Interview with John Heald – Carnival’s American Table

American Table on Carnival

Vista Dining Room set up for dinner

Ever since Carnival launched their new American Table menus people have complained about everything from the food to the lack of table cloths. A lot of those complaints come from people who have never actually given it a try. We had the opportunity to compare the old and new menus once when sailing back to back on one ship with the old menu and one with American Table. Click here to see how they compare.

cruise ship dinner

The American Table includes side dish options like the veggies with this ham dinner which originally came with Brussel sprouts. You can order them in addition to the meal, instead of a component of a meal,  or just make up your own meal from side dish selections.

The biggest change with American Table isn’t the menu itself, but the removal of tablecloths from the dining room except on formal nights. Cruisers are accustomed to dining on white table cloths regardless of the ship and complain constantly about this, but from an environmental standpoint it saves a whole lot of loads of laundry that would have otherwise needed washing daily. The naked tables look something like an upscale bistro. The only real problem with the lack of tablecloths is condensation under the glasses, a problem which could easily be solved by the addition of coasters, though as of my last time on Carnival that had not been done. Not having tablecloths on casual nights makes elegant nights stand out as something special with different table décor as well as the tablecloths.

cruise ship fish dinner

fish dinner on Carnival’s American Table menu

We had the opportunity on the Vista to meet with Carnival’s Brand Ambassador and spokesperson John Heald and get his thoughts about American Table.

Cruise lines across the board have to do what they can to keep their costs down or raise fares. Complaining about the food seems to be standard now on all lines. Even when sailing with any line for the first time we hear repeat cruisers there say the food isn’t what it used to be. We have noticed that the food will vary considerably from ship to ship even within the same line, or at a later sailing on the same ship. Not just the dining room either, even the premium places that you pay extra for can have a dish that is far better on one cruise than another. I’ve had excellent and not so good food on different ships of the same line on more than one line. Quality of the food must reflect the chef and galley staff since even the exact same dish can be excellent or less than memorable from one cruise to another.

cruise ship pasta

penne pasta

Overall we find some days with menus where lots of things sound good and some days where nothing really does on every line. The vegetable lasagna is a stand-out dish from Carnival’s American Table that is consistently good every time we’ve had it. Actually most of the pastas are usually pretty good.

sea food on the sea

seafood dishes are popular with cruise ship passengers

More Interviews with John Heald

Quick Fire Questions

Rescue At Sea


Left Behind in Port

Best Places on Carnival Breeze

Life on a Cruise Ship and Funships 2.0

Carnival Breeze Things to Do and Best Kept Secrets

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Australia’s Blue Mountains

Circular Quay

P&O Arcadia in Sydney

Some cruises start in Sydney, some end there, and some are round trips out of Sydney. When cruising to or from Sydney it’s nice to spend a bit of extra time there to see the area. Sydney has great public transportation. From ships that dock at the Overseas Cruise Terminal in Circular Quay it’s about a 200 yard walk to the train station. From there you can take a train to Central Station, from which you can find trains going all over. One of the options is to take a train up to the Blue Mountains. Central Station also has a line going to the airport. If your ship docks in at the White Bay Cruise Terminal neither tourist attractions nor public transportation are as convenient, but there are taxis and ferries.

Blue Mountain tree

Prehistoric looking fern tree

If Sydney is just a port stop there might still be time for a trip up to the Blue Mountains, especially if the ship overnights there or offers day trips as an excursion. To get there by train take the Blue Mountain Line from Central Station. Leura or Katoomba are popular towns to visit. The view of the Three Sisters rock formation from Echo Point and the walking trails there are a major tourist attraction, as is Jenolan Caves, which takes longer to get to since it is on the far side of the Blue Mountains. The train stations aren’t always near the attractions, but the towns have busses.

strange picnic shelter

picnic shelter at Leura Cascades

Leura has shops, restaurants, galleries, gardens, and even a Toy and Railway museum. Katoomba’s major attraction is Scenic World featuring Blue Mountain views and several different rides up or down a mountain or across a canyon.


Leura toy & railroad museum

Jenolan Caves is farther west on the far side of the Blue Mountains from Sydney. It has tours through 10 of the stalactite and stalagmite filled scenic caves there. They also have some options for adventure caving through undeveloped caves.

Jenolan Caves, Australia

Jenolan Caves

Other lesser-known attractions in the Blue Mountains may require a car to get there. Euroka Clearing is home to wild grey kangaroos, which are smaller than the big reds of the outback, but bigger than wallabies. Colorful birds like rainbow lorakeets and cockatoos also call the park home. There’s a campground there.

ancient handprints

Red Hands Cave

Red Hands Cave is a small cave alongside a trail in Blue Mountains National Park that can be accessed from Euroka Campground or Glenbrook. These small indentations in the rock have ancient aboriginal handprints, which are fenced off for their protection, but visitors can look in and see the red handprints that give these small caves their name.

Australian skink

skink on the trail to Red Hands Cave

The Blue Mountains have lots of little off the beaten track places and bushwalking trails that locals or any visitors lucky enough to stumble across them or who have a local guide might find. Bushwalking is what Aussies call hiking through the forest.

