Shanghai Cruise Ship Port

view of Shanghai from the Westerdam


Shanghai is China’s largest city as well as a global financial hub and the place where our 4-week Canada to China cruise came to an end. The city’s population exceeds 24 million. The Chinese characters that make up the city’s name together mean upon-the-sea. Shanghai has a 4-season climate with hot humid summers and cold damp winters, often with freezing temperatures at night and very little snow. Spring is often wet while fall is generally sunny and dry. Public transportation includes trains, busses, ferries, and taxis as well as the cruise port and an international airport.

ships disappearing into the smog near the port in Shanghai

Getting Shanghaied back in the 1800’s meant people might get knocked out (usually by alcohol or drugs) only to wake up and find themselves on a boat to China where they had been recruited as crew whether they liked it or not. Unlike today’s large cruise ships with stabilizers, those old wooden sailing vessels would pitch and roll in rough seas, often making seasickness a problem. Being a major shipping port, these unwilling sailors often ended up in Shanghai. Acupuncture has been practiced in China for centuries, and there is a pressure point on the ear that can ease seasickness, hence the penchant of pirates for earrings – often more than one since they may not have found the right spot on the first try. Currently the term Shanghaied means getting tricked into doing some sort of work for someone.

scooters in a narrow alleyway in Shanghai

Probably the most dangerous thing in modern day Shanghai aside from pollution is the crazy scooter drivers. They’re not only dangerous to pedestrians, but also to themselves. They ride in streets with the traffic, against the traffic, and often right through red lights and crowded crosswalks. They also ride on the sidewalks. The scooters are pretty quiet so you don’t always hear them coming up behind you. Scooter riders often neglect to turn their lights on when riding after dark to save the power lights take to run. People park their scooters everywhere. Sometimes the sidewalk is so thick with scooters that there is no room on the sidewalk for anyone to walk so the pedestrians end up in the street along with cars, scooters, and bikes. In spite of all that we did not see any accidents while walking around in Shanghai and we did a lot of walking in the several days we spent there.

parked scooters taking up the whole sidewalk so people have to walk in the street

Chinese people do have some disgusting habits. Some of them spit all over the sidewalks and even on the floors inside sometimes. Something to do with a belief that phlegm must be expelled immediately. They also let their young children pee anywhere. Not just on the sidewalks outside either. We were at a restaurant in a tourist area when a little boy had to go. Instead of taking him to the bathroom like normal people his parents had him pee in a garbage can right at their table in a room full of other people having lunch. In another tourist area, which had restrooms, we saw someone have a little girl go on an open riverbank next to the pathway rather than taking her to a nearby toilet.

night cruise from the Bund

Shanghai Cruise Port

Shanghai’s original cruise port located at the Bund, which in itself is a tourist destination, holds only smaller cruise ships, but the new port farther down the river about 15 miles north of the city holds larger ships. While visiting China normally requires a visa, those passing through Shanghai in 144 hours or less and not visiting anywhere else in China may not need one depending on where they are from. The new port can accommodate up to 3 large cruise ships at the same time. Taxis are readily available at the port. The advice to avoid over-priced unlicensed scam taxis by getting into the official taxi line for a registered taxi may or not work. We walked a long way to get to the official taxi line rather than taking the nearby unlicensed cabs and even there the driver did not turn the meter on and overcharged for the ride into town.

inside the long hallway to get out of the cruise terminal in Shanghai

Disembarking from the Westerdam meant quite a long walk through the terminal, with frequent stops to wait in line for the next line. The official taxi stand was quite a distance from where our ship disembarked, though nearer to some of the other berths. We were approached several times along the way by someone asking where we were going in hopes of steering us to their scam taxi. The licensed ones won’t approach anyone, they just pull into the taxi line, though as we found out having a license doesn’t mean they won’t still scam you. The taxi line had people coming from two different directions because Quantum of the Seas was disembarking that day too with a much shorter walk to the taxi stand and port exit than we had.

cruise port view from the ship in Shanghai

The port shuttle into town was only for people with no luggage (those staying onboard for the next cruise) and even they were recommended by the shore excursion staff to take a taxi because the drive to where it let people off was so far they figured it could take people an hour of wait time before boarding the shuttle since it would take the busses a long time to go to town and back.

canal boat in Zhuijiajao

Things to do in Shanghai

Being a very large city, Shanghai has many options of things for tourists to do. It has museums, parks and gardens, temples, and towers.  There are a couple ancient cities turned tourist attractions somewhat near to Shanghai. One is called Zhujiajiao, which has canals with pole-boat rides somewhat like Venice, though neither the boats nor architecture is the same as that found in Italy. The World Financial Center building is one of the largest buildings in the world, but the Shanghai Tower is even bigger. Shanghai’s Pudong district has 3 tall towers with viewing areas for visitors.

bus tour map of Shanghai

You can ride the 270mph maglev train or go shopping. There are shows to see, food to eat, museums, tall buildings with observation areas on high floors, massages, and more. There are hop-on-hop-off buses from more than one company. The hotel gave us a map from the Bus B tours, which has 3 different routes included in one price, but we saw more busses from one called City Tours around town. We didn’t go on either, but the map was useful.

Shanghai subway routes map

Subways are cheap and have stations listed in English as well as ticket machines where you can choose a language before purchasing the ticket so you know what you are getting. Some stations sell all day passes, but not all of them. You have to pay attention to where you enter the subway station if you want to find the same street on the way out. Most of the subway stations are huge, with multiple exits. A lot of them have shopping areas, some have entire malls.

sweets in a shop window

Street signs are also in English as well as Chinese. Massages are readily available and cheaper if you get them somewhere other than a hotel. Even less from a place not on a main tourist street than one in a prime location. They have everything from foot to whole body massages, and some will offer a variety of styles such as Swedish, Japanese, or Chinese.

night view from the Bund

The Bund has boat rides along the river, a ferry across, and a tourist ride that goes under the river. There are walkways along the riverside and eateries, and in the evening light shows on lots of the buildings.

Gucheng Park near the Bund

There are a lot of things within walking distance of the Bund including several parks.

Nanjing Street

Nanjing Street is a famous tourist area with lots of shops and the world’s biggest Starbucks.

smoggy view of tall buildings in the Pudong district across the water from the Bund

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
Posted in China, Holland America, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Royal Princess Hits and Misses

Royal Princess in Seattle

Hits and Misses  on the Royal Princess

Hits and misses are usually my opinion of what I did and didn’t like on a cruise, but this time I have some input from one of my sisters as well. As usual these are a matter of opinion and not everyone who sails that ship will agree since different people like different things.


The ship itself is quite nice. It’s easy to get around, classy, and tastefully decorated with a variety of options for things to do. Staff and crew were always polite and helpful.

The gym is open 24 hours a day. They post open hours of 6am-10pm, but that is the time it is staffed. The door is always unlocked and passengers can use the equipment any time of day or night.

relaxing in the enclave

The spa has a nice thermal suite called the Enclave. We often take the spa tour on boarding day to determine if that ship’s spa is worthy of paying the extra for the thermal package, and on Royal Princess we decided it was. There is a dry sauna and a couple of steam rooms, a pool with several water features including a rack to sit on and enjoy the jets, heated ceramic benches, and a couple little waterbeds.

almost all the seats in the Royal Princess theater are good seats

Royal Princess has a well-designed theater with no view blocking poles holding up a balcony and most of the seats in the theater are good seats where you have a nice view of the stage.

