Maré Cruise Port

Mare, New Caledonia

Explorer of the Seas in Maré

On our transpacific cruise on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, we made a port stop at Mare, New Caledonia. While this looks like the word for a female horse – a mare – it is actually pronounced Mar-ray.  It’s also spelled with an accent mark over the e, Maré. Being a French overseas territory, New Caledonians speak French. Maré is the second largest of New Caledonia’s 4 Loyalty Islands. Lifou where we had our other port stop in New Caledonia is the biggest of the 4.

Yejele Beach on Mare Island

Yejele Beach – internet photo

Maré is a tender port. On the ship they said there is nothing to do there other than buy their round trip pass for the shuttle to Yejele Beach. On our cruise that pass cost $16. It’s not that that’s a huge sum of money or anything, but spending the whole day on a beach with nearly the entire amount of passengers from the biggest cruise ship we’ve been on so far just didn’t sound appealing to us no matter how nice the beach is so we didn’t go there. Walking distance to the beach from the tender port is somewhere between 5 and 20 miles depending on the source of information. It’s on National Geographic’s list of top 5 beaches. We asked some of the people from our ship who went there how they liked it and they said it was lovely and big enough that it did not feel as crowded as they thought it would coming from a ship with over 3000 passengers.

Maré, New Caledonia

old ramp

Shuttling to the beach is not actually the only option for something to do on Maré . Although most of the shoreline has no water access, there are a couple ramps near the tender dock that lead to the water. One looks more like an old abandoned boat ramp then anything currently in use, but you never know.

Maré, New Caledonia

newer ramp

The other is bigger, wider, and has a lot easier access out of the rocks which make it look far more likely to be currently in use as a boat launching ramp, though nobody went anywhere near it while we were there.

Mare, New Caledonia

singers by the tender pier

Exiting the tender we saw locals in a little shelter singing, with a donation jar out front. Beyond them a sign pointed the way to the shuttles and market.

Maré beach bar

bar near the tender pier in Maré

Yes, there is something there besides the beach, a market right near the tender pier. Also a bar.

Maré, New Caledonia

Maré market stalls

Although we were told there would be no tours on the island, it appears some locals have gotten enterprising enough to try and earn a bit of money when cruise ships come to town.

Maré tours

tours available in Maré

There was a little booth set up where locals offered several different van tours around the island for varying times, prices, and sites to see. They had one for $25 that would take people to the natural aquarium, a village, and a beach. We didn’t take the tour so I have no idea if that is the same beach where the shuttles go or a different one.

monument on Maré

monument in a roundabout

The road to the right out of the port area leads to a monument in the center of a roundabout and a memorial by the sea. The one by the sea commemorates people aboard a ship at the time it sailed away from the island never to be seen again. It’s pretty much a giant white square with names.

scooters for rent

scooters and things for rent

Near this monument one of the locals had scooters set up for people to rent. Their sign said they also rented cars and bicycles.

tiny town on Mare

it’s a tiny town

Continuing along the road next to the sea for half a kilometer or so brings people into a tiny town, which has some houses and a police station. Maré is a raised coral atoll with steep drops through craggy coral rocks to the sea along much of the shoreline.

Maré, New Caledonia

some people hike the road into town while others found water access in the rocks

There are coral reefs all along the shore so anywhere you can get down to the water in natural areas is good for snorkeling. There’s not a whole lot of places where you can access the water, but if you hike down the road a bit there are a few.

Mare, New Caledonia

swimming hole or snorkeling area close to the port

At about half a kilometer from the port area by the little town there is a place where we found some people who had climbed down the rocks into the sea to swim and snorkel. It’s at the spot where there’s a little pathway through the grass across the street from the driveway to a white house with a red roof. The people we saw there said the snorkeling was pretty good at that spot.

stairway to the sea

stairway to the sea

Not far from there, just past the police station and across from an old abandoned stone house, a crumbling concrete stairway leads to the sea in a small inlet through the coral rock. We used that entrance as a way to get to the water and go snorkeling. On the way in we met the local doctor donning his snorkel gear, and on the way out a passenger coming in from having swam a bit of a distance away from shore where he said the snorkeling was fantastic – even better than Jinek Bay on Lifou. We went out beyond the inlet, but stayed behind the rocks that sheltered the cove. We saw quite a lot of coral and fish, but did not see anything rivaling Jinek Bay so apparently we did not go out far enough to find the prime spot. Across the street some locals had coconuts for sale set up with straws for people to drink the coconut water inside.


cemetery with one grave

If you walk farther down the road eventually there is a place that looks like a cemetery, but has just one crypt with another platform under construction. Beyond that at about 3.4 kilometers from the port area a natural aquarium sits in the trees just off the road. The walls are too steep to get in and out of it, but it is beautiful to see and the fish swim right up to the edge expecting food from people who stand there looking down. If you don’t mind a bit of a hike it’s worth seeing. The hike there has a lot of nice views of the shoreline.

dog in Maré

we saw several dogs wandering near the road in Maré

Back on the ship we talked to a passenger who had walked all the way to the beach with a friend. He thought it was about 12K. The walk took them 2 ½ hours and they said there wasn’t much to see along the way beyond the natural aquarium. From the beach they were able to take the shuttle back for $5.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Explorer of the Seas, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Shimizu

port in Shimizu

view of the Westerdam from the Ferris wheel in Shimizu

We had just a short amount of time to spend onshore in our port stop in Shimizu, Japan. Holland America Westerdam had a brief port stop there mainly for the views of Mount Fuji, which can be seen from the ship on clear days. Weather during our port stop was warm and partly cloudy. Not cloudy enough to obscure the mountain though, so we were graced with views of Mount Fuji.

Mt Fuji in Shimizu, Japan

view of Mt. Fuji from the Ferris wheel

The ship had a few excursions available and the port provided a free shuttle to the nearest train station. The dock is right in town so there are also things to see within walking distance of the ship. We’d had a couple port stops in Japan and not seen any traditional Japanese architecture yet so finding some sort of shrine or temple was our goal for this port.

Shimizu temple

temple in Shimizu

One of the ship’s shore specialists said there were a couple small local shrines near the shuttle stop and suggested downloading an app called which works when you have no access to cell coverage or wifi. Of course wifi on the ship is not conducive to downloading, but we already had google maps and used that instead. The port advisor’s app was in English, but we ran into a passenger who downloaded it in Japan and everything came up in Japanese on their phone.

Shimizu phone booth

No, we’re not in England. This is Shimizu, Japan

The port had quite a few little canvas booths with things for sale as well as an information booth and for those who needed cell coverage and have plans not providing affordable coverage in foreign countries they even had sim card rentals. Not far from the port we saw an old British style red phone booth. We rarely ever see phone booths in America any more, at least not where we live, but we saw several of the red ones in Japan.

shrine in Shimizu

this shrine or temple was not on the map

The person we talked to in the information booth did not have a map to the shrines near the shuttle stop that the ship’s shore advisor mentioned, but they did have one to several local shrines within walking distance of the ship, which was even better since walking straight from the ship means no worries about shuttle schedules.

statue at Japanese shrine

statue at the unmapped shrine

The map was not all that clear and the first shrine we found was neither on the paper map nor listed on google maps. We turned on the road the paper map indicated for the red shrine and just happened to see something that looked old and wooden at the end of a very narrow alley.

graveyard in Japan

small bit of a large graveyard at the brown shrine

We walked toward it and found some sort of unpainted church or temple with several structures built in old Japanese style and a graveyard with some pretty impressive statuary. This graveyard was large and associated with the temple, but we saw other random graveyards around the town that were much smaller – just a little plot between homes or other buildings. Their gravestones tend to be large and fancy.

red shrine in Japan

red shrine with fox (Kitsune) statue

Using google maps we then found the red shrine indicated on the paper map. It had a row of arches leading to it, lots of statues and pagodas, and an open view into the main building. This was probably the best of the shrines we found. It had a name in English on one of its signs which said Minowa Inari Shrine.

yellow temple in Shimizu

yellow temple

A couple other people from the ship came by while we were there, the first of quite a few passengers or crew we ran into around town. They had just come from a temple which was where we went next. This one was larger and yellow and did not have its name in English posted anywhere. It did have some sort of little shop with a poster in the window showing all of the ships coming to that port and when they were scheduled to be there, maybe 6 or 8 total for the year so it’s not an often visited port.

temple in Shimizu

Can we or can we not pass through this doorway?

