-mile distance. It’s also a small section of the much longer Olympic Discovery Trail, which runs along the north end of the Olympic Peninsula. The trail was once a railroad line for taking spruce logs from the forest. Tunnels are the main reminder left of its railroad past as there are no tracks or abandoned trains to be seen along the way. Being part of the Olympic Discovery Trail may be the reason why the Spruce Railroad Trail is one of the few trails in the Olympic National Park that allows dogs.

long tunnel east entrance

We started at the trailhead at the east end off of East Beach Road, which was close to the cozy little Airbnb cabin we stayed in near the tiny town of Joyce. The trailhead has a paved parking lot, vault toilet, and an entrance to the trail. There are a few small hills near that end of the trail, but it soon levels out once it gets to the lake.

buggy bands

I happened across a bin of something called buggy bands one day at a store and since they only cost a dollar each I gave them a try. We didn’t see any mosquitos on the trail, but the gnats wouldn’t leave us alone. The buggy band package did say it was for mosquitos, but at the park near my house which is full of them they don’t seem all that bothered by it either. One even landed within inches of it with intent to bite – stopped only by a quick slap insuring it would never bite me or anyone else. So my take on the buggy bands is that bugs are not bothered by them. Which is unfortunate since wearing a little bracelet is preferable to dousing oneself with chemical bug spray. I have had pretty good luck keeping mosquitos away with a dryer sheet in my pocket. Apparently there is something about dryer sheets that they don’t like, and mine are of the unscented variety so it’s not the smell.


We saw a little waterfall with lots of rocks and vegetation that looked like it had been there quite awhile. A bit bigger one farther down the trail had nothing but bare dirt around it appearing to be in the middle of a recent slide.

tunnel or punchbowl

One spot along the trail offers a choice of an unpaved dirt side path leading to the Devil’s Punchbowl or a long dark tunnel on the main path. Both are highlights of the trail so when doing an out and back taking one each direction gets both of them in. We took the trail on the way out and the tunnel on the way back. The trail winds around with some ups, downs, a few narrow places where the edge has fallen, and some going over big rocks so it’s not for anyone with any sort of balance issues or other walking problems. For everyone else though it’s pretty much the best section of the trail. Besides some great lake views, that area had the most wildflowers and a lot of the little sorts of plants that grow on sheer rock walls.

Devil’s Punchbowl

It’s a bit of a walk to the punchbowl, which is a little cove surrounded by towering tree-covered rock walls. It’s separated from the main lake by a bridge. A still deep blue pool reflecting the greenery of the rocks above seemed quite misnamed. It looked like it should have been called serenity or tranquility pool rather than devil’s punchbowl. Perhaps on a stormy day waves crash onto the rock walls and churn back or something to earn the moniker it has, but not having seen it in a storm I can’t say for sure. After the punchbowl the trail continues on and connects back to the main trail on the far side of the tunnel.

scotch broom may look pretty in bloom, but it’s a non-native invasive species

For most of the distance along the main trail the land drops steeply to the lake on one side and rises even steeper up forested hills on the other. Unfortunately there was a lot of scotch broom alongside the trail. Scotch broom is a non-native invasive species that doesn’t take long to take over an area and crowd out the native vegetation, which is not a good thing for anything that lives there and depends on native plants for food. I hiked that trail again more recently and someone had removed the scotch broom from the side of the trail, but there were little ones starting to grow again as well as bigger ones up on the steep hillsides where nobody could reach it. It’s good that someone is making an effort to get rid of it, but they’re fighting a loosing battle if they can’t get rid of the ones on the hill above the trail. Less than 10 years ago the sides of highways 104 and 101 between Kingston and Sequim were lined with wild rhododendrons blooming pink every spring. Now the sides of those highways are yellow with scotch broom and it’s hard to spot one of the few remaining wild rhododendron bushes.

lupine just starting to bloom

Although there were more wildflowers as well as more variety of them on the trail to the punchbowl, there were some on the main trail including a small patch of lupine near the bare dirt waterfall.

trailside logs

There were not any benches, picnic tables, or restrooms to be found alongside the trail. Other than the occasional large rock the only place to sit for a rest, snack, or picnic was the logs lining the sides of some bridges or spots where the trail was right at the edge of the lake unless you happened along a level enough log near the trail in one of the few patches of relatively flat ground. Stopping even briefly meant being swarmed by gnats, some of which followed along even while we were moving the first time I went there, though on the second visit we didn’t see any.

fungus covered tree

After hiking 4 miles we came across a dirt road paralleling the trail, which a not 4-wheel drive car struggled down and parked where the road ended. That area was well below the main trail, but had a trail leading down to it. It looked like there wasn’t much down there but a pile of logs and a trail sign. There were some signs facing for people coming from the other direction announcing that this was the Spruce Railroad Trail. The paved trail continued on from there. We initially thought that was the trailhead for the other end which was supposed to be 4 miles from the other trailhead and turned around to head back, but later thought that the actual trailhead must have been a bit farther down because when we got back we saw a sign at the beginning of the trail that we hadn’t noticed on the way out. It said next restroom 4 miles and we had not seen any in the vicinity of the signs or dirt road at the other end. Going back there again another time with my son and grandson we walked nearly a mile beyond the small parking area at the west end with the Spruce Railroad Trail sign on the dirt road leading to it, and then back on the Olympic Discovery Trail which paralleled the dirt road and never saw any other sign of a trailhead other than that small dirt parking area. The pile of logs was gone, but the sign for the Spruce Railroad Trail was still there. From the trail itself there are just signs indicating where the Spruce Railroad Trail part of the discovery trail begins on that end. No sign anywhere near the trail, dirt road, or parking area of the restroom some websites say is at the trailhead on the west end of the Spruce Railroad Trail, but that spot is 4 miles from the east trailhead as well as having signs for the trail both in that parking area and on the paved trail so it must actually be the trailhead for the west end. The trailhead on the east end off East Beach Road is definitely the better choice. It’s paved, has paved roads leading to it, and actually does have a toilet.

short tunnel

In addition to the long dark tunnel there’s a much smaller tunnel, which you can see all the way through before even setting foot in it. The long one not so much. The long one has some white posts marking the edges of the pavement at regular intervals along the way, which guide you through the tunnel even if you don’t have any light. If you stray beyond them it’s rough ground. A sign outside the tunnel recommends using a flashlight, but I didn’t have one and following the white posts was enough to get me through. My mom had a tiny light that was probably worse than nothing. It must have reflected off the puddles on the floor making them look like bumps rather than water to her so she kept heading to the actual rough ground trying to avoid what must have appeared to her to be worse. Going through it on the second visit without any lights worked much better for everyone.

tunnel entrance

I went in a dark cave once with a camera I used to have that I could point at a cave wall which I couldn’t see at all and it would light up a little patch and take a perfectly clear photo that I could later see what I hadn’t seen while in the cave. The camera I have now wouldn’t do that. Photos taken with it in the dark tunnel just looked like a couple white spots in the dark so that was disappointing.

kayakers on Lake Crescent

For most of the hike we didn’t see anyone else other than some kayakers out in the lake, but both going out and coming back we saw several other groups of people fairly close to the trailhead so most of them must not go too far. Mostly we saw people walking, but there were a few on bikes and some with a dog. Horses are allowed on that trail, but we saw neither horses nor any of their droppings so horseback riders may not use it much. Which is understandable. Paved trails weren’t my preferred choice of places to go when I had horses. Overall it’s a nice trail with some scenic lake views. The second time I went there I brought my dog and we saw lots of other dogs near the trailhead, but not farther out. That time someone had added poetry signs, which we also saw in some other areas of the park. We only read one and immediately wished we hadn’t, wondering why on earth anyone would post such a disgusting and disturbing story about a kid venturing inside a nearly dead beached whale looking for its heart. We would have much preferred informative signs about the area, the plants and animals found there, and history of the place.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
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Snorkeling in Aruba

the snorkel boat heading back to the dock with Celebrity Constellation in the background