Blue Mountains trees

big bristlecone on a tree

A lot of the forests of the Blue Mountains are made up of Eucalyptus, also called gum trees by the locals. This favorite food of the koalas is not the only tree around though. Luera and Katoomba have pockets of prehistoric looking fern trees, and near the Three Sisters lookout we saw some strange looking bristlecone trees as well. Some with huge cones and others with small ones.

emu in the wild

wild emu

Although some of Australia’s wildlife is deadly, we have never seen any of their many species of poisonous snakes in the wild. We have had spider encounters within civilization, but whether any we saw out in the bush were of the poison sort I can’t say since they did not bite anyone. My daughter once had one of Australia’s deadly Sydney Funnel Web spiders living just outside her front door, but that one didn’t bother anyone. A poisonous whitetail spider bit me in her house once though. They like to hide in bedding and I woke up with the bite on one elbow just before we left for home. The bite grew and ulcerated until I read somewhere online to treat it with ice because nothing else would work and then it finally got better.

outdoor cafe

birds invited themselves to the leftovers at this outdoor cafe in the middle of nowhere

We went out into the bush a couple times with her shirtail relatives Phil and Marlene. They’re great tour guides who know the area well having lived there for many years. They knew where to find wild emus, great scenery, and all sorts of little places only locals know about.

scenic view

Hassans Walls Reserve

They took us to a great viewpoint at Hassans Walls Reserve and a bush cafe in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Lithgow.

3 sisters

the Three Sisters in Australia’s Blue Mountains

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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How to Make a Towel Snowman

how to fold a towel snowman

towel snowman

The towel snowman is easy in that you don’t have to make any precise folds or tight rolls. The challenging part is getting the “snowballs” to stack – and stay put. It’s OK if the snowballs aren’t perfectly round. In fact if the top and bottom are a bit flat it will help with stacking.

Supplies Needed for Making a Towel Snowman

2-3 Bath Towels

1-2 Hand Towels

Decorative Christmas Snow (sheet of cotton)


Directions for Making a Towel Snowman

making a towel snowball

roll a towel into a ball

To make the bottom snowball start by rolling one hand or bath towel into a ball. There’s no right or wrong way to do that. For me it worked out best to start with one corner and scrunch, roll, and ball the towel up from there. After the first towel is in a ball, wrap a bath towel around it, again scrunching, rolling, and folding the towel as needed to make it somewhat round. The inner towel can be any color, but it helps if the outer one is white. The snowman pictured started with a hand towel, which did not really make the bottom ball any bigger than the middle one made from just one towel so I’d recommend using 2 bath towels for the base.

making a towel into a snowball

wrap fake cotton Christmas snow around the towel

After you finish rolling your snowball wrap a piece of the decorative cotton used as fake snow at Christmastime around it and cut to size.

towel snowball

finished towel snowball

For the middle snowball use just one bath towel, again scrunching and rolling it into a ball, then covering it with fake cotton snow.

Roll one hand towel into a ball and cover with fake cotton snow for the head.

fake snowball on fake snow

use some of the fake cotton snow for the snowman to stand on

Stack the “snowballs” just like stacking real ones – except these don’t squish into each other or stay on as easily as actual snow. Do whatever works to get them to stay stacked, whether that means careful placement or patting the top and/or bottom of some of the snowballs into a flatter shape. If desired spread out a piece of the fake cotton snow to put the snowman on so it looks like he’s out in the snow.

towel snowman

snowballs stacked and ready to decorate

Once the snowballs are stacked in place you can decorate as desired. My snowman’s eyes are googly eyes, which are taped onto black felt so they stand out more against the white of the snowman. Eyes could also be made from things like felt, paper, or pop-poms. For the nose I rolled a triangle of orange felt to resemble a carrot. Double stick tape holds the eyes and nose onto the snowman. His mouth is tiny red pom-poms, which stick to the cotton on their own without tape. The buttons are larger blue pom-poms.

snowman made from towels

towel snowman

This snowman’s hat is re-purposed from a hat bought at the dollar store for a towel leprechaun, decorated with red trim previously used for making a towel reindeer.

towel snowman

towel snowman

Sometimes people use sticks to make arms for real snowman. Pipe cleaners (aka fuzzy sticks or chenille stems) can be made into stick shapes and tucked into the sides of the middle snowball for the towel snowman’s arms.

For more towel creations visit My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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Cruise Ship Cabins on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas

cruise ship

Explorer of the Seas in Hawaii

Royal Caribbean has all the regular room types you find on most large cruise ships – suites, balconies, ocean view, and inside. They also have some unique features on ships like Explorer of the Seas, which has inside cabins with virtual balconies and inside cabins with views of the Royal Promenade – an area inside the ship that resembles a city street. Besides the standard lower deck ocean view cabins there are also some upper deck cabins with panoramic ocean views with nearly the entire outer wall a window. Lower deck ocean view cabins have round windows. These may look like portholes, but actual portholes are smaller and have covers that can close them up during stormy weather. This ship has no true porthole cabins for passengers.

cruise ship suite

owner’s suite room 1320

Suite categories vary from junior suites to grand suites, owner’s suites to two bedroom, two bathroom royal family suites to the biggest royal suite of all, which at 1188 square feet is bigger than my house. Suites vary in shape and size and while many are grouped together on deck 10, others can be found about the ship in other locations.

cruise ship suite bathroom

bathroom in the owner’s suite

Cabin numbering is a bit different on this ship than on ships we’ve sailed on previously. It has even numbers for outside cabins and odd numbers for inside cabins rather than even for port and odd for starboard. Decks 9 and below have the cabin number starting with the deck number, as is usual on most ships, but the cabin numbers on decks 10 and above give no indication of the deck where that cabin resides without looking at deck plans that say which numbers are located where.