The showers in the gym and spa locker rooms have rain shower heads.

medallions replace key cards on the Royal Princess

Medalions are used instead of key cards. They have all the functions of a key card like opening the cabin door and charging onboard purchases, but they have additional useful features and some just for fun things. They are also waterproof, which would come in quite useful on an itinerary with beaches or snorkeling opportunities.

surf & turf

The food was good and the staff is quite accommodating for special diets. Besides the standard of ordering dinner on the previous night so the meals can be adjusted to fit people’s individual dietary needs, our waiter brought us off-menu deserts on nights where nothing from the menu fit our needs. Specialty foods are a bit harder to find on the breakfast buffet, but gluten free items are available if you ask where to find them.

Inside smoking is mostly confined to a fully-enclosed cigar lounge which keeps the smoke contained.

The outside smoking area is at the back end of the ship where people don’t inadvertently walk through it.

bar overlooking the piazza

At the past guest party besides having a little stage show, they gave out drink certificates good for any bar anytime during the cruise.

San Diego port photo

They had good photographers who allowed the line of people exiting the ship to move freely by staying out of the way of people disembarking. They were there and available for anyone who wanted photos, but didn’t stuff up the line trying to stop people who didn’t want their photo taken.

Gluten free desserts were always available at the little cafe in the piazza and at the late night buffet.

people dancing in the piazza

There was always a variety of daily activities in the piazza.

seawalk on the Royal Princess

The ship had a skywalk which was a little walkway with a glass floor. It curved out from the side of the ship so the sea was visible through the floor.

self-serve passenger laundry

Royal Princess has self serve guest laundries, which are always a good thing to have on cruise ships.


almost onboard

After showing a boarding time of 1:00pm for over a year from when we booked until a couple weeks before the cruise, they sent an email saying they had staggered boarding by decks and we were to get on at 2:30, which was the very last time slot on the list. The ship was scheduled to sail at 4 which means all aboard would be 3:00 so we would barely get on the ship in time for the muster drill. 1pm was already a pretty late start time for boarding. In those days you could get on most ships in time to have lunch onboard. It was just the email they sent about boarding that was a miss though. The actual boarding process was quick and efficient, done first come first served, and we were onboard by 11:30am. This was before Covid. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through before you even get to the dock now.

after having our ship’s excursion in San Diego cancelled, we took a hop on hop off trolley tour

You can pre-book excursions online before cruises, but apparently with Princess that doesn’t mean you can actually take that excursion. We booked one that was cancelled just before the cruise with no notification whatsoever from Princess. I only knew they cancelled it because I received a refund notice from PayPal, whom I had used to pay for it. Upon calling Princess they said they list all excursions a port has to offer and then cancel the ones that aren’t actually available for that sailing. If that is actually true and not just what one random person answering the phone said it seems like a way to make some very unhappy guests when they could instead just list excursions that are actually available for that cruise so people only book ones they can actually take.

one of 4 unconnected deck sections that are all Royal Princess has for an outside promenade deck

The outside promenade deck does not go all the way around the ship. There’s really not much in the way of an outside promenade deck at all – just a small bit something like a big balcony at each end on each side. So there’s no promenade deck to walk or jog around for those who enjoy doing so (and that’s always quite a lot of people.) Also nowhere where people can position themselves for the exact view they want because the top decks have obstructions.

There’s no dry place to put your things in the gym and spa showers, no washclothes in gym or spa locker rooms, and no hairdryer in the gym locker room. It takes nearly a whole shower to get hot water in gym locker room which makes it hard to enjoy the rainshower. There are no private dressing rooms in gym or spa locker rooms, and some people take up lockers for the entire trip instead of just while they are at the gym even though there are nowhere near enough lockers for every passenger. There’s no indicator on the taps in the locker room showers for which direction to go for hot or cold and since it takes so long for the water to get warm until you’ve used it you have no way to know.

ship art in a public area

As is often the case on cruise ships, the inside areas of the ship were on the chilly side.

Some features of the medallion are useful yet creepy – like the find your shipmates feature which is useful if you want to locate someone, but creepy in that it shows you are being tracked wherever you go on the ship.

Instead of having separate shampoo and conditioner in the showers they had one bottle of a combined shampoo/conditioner, which is just not usable for most women, especially if their hair has any length to it.

balcony cabin

There are no oceanview cabins. None at all on the entire ship. So cabin options are inside, balcony, or suite. Balcony cabins and suites do of course have a view of the ocean, but at a higher price than a room with just a window.

forward view of the Golden Gate Bridge

There are no unobstructed forward facing viewpoints anywhere on the ship.

The directional signs for the rooms in the hallways on either side of the elevator bays/stairwells had microscopic numbers so small that we had to actually walk into the hallway to see whether they were odd or even. The deck numbers were not all that large or obvious either so it could have used better signage.

shops and casino on Royal Princess

The casino smelled of smoke, and smoking may actually be allowed in there at times.

Water was often too cold in the spa thermal suite (enclave) pool – and the rack in the pool was situated about 5 inches too high to really get properly submersed when sitting on it. Of the 4 fancy showers in the thermal suite area, only one was consistently warm. The spa was not on the same deck or even the same end of the ship as the gym that also had issues with getting any hot water in the showers there. So hot water seemed to be an issue in several areas of this ship – though not in our cabin where the shower consistently had hot water right away.

life ring on the Royal Princess

Overall we found quite a lot to like about the Royal Princess. It had more hits than misses and we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021


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Salalah, Oman 4×4 Tour

MSC Lirica approaching Salalah

MSC Lirica glided into Salalah, Oman as the desert view gave way to giant cranes at the container port where the ship docked.  The ship’s thrusters thundered, moving it slowly sideways as the ship neared the dock – aided as always when coming into port by a tug.

4×4 car tour parked near Taqah

We came in on a Friday, which is the holy day in Islamic countries. Not much is likely to be open in town and we did not know about the possibility of local van tours so we booked an excursion through the ship called Wadi Off Road. We expected something that went through sandy expanses of nothingness to Bedouin type camps, but instead the tour took us mostly to developed places with pavement other than a trek through some desert roads that were made up of more rocks than sand. That bit did have some serious ups and downs over the hills, but nothing remote or exciting. We did not go anywhere that we needed 4-wheel drive to get to. You never know what sort of vehicle you will get for a 4×4 tour. We’ve had everything from jeeps to open-sided trucks to a jungle bus in the past. This time it was a fleet of nice new-looking 4×4 cars.

view of Taqah

We first went to a seaside overlook near Taqah, with clifftop views of the town and the sea. There was a slight bit of off-roading to get to that one. Besides great views it had lots of giant dragonflies, but they were too fast to catch a photo of them. Not far from there our next stop brought us to a view across a bay to the walls around the ruins of an ancient castle said to be the home of the Queen of Sheba on the opposite cliff.

distant view of the palace of the Queen of Sheba

We could see people over there, but the viewpoint was the closest our tour got to it. We stood on a cliff high above the sea, the ruins equally high on the other side. In ancient times it was a bustling sea port. A sand bar now separates that bay from the open sea. Without access to the sea for ships it became a quiet place for birds to call home.

school in Salalah that our guide said Sultan Qaboos built

During the tour our guide talked about his country as well as the things we would see. He had high praise for Sultan Qaboos. Over his 5 decades of rule the sultan used his country’s oil wealth to transform Oman from an isolated poverty stricken country with just 6 miles of paved roads where slavery was still legal into a stable and prosperous nation. The sultan worked hard to improve the lives of his people and strived to maintain peace and neutrality with other nations. If our guide was any indication of general public opinion, the people loved him. We would pass by things like schools or hospitals and he would say Sultan Qaboos had built that for the people. (Sultan Qaboos has since died so they have a different sultan now.)

