Bermuda Triangle Snorkel

Bermuda

Carnival Vista from the snorkel boat

After crossing the Atlantic Ocean from a cruise starting in Barcelona, Carnival Vista stopped in Bermuda overnight before continuing on to the final destination of the cruise in New York. Cruises from mainland USA to Bermuda tend to stay a bit longer.

Bermuda triangle is a lot bigger than Bermuda

Bermuda Triangle

For the first day at this port stop we booked a snorkel tour in the Bermuda Triangle. The Bermuda Triangle is not just a triangle around Bermuda as the name would indicate. Bermuda is actually just one tip of a giant triangle with sides that extend to Puerto Rico and Florida covering an area of the Atlantic Ocean far larger than the tiny bit of space taken up by Bermuda.

We took off for our snorkel trip in a glass-bottomed boat captained by a local 5th generation Bermudian who provided a wealth of information about Bermudian life and history on the way to the site of the two shipwrecks in the Bermuda Triangle where we would stop for snorkeling. One was the Civil War era Montana which sank in 1863 and other the World War 2 Constellation that hit the same reef in 1943. Not much of the wooden Constellation still survives other than some cargo. The metal side-wheel steamer fared somewhat better, though not intact with ship parts and the paddle wheel scattered about and grown over with coral.

Bermuda snorkel boat

snorkel boat captain and tour guide

Bermuda has a land mass of just under 21 square miles, but the reefs encircling the land mass cover a much larger area. Large ships have to wind their way carefully through a channel of deeper water between tall reefs when entering or leaving Bermuda. Bermuda has no high ground and is over 600 miles from any other land so they have to be self-sufficient in surviving hurricanes. The closest land is Cape Hatteras in North Carolina’s outer banks.

buildings in Bermuda

resort in Bermuda

Houses in Bermuda are very sturdy made from stone or cement and the roofs very heavy because their houses are the safest place they have to ride out a storm. 3 people died during one hurricane when one tried to cross a bridge and two cops went out to rescue him. The bridge went down taking all three people with it. They use their roofs to collect rainwater because Bermuda has no fresh water lakes or rivers and wells dug into its limestone ground would only find saltwater. Every home is built with a water tank.

shipwreck

shipwrecks make good structure for coral and other sealife

While coral reefs worldwide are dying off at alarming rates due to rising ocean temperatures and acidity, destructive fishing practices, pesticides, and other chemicals, and a number of other issues, Bermuda protects their reefs better than most. In some parts of the world overfishing strips the reef of fish that eat algae that suffocate corals when given a chance to grow, and fertilizer runoff feeds the algae helping it to grow faster than normal.

sunken ship in Bermuda

part of a sunken ship

Hurricanes are another threat to the world’s coral reefs. Pollution also harms coral, as does the chemicals and oils in the sunscreen washing off thousands of people swimming in the ocean wearing ordinary sunscreen instead of one that is coral safe. If your sunscreen doesn’t say biodegradable or reef safe on the package then it’s not.

fish in Bermuda

fish near the snorkel boat

You can find coral safe sunscreens online or at the sort of stores that sell herbal supplements and remedies. An amount of sunscreen equivalent to one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool is all it takes to harm coral. Many tons of sunscreen wash off people each year. You don’t need to swim in the ocean for chemicals from your sunscreen to end up there either as they can pass through the sewer system. Mineral based sunscreens protect people better from skin cancer so while saving the coral you can also better protect yourself.

Bermuda Bridge

Bermuda is a series of islands connected by bridges

According to our guide on the snorkel trip, Bermuda has lost about 11% of their reefs over the last couple decades. Horrendous as that is, it is much better than some areas in the Caribbean that are up to an 80% loss. Bermuda’s coral is tougher than most as it has to withstand large temperature swings between winter and summer since Bermuda is not in the tropics. That’s not the only reason it has a better survival rate though. Bermuda has all sorts of protections in place for both the coral and the fish that clean algae from the reefs. Bermuda’s signature pink sand comes from dead shells of a tiny short-lived creature that lives on the underside of the reefs.

Bermuda

snorkel boat at the reef

When we got to the site of the wrecks the crew tied the boat to a bouy which both marks the location of one of the wrecks and serves as an anchor bouy so boats have somewhere to tie up to and don’t have to drop anchor and risk damaging anything. The sea was flat calm, which isn’t the norm for that spot as the guide said it usually has a current. Flotation devices were required, with the option of noodles or snorkel vests. Not wanting to wrestle a noodle or have to keep track of it, I went with the vest (with no air in it) as the slightly less annoying way of fulfilling that requirement. Warm salt water is very buoyant. It’s actually much easier to float on the surface than it is to dive under it even without the hindrance of floatation devices, but they have their requirements (probably for insurance purposes) and people have to follow them.

Bermuda fish

reef fish

One wreck was just off the bow of the boat, the other off to one side. Coral reefs surrounded the boat and fish swam nearby. The largest concentration of fish were at the ship’s stern due to the fact that they threw food out for them there. In other areas the fish stayed mostly down near the coral, which was far enough under the surface in that area that nobody would accidentally touch it because touching it is against their protective rules.

cargo from a shipwreck

shipwrecked cargo – undersea bags of concrete

These wrecks have been under the sea for quite some time. Where the wooden ship sank the bags of concrete it carried have spread out looking like a large shelf of undersea pillows. The iron ship is scattered across the sea bottom in pieces.

old shipwreck near Bermuda

part of the Montana covered in sealife

On the way back to the dock we took a detour in the shallows where turtles sometimes hang out. Some of the reefs there come nearly to the surface so it takes careful navigation between them to avoid hitting any. We didn’t see any turtles that day, but if we had our guide said they would all be young turtles that breed elsewhere. Bermuda once had a breeding population of turtles, but back in the 1600’s in an attempt at conservation they ended up killing them off. They passed laws protecting the small turtles not realizing they were visitors form elsewhere and not local babies who would grow up to breed. The local turtles left for 25 years after hatching and came back to breed when they were large turtles of the size people were allowed to hunt and eat. They tried getting eggs from Costa Rica to re-establish their own breeding population, but even though those carefully tagged turtles hatched in Bermuda they went to Costa Rica when time came to breed – and they were all male because sand temperature around the egg determines a turtle’s sex. Males develop in colder sand, females in warmer sand and Bermuda is not as warm as Costa Rica. With rising ocean temperatures there are places currently having the opposite problem hatching almost nothing but female green sea turtles, which does not bode well for the species once the older generation of males die off since they need both sexes to reproduce.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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Posted in Atlantic Ocean & Islands, Carnival, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Costa Maya Cruise Ship Port

Costa Maya cruise port

Veendam in Costa Maya

Costa Maya is an engineered cruise ship port, meaning it is not a dock in a pre-existing town, but rather a port area built specifically for cruise ships and their passengers. It has quite an extensive shopping area with lots of stores, bars, and restaurants. A lot of them have signs saying they don’t take cash. You need to bring a credit or debit card if you want much choice in where to shop, eat, or drink there.

Costa Maya cruise port

there’s lots of little bars and restaurants at the port

The port has at least a couple sets of bathrooms, and numerous last-minute tour booths. Someone from one of those tried to interest us in a tour as we walked by and he said they charge it to the ship’s card. There were 3 ships at the dock all from different cruise lines so it must not matter who you sail with because he didn’t ask. We didn’t book anything so they may ask later, but he didn’t seem to care on the sales pitch. We were on the Holland America Veendam which was the third of the three ships to arrive and got the closest berth to shore. Not by a lot, but we were alongside the dock everyone has to walk down while the other two were on an offshoot dock at the end.

Costa Maya

Mayan Pole

You don’t get very far into the port before coming across a small courtyard with a tall pole. We got there just as a performance started in which people dressed in traditional Mayan costumes hang upside down from ropes that spin their way down the pole while people on it play various instruments. They all righted themselves and landed on their feet as the ropes neared the ground.

Costa Maya pool

part of the pool at Costa Maya cruise port

The port area has a swimming pool with swim-up bar. It also has dolphin swims and dolphin encounters available right at the port. The pools for those were quite small. Hopefully the dolphins live in larger quarters elsewhere.

bird at costa maya

bird in the aviary

Overhead walkways around the port area and bridges above the pool and dolphins are an aviary experience that they said cost $12 each when we asked about it. There are birds at the junctions where the walkways connect. If you look up you can see birds there from the ground.

costa maya

swing chairs

We found one second story restaurant with a view of the pool from tables that had swings for seats. We also saw signs for a chocolate factory tour, but didn’t go in so I can’t say if it was any good. Near the port exit people handed out little free samples of the factory’s chocolate, which is pretty expensive to buy.

spray paint artist

talent with spray paint

One booth had a guy making quite nice artwork from spray paint. He has pictures for sale, and makes them while people watch. His pictures cost just $25 each and look nicer than a lot of more expensive art. He also had a tip jar as he is quite entertaining to watch and that gives him a way to make a bit from the people who don’t buy his paintings. He allows people to photo and video him while he works.

costa maya walkway

walkway at Costa Maya cruise port

Besides taking tours, last minute or otherwise, you can leave the port area on your own. There are taxis just outside the port that will take people to town for $2 or to Mayan ruins for $100 for two people. The security guard just outside the port said town is about an hour’s walk, but someone at a tour booth just past the pyramid fountain said it is about a 25 minute walk, and that it is safe and a nice walk. Outside the port area people will take cash, and are quite happy with American dollars. In fact the taxi drivers quoted their prices in America dollars.

pyramid fountain in Costa Maya

pyramid fountain about a block or two outside the cruise port

Just outside the port area there are lots of buildings that look to have once been a pretty good sized shopping center, but now most are empty. Probably that shopping center shut down when the cruise port shopping area was built since it likely took away a good portion of their business. Perhaps over time the empty shops will fill up with things aimed more towards locals or land dwelling tourists and open again. There was a hotel along that road as well. A fountain in a pyramid that probably wasn’t as old as it looked sat in center of the road a short distance from the gate into the port area. It was probably a centerpiece when the shopping area there was in use.

Mahahual, Mexico

sign near the lighthouse in Mahahual

The nearby town is called Mahahual. It has about 3000 residents whom our taxi driver said mostly live in another area a bit away from the tourist section. Which explains why the tourist bit of town near the beach looks much too small to hold that many people.

walkway between Mahahual and lighthouse

Malecon (seaside walkway) in Mahahual

In town there are several hotels that look solidly built, and shops of all sorts. Some of the shops appear to be cobbled together with whatever materials people could find while others look more like actual buildings. There’s a nice beach running along the edge of town, with a walkway to a lighthouse. There are also plenty of cabs available to take people back to the port, also for $2.

cruise port sign

there are lots of signposts with many signs around the cruise port at Costa Maya

The tourist bit of the town is small with just a road that loops around making 2 streets for cars, one going each way, plus the seaside walkway for people which our cabdriver referred to as the third road. He might have called it something else if he spoke more English or if we spoke more than a few words of Spanish. He did pretty well with English considering he said what he knew he had learned from various tourists riding in his cab.

dolphin encounter

dolphin at Costa Maya

Ship’s Excursions in Costa Maya

Excursions offered by our ship at this port included Kohunlich Mayan Ruins, which are 2 ½ hours away and not the same ruins the local taxis take people to. It also had a Jaguar, bus, bike, cenote, paddle and beach BBQ excursion that had people riding through the jungle on a tandem bike, swimming in a cenote, riding on a Jaguar truck, and a stop on a white sand beach with options for paddle boarding, boogie boarding or inner tubing. Other excursions included beach breaks, bike and kayak, segway, ATV, dolphin swim or encounter (which is right at the port), diving, and snorkeling.

cruise ship dock at Costa Maya

view of Costa Maya cruise port from the dock

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Caribbean, Holland America, Mexico, Ports of Call, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gluten Free Chocolate Orange Cookies

chocolate orange cookie recipe

gluten free chocolate orange cookies

Gluten Free Chocolate Orange Cookies

Makes about 20 cookies

Ingredients

Cookies

6 Tablespoons butter or butter substitute, room temp
¼ cup honey
2 eggs,
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 Tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
orange zest
1/3 cup cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups mixed gluten free flours (I used ½ cup oat flour, 1/3 cup sorghum flour, 3 T white rice flour, 3 T tapioca flour, 2 T potato starch, but you can use your own preferred blend or an all-purpose gluten free flour blend)

Glaze

1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
orange zest
¾ cup powdered sugar

Instructions

Prep

Zest one orange and squeeze out the juice

Cookies

Heat oven to 350º F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Beat butter until creamy. Add honey and blend together with electric mixer until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Blend in 4 Tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice and half of the zest. Add cocoa powder, flours, and baking powder and beat until thoroughly mixed. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake 7-9 minutes

Glaze

Beat 1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice with powdered sugar and remaining zest. Add more juice or powdered sugar as needed to achieve desired consistency. For glazed cookies make the icing a bit thinner and ice hot cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. For frosted cookies make thicker icing and let cookies cool before adding frosting. For bright orange Halloween cookies add a bit of orange food coloring to the frosting.

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Lautoka, Fiji Island Tour

cruise ship in Fiji

Explorer at the dock in Lautoka, Fiji

We had no plans for our port stop in Lautoka, Fiji on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. When the ship pulled into port we could see a row of little booths offering tours from the locals. We like local tours. Besides supporting the people who live there, they are also usually considerably cheaper than tours booked on cruise ships.

Lautoka, Fiji cruise ship port

we could see the little booths from the ship so we knew there would be things to do

We booked what was said to be a 3-hour tour through one of the booths after having gone down the line to see where we could get the best deal. The asking rate per person adjusted from Australian to American dollars ran from $30-$35 at all the booths, but we found one willing to bargain and paid $25. We were told to come back at 9:15. They brought all the people waiting there to the bus around that time, but the bus didn’t go anywhere. The next group came in expecting a 9:30 departure, but it didn’t actually leave until they scrounged up a few more people closer to 10am. Island people are often on island time, which means they aren’t exactly prompt. Considering the ship had a 6:30pm all-aboard time they had no reason to feel the need to rush.

not really cannibals

the bus stopped by this store with “cannibals” outside

Our first stop was in Lautoka, Fiji’s sugar city. Called that because of the proximity of a sugar mill and the fact that sugarcane was once (as our guide put it) the backbone of Fiji’s economy. Which he said is now tourism, though they do still raise sugarcane there.
Going through Lautoka it looked like other than shopping there isn’t a lot to do. We stopped near a gift shop with a couple Fijians dressed as cannibals outside. They were cannibals in their not extremely distant past, but the native Fijians are mostly Catholics now. The “cannibals” posed for photos with or without tourists. Unlike in some countries they did not demand tips in exchange for the pictures, though they were quite happy to accept any that were offered.

sugartrain tracks

Narrow gage tracks used for bringing sugarcane to the mill at harvest time ran through Lautoka and alongside a lot of the roads. Some areas had rickety-looking train cars lined up near the tracks.

Apparently the people on our bus were on island time too because when given 15 minutes some waited longer to return to the bus. This was consistent at every stop, with some going double the given time. They added more people to the tour at that stop. Whether cruisers who had taken the shuttle to town or just other tourists I’m not sure, but they dropped them back at that stop before returning to the ship at the end. Speaking of the ship, the tour guide told anyone with their ship card hanging around their neck on a lanyard to put it away somewhere out of sight. Always a good plan in any port.

tropical flower

flower at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant

Along the way the tour guide said Fiji is multi-ethnic, but there’s only two races – the human race and the animal race. Although animals come in a multitude of species and humans don’t, the world would be a far better place with a lot less violence if everyone looked at things that way. No us and them, people are just people.

sleeping giant

the sleeping giant is a rock formation at the top of a small mountain

Our next stop was the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, up a long steep dirt road into the hills. The sleeping giant is a rock formation on top of the mountains. From certain views it looks as if it must be a lady giant. Up close you don’t really see it, but from our next stop on lower ground the giant in the rocks became far more obvious.

garden walkway

a wooden boardwalk trail ran through the Garden of the Sleeping Giant

People were given the option of paying a bit extra ($10) to go inside the garden or just sit in a covered area. They had a guided tour, but we were near the back. We tend to doddle around taking pictures. Other people cut in and we lost the guide. We ended up following the path until about 5 minutes until time to be back at the bus and then going back.

garden pond

the pond in the Garden of the Sleeping Giant had fish in it

We would have liked for them to give us more time at that stop so we could go farther down the trail. The garden had lots of pretty flowers and other interesting plants. It even had a pond. We got back on time and were told to rest about 10 minutes before leaving. The guide came around and served everyone fresh tropical fruit juice made from several fruits they grow there. I don’t know what was in it, but it tasted good.

garden in Fiji

there were all sorts of different plants at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant

Fijians must not consider bathroom upkeep as much of a priority. The ladies room in the one at the garden had 3 stalls – 2 usable and the third full of ants. Everyone avoided the toilet that was akin to sitting on an anthill. People would rather wait in line than end up with ants in their pants. At a later stop (Smuggler’s Cove) with just one stall the bathroom needed cleaning and the toilet was clogged.

mud pool

this guy got out of the mud pool just before we got there

Not far from the Garden of the Sleeping Giant we stopped at Fiji’s Tifajek Natural Spa. From there the sleeping giant on top of the mountain definitely looked like a lady giant. Natural hot springs provide the hot water for mud baths, thermal pools, and a sauna. This stop also had a small fee ($5) to go in – more for anyone wanting to try the pools or have a massage. We ran into some people we knew from the ship who had gone there on a ship’s excursion. We were supposed to stay for 20 minutes, but actually spent 40 there. Most of that with everyone sitting on the bus waiting to leave except a couple people who decided at the last minute to get a massage instead of going back to the bus when it was time to leave.

massage hut

the natural spa had massage huts with floor mats as well as massage tables outside

We would have been happy if the tour ended at that point and took us back to the ship, but they still had a couple more stops on their itinerary. Next we went to Nadi, which our Fijian guide pronounced Nandi as if it had an N in the middle of the word. That’s where the airport is if you fly into Fiji. Mostly we just drove through the city. They did take a 15 minute stop at a gift shop, though about half the people didn’t bother to get off the bus. All these tours stop at specific shops where they must have some sort of business arrangement with the owners. You get the same thing on cruise ship tours, though not necessarily the same stores. 15 minutes of course stretched to about 25 before the guide managed to round up all the stragglers and herd them back to the bus. There always seems to be at least one inconsiderate person who never comes back on time on every tour. When time is short sometimes stops get missed because of them, and it’s never the shops that they skip.

Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple

We stopped briefly for photos at a Hindu temple which would have been pretty impressive if most of it hadn’t been draped under tarps for construction. Fiji has a lot of people who came from India. They own a lot of the shops.

Smuggler's Cove hotel

Outside seating at Smuggler’s Cove

Our last stop was a hotel called Smuggler’s Cove. It was on the beach on the windward side of the island. Drier, but not as calm of water. The hotel had a café and bar where some people had food or drinks. Just outside the door there was a small pool, which we never saw anybody go in. Beyond their outdoor seating was a sandy beach. A few people were out in the water, but not many. We were to be there for half an hour. During that time we saw a guy ride down the beach on a horse and come back riding that one and leading another. Later a car drove by on the beach. That stop stretched to about 45 minutes before they got everyone back to the bus.

Smuggler's Cove beach

beach at Smuggler’s Cove

This tour definitely ran on island time. The 3 hours we were told the tour would last ended up as 5-6 depending on whether you count time spent waiting for the bus to leave initially or time from when it actually left. Which could of course be looked at as getting more than our money’s worth since we were back well before all-aboard time or as running quite slow since a good percentage of that time was spent sitting on the bus waiting for people who couldn’t be bothered to come back when they were told to.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Explorer of the Seas, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Inside Upper Lower Accessible Cabin

Carnival Magic

Carnival Magic

Cruise ships have a variety not just of passenger cabins, but of accessible passenger cabins, and Carnival Magic is no exception. Whether accessible or not, rooms run the range from inside cabins to suites, and everything in between.

inside cabin sleeps 4

regular inside cabin with bunks has 2 lower beds that can go together for a queen

Prices vary among the same type of cabin depending on its location both in deck level and whether it is near the middle or out toward one of the ship’s ends. The very cheapest of the cheap, or lowest category of inside room is the ones designated as upper lower. By upper/lower they mean one actual single bed and one either bunk or couch bed. The traditional upper/lower has a drop-down bunk, but some ships have rooms with a couch that converts to a bed and one regular bed and these are also in that classification. These rooms are great for bargain hunters and solo cruisers. Usually they are fairly small rooms, but as with any category accessible rooms are normally larger than others in that category.

inside upper lower cabin

inside upper lower cabin 1340

When booking last minute for the Magic, my sister had a choice of inside room or suite. With suite well out of her budget that left inside room, of which her choices were accessible or not in the upper/lower category. Her travel agent said they would sell just one of the two available inside rooms as ships can’t exceed their lifeboat capacity and this one was nearly full. Depending on how many rooms have more than two guests booked some other rooms may go unsold and remain empty even when the ship is at full passenger capacity. Since they make more money on suites they’d rather an inside room was left open. Her travel agent advised picking the accessible room since it would be more spacious than the regular one.

cruise ship hallway

hallway in the cabin area on Carnival Magic

This room was located on the Lido deck and was of the traditional style with one bed and a drop-down bunk, which stays folded up fairly unobtrusively in the ceiling when not in use. The upper bunks have come a long way over time. Some older ships still have wall mounted bunks that stick out into the room even when folded up, while newer ones have ceiling bunks that fold completely into the ceiling leaving it just as flat as a room without bunks. On the magic the bunk folded up against the ceiling, but not into it. The room had lots of floor space since as a fully accessible room sometimes people have to maneuver a wheelchair around in there. Closet space was limited as the closet was smaller than average to fit in the space between the wall and the oversized bathroom door. The desk ended with space between it and the bathroom for wheelchair parking, making it smaller than average as well. So she got lots of floorspace and not so much storage.

cruise ship accessible cabin

shower in the accessible cabin

Floorspace wasn’t the only thing bigger than average though. While cruise ship bathrooms are usually pretty small, in the accessible rooms they are quite spacious. Instead of a lip around the shower it has drains for a roll-in shower, which is about double the size of those in regular cabins. There is also lots of floor space by the sink. The shower has a drop-down seat, and since it is oversized the clothesline is longer than normal.

accessible sink

sink in the accessible cabin bathroom

For one person this is a great room. Two would have space enough to move around, but might find the limited storage space a bit of a challenge if they brought much stuff, though if they had no wheelchair suitcases could sit in that space rather than getting stuffed under the bed making it easy to keep some things there. The bathroom would be no problem for two with more than the usual amount of counter space.

inside upper lower cabin

inside upper lower accessible room 11268

Overall she liked the room, except for lack of a chair until the steward brought her one of the sort normally found on balconies. The other drawback was that while proximity to the Lido made grabbing a snack or something to drink easy, it also meant hearing any late night deck parties making sleep impossible before the party ended. While the nightly movies seemed loud out on deck, she did not hear those in the room. These rooms can also be found on other decks.

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Oosterdam Galley Tour

galley tour

one of the Oosterdam cooks busy preparing lunch

One sea day on Holland America Oosterdam the daily newsletter listing all the events for the day had a free galley tour on the schedule. It’s always fun to get a peek behind the scenes, especially when you can do it for free.

galley tour

everything has its own prep and cooking areas

We went to the scheduled meeting place in the dining room at the appropriate time and found a long line of people already there waiting for the door to open. I don’t know if anybody actually led this tour talking about the things people saw like they do on a far less crowded paid behind the scenes tour or not because we were far enough back in the line not to see or hear them if there was anybody there. I suppose somebody at least showed whoever was at the head of the line where to go.

cruise ship galley

the galley takes up a large area and food service employees are a good portion of the crew

The long line of people snaked through a set path through the galley where crew were busy with lunch preparations at all different stations.

galley tour

each prep or cooking station had dividers separating it from other prep or cooking areas

Cruise ship galleys have separate prep areas for each different sort of food so vegetables never become contaminated by meat or meat by fish or any other sort of cross contamination.

galley tour

bakery area

Baked goods have their own space too, and of course there’s a giant dishwasher for all the thousands of dishes used each day. Actually more than one and a place to wash pots too.

galley tour

rack of baked goods

Soups cook in giant vats. Feeding a couple thousand people takes a lot of soup. Of course there’s enough variety of food that not everyone on board eats the same thing, but there’s also enough people that whatever gets cooked a lot of people will want it.

galley tour

dessert station

Desserts are an important part of cruise ship meals so of course there are areas for them too.

galley tour

how to plate things

The walls in the main walkway had all sorts of things posted regarding the menus and how to plate various dishes.

galley tour

new menu

There were big signs posted on the wall showing photos of how each of the dishes on the menu should look. Next to the current menu there was also one showing food for Mexican itineraries, as that was where the ship would go next when it finished the Alaska season.

galley tour

names of crazy plates and instructions for dessert service in the Pinnacle Grill

Next to the menu pictures another sign showed photos of some crazy looking plates, which said they were for the tour.

decorative cruise ship plates

table in the Pinnacle Grill set with crazy plates for the tour

The tour ended with a walk through the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America’s fancy upscale pay-extra eatery. There set out on some of the tables were those crazy looking plates.

cruise ship galley

preparing veggies for lunch

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Ponta Delgada, Azores

Carnival Vista in Ponta Delgada, Azores

Vista in Ponta Delgada, Azores

Following a couple stormy days at sea between Gibraltar and the Azores, Carnival Vista docked in Ponta Delgada on a day with a weather forecast of cloudy with 20% chance of rain and a high of 69 degrees Fahrenheit. Once again we got to the meeting place barely too late to get stickers for the first bus on our tour and had to wait for all the stragglers to show up for the second one to get called. Eventually they all made it to the lounge and then onto the bus. Our tour was to take us to Furnas Valley to see the geothermal activity – hot springs, mud pools and geysers the excursion description said, bringing up a mental picture of some sort of miniature Yellowstone.

geothermal cooking

cooking mounds and an open hole

Sao Miguel Island has a volcanic crater with two lakes, one green and one blue. Since the deep blue comes from the reflection of the sky that one may have looked more gray that day, but I can’t say for sure since we didn’t go there. The green one gets its color from the dense vegetation on the crater walls. The bus drove along the shore of the green lake while the guide explained how people living there had used the crater’s geothermal activity as a means of cooking for centuries.

hot spring in the Azores

pathway to the hot spring

While they originally just buried their pans of food in the dirt, they now have cement lined holes throughout an area with boiling hot springs and mud pools to put the food pans in before burying them. They leave the mixture of meats and vegetables in the ground for about 5-7 hours before unearthing it ready to serve. The ship did offer tours that included a meal from one of those in-ground pots, but ours wasn’t one of them.

pathway around a hot spring

steaming crater

A boardwalk winds past dirt mounds with food inside, open cement holes ready for cooking, and an open boiling pool of water. Just beyond the water pool the path passes by a pool shrouded in steam. Occasionally the steam clears enough to see it throw boiling hot mud.

hot spring

boiling water bubbling out of the ground

While we wandered about it started to rain. Some people pulled out their raincoats or umbrellas at the first drop, but I’ve always lived in a rainy state and can’t be bothered to worry about a little bit of rain.

friendly ducks

these ducks walked up and sat down at our feet hoping for a handout

I got a bit wet taking photos of some half-grown ducklings who came up hoping for a handout, but it dried before the next stop. Unfortunately the next stop was not geysers or anything of the sort, that first stop apparently being all the natural geothermal features we would get to see.

hydrangea

roadside hydrangea

We didn’t see any litter along the roadsides. Our guide said that people were paid to keep the roadside plants trimmed and streets clean. Hydrangeas and ginger lilies grow abundantly along the roadsides, neither native with the hydrangeas planted and the lilies invasive. We were a bit past the season for flowers with the lilies just in greenery and the hydrangeas mostly sporting dead blooms, though a few still had vibrant blue or white flowers.

Terra Nostra Gardens, Azores

statue at the end of a pathway in Terra Nostra Gardens

Our next and longest stop was at Terra Nostra Gardens. Once a private garden, it is now a park. It has plants and trees from around the world and hot springs running through the park and feeding the park’s pool and hot tubs.

hot spring pool

not a pool I would want to swim in

We didn’t see the hot tubs, but the muddy brown color of the pool seemed very uninviting and the hot stream flowing through the park looked just as brown.

looks like a river of poo, but it's just water

muddy hot stream

There was a pond and stream with clearer water, but that must also have been colder since it was full of coy (big goldfish.) If you stand at the edge of the pond all the fish swim to you hoping for food.

Terra Nostra Gardens

coy pond

Our map of the park mentioned grottos and a boiling lake as the features we thought we’d find most interesting. We found a lake, but unless you count raindrops hitting the surface it didn’t have any activity resembling anything boiling so it probably wasn’t the one we were looking for.

garden grotto

grotto under the bridge

Some caves under a sort of bridge to nowhere may or may not have been the grotto. By bridge to nowhere I mean it looked like a bridge below, but on top was just a platform with no path to either end.

plant animals

topiary

We found the topiary without looking for it, though like most other things it appeared out of season as the animal shapes were not entirely covered with greenery. Up a hill from there we found an ancient stone gazebo and some sort of statue down a trail. And of course all sorts of plants, though not many flowering in late October.

lake in a crater

green lake

Next we went up to the top of the mountain. I had thought people were supposed to be able to see both the blue and green lakes at once, but either I was mistaken on that or we were not in the right place for that view because we could only see the green one. We weren’t there long before the clouds thickened and the view became obscured in the mist. Luckily it was a short stop as the wind kicked up fiercely just about the time we were to board the bus. The bus parked next to a makeshift souvenir stand where the last passenger couldn’t find her husband to get money for her purchase until the guide asked if he was on the bus. Everyone was on the bus except her so he had to get off and when she loudly yelled that she had been looking all over for him and what was he doing on the bus everyone started to laugh since we all heard through the open doors. Finally she made her purchase and got on.

Riberia Grande, Sao Miguel Island

Riberia Grande

Our last stop was in the town of Riberia Grande, the oldest town on the island. Our guide said it once was filled with colorful homes, but when people started going for vibrant colors rather than pale the governor raised taxes on houses with color so for years everything became white or gray. She said just recently color was beginning to come back to some of the buildings. The bus stopped near an old church that is used only for special occasions now.

historic church

old church in Riberia Grande

The former monastery of the church is no longer in use, a fact made obvious by the large hole in the roof. A bridge crosses over the river that gives the town its name. On European excursions there always seems to be a place people are led to by guides who seem to have some sort of connection with the store. In this case it was a liquor store where they had free samples of various liqueurs made on the island. Flavors included pineapple, tangerine, passion fruit and chocolate.

riverside homes

houses by the river in Riberia Grande

Oranges were once an important crop on Sao Miguel, but when disease took out most of the orange trees they switched to other crops. The island mainly produces meat and dairy products now, but still has some crops including pineapples and tea. Some things like sugar and tobacco are grown only for use in the Azores because Portugal has restrictions on what they can export.

Azores

Terra Nostra Gardens

We did see some interesting things and learn something about the area, but overall the excursion was somewhat disappointing since we booked it expecting to see more impressive geothermal features. People might find more satisfaction in cruise ship excursions if the descriptions given were accurate rather than exaggerated as they often are.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018

 

 

Posted in Atlantic Ocean & Islands, Carnival, Europe, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Things to Do on Holland America Veendam

Holland America Veendam

Veendam in Costa Maya, Mexico

Cruise ships vary greatly in size as well as in options of things to do onboard. While some of the bigger ships have things like waterslides, rock climbing walls, flow riders, or even ziplines, skating rinks, or racetracks, smaller ships without those adornments have things to do as well. When choosing a ship to cruise on it always helps to plan according to who is cruising with you and what they like to do. For instance when cruising with the grandkids we always pick a ship with things like waterslides, but when they are not along we often pay more attention to the destinations than the ship’s amenities.

Veendam hot tub

hot tub and pool on the Veendam

Holland America’s Veendam is a smaller, quieter ship. It often has great destinations which is why I’ve sailed on it twice – once on a Canada/New England cruise and more recently on a Caribbean cruise with a port stop in Cuba. Both of these were 7-day cruises with lots of port stops, but even on short port-heavy cruises there’s always some time at sea to enjoy what the ship has to offer.

cruise ship pool

the main pool on the Veendam has a retractable roof

The Veendam has two swimming pools and several hot tubs. Other ways for guests to amuse themselves include a giant chess set, ping pong tables, a giant connect 4 game, a tennis court, and a basketball court. There’s also lots of deck chairs for people to relax in.

giant chess on a cruise ship

giant chess set

The ship has plenty of things to do indoors as well. Of course it has bars and a casino. They also have daily movies in one of the onboard theaters, and a long list of movies available that people can have brought to their cabin at no charge. There are board games and puzzles in the Explorations Café, and afternoon tea served daily in the dining room.

cooking demonstration

America’s Test Kitchen demonstration on Holland America Veendam

While all ships have activities scheduled daily, the smaller ones without as many ways for people to amuse themselves rely more on activities and schedule accordingly. Besides the usual things like trivia and other contests, Holland America’s ships have Digital Workshop computer classes sponsored by Microsoft and cooking demonstrations by America’s Test Kitchen. Some of their other special activities include BBC Earth experiences, O Oprah the Magazine activities, and Explorations Central lectures.

Veendam bar

bars on the Veendam

There’s something for everyone with fitness classes at the gym as well as yoga and morning stretch exercise classes. There’s also lectures and port talks, bridge games, bingo games, and of course nightly shows in the main theatre. Other evening entertainment includes the music walk, with several centrally located bars featuring nightly music.

Veendam basketball court

basketball court on the Veendam

Veendam also has places where people can sit near a window and read, play cards, or just enjoy the view. The promenade deck goes all the way around the ship for outdoor walks, though jogging is not allowed on this ship’s promenade – probably due to there being staterooms on the promenade deck with direct outside access.

cruise ship theater

main theater on the Veendam

As with all ships, the amount of activities people want to join is completely up to them. Kind of like the amount they want to eat, because on a cruise ship food is always plentiful.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018

 

Posted in Holland America, Shipboard Life, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fiji Cruise Ship Ports

Lautoka Fiji cruise ship dock

Explorer of the Seas in Lautoka, Fiji

Officially known as the Republic of Fiji, this south pacific island nation consists of over 300 predominantly volcanic islands plus another 500+ smaller islets, mostly uninhabited. 87% of the population lives on the two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. About 3/4 of those live on the coasts of Viti Levu, which is also the island with both Fijian cruise ports we visited. We had one port stop in Suvu and the other Lautoka. Lautoka is sugarcane country while Suva is the capital and Fiji’s main cruise port. Nadi with its international airport is found on Viti Levu and has lots of resorts due to the proximity of the airport. Tourists also flock to the Mamanucas islands near to Nadi. Tourism, tapioca and sugarcane are currently Fiji’s main sources of income.

Fiji

map of Fiji from Wikipedia

Historically the inhabitants of Fiji were cannibals, but not anymore. Fiji has a tropical marine climate with the warmest months from November to April and coolest from May to October, though with a 72 degree F average temperature for the cooler months they aren’t exactly cold. Rainfall is heaviest during the warmer months. Cyclones hit about once a year.

Fijian beach

beach near Lautoka, Fiji

Sandy beaches, coral reefs, tropical weather, and islands with crystal clear water are the main tourist attractions. Currency is the Fijian dollar, but American and Australian dollars are widely accepted there as well.

ship view of Suva

view of Suva from a cruise ship

Fiji’s largest city, Suva, is a metropolitan area with restaurants, shopping, museums, parks, gardens, historic buildings and nightlife. Lautoka is the second largest city. Its main employer is a sugar mill. Lautoka has markets, uncrowded beaches, and an international selection of restaurants.

Lautoka Cruise Ship Port

Mainly a container port, Lautoka gets about 4 cruise ships a month. Fijian music and dancers greet the cruise ship on arrival. Look for them from the ship because they stopped as soon as passengers began to disembark. They performed again late in the day while a line of people waited to board, bringing some of the crowd in to dance with them. A tip jar sat nearby in hopes passengers had not spent all their money on shore and had a bit to spare for the entertainment.

dancers in Fiji

dancers on the dock greet arriving ships

There was a line of booths set up across from the gangway. At the end closest to the ship they all offered same day tours. Most had an island tour in a bus or a boat tour to another island for beaches and snorkeling. Standard prices in Australian dollars ran fairly close to the same from one booth to another, though some had better discounts for American currency than others. At some the price was set, but others were open to haggling for a slightly better deal. Some of these booths also offered things like massages and hair braiding.

Lautoka cruise ship dock

booths at the dock by the ship in Lautoka, Fiji

At the other end of the line the booths had a variety of things for sale. Beyond that there was a booth next to the ship for people on ship’s excursions to gather in.

Lautoka, Fiji

Lautoka near the shuttle and tour bus stop

Pre-cruise research online came up with different sites saying town was ½ mile, 1.4K (which is nearly a mile), 2.5 miles, and 4 miles away. The shortest estimate was probably to the edge of town where it looked like some sort of flea market going on in a field with lots of different booths. The shuttle stop was a bit farther in, near lots of stores. Probably closer to a mile or two. 4 miles was definitely an overestimate.

sugarcane train tracks

narrow-gauge railroad tracks run through Lautoka to take sugarcane to the mill

Our ship sold shuttle tickets into town at $9 for the day. They pushed for people to buy them in advance so they wouldn’t have to wait in line on port day. Of course anyone buying shuttle tickets in advance would be out that money if they decided to take a tour instead of just going to town. Cruise ship excursions and tours booked at the booths in the port all left right from the port with no need for a shuttle to town. The shuttles would mainly be useful for people who just wanted to shop or stay near the port. The tour bus did add some people at the first stop in the shopping area where the shuttles stop, but unless they wanted extra shopping time those people could have saved money by taking the tour straight from the port since they wouldn’t have had to pay for the shuttle to town as well as the tour that way.

fiji sugar mill

sugar mill in Lautoka

There’s a sugar mill quite near the port. Many places used to grow sugar cane. Fiji still does. Narrow-gage railroad tracks parallel the road throughout much of the island for bringing sugar cane to the mill at harvest time. Sugar is not the mainstay of Fiji’s economy it once was having been overshadowed by tourism and tapioca, but it is still an important crop.

cruise dock in Suva

photo of a welcoming warehouse from a ship docked in Suva

Suva Cruise Ship Port

Fiji doesn’t see enough cruise ships to build terminals especially for them so even in Suva cruise ships dock in a container port, this fact only made more obvious when getting funneled through a warehouse between the gangway and port exit.

cruise ship dock in Suva

booths at the Suva cruise dock

Like Lautoka, Suva had a number of booths set up on the dock selling sightseeing tours and transportation to beaches. The sightseeing tours normally include a stop in a local village, but on Sunday all the villagers go to church so if your port stop is on Sunday with a last minute tour you miss out on things like firewalking and Kava ceremonies that happen there. Which means if you find the right provider you can negotiate a better price. Missing out on the Kava could be a bonus though. We tried that local drink at a Fijian village next to a resort we stayed in once and it’s definitely something I’m happy to do without. Ship’s tours still included a village visit.

It’s just a 5 or 10 minute walk to town from the dock in Suva.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018

 

Posted in Explorer of the Seas, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Paradise Point Skyride in Saint Thomas

Saint Thomas

Paradise Point Skyride

After having looked up the weather before our Carnival Magic cruise and seeing a prediction of rain for all four ports, we were quite happy to see sunshine in the forecast when time for the actual cruise came. Our second port was Charlotte Amalie on Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands – a place we had visited once before. On that visit we took an island tour and then a quick trip to Paradise Point on the skyride before going back to the ship. At that time we saw a ferris wheel, a trail, and all sorts of animals at the top in addition to the shops and restaurant.

Saint Thomas skyride

lower tram station

Traveling with a group of 9 this time, we thought walking to the skyride and taking a trip to the top would make a fun day for all since there was quite a bit to do up there. The lower tram station is a short walk from the cruise ship dock. We bought tickets on the ship, which cost a bit less than buying them at the ride. On the way there we noticed the mountain top looking freshly dug up. Several taxi drivers stopped in hopes of getting us to take a ride to the top with them. They said driving a carload of people to the top costs about the same as one skyride ticket. They all said the cablecar down was still free.

going to Paradise Point

skyride over the new road

We’d already bought tickets and took the skyride up. Even if we hadn’t already had tickets the whole point was riding in the gondolas rather than getting to the top and there’s nothing special about riding in a car. The road to the top all the taxi drivers mentioned hadn’t been there on our previous visit. People had to walk up or use the skyride then.

skyride top station

top station with new road and bare hill

That wasn’t the only change. Everything that had been above the skyride on our last visit was gone. No viewpoint, trails, or animals. The place where the ferris wheel once sat off to the side and a bit below the upper tram station was just an empty concrete slab. It seems someone was more interested in bringing customers to the restaurant and shops than in providing any sort of entertainment for visitors – which translates to less reasons to bring a family up there.

authentic shipwreck merchandise

shipwreck salvage for sale

We looked around the shops a bit and thought the one selling stuff from shipwrecks was the most interesting. In one shop a teenage boy accidently knocked a rather expensive Christmas ornament off a shelf and broke it. His parents had to pay for it. Luckily none of the kids in our group broke anything.

restaurant at Paradise Point

restaurant view from the skyride

The open-sided restaurant had a patio area extending beyond the roofed part. We walked to the far end to see the view off the terrace. The views are still spectacular up there and there’s plenty to eat and drink. Other than that there wasn’t much to do so we would have looked elsewhere for a way to entertain youngsters if we had known all the other things were gone.

Paradise Point Skyride

skyride coming up to the top station

There seemed to be more shops down on the level below where the skyride stops this time, though I may have just missed them last time since we hurried back in a downpour after checking out the things that no longer exist and didn’t look around the shop and restaurant area much that time.

skyride view

inside the skyride

Saint Thomas has lots of shops and places to eat near the cruise terminal, but there isn’t much else to do there without taking some sort of transportation to get elsewhere – which is available at the port.

Paradise Point, Saint Thomas

view of skyride, cruise port, ships, and beyond from Paradise Point

Most of the ship’s excursions on Saint Thomas involve water sports or beaches, but there are a few other things like scenic drives, a zip line, or an ice bar.

2017’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused extensive damage to the tram, buildings, and road. It stayed closed for several months for repairs which included all new cables and is back up and running again.

More Blogs About Saint Thomas

Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Paradise Point Skyride

Random Bus Tour on Saint Thomas

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