Our port stop in Aruba on Celebrity Constellation started with an early morning excursion, meeting in the theater at 8:15 am. When our group number was called we went out to the port where we found someone with a sign for our excursion. The other excursions out there all left on busses. Ours walked down the port a ways, crossed a street, and went to a marina for boats much smaller than a cruise ship. A catamaran waited on the nearest dock. We saw sea life before we even got on the boat. A crab was crawling around on the dock. It went over the side once like it was going back into the water, but then it crawled back up and scuttled around on the dock some more. Bigger than a little beach crab, but nowhere near eating size.

tube sponges in the shallows

Usually sail and snorkel excursions make a pretense of raising the sails and then proceed to their destination under engine power. They do often sail for real a bit on the way back. This one said the mainsail was broken so they’d just be putting up the jib (smaller front sail) and going under engine power. They did say they might use just the sail for a bit on the way back, but I don’t think they ever actually did. People generally book these excursions for the snorkeling anyway.

fish and rocks at the bottom of the sea

The boat went about 40 minutes up the coast of the island to an area where the shore was lined with hotels and resorts on sandy beaches. The first stop was near to shore in a fairly shallow area with some rocky structure on the bottom. There was a bit of small coral and some sea urchins in the rocks. The waters teemed with fish.

school of sergeant majors

Upon entry right from the boat we landed in a giant school of tiny fish, each maybe an inch long. Later a school of striped sergeant majors showed up, something that used to be present in droves every time we went snorkeling, but that I hadn’t seen recently.

swimming with the fishes

These fish were quite friendly. They came right up to people and swam all around them. We were literally swimming with the fishes, only in a good way.

blue fish

There were also some other fish that tended to stay closer to the bottom. I even saw a lionfish hiding in the rocks, though it doesn’t belong there. They’re from the south pacific and Indian oceans and are a non-native invasive species without any predators to limit their numbers anywhere else.

our boat and a pirate ship

There were several other boats nearby. One modeled after an old pirate ship and another identical to ours other than the name Rumba, while ours was called Fiesta. They said to be sure to get on the right one as they don’t go back to the same place.

another boat from the same company

The water in that area was fairly clear, but did have some sediment floating around in it. There was not much coral, but unfortunately a lot of the Caribbean is that way now since coral there is at over an 80% loss. Visitors to the region can help by not using chemical sunscreen or other products that harm coral. Reef safe sunscreen offers better sun protection to the user as well as not harming nature so that’s a win-win product.

diving under the water in the shallows in a full-body UV swimsuit

Or you can go a step further and wear a full-body UV suit for snorkeling and other water sports, which not only eliminates the need for sunscreen in any areas covered by the suit, but also provides the best UV protection so the wearer can stay out longer without getting sunburned. It’s a win-win for both the wearer and the environment.

John on the slide

The boat had a slide on the back, which was optional as an entry for snorkeling, or just available to slide on for fun after coming back to the boat and removing the snorkel gear.

small bit of a big ship

The second stop was in the same area as the first, but out deeper, over the wreck of a large world war 2 German ship. This ship was intentionally sunk by its own crew rather than hand it over to the Dutch. Once we got there I realized we had seen the same wreck before the last time we had a port stop in Aruba.

sea life on the wreck

The snorkel boats stop right over the wreck, several of them at a time. There’s plenty of wreck left to snorkel over because it is far bigger than any of the snorkel boats are. You can only see a small portion of it at a time when snorkeling over it. The sunken ship stretches on for quite a distance. There’s some sea life growing on it. It has patches with tube sponges and small corals, but not as much life as expected for a wreck that has been there since the 1940’s. Fish like structure and there were fish swimming around it too, but not as many as there had been in the shallows.

fish and shipwreck

The water over the wreck was darker since it was deeper, and also murkier than the water near the shore, but the wreck was still visible. The current was strong enough that the crew did not want anyone to use the back exit or slide that stop so nobody would get taken out to sea. Using the front one meant swimming against the current toward shore along the wreck going away from the boat, then the current would bring you right back so if anyone got tired they’d get back anyway.

a bit of the sunken ship

The instructions were to stay to the front of the boat. I stayed in the area where they said to be. John didn’t pay attention when they gave the instructions and he went along the side and to the back of the boat, coming in the back entrance they had said was only for emergencies if someone got carried back there by the current. He said that area had the best stuff to see so apparently I missed out by staying in the area where we were told to go.

seagulls flying around the snorkel boats

After we got back on the boat a flock of seagulls came to circle around it. On the way back to the dock they served rum punch and other drinks, which these sorts of excursions usually do. Their rum punch was considerably stronger than most.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in Caribbean, Celebrity, Constellation, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Inside Outside Cabin


I’ve had inside cabins, oceanview cabins, and balcony cabins – once even a mini-suite- on past cruises, but on Wonder of the Seas we had something completely different. An interior cabin with a balcony. These unique cabins are found on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class ships. Ships of this class have two inside areas that are open to the sky from one of the lower decks all the way up – Central Park and the Boardwalk.

Central Park

The Boardwalk is at the back of the ship on deck 6. The boardwalk itself is home to a carousel, the landing area for the 10-deck ultimate abyss slides, the aquatheater, and some shops and eateries. As well as the skyward opening, there is also open area at the stern around the aquatheater so cabins in this area may get a peek at the sea as well as overlooking the boardwalk.

view of the inside of the cabin from the balcony

Our cabin was above central park, the other open area, located at the center of the ship. Central Park is on deck 8, with open area to the sky above. Rooms line either side like apartments rising above a city. The bottom row on deck 9 have windows, the rest have balconies overlooking the park. Central Park has real plants in gardens along deck 8, with shops and eateries all around the edges. The center has some structures that somewhat resemble greenhouses. They’re skylights to the promenade on deck 5, but one of them is also home to the Rising Tide Bar – sometimes. The Rising Tide is a bar on an elevator that is sometimes located in the Royal Promenade on deck 5, and other times up in Central Park on deck 8. Occasionally it stops somewhere in between at which time nobody can get on or off.

balcony above Central Park

We weren’t sure what having a balcony that’s not on the ocean side of the ship would be like, but booked it because on this particular cruise it was a whole lot cheaper than the ocean view balconies. It was also something different that we’d never had before and it’s always fun to try new things. As it turned out, we loved it. There are some drawbacks, like needing to close the curtains before changing clothes, which isn’t a problem when there’s nothing but open water outside your window, but it had its advantages too.

there’s actually a whole couch between these two closets

While an oceanside balcony is sometimes too sunny or too windy to use, since this one was in an area with walls all around it was sheltered with more protection from wind and weather. Even when the plants out in the garden were blowing around in a wind tunnel effect the balcony itself stayed sheltered. Rain never reached much beyond the railing either, nor was the furniture ever covered in morning dew. I actually sat out on this balcony more than I usually do with normal cruise ship balconies. It had 2 chairs and a table and was fairly close in size to a regular balcony, bigger than some. The cabin next to us had a double sized balcony so they really lucked out. The first few days we thought this balcony always stayed shady and would never be too sunny to use, but it must have been due to the direction of travel because in the ports it did sometimes get flooded in sunshine. It had some sun during travel later in the cruise too, but often still had a shady corner.

some of the cabin’s furnishings

Our view included the garden, the sky, the outdoor movie screen, and the rooms across from us. Music from the pool deck could easily be heard out on the balcony, but in the room with the sliding door shut we didn’t hear it at all. The garden area is pretty quiet at night, but since the outside noise didn’t carry to the inside it may not have mattered. People in the boardwalk area would know better since the aqua show is quite loud. We could hear that from an oceanside cabin near the stern on Symphony of the Seas. I don’t know if the inside cabins have better sound blocking than the outside ones, or if the Wonder has better sound blocking than Symphony, or if the boardwalk cabins are as noisy inside as we thought they’d be when we went for the garden area instead since the boardwalk is a lot louder in the evening than the garden.

cabin from the door

The cabin itself was about the same size as outside balcony cabins rather than small like a lot of inside cabins are. Bigger even than balcony cabins on many ships as it had space enough for a full-sized couch and two separate closets. It seemed slightly wider than the average cruise ship cabin as well with a bit more room between the foot of the bed and the wall than often found in cruise ship cabins. The large-screen TV hung across from the bed with a row of pegs underneath to hang things on. The cabin included a mini-fridge surrounded by drawers so it had quite a lot of storage area. There was a desk with a mirror and a separate full-length wall mirror. While some older ships have just one outlet and no USB ports, being a new ship this one had 3 outlets and 2 USB ports above the desk as well as 1 outlet and 1 USB port on the lamp on each of the two small nightstands.