Like most countries, housing in Oman varied from areas that looked like slums to richer developments lined with mansions, and everything in between. The guide said the people living in the mansions often had multiple wives, but the lower income people could only afford one.

camel at Wadi Darbat

Our trek to the next stop at Wadi Darbat was on paved roads. Camels were everywhere. Some of them were friendly. At the bottom there was a small food shack with restrooms our guide described as 1-star, but they were really more like a negative 10, and that’s being generous. You know the restroom is disgusting when the Chinese style squat toilet is the best choice available – because you don’t need to touch anything with a squat toilet and the place was way too filthy to even consider using the hover over technique on the one with a seat. Bringing your own toilet paper is always a good plan when traveling in unknown places. This was not the first place we’ve been to that didn’t provide any – and in this particular place even if it had people would have been better off not touching it.

camels in Wadi Darbat

There were trails up to a very small cave in the rock, and more trails down to a river with camels all along the bank. They went about their business unbothered by the group of tourists in their midst. Our guide said all of the camels belonged to one family, and pointed out the house where they lived as we drove past it. There were camels of all ages and sizes. Some of the big female camels had netting or covers over their udders, presumably to keep their offspring away either because it was weaning time or to limit the time they are allowed to nurse so the mother could be milked.

Waterfall in Wadi Darbat

On the way out of the wadi we stopped briefly to see a small waterfall. It was just a short hike down a steep small trail from where the car parked to the stream.

Ain Hamran

Next we went to a place called Ain Hamran with large trees, flowers, birds. While we were there a herd of goats came down one of the surrounding hills to go to the spring at the bottom for a drink. The water there ran through cement lined ducts into a cement pond. The guide said that area was a popular picnic spot for the locals, but it was fairly deserted other than our tour group while we were there. Between there and the next stop we went off-road through the desert. Well off the paved road anyway. It was a rough rocky desert road with lots of steep ups and downs. Far from a 4×4 only road though. The local van tours went through there just as easily as the 4-wheel drives.

small cave by the parking lot at Ain Razat

Our last stop was at Ain Razat with a natural spring and a cave. The guide just said we were going to a cave. He stopped the car and everyone got out. There was a pond surrounded in trees at one end of the parking lot and a cave on a little hill above it. We went up to the little cave, which was just an unimpressive hole in a rock that maybe people are living in or maybe they were just picnicking there.

The main cave at Ain Razat

Back in the car as we left the parking lot and started down the road we saw a stairway going up a hill on the other side of the street – with a cave entrance at the top. We had apparently missed the main attraction, which could not be seen from the parking lot through the trees. Too bad the guide didn’t mention we needed to leave the area and go across the street because the cave we were there to see was not the cave we could see from there. I love caves, particularly the sort full of stalactites and stalagmites. I looked for photos online to see what we had missed and from them it appeared this cave was just a sort of room with a view, but I still would have liked to see it. Nobody from our car went up there, but a few of the other guides must have been more specific since some of the other people did find it. Not all of them though as there were enough people hanging around the parking lot area not to notice that others had left.

inside the main cave at Ain Razat (internet photo)

After that we went back to the ship. The cars must have been required to stay in line according to the number they were assigned because when our driver passed some of the other cars from our tour he got a phone call following which he slowed down until some of the others passed and we fell into our original place in line.

bay near Taqah with the entrance blocked by a sand bar

In spite of a 4×4 not actually being necessary and missing the cave, we did enjoy the tour. We got to see quite a lot of the area and learned interesting things from the guide.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021


Posted in Lirica, Middle East, MSC, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Do-It-Yourself Cruise

small private boat vs cruise ship

Taking a cruise on your own rather than booking passage on a cruise ship requires access to a boat – and at least one person who knows how to operate it. Owning your own boat is of course the easiest way if you happen to have one, and boat rentals are available for those who don’t have any boat, the right sort of boat, or a boat available in the location where they want to cruise. Once boat access is secured, the cruise is yours to plan.

you can bring pets on your own boat

Advantages of cruising on your own

You can plan your own itinerary. You can stay as long as you like in each stop and the boat will never leave without you. You can choose your own food and eat it whenever you like so long as the boat you are on has a sufficient means of storing and cooking the food. There’s nobody on board but you and your own party of people so you can do what you want when you want. You can wear what you want and don’t need a variety of clothes for attending different events. You can bring your pets along if you want to. You never have to wait in line for anything.

Carnival Vista
There’s lots to do on a cruise ship

Advantages of booking passage on a cruise ship

Cruises of various lengths are available from many ports with stops in many places. You aren’t responsible for any work throughout the voyage. If you want something to eat or drink you just go get it. There’s lots to do onboard too since cruise ships are basically floating resorts. Cruise ships have a much broader range of places they can go and can get there more quickly than smaller boats. Somebody else does all the cooking and cleaning and entertainment is provided for you in a variety of forms. The ship is large enough that there are a variety of places to go.

private boats are often small and have no crew

Disadvantages of cruising on your own

You have to do all the work yourself. There’s nobody to make your meals or do the cleaning for you. Somebody has to drive the boat. Smaller boats don’t generally have much to do while underway other than just sit. Nobody plans entertainment for you. Unless you have a big yacht, there’s not a lot of space to put things so there’s a limit to what you can bring.

cruise ships can get crowded

Disadvantages of booking passage on a cruise ship

Port stays are limited to the amount of time scheduled by the cruise line. If you don’t make it back to the ship on time it will leave without you. Itineraries are determined by someone else. There are a lot of strangers on the ship with you. Some places can get crowded and you may have to wait in line for some things – like getting on and off the ship. Onboard events you may wish to attend are per the ship’s schedule rather than at your convenience. You have to leave your pets at home.

Sasebo, Japan
cruise ships sail to exotic places – like this one in Japan

Overall, while it’s fun to go out in a smaller boat on your own, you can see and do a lot more and travel greater distances on a cruise ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021

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Salalah, Oman Cruise Port

MSC Lirica in Salalah, Oman


Salalah is in southern Oman, the capital of Oman’s Dhofar region. It is greener than most of the Arabian peninsula due to the summer rains called khareef or summer monsoons and is known for banana plantations, Arabian Sea beaches and waters teeming with sea life. The Khareef monsoon season runs from the end of July through the beginning of September. Its transformation of the desert terrain into a lush green landscape with seasonal waterfalls brings about the annual tourism festival from July 15 – August 31. It is Oman’s second largest city as well as the largest in its province of Dhofar. Some vegetables as well as fruits like coconuts and bananas can grow in this region so the city has lots of gardens.

a line of trucks passed slowly under a large crane, which placed a container from a ship on each truck

Although it is a desert climate, summers are cooler here than in the northern and inland regions of Oman and more temperate than most Arabian countries. Arabic is the official language, and English the most-spoken of foreign languages. Tourism and shipping are important to the area’s economy. Currency is the Omani rial. 1 rial is worth $2.60 USD.

flowering tree

The climate is subtropical with palm trees and coconut, banana, and papaya plantations. The main tourist season is during the rainy summer when people flee the heat in other Arab nations to visit Salalah’s cooler and greener area. Friday is their holy day with the work week running from Sunday through Thursday. A lot of places are closed on Friday. The wadis of the area fill with water and are a green oasis with year-round springs, unlike wadis in other areas that are like a dry wash or arroyo except when it rains.

MSC Lirica approaches the dock in Salalah, Oman, assisted by a tug


Cruise ships dock at the container port outside the city. It’s an industrial area in the desert. Shuttles take you to the port exit as walking through the port is prohibited in container ports. Taxis are available there for the 15 minute ride into town, but can be expensive as they are not metered so the cost is negotiated. Some will take US dollars. It is too far to walk so getting to the city on your own requires a taxi.

a row of containers marked the boundry of where passengers were allowed to walk in the port

Most websites recommend taking a ship’s excursion at this port so we booked a 4×4 tour. Some other people we met on the ship found local van tours that went to the same places. Excursions picked people up right at the port, and the local van tours were there as well. I don’t know how the price compared at this port. We did run into ports on this cruise where the local tours actually cost more than the ship’s tours, but at most ports they were less, which is generally the case.

view of the ruins of the palace of the Queen of Sheba from across a bay


The Frankincense Land Museum, part of the Al Balid Archaeological Site, recounts the city’s maritime history and role in the spice trade. Scuba diving and bird watching are popular. There are historical ruins in neighboring areas including ruins rumored to be the palace of the Queen of Sheba, and the final resting place of the biblical prophet Job. The sultan’s palace can be admired from afar, and there is a glitzy new mosque. Groves of fragrant frankincense trees are a popular attraction, but they are a ways out of town. Arabic architecture and tree-lined streets make Salalah a prettier city than many in desert lands.

Oman coast

Oman has beaches too – one of the most popular is Al Mughsayl Beach with a long stretch of sand and lovely scenery. An associated attraction is Marneef Cave, where you can see water spouting from rock formations if the tides are wild enough. If you want an area where you can wear western swimsuits, try the Corniche, which also has plenty of places to eat nearby. Some beaches along the coastline are largely empty due to clothing restrictions and a dangerous undertow. Al Hafah Souq is a popular market 3k from the city with many traditional products including frankincense, clothing, and jewelry.

when it’s prayer time, it’s prayer time, even if you are a guide in the middle of a tour

Oman is a conservative and traditional country. Tourists need to keep that in mind and dress accordingly – with women keeping knees and shoulders covered as well as everything in between. Bathing suits are worn only on beaches and even there should be covered in a t-shirt or at least be a 1-piece with shorts over it. Boxer style suits for men as well, no speedos. Not that anyone ever wants to see someone in a speedo.

camel at Wadi Darbat

There are lots of camels wandering about freely in Oman. Huge herds may all belong to the same family.

frankincense trees (Bosweillia) in Oman (internet photo)

Frankincense trees grow in area’s high rock strewn mountains. Historically frankincense was an important commodity and export for the area, though it is now mainly used locally for medicinal purposes and perfume. Frankincense is also used to make incense and essential oils. It is rumored to heal or treat asthma, cancer and arthritis as well as improving oral health and gut function. The most common reference to frankincense for many people in the modern world is as one of the gifts from the wise men to baby Jesus. Frankincense is made from the resin of the Boswellia tree. It has a woody, spicy smell and can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, steeped into a tea or taken as a supplement.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
Posted in Lirica, Middle East, MSC, Port Cities, Ports of Call | 2 Comments

Curses, Cancelled Again!

Symphony of the Seas (internet photo)

Just after booking a hotel near the airport for an early morning flight to Florida for a Caribbean cruise, when I went to forward the info to my sister who is traveling with me I found a very scary email indeed. Newly delivered to my inbox. Cruise Cancellation Notice, the subject line said. Oh no, not again! That means 3 of the last 4 cruises I’ve had booked got cancelled. Upon reading the notice, I discovered it was not for this fall’s weeklong Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas with my sisters, but rather for the monthlong Asia cruise on Holland America Noordam my husband and I had booked for later in the winter. So far the Caribbean cruise is still on. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Noordam (internet photo)

Upon reading the notice, it was not quite as bad as it initially seemed. The cruise wasn’t cancelled entirely – just postponed for a year. We’re still booked for now. Next year’s cruise has the same itinerary, but not the same ship. It’s on the Westerdam (heavy sigh). Not that there’s anything wrong with the Westerdam, it’s a nice ship and all, but no matter where we go on Holland America we can’t ever seem to get on any ship other than the Oosterdam, Westerdam, and Veendam. Even if the Noordam is a sister ship of the Oosterdam and Westerdam, I was really looking forward to sailing on a different one of their ships for a change.

old and new centerpieces to the Westerdam's atrium

Westerdam’s old and new atrium centerpeices

It’s not that we keep going to the same places all the time. We’ve gone all over on Holland America. We just always end up on the same ships. John and I took the Oosterdam to Mexico long before I started blogging, and then I sailed on it again many years later to Alaska with other relatives, at which time the odd cow print décor that had been there on the first voyage was gone – and not missed one bit. The Veendam took me on a New England cruise with some aunts and an uncle, and later to Cuba with John. As for the Westerdam, that’s the ship we’ve spent the most time on of any having been to the Caribbean, Alaska, across the Pacific, and around Japan and China on it. (I must say I liked its older décor much better than the modernized version. It did not have any cow print like the Oosterdam’s early décor, but did have a lovely crystal ship in the atrium that was replaced by an ugly squiggle. Their new minimalist modern furniture in some public places was not very comfortable either.)

cruise ship in Alaska

Westedam in Sitka

We’re giving another Caribbean cruise try this winter – a shorter cruise leaving out of an American port seems more likely to actually sail. We even found one with a stop in Bonaire, one of the few Caribbean ports we have not yet been to.

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Friday Harbor

our boat at the fuel dock in Friday Harbor

Arrival at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington State’s San Juan Islands usually comes by state ferry. San Juan Island is one of 4 islands on the ferry route from Anacortes, the others being Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw. Private boats frequent the marina at Friday Harbor as well as San Juan Island’s other marina in Roche Harbor. Seasonal passenger ferries from several mainland cities also make stops in Friday Harbor. Small planes land at the airport within walking distance of town, and people may also arrive by seaplane. Million dollar homes dot the shoreline on the way to the dock, but after arriving the quaint buildings along the main street of the town are far older and smaller.

there’s a little tiny park area at the top of the stairs to the fuel dock

Friday Harbor has a population of over 2000 people, is the county seat of San Juan County, and the only incorporated city in all of the San Juan Islands. The climate is temperate, with less than 30 inches of annual rainfall. November is generally the wettest month and July the driest. The town covers about 2 square miles and sits just above the port with the main shopping area close to the marina and ferry dock.

road to the ferry dock

Early settlers made a living mainly through fishing, farming, or lime production. The current population depends more on tourism, real estate and construction. Island residents also include retirees, artists, and people who work online as well as government jobs, and those who work in schools, shops, restaurants, and the various places available for people to stay when they come to visit the island.

old buildings in Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor never lost its early pioneer buildings to a fire or other disaster as many other west coast seaports did so it still has some buildings dating back all the way to the 1880’s. Sometimes people think they see ghosts in some of the old buildings, and guided ghost walk tours are occasionally available.

entrance to the dock going out to the fuel dock in the marina

Places to stay on the island include hotels, BnB’s or vacation rentals, resorts, and camping. Friday Harbor has a whale museum, historical museum, and several art museums. From the harbor people can go kayaking or take whale watching or sailing tours.

shops in Friday Harbor

Shops include plenty of touristy fare as well as ordinary things a grocery store and a pharmacy. A variety of restaurants interspersed between the shops keep visitors to the town well fed. There’s even a chocolate & wine shop that offers after dinner tastings by reservation.

shops along the main street

Beyond Friday Harbor there’s more to do on the rest of the island. It has state and county parks, hiking trails, lighthouses, and historical sites. Places to visit include a lavender farm and alpaca farm. The island also has wineries and breweries.

Piper on a log at the beach

About 5 years ago I got my current dog, Piper at an animal shelter in Friday Harbor. (That is not a muzzle on her nose, it is the noseband of a gentle leader, which works something like a horse halter.) She’d been returned enough times that they called about a week after we got her wondering when we’d be bringing her back, but we still have her. 

approaching the fuel dock in the Friday Harbor marina

We most recently visited Friday Harbor as a brief fuel stop during a trip by private boat to nearby Decatur Island. The marina in Friday Harbor is full service with a fuel dock. Since we were there during the pandemic masks were required both at the dock and in town. While the boat was getting fueled I took a quick trip into town to the grocery store for chapstick, but didn’t have time to do much looking around. Piper stayed on the boat, but a lot of other people walking around town had dogs. The people all wore masks. Had circumstances been different we might have stayed to look around a bit or maybe have lunch, but at that time we wanted to go somewhere less populated and went to Odlin County Park on Lopez Island for a picnic instead. We also came to Friday Harbor once on an UnCruise – which was a small-ship cruise to places the big ships don’t go.

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Camano Island Getaway

Cabin on Camano Island

When looking for a quiet place to escape to for a couple days that was not too far away, and didn’t require public transportation or contact with other people, an Airbnb on Camano Island fit the bill. I found a little 2 bedroom cabin on a bluff with water views and beach access – the perfect place for the short trip I had given my mother as a Christmas gift. She agreed. We booked it months in advance. Not knowing whether or not vaccines would be available before we went, we wanted a more isolated place rather than somewhere in a city where there would be a lot of people. As it turned out we did both have vaccinations by  the time our trip rolled around, but were still happy for a quiet place.

view from the cabin on Camano Island

Weather too is something you can’t predict when booking far in advance so hoping it would be nice, but figuring to bring rain gear if it wasn’t we waited for our time to go. Weather the week before was sunny and beautiful, but the long-term forecast kept waffling between rain or clouds for the time of our trip. Of course the weather doesn’t care what the predictions are and the sun came out much more often then the forecasters said it would. We had a bit of rain during the drive there, the drive home, and during one of the nights, but none in the daytime while we were there. The predicted heavy clouds that would have obscured our gorgeous water view from the cabin never materialized either.

kitchen in the Camano Island cabin

The cabin was not hard to find. It seemed to be right on the same road where we exited the freeway. The road changed names several times along the way, but we never had to turn off of it. My GPS was a bit confused though as it seemed to think we had a ways yet to go and did not announce arrival at our destination when we rounded a bend and saw an arrow-shaped sign with the cabin’s address pointing down a gravel driveway that likely would have otherwise gone unnoticed. The cabin itself was not visible from that angle until after turning into the driveway due to a fence and some trees. The two bedrooms were nearly identical so no worries about who got the nicer room – which would have gone to my mother had there been a nicer room since this trip was a gift to her. The cabin also had a great room with small kitchen at one end and living room area at the other, each with a couple different seating options.

beach access near the cabin

After settling our stuff in and checking out the firepit and hammock near the bluff we looked through the guidebook for directions on how to get to the beach. It said you could walk or drive, but not how far we had to go so we figured we’d walk for a bit and see if we came to the street with the beach access fairly soon or if we’d need to go back for the car. The access road was just a short distance up the street. The journey down to the beach was steep enough that we both felt happier to be on foot rather than driving down it. Unfortunately most of that beach disappears underwater at high tide and we had not timed it well. There was a tide table book in the cabin. Apparently that was why. There was a small stretch of beach not yet flooded so we went as far as we could. Just in that short time the water had come closer to the large rocks that provided a way to get from the beach to the road level. After semi-snickering at the long red rope bolted above the steepest of the rocks on the way down we actually made use of it on the way up. While we could have crossed that rock without it, it was so much easier just to use it since it was conveniently sitting there.

the little bit of beach not yet covered by high tide

The cabin had no TV or wifi, but it did have large windows all across the side facing the water. Besides the view of Saratoga Passage, Whidbey Island, and the Olympic Mountains, there always seemed to be birds in the yard and sometimes a squirrel to keep us entertained. What can I say, we’re easily amused.

backyard fire pit at the Camano Island cabin

Staying just two nights only leaves one full day to do anything and our plan was to go for a hike at a state park. The island has two of them, right next to each other. Camano Island State Park, and Cama Beach Historical State Park, which was previously a fishing lodge. Cama Beach has cabins left over from its lodge days, but they are quite close together and most of them don’t have private bathrooms so we hadn’t wanted to stay there.

living room area in the Camano Island Cabin

We didn’t really have any preference for one park over the other as we didn’t know much about either of them other than both had beaches and trails. Discover Passes are required for parking in any state park in Washington State, but both parks have vending machines where you can buy a day pass after you arrive. Neither of us live near a state park or have much occasion to visit one so we didn’t have an annual pass. The parks near my house are county parks and those near my mother’s house are city parks.

beach at Cama Beach State Park

We ended up going to Cama Beach because the entrance was a bit closer, which seemed a good enough reason to decide when you have no other reason. We found the Discover pass dispenser without any trouble. We were prepared with both cash and cards not knowing which it would take. It said no cash so we used a card. There was a little building there that would normally have information and possibly park maps, but it was closed so after getting our pass we went on farther into the park looking for a parking area. We passed through a shuttle stop and my mom made a comment about there being a restroom there, but later when we actually wanted one we couldn’t remember where we had seen it. They have signs around the park labeling the trails, and one even pointed out where to go to get to the shuttle stop, but none of the many signs we saw ever said anything about where to find a restroom.

Center for Wooden Boats at Cama Beach

The lot we found to park in was one level up from a café, but that was closed too. We had a picnic lunch in a backpack so we didn’t need it anyway. A trail from the parking lot led to one that went either up to the woods or down to the beach. We went to the beach first. Our timing was better on this one as the tide was way out, though even at high tide there would probably be a bit of beach with the possible exception of an extremely high tide. We went as far as the park boundary in one direction, then the other. Near the cabins a large building was marked as a center for wooden boats. Back in the lodge days it would have been a boathouse for the fishing boats. Remnants of a section of barnacle encrusted track from a former launch sat deteriorating on the beach, no longer connected to the boathouse or even to itself the entire way down. A container ship sat anchored near the shore of Whidbey Island across the channel, perhaps waiting for its turn to unload, most likely in Everett since that’s the nearest port.

Cama Beach

We went back up the trail toward the woods. A trail leading off of it was marked as going to the other state park, but we decided to take the one marked Cranberry Lake instead. Along the way we passed a number of what you would expect to be educational signs next to the trail. Most places with that sort of signs give out information regarding the plants or animals of the area. These signs tended to say things like imagine what the trail would look like if you were a bird flying above it. We only found a few that had any useful information. One had a photo of one of the broad-leafed yellow flowering plants that Cranberry Lake was full of and identified it as a pond lily. Which was fitting I guess since the lake looked more like a giant pond than what people usually think of as a lake. Another said the narrow path at the end of the trail that went a ways out into the lake was the top of a former beaver dam. The third had a picture of a rabbit and said they were a non-native species that had been introduced to the area in the 1930’s as game animals. The rest just had blurbs as useless as the one about imagining you’re a bird.

pond lilly at Cranberry Lake

It’s not a loop trail so after getting to the lake there’s nowhere else to go but back the way you came, other than a few little trails leading out for different views of the lake. We went down one of them, but there was already someone at the end of it and since the bushes were touching her on both sides there wasn’t room for anyone else so we just went back to the main trail. When we got back to the area of the park where the trails start near the parking lot we tried a trail marked waterfront, but rather than being a view trail running above the waterfront it turned out to be another access point to the beach. It had a nice bench alongside it in one spot though so we sat there and had our lunch before wandering back down to the beach. It took us to the cabin area so we walked through there and happened across their restroom, which was pretty big for a park or campground bathroom. Figuring we might as well use it since it was there and who knew when or where we’d find another we went in. It had two sides branching off from the door, one going to a row of showers and the other to the toilets and sinks. On the way out we found a sign hanging on the inside of the door saying people must wear masks while they are in the restroom. Had that been on the outside of the door where we would have seen it on the way in we would have complied, but since we didn’t see it until we were leaving and nobody else was in there we didn’t.

Cranberry Lake

We had a pleasant day of hiking. On a longer stay there would be time to explore all the trails for both parks, but we just had the one day since we left the next morning.

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Vancouver by Train

Royal Princess at Canada Place – you can see Waterfront Station next to the ship and Vancouver Lookout on top of a tall building behind Waterfront Station

If you happen to live near the coast in Washington or Oregon, it’s pretty handy to take a train to the port when sailing out of Vancouver BC, especially if your ship leaves from Canada Place. The Amtrak Cascades runs from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver with a number of stops along the way. I’ve taken it both to Vancouver for boarding and from Vancouver after disembarking, though not on the same cruise since one started there and the other ended there and neither were round trips. This was during normal times. Currently there are neither trains to Vancouver nor ships sailing from there due to Covid, but the stoppage is not permanent and both will be an option again in the future.

lower level of the train car with assigned seats

The train’s website offered a variety of prices for different seating options, but that either didn’t apply to that route or didn’t apply to the Edmonds station, one or the other. Only one option was available and everyone embarking or disembarking at Edmonds rode in the same car. The station is small and the platform far shorter than the length of a train so just the one car opened its doors there. In Edmonds passengers are asked to come an hour before their train departs. They did check in bags there, but then you just sit and wait. Any other Amtrak station I’ve been to if you come that early there isn’t even anyone around who works for Amtrak and they take your bags when you board the train. Which is just Vancouver, Wenatchee, and Leavenworth, so I can’t say how it goes at the rest of their stations even in normal times, and of course things are different now.

Amtrak train at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver BC

It’s a lot cheaper to take the train to Vancouver than it is to take a plane, and far cheaper than paying for parking at the port if you drive there. It’s actually cheaper than most busses too, as well as faster and more fun than riding a bus. The time options are more limited than for busses, but the morning train will get you there and the evening train will get you back, or either way there’s always the option of spending a night in Vancouver before or after the cruise. Just make sure to pick the right Vancouver when buying your ticket because this train stops in Vancouver Washington as well as Vancouver British Columbia. Cruise ships on the other hand do not go to Vancouver Washington.

upper level of the train car has first-come-first-serve optional seating

When traveling to Vancouver to board the Holland America Westerdam for a cruise to Shanghai, the train was pretty fast up until it got near the Canadian border. The stops at USA stations were pretty brief. Everyone had assigned seats in the lower level of the train car, but the upper level observation cars were open for anyone to go sit where they please – other than when customs came through and everyone had to be in their assigned seat. There was also a dining car with a limited selection of food available, and restrooms. My last train trip was before Covid so besides where this train goes, what it offers may also be more limited now.

the dining car is more just buy your food and go back to your seat than sit and eat there

Parts of the route are along the edge of Puget Sound, quite scenic and places you don’t see when traveling by car. The train moves a lot slower once it gets into Canada. When we took it there everyone in our train car was boarding a ship either that day or the next. One of the next day people said they had taken that train often and went a day early because it sometimes ran late. It got to the station right on time the day we rode it, but didn’t let anyone off for about an hour after we got there. We still had plenty of time to get to the ship though.

the town of White Rock near the Canadian border has a giant white rock on the beach

Taxis are available right at the train station, but there were a lot more passengers waiting than there were taxis so we walked across the street and took the skytrain, which would be my preference anyway. It’s quick and convenient and a lot cheaper than a taxi. The Main Street/Science World skytrain station is right there next to the Pacific Central station where the Amtrak comes in.

Canada Place

From there it’s just 4 stops down the line to Waterfront Station, which is next door to Canada Place where the cruise ships dock. If you take the right exit from Waterfront Station you probably have less than a 100 yard walk to the entrance to the parking garage, which is where you go to board ships at Canada Place. Just cross over where the cars enter and take the sidewalk ramp down on the far side.

inside Pacific Central Station there’s a big open waiting area with little shops and eateries

Assuming they go back to the previous schedule once train and cruise ship travel resumes in Vancouver, when disembarking there the morning train is too early for same-day travel. You could not get off the ship in time to catch it, so you have some time to kill before catching the evening train. There’s no luggage storage at the train station, but for cruise ship passengers there is luggage storage available at Canada Place. That’s a much more convenient location anyway since you are already there and it’s in the heart of the action where most of the touristy things are. There’s an information booth that also books tours. Free shuttles to places like Grouse Mountain or Capilano Suspension Bridge stop there. Waterfront Station has seabusses as well as skytrains so you can also go off exploring that way. Taking the waterfront seawalk or a city bus to Stanley Park is also an option. Gastown is nearby, as is the Vancouver Lookout, and for shoppers, Robson Street. So it’s not hard to find something to do between leaving the ship and boarding the train.

little park next to the sky train station across the street from Pacific Central Station

We spent a day in Vancouver after disembarking the Royal Princess on a cruise from LA. Once you’re ready to leave pick up your luggage at Canada Place if you stored it there and take the skytrain from Waterfront Station 4 stops to Main Street/Science World. From the skytrain station it’s literally a walk in the park to get to Pacific Central since the skytrain station is next to a little park that Pacific Central is across the street from.

Besides Amtrak, busses and Canadian trains stop at Pacific Central Station

They didn’t start boarding procedures until fairly close to time to board the train and there wasn’t anywhere to check in bags ahead of boarding the Amtrak at Pacific Central Station. You do need to fill out one of the customs forms on found on a table near the center of the station before getting in the boarding line though. If you don’t have the form they send you away to fill it out and you have to start over at the back of the line. At least that’s how it worked for the people ahead of us in line who had no forms when we were there. Seats were assigned on a first come first serve basis, and people did start lining up awhile before boarding actually started. We didn’t bother to get into the line until it actually started moving and had no problem getting 3 seats together. We didn’t spend a lot of time in our assigned seats, preferring the upstairs observation car instead, and had no problem finding seats. We had our pick of any of them since we were the first people up there.

sunset from the train

Depending on the time of year the journey back could be scenic or in darkness. In May when we rode the train back from Canada it started out light, but got dark along the way. We had some pretty good sunset views over the water in between.

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Europe by Rail

train station in Buchs, Switzerland

When traveling Europe by rail you can get a rail pass good for several days to a week, but they are quite expensive. Unless you are going very far or riding the train quite a lot it’s not worth the money. For us it was just a fraction of the cost of what a week’s pass would have been to pay for each leg of our journey separately. To get the best rate we chose our train times carefully because travel time and price varies from one train to the next and prices increase as the train fills. The very same route might be $10 at one time of day, $100 at another, and anywhere in between for the rest of the options. The time it takes the train to get from the starting point to the ending point varies as well. The most expensive tickets do not always have the fastest travel times. Where available we stuck with the super saver times, which were significantly cheaper than the rest, but good only for that one particular train and not at any other time whereas some of the more expensive tickets have more flexibility. Since we had our route planned in advance we booked all of our trains online ahead of time so we could get the best price for each leg of the journey choosing the lowest priced departure time closest to when we actually wanted to leave each place. We also insured that the trains we wanted would not be full before we got our tickets as could happen when waiting to get to the station to buy them.

platforms at the Zurich train station are indoors

We flew into Zurich and spent one night there so our train trip started with a journey from Zurich to Lucerne. The train that pulled into our platform in Zurich was just a tiny little short one. Since this was the first of the trains we took on our pre-cruise adventure through Europe we didn’t really know what to expect, but people having to walk up to the train and open the doors themselves to get in wasn’t it. That’s what everyone else did though, so we followed suit. No train officials were anywhere in the vicinity to take tickets or answer questions or check to see if people got on the right train they paid for or anything, passengers were totally on their own. Being on your own was typical for the rest of the journey, but having to open a closed door to get on the train was not.

large train stations like the one in Zurich have storage lockers

Our tickets said we could sit anywhere that wasn’t reserved or first class. Nothing appeared to be either so we just found some seats and sat there. The train chugged along at a pretty good pace, stopping briefly at a couple stations before slowing down not near anything except a longer train ahead of it on the tracks. Our little train caught up to the bigger one, bumped into the end of it and latched itself on so suddenly we were in the tail end of a very long train.

scenery on the train ride from Zurich to Lucerne

The ride to Lucerne from Zurich took 50 minutes with a number of brief stops at stations along the way, but no need for us to get out or change trains since it was a direct route. Lucerne was the terminal station, the end of the line where everybody got out. At least for our little section of the train anyway. Walking past the longer section after we got out we could see all kinds of people in there on both levels as that one had upstairs and downstairs rather than just being one level like our part was. Either they got on really quick or more likely they were already there and that part of the train continued on after ditching our little section in Lucerne.

train station in Lucerne

After the uneventful train ride from Zurich, we arrived in Lucerne with a 2-night booking at Roesli Guest House, which the booking info said was near the train station. We had no directions on how to get there and Google maps in its sometimes frustrating fashion changed the direction of the walk this way arrow depending on which way we went, always pointing us to go somewhere else – but as soon as we headed that way it changed again. Not knowing the area at all we gave up and took a taxi. We tried uber first, but there were no cars active in the area at the time and taxis at the train station were plentiful.

platform at Lucerne train station

The taxi went a round-about way, perhaps due to one way streets, or to their GPS, or maybe just to have a longer drive so they could charge more. Whatever the reason it seemed much too far to walk. The lady we checked in with said it was a 10-minute walk downstream along the river to the train station. The next day we found that 10 minutes was a long estimate as the walk was fairly short. It was mainly along a walking path by the river – no road, which may explain the taxi’s longer journey.

Thalwil on the readerboard in Zurich

Getting From Lucerne, Switzerland to Vaduz, Liechtenstein was not a whole lot of fun for us. We had train tickets from Lucerne that involved changing trains at Thalwil and Sargans. Where we live people don’t travel by train because there aren’t any. If we travel far enough we can find Amtrak, which is mainly for long hauls, not daily transport, and a few commuter trains which are fairly new. So our main train travel experience is in the Sydney area of Australia. There the displays for which platform trains are on and the one on the platform for what train comes next scrolls through every town the train will stop in. When we got to the station in Lucerne we expected our first stop of Thalwil to show up on the readerboard. It was listed for an earlier train which we had actually arrived at the station in time for, but we had the super saver tickets that were good for one specific train only. We got there early enough that trains for our departure time of 8:35 weren’t displayed yet, but when one came up for that time and then the next several were later and none mentioned Thalwil we got worried and went to find the train help people who said which platform to go to.

platform guide in Lucerne tells which train comes in where

That train was already on the display, with several cities mentioned, none of which were ours. Apparently besides the last stop they just randomly post a few others so if you don’t know the route and don’t see your city you are pretty much hosed. They gave us a little printout showing the platform numbers for each of our trains that day. Our train came 9 minutes late to Lucerne and arrived 13 minutes late in Thalwil. We’d had just 9 minutes between trains so the connecting train left before we got there. Thalwil is a fairly small station, but not unmanned so we went to the office and they changed our train time to the next train and said platform 4. Good to know that super saver tickets can be changed to a later time if it’s not your fault you missed your train. A train for our route only came by once per hour so we had to wait nearly an hour for the next one.

Thalwil platforms

Both platform 3 and 4 displayed similar looking cities and even some of the same ones, but neither mentioned Sargans, the stop we were looking for. The train time on platform 4 said 10:21, which was the correct time for our train up until a train pulled into the station when it suddenly changed to 10:24. Thinking that just meant the train was late we got on, but I had noticed the display about which cars were first or second class had also changed so we were a bit worried. Another guy got on, said something in German to another passenger and then left. We decided we’d better ask and the convenient girl standing there pointed over to platform 3 and said that was our train. We got out and as we stepped on the platform it pulled away.

to make the elevator (lift) go at the German speaking Thalwil station you have to push the fahrt button

Back to the office we went. Getting there involved taking a lift from the platforms to a walkway over the tracks, and another down to ground level to go to the office. They confirmed that the two trains had switched platforms at the last minute and allowed us to change our tickets to the next train. They said besides the arrival time to also watch for a little code that was on the printout they had given us that identified the train. That information was not on our original ticket. Meanwhile during the next hour sitting there we saw another pair of trains switch platforms at the last minute. When ours came this time the display never changed and the train had the right code on it so we got on with confidence and made it to Sargans. Chock that one up to a learning experience.

walkway over the tracks at Thalwil

Platform 6 at Sargans which our printout said was where we needed to go at first seemed non-existant, but we finally found it on the opposite side of a building from the rest of the platforms other than 7. It had all the right info for the train into Buchs. When I researched how to get to Liechtenstein online prior to our trip everyone said to go to Buchs to catch the bus there as no trains actually stop in Liechtenstein. We had 15 minutes between those trains and both were right on time.

Buchs train station

When we got to Buchs there were many busses at the station, none of which said they went to Vaduz, but one did go to Schaan, which was a place some of the people said you needed to go to catch one to Liechtenstein when I did my pre-trip online research so we asked the driver of that bus where to find the one to Vaduz and he said his was it. Which involved changing busses in Schaan. The last stop listed where that bus went was the train station in Sargans so even though everything I read had said to go to Buchs, we could have gotten off in Sargans and caught a bus to Vaduz directly from there without the transfer. Nobody ever mentioned there was more than one stop in Vaduz either. The only one on the scrolling menu on the bus that actually said Vaduz was Vaduz Post, but as the driver announced different stops several before that suddenly were prefaced with Vaduz before whatever the list said. Being totally clueless we got off at Vaduz Post and google mapped it. We should have gotten off a couple stops earlier at one called Stadtle, which was closer to our hotel, but at least the walk wasn’t too far since it stopped every couple blocks or so. There was no uber there, but we decided to save ourselves some hassle and just take a taxi directly to the station the next morning and not risk missing our next train from being late to the station through a bus mishap.

it’s not helpful when there’s no information on the readerboard

We had just one train to get from Buchs, Switzerland to Innsbruck, Austria, quite a relief after having to change trains twice to get there. Taking a cab to the station eliminated the 2 busses it took to get from Buchs to Vaduz. The hotel set up the cab. We said we wanted to get to the train station by 9:30 for a 10am train so we’d have plenty of time to find the right platform and find out how to know where on the train your seats are as this was our first time with reserved seats. They set the taxi up for 9am, and it came 5 minutes early so we were there shortly after 9 giving us way more spare time than we needed, but better early than late.

where to find your seat on the train

There were numbers on our tickets that I thought might relate to carriage and seat numbers, even though the ticket was all in German so I didn’t know what it actually said. I had no idea where to go from there. We stopped by the ticket office on the way out to the platforms to ask. The guy there said the readerboard out at the platform would display information telling you where to find that train car. He also said the train would come on platform 3. The readerboard on the way to the platforms that says which train comes where confirmed that the 10am train was on platform 3, and it even mentioned Innsbruck in the list of stops it displayed.

readerboards are a lot more useful when they display information

Out on the platform however the readerboard was blank. We thought maybe they just hadn’t turned it on yet because it was so early, but when it was still blank a half hour later I went back to the office to ask about that. He said it should be on and fiddled with some keys on his computer, then said our car would be in sector C. When I got back to the platform the readerboard was on, so apparently it wasn’t broken, they just hadn’t bothered to turn it on. It then alternated between flashing the usual train info and flashing a diagram that showed the order of all the cars on the train and which sector they would be in when it stopped on the platform. Ours would be the 4th car in line, behind 2 first class cars and a dining car. When the train pulled in that made it quite easy to find the right carriage.

train compartment with 6 seats

Inside instead of rows of seats like all our prior trains this one had a bunch of compartments separating them into groups of 6, and a hallway along one side of all the compartments with doors to get into them. We found the one with our seat numbers and went in. There was a lady sleeping in one of the seats next to the aisle and the rest were empty. We got our luggage up in the racks and sat down in the window seats, which corresponded to our numbers. This was the only train on our entire journey that had a rack over the seats big enough for a full-sized suitcase, though all but one of the others had racks that fit a carry-on sized bag.

luggage rack big enough for a full-sized bag

At another stop farther down the way an older lady came into the compartment. She hung her coat up over one middle seat, sat in the other, and refused to let anyone help her put her luggage in the rack. A young couple came along who needed the last 2 seats. They couldn’t both get into the door with her luggage there, but it took quite some time for them to convince her just to move the coat and the train was well underway before she finally let anyone put her luggage up in the rack so they could come in and sit down. They were speaking in German, but even though we didn’t know any of the words it was pretty obvious what the conversation was about.

As the train filled up, someone got on without a reserved seat and must not have been able to find one as she stood in the hallway outside our compartment looking very unhappy through the next couple stops until she finally saw someone in another compartment leave so she could find a place to sit. Somebody did eventually come around to check tickets on this train. Only the second one of our trip where anyone checked, the first being the 9-minute ride between Sargans and Buchs.

The train passed through some lovely scenery and a lot of tunnels going through the Alps. Also through a series of towns covered in snow, though the ground was clear before we got to Innsbruck. All of the little towns in the alps seemed to have a church with a tall pointed red steeple. Churches in other places had tall steeples, but not red ones.

train station in Innsbruck, Austria

5 out of 6 people in our carriage got out at Innsbruck. The older lady was missing at that time having vacated the carriage either to go to the restroom or dining car. Her stuff was still there though so the young guy got her luggage down and left it in the carriage before we all left. Perhaps she had told them she couldn’t get it down and that was why she didn’t want it up there in the first place.

By this time we were getting the hang of these European trains. We had just 2 more to go getting from Innsbruck to Venice, but while all our other tickets looked alike those two looked quite different from all the ones we’d had so far as well as from each other.

carriage display in Innsbruck

Our last train trip in Europe went from Innsbruck, Austria to Venice, Italy via a change of train in Verona Porta Nuova. At Innsbruck the readerboard at the platform didn’t display the order of train cars and where they would come into the platform the way the Swiss station had. They were however displayed separately on a different readerboard. When we first got there just a few people sat in a little cubicle that was just a bit warmer than the outside. It was awhile yet for the train so we waited in there too. Soon a very confused Italian girl came in with lots of questions about her ticket and the train, but she spoke no English so a couple other people talked to her until she calmed down and sat quietly to wait for the train. As time got closer the platform filled with people. Luckily it was a long train. We were quite glad to have reserved seats. There were people still hunting for somewhere to sit after it left the station, but eventually they all left our carriage so they might have found seats somewhere else.

lots of empty seats on the train from Verona to Venice

The other two seats in our group of 4 were occupied by very nice young men, one an American in the army stationed in Italy and the other an Austrian college student studying in Italy. Both had been on a train that got stopped the previous day due to the tracks being blocked in an avalanche. They waited hours at a little station on the boarder of Austria and Italy and then returned to Innsbruck for the night. Which explains the huge crowd on our train. When our train reached that station it sat for quite a lot longer than usual for such a small station, but being on the boarder the Austrian said they were probably checking some people’s passports. Eventually the train moved and everyone could breathe a sigh of relief that we were going onward and not back. Both the young guys were a day late, one missing classes and the other had to fill out a pile of paperwork and take a day of leave so as not to be in trouble for his late return to the army. After awhile the snow thinned and got more sparse until it disappeared entirely. Mountains gave way to rolling hills with grapevines and green fields, the quintessential picture of rural Italy. Nearly everyone on the train got off at our stop in Verona Porta Nuova. Our seat companions continued on in different trains to ours.

Verona Porta Nuova station

At that station there were just small readerboards in the hallway that ran underground between the platforms that said which trains were to come into which platform. Ours was on platform 4. The platform had readerboards, but the ones that normally display the information on the next incoming train never lit up until it actually arrived, and the others just had ads. None of them had the seat car arrangement. The platform also did not give the section letters as the Swiss and Austrian ones had so there was nothing to relate where particular cars would actually stop. They made an announcement that just said which cars would either be in the front, middle, or back of the train. Not that helpful when you have no idea where exactly on that very long platform the train would stop. We stayed near the middle of the platform since our car was to be in the middle, but it turned out to be a short train and went to the far end of the platform before stopping so we were well behind the entire train and nowhere near our car. It didn’t stay at the station long and we barely got to our car and in the door before the door closed and it left. That train had a lot of open seats so the reservation there would not have been necessary. It’s the only one of all the ones we had reserved seats on where we could have pretty much sat anywhere without being in someone else’s seat though.

vaporetto boat stops by the train station in Venice

This one had a small electronic display at the front of the car that said the name of whatever the next station would be so there was fair warning before it was announced. Ours at Venezia Santa Lucia turned out to be the end of the line. There was another Venice station prior called Venezia Mestre, but no water to be seen there. The train crossed a bridge to get to our station on the edge of the Grand Canal. It was not only the end of the line for that train, but also the end of the tracks. From that station you find docks with boats or watertaxis instead of busses and land taxis. There are some busses nearby as the train station is in the one spot in Venice proper where vehicles can go. The busses there will only take people out of Venice though. They have to take boats or use their own two feet to go any farther into it. The public boats called vaporetto have ticket booths by the train station and stops along the canal. That was how we got to the Airbnb where we stayed. Vaporetti function as the busses of Venice.

Italian train

When taking a trip around Europe by trains it’s best to pack light. All of the ones we rode had luggage racks that would fit a backpack. Most had luggage racks that would fit a carry-on size bag as well. Just a couple of them had a rack that would fit a big suitcase, one of which was by the door and not above the seats. Also take into consideration that there are some places where lugging the bag up or down stairs may be required. Most have lifts, but at the very least you will have to carry it up into the train, and then maneuver it through narrow, often crowded aisleways to your seat. Only one out of all the trains we took had luggage racks by the door where people could leave their bags before walking down the aisle to their seat, and that one did not have overhead racks big enough even for a carry-on. It’s a bit scary to leave baggage by the door where you can’t see it from your seat and anyone could grab it on their way out, but nobody bothered it. We never put important things like passports and electronics in our luggage, but would have missed our clothes if anybody took them.

Blogs From All Our Stops in Europe

Flying to Zurich                                                    Innsbruck Nordkette
Zurich                                                                     Innsbruck Alpenzoo
Lucerene                                                                Venice
Lucerene/Mt Pilatus boat & train                    Venice Gondola Ride
Lucerne/Mt Pilatus Gondola                             Venice 3 island tour
Liechtenstein                                                        Venice Cruise Port

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