We could take pictures on the outside of this one, and there was an open door with a pathway leading into some other structures, but when passing through this door a little Japanese lady who spoke no English seemed to be saying we were not to go there, though she may have meant it wasn’t open yet or not to take pictures since she somewhat alternated between gestures that seemed to indicate go away and those that seemed more welcoming. Not knowing what she actually wanted we just went back out the door and ventured no farther into the temple grounds. On the opposite side of the driveway from the buildings next to some bushes in front of a graveyard it had a row of what we thought were Buddha statues wearing pink bibs. Those were not the only  statues in bibs we saw in Japan. The most common color for them is red, which is apparently a color closely associated with several Shinto and Buddhist deities in Japan.

statues in bibs

statues in bibs at the temple

The most commonly found statues in bibs are actually called Ojizo-sama and are the guardians of children who died before their parents. Parents sometimes put bibs on them in hopes of gaining protection for their children in the other world. The next most often statue decorated with bibs or other red adornments is the Kitsune or fox where it is the color red rather than the bib itself that is of importance. According to old folklore red is the color of expelling demons and illness and a Kitsune usually means the shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, agriculture, general prosperity, and in older times was also the patron saint of swordsmiths and merchants. The Kitsune is the messenger for Inari and must not bring illness so the harvest is bountiful.

Shimizu Ferris wheel

Ferris wheel in Shimizu

A lot of the ports in Japan have giant ferris wheels. We’d gone on the one in Yokohama the previous day and decided to try out the one in this port as well. You get great views of the area from the top of those giant ferris wheels. You don’t need a map to find them either. They tower above most of what’s around them so you just walk toward where you see them from the ship. The one in Shimizu was even closer to the port than the one in Yokohama.

kids rides in Japan

Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the small children’s rides near the Ferris wheel

This one was right next to the water. The one in Yokohama was bigger and surrounded by roller coasters. It also cost a bit more. The one in Shimizu was surrounded by tiny rides for tiny kids. These giant wheels move continuously at a very slow speed so people get in and out on the move. You go around once, which on this one takes 13 minutes. Definitely not a thrill ride, it’s all about the view. We could see Mount Fuji and the ship, but in opposite directions so we could take photos are of one or the other, but not both together. We also saw some swans at the edge of the shore, but they were gone when we got off the ride. From the top a trail was visible heading off parallel to shore, but not on the shoreline.

vending macnines in Japan

Japan loves vending machines

The ferris wheel was next to a plaza full of little shops and restaurants and both seemed to have something to do with a local soccer team as the mascot was both on the wheel and in the name of the plaza. We found a shop in there that sold all sorts of international things from Australian TimTam cookies to Canadian maple leaf cookies, and all sorts of wines and other things from around the world. Most of the shops (at least on the lower level where we went) seemed to be all about food whether ready to eat or packaged.

squat toilet in Japan

this is what a squat toilet looks like

The restroom there had both western style and squat toilet options. All the restrooms we saw at the Japanese ports we went to either had western style toilets or both. Most had some sort of instructions on how to use the western toilets, which in Japan often had heated seats.

trail in Shimizu

walking and biking trail

After looking around the shops a bit we decided to try out the trail we had seen from the ferris wheel. It had separate paths for bikes or walking and a sign saying it went 8k to Miho-No-Matsubara, which is a pine grove and a world heritage site where people go for the views of Mount Fuji. We were just in this port for a few hours and while we might have had time enough left to walk the 8k there, if we did so we would not have time enough to get back to the ship before it left port so we just walked a short distance down the trail and then turned back. In some areas it had separate trails for bikes and pedestrians.

mini machinery

miniature construction equipment

Walking around Shimizu is quite interesting even when not in the vicinity of shrines or other sites because it really gives a good view into how average people there live. The roads are quite narrow, as are the available parking spots at most homes, which explains the preference for small cars and tiny trucks or vans that are no bigger than small cars. Even the construction machinery is miniature. As with anywhere some houses are nicer than others, though none of these had much yard space and whether apartments or single family homes they were all right next to their neighbors. The lots are very small so houses tend to have 2 or 3 stories. Some have a bit of greenery around them and a couple had fake dogs. Apparently Japanese people like fake things as we saw a lot of fake food in the little shopping malls. In Yokohama there was a small shop with nothing but fake food, which even included light switch plates that looked like toast with butter or jelly.

canal in Shimizu

canal with painted wall

Like most of the other ports we visited in Japan, this one had random vending machines sitting outside along the streets. Most of them sell drinks, but some have ice cream or other things.


bird on a post in the canal

A bridge passed over a canal where one side was lined with houses and the other a cement wall painted with murals. Birds sat on a row of posts in the water next to the wall.

house in Shimizu

one of the nicer looking houses

Some of the homes are quite cute. Some look brand new, others have seen better days, and a few even had touches of the old traditional Japanese architecture. We ran into a local at one of the ports who said that in Japan people were accustomed to not needing to lock doors, and that if you left something sitting out on a busy sidewalk all day it would still be there when you came back because people never bother other people’s homes or take their things. Sadly he also said that was starting to change now due to immigration.

soccer wall

soccer wall

On the way back we walked down a street that had a wall made to look as if a soccer balls were in different stages of passing through it. The sidewalk in that area had all sorts of different footprints in the paving.

old Japanese building

there’s a bit of old-style architecture mixed in with more modern buildings around town

More Blogs About Japan

Hakodate Cruise Port
Exploring Hakodate
Yokohama Cruise Port
Exploring Yokahama
Shimizu Cruise Port

Shimuzu, Japan

port area in Shimizu

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Holland America, Japan, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Fold a Towel Owl

Towel Owl

The Towel Owl is a My Cruise Stories original towel animal. It’s cute, stands on its own, and not too hard to make.

Supplies Needed to make a Towel Owl

1 bath towel

2 hand towels

eyes and feet

1 rubber band

How to Fold a Towel Owl Head

fold over both short ends of the hand towel to make it square

Fold the short ends of one hand towel over evenly on both sides to make a square.

fold the towel in half diagonally making a triangle

Fold the towel half diagonally making a triangle with the previous folds to the inside.

roll from the long side until there is just enough point left for a beak

Roll the long edge of the triangle toward the point until the pointy end is the right length for a beak.

fold rolled head in half with the roll to the outside

Fold in half with the roll on the outside. Secure the two sides of the roll together under the head with a rubber band.

How to Fold a Towel Owl Back, Wings, and Tail

fold bath towel in half crosswise making a square

Fold in half crosswise making the towel relatively square.

fold the corners into the center making a diamond shape

Fold all 4 corners into the center to make a diamond shape.

fold towel in half to make a triangle

Fold towel in half across what would be the long side if the towel wasn’t folded, making a triangle.

How to Fold a Towel Owl Front

fold 1/3 of a hand towel over, then fold the remaining unfolded third over that

Fold 1/3 of a hand towel across the short side. Then fold the remaining unfolded third over the folded part making a rectangle. This towel can either be the same or a different color or pattern than the other two towels. I chose one with a similar color, but different pattern.

lay the folded hand towel over the head bits like a blanket

Lay center of the folded end of the towel over the long bits of the head piece. At this point it kind of like you are tucking the owl head into bed under a blanket.

wrap the towel around the extra bits below the head

Wrap both ends around the head piece and fold under any bits that stick out beyond the back so you can’t see them from the front.

Finishing the Towel Owl

lay the body at the center of the long side of the wings with the head above the towel

Set the head and body onto wing piece with the head at the center of the long edge. The top of the body front will be on the towel with the head sticking out beyond the wing towel.

finished towel owl

Fold the wings over the sides of the body and stand bird up with the bottom bit of the triangle sticking out behind it for the tail. Arrange wings tail, beak, and bottom of stomach as desired. It looks more owly if you shape the bottom of the stomach into 2 little legs. Add decorations such as paper, felt, or googly eyes and pipe cleaner, paper, or felt feet. This owl has pipe cleaner feet. Yellow eyes with black pupils would look the most realistic for an owl since that is what a lot of real owls have, but the closest I had in googly eyes was white with yellow pupils.