The bathroom was a pretty standard cruise ship bathroom. The shower had the usual clothesline you can pull across like we thought all cruise ships had until coming across one that didn’t. It looks like they’ve cut back on the toiletries though.

good thing I brought my own shampoo & conditioner

Instead of separate shampoo, conditioner, and body wash there was just a shampoo/body wash combo in the shower and no conditioner at all.

magnetic hooks and clothesline

While the clothesline is enough to hang a swimsuit or two, if you do any handwashed laundry in the cabin you need more. Magnetic hooks came in quite useful for something to tie the line to as this shower had structure on only one side. Things did not dry well in that shower though, even with the bathroom door left open so most had to be moved elsewhere to finish drying. Once things were just damp rather than wet I could use those same hooks to zig zag a line along the wall where things could finish drying. Magnetic hooks are also useful out in the cabin for hanging sweatshirts or hats. Other than some really old cruise ships the walls are always magnetic so having some magnets to hang any paperwork you want to keep organized is useful too.

wall magnets

Overall we really liked the inside balcony cabin and I wouldn’t hesitate to book one again.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in Royal Caribbean, Shipboard Life, Wonder of the Seas | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nassau Chocolate Factory Tour

ships in Nassau

Prior to our cruise on MSC Meraviglia John booked us each an excursion for our first port stop in Nassau, Bahamas. He wanted to go to a wine factory. Since I don’t like anything fermented including wine he booked a chocolate factory tour for me. Which was great because I love chocolate. Both of these places were located on the same street so we walked there together. His tour at the wine place had other participants, but I got an unintended private tour at the chocolate factory. The tours before and after mine had groups of participants, but nobody else had booked the one for 3pm. An unintended private tour is the best kind because intentional private tours are really expensive, but if it’s booked as a group tour and nobody else comes you still get it for the group price. The smallest group I’d had before was 4 people on a kayak tour in Costa Maya Mexico. These tours were booked through Vacations to Go, who sends shore excursion options when you book the cruise through them so there’s those to choose from as well as what the ship offers. Had it been through the ship they’d probably have cancelled it with just one participant or switched me to a different time that had other bookings. They also would have charged more for the tour and provided transportation from the port, which wasn’t really necessary since it was a pretty easy walk.

entrance to the chocolate factory at Graycliff Hotel

An archway through a wall leads to a grotto-like stairway up to a courtyard with a door into a small chocolate shop.

the chocolate shop sells chocolates made in-house

The tour’s entrance is through the little chocolate shop, located within Graycliff Hotel which owns the chocolate factory as well as the wine place across the street. The shop sells chocolates made right there in the attached factory. There’s a door in the shop that opens to a few stairs leading down to a long narrow room where the tour starts.

standing under a model tree, ready for the tour

The first room has samples of raw cocoa beans and some beans that have partially gone through the process that eventually turns them into chocolate. There were also fake trees showing what cacao trees look like, and that the pods grow on the trunk rather than in the leaves or branches. My guide said each tree only produces pods 3 times in its lifetime so after the third time the cocoa farmers cut them down and plant new ones. These are not grown in the Bahamas so they import the beans from elsewhere. Inside the pods the beans are the seeds of a fruit which she said was edible. That room also contained a stack of aprons and hair nets, both of which were required for people who didn’t work there to go farther into the factory.

shelling machine

On the way to the next room she said the factory (and hotel) was in an old castle. The tile floor in that room was over 300 years old, but the pattern was still bright green and yellow and it looked good as new. They certainly made quality things back then. There isn’t much made these days that would last 300 years and still look nice. There was equipment in that room to remove the shells from the beans after they are roasted. Roasted beans fall apart into cocoa nibs when shelled, though raw ones would stay as whole beans if the shells were removed before roasting.

tempering machine

There were a couple machines tempering the chocolate, one with dark and one with white, which were mixed to make milk chocolate. From this room I was given taster spoonfuls of each the white and dark and also some mixed together into milk chocolate. White chocolate isn’t real chocolate, but rather made from just the cocoa butter separated from the chocolate solids along with sugar, milk, vanilla and a fatty substance called lecithin which can be sourced from various plants used for making oils or egg yolks.

guide mixes white and dark chocolate to make milk chocolate

Even dark chocolate has some sugar added to keep it from being bitter. 70% dark is 70% cocoa beans and 30% sugar, at least in that factory. Higher percentages of darkness is more chocolate, less sugar so of course less sweet, though I thought the small sample of liquid pure dark chocolate without any sugar added that I was given a taste of in a different room tasted good, not bitter like unsweetened baking chocolate you buy in a store.

guide and other workers by a table set for one

In the last room where the tour went there was a paper plate with cups of goodies on it next to a little tray holding a mold and plastic gloves. I had the option to choose which sort of chocolate I wanted and was given a cup of liquid dark chocolate. Dark is always my preference for chocolate. The first step was to pour chocolate into the chocolate bar mold until the guide said it was enough. Then she said to tap the mold on the table until the chocolate spread out evenly to all the corners. After that I could add whatever goodies I wanted from the cups, which included coconut, cranberries, and sprinkles. I used all three.

making chocolates

Next there was a stick there to poke into a marshmallow and then dip that into the chocolate and coat in sprinkles. The two pretzels were then dunked into the cup of chocolate and fished out with a stick just like the one in the marshmallow. After that the leftover chocolate got poured into the cups of leftover coconut, cranberries, and sprinkles. All of that then went somewhere else for cooling.

getting some chocolate samples

There were racks of assorted chocolates sitting in a corner of the room. Other workers would periodically come and take some from the trays to replace ones sold at the store in the front of the factory or possibly to package up into boxes. Or maybe some of each. They just piled up the ones they wanted onto their tray and left the room so I never saw what they actually did with them.

tasty chocolates

While waiting for the chocolate things I’d made to cool I got to sample some of those chocolates from the racks in the corner. The guide said what type they each were, but I don’t remember what flavors she said. They were all quite good.

where in the world chocolate grows

The walls of that room had information about chocolate and chocolate making.

milk chocolate sand dollar from the store

Once the chocolates I made during the tour were cooled they got unmolded and boxed up to take back to the ship. It was an interesting tour with lots of tasty chocolate. I mentioned buying something milk chocolate from the store for John since he prefers milk chocolate and everything I made was dark. She gave me a chocolate sand dollar free off the store shelf for him which was really nice of her. I gave her a $20 tip. She said she’d never had a tip that big before. I replied I’d never had a private tour before. She deserved a good tip. She’d done a great job as a guide and always had a smile. It was a really fun and interesting tour and since it hadn’t cost all that much between the chocolates eaten on site and the ones brought back with me afterword I probably got the price of the tour back in chocolate so it was definitely worth doing. For anyone with a port stop in Nassau it’s an easy walk to the chocolate shop. Just set google maps to Graycliff Hotel and then walk down the street the hotel is on until you see the shop’s archway entrance. I’m not sure if you can just walk in and book a tour at the shop or not, but there are a variety of places to book it online.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in Caribbean, Meraviglia, MSC, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cruising the Middle East

Lirica in Khasab, Oman

After boarding the MSC Lirica in Trieste, Italy and cruising around the Mediteranean for a bit with a port stop in Croatia, and several in Greece, the ship headed through the Suez Canal, which runs through Egypt.