decorated cruise ship cabin

interior cabin 1279 with decorations

Sometimes cruise ship passengers have a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary while onboard. They can arrange in advance to have the room decorated before they board, which is usually done as a surprise for someone in the room.

accessible cruise ship cabin

accessible interior cabin 1637 with virtual balcony

bathroom in accessible cabin has roll-in shower with fold-down bench

Accessible rooms are available in interior, oceanview, balcony, and junior suites. Besides having accessible features, these cabins tend to be larger than others in the same category.

royall family suite

Royal Family Suite room 9694

Royal suites have over a thousand square feet with a separate bedroom and a balcony as big as the average stateroom. They sleep up to 4 people.

suite balcony

Royal Family Suite balcony

Royal family suites have less interior space, but even larger balconies. These suites sleep up to 8 people with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 drop down bunks, and a sofa bed for 2.

cruise ship suite

Grand Suite room 1578

Grand suites sleep up to 4 people with separate bedroom and living room areas. Both the room and the balcony are about double the size found in standard balcony staterooms.

junior suite

rear-facing junior suite room 1694

Junior suites sleep up to 4 people and are about as big as a stateroom and a half.

cruise ship cabon

superior balcony corner cabin 1688

Balcony staterooms come in superior and deluxe with superior having a slightly larger room and deluxe a slightly larger balcony. Some superior balcony cabins sleep up to four people while deluxe cabins sleep a max of three.

cruise ship cabin with bunks

ocean view cabin 2564 sleeps 4 with drop-down bunks

Oceanview cabins come with either a panoramic view with the entire exterior wall as window on deck 12 or with a standard round window, which is larger in deck 3 rooms than on deck 2. Ocean view rooms with round windows are also available at the front of the ship on a variety of decks. Family ocean view rooms are larger than the rest and sleep a maximum of 6 people while the maximum in other ocean view cabins is 4. Some of the family ocean view cabins have bunk rooms. Large ocean view cabins are bigger than standard cabins, but smaller than the family ones. These are found mainly at the bow.

promenade view cabin

view from interior promenade view cabin 6611

In addition to standard inside cabins, Explorer has some interior cabins with virtual balconies. It also has some with real windows and a view of the city-like promenade. The max guests for interior rooms is 4. Virtual balconies are a false window with a real-time video view.

inside cabin with a window

inside cabin 6611 with promenade view

Our cabin had lots of storage space, which is typical of all the staterooms on this ship. The closet had pull-down extra racks and space for life jackets to sit on top of the closet so they weren’t taking up room inside. It had 2 sets of drawers and 2 side mirrors with shelves behind them at the desk area and 2 small cupboards above the TV. Each nightstand had a shelf and a drawer and there was a 3-shelf storage cabinet behind a side mirror in the bathroom. The refrigerator came empty so people could put what they wanted to in it. It did have an option to purchase mini-bar items, none alcoholic.

bunk room in cruise ship cabin

family ocean view cabin 6500 has a bunk room

The room had two outlets in the desk area, which is one more than you find on some ships, but not enough for most people so it’s always a good idea to bring your own power strip. Walls are magnetic which is helpful for keeping paperwork organized if you bring magnets. The cabin doors are magnetic too which comes in useful for people who like to decorate them.

virtual balcony cabin

interior cabin 1275 with virtual balcony

The bathroom had the smallest clothesline we’ve ever seen on a cruise ship in its little round shower. Bringing some sort of clothesline of your own comes in useful, especially since this ship has no guest laundries. Bathroom supplies provided included a dispenser in the shower with 2 in one shampoo/conditioner and tubes of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and hand lotion. They also provided bars of soap. We enjoyed our time on Explorer of the Seas and would be happy to sail with Royal Caribbean again.

See more about this ship or cabins on other ships from our Ships and Cabins Page




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Easy Chocolate Truffles

This is a super simple recipe. It just makes a few because if you microwave chocolate chips too long the chocolate seizes up so you don’t want to make too much at a time. Plus they all have to get rolled before the chocolate hardens. The recipe is easily altered so when more are wanted you can have all sorts of different flavors by using different types of chocolate chips and flavorings for each batch. It’s so quick and easy it’s a great recipe for those times when you were supposed to bring treats somewhere, but forgot to make any. Or if you just want something tasty, but fast and easy to make.

easy truffles

easy chocolate truffles

Easy Chocolate Truffles


1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1 teaspoon butter

1/2 – 1 teaspoon Baileys Irish Cream


Put chocolate chips and butter in microwave safe bowl. Microwave until butter melts and chips are soft enough to blend. The chips hold their shape until you stir them so don’t wait for a pool of melted chocolate that’s never coming. Stir at 20 second intervals. Do not overcook. Stir butter and chips, add Irish Cream and stir until fully blended. Use less liquor for a subtle flavor, more if you want it stronger. Form into balls and roll in sprinkles. Let cool and eat. You can speed up the cooling time by putting them in the refrigerator, but don’t leave them in too long or they get too hard. Makes 4-6 truffles depending on the size.

For more variations and different flavors use milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips, different types of liquor (Amaretto works well with chocolate), or things like orange juice, lime juice, or juice strained from fresh raspberries. With fruit juice you may want to double the amount because the flavor is not as strong as alcohol. Or add some zest for more flavor if using fresh squeezed orange or lime juice. Another option is to skip the liquid or use cream, and stir in some coconut or nuts and roll them in coconut or finely chopped nuts instead of sprinkles.

If you have more time and want fancier truffles, try this recipe or this one.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Entrance to Gatorland – just walk right in the alligator’s mouth

If you’re in Orlando and either all Disneyed out or don’t want to spend the kind of bucks it takes to get into either Disney World or Universal Studios, there are other options. Gatorland is one of them. It’s exactly what the name sounds like, a park full of alligators.


Gatorland breeding swamp

Gatorland has really grown up, or more precisely modernized since the last time I went there back when my kids were kids. I remember walking through the park looking at all the alligators big and small and reading all the signs about their alligator breeding program and wondering what they did with them all…until we found the snack shack. Yup in those days alligators were all over the menu. We took a camel ride somewhere in the back of the park back then too.

zip line at Gatorland

zipline over the alligator swamp

Times have changed. Now the signs are about the types of birds and things you see hanging out with the gators. There’s only 1 alligator option on the menu and it’s the most expensive thing. The camels are gone and there’s a lot more places to buy food or souvenirs. There’s even a zip line now – for an additional fee. The zip line goes over the alligator breeding swamp, but the area under it is fenced off.

petting farm

the petting farm had mostly goats – and one little cow

They have also added a petting farm with barnyard animals – mostly goats. There’s a train ride that costs a bit extra, and for the little ones a small splash park area. Alligator wrestling is still on the daily schedule, but now it’s more of an alligator education show than actual wrestling like it once was. Of course they still use half-grown alligators and not the really big guys. I guess the alligator wrestlers want to keep their limbs intact.


the unboxing show – beware what comes out of these boxes

Other shows included one where they have audience participants open mystery boxes containing unknown animals which (at least at the one we went to) turned out to be tarantulas, a pygmy rattlesnake, and a big boa constrictor. Both that show and the alligator wrestling included photo ops at the end for an additional charge. They also had the Jumperoo show where they hung chicken from overhead lines and big alligators and a crocodile popped up out of the water to eat it.

alligator wrestling

alligator wrestling show

Gatorland’s basic entry fee makes it one of the most affordable parks around, but if you added too many of the additional options it could start to get a bit pricey. Still way under the cost of a day at Disney or Universal though. The zipline adds $40 to the price of admission, but as zip lines go that’s pretty reasonable. It looked fun, but we didn’t go on it because we didn’t want to pay that much and the grandkids were probably too small for it anyway.

birds of a feather

Does this make her a birdbrain?

The park has lots of different alligator displays from tiny baby alligators to enormous ones. They also have some crocodiles, lots of birds, and a few displays with other animals. Some of the birds are part of the park. Others are wild and just live there because they want to. There are parrots and a walk-through aviary full of parakeets which will land on you if you buy one of the seed sticks they sell there and ignore you if you don’t. These birds are all former pets that ended up in the park when their owners died or couldn’t keep them any more. The parakeets loved my sister’s straw hat. Mostly they just sat on it, but some nibbled on it a bit.

buzzards fighting

buzzard fight

Wild birds love the park. Egrets, ibis, and herons dot the alligator habits while buzzards and storks hang out on roofs and in trees. Some of the egrets hitch rides on the alligators and other egrets stand center stage while people gather before the shows. While waiting for the jumperoo show we saw several buzzards fighting on a roof.

dangerous perch

egrets like to hitch rides on the alligators

The well-fed alligators in Gatorland don’t eat the adult egrets, but these wild birds nest far enough above them to stay out of reach. Egrets nest above alligators to keep other predators like raccoons and possums from raiding their nests, but pay for that protection with any babies that drop from the nest becoming dinner for the alligators. The birds will actually intentionally eject some chicks if the population is higher than their food supply can support.

white alligator

leucistic alligator – internet photo

One display had a formerly wild alligator who would have been executed for his habit of prowling neighborhoods and eating dogs if Gatorland hadn’t taken him in. His small quarters with a bit of land and a small pond are something of a permanent jail cell. Most of the others had more spacious quarters, especially the ones living in the breeding marsh. Several white ones lived inside a building where a sign said they wouldn’t survive in full sunlight. Only one of the white ones was albino without any pigment even in the eyes. The others were leucistic, which means they have partial pigmentation and blue eyes.

aligator jumping

jumparoo show

Free parking and not much of a crowd set Gatorland apart from the other theme parks we visited. It’s a fun and interesting way to spend a day as well as educational if you read some of the signs scattered throughout the park.


alligator in the breeding swamp

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Day Trips, Port City Side Trips, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Juneau Cruise Ship Port

Juneau, Alaska

cruise ships in Juneau

When there’s more than 4 ships in Juneau somebody has to anchor out and tender passengers in

Alaska’s capital city, Juneau, sits on the Gastineau Channel of southeast Alaska. Like much of the state it is accessible only by boat or plane, although cars can get there on Alaska’s ferries. As one of the 4 main cruise ship ports in Alaska, Juneau sees lots of cruise ships throughout the summer cruising season.

cruise ships in Juneau

looking down on ships (2 Holland America and one Princess) from the upper tram station

Holland America ships dock right in town at the base of the Mount Roberts Tram. Princess has a nearby dock a short walk away down a scenic boardwalk along the water’s edge. The farthest dock is a mile from town. There’s a shuttle for passengers from ships docked there who don’t want to walk in. The shuttles drop passengers at the base of the tram station in the heart of the tourist area of town near booths offering an assortment of things to do.

Mount Roberts Tram

Mount Roberts tram has 2 cars – Eagle and Raven

Mount Roberts Tram is the major attraction in town. Besides excellent views on clear days the tram station at the top has things to do. There are gift shops, a restaurant, and a theater. There’s also hiking trails. Cruise ship passengers can buy tram tickets on board for the same price as on shore and go straight to the tram line, bypassing the ticket line.

Princess dock, Juneau

boardwalk from the Princess dock to town

With a population of over 30,000 residents, Juneau is one of Alaska’s larger cities. The city’s name comes from a gold prospector named Joe Juneau, one of the founders of the city. He is buried in Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery.

things to do in Juneau

booths near the tram station offer an assortment of tours and bus tickets to the glacier

Winters in Juneau are milder than much of Alaska with an average low of 23 degrees F. With precipitation falling in the form of rain or snow an average of 23o days of the year, it’s a good idea to pack rain gear when visiting Juneau. Spring is generally the driest and September and October the rainiest. Most snow falls between November and March.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier view from the glacier’s Visitor’s Center

Juneau’s main attraction is the nearby Mendenhall Glacier. Busses to the visitor’s center are readily available near the cruise ship docks at the base of the Mount Roberts Tram. There’s more than one company with busses to the glacier so you have to make sure the bus matches the company whose ticket you bought. Booths in that area allow cruise ship passengers or other Juneau visitors to book things like whale watching or kayaking Mendenhall Lake near the glacier as well as selling glacier bus tickets.

Juneau map

map of downtown Juneau

More Stuff To Do in Juneau 

Things to do in Juneau include helicopter trips out to the glacier, hiking, canoeing or kayaking, whale watching, salmon bakes or beer tastings, a museum, or a tour of the state capital building. There are two different zip lines near Juneau and of course the tram and Glacier Visitor’s Center.

Juneau tourist shops

tourist shops in Juneau

Some people prefer to just walk around town. There’s the waterfront to look at as well as historic buildings. Of course there are also plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars for anyone looking to part with their money.

Juneau Cruise Ship Shore Excursions

When coming to Juneau by cruise ship you have the option to book an excursion through the cruise line. Cruise ship excursions have the advantage of providing transportation to anything not right in town, and by booking through the ship if your excursion returns late the ship won’t leave without you like it will if you return late after venturing out on your own.

uprooted trees with flowers on top

Upside Down Flower Towers at Glacier Gardens

Ship’s excursions in Juneau often include a bus ride to places like Glacier Gardens, Mendenhall Glacier, a zip line, or to a musher’s camp including a ride on a dog-powered wheeled sled. Helicopter excursions may take people out to the glacier to ride a real dog sled or take a glacier walk. Other excursions include things like feasting at a salmon bake, river rafting or kayaking, hiking on nature trails, wildlife viewing or whale watching, panning for gold, or fishing. Flightseeing excursions sometimes include a stop at a lodge or bear sanctuary. Some excursions include more than one thing, often a stop at the Glacier Visitor’s Center plus one of the other things to see or do in Juneau.


Juneau in town near the cruise docks

More Blogs About Juneau

Mount Roberts TramMount Roberts Tram on a stormy dayGlacier GardensRiver Raft ExcursionMendenhall Glacier,  Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center


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Food on Carnival Vista

homemade cruise ship ice cream

making homemade ice cream at lunchtime in the Lido buffet

Carnival Vista has a variety of food for passengers to choose from. Some food venues are included in the price of the cruise and others cost extra.

pork and kale tart

appetizer in the dining room

The main dining room and Lido buffet are of course included. For no extra charge passengers can also eat at Guy’s Burgers or the Blue Iguana Cantina. At lunchtime there is a free pasta bar at Cucina del Capitano, and Ji Ji Asian Kitchen turns into the Mongolian Wok. On sea days Fresh Creations salads on the Serenity deck and Guy’s Pig and Anchor Barbecue on deck 5 are also open for lunch. The Lido deli stays open late. The pizza place and the ice cream machines are available 24 hours. At lunchtime the lido buffet serves free homemade ice cream in addition to the soft serve and yogurt available from the machines. Some items on the room service menu are also free other than the voluntary tip that should be given to the delivery person. The Taste Bar on deck 5 serves continental breakfast, light lunch, and taster portions of some dinner items. On sea day afternoons the dining room serves afternoon tea. Food and plain tea are free, but like at all other times flavored tea costs extra on Carnival so I just bring my own.

cruise food

Seafood Shack is a new pay-extra food station on the Lido

To add more variety to the menu there are some premium restaurants for those who want to pay anything from a few bucks at the Red Frog Pub for the Pub Grub to $35 dollars for dinner at the steakhouse. Other pay extra places include Bonsai Sushi, the Lido’s Seafood Shack, Cuban Bites at the Havana Bar, and at dinner time Italian food at Cucina del Capitano or Asian at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen. There’s also sundaes at Cherry on Top and specialty coffee or tea, milkshakes, and sweets at JavaBlue cafe. There are of course lots of bars about the ship serving a variety of drinks. Anything from a bar costs extra even if is just juice or soda.

cruise ship salad

Fresh Creations salad from the Serenity Deck


We didn’t try everything, but did try a variety of things. Of the new additions to the Vista my favorites were the lunchtime salads on the Serenity deck and homemade ice cream on the Lido. The pasta bar is also a good spot for lunch because the food is good and it’s usually not as crowded as the Lido. None of these cost extra.

veggie burger

Guy’s veggie burger – not on the menu, but available on request

Blue Iguana serves breakfast and lunch. While the line is usually for the burritos, the tacos they have at lunchtime are served on fresh hot tortillas made right there. The burritos come on pre-made tortillas. I tend to skip the burrito line and go with the taco which you can normally walk right up to the window and get because there is rarely ever anyone waiting. Tacos don’t come with all the topping options that burritos do so when you get the taco you know what the salsa bar with no chips is for – though it would still be nice if there were chips. Guy’s Burgers opens for lunch and closes about the time other venues open for dinner.

cruise ship sushi

Bonsai Sushi on deck 5 – you can get a little taster or a whole boatload of sushi for a price

We tried to have lunch at the Mongolian Wok one day. They give you a paper to fill out for what you want on the way in and then you find a place to sit and they are supposed to come around and take the paper to make your order. This has worked for us in the past at the pasta bar, but at JiJi’s I seem to have spread my cloak of invisibility over John because we waited and waited and nobody ever came around to take our order. I’m often invisible at food venues, whether it’s a restaurant where the waiter takes everyone else’s order and then walks off like I don’t exist, or a place where you wait in a line, but when I get to the front they ignore me and help the next person, then the one after them and so on. Normally they see John though. At Ji Ji’s we watched them wait on other tables, and go around collecting orders from people all around us then bring them food, but no waiter ever came near our table. A bus boy walked by and I asked how to get service, but he just said they’d come around and walked on. They came around again shortly after to every table but ours so we just gave up and left. Of course they tried to make amends on the way out and said they’d rush the order if we went back in, but we were soured on the place by then and went somewhere else, never to return.

pork chop dinner

pork chops are on the dining room’s every day menu

Unlike Ji Ji’s, we got great service in the dining room. The first leg of our back to back we had Your Time dining. One day we even got through from start to finish in half an hour when we asked for speed service because we had something we wanted to go that evening that started early.  The second leg we switched to early dining because other people we knew on the ship wanted us to join their table there. It was a big table with a large group of people so dinners took longer there, but we got a chance to meet new people and visit with the ones we already knew. That leg was an ocean crossing with lots of sea days and not many ports so we had the time to linger over dinner.

if you haven't tried this sauce, you're missing out

hot wings with the best rum barbeque sauce ever

One formal night nobody at our table felt like dressing up so some went to the Lido and some to the Red Frog Pub. The charge at Red Frog is nominal and the food is made to order so it’s always served fresh and hot. We like the food there, but some of the people who came there with us didn’t seem all that happy so I guess it’s not everybody’s thing.

dining room food

spinach and artichoke dip appetizer

We’ve heard a lot about the milkshakes from the cafe so we gave those a try one day. They were good, but a bit overpriced. By the time they add tips and taxes to your bill it’s a lot more than you would normally pay for a milkshake. I’m not sure if the taxes were because we sailed out of Europe or if they always have those because there were taxes on a lot of things purchased on board that cruise that don’t normally have them. The price wouldn’t be so quite bad if it’s not normally taxed though.

carnival steak house

looking into the steakhouse through the glass

We didn’t eat at any of the other pay-extra places this cruise, but have enjoyed Cucina del Capitano  and the steakhouse on previous voyages and both were quite good. They had tastes of some of the dinnertime food from Ji Ji’s Asian Kitchen at a cooking demonstration on the Vista. The tidbits they served there were far to spicy for my liking so rather than enticing me to want to try dinner there they had the opposite effect.

cruise ship barbecue

Pig & Anchor barbecue is open for sea day lunches

The barbecue had the best mac & cheese on the ship. The menu has pretty much the same things as they served when it was called Fat Jimmy’s C-Side so I’m not sure why the name change, which probably came with a licensing fee to Guy Fieri. Speaking of Guy, Guy’s Burgers, which originally served nothing but beef, does have veggie burgers on request now. They are not on the menu, but if you ask they will cook one for you. It’s about a 10 minute wait, but you get it hot and fresh.

bread pudding

one of Carnival’s dessert favorites – Bitter & Blanc

Overall there’s enough choices for food that there should be something for everyone whether they want to indulge on their vacation or look for healthier options.

Click here for a comparison of American Table to the old menu.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017


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Cruising to Sydney, Australia

Arcadia at Circular Quay

bridge view from the stern of the Arcadia

Arriving in Australia by cruise ship is far nicer than arriving by airplane. Besides the fact that the journey is far more fun, cruise ship passengers are not sprayed with disinfectant before disembarking like airplane passengers sometimes are. Customs is done while underway before arriving so disembarkation is quick and easy too.

Sydney cruise port

view of city, train station, and ferries from P&O Arcadia in Circular Quay

Sydney, Australia has two cruise ship ports. Ships cruising in or out of Sydney dock either at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay or at the White Bay Cruise Terminal in Balmain. White Bay has two berths, but ships have to fit under the Sydney Harbor Bridge to get there. Public transportation is harder to find at White Bay.

opera house in Sydney, Australia

Sydney Opera House

Circular Quay has one berth for cruise ships at the Overseas Terminal. It’s a great place to dock because Circular Quay is a tourist destination in itself. It has all sorts of harbour cruises, ferries, or water taxis available there as well as a train station within sight of the ship. Both the famous Harbour Bridge and iconic Opera House are within walking distance and dominate the view from the ship when docked there. You can also see Luna Park under the far side of the bridge. Sydney’s oldest area called The Rocks is just a short walk away. The Rocks is full of historic buildings, shops, cafés and pubs. My daughter the Aussie says the G’Day Café in The Rocks has the best kebabs in all of Sydney. Cruise ships too large to sail under the bridge stop at Circular Quay. The city centre is nearby. Besides the train tourists can easily get around by city bus or see the sights on the hop on hop off bus, which stops close to the nearby opera house.

Sydney trains

from Central Station you can take trains all over the Sydney area

Ships visiting White Bay Cruise Terminal sail under the Harbour Bridge. This terminal is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but you can take a ferry from the White Bay Captain Cook Wharf to either Circular Quay or Darling Harbour, another major tourist destination. I’ve never been to White Bay since the two cruises I’ve taken to Australia docked in Circular Quay, as did the round trip cruise to Tasmania we took from Sydney on Carnival Legend. Americans and Europeans need an electronic Visa to visit Australia, which is obtained online.

Carnival Legend at Circular Quay

Legend docked at Circular Quay in Sydney

The Legend was a fully domestic cruise so customs was never a concern on that voyage. On both P&O Arcadia and Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas customs officials came onboard and interviewed everyone whether they were disembarking in Sydney or just passing through with the ship. Arcadia was on a world cruise. Some passengers stayed on board nearly 4 months for a round trip from South Hampton England which crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans twice. Others cruised various legs of the voyage embarking and disembarking at a number of different ports along the way. The ship stayed overnight in Sydney, but since that was our final destination we disembarked the morning we arrived and took the train to our daughter’s house about an hour out of Sydney.

Things to do in Sydney, Australia

Sydney Cathedral

Cathedral in Sydney

From Circular Quay you can get just about anywhere too far to walk to in Sydney by train, boat or bus. Hop on hop off busses do a route through the city and another route farther out which includes the famous Bondi Beach. Besides the regular trains, light rail runs through some areas of the city. The train from Circular Quay stops at Central Station, from which you can catch trains or light rail to all sorts of destinations including the Blue Mountains or the airport.

China town

Sydney’s Chinatowm

Some of Sydney’s highlights besides the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, The Rocks, and the city centre include Paddy’s Market, the Queen Victoria Building, Centerpoint Tower, and Chinatown. Sydney also has museums, art galleries, and beaches.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge with Luna Park across the water

Tourist Attractions include Sea Life Aquarium, Wild Life Zoo, Taronga Zoo, Royal Botanic Gardens, and Luna Park. Adventurous people who don’t mind spending a small fortune can take an organized bridge climb tour on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can walk across it for free.

train at Circular Quay

the train station at Circular Quay is so close you can see trains from the ship

The Arcadia offered a 4-day train trip shore excursion for passengers disembarking in Sydney and those moving on with the ship to the next port could choose from Leisurely Sydney, Sydney Sights Opera House & Bondi, Blue Mountain Experience, Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb or Hunter Valley Wine Tasting and Lunch if they wanted to book an excursion rather than exploring on their own. The ship docked at Circular Quay the first day, moved out to anchor during the night, and tendered from offshore the second day.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Arcadia, Australia, Carnival, Legend, P&O, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Explorer of the Seas

Explorer of the Seas cruise ship

Explorer Of The Seas in Honolulu

Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas launched in 2000 and had dry-dock upgrades in 2015. The ship carries registry from the Bahamas. Though not one of Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships, at 1020 feet in length, 161 feet in width, and with a capacity of over 4000 passengers and 1000 crew it is still a very large cruise ship. For the first couple years after launching it was the biggest passenger ship in the world, but that destination was soon taken over by new cruise ships of ever increasing size. It’s currently number 26, with 10 of the bigger ones belonging to Royal Caribbean including the top 3 as well as 7 of the top 10.

flowrider on a cruise ship

Flowrider on Explorer Of the Seas

There’s lots to do onboard. Besides the usual cruise ship pastimes of shows, movies, and games, this ship has a rock climbing wall, ice skating rink, flowrider, and mini golf. In addition to a pool deck with two pools and several hot tubs, it also has a solarium with 2 covered hot tubs as well as an outdoor pool. They showed nightly outdoor movies on the pool deck as well as a couple daily movies on the cabin TV and sometimes a matinee in the main theater. Of course the ship has a casino too.

cruise ship rock climbing wall

rock climbing wall on Explorer Of The Seas

The rock climbing wall had open times scheduled daily and the flowrider had daily times for stand-up surfing and times for boogie boarding.

cruise ship ice arena

ice show in the skating rink

Throughout the cruise the ice arena had several open sessions for passengers as well as an ice show. The main theater had a different show each night. In addition to several production shows with the onboard cast they had a variety of guest performers ranging from singers or musicians to comedians to magicians and even a juggler.

Jaffa Cake

Jaffa Cake – one of the dining room’s tastiest desserts

Explorer of the Seas has many food options. Besides the Sapphire Dining Room and Windjammer Marketplace buffet it has a 24-hour café, several premium restaurants, and quite a few bars. The specialty restaurants on this ship are Giovanni’s Table (Italian), Chops Grille (steakhouse), Izumi (Asian Cuisine), and Johnny Rockets (burgers).

cruise ship dining room

Sapphire Dining Room – Explorer’s main dining room is 3 decks high

Royal Caribbean Dress Code – from their website

When you’re onboard, the right look will vary by venue. But here are a few types of suggested attire you’ll see, grouped by item.
Casual: You’re on vacation – relax! Jeans, polos, sundresses and blouses are all the right amount of laid back. Please keep swimwear to the Pool Deck. Shorts are welcomed for breakfast and lunch.

Formal: Make it a night out in your best black-tie look – suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns. There can be 1-3 formal nights during a sailing and is at the ship’s discretion.

Please note that bare feet are not allowed at any time in any venue and tank tops are not permitted in the Main Dining Room or Specialty Dining venues for dinner.

Royal Caribbean Casual Nights by Venue – not all venues are available on all ships.

Royal Caribbean dress code table

Royal Caribbean Casual Nights by Venue

Dress codes on our cruise on the Explorer were worded in their daily newsletter (called the Cruise Compass) as tonight’s dinner dress suggestion, followed by formal or casual so dressing up for formal nights was not actually required. Most people did wear nicer clothes than on casual nights, but nothing too fancy.

cruise ship atrium

one of Explorer’s two atriums

This was our first cruise on Royal Caribbean and the ship had quite a different design than any we’ve been on previously. Rather than just one atrium area it had two. Both stairway and elevator sections had a set of glass elevators and an open area nearly to the top of the ship. Each deck had a few seats with views into the atrium/centrum areas. Some had little balconies near the elevators. In between the two atriums on decks 4 and 5 it had their Centrum central area with a variety of public places like shops, bars, and eateries.

inside a cruise ship

overlooking the Royal Promenade from the front end of the ship

Other than the front desk and shore excursions desk, most of that central area on deck 5 held the Royal Promenade. This part looked something like a city street complete with shops on that level and apartments rising above on both sides. What looks like apartment buildings is actually windows to interior cabins with a view of the promenade.

Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets burger place up on an outside deck

Besides shops and a pub, deck 5 had a 24 hour café with free food and basic drinks and an extra cost for specialty coffee or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. At lunchtime there was always some sort of food served in the street area near the café, which varied daily from things like tacos or pulled pork (or chicken) sandwiches.  Deck 4 had a pub, the casino, and Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant.

24 hour cafe

café on the Royal Promenade

Cabin numbering also differed on this ship from other ships we have sailed on. The others all had odd numbered cabins on the starboard side and even numbered cabins on the port side. Explorer has outside cabins with even numbers and inside cabins with odd numbers regardless of location on the ship.

ship model

the ship’s artwork included models of different Royal Caribbean ships

Carpets could help a bit finding your way around the ship in that they have a tendency to change to a different color in the hallways of the guest cabin areas when coming to a place where you can turn and either find an exit or go across the width of the ship at least for a bit rather than just going down the length.

cruise ship art

only one of tile art series the tides on the back stairs that actually resembles beach and ocean

The ship has 2 main stairways with a different style of art on each. Artwork on the front stairway is either of or by famous people. Just because they are famous for whatever reason doesn’t mean their art is any good, but it is displayed there anyway. Artwork on the back stairway is more of an abstract thing. Much of it is representations of tides or nature – of which you have to read the plaque to know that because it isn’t obvious in most of the art. Not having sailed with Royal Caribbean before, I found the models of their various ships in glass cases placed around the ship to be one of their most interesting types of art.

wayfinder on deck

find anything on board

Carpet colors and art styles weren’t needed on this ship as a means of finding your way around. Near each stairway and elevator area on each deck it had electronic touch-screen wayfinders. Besides your current location these handy digital devices could also tell you at a touch everything from the menu at different eateries to what was happening where and when. If you found somewhere you’d like to be it could also give you directions on how to get there from wherever you were at the time.

cruise ship pools

main pool deck

There is no indoor smoking which is nice. Outdoors not so much. One side of the main pool area had smoking allowed as well as a smoking area on a platform in front of a bar at the center of the deck above, which made the pool deck area pretty smoky. The solarium was non-smoking, but since the door on one side opened directly into the smoking area of the pool deck really only one side of it was useable for anyone not wanting to breathe cigarette smoke.

adults only cruise ship pool

solarium pool is open to outside, but hot tubs and the most popular deck chairs are covered

Luckily the gym opened at 6am rather than the 8am opening time of a lot of ships. Most ships have somewhere to walk or run outside, but on the Explorer one side of the open area of deck 4 had smoking allowed and the track ran just above the smoky pool deck area as well as right past the bar with the smoking platform. This left no good outside places for people to walk or run while breathing clean air. Probably why the treadmills were always full just a few minutes after the gym opened.

cruise ship artwork

sculpture on the top deck

This ship has no guest laundries and sending laundry out for the crew was quite expensive so people were pretty creative with handwashing clothes in their rooms on our 22 day cruise. It did have magnetic walls in the cabin, which always helps to keep paperwork organized if you bring magnets. Magnets are also useful for people who like to decorate their cabin door.

inside a cruise ship

Grand Staircase and Royal Promenade

We quite enjoyed Royal Caribbean and would be happy to sail with them again. One of their megaships with Central Park on the inside and waterslides snaking all the way down the back has been on my bucket list for awhile.

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