For instructions on how to fold other towel animals see My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Towel Animals | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aquarium Bar in Cozumel


Veendam in Cozumel

Cozumel is full of little beach bars near the cruise ports. Most ships also offer a wide variety of shore excursions both on the island and on the mainland. When we stopped there on Holland America Veendam we walked around the area of town nearby the port for a bit and then took a taxi out to the Aquarium Bar. Taxi fare to the individual bars varies by distance from the port to the bar, but it doesn’t cost much to get to any of them. Once there most of them have some sort of cover charge to get in, which normally includes use of whatever facilities that place has once you are there. Most have something to do, whether it is water toys, kayaks, or snorkel equipment. It depends on which bar you go to what they have and what costs extra. Some have all-inclusive options that will even cover food and drinks and others don’t.

Aquarium Bar in Cozumel

sea view from across the pool and through the bar at the Aquarium Bar

Several of the bars on the sign at the taxi stand are listed as good places for snorkeling. The taxi drivers always recommend Sky Reef, where we went on a previous visit. That particular bar had no cover charge then. Wanting to try a different place this time, we opted to go to the Aquarium Bar. This one had an assortment of blow-up water toys anchored in shallow water not too far out from the sandy beach. A string of floats marked the end of the safe area where boats can’t go and they said the best snorkeling was out near the floats. For a place called Aquarium Bar the amount of coral was disappointingly sparse and a lot of what was there was either damaged or not looking too healthy. Fish tend to hang where the coral is so not much coral means less fish. For the best snorkeling in Cozumel you really do need to go on some sort of boat tour that takes you to out to the good reefs.

Cozumel beach bar

boats often speed past the beach at the Aquarium Bar

Sea life likes structure and there wasn’t a whole lot of it near the Aquarium Bar. Out beyond the buoys there was probably a lot better snorkeling because a lot of dive boats stopped out there. Boats also went speeding by just past that string of floats at high enough speeds that their wakes came crashing over the seawall when they got to shore, so it’s really not a safe area to snorkel in if you haven’t got a boat to protect you from the boats going by. Which explains the need to stay behind the floats.

under the sea

fish at the Aquarium Bar

There were more large sized fish at the Aquarium Bar than in most places near shore, just not too much coral or the smaller fish that hang out in it. Closer to the shoreline than where the boats usually go, but beyond the area protected by floats there was a sort of cove with more structure, but I did not see anyone go beyond the floats to snorkel there. The area may have had sharp rocks and coral too close to the surface to swim over. Or it could have been some sort of protected area closed to people.

snorkeling at the Aquarium Bar

there were some bits of structure with sea life

Cozumel is known for its crystal clear water. Water near shore at the Aquarium Bar was quite murky the day we were there. While the sea itself was calm on that day every wake from the many passing boats churned up the sand leaving visibility to the bottom through the water near shore at zero even though it wasn’t more than a foot or two deep. In contrast, we could walk out onto the balcony on our ship and look all the way to the bottom of the sea since there were no passing boats churning up sand at the dock.

undersea photo

coral or seaweed?

Away from shore at the Aquarium Bar out closer to the floats where the wakes weren’t crashing ashore disturbing all the sand the visibility was much clearer. The bottom was easy to see even though the water was deeper. It was never very deep though. Most of the bottom was sand or sea grass, though it did have ups, downs, and holes like the sand was possibly covering a dead reef. In some places baby corals were making an attempt to grow and there were a few nice big ones. Definitely more fish than coral though. The Aquarium Bar is a good place to see some big fish, but not a good place to see coral or multitudes of fish. Big fish is relative to the size of the average little near shore reef fish, not in comparison to giant fish people catch when fishing offshore, although I have occasionally seen some very large manta rays while beach snorkeling.


pelican fishing in the surf

They had plenty of beach chairs. After snorkeling we found a comfortable spot to relax and watch the boats go by. A pelican came along and decided to dive for fish right in front of us, which is always fun to watch.

Aquarium Bar in Cozumel

beach chairs at the Aquarium Bar

Overall the Aquarium Bar was a nice little beach bar for people who like quieter places away from the crowds, but for better snorkeling I’d recommend Chankanaab Park or even Sky Reef if you can’t get offshore.


a bottomfish at the Aquarium Bar

More Blogs About Cozumel

Cozumel Cruise Ports
Cozumel, Mexico
Atlantis Submarine
Cave Snorkeling
Chankanaab Park
Palancar Reef Snorkel
Playa Mia Beach Bar
Sky Reef Beach Bar
Tulum Mayan Ruins

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Caribbean, Holland America, Mexico, Ports of Call, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cruise Ship Cabins on Royal Princess

Royal Princess

Royal Princess in San Diego

Cabin categories are pretty much the same from ship to ship. Except when they’re not. Most ships have inside cabins, oceanview cabins, balcony cabins, and suites. Of course there are usually further divisions within some or all of those categories, but those 4 basic cabin types can normally be found on all major cruise ships. Royal Princess on the other hand is missing an entire cabin category. There are no oceanview passenger cabins anywhere on the ship. None. While most ships have a deck or two of oceanview cabins below the public decks, on Royal Princess there are only crew decks under the public areas. A lot of ships also have some obstructed view oceanview cabins behind the lifeboats, but Royal Princess has none of those either. So options there are limited to inside, balcony, suite, and the sub categories thereof. Cabins on this ship sleep 2-4 people.

typical closet in Royal Princess staterooms

Closets on Princess ships tend to be open rather than having doors, and more spacious than what a lot of other lines provide.

self-serve passenger laundry

Princess ships have nice big self-serve passenger laundries which is quite nice, especially when taking a long cruise, or a cruise as one part of a longer vacation. Wheelchair Accessible cabins are available in different categories and come equipped with full wheelchair-turning space, a roll-in shower equipped with grab bars and a fold-down bench seat, an easy access closet and accessible writing desk. Accessible cabins are usually the largest cabins available in any given category.

interior cabin (photo courtesy of Princess cruises)

As with any cruise ship, interior cabins are the smallest and lowest priced. These range from 158-162 square feet. Even in the inside cabins amenities include a small refrigerator as well as standard items like a hairdryer, safe, and TV.

cabin A203, interior with bunk

Some rooms are equipped with drop-down bunks and will sleep up to 4 people.

Standard Balcony cabin with beds set as 1 (photo courtesy of Princess cruises)

Standard balcony cabins are 214-222 square feet in size (including the balcony) and feature floor to ceiling windows at the sliding door to the balcony on the ocean side of the room. Balconies have 2 chairs and a table.

cabin A111, standard balcony with beds set separately. This was our cabin, and it did not have the extra table and chair shown in the photo from Princess of the same cabin category

Regardless of cabin category, all staterooms have the standard 2 beds that can be set together as a queen size bed or apart as twin beds depending on if guests want one bed or two.

balcony cabin A111 with 1 bunk down

Rooms with drop down bunks do not get any extra furniture on the balcony. There’s a chair at the desk so we brought that outside if we all wanted to sit out there. There is no other inside seating other than the beds. At least in our cabin there wasn’t, though the photo from Princess shows a second chair with a small table.

cabin A201 deluxe balcony

Deluxe Balcony rooms are 233-279 square feet including the balcony, and add a sofa bed to the room’s furnishings. So for the increased cost over a standard balcony cabin you get somewhere else to sit as well as the extra square footage. The list also includes upgraded amenities, which I would hope means separate shampoo and conditioner because in the standard balcony cabin we had it was the nasty all in one sort. I can’t say what the upgrades actually are though since I did not stay in that cabin. The gym showers also had the crappy all-in-one shampoo and conditioner.

cabin A205 mini suite

Mini Suites are styled like an extra-large balcony cabin. These have about 323 square feet including the balcony, and the bathroom includes a bathtub rather than just a shower. It also has a massaging showerhead, and the balconies have an ottoman as well as chairs -some of these balconies have 4 chairs. The sitting area in these rooms includes a coffee table. Some mini-suites book as club class. Those rooms are in prime locations and include some suite amenities like the princess luxury bed, priority embarkation and disembarkation, and special dining privileges. For a larger pricetag than the regular mini-suite of course.

suite (photo courtesy of Princess cruises)

Suites come in either premium at about 554 square feet and located at the bow end corners of various decks, or the slightly pricier penthouse ranging from 440-682 feet depending on location in the ship with the larger ones at the stern corners of various decks and the smaller ones toward the rear of deck 14. Square footage includes the balcony. Balcony furniture includes 4 chairs as well as an ottoman and 2 loungers.

Suite Bathroom (photo courtesy of Princess cruises)

The bathroom has a shower separate from the tub. Other additional perks beyond what the mini-suites offer include priority tender disembarkation at tender ports, complimentary laundry service, complimentary dinner in a specialty restaurant on boarding day, and priority reservations for specialty dining and shore excursions.

Princess Luxury Bed in Suites (photo courtesy of Princess cruises)

This ship has lots of good options for staterooms as long as you’re not looking for oceanview (my usual preferred category because they are bigger than interior and have a view, at a price less than what you pay for a balcony cabin.)

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019





Posted in Princess, Royal Princess | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Décor on Explorer of the Seas

cruise ship decor

looking down the front atrium from above the metal sculpture

For anyone new to sailing on Royal Caribbean, Explorer of the Seas definitely stands out above the average cruise ship. The most notable difference is found at the center of the interior of the ship. Standard cruise ships tend to have an atrium or other large open area somewhere near the center. It may run anywhere from a few decks high to all the way up to the top of the ship, sometimes adorned by glass elevators. Explorer of the Seas has two of these many deck high atriums, one each at the front and back stairway/elevator bay areas. These are topped by enormous metal sculptures dangling several decks down from the top. Each of these atriums also has one or two glass elevators on the atrium side as well as regular elevators on the outer side of the hallway where the elevators stop.

Explorer of the Seas

a city inside a cruise ship – Royal Promenade view from the back atrium

What really sets this ship apart from the average cruise ship is what you find in between these two atriums. It’s not just the atriums that rise up wide open for a number of decks, but also the section in between. Both ends have viewing areas where people can sit and watch the activity below. This whole central area is called the centrum. Decks 4 and 5 have public spaces running from atrium to atrium. Deck 5 is called the Royal Promenade. It resembles a city street with shops and a pub and café.  Completing the city look, apartments rise high above the street. Or at least it has the appearance of apartment buildings. It’s actually several decks worth of inside cabins with promenade views. The atriums on both ends are open beyond deck 10, which is the top level of promenade view cabins. These make great rooms for people watchers who don’t mind a bit of noise.

cruise ship decor

Africa display case

Hallways in passenger cabin areas have pictures from different parts of the world. Most deck also have little cases here and there with displays of historical artifacts from the theme style of that deck. From Australia to Asia to Africa, different decks displayed different artworks. Spanish style also graced one deck, and the suite deck had displays from North America – mostly the old west in the USA.

cruise ship hot tub

hot tub in the solarium

The solarium area and the whirlpool in the gym are done in old Greek or Roman style with columns surrounding the pools. The solarium also has flooring that represents old historic tiles and statues that fit in with the other décor.

ship model

model of one of Royal Caribbean’s other ships

There’s lots of artwork throughout the ship. It’s got the required (or so it seems since nearly all cruise ships have them) odd or ugly statues along with all sorts of other artwork displays. There are ship models both of ships from Royal Caribbean’s fleet and of ancient sailing ships.

ship bar on a ship

Schooner Bar

There’s even a bar called the Schooner Bar decorated in a sailing ship theme.

cruise ship stairway art

stairway art

There are 2 stairways at each atrium area, one on the port and one on the starboard side of the ship. There’s also elevator bays on each side. The stairways each have a different art theme.

cruise ship stairway art

stairway art commemorating stars – and not the sort in the sky

A forward stairway has a walkway of stars theme with pictures and paintings either of or done by music or film stars, and some musical instruments. One of the back stairways has a beaches and tides theme, but the artwork there is pretty abstract so you have to read the sign to know the theme.

odd cruise ship sculptures

if the sea is rough enough these sculptures dance

The deck 4 side entrances to the theater have some wire type metal people sculptures that move a bit with the motion of the ship.

cruise ship art

it may not touch the sea, but it could be called a sea wall

Metal artwork can also be found in other places too like an outside covered area near the ping-pong tables where metal whales and other sea life adorn a curved wall.

moai painting

hallway art – this picture always reminded me of sailing past Easter Island

Our ocean view cabin was down a short quiet peaceful dead-end hallway on deck 2 that went to just 15 rooms. We didn’t have any of the fancy cases of artifacts that the upper decks had, but there was a painting of one of the moai heads of Easter Island. We were nearly at the end of the hallway so almost nobody ever walked past our room.


I can’t help but see light blue horse butts with white tails in this tile pattern

They were probably supposed to be flowers or something, but the pattern in the tiles by the bathroom sink in the cabin always looked like a row of horses’ hind ends to me. (And yes, I meant to spell it that way. Plural is horses, possessive is horse’s, and plural possessive is horses’.) I could also see the white bits as the ends of Q-tips though.

door sign magnet

a cruise line smart enough to use a magnet for their clean/don’t disturb door sign

Speaking of cabins, this one had something I’ve long thought all cruise ships should have – the sign you put on your door for cabin cleaning or do not disturb is a magnet rather than a paper that hangs on the knob where it can easily fall off or get turned the wrong way. Even older ships that don’t have magnetic cabin walls generally have magnetic doors.

cruise ship decpr

looks like it ought to be a globe, but it isn’t

All the restaurants, bars, and lounges each had their own individual décor. The Viking Crown Lounge, which has forward view windows overlooking the pool deck, has glass balls on poles that kind of look like they would be globes, but they’re not. Abstract art I guess, except these were actually pretty where a lot of abstract art just looks weird.

cruise ship atrium

back atrium from deck 4

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Explorer of the Seas, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hits and Misses on Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista in Malta

Vista in Malta

When Carnival’s ship called Vista first launched, it was not just a new ship, but the first ship of a whole new class – the Vista class of course. Vista is full of firsts. Some firsts for Carnival, some firsts at sea. Some invoke a wow, others more of a what were they thinking. Hits and misses in this blog are totally my opinion. Other people are free to feel differently.

Hits on Carnival Vista

cruise ship waterslides

Waterslides and splash park. The orange one is the new tube slide.

Carnival Vista had its share of things to like, starting with the tube slide up on top of the ship. Carnival’s other ships all have waterslides, but this is the first one for Carnival where you slide down on tubes.

cruise ship salad

Fresh Creations salad from the Serenity Deck

Carnival’s ships all have an adults only Serenity deck. While Serenity decks on other ships come equipped with a bar serving alcoholic beverages, Vista was the first with a salad bar. This salad bar is nothing like what you find at the serve yourself Lido buffet. It has giant salad bowls and all sorts of good things to choose from for the guy behind the counter to put in them. I say guy and not person because every time I went there it was always one or two guys working there. The bad thing about this salad bar is that it is only open at lunchtime on sea days.

fun on a cruise ship

skyride on the Vista

One of Vista’s firsts at sea is found in the outside area at the top of the ship above sports square in the form of a peddle it yourself skyride. Although I have a bum knee that prevents me from riding a bike, I had to give the skyride a try, knowing it could be difficult for me. The view from up there is excellent and even though it wasn’t a personal favorite (mostly due to the knee) I could see why other people enjoy it. I was a bit bummed they didn’t allow cameras, but the crew people working there said people had dropped them sometimes so they had to quit allowing them on the ride. The mini golf in sports square is always a hit too.

best free ice cream on board

free homemade ice cream at lunchtime in the Lido buffet

Lunchtime in the Lido buffet brought about another first for Carnival – homemade ice cream, made while you wait. Waiting was the bad thing because the ice cream was such a hit they often ran out. There were sometimes more people in line than the amount of ice cream churned out could serve and it would be awhile before the next batch finished. For anyone lucky enough to get a bowl there was also a tray of sauces and toppings to dress it up with. They served 2 flavors each day which varied from day to day. Timing it right by getting there early or at less popular times made acquiring a bowl of ice cream easier. This ice cream is far superior to what comes out of their always available swirls machines.