our ship’s tug and the container ship behind us in the Suez Canal

Cruising through the Suez Canal is a unique experience. It’s mostly a narrow waterway where ships follow one another through in a line, each escorted by a tug. A new part wide enough for two-way traffic allows ships to pass one another in that section, increasing the amount of ships that can pass through the canal in a day. One side of the canal has much more greenery and life than the other, which is mostly desert sand.

waiting to go through customs at the port in Eilat

Our first stop after passing through the Suez Canal was in Eilat Israel, where security is heavy and getting of the ship is a major process. We followed that with a stop the next day just across the bay in Aqaba Jordan, where disembarking is the same as the average port stop. By just across the bay, I mean that literally as we could see the port where we had been the previous day from the ship. From the top of the ship in Aqaba you can see 4 countries. Besides Jordan and Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are visible in the distance. We did not know this until our guide on the bus to Petra said so and it was dark by the time we got back so we couldn’t look for the landmarks he said were in each of those countries.

the treasury, the most famous rock building in Petra

The guide also said the border between Israel and Jordan used to be closed, but they have a peace treaty now and it’s not that hard to cross between them. Jordan is its own country now, though in the past it was occupied by others including Ottomans and British. Although Arabic is the official language, a lot of people there speak English. Jordan has many sites of historical and religious significance including Petra. Petra is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the wonders of the world. Even the small portion you have time to see on a cruise ship excursion is amazing.

After Aqaba we had 4 days at sea, during which we found out not only had the crew been going through pirate training while we were at port in Jordan, but there were also pirate protection guards on board who had joined the ship at our first port in Split, Croatia. They were rumored to be from Yugoslavia. All big burly guys, at least the ones we saw.

Each cabin was given a security notice saying that for 6 days we would be traveling through areas considered at risk of piracy and as such we would be under the control and protection of international naval forces. The paper went on to say Blue Code means suspicious vessel spotted, crew members are to start procedures to evacuate open decks. Orange Code means the concern is real and everyone is to leave outside decks immediately. Red Code means there is an emergency and to follow the directions of the trained crew. It also said the outside areas of the promenade deck 6 would be closed for the duration of our time through waters likely to be pirate infested and continuously patrolled by security staff. Balcony lights had to stay off at night and all curtains closed.

map of the Middle East

On all the cruises we’ve taken, this is the first to have piracy warning procedures. Of course it is also our first time sailing past places like Yemen and Somalia. In the event of a pirate attack, hopefully the guards they hire for cruise ships are better than the ones hired by a commercial diving company my son used to work for. When one of their ships was boarded by pirates the so-called guards locked themselves below deck and let the crew get kidnapped. The company did pay the ransom to get them back – and probably looked elsewhere to hire any future guards.

Weather on the sea days was generally clouds and fog with some sun and wind. One day had sun, wind, fog, and rain all within the same hour, though the rain was just a sprinkle. The ports tended to be sunnier. On the second sea day between Jordan and Salalah, Oman, another ship came near and the cruise ship dropped a speed boat which went to the other ship, picked up something, and came back. Normally the only boats that approach cruise ships are tugs going in and out of port, and pilot boats who drop off or pick up the local pilot who guides the ship through the channels leading into and out of ports or through narrow waterways. Another passenger we met who worked out in the gym with the guard crew said he was told the boat picked up guns for the guards, which they would need in case we came across any pirates.

mini golf on the Lirica

Meanwhile with several days of no ports passengers had to entertain themselves onboard. We tried the mini golf, for which you have to sign out one club and ball from staff by the stage in the pool area with your room card so golf equipment was only available during their staffed hours. If each person in the room wants one they have to sign for it individually, you can’t get 2 on the same card. Then you take those to the other end of the ship and up a deck to the course, which has just 7 holes. All the other ships we’ve been on that had mini golf had clubs and balls next to the course for people to use whenever they wanted. The course looked a bit the worse for wear with the astroturf worn out in places, but we still had fun. Some of the holes (which were made from kitchen sink drains) were not firmly in place. One stuck out above the green deflecting balls. The next one someone had used for an ash tray and left cigarette butts in it proving once again no matter where you go people are pigs. (Sorry actual pigs, that’s an insult to you.) Speaking of actual pigs one day they served suckling pig. Poor little babies. They served veal a lot too. Apparently they like eating very young baby animals. Along with organ meats and products of cruelty like foi gras (which is created through force feeding geese as well as being an organ meat), baby animals fall into the category of things I’ll never eat.

we watched the pirate boats from the relaxation area in the spa

The third of four sea days between Jordan and Oman brought us to the choke point where it’s just about 10 miles between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as the Red Sea transits into the Gulf of Aden. There was a lot of boat traffic through that area. We could see a fleet of tiny boats milling about. These boats had people laying down in them trying to hide. As our ship got close the little fleet went from a near standstill to heading straight towards us at a pretty good speed.

modern day pirate ships look nothing like the pirates of old

They were pirates with ill-intentions. Discouraged from attacking our ship by the armed guards patrolling the promenade deck, they suddenly changed course, passed behind us and went on their way realizing it’s not a good plan to try scaling the side of a ship when you’re looking at the business end of a machine gun. Other than the one group of pirates we just saw normal boat traffic like military boats and cargo ships. Of course with all the curtains on public decks and in cabins required to stay closed after dark who knows what may have shown up then. Well the guards and bridge crew know, but they’d never tell and the passengers just saw the one averted attack in broad daylight.

belly dancer in the dining room

The ship had an Arabian theme going that day with a Pharoh’s visit deck party in the morning and belly dancers in the dining room in the evening for extra entertainment, but the excitement and most talked about subject of the day among passengers was of course the pirates.

relaxing on the back deck

Typical of any cruise ship, the selfish passengers (of which there are a lot) stake out deck chairs with towels they leave there all day whether they plan to sit in that chair for any length of time or not. Even the little back decks on the Lirica had more chairs occupied by towels than by people. You can sit out there for hours and these people never return. We laughed one day when it rained a bit and someone had left a paper book on an unoccupied chair. It got wet, but sadly it didn’t rain enough to do any damage. The owner of said book was not there when we arrived and never returned before we left. Like all the other cruise ships this one had signs saying they will pick up towels and things from unoccupied chairs because saving them is not allowed, but they never actually do.

The ship had some games, activities, dance lessons, exercise classes, trivia, and things scheduled throughout the day. We were told once years ago by crew on the Divina that Europeans generally spend all day out on the top deck, and while a lot of them actually do, there were still a lot of deck chairs occupied by towels rather than people.

The fourth sea day in a row brought wind and waves on a gray day in the Gulf of Aden, which empties into the Arabian Sea – the most wide-open expanse of water we passed through on the middle eastern side of the Suez Canal. The ocean swells meant some movement on the ship, but not enough to bring out barf bags by the elevators or to make people stagger the halls like so many drunks as we have sometimes seen on cruises that passed through rough water.

Themed dinners with like themed late night parties interspersed the cruise to liven things up a bit and have something besides elegant nights to dress up for. This cruise had a carnival night and a white night. Not that many people dressed up for them at dinner and we never went to any deck parties so I have no idea how those turned out. I can’t imagine too big of an attendance though since there never seemed to be many people out and about anywhere when venturing out of the cabin late at night. Having traveled through Europe for 10 days without a lot of luggage before boarding the ship, we barely had anything suitable to wear for formal nights and nothing for any sort of one-use costume.

camel at Wadi Darbat

We had a port stop in Salalah, Oman on a Friday, which is their holy day so a lot of things in town were closed.  The town there is not close to the port. We had a ship’s tour and saw lots of camels. Between Salalah and Muscat we had another sea day. The sky and sea were gray and dreary, but the sea wasn’t too rough and it didn’t rain, at least not during the day anyway. It was warm enough for lounging around on the deck chairs on the back balcony. There were several decks with back balconies all interconnected by stairways and at least some of them had stacks of deck chairs so even if all the chairs already out on the deck were occupied by towels we could always get a chair off the stack and find somewhere to put it.

Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman

In Muscat we found a cheap taxi-van tour with 4 other people that took us around to see some sights, starting with a giant mosque. We didn’t have any specific plans when we got off the ship and hadn’t really planned to go in any mosques. While I had brought a scarf just in case I needed it for anything, I did not have long sleeves which meant not mosque-appropriate clothing. Outside the mosque under a sign saying not to sell or rent clothes, there was a guy renting stuff out of the trunk of his car so I got something with long sleeves and one of the other ladies from our van got a scarf so we were allowed inside.

dhow boat in Khasab, Oman

Khasab was our last port in Oman, my favorite one there, and one of the best on the entire cruise because the dhow boat tour we took was unique and excellent. The boat had carpets and cushions instead of furniture and it was quite a relaxing ride through the fjords. We saw some dolphins and made a stop for snorkeling. Also attempted some fishing, but nobody caught anything.

Burj Khalifa in Dubai

We had 2 days to spend in Dubai, UAE. The ship overnighted there, and our plane home wasn’t until 2:30am the morning of the day after disembarkation. The first day it rained a bit in the morning, then cleared up, We visited Atlantis Hotel, a souk, Burj Al Arab, and Global Village. The second day the rain dumped buckets in the morning and the trip into town felt more like the uber was driving in rivers than in roads. We put our luggage in storage at Dubai Mall and spent time there and in Burj Kalifa, the world’s tallest building.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023

camels at Petra

More Blogs About the Middle East

Cruising the Suez Canal, Eilat Israel cruise port, Snorkeling in Eilat, Aqaba Jordan cruise port, Petra, Salalah Oman cruise port, Salalah 4×4 tour, Muscat Oman cruise portMuscat van tour, Khasab Oman cruise port, Khasab dhow excursion, Exploring Khasab, Dubai Cruise Port, Exploring Dubai, Dubai Global Village, Dubai Burj Kalifa, Dubai Mall

Posted in Lirica, Middle East, MSC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pelican Peak Zip Line Saint Martin

view of Wonder from the top of Pelican Peak in St Martin

Scanning through shore excursions offered and other info while looking for something to do in Saint Martin, I came across an excursion to Pelican Peak Zip Line. On a previous visit we’d tried to get to Rainforest Adventures on the French side of the island, but none of the taxis from the stand at the port wanted to go there. Somebody suggested we might find a taxi in town, but besides the fact that we were the 4th of 4 ships arriving that day and space in that zipline went by first come first serve, we figured considering how hard it was to find a ride to get there we might not be able to get one back, and probably would be too late to get on the zip line anyway so we did something else that day instead.

trail to the viewpoint

I’d never heard of another zip line on the island until this trip, but that’s because Pelican Peak is a relatively new attraction. Pelican Peak is within walking distance of the cruise port, and they book through the ship. You can also book it directly through the zipline’s website or through outside sources if you want to take a taxi or walk there and find it on your own. Booking through the ship they provide transportation from the port, which was in an open jungle buggy type truck. There weren’t a lot of people in our group, probably about 10, the rest of them quite a lot younger than we are.

viewpoint at the top of Pelican Peak

The transport brought us to the bottom of the zip line where they suited everyone up with a harness that not only attaches to the zip line, it also makes a sort of chair to sit in on the way down. They had lockers there for anyone who had things that couldn’t go with them down the ride, which was big beach bags and backpacks. People were allowed to keep their cameras and they even provided net bags that attached to the vest where people could put their phones to keep them safe and insure they not get dropped on the mountain on the way down – as long as they were left in the bag. Taking it out would definitely risk a drop. We thought it was kind of crazy that the tiny little zip line on the ship didn’t allow so much as a watch on a wrist or room key card in a pocket while the one going down a whole mountainside let people keep their hats and all their jewelry on and take things with them. I suppose that could be because on the ship there are people wandering around the boardwalk below the zipline and they’re afraid of things falling on their heads, whereas the mountainside is covered in trees so you’d lose your stuff, but it wouldn’t fall on anyone.

top of the zipline

After everyone was harnessed up and ready we boarded the jungle bus again for a hairy ride on a narrow winding road up the mountain. The guide narrated things about the area, the island, and historical facts on the way up. The truck stopped near several short trails on top of the mountain. The first and shortest went to a viewpoint of a lagoon that used to be a salt pond. The second went up higher to a viewpoint of the harbor and the cruise ships at the dock. The third went down a bit to the entrance to the zipline.

people on 2 of the 4 ziplines

They had 4 lines running next to each other, but only 3 were in use that day. They let people go with their own group so most went in pairs rather than send 3 every time and split up people who were together, though if people had wanted to go separately to take photos or videos of each other they could have gone alone or in a trio with an unrelated pair. Some of the people in our group took videos of the people before or after them and then shared the videos they took with each other after the ride.

getting people ready for their ride

When it’s your turn to go the workers clip your harness to the line. It’s a hands-free ride with a series of springs to stop you when you reach the bottom. At least hands-free in that you don’t use your hand to stop yourself at the end of the line. There was a handle to hold onto. I haven’t actually seen the old-fashioned sort of zipline where you kept a gloved hand over the line to stop yourself with in many years, though we thought the hands-free stop was quite a clever invention the first time we ever saw one.

two people with sails coming in for a landing

The workers added a sail to some people to slow their descent. John was given a sail and I was not, but he still went down quite a lot faster than I did. There are giant heavy-duty springs at the bottom which stopped me with a little tap, but most of the others flew into it squishing it up tight and crossing over a bit of a gap between the building we landed on and the structure holding the end of the lines, then bounced back beyond the building before coming forward again into a landing on top of the building.

the back of John’s sail is way ahead of me

It was fun, though probably more so for the people who went faster. Speed of descent depends on both weather and body weight. From the description we were given it sounded like we would fly down the mountain so fast there would be no time for pictures, but about halfway down I decided to pull out my camera since I was traveling at a more leisurely pace. I had put a neck strap on it before going to the zip line that morning so there was no chance of dropping it. The camera case was also on a neck strap so it was just a matter of digging that out from under the harness.

view on the way down

After landing there are stairs going down from the roof where people land back to where we suited up at the beginning. We left the gear on the roof and the workers brought it down for use by another group. Other people were awaiting instructions when we went down. Besides being a bigger group than ours, there was also one couple who looked older than we are.

springs at the end

Once everyone was done they took us back to the cruise ship dock. One couple had started out walking because they didn’t know how long the wait would be, but they hadn’t got far before the truck caught up to them and stopped to see if they wanted a ride so they got in knowing that the truck would get them back to the port a lot faster than their feet would.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in Caribbean, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean, Shore Excursions, Wonder of the Seas | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cruise Ship Cabins on MSC Meraviglia

Meraviglia at Ocean Cay

Besides offering a variety of suites and staterooms, MSC also has some choice available in the level of service, which of course costs more with each level of improvement. Not all options are available with every room category. Suites all have Aurea, the highest level, which is not an option for inside or ocean view staterooms who can choose only from the two lower levels, Bella or Fantastica. Balcony cabins on the other hand have the option of choosing from all three. All categories earn loyalty points. MSC also has a program where people who have previously cruised on other lines can match their loyalty status from another line on MSC even when booking their first cruise with them.

Levels of Service

inside studio cabin

Bella is available with the guaranteed staterooms standard cruise package where you just get a category guarantee and don’t choose your own stateroom. These often end up with the least desirable (and therefore least expensive) cabins such as balconies with metal fronts rather than glass, obstructed ocean views, or cabins located at the extreme front or back of the ship or in noisy areas such as near a nightclub. There is a fee to make any changes to your booking such as relocating to a different cabin, and your seating preferences as to early or late dining are given last priority. No free room service any time of day. Bella service includes all standard cruise amenities like dining room or buffet meals, shows, use of the ship’s facilities like the pool, gym, and kids clubs for passengers with kids.

standard size balcony

Advantages for picking Fantastica instead of Bella include priority over Bella guests for dining room seating preferences, better cabin locations, choose your own cabin rather than having one assigned, you can make cabin changes without paying a fee, one free option to change the cruise date or destination as long as it is done at least a month prior to sailing, free room service at breakfast, and a 20% discount on pre-paid specialty dining packages. Bathrobes are not provided in the cabin, but we cruised at this level and one was delivered to my cabin on request. Washcloths aren’t provided in the staterooms either so if you want any you have to ask for those as well.

yacht club deluxe suite

Aurea guests have priority boarding and exclusive areas of the ship (generally a sundeck and solarium) that are not open to other guests. Bathrobes and slippers are provided in the cabin along with a pillow menu so you can choose your preferred pillow rather than just using whatever they provide. This level includes a welcome package of goodies in the cabin on departure day. Aurea guests get first priority on dining room seating times and the option of my choice dining where they can eat at any time within the specified open time for the dining room rather than having a specific seating time. Other levels do not have the anytime dining option on MSC. As well as the 20% off pre-paid specialty dining packages, Aurea guests also get 24-hour free room service delivery (the food is not free other than the free breakfast items, just the delivery). Also 40% off a pre-paid spa package or 10% off spa services purchased onboard. Aurea balcony cabins are in prime locations. Guests in the Yacht Club receive extra perks on top of the Aurea perks.


balcony cabin with bunks

Amenities for all cabin types include two beds that can be pushed together for one king-sized bed, a closet, a bathroom with shower or tub, interactive TV, telephone, safe, and a refrigerator stocked with costly minibar items, which the steward can remove if you just want to use it for a refrigerator. In-room wi-fi is available if you purchase an internet package. Most rooms have a sofa, which in some can be converted to a bed. Some rooms have bunks or connecting doors to the next cabin. Studio and junior cabins just have a chair rather than a sofa.

balcony cabin

Balcony cabins come with the options of Deluxe Balcony Aurea, Premium Balcony, Deluxe Balcony with Partial View, and Studio Balcony with Deluxe Balcony Aurea being the largest and most expensive and Studio Balcony the smallest and cheapest among the balcony cabins – all of which of have an oceanside veranda. Studio balcony cabins are only 129 square feet while the premium balcony cabins are up to 237 square feet, and deluxe are 183. Balconies range from 43 to 151 square feet. When a size range is given within any individual stateroom category on cruise ships the largest ones are generally the accessible cabins.

ocean view cabin

Ocean View cabins include Premium Ocean View, Deluxe Ocean View, Junior Ocean View, and Junior Ocean View with obstructed views. Sizes range from 129 square feet for the junior cabins, which is the same as balcony or interior studio cabins to 237 feet for premium cabins. Deluxe ocean view rooms are about 172 square feet.

inside cabin

Interior cabins come in Deluxe Interior or Studio. Deluxe range from 183 to 237 square feet, the larger of which are accessible cabins. At 129 square feet, interior studio cabins are the cheapest accommodations onboard. Good for solo or really budget conscious travelers or people who don’t do much other than sleep, shower, and change clothes in their cabin.


bedroom of grand suite with whirlpool

The Aurea suites are some of the nicest accommodations onboard as they come with large balconies and private hot tubs. These come in two sizes, the Grand Suite Aurea with terrace and whirlpool which is about 420 square feet with a balcony of about 388 square feet and the Premium Suite Aurea at 291 square feet with a balcony of about 280 – 323 square feet. These rooms have a sitting area separate from the bedroom that includes a double sofa bed.

Yacht Club

yacht club dining room

Yacht Club guests have cabins in a locked off area where other guests can’t go, referred to by MSC as a ship within a ship. Areas exclusive to yacht club guests only include a pool and sundeck, their own dining room, and a bar in the yacht club area where drinks are free. These rooms all have complimentary wi-fi. One of the front elevators is usually marked as exclusively for the use of yacht club guests and doesn’t stop to pick people up on other decks. Inside cabins in the yacht club are no bigger than some of the cabins elsewhere onboard yet can be nearly as expensive as suites that are not in the yacht club. The price just goes up from there.

duplex suite

The biggest, fanciest, and most expensive suites onboard are the Duplex suites with whirlpool. These two-story suites feature a main floor with open living and dining room and a sofa that converts to a double bed as well as a bathroom with a shower. The top floor houses a master bedroom with the usual two single beds that can be pushed together for a king bed, two walk-in closets, and a bathroom with a bathtub. These 635 square foot suites have 248 square foot balconies.

royal suite

The Royal Suite is a close second at 603 square feet with a 129 square foot balcony. Its balcony includes a dining area as well as a private whirlpool. This suite has a living room area separate from the bedroom, a walk-in closet, and a bathtub in the bathroom.

deluxe suite

Deluxe Suites are 280-312 square feet with balconies from 54-161 square feet. The large balconies come with forward-facing suites on deck 15. These suites have the sitting area next to the bed resembling an oversized version of the standard cabins.

yacht club lounge

Though they are called suites, the interior rooms in the yacht club are more like standard cabins than suites at just 183 square feet. What people are paying the big bucks for with these rooms is all the perks and amenities that come with being in the yacht club rather than the room itself.

yacht club pool

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in Meraviglia, MSC | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Garmin Solar Instinct Watch Review

Garmin Instinct Solar

This watch has way more functions than I’ll ever use since I just want something to track time and distance on my runs. The only improvements I really needed from my previous watch, which was so ancient they don’t even make it anymore, were longer battery life and waterproof. My old one tracked time and distance just fine, but on long hikes the battery would run out and it couldn’t be used for anything like snorkeling. It worked fine for years, but when it started deleting runs before I could even save them into Strava it was time for a new one. The Garmin Instinct Solar has a battery life of 24 days just used as a watch, or 30 hours on GPS. If you use some of the other functions that will shorten it. Being solar it can charge itself up in sunlight so that can add some to the battery life.

back of the box

It’s waterproof to a depth of 100 meters, so no problem if you go out in pouring rain, and snorkeling would never involve that sort of depth so fine for anything I’d do.

new in the box

It comes with minimal instructions, but there are both written instructions and videos available online for a lot more details on how to set things and what it can do. There are some YouTube videos that are a lot more informative than Garmin’s official instructions.

garmin watch

The first run I tried it on the trail run setting in a hilly park and it did all sorts of vertical calculations and gave me a pace of 4-5 minutes per kilometer, which is faster than I could ever run even on flat ground without my dog slowing me down and she was with me that day. At the end of a course I’ve ran many times and know to be 10k it said I’d gone 14k, so definitely not reliable in that mode. It was so far off on the distance that Strava didn’t even display a course map for that run like it usually does. I don’t know if that is a fault in my watch or with the programming in all of them. Mine was supposed to be new in the box, but already had files in it from a couple years prior to my purchase so I suspect someone may have bought it previously and returned it – for inaccurate tracking perhaps?

On a set 5k course marked for a yearly race I tried it in walk mode and it was dead on with its accuracy for the distance there, but that was all flat ground. The next day I tried it in run mode rather than trail run mode in a hilly park on a route I take regularly and know to be 5k. The overall time and distance were accurate, but the pace it showed along the way had moments where it showed a pace above or below the actual pace, though it did average out to the correct one in the end.

watch display while running showing pace, time spent running, and distance traveled. Also heart rate in the little circle.

My next test was to do a run with this watch and the old one, one on each arm to see how they compared. My reason for replacing the old one was because when I went to record my runs in Strava all of a sudden they were not there in the activities. First just the one day’s run was missing, then the entire activity file was blank, the watch having deleted all prior runs as well as that day’s. It would still record and save walks, but not runs so it was time for a replacement. Why it recorded walks and not runs is a mystery since it just tracked time and distance and did not have separate settings for different activities like the new one does. It did still work while on the run though so I could compare how it tracked a run vs the new one. As it turned out, the new one clocks in each kilometer at about 0.03 sooner than the old one, which probably puts it pretty close to dead on accurate. I know the old one took just over a kilometer to record one since it never made it quite to 5k on the two 5k races I ran with it. Those were both measured courses that would be dead on accurate at 5k. The pace function was still somewhat erratic reading faster in some locations and slower in others while my actual speed remained fairly constant, but it averaged out to pretty much the same per k as the old one displayed at each kilometer completed. The speed increases and decreases it showed were at the same locations it showed them previously so perhaps it has something to do with the GPS signal there. Particularly a loop that the old watch always said my time was slower than normal on where the new one showed a pace quite slower than what it showed on the main trail regardless of actual speed. It consistently paces slower in more heavily wooded areas and faster in more open areas. Whether this is because the trees interfere with the GPS signal or because the woodsy trails tend to have more twists and turns where it may only be tracking a straight line rather than actual distance covered or some other reason I can’t say since I don’t know. My best guess is probably both. Over time I have noticed that the pace will change by as much as several minutes per kilometer when going into or out of trees or around a corner to a different direction. The overall time and distance seem accurate, but the current pace could be anywhere from what it actually says to a several minutes per k faster or slower so that feature is not really helpful.

The battery life seems to take off one day per 30-40 minutes while running on GPS. For a watch that is supposed to have 24 days just as a watch or 30 hours in GPS mode it should go more than an hour per each day of battery life in GPS mode, and I am not intentionally using any other features that would run it down more quickly, though there does seem to be other things running like the heart rate monitor. I also run mostly on forested trails so there isn’t really any sunlight to charge it up along the way at all, but if that is supposed to extend it beyond the 30 hours than it should still make it slightly over an hour for each day of battery life even without sunlight. It definitely has way more battery life than my old one which never lasted more than a few hours, but it does not seem to have as much as claimed while using GPS, though that may be due to the fact that it does seem to be running more things than I actually set it for and I never bothered to research how to shut them off.

This watch usually finds its location faster than my old one did. Most of the time it finds it almost immediately, but there have been a few times even when at the same location as the previous use that it took awhile. It also charges faster than the old one when plugged in. The solar thing seems to extend the battery life a bit rather than to actually charge it up, but then again I’ve never had it out in any real hot sun or sat it anywhere in direct sunlight for any length of time.

after a run in between hitting buttons for save and done it displays stats from the run

One day when unplugging it after it had partially charged it suddenly jumped up to saying it was 100% charged. It remained displaying a full charge for several days and through a couple runs. Looking it up online showed that to be a common enough occurrence with this type of watch to have multiple postings on how to fix the problem. The advice was to reset the watch back to factory start, and the info on how to do so can easily be googled. It starts with turning the watch off, for which instructions can also be found. One of them mentioned that the solar Garmin instinct will still charge in the sun even when off, which can be useful if someone is out somewhere sunny with nowhere to charge their watch when the battery gets low. As for the battery life indicator staying at full, mine went down just from turning the watch off and back on again without actually resetting it, and it continued to work with the battery life indicator going down daily and after use like normal. It also continued working normally after the next charging without having to reset it so starting with just turning it off and then back on might be the way to go for that issue and only moving on to resetting if that doesn’t solve the problem. Especially since after I’d already fixed mine I found some other people online saying either to let it run out of battery on its own or to turn it off and on like I had rather than resetting it to solve the problem.

It’s done a few other odd things from time to time as well. Every now and then the word GOAL pops up in a circle to tell me I have achieved some sort of goal in distance traveled that I never set it for. One day while driving down the road exerting no energy at all it sounded an alarm of sorts and told me my heart rate was skyrocketing. I never set it to track my heart rate, but it will pop up with that during runs sometimes, though it always thinks it is fine then. I’m not sure how it tracks this as I never run with the watch directly touching my skin. I have no heart or blood pressure problems to ever have an incident where my heart rate would actually skyrocket to a dangerous level even during exercise so that little outburst from the watch made no sense at all. It was not in any sort of tracking mode at the time either, just regular clock mode so it’s not like it thought I was running faster than humanly possible or anything. It did that again once when I stopped the car and reached out the window to pick up my mail from the mailbox. That time it stayed in alarm mode until I plugged it in for recharging.

coral seen while snorkeling in Costa Maya , Mexico

I tried it in open water mode while snorkeling on a recent Caribbean cruise. It sat at 0 for quite awhile, but eventually gave an amount of meters swam. After being in salt water I soaked it in fresh water along with my waterproof camera, which came with instructions to do so for about 15 minutes after being in the salt. Of course following that it needs to be completely dry before plugging the cord into it for charging or anything. Crazy thing is after having to swim for ages before it went above 0 for the distance in the water, when I put it in open water mode on dry land to take a photo it started adding distance right away even though it wasn’t actually moving.

watch face in open water mode

While the pacing on this watch has always been somewhat erratic, the overall time and distance is normally accurate. One day on a run it experienced some sort of glitch or perhaps had difficulty accessing the satellite or something. The pacing that day was more erratic than usual, ranging from displaying as fast as 4.25 minutes per kilometer which I am not even capable of to over 18 minutes per kilometer, which is slower than my standard walk speed. I was running fairly consistently at about 7 and a half minutes per kilometer the whole time. When I got to the point on the trail where it should have said I’d gone 1 kilometer it only displayed 0.70. Later I ran a couple loops around a trail that is just about right at half a k and it only added 0.40 k for each loop. The last mile of that run it went back to recording the distance dead on and has been accurate ever since so that seemed to be just a one-time thing.

Strange occurrences aside, it is generally a good watch and with its long battery life it has never run out of battery and shut down on me like my old one did sometimes on long hikes. It has way more features than my old one did though, and even that one had more than I ever used. There are 5 buttons around the edges of the watch and since it has considerably more than 5 features each button or combination of buttons does a variety of things so accidently touching one can bring up unwanted features – which may be completely unknown if you only investigated the ones you might actually use when first acquiring the watch.

I don’t know if the quirks I’ve experienced with my watch are inherent to all of these watches, or if mine has these issues because it was a reject. I bought it as a new watch from a bicycling site that sold them for considerably cheaper than buying direct from Garmin so it is possible that site was selling previously returned watches as new, especially in light of the fact that it came with files already recorded in it. Someone had to have made those files either as a test or because they used it a few times before returning it.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in Product Reviews | 1 Comment

No Day in CocoCay

sunrise at sea

On a cruise billed with “Perfect Day in CocoCay” as the featured port stop, we were looking forward to our visit there, which was the last scheduled port in our itinerary on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas. It was the only port on our schedule where I hadn’t been, and I always like to see new places. Everything was new to my sister Barbara, who had not previously been to the Caribbean, but a having beach day was the thing she wanted to do most on our trip and that was the ideal place for it.

CocoCay from the ship as we passed it by

CocoCay is Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas. It sits about 55 miles north of Nassau in the Berry Islands and is also known as Little Stirrup Cay. Activities abound in a variety of sections. Captain Jill’s Galleon near the arrival plaza is a water playground for small kids. You can take a zipline across the harbor, go on waterslides, hang out at one of a variety of beaches, or stop for lunch or a quick snack. At least you can if your ship actually stops at the island. Unfortunately for us it was a stormy day and our captain didn’t feel it was safe to dock. Probably wouldn’t be the best beach day with wind, big waves, high seas, and clouds or even rain instead of sunshine anyway.

dock to CocoCay (internet photo)

While there are some free things to do on the island, it is full of things that cost extra. Thrill waterpark offers 6 waterslides and the biggest wave pool in the Caribbean. For people who want a more relaxing day on the island, Cocoa Beach Club has an exclusive private beach with beachside or floating cabanas, infinity pool, beach chairs, clubhouse, and upscale dining for those who want to pay the price to go there. Or get the best view around with a trip 450 feet up into the air on Up, Up and Away, a tethered balloon. People book these things in advance, but if the ship doesn’t stop on the island they get a refund. Even if the ship does dock there for the day some things like the balloon and zip line may not open if it is too windy for them to be safe.

even from a distance you can see the waterslides and balloon

There are free things to do on the island too. Oasis Lagoon is the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean. It has swim-to islands and a swim-up bar. Different coves within the pool offer different things. One has a kid-friendly sloped entry area. For a new and different experience duck below the surface to hear the underwater music. Hungry folks can find a complimentary burger, hot dog, or salad at the nearby snack shack. Cabanas with concierge service are available for an additional fee because even in the otherwise free areas there are ways for the cruise line to extract extra money. Like bars where people line up to buy drinks.

zipline and other fun stuff (internet photo)

Chill Island is the place to go for snorkeling, jet skis, or barbecue. Go paddleboarding or lounge on the beach. Cabanas and beach beds are available for an extra charge and snorkel gear available for rent if you don’t have your own. South Beach has volleyball, basketball, snorkeling, and a snack shack. The ever-present cabanas are available there too for those looking for an upgrade. Of course there’s food and bars to be found around the island. Most of the food is complimentary, but some is pay-extra.

passing by CocoCay on a stormy day

Had we made it to the island we would have ended up at South Beach or Chill Island, and perhaps spent a bit of time in Oasis Lagoon as well. I’d have wanted somewhere to go snorkeling, and Barbara would have been looking for a nice beach chair. Linda would have been there too, doing whatever struck her fancy. Instead of our much-anticipated beach day we just saw the island in passing as the ship sailed by while the captain made his decision not to stop. The island next to it also looked like a cruise ship private island, probably Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay since that island is close by. There was no sign of any ships there that day either.

Royal Caribbean’s map of CocoCay

I had another chance to see this island. After our January 2022 cruise on Serenade of the Seas out of Tampa got cancelled John booked a replacement on Wonder of the Seas for the next fall, which other than the starting port had the same itinerary as the one I took on Symphony with my sisters. The weather was enough better to actually make it to the island that time, but still not ideal for a beach day and some things weren’t open. I once ran into someone who said they’d taken 3 cruises that were supposed to stop at CocoCay and none had made it, so either that person had extremely bad luck or bad weather happens frequently at that island. My luck with the weather on that island wasn’t the greatest either, though it must work out for some people. They probably wouldn’t build all that on an island that never had good weather.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023


Posted in Caribbean, Royal Caribbean, Symphony of the Seas | 3 Comments

Jay Peak Resort

Jay Peak behind the resort on a clear day

Jay Peak Resort sits on the side of a mountain with Jay Peak looming above – sometimes. The peak with an elevation of 3,862 feet can go from fully visible to shrouded in fog in a matter of minutes. Jay Peak sits about 5 miles from the Canadian border in Vermont’s Green Mountains.

main part of the hotel

The main hotel complex has a hotel at each end. Jay Peak Hotel includes an indoor waterpark and conference center. A corridor leads to shops, restaurants, and a tram that goes up to the top of the mountain, with another smaller hotel on the other side of the tram station. You can get from one end to the other without ever going outside, handy for a ski lodge in winter. There are ski lifts near the tram base as well as in other locations around the property. A skating arena sits next to Jay Peak Hotel, and a golf course across the road below it, complete with clubhouse and restaurant. There’s also facilities for weddings.

bridge on a Nordic trail

The trail system includes Nordic ski trails as well as hiking and biking trails, though the hiking and biking trails are not well marked.

the trails just have little numbers, while the ski runs have signs

The ski runs work well as trails when there’s no snow so if you just want to hike around on the mountain and don’t really care where you go it’s easy to find your way back down whether you find the official hiking trails or not since there’s almost always a ski run somewhere nearby. Although mainly a ski resort, it is open year-round. Hours and days of operation of some facilities may be limited during the off season though.

condos by the mountain trails

Many condos and vacation homes cluster between this hotel complex and another hotel on the other side of it all. A movie theater sits next to that hotel. Neither that hotel nor the theater were open while we were there.

attached hotel on the other side of the tram

We went to Jay Peak Resort in October. Our room in the main hotel was booked well in advance in the cheapest style of room that they had, which turned out to be one king bed in a larger-than-average hotel room. It had a nightstand on either side, a closet, and a sort of combo desk/dresser that had a chair on one end with open space underneath and a TV over drawers on the other. There was an ironing board with iron and a hairdryer. It had a Keurig with coffee pods only and no tea available for the asking. No refrigerator or microwave. The bathroom was pretty spacious and the room itself had quite a lot of extra floorspace near the entry.

trail on the mountain

During our stay the hotel seemed mostly deserted. We saw very few other people around the place. I often wandered the halls throughout the entire resort without ever seeing another person. Once I saw a couple people walking a dog when I had hiked on trails far up the mountain, but they were not from the resort. Possibly from one of the vacation homes closer to that area of the trails. One afternoon 3 vans topped with bikes showed up at the resort with a group that spend one night there and left the next morning.

fog on the peak

It’s quite a large hotel so it probably gets a lot more business during the winter ski season.  John talked to another person there who had booked last minute and got a really nice suite for less than we’d paid for the cheap room, which in itself would normally indicate lots of available space to fill due to supply and demand – prices go down when you need to fill the rooms, up when there aren’t many available.

we could see the skating rink from our window

The 2nd floor room they gave us happened to be right next to some sort of giant machinery sticking out of a roof from the green part of the building over a conference center that was only 1 story high. Probably something to do with the heating/cooling system. It ran day and night making all kinds of racket. Like a furnace or air conditioner running constantly. Outside you could hear it from the distance of at least a couple city blocks away. From inside it sounded a lot like the furnace in the room being constantly on, though it rarely actually was. While this may not bother most people, I’m a light sleeper and always turn off any sort of heating or cooling system at night because I can’t sleep with it running.

place for outdoor weddings

After a sleepless night (for me, John slept fine) we asked if we could change rooms the next morning. At that time they said all rooms were either occupied or dirty and they would know later at 4pm. After not having cleaned our room that day we figured it was because they didn’t want to clean it before and after moving, but then when we went down to ask after 4 they said sorry all the rooms are full. Seriously, if the rooms were all full one would expect to see other people around the hallways sometimes and for things around the hotel to be open, though none of the shops or any of the restaurants within the main hotel complex ever were. They had guest laundries available on several floors. I did a load of laundry and besides not seeing anyone on the way to or from the guest laundry – which wasn’t even on our floor – I had to turn on the lights when I got there and nobody else came in the whole time. They never did let us change rooms and I never got much sleep during our stay there. They never did clean the room during our stay either. Whether that was due to not wanting to enter occupied rooms because of covid, not having enough staff to clean them other than between guests, or just their usual policy we will never know.

at the top of the peak

Clean towels were available at the front desk for the asking. There were also maps of the resort’s trails there for the taking, though the maps for hikers and bikers didn’t show the ski runs and most of the signs you come across up on the peak are for ski runs rather than trails so that would have been useful information for knowing where you were on the mountain. Getting back to the resort was easy enough following a ski run down, but more trail signs and ski run info on the map would have made finding or staying on hiking trails rather than ski runs a lot more possible.

tram to the top of the mountain

The skating rink, indoor water park, tram, shops, and restaurants had very limited off-season hours on certain days, mainly just the weekend and the movie theater none at all, though the theater being closed could have been a covid thing since a lot of things were still closed due to covid during the time we were there. Nothing much was open during our stay so we never had the opportunity to see much of what the resort had to offer. The little general store opened on the same day as the tram, which was good since that was where the tickets were sold. None of the other shops or any of the restaurants at the main hotel opened while we were there, nor the water park or skating rink which only had weekend hours. The golf course was open and we did see a few people using it.

golf course

The golf course restaurant next to the wedding tent was open sometimes while we were there, but of all the restaurants at the resort it was the only one that was. The tram to the top of the mountain opened on our last full day there after having been closed for the rest of our stay. That turned out to be the nicest day weatherwise so taking it up to the top of the mountain that day worked out well for us. While the first couple days had been cloudy, that day had bright sunshine so the views from the top were excellent.

view of the resort from up on the mountain

This would be a great place to stay when everything is open since there would be a variety of fun things to do. We enjoyed it anyway, though if you happen to go to Vermont and spend much time outside in nature be sure to check for ticks as soon as you go inside because they do have the sort that spreads Lyme disease there and if you get one you want to remove it before it has been there long enough to have any possibility of making you sick.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in USA | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments