Hits and Misses on Carnival Magic

Hits on Carnival Magic

Carnival cruise ship

Magic in Saint Thomas

Hits and misses are the things I liked and didn’t like about the ship. It doesn’t mean everyone who ever sails on it agrees, it’s just my opinion. We really liked Carnival Magic. The décor of the ship gives off a vibe of fun from the moment you step onboard. True to its name, the décor has magic in its theme. The atrium area is mainly decorated with lights, which constantly change colors. Some of the pictures hanging about the ship depict magical scenes, and in some places even the walls sparkle.

dinnertime entertainment

tableside magician

During our voyage the ship had a great crew, friendly and helpful in all areas of the ship. One of our favorites was the tableside magician in the dining room who entertained the grandkids with different tricks every night. They don’t always go to the same table every day, but the kids liked him so much he made a point of coming to ours.

five people in a cruise ship cabin

cruise ship cabin sleeps 5

We took this cruise with a large family group, 3 cabins between us all. It started out with my husband and I and our daughter and her two kids so we all booked a 5-person cabin, which we were quite happy to find on this ship as not all ships have them. The Magic’s 5-person cabins are all deluxe ocean view. They have the usual two beds that can either be twins or put together for one bed, two drop down bunks, and a couch that can be a bed. There is a curtain that can divide the room with 2 beds on one side of the curtain and 3 on the other if people want a little separation at night.

great for extra people

extra bathroom in the deluxe ocean view cabins

The room also has an extra partial bathroom with a sink and tub. With 5 people in a cabin this is a great feature. Most of the ocean view rooms on the ship are the deluxe ones. Just a small number of them hold 5 people. Others hold anywhere from 2-4 depending on the cabin. While that extra bathroom is a great feature when you have extra people in the room and definitely belongs in the hits for 4 or 5 person rooms, since more cabins have 2 people in them than any other amount it seems like there ought to be a larger percentage of the regular ocean view cabins. When sailing with just 2 people having the space taken up by the second bathroom as extra floorspace in the main cabin area as well as the lower price of not being a deluxe room is preferable so I would put having considerably more deluxe than regular ocean view rooms in the miss category.

cruise ship kid's club entry

Camp Ocean lobby

The younger kids loved Camp Ocean. Other hits for this trip included the water slides and dive-in movies on the Lido deck in the evenings. Some of our group had a spa cabin which comes with use of the thermal suite so that was definitely a hit for them.

Misses on Carnival Magic

deck plans

Carnival Magic deck 5

The biggest miss on the Magic is the same on any Carnival ship and that is the smoky casino. The Magic’s casino sits in the center of a public deck with other public spaces on both ends of that deck and no way to get from one end to the other without either going outside, to another deck, or gagging your way through the smoke-filled casino. The casino is not fully enclosed which also means smoke escapes into other areas on both ends including a stairway. Smoking there is not limited to active players so it gets a lot of use just as a smoking lounge, which greatly increases the amount of smoke permeating other public areas of the ship. Carnival used to be our go-to line, but we rarely sail with them anymore due to their smoking policy as many other lines are now smoke-free inside.

Another fleetwide miss is no longer having complimentary flavored teas available, not even at their afternoon tea. Cutting the flavored teas in hopes people will buy their premium teas was a bad move for customer satisfaction and not likely to either save or make them much money. Other lines still have flavored teas available free.

fun and games on the top deck

Sports Square

Also a miss is promoting the ropes course as fun for all. What they really mean is fun for those who are at least as tall as their 48 inch minimum height limit, but there is no mention of it having a height limit until you get on board unless you happen to find it buried several clicks deep in the website’s obscure FAQ section – something I only know exists because of a comment by a facebook troll in reply to my daughter’s post about her daughter’s sad experience. We had a very disappointed little girl who has done ropes courses in other places and greatly looked forward to the one on the ship. She left the sky course area in tears after finding out she couldn’t use it so it was definitely not fun for her.

Carnival has a fairly new HUB app that should be a hit, but so far has been a miss – for us anyway. The free part of this app has the Fun Times daily newsletter which is also delivered as a paper copy to each stateroom. This lists all the daily activities for the ship. For $5 per person you can also add messaging. This would be a great way to keep in contact with the people you are sailing with if it worked. Therein lies the problem – it rarely ever works. Out of the 9 people we sailed with some phones worked better than others. On the worst one not even the free part worked and messages were almost never delivered or received. Even the best of them didn’t always send or receive messages, and some messages did not go through until hours later or even the next day. This was the third cruise where we tried this app and it did not fully work on any of them, though it did work somewhat better on other ships. Great concept though if they work the bugs out of the system so it actually does what it is supposed to.

Carnival Magic

Carnival Magic in Amber Cove

Disembarkation was a miss on this ship mainly due to crew people standing at an elevator letting everyone getting off the elevator cut into a long line of people who had waited for ages to get to that point. Before the crew people came new arrivals proceeded to the end of the line in an orderly fashion so that miss is totally on the two crew members messing up the line.

Overall we liked the Magic and had an enjoyable cruise. We also learned by accident due to the amount of luggage my daughter had that using a porter speeds you through the customs line. With a porter you bypass the regular line and go straight to the booth reserved for wheelchairs and porters. There was not much of a line there, while the regular one snaked through dividers for quite a distance and was packed with people. Port Canaveral is not the most efficient port. They had about twice as many customs agents for the fairly short non-Americans line as they did for the extremely long Americans only line so we were quite happy to bypass it as it moved very slowly. Of course Carnival has no control over the port authorities so that is a miss on the port itself, not the cruise line.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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New York City

Carnival Vista in New York

Vista in New York – photo taken on the Intrepid

We definitely made the right choice upgrading to a balcony on the port side for our Carnival Vista Europe and Transatlantic cruise. We had originally booked an inside room on deck 1, but a couple months before sailing the upgrade fairy called with a sale on balcony rooms. They wanted to put us in a starboard side cabin, but since the promenade deck outside public smoking area is on the starboard side I insisted on port if we were to make the move.

flowers in Central Park

flowers in New York’s Central Park

We had a starboard side balcony on the Breeze transatlantic and could never use it due to the smoke from people’s cigars on the public deck. The starboard one would have been near the center of the ship and the upgrade fairy seemed to think the only port side one available for both the Europe and Transatlantic cruises would not be as good, but what is the point of a balcony if you can’t use it? Anyway bow or stern are fine to us. We are rarely near the middle because those cabins usually cost more.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty taken from the ship as it passed by in the middle of the night

As it turned out, besides the sun being on the port side for most of the crossing, we also passed by the Statue of Liberty on that side at around 3:30am coming in to New York at the end of the cruise so we were able to see it from our own balcony rather than trying to find a view from a public deck in the middle of the night. Someone we ran into who had a starboard side balcony said theirs was cold and windy most of the cruise and they rarely used it whereas we used ours quite a lot. Shady deck chairs with a view are hard to come by in the public areas and never available because some selfish person will stake them out all day whether they are actually using them or not.

Carnival Vista sailing into New York

Vista sailing into New York

We were on deck 9 and deck 10 overhangs a bit so we always had shade to sit in as well as shelter when it rained. The room wasn’t perfect though. We were under the seating area to the 24-hour pizza place so people tended to scrape chairs overhead during the night and someone somewhere in the vicinity – we think the cabin below us – often smoked in their room even though it is a fire hazard and against the rules, which often made our cabin smell like an ashtray.

New York at night

helicopter buzzing around at night

A helicopter buzzed around the ship while it cruised into New York. My husband figured Carnival probably hired it to film the Vista arriving. At one point it hovered in the sky and then appeared to fly backwards. I suppose it was probably an optical illusion, but it certainly looked as if it were flying backward for a few minutes, then it went forward again.

New York skyline

New York view from water taxi

Our cruise started in Athens, Greece and ended in New York. Not having ever been to New York before, we booked a hotel for a couple nights so we could see a few things prior to flying home. Our hotel was out in Queens, which is more affordable than Manhattan and closer to the airport. We had a subway station nearby. It was far enough from the heart of the city that the trains were above ground rather than below. As in way above on raised platforms.

New York's Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building in New York

The taxi ride out of town through the traffic took a lot longer than the subway ride back in. Cost a lot more too. The taxi line was the worst I’ve ever seen at any port. It was on a public street rather than at the port itself. People and taxis were lined up all the way down the block, but the guy running the show at the head of the line did not want to let anyone in anything but the one taxi at the very front of the line. Loading just one car at a time meant the people and taxis all had a very long wait. Especially since even though it would take that taxi several minutes to get out of line and into the traffic he would make everyone wait until it left and the next one moved up rather than moving on down the line and loading the next car while that one waited to leave.

New York view

New York from the water taxi

Eventually one of the drivers got tired of sitting there wasting time. He got out, opened the door, and let the people next to his car in. The rest of the line followed suit so we got the car that happened to be next to us at the time. There were plenty more taxis lined up on the next block waiting their turn so that whole line was full again in minutes for anyone who did not get a car. It did not increase the wait time one bit for whoever had finally made it to the front of the line, but it did slightly shorten the line of people waiting, and definitely shortened the wait considerably for those of us lucky enough to get a car.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge taken from the water taxi

If we ever disembark in New York again I’d call an uber. Subways are cheaper, but besides being a bit too crowded for luggage they also don’t take you to the door of the hotel which would require finding it yourself. After checking in and getting settled though subways are great. We rode them all around town like real New Yorkers and never took a cab again until time to go to the airport.

water taxi

water taxi by the Brooklyn Bridge

We’d always heard New Yorkers were unfriendly, but did not find that to be so. If we pulled out the subway map anyone nearby was always ready to offer up advice. People on the subway were friendly too, no matter how packed in we all were. Even when we were just looking in the window of a shop one day a local passing by said there was a similar store a couple blocks down that had better stuff cheaper. There were of course people trying to sell expensive tours to anyone they pegged as a tourist, but they moved on when told no.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

We hadn’t realized you had to book in advance to take the ferry to Liberty Island and go inside the statue so we ended up with a water taxi tour that just puttered around the island instead. Apparently you have to book a couple weeks in advance to get on the ferry, and months in advance if you want to go all the way up to the top inside the statue.

Statue of Liberty

closer view of the Statue of Liberty

We’ve done hop on hop off busses in other places, but they wanted a lot of money for them in New York. The water taxi was sort of like a hop on hop off bus only on the water – and a lot less money than what they wanted for the hop on hop off bus (which must also have boats because we saw some painted up just like the busses). We also saw another brand of double decker tour bus, but don’t know if the price is any better. Riding the water taxi also meant we could ride their shuttles, which are busses that take people from a ferry dock where the water taxis stop out to the places where tourists like to go and where locals commuting by ferry need to go. The ferry dock isn’t just for the water taxis. There were also a lot of walk-on ferries to New Jersey, mostly for locals commuting to and from work.

in New York's Central Park

Central Park

We got off at the ferry dock so we could go to Central Park. This involved riding a shuttle bus out to a stop a couple blocks from the park and then walking the rest of the way there. The busses say ferries and stop at public bus stops along their route. People who are headed to or from the public ferries ride them too. They are supposed to come every 20 minutes, but we waited 35 when we were ready to return. There was another ferry bus just behind ours so they must get off their schedule at times.

Central Park

boat pond at Central Park

Central Park was not what I expected. I guess I just imagined a big woods with dirt trails, but it has paved paths, a zoo, lots of grassy areas, gardens with flowers, a pond with RC sailboats, and more. It is 2 miles long and just 3 blocks wide.

city at the edge of the parl

buildings near Central Park

The water taxi people said at one stop it would be an hour for the next boat, but at the one we got off they said every 20 minutes. They lied. They also said the boats ran until 9:30pm, but the one we caught at 5:30pm was the last one of the night so we are lucky we did not try to catch a later one.

Times Square

Times Square

On our second day in New York we took the subway into Manhattan again, this time to visit Times Square. Of course taking the subway in itself is a very New York thing to do – and a cheap and efficient means of travel. I expected something more than a little paved space between buildings covered in neon signs for something as famous as Times Square. It didn’t seem big enough for the sort of crowds it attracts at times like New Year’s Eve.

New York street performers

street performer at Times Square

The most interesting thing we saw there was some acrobatic street performers whose show was pretty good until they started hustling people for more money than they wanted to donate. After checking out Times Square we walked down to the waterfront and saw the Intrepid Museum. The Intrepid is an aircraft carrier from World War 2 and the Vietnam War that has been converted into a museum. It was docked right next to the Vista, which stayed in New York a couple days after our cruise and photobomed all our photos of planes on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

We finished our tour of New York with a visit to the outside of the Empire State Building (which is better viewed from enough distance to see the top if you aren’t going inside.) We had dinner in the Korean section and took a walk through Penn Station to catch the subway back to the hotel. Unlike most of the subway stops, Penn Station is huge. It’s got a whole shopping center inside and platforms for regular trains as well as subway trains.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Exploring Hakodate

harbor tour past the cruise ship

Westerdam from the harbor tour boat in Hakodate

Holland America Westerdam slowly glided into port in Hakodate, Japan escorted not only by the usual tugs, but also by a boat with Welcome to Hakodate painted in large bold letters easily readable from neighboring ships on its side. This small escort boat sprayed water high into the air similar to that seen from a fireboat, except the spray from this boat came in ever-changing colors reminiscent of fireworks. Red, blue, yellow, and green alternately brightened the sky above the boat, especially scenic as it passed the lighthouse sentinel of the harbor.

welcome to Hakodate

Hakodate welcoming boat

As the first Japanese port on our cruise from Vancouver, Canada to Shanghai, China, everyone on the ship had to go through customs before disembarking. Once the ship docked customs officials came on board and everyone went through according to pre-assigned color and number groups with paperwork already filled out having received it in our cabins prior to reaching port. The process went a bit slower than expected as they didn’t call our group until an hour past the scheduled time. First to get processed were of course those with ship tours. Since the ship stayed in port from 8am to 11pm even the people processed last and any crew with some time off still had plenty of time to get off the ship and find something to do.

red brick warehouse in Hakodate

red brick warehouse markets from the harbor tour boat

We would have liked to take the ropeway up Mount Hakodate, but it was closed while we were there and since the point for us would have been more to ride the cable car up the mountain than merely getting to the top we weren’t interested in taking a bus instead so we just took the free shuttle into town. From the shuttle stop people can take a bus or train to other attractions, but we just went places we could walk to.

Hakodate Morning Market

stall at the morning market

John really wanted to see the Morning Market so we went there first. It was just a short walk from the shuttle stop. We were told it’s called a morning market because things normally close at noon, but much of it stayed open later the day we were there, probably because of the cruise ship passengers. Things like whole fish and crabs that people need to take home and cook are of course there for locals only, but the numerous restaurants and shops selling clothing or packaged items that might appeal to tourists had reason not to close with a ship full of potential customers roaming through. One ice cream shop had some unusual flavors like squid ink ice cream.

squid fishing boats

commercial squid fishing boats strung with lights for attracting squid keep the market well supplied

Catching your own squid was a popular thing there, with a squid fishing tank in the main morning market as well tanks at several little restaurants and booths around the market area. Even so they were not nearly as abundant as stall after stall of fish and crabs. Corn and cantaloupe seemed to be the most plentiful non-seafood options. We did come across the occasional stall selling something completely different like clothing.

shop with squid decor

squid décor at the red brick warehouse shops

Squid and cantaloupe are big in Hokkaido Prefecture, which is a division of the country something like a state or county and where Hakodate is located. Even places not selling actual squid often had squid décor. Besides fresh cantaloupe, they also had cantaloupe wine which was mostly available only in that prefecture, though we did find it in one shop in a port later on at a store selling food products from around the world.

Hakodate, Japan

seemingly abandoned sidewalk with a view

After wandering around the Morning Market for a bit we headed down toward the waterfront and found a winding pathway up to an overpass that seemed little used, but made a nice viewpoint.

Hakodate Carnival

street fair under tents on a plaza by the waterfront in Hakodate

From there we wandered through a place with a bunch of little canvas-topped outdoor booths set up that seemed to be some sort of carnival or street fair. It had one booth with carnival style games some small children were playing Another booth had a Halloween theme selling orange cotton candy among other things. Food cooking in some of the booths there smelled a lot better than anything at the fish market – cooked or uncooked.

directional help

the sign points the way

We found a signpost pointing out the way to several things including the Red Brick Warehouse, a touristy shopping area. Outside the shops in the old warehouse we saw a number of rickshaws, something I would have more expected to see in China than Japan, but there they were. We saw a couple people get in one. The guy pulling it started off at a jog, but only went a block or so before stopping. He seemed to be telling them something about the place he stopped by so we pondered over the possibility of it being some sort of rickshaw tour, which would definitely make something unique and different to do.

rickshaw rides

rickshaw in Hakodate

Shops selling sweets or ice cream inside the warehouse were nearly as numerous as fish stalls in the Morning Market. Others sold jewelry or souvenirs. We found a little cat cup that made both of us think of our cat-obsessed grandson so we got it for him to save as a gift for the next Christmas.

fancy Japanese puddings

fancy puddings in a shop in the red brick warehouses

We were quite amused by some of the sweet options. Things we’d never heard of like corn candy, or would ever have even considered like squid cookies. Besides cookies and candy there were also quite a lot of packaged cakey things. There was also colorful gelato and cases of fancy puddings.

Hakodate Harbor cruise

tour boat for Harbor cruises

After looking through some shops we wandered down a stone path and came across a booth selling tickets for a harbor cruise. It was $15 for a fifteen minute cruise on a speedboat. It made a loop through the harbor that passed by our ship so we decided to go. Short, but fun, scenic, and not that much money. There’s often random fun things to do that you had no idea were there when you get off a cruise ship without any specific plans.

Hakodate Harbor Tour

leaving the harbor on the harbor tour boat

We saw other interesting things around the area near the red brick warehouses including a row of matching bikes that were probably rentals and boats strung with many lights that they use for squid fishing.

Japanese school girls

girls at the shuttle stop

The shuttle stop was at some sort of bus terminal so we initially thought all the Japanese girls wearing school uniforms on the platform when we got there for our return to the ship were just waiting for a bus to take them somewhere, but it turned out they were actually there to greet the cruise ship passengers. They came from a girl’s high school and had a chance to practice their English with the cruise ship passengers there. They spoke English quite well. The girls made little origami swans which they handed out to people. We thought one of them said they would be coming to the ship that evening to perform in a locals show, but the performers turned out all to be men other than a couple girls who introduced the two different dances the men did and explained what they were about. Perhaps she meant they got to visit the ship with the performers rather than that she and the other girls would actually be in the show, which was a bit of a disappointment since we went to the show mainly to watch the girls we’d met dance.

cat statue in Hakodate

random cat statue near the red brick markets

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019

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Mariner Lunch

Holland America Veendam

Holland America Veendam in Sydney, Nova Scotia

Holland America honors all past guests by inducting them into the Mariner Society, which is what they call their loyalty program. For every subsequent cruise Mariners earn more points. Enough points increases the ranking to earn more privileges. Just one prior cruise is enough to earn some bonuses with Holland America. One is embarkation day lunch in the dining room, and another is the Mariner Lunch.

mariner lunch salad

salad from a Mariner lunch

At some point in the cruise, prior guests on Holland America receive an invitation to a special lunch in the dining room for Mariners only. So first you get to feel special when you find that invitation in the mailbox outside your cabin. Then there’s the lunch.

fish on the Veendam

fish entrée option

Though the options are more limited than regular dining room lunches, the Mariner lunch often has fancier food. Seating is done randomly in order of entry, usually at tables with other cruise fans.

ship tiles

tiles from several Mariner lunches

At some point during the lunch there’s usually some announcements honoring specific guests. The captain or another high-ranking officer often gives some sort of speech. Each attendee also gets a collectible tile picturing the ship they are on to take home.

flatbread

vegetarian option

The food has been different each time I have attended the Mariner lunch. There’s normally a choice of several appetizers and entrees, and then a special dessert served only at that lunch. Actually all the food options there are served only at the Mariner lunch.

cookies

cookie plate at the Mariner lunch

On our last Veendam cruise they also provided a plate of cookies for everyone at the table in addition to the main dessert – and on that particular cruise we’d been seated at a table for two rather than one of the larger tables with other guests so we took the cookies back to our cabin for later.

dessert at the Mariner lunch

fancy panna cotta dessert

Of course getting the invitation doesn’t mean you are required to go. When sailing with people new to Holland America I tend to skip the Mariner lunch since they would be left out, but it’s fun to go to when sailing with people who have been on Holland America previously.

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Product Review – America’s Test Kitchen Gluten Free Cookbook

gluten free cookbook

America’s Test Kitchen gluten free cookbook

America’s Test Kitchen has a show on TV and also does live demonstrations onboard Holland America’s ships. Since they do make an appearance onboard, it seemed fitting to review their cookbook for my blog when I was given one. Usually I just look recipes up online and after looking over several pick the one that looks like it would best suit my needs and alter it from there. Or combine the best aspects of several different recipes. I very rarely follow recipes as written. Since this is a review of a cookbook the intention was to follow their recipes exactly, but that didn’t quite work out.

all-purpose gluten free flour blend

America’s Test Kitchen’s all-purpose gluten free flour blend

I’ve done a lot of gluten free baking over the years as my sisters are both gluten and dairy free. Recently I have found that I can only tolerate gluten and dairy in small amounts now, with milk and cream being the worst offenders. Not surprising that it would catch up to me eventually since gluten and dairy problems run in the family. More and more gluten free products have become available in stores over the years as well as ships having gluten free foods more easily available.

whole grain gluten free flour blend

America’s Test Kitchen’s whole grain gluten-free flour blend

THE HOW CAN IT BE GLUTEN FREE COOKBOOK VOLUME 2 FROM AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN

flour comparison by America's Test Kitchen

America’s Test Kitchen compares recipes made with their flour blend to the same thing made with store-bought blends

Not just a cookbook, this volume starts out with an introduction to America’s Test Kitchen and then general information about gluten and its replacements. That is followed by their flour blends which includes information about why they chose those particular flours as well as the recipes for their blends. They have one for all-purpose flour and one for whole-grain flour. They also have short reviews on a number of various brands of store-bought gluten free flour mixes. (Personally I’ve found some of the new one-to-one mixes perform far better than previous store-bought all purpose flour mixes I’ve tried in the past. I dislike anything with bean flour, which used to show up in a lot of the all-purpose blends so I avoided them for years and chose to mix my own flours. Bean flour is not in the new blends I’ve tried recently. One-to-one blends mean you can substitute that flour for wheat flour in ordinary recipes, which you can’t necessarily do with other gluten free flours.)

ATK gluten free waffle

gluten free waffle cookbook page

America’s Test Kitchen’s cookbook also includes a section on gluten free baking techniques with helpful hints, a section on how to make recipes dairy-free, information on binders and grains, and reviews on gluten free products like bread and pasta. Beyond the information section the book has lots of recipes for baked goods and some for salads and main dishes as well.

Whole Grain Gluten Free Waffles

ATK waffle recipe

America’s Test Kitchen whole grain gluten free waffle recipe

I decided to try their whole grain flour mix because it does not call for powdered milk like the all-purpose one does and I wanted to try it exactly their way without substitutions or omissions. Since milk is the thing that upsets my stomach the most I’d have to leave out or replace the powdered milk in the standard blend. I found I had to make a substitution in the whole grain blend after all though. The Flax USA brand of ground golden flaxseeds they recommend is not available in any local stores near me and when I tried to order it online every source I checked said it was out of stock. Not knowing if any other brand would be as finely ground as their recommended one should I bother to order it online, I just got what the local store had which was the Bob’s Red Mill they said was too coarse.

gluten free waffle

waffle made with America’s Test Kitchen’s whole grain gluten free waffle recipe

The dough held up quite well in the waffle iron. All of the waffles held together and none of them stuck to the waffle iron. The dough was quite thick though and I did have to add more milk as they suggested for too thick of dough. (Their recommended non-dairy milks are almond or soy for this recipe.) As I was mixing the dough initially I thought it looked pretty thick and was tempted to leave out at least 1/3 cup of the flour mix, maybe even 2/3, but wanted to make the recipe as they had at least the first time – other than the sugar. Their recipe calls for 1/4 cup of sugar and I just couldn’t see putting sugar into waffles. No other waffle recipe I’ve ever made called for it and once you add syrup it would just be putting sugar on sugar, way too much sugar at breakfast for me. The waffles browned well and tasted just fine without it. I let the dough sit the half hour like they said, but it still looked grainy, probably due to the fact that I had a more coarsely ground flax. Once cooked the waffles neither looked nor tasted grainy. They were actually quite good. I’ve used a variety of recipes for gluten free pancakes, but doubt that any of them would hold up in a waffle iron as this dough does. I will use a bit less flour next time though. Leftover waffles can be frozen and used as toaster waffles, they hold up that well – at least mine did. They were thick Belgian waffles that barely fit into the toaster.

Orange-Flavored Chicken

orange chicken in ATK cookbook

America’s Test Kitchen cookbook orange chicken

I’m not sure why they call this orange flavored instead of just orange chicken since it’s made with real oranges and calling food flavored usually denotes artificial flavoring, which there is none of. I couldn’t follow this recipe exactly because it calls for fresh garlic and ginger. Too much fresh garlic upsets my stomach and any fresh or even too much powdered ginger makes me throw up. Weird I know since people use ginger to prevent nausea, but it is what it is. Instead I used a teaspoon each of garlic powder and powdered ginger from the spice rack. I also cut the amount of sugar in half because that looked like way too much for a main dish. I don’t normally use sugar in anything but desserts, and even there I usually cut the amount from what the recipe calls for. The chiles were optional and I opted to leave them out. That’s the sort of thing I pick out of food, not put into it. Spicy is not my thing. There were no juicing oranges available in the stores near me and regular oranges didn’t make the full amount of juice the recipe called for so I was also a bit short on the orange juice the first time I made this recipe. Not being one to put unnecessary plastic into the environment I used Tupperware (well actually Rubbermaid) instead of plastic bags for marinating and shaking coatings onto the chicken, which works just fine and can be washed and re-used rather than thrown out after one use. I wash and re-use plastic bags too, but not if they had meat in them. The Rubbermaid containers can go in the dishwasher for sanitizing, plastic bags not so much.

gluten free orange chicken recipe

America’s Test Kitchen gluten free orange chicken recipe

The orange chicken was good, but a bit spicy for my liking so the next time I made it I left out the cayenne pepper and used just a bit of smoked paprika instead. I also cut the garlic powder to half a teaspoon and cut the sugar down to 1/8 cup because even with half the amount the recipe called for it was pretty sweet. I bought some orange juice so when the oranges didn’t make enough I had some to add. I also pan fried the chicken rather than deep frying because that just uses way too much oil. The chicken was just as good if not better pan fried rather than deep fried and no big pot of used oil to get rid of afterword. I liked the more orangey less spicy, not as sweet batch the second time around better. Which of course is personal preference. Some people love spicy food and like lots of sugar in everything. Overall I liked this recipe, though it was kind of a lot of work and time consuming so not something to make when there’s not a lot of time to make it.

ATK gluten free orange chicken

gluten free orange chicken made with America’s Test Kitchen recipe

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Food on Explorer of the Seas

cruise ship in Honolulu

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has lots of food options on their ships, and Explorer of the Seas is no exception. With a preference for eating at places that are included in the cost of the cruise rather than those that charge extra, we had most of our meals at either the dining room or the buffet. Free food could also be found at the 24-hour café on the Royal Promenade and at lunchtime in a little stand along the walkway near the café.

dinner at the captain's table

roulade of chicken at the Captain’s table

We were fortunate enough to be invited to the captain’s table on the first formal night. It’s in the dining room, but with a special menu just for that table. The food there was delicious, our best meal of the entire cruise.

cruise ship lobster

lobster dinner on formal night

Food in the dining room mostly good but not impressive. Like all ships we’ve sailed on some days had far better menus than others with formal nights generally having the best food. Sometimes you have to decide among several things that sound really good. Other days it’s a struggle to find anything appealing. Luckily there are some every day options for those times when there’s nothing interesting on the daily menu. Some items were very good and some not so much. Maybe the entire meal, or sometimes one thing on the plate would be excellent, accompanied by things we’d rather do without. Or substitute for other things, which is also an option when ordering. The other people at our table had all sailed with Royal Caribbean before and said the food on this ship was not up to their usual standards. Perhaps because as a long cruise with very few ports there weren’t many options for restocking fresh food items. The menu has well-marked gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, and low-calorie choices.

cruise ship buffet food

dinner at the buffet

While we often have breakfast or lunch on cruise ship buffets, we rarely ever eat dinner there. On the Explorer I tried it on the first night. Dinner there was actually quite nice. There was no sign of the usual buffet crowds present at breakfast or lunch so it was easy to find a seat and pretty quiet and peaceful. The food was good and they even had an ice cream station that is not there at lunchtime.

buffet station on cruise ship

gluten free corner

The buffet has a lot of different stations. There is a lot of repetition from one station to another for some items so when lines are long there is often somewhere else to get the same thing with a shorter line. Some stations do serve unique items not found anywhere else on the buffet though. Near the back there’s a gluten free corner. It has a pretty good selection of different gluten free items, but it also seems to have mostly the same things every day so over time on a long cruise it’s not that much choice. At least it’s there though, and there are some items in the regular part of the buffet that are also gluten free like fruit and most things on the salad bar as well as vegetables and some proteins.

Johnny Rockets

sandwich at Johnny Rockets

We did try a couple of the pay-extra eateries. Johnny Rockets was fun to do once for the experience, but the food was not worth the extra money. There was nothing on a bun other than beef. The French fries were the same as what the buffet served. Milkshakes are an additional charge above the price of eating there, though sundaes are included in the meal.

Johnny Rockets

fries and onion rings served with a ketchup smile at Johnny Rockets

Some of our tablemates tried Chops Grill, the ship’s steak house and premier eatery. They quite enjoyed it with one couple going back several times. The ship also had a Japanese place called Izumi but we did not talk to anyone who had tried it so I have no idea whether or not people like it. I’m not a fan of sushi so it wouldn’t be my thing.

cruise ship premium restaurant

Giovanni’s restaurant on Explorer of the Seas

Giovanni’s Italian food was very good. Though you can have more than one appetizer, they are huge. The meal also includes an entrée and dessert. These items are not available elsewhere on the ship. The dessert cart held several tempting treats. Tiramisu is the most recommended, but I don’t like coffee or anything with coffee in it and had chocolate cake instead.

24 hour cafe

café on the Royal Promenade

The 24 hour café on the promenade had pastries and muffins at breakfast, sandwiches, pizza, and sweets for lunch and dinner, and sandwiches and things overnight. Only the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and specialty coffee cost extra. The rest of the things at the café are free. They also had regular fresh-brewed serve yourself coffee, hot water and an assortment of teas at no charge as well as iced tea and cold water.

lamingtons

lamingtons from the Royal Promenade café on Explorer of the Seas

Some afternoons the café had lamingtons. At first they were available all afternoon, but as the cruise progressed they vanished quickly once all the non-Australian passengers figured out what they were and how delicious they are. That was one of the best desserts on the entire ship. Our table mates didn’t know what they were when I mentioned them and never managed to get to the café early enough when they had some so one day I got a whole plate full and brought them to dinner to share. They thought these chocolate dipped coconut topped cakes were awesome too.

cruise ship dessert

English trifle dining room dessert

Overall the ship had plenty of food and lots of choices so there’s not much likelihood of going hungry. Anyone who is not extremely picky or restricted by severe dietary limitations could always find something they liked. (And those with dietary restrictions can make arrangements in advance so there is food available for them too.)

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach – internet photo, but this is how it looked – nearly deserted

After visiting Kennedy Space Center the day we disembarked from Carnival Magic in Port Canaveral, Florida, we expected to spend the next day in Cocoa Beach at the beach and in the pool at the vacation house we rented for a couple nights. Sheri and I had stayed in Cocoa Beach once before years ago and kept ourselves amused all day with cheap Styrofoam boogie boards and ocean waves. The house we stayed at just happened to have boogie boards among their generous collection of beach toys, but mother nature had other ideas.

Aussie in America

Sheri driving on the left – something this Aussie hasn’t done since she was an American teen

There’s no Waffle House where any of us live and we remembered eating there and liking it before so we went to the closest one for breakfast. For a tiny place with more employees than they had room for it was a bit surprising that none of them seemed too anxious to take our money after we finished eating, but the food was good. The waitress said the weather report for the day was likely to include tornados in the evening, something quite uncommon for that area.

Cocoa Beach vacation rental

vacation house in Cocoa Beach

Our vacation house sat on the edge of a river, with the ocean beach across a street about a block away. When the river has whitecaps and even the pool has waves it’s not a safe day for small children to play in the ocean. They’d been promised a beach day though and the tornados weren’t expected until evening. We walked to the beach and stayed just long enough for the kids to make a couple sand castles in the wind. Nobody remembered to bring a camera or even a phone so we didn’t get any photos. Not too many people braved the beach on such a windy day, but we did see a couple people walking dogs and a couple others in the ocean braving the cold water for big waves. Maybe a good boogie boarding day for them, but definitely not safe for small children to go anywhere near the water.

vacation rental

pool by the river at the vacation rental house

Back at the house the kids played in the pool for awhile in spite of wind and cold water. Meanwhile a chair blew off the picnic area near the river and into the water. Sheri rescued it, but it got broken hitting rocks on the way in. The wind kicked up higher so we sent the kids inside and moved all the other yard furniture and a couple kayaks farther from the river into more sheltered areas of the yard. A couple staying in the upper floor of the house came out and helped us tie the kayaks down. Meanwhile part of the fence blew down.

vacation house

inside the vacation rental house

We cooked dinner at lunchtime and figured on sandwiches for dinner, just in case the power went out. It didn’t, but we did lose internet and TV when the storm fully kicked in that evening while we were watching the tornado warnings on TV. Our cell phones let out the alert signal, only instead of the usual amber alert following that awful noise they said the area was under tornado warning and to seek shelter. Our phones all did that a couple times. Luckily we were on the ground floor of a house with very thick walls and the recommended place to seek shelter was the interior of the ground floor of sturdy buildings away from windows. The house had hurricane shutters, but they only worked in one of the two rooms on the side facing the storm.

tornado warning from a cell phone

cell phones give tornado warnings

Lightning flashes started in the distance and soon approached close enough where the sound and light came simultaneously. Although it was dark outside, the lightning lit up both the pool and river light as day. Trees bent in the wind, but remained standing. Eventually pouring rain pounded the roof. Even if Sheri’s kids hadn’t been scared enough to want her to sleep with them they would all have ended up in the king-sized bed in the kid’s room since the roof in Sheri’s room leaked in the torrential rain. It was on the river end of the house in an area with that bedroom and a sunroom that appeared to be an addition to the original house or perhaps a former porch closed in to make more rooms. When we went in to close the hurricane shutters we found a big puddle in the middle of the floor as well as water dripping over the bed. Quickly we moved her luggage out, though some things had already gotten wet. There were a couple buckets in a kitchen cupboard so I put one under each leak. The owners of the house live in Germany and had it managed by a local company so it’s likely they didn’t know about the leaks even though water stains on the ceiling showed it was not the first time it had happened. Sheri sent them an email after the storm passed to alert them of all the damage – and to let them know the cause.

tv weather warning for tornado

tornado warning on TV

Neighboring states like Georgia got hit hard with tornadoes, but none actually formed where we were. Before we lost TV reception the newscaster was saying something about swirling winds though so it may have come pretty close to forming some. A lot of planes got diverted to other airports, but by morning when we were all flying out they got the schedule pretty well back on track so we managed to leave more or less on time. We saw a lot of branches on the roads around the airport, and the clean-up crew picking them up. We had some turbulence at take-off since there was still some wind, but not so much to interfere with planes flying.

Cocoa Beach vacation house

The fence just starting to blow down. The palapa roof over the picnic table blew off too.

Things may not have gone as planned at Cocoa Beach, but we definitely had a memorable visit.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Hakodate, Japan Cruise Ship Port

HAKODATE

Holland America Westerdam

Westerdam in Hakodate

One of our dining room tablemates on Holland America Westerdam was born in Japan so I’ll trust her on the pronunciation of this Japanese city. She said it’s Ha (as in ha ha ha) ko (rhymes with no) da (rhymes with paw) tay (rhymes with play) – assuming you pronounce all those rhyming words like a west coast American (the way most people speak on American TV shows).

Mt Hakodate

Mount Hakodate

Hakodate is located at the southern tip of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Mount Hakodate dominates the view from Hakodate, the island’s third largest city. The mountain’s summit is reachable by aerial ropeway gondola, bus, or car and offers excellent views of the city.

street decoration in Hakodate, Japan

Hakodate street decoration

Hakodate was Japan’s first city whose port was opened to foreign trade, in 1854. It was the biggest city on Hokkaido before the Great Hakodate Fire of 1934 burned down ¾ of the town when a chimney from a public bathhouse blew down in a storm and extreme winds quickly spread the fire. Hakodate features four distinct seasons with about 150 inches of annual precipitation. Summers are generally warm but not hot, with average high temperatures in the warmest month (August) around 78 degrees F.

Hakodate cruise port

information booth at Hakodate cruise port

HAKODATE CRUISE PORT

The ship passed through a small channel between lighthouses on the way into the bay and docked across from a junkyard and next to a container port. There’s no terminal building, but they had a visitor information booth set up under a canvas tent near the gangway where passengers exit the ship. They had some local area maps and booklets on attractions available. Japanese ports are very good about having visitor information and maps right at the port.

Hakodate port view from a cruise ship

port view from the Westerdam

The cruise terminal is 4K away from the city center. Complimentary shuttle busses take passengers to a bus terminal next to the train station in town. There are also taxis available. From the shuttle stop people can take a bus or train to other attractions or walk to the nearby morning market. From the morning market it’s not too far to walk to the Red Brick Warehouse, which is now a tourist shopping destination.

Hakodate, Japan morning market and map

map of Hakodate at the morning market

welcome sign at Hakodate morning market

one of the market stalls had a sign just for the cruise ship passengers

People who don’t mind a bit of a hike could walk from there to the lower ropeway station. In addition to the cable cars people can get to the top of the mountain on foot or by bus. The cable cars were down for maintenance during our port stop leaving only the other options for anyone wishing to reach the top.

Hakodate, Japan morning market

local shopper at the morning market

The morning market sells mostly seafood. Besides many stalls selling whole fish and other raw seafood intended for locals to buy and take home, there are numerous places with seafood available ready to eat or prepared while you wait.

Japanese menu

menu outside a restaurant picturing the food

Menus posted outside many of the little restaurants around the outside of the main morning market building are often examples of the food in either pictures or fake food.

Japanese street food

street vendor by the market

The streets nearby are full of little booths under canvas tents or even just umbrellas. Just like shops in the building, some sell merchandise and others ready to eat food.

squid tank at Hakodate morning market

squid fishing at the morning market

Catching your own squid seems to be a popular theme with squid tanks in several small restaurants as well as the popular one in the center of the main marketplace. It’s not hard for people to catch the one they want as the gear is set up for snagging them rather than enticing one to bite a bait. Once caught the person manning the booth prepares the squid for the one who caught it to eat. They have tables next to the tank so the diners have a place to sit and enjoy their food.

in Hakodate, Japan you can buy squid ink ice cream

squid ink ice cream shop

Other stores in the area and at the red brick warehouse offered a variety of sweets, though not necessarily things westerners are familiar with. Ice cream stands are quite popular and at least one offers some interestingly different flavors like squid ink ice cream. (It had some more appealing flavors too.)

red brick warehouse shops in Hakodate, Japan

red brick warehouse shops

We saw a lot of packaged items where you really can’t tell if that thing under the plastic is some sort of sweet or raw seafood. Of course anyone who can read Japanese could look at the label, but by just the product itself people not familiar with the food there really can’t tell.

shop with squid decor

squid décor at the red brick warehouse shops

Squid and cantaloupes seemed to be the most popular things for the area with squid décor even in places where squid weren’t for sale, and besides fresh cantaloupes available at many market stalls, cantaloupe wine is a specialty of the area. If you aren’t sure what a cantaloupe is you may live where it is called a rock melon.

streetside vending machines

vending machines are a thing all over Japan

We saw a couple more tourist information booths around town besides the one at the pier. We also saw a lot of vending machines not just around Hakodate, but all over Japan. Not just inside buildings, but also sitting out on the sidewalk on the streets. Mostly they sold things to drink, but a few had things like ice cream or other food. We also saw rickshaw rides and harbor cruises near the red brick warehouses.

corn candy at Hakodate market

Corn chocolate anyone?

Things to do on your own

Mount Hakodate – aerial ropeway gondola, mountaineering
Goryōkaku – star fort turned park, popular for springtime cherry blossom viewing
Goryōkaku Tower – observation tower at the park
19th century Russian Orthodox Church
Museums, statues and historic sites
Rickshaw ride or harbor cruise
Morning Market and Red Brick Warehouse shops

Hakodate morning market

market stall inside Hakodate’s morning market

Cruise Ship Excursions

Excursions offered from the Westerdam included a hike in a national park an hour away by bus, and a best of Hakodate tour stopping at Goryokaku fort and tower, the magistrate’s office with historical exhibits, the Morning Market, and the Museum of Northern People. It was also supposed to include a ride up the ropeway, but since it was closed for maintenance and inspection they had to go up by bus instead. More tour options were a visit to the Morning Market and ropeway – again substituting a bus for the tram, one going to the Morning Market and Goryokaku park and tower, and a scenic bus tour driving through the city and to the top of Mount Hakodate.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Strange Happenings on a Cruise Ship

Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista

In some ways every cruise is different, but in other ways they are pretty much the same. The ship sets sail. Some days are spent at sea and others in port, there’s lots of food and plenty of entertainment. On most cruises the entertainment comes from the ship and its staff, but Carnival Vista had some randomly entertaining passengers as well.

Faros hotel in Greece

Faros 1 hotel

We boarded the Vista in what they call Athens, but the port is actually in nearby Piraeus. We stayed several nights in Piraeus just a few blocks from the dock. We actually walked much farther than the dock while staying there, but took a taxi to the ship on boarding day because of luggage and rain. We got a nice room for a low price at the Faros 1 Hotel. It would have been great if it weren’t for the bar across the street that blasted loud music outside starting about midnight and getting louder and louder throughout the night, not closing down until morning. All activity stayed inside the bar, they just blasted their loud music out at the 3 hotels across the street for no reason other than to be incredibly rude and obnoxious. It’s not like it would attract passers by to become customers. It was on a narrow side street where nobody would go unless they already had a destination there. Not to mention in the middle of the night where nobody was out walking about anyway. The other strip joint 2 doors down stayed politely quiet on the outside with just a sign above the door indicating their existence, proving there was no need for all that racket. You would think there would be some sort of city ordinance disallowing loud music blasting all night long, but apparently not.

cruise ship balcony

balcony on the Vista

Enough about odd things on land and back to the ship. As the Vista set sail from Athens we went out on our balcony to watch it pull away from the dock. So did passengers from many other rooms. People all up and down the ship stood out on their balconies peacefully watching the ship leave the dock when all of a sudden a very loud orgasmic OH, OH, OH pierced the air. We could see all sorts of people leaning this way and that, looking up and down trying to figure out which balcony the sound came from. We figured one or two doors down from us, probably on our deck, but possibly one above or below. Except for the participants, nobody will know for sure – except anyone watching from shore since we were on the land side of the ship. Or if anyone on the bridge happened to be out in the docking wing because from there they can see all the balconies…and since we were leaving the dock if they use that area for leaving port as well as for docking there would have been.

cruise port Piraeus

Athens cruise port – actually in Piraeus

Later in the cruise we were walking down the hallway to our cabin late one night. One of the inside rooms had the door propped open. Normally the only people who ever prop open stateroom doors are the cleaning crew, who do so while they are in a room cleaning. It was way past the time they normally finish their evening cleaning. Somehow an open door just draws the eyes in, especially at an abnormal time wondering why anyone is cleaning a cabin so late at night. Except they weren’t. No stewards in that cabin. Just a man and a lady in the bed, mostly covered by the sheet, but with her bare shoulders and his bare upper body visible. They both waved as we were quickly turning our heads the other way and picking up the pace moving down that suddenly endless hall.

inside cruise ship cabin

inside cabin

The ship also had some odd happenings that were not so entertaining. Some passengers on cruise ships like to decorate their cabin doors. With Halloween fast approaching, this cruise had more door decorations than normal, some pretty elaborate. At least for a time it did. Though there was no magician on board, somebody had a habit of making door decorations disappear. Some here and there all about the ship, and pretty much all of them in the hallways closest to our cabin. We’re not door decorators, but met some people on board who are. Like so many others, some of their things vanished without a trace. Someone somewhere may have had quite the Halloween display inside their cabin.

cruise ship door decorations

passenger cabin door decorated for Halloween

Meanwhile while decorations kept disappearing from cabin doors, inside the cabins very much unwanted smoke kept appearing. Not that the decorations vanished in a puff of smoke like in a magic show. These incidents were unrelated. Cabins from multiple decks in the rear port quarter complained of smoke in the rooms. Okay maybe not the cabins, but the occupants. The best the crew ever did was bring in an ionizer, which kept busy moving from room to room, but only cleared the air until the next time the undiscovered offender decided to have another smoke. Some cabin stewards can sniff out a smoker almost instantly, but apparently whoever had this one was either unwilling or unable to find them despite smoking in cabins being clearly against the rules as well as a fire hazard, and people from numerous cabins complaining about the smoke.

Most cruises go by without any odd things happening so this one was quite unusual with so many strange events, though far stranger things than these do happen on cruise ships.

 

 

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Snorkeling in Belize

Holland America Veendam

snorkel boat returning to the Veendam in Belize

It’s a long tender ride from ship to shore in Belize. Tenders are used when there is no cruise ship dock and the ship waits offshore while smaller boats bring passengers to land. These are sometimes the taller lifeboats off the ship and sometimes somewhat bigger boats that come out from shore to bring people in. We did see someone offering snorkel tours at the dock last time we were there, but that was a few years ago. Not knowing if that would be available this time, and not wanting to drag snorkel gear around if it wasn’t or have to go back for it if it was, we booked an excursion through our ship, the Holland America Veendam. (Yes the excursions always provide snorkel gear, we’d just rather use our own.) The other advantage of booking water-based excursions through the ship in Belize is that unlike other ports where the tendering distance is not so far, in Belize excursion boats pick you up right at the ship. At least that was our past experience from other cruises.

snorkel boat

snorkel boat in Belize

I didn’t do any ship’s excursions last time I sailed on the Veendam (out of Boston) so I’m not sure if it is this ship in general or just the crew on our Cuba trip, but out of all the cruises we’ve ever done on ships of varying sizes, this one had the absolute worst organization when it came to shore excursions and getting people off the ship. Granted it’s a small ship, but it still holds 1350 passengers so lines can get out of control. Often ships will have different excursions meet in different places around the ship (or sometimes on shore when the ship is docked). The Veendam had everyone come to the theater. Then they set their table up in front of the stage where there are multiple ways to get to it rather than outside one of the doors where there is just one way to get to the table like most other ships. The tickets said starboard side, but while most people lined up there, a few came in the other side, walked right past the line and went straight to the table. They should have been sent to the end of the line from there, but were not. Meanwhile the line went out of the theater, down the hall, and wound around near the stairs and elevators where newcomers had no idea where the end was and ended up joining in wherever happened to be handy. The tickets specified what time to be there for each excursion, but people tend to ignore that coming very early to last minute depending on their individual habits.

private island

dock on Starfish Island

They did not even separate bus or boat tours other than by the numbered stickers given, nor did individual tours have anywhere specific to sit and wait for that tour to be called, unlike other ships we’ve been on that often seat everyone on the same tour together. Ships nearly always have everyone on a specific tour follow a guide out of the meeting area in a group, where on the Veendam it was everyone for themselves meaning people leaving the theater sometimes got mixed in with those on different tours. More people than they had room for crowded the lower theater level. Though they suggested some wait upstairs not many actually did. We went up there and even though it’s one more floor down to the tender portal there was no crowd to fight our way through on the way to the door so we got a faster start. They kept announcing that everyone had to wait for the shore tenders so it would take awhile to get all tours to shore. They got up to number 4 and we had number 8. Shortly after a brief announcement saying some groups might be taken out of order they called number 8 saying that we were special enough to have a private tender. Which probably ticked off all the clueless people still waiting thinking we got priority on one of the shore tenders. Only it wasn’t a tender, it was the excursion boat. Instead of leaving groups 5-7 fuming they could have just been honest and said it was a sea based excursion leaving on the tour boat.

Starfish Island

swings in the water and on the dock at Starfish Island

Our excursion was called Starfish Snorkel and Island Getaway. The name comes from Starfish Island. The boat comes from there and they ran the tour. It was quite large for a snorkel excursion boat. Kind of resembled a barge with seats and a roof over most of it. Part of it also had canvas sides. It did have one head (bathroom) and a small bar area at the back. On the way to the reef they served water. Once we finished snorkeling they had rum punch for those who wanted it.

Caribbean coral

coral in Belize

Belize is on the Mesoamerican barrier reef,  the second largest coral reef in the world stretching over 600 miles from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to Honduras. The snorkeling where we went was pretty good by Caribbean standards, but didn’t measure up to what you find in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or around the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. When we took the independent (not through a cruise ship) Trilogy excursion in Hawaii I was happy to see that they provided reef safe sunscreen for people to use as well as educating everyone onboard about the need for using it. Considering the number of people cruise ships bring to coral reefs each week you would think they would all jump onboard with educating and promoting any way to save the reefs that they can, but none of them ever do.

snorkel excursion

snorkelers in Belize

Coral in the Caribbean is at an 80% loss. The chemicals in ordinary sunscreens kill coral and the oils smother it. One drop in the amount of water held by an Olympic swimming pool is all it takes to cause damage so having hundreds of people slathered in it daily is a serious problem and most of the passengers have no idea they are doing any harm. Ships rarely sell reef safe sunscreen in their onboard shops, and I’ve even seen one cruise line on facebook advising people to use bugspray on all their excursions. Bugspray kills coral larvae, and in all the cruises we’ve done around the world I’ve never once seen a mosquito anywhere near coral reefs or beaches. Mosquitos breed in stagnant swampy water, not salt water. Even natural herbal based bug products can be toxic to coral. If it kills a bug it kills the coral too. If you think you need protection from mosquitos near a tropical beach, put a dryer sheet in the pocket of clothes you wear on land to keep them at bay.

Caribbean coral

mostly brain coral

Without offering anyone reef-safe sunscreen or even once mentioning the dangers ordinary sunscreen poses to coral, the excursion boat anchored up in a sandy area. Passengers could choose to go in the first timer, intermediate, or advanced snorkel groups. Each one had a different guide so it kept things from being quite as crowded as if it was all one group, though there were still quite a lot of people. They did not let anyone swim out on their own. Everyone had to pick one of their groups and stay with them.

fire coral

fire coral (internet photo)

The water had deeper and shallower places. Out in the farthest area we went from the ship the tips of some coral rose above the water in an area we could see, but did not go to. The guide called that fire coral and said it would sting if you touched it as well as likely getting cut on it. Fire coral is not a true coral, but rather a similarly structured colony building organism disguising itself as coral that is actually more closely related to other stinging sea creatures like jellyfish and sea anemones. It can resemble several different types of coral and is sometimes mistaken for seaweed. It grows well in strong currents. The patch we saw was sticking out of the roughest water in the area. It was a windy day with some waves that got bigger the farther out that way we went. The guide said there was a drop-off a bit farther on, but it was not safe to go that far that day due to the waves and a strong undertow. Too bad, there may have been some interesting things to see near the drop-off.

stingray

stingray partly buried in the sand

We snorkeled over some areas where the coral was just far enough under the surface to float over, some where it was quite a ways down, and some where the bottom had sand or sea grass. One of the sandy areas had a couple barracudas swimming around. Another had a large stingray sitting on the bottom. I saw a couple sand-colored little flat fish scooting along the sand in one place, but I don’t know what sort of fish they were.

snorkeler

snorkeler near coral

There were lots of different types of coral. Some fan coral and brain coral as well as soft coral and many other types. Caribbean coral often doesn’t have much color to it, usually being shades of brown or yellow, but this place had several types in purple.

coral

coral

Where there’s coral there’s fish and this was no exception. Fish large and small, some bright and colorful and others not, swam about the coral and in and out of it’s branches, overhangs, and hiding places. There were also conch shells with living conch inside, sea urchins, and spiny lobsters. There’s lots of life under the sea.

Starfish Island hammocks

hammocks on Starfish Island

After an hour of snorkeling we got back on the boat for a short trip to Starfish Island. This small sand island in the mangroves had a swimming area, small playground, lots of beach chairs, some hammocks, swings in the water and on a dock, and a volleyball court. For an extra charge they had food, a bar, a gift shop, and water toy rentals for kayaks and things.

Starfish Island

beach chairs on Starfish Island

The island had a lot more beach chairs than people. Other than our excursion, there was just one other group there on a different excursion from our ship that went straight from the ship to the island on a smaller boat than ours. Which meant that even though the island was small enough to walk from one end to the other in under 5 minutes it was not crowded at all. Most of the chairs were in the sun, but some had shade from trees or nearby palapas – or the chair could be moved to the shade of a palapa. The palapas had small tables with picnic bench type seating around them. The two sets of hammocks also had shade being strung in a row under a palapa roof.

palapa on the beach

picnic table with palapa

After a couple hours on the island the snorkel boat brought us back to the ship. People had time to catch a tender to port if they wanted to go to the mainland. We might have done that just to see what’s there if we had never been to Belize, but since we’ve been there before we didn’t.

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