Carnival Vist IMAX

Theater entrance for Imax and Thrill Theater

Inside the ship had new things as well. Their IMAX theater is the first at sea and there’s not a bad seat in the house. They had several IMAX movies and a couple full length features. These did cost extra and there wasn’t any special deals for going to more than one movie.

new photo technology

Vista’s Pixels Photo Gallery displays photos digitally

Instead of putting out actual photos that get thrown away at the end of the cruise if nobody buys them, Vista had a digital photo display. They also sold the photos digitally. They did not have a printed photo option for anyone who might want that though.

Red Frog Pub on Carnival Vista

Red Frog Pub & Brewery

Vista’s Red Frog Pub has another first at sea – an actual brewery, brewing up special beers to serve onboard.

inside Havana cabin

Havana inside cabin 5214

People might think Vista’s lack of closet space in the cabins is a miss, but the reason is because some of what would be closet space is taken up by individual heating and cooling units for each cabin. With individual control for your own room instead of a central system it’s a lot easier to keep it at just the temperature you want.

cruise ship passenger laundry

launderette on the Vista

Like all Carnival’s ships, the Vista has self-serve passenger laundries, which is always a hit with me.

Vista Atrium

Vista Atrium

Because of the IMAX needing the space, Vista’s atrium was just 3 stories high. While this is nowhere near as impressive as the many decks high atriums of past ships, it did have a central pole with ever-changing designs. So depending on a person’s point of view the atrium could be either a hit or a miss.

Misses on Carnival Vista

Probably the biggest miss on the Vista is the main show theater, called the Liquid Lounge. In one of those what were they thinking moves, somebody had the not-so-brilliant idea of making the theater double as a night club. Which makes for a theater with barely a good seat anywhere in the house other than the very front row. We talked to somebody who went there when it was in night club mode who said it didn’t function very well as a nightclub either. Going to a show there did not mean seeing the show, mostly just hearing it while looking at the back of somebody else’s head. Even balcony seats were hard to see from. The front row had a blue plexiglass barrier obscuring the view. The rest of the rows looked at the backs of heads except in one small section where the seats actually were set high enough to see above the person in front of you – as long as you didn’t go too high in that section because the upper seats had a view of all the lighting equipment hanging from the ceiling.

Carnival Vista theater

Liquid Lounge – the blue bit on the right side is the plexiglass barrier. Photo taken standing at the edge of the balcony with the camera beyond the plexiglass. The seats did not have this nice of a view.

Vista had the Thrill Theater like the Breeze has, which shows short films with moving seats and other effects. This ought to be in the hits category rather than the misses, but it was missing the all-cruise pass they had for the Thrill Theater on the Breeze that made it affordable to go as many times as you want and see all the different shows. On Vista they only had the per show price, which made it too expensive for most people to see more than one or two. This definitely showed in the audience. While the Thrill Theater on the Breeze was nearly always full, the one on Vista didn’t get much use. Sadly the crew person selling tickets said they were planning to discontinue the all-cruise pass on the Breeze as well. Kind of renders those theaters pointless if they make it too expensive for people to enjoy them.

Vista casino

looking down on the casino through the plexiglass on the deck above

Like Carnival’s other ships (except the ones sailing in Australia), the casino on the Vista doubles as a smoking lounge. It is not fully enclosed so smoke escapes to other areas of the ship, and it sits in the middle of a public deck with no way around it other than going to another deck to avoid walking through the smoke. The casino has a video pole like the one in the atrium, which extends to the deck above. They at least had the sense to put plexiglass over the opening to keep the casino’s smoke off that deck.

cruise ship hallway

decor on the Vista is minimal

Some ships have wild décor, some way over the top décor, and some more subtle décor. Other than the video poles the Vista pretty much had no décor, especially through the main hallways in public areas of the ship. It also had somewhat of an awkward layout with access to important places like the front desk and shore excursion desk limited to only one of the ship’s three stairways/sets of elevators on a deck that did not go through to the other two stairways and elevator bays.

Vista dining room

Horizon’s Restaurant – one of two main dining rooms on the Vista

Another thing that seemed to me like a bad idea was making anyone below platinum in Carnival loyalty status with your time dining check in for dinner at a café halfway across the ship from the dining room. I’ve never seen that on any of their other ships. If I were a new cruiser and had to go through that every night to get to the dining room I might just eat at the Lido buffet and not bother. Which a lot of them may have done because the your time dining room was the emptiest we’ve ever seen with more unoccupied tables than occupied ones every night throughout our cruise. They also had no pedestals in the dining room so it seemed pretty pointless for the waiters to perform their dance routines when nobody other than whoever was right next to them could see anything. Kind of a theme with that ship, shows nobody can see.

Carnival Vista

Havana pool and hot tubs takes up the stern of the promenade deck

One thing we always liked about Carnival was that unlike some other lines that have exclusive areas available only to certain guests, Carnival’s public spaces were always available to anyone whether they booked the cheapest inside cabin or most expensive suite. Not on the Vista though. It has exclusive areas for people in both the Havana and Family Harbor cabins. The Family Harbor lounge is just in an inside area of a lower deck, but the Havana area includes a good portion of the outside area of the promenade deck. For the benefit of the few, the many who enjoy walking or jogging around the promenade deck get cut off halfway around. Our balcony looked down on the Havana cabanas and we rarely ever saw anyone out there or in their private section of the promenade deck next to the cabanas.

Carnival Vista

Vista in Bermuda

We used to sail Carnival more than any other line because they often have the best price and they have fun stuff like waterslides. On most ships the hits outweigh the misses, but on this one the misses were pretty overpowering. All else being equal, we would pick a Dream, Spirit, or Conquest class ship over Vista class if we sailed Carnival again. We mostly sail other lines now though because many of the other lines either keep the smoking outside in limited areas or keep it contained in a fully enclosed space.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Carnival, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Shimizu, Japan Cruise Ship Port

Shimizu, Japan

Westerdam in Shimizu – photo taken from the giant wheel

The port of Shimizu is located between Tokyo and Osaka. With Mount Fuji looming large in the background, views from the port are spectacular on clear days. Fuji is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. A nearby pine tree grove called Miho-no-Matsubara is a World Heritage constituent property. People go there for views of the mountain as well as to see the trees.

Mt Fuji

Mount Fuji

The main reason ships come to Shimizu is for the views of Mount Fuji, which is visible from the ship on clear days. On foggy days it may not be visible at all. We were there on a sort of in-between day when it was clear enough to see the mountain, but not clear enough for it to shine in all its spectacular glory.

red shrine in Shimizu

the red shrine had a series of arches leading up to its main building

There are several temples and shrines within a few miles of the port, one accessible by a ropeway tram. The area has a number of museums as well as some parks, a ferris wheel, small mall, a ferry, and a zoo.

Japanese shrine

shrine or temple near the port that is not on the map

We found a yellow temple and red shrine that were on the map we got at the port’s info booth as well as showing up on google maps, and a brown temple complex or shrine with multiple small buildings that was bigger than either of the others and not on either the paper or electronic map.

Shimizu, Japan

view of Shimizu from the ship

Shimizu is Japan’s number one tuna fishing port and fresh seafood is a favorite with tourists and locals alike. Besides tuna and other seafood local restaurants may serve sakura shrimp, a small crunchy variety found only in the area. Most local shops, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance of the cruise pier did not open before 10am during our visit.

Shimizu map

map hanging on the fence at the port

The ship docks right in town, but there is a free shuttle to a train station for those who want to venture farther from the port or go to other towns. There are also some local shrines near the train station.

Shimizu cruise terminal

cruise terminal in Shimizu with outside booths

There were a number of little canvas booths at the port selling things, and an information booth where people venturing out on their own could get maps, directions, and information on nearby sights. The paper maps from the information booth are somewhat useful, as they did show temples, shrines, and other things of interest within easy walking distance of the port. They are not always perfectly clear though. The one we were given showed very few landmarks or road names to assist in finding the sites. The nearby shrines are much easier to find using google maps or a mapping app such as There were cell phone sim cards available for rent at the port. We happened across a temple that was not shown on either the paper map or google maps before finding any that were.

trail in Shimizu

a bit of the trail seen from the wheel

A paved walking and bike trail runs near the shoreline quite close to the dock. It leads to the pine grove for anyone who would like to take an 8k walk to that site, which would make it 16K round trip (10 miles). The trail is easily accessible from the ship and easy to find as you just walk to the ferris wheel which you can see from the ship and pick up the trail there. By the wheel the trail is a boardwalk along the sea, but further down it is inland a bit and paved. It’s a nice place for a walk even if you just want to go for a short distance and not all the way to the pine grove.

daycare kids in Japan

daycare kids in Shimizu

We saw several groups of small children out walking with their day care groups, with a few of the smallest ones riding in wagons. One little girl who couldn’t have been more than a year and a half old looked up from the wagon as we walked by and said hi in English, obviously pleased when we waved and said hi back. Kids in daycare groups often wore matching hats making them easier for caregivers to keep track of.

Shimizu wheel

Ferris wheel in Shimizu

The seaside ferris wheel at this port sits next to a shopping plaza with lots of restaurants and food shops. Small rides for very small children surround the ferris wheel, and tickets for the wheel are available at the top of the stairs leading to the entrance of the ride.

Shimizu, Japan

city view from the wheel

Excursions offered from Holland America Westerdam included various bigger and more distant shrines than the ones near the port, an art museum and the pine grove, and a castle park. Most of the excursions included a stop at a viewpoint for Mount Fuji – with a weather permitting warning as it could be obscured if the day is cloudy.

farewell performance from Shimizu

performance on the dock

As the ship was preparing to leave kids from a local high school put on a Japanese drum performance on the dock, which drew crowds from both passengers on the ship and onlookers shoreside.

Mount Fuji

view of Mount Fuji from the ship

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Holland America, Japan, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boarding the Royal Princess

Royal Princess in LA

Princess did a couple things prior to our cruise that made me think if there are other lines offering the itinerary I want I’d sail with somebody else next time. We booked this cruise over a year in advance and it showed a boarding time of 1pm all along. Suddenly a couple weeks before the cruise, when pretty much everyone will have already made their travel arrangements, they sent out an email saying they have staggered boarding times by deck.

Royal Princess Piazza is a hub of activity during the cruise

Normally higher decks are given priority in everything with any cruise line because the higher you go generally the more the rooms cost. Of course the one time we’re near the top, this one starts at the bottom and goes up, so according to their staggered boarding schedule we’re last on the boat at 2:30, giving us only a half hour window between our assigned boarding time and the 3:00 all-aboard time. Which of course means no time to do much of anything but get on the boat and go to the muster drill. Not to mention the possibility of ending up hanging around the port for hours on end before getting let in because we had already booked flights that would get us into LAX early enough to get to the port before 1pm even if the flight had a bit of a delay and the traffic from there to the port in San Pedro was horrible – which traffic in Los Angeles is definitely known for.

Lido deck movie screen

Of course anyone flying in the night before would also want to board as early as they could since check-out time in hotels is generally 11am so we were not likely the only people upset by this sudden announcement of assigned staggered boarding times on a ship where boarding was already scheduled to start later than usual.

Carnival Legend at Circular Quay

Carnival Legend at Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia

When we sailed on Carnival Legend out of Sydney Australia they had staggered boarding times, but instead of springing an unwanted time on people just before the cruise they had the times listed as part of the online registration process that people complete before sailing. So there at least people got their choice of boarding times, especially if they registered early before all the good ones were gone. Even those who registered late and had to wait for a later time to get on knew that in advance. A much better solution and one that leads to a lot more happy passengers rather than angering or upsetting people unnecessarily just before their cruise. Some ports are short on waiting space and staggered boarding times are implemented in an attempt to reduce overcrowding. In Sydney they did not let people into the port building before their scheduled boarding time.

Royal Princess at the dock in LA

Not that trying to keep people away from the port is likely to work when the first available time listing of 1pm is already quite late. Many people not local to the area are likely to already be there long before that since most have nowhere else to go. So rather than keeping people away until later in the day, odds are the result of those assigned times is a whole bunch of unhappy people on a day they should be excited about starting a long anticipated vacation.

check in line at the cruise terminal and waiting area until boarding time

This Princess cruise had just a 2 hour scheduled boarding window. They were apparently hoping the majority of passengers use their ocean medallion app to sign in online ahead of time and bypass the lines at the pier. Which sounds good until you see the part about scanning your passport with your phone and sending it to them, thusly putting that info online for identity thieves to find. Something we were not comfortable doing so we just waited to check in at the pier the old fashioned way. The ocean medallion is something Princess is implementing on some of their ships. You have a medallion instead of a keycard. It performs all the functions of a keycard and a lot more. Besides unlocking your cabin door and payment of any onboard purchases, it can also interact with screens near the elevators to do things like find your way around the ship, search for your shipmates (which is both useful and creepy), or play games on those same screens. It’s also waterproof, which would definitely be a bonus on an itinerary with beaches or snorkeling.

3 sisters on formal night on the Royal Princess

The other thing that also happened about 2 weeks before sailing was finding a refund notice from PayPal for a shore excursion I had booked for the 3 of us as a Christmas gift to my sisters. No word from Princess about that at all. The excursion’s absence from our online account indicated that it had indeed been canceled, but it certainly would have been nice if Princess had sent at the very least an auto-generated email with an explanation of the cancellation. I called to ask about it and the person there said that sort of thing happens frequently with them as they list all excursions the port has to offer whether they are actually available on that particular sailing or not. Which if true does not seem like a good business practice to me because making people unhappy just before they get on the ship is not a good way to get repeat business. If it’s not actually true then there’s at least one customer service representative who needs some training in how not to make the company look stupid. She did say you could tell which excursions were real because they would list a start time for the event, but since ours did give a start time that is apparently no guarantee the excursion will actually happen. By that time I felt that Princess was going to have to seriously redeem themselves on the voyage to avoid becoming my last choice of lines for any future cruises. They did eventually send my sisters notice of the tour cancellation, but never did send me anything so I wondered if the notification was only sent to them because when I called I mentioned they should routinely notify people if they cancel a booked excursion when the representative said they generally did not.

Golden Princes and Royal Princess docked in LA

I flew to California with one of my sisters. The other sister came from a different state on a slightly earlier flight so she was waiting for us in baggage claim when we got there. Our plane landed on time and we got an Uber within minutes of ordering one after we picked up our luggage. We didn’t hit any traffic snarls at all between the airport and the cruise dock. After all that stressing us out pre-cruise and hoping at the very least we could check in our luggage and find something to do until boarding time, we got to the port around 10:30am. There were already porters outside collecting luggage. We got that taken care of right away and then were able to go straight into the port building. They had separate lines for ocean ready or not. The line was quite short for the not. We checked in easily and were given a card with boarding group number 5. They went by first come first served. Nobody said a word about the dreaded assigned staggered boarding time. We didn’t wait for long before they started calling elite, premium, and platinum groups, which they went through fairly quickly before getting to plain old number 1, followed in quick succession by 2,3,4, and then 5. We were on the ship by 11:30, well before the original 1 pm boarding time and long before the 2;30 time we were scheduled for at the last minute so they stressed us out for the last two weeks pre-cruise and made us question ever booking with Princess again for nothing.

view of LA from the ship

I don’t know how quickly the ocean ready crowd got on, but the hype was that they’d pass straight through once boarding began. I’m sure it sped up the process considerably for the rest of us just by not having all those people in the same check-in line.

city view from the walkway between the terminal and the ship

Once our number was called we went to the ship. To get there we left the port building and walked down a long covered outside walkway to get to the gangway. Mostly the view from the walkway was buildings on one side and the ship on the other, but here and there we had a peek-a-boo view of the city.

boarding the ship

There was a bit of a line to scan in as people boarded, and they took our ship ID photos there since they had not taken them at check in. They had about 5 stations to process people so the line went quite quickly, especially since anyone ocean ready had already sent their photo for ship ID and didn’t have to stop for one there.

cruise ship commemorative cruise photo

The email about the staggered boarding times did warn that the room wouldn’t be ready before the assigned time, but the steward let us drop off our backpacks which was really the only thing we needed the room for at that time anyway.

my sisters having a sample massage at the spa tour

Having gotten on the ship so early we had plenty of time to go to the lunch buffet, take the spa tour (and sign up for the thermal suite), and explore the ship a bit before the muster drill. A much better way to spend the day than the dreaded sitting around the waiting area, or worse yet hanging around outside waiting for our assigned time to even get let in the door as is the case sometimes with staggered boarding. Perhaps that is chalked up to the ocean medallions and all the ocean ready people registering pre-cruise making the boarding process quick and easy. Of course if that is the case Princess should know that and not send out unnecessary upsetting emails to people booked on ocean medallion ships.

Golden Princess sailing out of LA

We were docked next to the Golden Princess, who left port just ahead of us. Cruise ship captains like their horn battles so as it sailed by the Golden Princess gave a toot. To which Royal Princess responded by playing the theme to The Love Boat on its horn. The Golden Princess could only toot lamely in response. Guess we won that one.

view from our cabin balcony in the LA cruise port

We had a great cruise and Princess did redeem themselves both onboard and with the smooth and easy boarding process that was so much quicker than their pre-cruise email indicated it would be. It would have been nice to have spent those last two pre-cruise weeks with joyful anticipation of an upcoming cruise instead of worrying over not being able to get on the ship until practically time to set sail though.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Port Cities, Princess, Royal Princess, USA | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

North Pacific Crossing

Amtrak in Canada

train in the rain at the station in Vancouver, BC

We started our journey on the Amtrak Cascades train from Washington State into Vancouver B.C. on a rainy day. The train was full of people traveling to various cruise ships, some for that day and some for the next. One of the next day people said they had traveled that way often and the train was known for being notoriously late so it’s not a good idea to cut it short between arrival time and your boarding time. It got to the station on time, but sat about an hour in the station before letting anyone disembark. They unload luggage first so we hoped it went under cover out of the rain, but no such luck. By the time we finally got off the train the bags were soaked, at least on the outside. Luckily the clothes inside stayed dry and mine is not one of those hard-sided plastic ones. You can get to the cruise ship dock by taxi or if your ship leaves from Canada Place as ours did the sky train is an option as well. They let people off the train one car at a time and ours was nowhere near first. By the time we got to the taxi line it was long with only 2 taxis in sight so we crossed the street and walked a short way through a small park to the building at the end of the park where the sky train station is. It’s easy to find since you can see it from the Amtrack station. Just look to the left when you walk out the door and you can see the tracks leading into the building even if trees happen to obscure the view of the building from where you stand. That station is called Main Street/Science World Station. If you are taking the train back toward Seattle or Portland and have time to kill Science World is worth seeing. From there you go to Waterfront Station, which is 4 stops away at the end of that line. Waterfront station has several exits. Pick the one that says Howe Street and when you leave the station you can see Canada Place. After a walk of maybe 50-100 yards or so you see the ramp into the parking garage. Cross the car lanes and on the far side there’s a sidewalk ramp for people to walk down. That is the way into the terminal. You pretty much have to know that to find your way into where you board the ships.

glacier watching in comfort

all the view and none of the cold – glacier watching from the spa thermal suite

Our first day at sea couldn’t have been more different than boarding day. We sailed through the scenic inside passage on calm water under sunny skies. Holland America Westerdam has a great thermal suite so we even though it’s a bit pricey we splurged to be able to relax in its jetted hydrotherapy pool and sit on the awesome heated ceramic benches throughout our cruise. The ceramic benches had a nice view of the scenery passing by in the inside passage. Our beautiful weather with sunny skies and smooth seas continued through day 3 which we spent in Glacier Bay. Cruising through Glacier Bay is kind of like taking an excursion without ever leaving the ship.

cruise ship view

view from the Crow’s Nest Lounge

On the way up to Juneau passing by Admiralty Island we went up to the Crow’s Nest lounge which has big observation viewing windows. We weren’t there more than a few minutes before John spotted humpback whales in the distance, which soon became humpback whales nearby. There weren’t too many people there that early in the morning, but the ones who were flocked to the windows, a chance to see whales they never would have known were there without his announcement.

pouring broth into soup

soups in the Westerdam’s dining room were all served initially as just bits of stuff in an otherwise empty bowl, then the waiter came back and poured broth over it

On short cruises we prefer the freestyle dining where you can eat at any time during the hours where the dining room is open and choose nightly whether you want to sit with other people or not. On longer cruises we usually like early dining where you have the same table and eat with the same people each night. It’s nice to have someone to share your day with and hear about theirs and the opportunity to make new friends. Longer cruises usually have more sea days so there’s more time to linger over the dinner table. On this cruise we were assigned free dining, but waitlisted for early and transferred to early on day 2. Our tablemates all disembarked in Yokohama, but we got new ones for the Asia cruise.

Westerdam dining room

our assigned dining room table had a view out the Westerdam’s stern windows

Tables for 6 are the ideal size for us because there are enough people to keep a conversation going without having so many you can’t hear the people across the table. We were seated with a couple from Germany where the wife was originally from Japan and a couple from Canada who were originally from somewhere in Europe. Unfortunately for me the Canadian couple and the Japanese woman were all so soft spoken I could hardly hear anything they said. I have some hearing issues and individual voices over background noise is the thing that I have the most difficulty hearing. So I mainly talked to John or Martin the German man and just smiled and waited for someone else to answer when any of the others said anything. Martin was an interesting guy. He’d lived in various places around the world and spoke 12 languages. At port stops he tended to look for a mountain to climb, which he managed to do in spite of his age and the fact that walking on level ground looked like it might be a bit difficult for him. Looks can be deceiving.

Westerdam in Juneau, Alaska

Westerdam at the Juneau cruise ship port

Day 4 we crossed the Gulf of Alaska heading from Juneau to Kodiak. The sky and water were both gray, and the waves were big enough to cause enough movement in the ship to make a few people stagger, but not big enough to disrupt anything other then they had a tendency to close the outside decks in rough waves or windy weather. We always enjoy relaxing on sea days, one of the reasons we bought the thermal suite package at the spa. The internet was a disappointment though. It started out extremely slow and got slower as we got farther from civilization. As time went on instead of lowering the upgrade price to reflect less days of coverage they actually raised it, although people who had paid the extra for what was supposed to be fast enough internet for streaming didn’t always have any better luck opening email than I did so the upgrade wouldn’t have been worth the extra cost regardless.

Kodiak, Alaska

looking from the boat harbor toward Kodiak’s Fishermen’s Terminal where the cruise ship docked

Day 5 our streak of good weather continued with sunshine for our port stop in Kodiak. So far it rained only on boarding day and a sea day. Day 6 started out with the disappointment of planning to go for an early morning run and finding the promenade deck closed – something they normally only did in high winds and stormy seas of which that morning had neither. It did open later in the day. The day started out pretty gray, but the sky and sea got bluer as the day went on and we saw humpback whales after a well-timed announcement from the bridge about whales off the starboard bow that came while I happened to be on the heated ceramic bench at the spa. The windows in that room are floor to ceiling and it’s located on the starboard side near the bow. The sea was too far down to get any photos of the whales without a big fancy camera with a good telephoto lens, which I do not have.

Westerdam oceanview cabin window

sightseeing through the cabin window

Day 7 our good weather continued through the morning as we sailed through the Bering Sea with blue sky and only small waves in the sea. The night before, just a minute or two after John mentioned we had not seen Captain Mark Rowden so far this cruise we ran into him in the hallway and he said the ship was heading through a pass between some of the Aleutian Islands into the Bearing Sea for two reasons – due to the great circle route such as airplanes fly it’s actually 90 miles shorter than sailing a straight line to Japan so they save on fuel, and he was also avoiding the worst of a storm brewing south of where we were heading. Later in the day the storm started to catch up to us. The sky got grayer and the waves swelled and white caps broke out. Around lunchtime the bridge warned of high winds to come and said to stay off balconies and outside decks when they did. By late afternoon the waves grew large enough to feel some ship movement. Enough to make some people stagger a bit walking down the hallways, but not enough to toss the ship around or rock it to the point where they set out barf bags by the elevators. Winds were 30 knots with gusts up to 50. It was interesting how much bigger the waves looked through the window of our deck 1 cabin than from up high in the ship, or how it always feels like the ship is going faster when you see the water up close. Movement wise though you feel the rocking less lower down, especially middle to the back and our cabin was near the stern. These waves came diagonally to the back with a tendency to lift the ship from behind even though it has pretty good stabilizers. We could see that a bit during dinner since our table had a view out the stern windows. Around dinner time the barf bags came out – but only on the elevators next to the dining room. Coincidence or statement about the food? (Just kidding, it was gala night and the food was good. Probably actually in that location as a matter of convenience since that is where everyone would be.)

cruise ship in Glacier Bay

promenade deck on the Westerdam with a view of Johns Hopkins Glacier in Glacier Bay

Day 7 was on a Monday, but day 8 a Wednesday because of crossing the international date line. We set our clocks back an hour each night several times in a row before then. That night it officially went ahead 23 hours, which is basically the same as setting it back 1 again other than the skipped day. The sky grew grey again and the sea stormy with white caps and winds of about 40 knots. Some waves were high enough to splash higher than our window even though we were near the stern and it’s bow cabins that usually get that. The ship is pretty stable and the winds eventually died down enough that the outside promenade deck was open to anyone who doesn’t mind walking or jogging around in some wind. Through it all the ship did not rock too badly so the stabilizers did their job well. Ship movement is often most noticeable in the pools which all turn into wave pools that sometimes splash over the sides with ship movement even when you can’t really feel it. The girl at the spa desk said one of the passengers complained about the waves in the hydrotherapy pool and asked if she had some controls to shut them off. I guess that passenger doesn’t understand the motion of the ocean. Personally I see waves in the pool as bonus – extra water movement beyond what you get from the jets.

port talk

port talk about exploring on your own

After a few disappointing port talks ages ago on previous cruises that were just about trying to get people to buy ship’s shore excursions I’ve mainly avoided them on any cruise line. After missing the first few on this cruise I found out that in addition to talks about their excursions, Holland America also has EXC (Explorations Central) port talks from their independent port exploration guides that are actually useful information about places to see in port and how to get there on your own. After that I made more effort to make it to the port talks for most of our stops in Asia. The test kitchen demonstrations are also fun to watch and there were a couple good guest speakers on this cruise who gave interesting lectures. There is a limit to how many presentations I want to sit through in a day so I didn’t go to everything that I might have enjoyed. Especially never any two lectures in a row in the main theater because the seats there were quite uncomfortable and one lecture or show was more than enough time spent sitting in them.

test kitchen cooking demonstration

America’a Test Kitchen on Holland America Westerdam

After a few more mostly non-eventful days at sea where the weather improved we reached Japan on day 12 of our cruise. One of the lecturers said on a previous crossing he took across the Bearing Sea the ship pitched and rolled through violent waves the whole time so we definitely got lucky with nothing too rough for our ship’s stabilizers to handle.

pork ossobucco

this was one of my favorite meals on the Westerdam

During the course of the 14 days of the North Pacific Crossing portion of our cruise they had 3 gala nights, which is when people have to dress up in fancier clothes than they normally wear to dinner. These were previously called formal nights, and on some ships still are. Holland America changed the name because rather than tuxedos and ball gowns like people used to wear, it’s mostly suits and nice dresses, skirts or pantsuits now. Ships have the fancier nights because people are more likely to have portraits taken and buy photos when they are all dressed up and of course they want to sell photos. While we’d prefer not to have to dress up at all (or the need to pack clothes for it) we do understand that the more money they can make from add-ons like selling photos the less they have to charge for the cruise fare so the formal nights do have their purpose, though more than 2 on any  one cruise does seem a bit excessive. On this cruise they served lobster on the 3rd gala night on day 10. I tried a lot of different foods this cruise, primarily ordering out of my comfort zone which was often in the past pasta or vegetarian dishes. These tend to have wheat and often dairy which I had to mostly avoid due to starting to have stomach issues with them, which probably means I’m on the way to becoming gluten and dairy free like my sisters.

Westerdam hallway

public hallway on the Westerdam

Since the time went back an hour nearly every day of the crossing people started getting up earlier and earlier. The first morning when I went out to the promenade deck for a run it was just me at the start and then one more runner and a couple walkers by the end. As time went on more and more people were up early trying to get out to the promenade, which once we left Alaska was usually closed overnight and through the early morning. Since nobody could get outside the ever-increasing number of early risers started prowling the halls. On the rough or windy days it made sense to have the outside promenade deck closed, but even on the calmer days crossing the Bering Sea they didn’t open it until later, leaving a lot of people wandering about inside in the wee hours of the morning.

red brick warehouse shops in Hakodate, Japan

red brick warehouse shops in Hakodate, Japan

Arrival in Japan meant going through customs, which we did through customs officials brought onboard the ship the morning we arrived. Several days ahead we were given forms to choose our preferred departure time with 3 different choices given. Customs lots were assigned giving those with ship’s tours priority, followed by outside tours, then people who were just going off on their own by the order of the time frame chosen. We weren’t in any rush since the ship stayed in port until late evening and picked the middle slot rather than the early one, which was probably a mistake since they ran about an hour behind. Our streak of good weather in ports continued in Hakodate.

shrimp coctail

shrimp cocktail is a popular appetizer every day and sometimes they jazz it up with added flavors

The last sea day of the 14-day North Pacific Crossing part of our cruise brought about good weather and the promenade deck was actually open early in the morning. When I had just a few laps left to go to complete a 10k run the deck crew came out to swab the deck pouring soapy water all over starting at the bow. Passengers had to go back and forth on the ever-shrinking non-soapy area instead of making full laps.

dining room decor

the dining room was specially decorated for the invitation-only luncheon

We received an invitation to a special luncheon only for those passengers staying on the ship for the next 14-day voyage in Asia. They served Indonesian food just for the 700 passengers continuing on to the next cruise. Indonesian food is not normally served to passengers, though the galley staff probably have plenty of experience making it for the crew since a quite a lot of them come from Indonesia.


Yokohama, Japan

The last day of the North Pacific Crossing brought us to Yokohama where some passengers disembarked, new ones joined the ship, and the rest of us just went out for a port stop. The second half of our cruise was a Japan and China cruise with one stop in South Korea. Weather for Yokohama was fairly warm with a high of 66 degrees farenheight and mostly cloudy skies with just a very brief and very light bit of drizzle. While Yokohama is close enough to Tokyo for people to go there by train during a port stop, it does have quite a lot of things to do within walking distance of the ship so there’s no need to go far to find something to do.

Westerdam in Juneau

Westerdam promenade view in Juneau

Overall the North Pacific Crossing portion of our cruise was quite pleasant. We had mostly cooperative weather, lots of relaxing sea days, and interesting ports with Captain Mark Rowden and cruise director Andy Knox. Total mileage from Vancouver B.C. to Yokohama Japan was 4,940 miles at an average speed of 15.8 knots with port stops in Juneau, Kodiak, and Hakodate, and a day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay. Officers and crew on the ship totaled 801 of 43 different nationalities. During this voyage the ship desalinated 2,574 gallons of water. Of course it also can fill up the fresh water at some ports as well. These stats were provided by a cruise log found in our cabin’s sea mail box at the end of the cruise.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019

Related Posts


Posted in Alaska, Canada, Holland America, Japan, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Shipboard Life, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments