Gluten Free Blueberry Tarts

These gluten free blueberry tarts are tasty enough to serve to people who aren’t gluten free. They’re not super sweet though so if you prefer sweeter desserts you might want to add extra sugar.

Blueberry Tarts

Gluten Free Blueberry Tarts

Tart Shells

Ingredients

1 egg
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
½ teaspoon baking powder (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups almond flour
¾ cup millet flour

Directions

In small mixing bowl whisk egg until thoroughly blended and light in color. Whisk in vanilla and melted coconut oil, whisking constantly so oil does not cook egg. Whisk in brown sugar. Stir in dry ingredients. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake papers. Press dough onto bottom and sides of each paper. The dough will rise as it cooks so press your dough to about half the thickness you want the tart shell to be. If you omit the baking powder you can leave the dough a bit thicker. If the dough starts sticking to your fingers more than to the cupcake papers either wash your hands or dip your fingers into sugar or flour. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 7-9 minutes. Make filling while the shells bake. Makes 12 tart shells in a standard size cupcake pan. If the tart shells have puffy spots after baking press them down while they are fresh and hot right out of the oven.

Filling

Ingredients

2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ tablespoon butter (for dairy free use non-dairy butter substitute)
2 1/4 cups blueberries (I used frozen ones)

Directions

Whisk cornstarch into water and lemon juice until thoroughly blended, Whisk in brown sugar. Add butter and blueberries. Cook on medium to medium high until it boils and thickens, stirring often. Spoon filling into baked tart shells. Serve warm or cold. Refrigerate leftovers in sealed container.

For a 4th of July red, white, and blueberry treat top with whipped cream or meringue and add either a cherry or strawberry just before serving.

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Dubai Cruise Port

MSC Lirica in Dubai

DUBAI

Dubai is the largest and most populous city in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). UAE is one of the world’s richer countries. Their economy relies largely on trade, tourism, aviation, financial services, and real estate, with oil contributing a small percentage. It’s the home of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa standing 2717 feet tall with an observation deck at 555 meters high.

Burj Khalifa

Dubai sits on the Persian Gulf at an elevation not much above sea level, surrounded by sandy desert. It has a hot desert climate with annual rainfall of just over 4 inches. Dubai is in a monarchy and the crime rate is very low. Things that are commonplace in western countries like PDA (public displays of affection) are basically not allowed in this Islamic country. Currency is the UAE Dirham. 1 USD is equal to over 3 ½ UAE Dirham. Dubai’s workers mainly come from foreign countries, and make up the majority of the population. Natives to the country living in Dubai tend to be independently wealthy.

Mercato Mall decorated for Christmas

It’s funny how in some places in the USA people won’t put up Christmas decorations for fear of offending non-Christians, yet in Dubai, which is a Muslim country, in December the touristy places are all decorated up for Christmas. Women wearing abayas and hijabs or niquibs shopped happily among the Christmas decorations at all the malls and souks without looking the least bit offended.

Abayas for sale

Abayas are the traditional dress or robe-like usually black outerwear worn by women of the region. Hijabs are their headscarves, and niqabs the face-covering veil some of them wear leaving only the eyes exposed. Often in the groups of women we saw who were together some had the just the hijab while others wore the niqab as well, even among wives of the same man. We went to Global Village one day. There were lots of little food shacks there, which kind of brings up the question of how the ladies wearing the niqab get anything to eat when they are out and about. Women in the gulf region do not generally wear burkas, which cover everything including a mesh screen over the eyes.

people in traditional clothing at Global Village

The men’s traditional clothing is a usually white robe called a dishdasha, kandura, thawb or thobe and a headress called a keffiyeh or shemagh. It is a traditional square cotton scarf, often held in place with a double row of black cord called agal, also spelled iqal, egal or igal. We took a van tour at one of our port stops and the driver had a white robe on so I asked him why the men wear white and the women wear black, but he just said tradition. In a hot desert country wearing black would make people even hotter since black absorbs heat, but it must be pretty hard to keep all that white clean so I’m not sure which would be better. Personally I wear black a lot more often than white, but I also live in a place that hardly ever gets hot.

view from the Lirica at the Dubai cruise port

DUBAI CRUISE PORT

Dubai’s cruise terminal is located at Port Rashid, about 15k from the airport. It has a coffee bar and deli, business center with free wifi, currency exchange, ATM, and a concierge who can set up day tours. Free shuttles leave on the hour to Mercato Mall. Taxis are available. There is a surcharge on all taxis leaving the cruise terminal or airport which will add an extra $5+ to the fare (about $15 to the airport or $10 to town). You can avoid paying that fee by taking the free mall shuttle to town and catching a taxi there. Our ship, the MSC Lirica, overnighted there. We found it cheaper to take an Uber than to use the taxis. The brownish beige taxis cost less than the black ones, but with Uber we got the black car for even less.

terminal building at the port in Dubai

Online info said there is a 24 hour help desk with free maps and advice, a post office, shops and mini mart, outlets for aerial and coach tour operators, help desks for shopping malls that offer free shuttles (Mercato Mall, AL Guhrir City, Dubai Outler Mall, and Burjaman which is the closest one to a metro station).

inside the cruise terminal building in Dubai

Most of that was not open during our visit. The only mall help desk was for Mercato mall, which was also the only one with a shuttle running. The information desk was open, but not very helpful. Walking from the terminal is not allowed and the terminal is not close to town. The HOHO busses were there, but quite pricey because Dubai is huge and the hop on hop off bus has 3 long routes with connecting points to cover it all.

information desk in the Dubai cruise terminal

MSC Lirica docked at terminal 2 at the cruise port in Dubai. It’s a large port with 3 terminals. A ship from Azamara and a German ship docked nearby. Across the harbor we could see the Queen Elizabeth 2 which is a permanent fixture at that port, now used as a hotel.

shuttle to Mercato Mall

As you disembark the ship you are given a port entry card, much like the ports in Oman. As in the ports there, nobody ever asked to see it. Security screens your bags as you leave the port building.

Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

THINGS TO DO IN DUBAI

Dubai’s most well-known attraction is the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa) & Dubai fountain, which is next to the Burj Khalifa. Fountain shows last 5 minutes and run every half hour from 6-11pm. There’s lots more to do in Dubai including indoor skiing, ice skating rink, malls, gold and spice souks, water sports, museums, golf, desert safaris, dhow cruises, beaches, old town area (Bastakiya quarter),Global Village, Burj al Arab hotel, boat ride on Dubai Creek, Jumeirah Mosque (must cover up to enter, clothing provided), Wild Wadi Waterpark, Dubai Miracle Garden, Palm Jumeirah palm shaped manmade island, Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis Hotel, Dubai Marina, x-line world’s longest urban zipline, Al Fahidi historical neighborhood, Dubai Canal, indoor theme park, other theme parks, city walk, and Dubai Frame with panoramic city views and a clear glass bridge between buildings.

sailing into Dubai

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022

 

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Shanghai River Cruise

the Bund in Shanghai

After disembarking Holland America Westerdam in Shanghai, we stayed in a hotel near the Bund for a few days to have some time to see the city. The word bund means an embankment or an embanked quay. That definition fits this raised walkway along the western bank of Shanghai’s Huangpu River next to the part of Zhongshan Road running through the former Shanghai International Settlement.

Historic western style buildings and waterfalls light up the Bund at night

On the Bund side of the river there are western-style historical buildings along the street below the raised bund area, which light up in white lights at night. Little waterfalls cascaded down the edge of the Bund into the river, lit with lights in ever-changing colors. This could not be seen from the Bund above, but can be seen from the river boats or from the other side of the river.

the Pudong area comes to life in the evening with buildings turning into lightshows

Across the river the more modern Pudong district has lots of skyscrapers, including Shanghai’s tallest buildings and the Oriental Pearl Tower, whose unique design is a landmark of the area. Buildings on that side of the river light up in all sorts of colors and patterns, some of which change frequently throughout the evening including the lights on the Oriental Pearl Tower.

daytime river view from Shanghai Tower through Shanghai’s smog

We went up the Shanghai Tower, which is the tallest building in China and the second tallest finished building in the world. It will soon be third when the Merdeka 118 in Malaysia is completed. That one is taller than the Shanghai Tower, but not as tall as Dubai’s Burj Kalifa. Besides all the various sorts of boats passing by in the river below, a row of them lined the dock on the other side of the river. In the daytime the river mainly belongs to working boats hauling cargo.

looking down on Pudong from the Shanghai Tower, and across the river to the Bund

We went up the tower late enough in the afternoon to stick around  long enough to wait for night views. From there you can see a lot of the city, including Pudong and the Bund at the same time. Of course you also get a great view of the river.

view of the river cruise boats from Shanghai Tower

Once it got dark that fleet of boats at the dock lit up like Christmas trees and  began to sail. Watching these boats from the tower, we thought it would be fun to take a ride on one. Tours begin at Shiliupu Pier just south of the Bund area, or the Pearl of the Orient Cruise Ship Terminal in Pudong.

one of the river cruise boats

In the evening after dark the river comes alive with these brightly lit boats taking people out for nightime river cruises. Mostly they’re just sightseeing cruises to look at the light shows on the buildings at the Bund and in Pudong, but dinner cruises are an option too.  We took the standard evening cruise, which lasted about 50 minutes. The ships sail through the Bund and Pudong before turning around to go back the other way and returning to the dock.

lots of boats cruise the river at night

Tickets are available right along the bund in ticket shops along the road next to the bund in buildings under the bund’s raised walkway. You can buy tickets there for a specific sailing or book ahead of time online. We bought ours same day for a sailing that evening.

river cruise pier from the water side

When the time came we had to find the right place along the bund for entrance to the pier, which was not in the same place as the shop where we bought the tickets. Our hotel was near the Bund so we just walked there, but there are cruises available online that include transportation from some of Shanghai’s hotels. There was quite a line of people for our sailing, but we got there early enough to be fairly close to the front of the line. Where we bought the ticket you didn’t get to choose which boat you went on, it was just whatever one happened to be boarding for that sailing. Most of the ones that left from that dock looked somewhat similar, at least the ones that were there at the time.

purple pirate ship

We saw one both from the tower and on the river that looked like a big purple pirate ship, but never saw what dock that one came and went from. Different boats had different colors of lights. Other boats would come down the river from somewhere else passing by those just cruising the local area. Some of those had some quite fancy decorations.

dragon boat

While we were out on the water a slightly larger than average boat went by decorated with dragons.

the cruise went up to a bridge before turning around

Our cruise went along the river with great views of both the Bund and Pudong sides. It went a bit farther up the river where there were some other lighted buildings we didn’t really see from the main Bund area before it turned around near a bridge and headed back toward the dock. People could sit inside the boat and look out the windows or go up on deck outside. It was a warm enough evening that most people went outside on the deck where views and photos are better than through windows in the boat, though sometimes it did get a bit crowded where finding clear unblocked space to take a photo could be a challenge.

river boats cruising by the Bund

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022

 

Posted in China, Holland America, Port Cities, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Public Spaces on Symphony of the Seas

view of Central Park from the pool deck

Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas is a huge cruise ship. Until the recent launch of its slightly larger sister ship Wonder of the Seas it was the biggest one in the world. When you have such an enormous ship carrying thousands of passengers you need places for them to go and things for them to do – and enough different spaces that everyone isn’t in the same place at the same time. The ship has 7 different areas that they call neighborhoods. These are boardwalk, pool and sports zone, central park, royal promenade, entertainment place, youth zone, and vitality spa and fitness. Other than some adults only spaces and the youth zone – which is just for kids of specific ages in their particular areas, the rest of the neighborhoods are public spaces for all passengers.

the giant slides end in the white cage on the boardwalk

The pool and sports zone has pools, hot tubs, waterslides, flowriders, and a kids splash park. The adults-only solarium is also included in the pool zone. Entertainment place is on deck 4 with the ice area, theater, and a comedy club and jazz club. The gym has a variety of fitness equipment available for passengers to use, and if you want to pay their prices there’s lots of treatments available at the spa. The youth zone has laser tag as well as their kid’s club spaces and an arcade. The other three – Central Park, Royal Promenade, and the Boardwalk are the main focus of this blog.

bar and arcade on the boardwalk

BOARDWALK

The Boardwalk area is an open space at the back of the ship on deck 6. It is open to the sky and to the stern, other than the AquaTheater, which sits at the back end of the boardwalk blocking most of the view out the back. The show at the AquaTheater is quite impressive and definitely worth seeing. At the other end people enter the boardwalk area as they exit the interior of the ship through big glass doors.

carousel horse statues at the entrance to the boardwalk

Walking into the boardwalk you pass by a row of carousel horse statues in different stages of development with the first depicting a partly carved wooden horse and the last one completely finished and painted. Beyond that is an actual carousel, which is free to ride during the hours that it is open. Some of the carousel animals are exotics, but most are horses.

carousel on a cruise ship

In between the boardwalk has some open space in the middle, with shops and eateries around the edges. Rising up above on both sides you see the balconies of what would otherwise be interior rooms reaching up to deck 14. Near the back, just in front of the AquaTheater sits the exit to the 10-deck Ultimate Abyss slides. These are not waterslides. You slide down them on a mat which you get at the top and leave at the bottom. Eateries on the boardwalk include a hot dog stand and a burger joint. The Dog House is free, but there is a cover charge at Johnny Rockets, except at breakfast.

rock climbing walls and slides

Stretching all along one side, Playmakers has a bar at the far end and an arcade by the carousel. That is not the only arcade on the ship, there’s a bigger one up on deck fifteen near the teen hangout. On the other side between the burgers and hotdogs there’s a candy shop and a little shop that mostly had clothes. A rock-climbing wall extends up the back on both sides with access on deck 7. You can zipline over the boardwalk from deck 16 to deck 15.

Central Park

CENTRAL PARK

Central Park is another outdoor area on the interior of the ship located (not surprisingly) at the center of the ship. Though all of the sides of the park are enclosed, the top is open to the sky. This area too has balconies of cabins that would otherwise be interior. Central Park is quieter at night than the boardwalk, something people might want to consider when booking one of those cabins. It is on deck 8, with balcony cabins above from decks 10-14 and central park view rooms with bowed windows on deck 9.

tables in the park

The center of the park has pathways winding through gardens. The plants in the gardens are actual living plants. Sometimes at port stops birds or butterflies came into the garden area, but they were never there while at sea. Whether they left on their own or it was somebody’s job to get them out so as not to transport non-native species to other ports I have no clue.

little bar in the park

Around the edges bars and eateries occupy the space below the cabins that rise above the garden area. Three of the ship’s premium (pay extra) restaurants sit around the edges of the park, along with a free cafe, a wine bar, and a very tiny bar. Besides the gardens and paths in the central area, there’s also an enclosed glass area with a door that sometimes goes nowhere and sometimes leads to the Rising Tide Bar when it is at its top point. The Rising Tide travels upward from the Royal Promenade and back down, spending some time on each level when it is open.

garden path

ROYAL PROMENADE

The Royal Promenade takes up the central area of deck 5. Besides the Rising Tide Bar that mostly sits there, but sometimes goes up to Central Park, it has several other bars, some eateries, and most of the ship’s shops. Guest services is also in that area. While most of the bars on the ship have human bartenders, the Bionic Bar in the Royal Promenade has a pair of robots making the drinks. Both the pizza place and cafe on this level are complimentary – as in you don’t have to pay extra for the food there. The bars of course cost extra.

Royal Promenade

There’s quite a variety of shops to choose from. All the usual cruise ship shops selling clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, a variety of logo products, bottles of alcohol, perfume, candy, and a bunch of other stuff. There’s a small section of sundries for people who forgot things like toothpaste or other little necessities.

Royal Promenade

The Royal Promenade area is fully indoors, though the center is open for a few decks up. Deck 6 has some public areas around the edges above the promenade with a bar, the photo shop, and shore excursion desk just a stairway away. A few cabins on Deck 7 have windows with views overlooking the promenade.

finally a photographer willing to try different poses

For those who buy photo packages, or who just like to get their photos taken so they can see what they look like even if they don’t buy them, there were always several different photo stations set up around the Royal Promenade in the evenings. Each had different backdrops, some a picture on a screen and others a natural feature of the ship. Most of the photographers wouldn’t deviate from 4 standard poses (looking forward. group hug, hands on hips, facing toward or away from each other), but on the last night we found one that would.

Rising Tide Bar on the Royal Promenade

The photo shop on deck 6 has lots of screens where people can access their photos and choose the ones they want, which could be purchased digitally or as prints on our cruise. Their preferred method of delivering digital photos is through email, but I recommend asking for a flash drive because the quality of the photos is better. I don’t know if this happens often, but the email they sent me had less than half of our total photos so if we had not gotten the flash drive which had them all we’d have been missing quite a lot.

track at the stern on the promenade deck

It may not be part of the Royal Promenade, but this ship does have an outside promenade deck running around the entire ship on deck 5. It’s not just any ordinary promenade deck either, this one is set up like a running/walking track and surfaced as such. It’s behind the lifeboats on the sides and runs through a sheltered tunnel at the bow, so other than the open stern views are just what you see between lifeboats, but the track is pretty awesome. It also has an activity area on each side of the ship, one with a ping-pong table and the other with shuffleboard. There’s a few chairs at the stern where you can sit and watch the wake, and windows for a backside view into the AquaTheater. There’s definitely more variety of places to go on Symphony of the Seas than what you find on the average cruise ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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Celebrity Constellation Veranda Cabin

Constellation in Costa Maya

Celebrity Constellation cabin 6033 has an extra-large balcony, one of just 8 staterooms on either side near the bow of deck 6 to have that feature. If you look at the deck plans on Celebrity’s website, it shows deck plan options for before and after April 25, 2033.

extra-large veranda with a view of the port in Miami

On the after plan it shows those 8 cabins each side as deluxe veranda cabins having larger balconies than the other staterooms in that row. The prior to 2033 deck plans show those rooms as regular veranda cabins and it doesn’t show that they have the extra-large balconies.

cabin 6033 with Miami view

The cabin itself has the usual bed that can be separated into two if desired, plus a drop down bunk in the ceiling and a small couch that opens up into a single bed. It’s not a large room so it could feel crowded with the full 4 people it holds, though I have stayed in a smaller cabin than this with 3 people and we were fine. For two it’s a nice size. It has a table and chair, a desk, a couple deck chairs with a table, a double door closet with hanging space and on our cruise it had significantly more hangers than usually provided on a cruise ship. The third closet houses the safe, 6 drawers and 2 shelves.

standard cruise ship bathroom

There’s also 2 drawers in each of the 2 nightstands and 2 shelves by the bathroom mirror as well as some space in a small cupboard in the bathroom and 2 small cupboards under the desk. A cabinet under the TV holds a small refrigerator. It was full of pay-to-use mini-bar items at the start, but we had the steward take them away so we could use the space for things we put in there instead. There was another cupboard above the TV.  The room had more than enough storage space for 2 people. Three might fit all their stuff in, but it could be a bit tight with 4 unless people packed light.

it helps to bring your own outlets and USB ports when the ship has 2 outlets and no USB ports

Each of the nightstands had a lamp, but not the sort that have USB ports in them, though those would have been useful since there were none in the room – and only 2 American style outlets. Good thing I brought a 3-outlet plug and a clock with 2 USB ports. That gave us enough space for whatever we needed to plug in or charge, where just the two outlets would not have been enough even for two people.

magnets are always useful on cruise ships

One wall had several full-length mirrors framed in wood, but the other walls were magnetic. Besides my little magnets for keeping paperwork sorted, this time I had some new ones – magnetic hooks. They came in handy for extra hanging space, though they did not hold anywhere near the 50 lbs they were supposed to. A hat or small camera was fine, but a coat or other heavier, but nowhere near 50-pound item had the hook sliding right down the wall.

the magnetic hook held stronger in the shower than on the cabin wall

The shower was also magnetic and my new hooks seemed to hold more weight with a clothesline full of wet clothes attached there than they did on the main cabin walls with dry things so perhaps the shower walls were more highly magnetic and they need the right surface to hold a greater amount of weight.

oversized balcony with sea view

As far as size of a balcony cabin goes, this one had one of the biggest balconies we’ve ever had at about 2.5 times normal size. The cabin itself was neither the biggest nor smallest. We’ve had some with room for a full-sized couch and some without room for a couch at all. This one had a small couch. It also had a railing across the back wall. Not sure if the intended use was for people to hold onto if they need help getting out of bed or something, but it made an extra place to hang things that weren’t quite dry.

the cabin had room for a small couch

The shower in the bathroom was bigger than what most of the newer ships have, and it had the one little built-in clothesline that I thought was standard on all cruise ships until I sailed on Symphony of the Seas, which didn’t have one. That’s the newest ship I’ve been on so I hope that is not a sign of things to come on newer ships. Even if people never wash any of their clothes in their cabin those pull-across-the-shower clotheslines are always handy for wet swimming suits, and who doesn’t have that on a cruise?

towel animal

The steward was nice, and attentive. Unlike some cruise lines, Celebrity still cleans twice daily. Near the end of the cruise we had a new towel animal each evening.

cabin 6033

Overall this was a nice cabin, and currently a good deal since it has that extra-large balcony while booking as a regular veranda cabin. That will not be the case after April of 2033 when it gets the deluxe veranda designation and higher price that goes with it.

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Camano Island State Parks

cabin at Camano Island State Park (internet photo)

Camano Island is a fairly large island in Washington State’s Island County, sitting between larger Whidbey Island and the mainland. It is close enough to the mainland that it is accessible by a bridge. It has a population of about 16,000 and a shopping center that substitutes for downtown on this city-free island. It is also home to two state parks. These two parks are close together and connected by a foot trail.

Camano Island State Park

Camano Island State Park covers 244 acres with 6700 feet of shoreline. All state parks in Washington require a Discover Pass to park there. It has a vending machine near the entrance where passes can be purchased, or they can be bought ahead online – or when renewing car license tabs for state residents. Anyone planning to stay in the park 3 days or longer might as well buy an annual pass since it costs nearly the same as 3 one-day passes at $35 for the annual pass or $11.50 for a day pass. Online purchases may include extra fees, but the machine at the park does not.

campsite in Camano Island State Park (internet photo)

Camano Island State Park has a campground, hiking trails, rocky beach, boat ramp, day use picnic area, amphitheater, fire circle, and ball field. The campground has 88 campsites, flush toilets, hot showers, barbecue grills, drinking water, picnic tables, and an RV dump. There are also 5 cabins and a hiker/biker camping area.

Cama Beach State Park

A one-mile trail leads to Camano Island’s other state park, Cama Beach State Park. This beachside park started out as a fishing resort. The former boathouse is now a center for wooden boats. Ancient deteriorating railings crusted with barnacles on the beach in front of the boathouse is all that remains of the resort’s former boat launch out of the building. Its cabins fared much better and are still in use as rentals for park visitors. They sit in rows next to the beach. A camp road passes through the cabin area, but cars are not allowed down there so people have to park in a lot higher up and bring their things down in one of the many carts provided for that purpose.

cabins at Cama Beach State Park

There are picnic tables between the cabins, and some barbecue grills in the area. Most cabins do not have private bathrooms, but there is a large restroom behind the rows of cabins that has flush toilets and showers. This 486-acre park has 15 miles of hiking trails, a café, beach access, and the center for wooden boats, which sometimes has classes or activities. People can reserve the park’s 33 cabins. Minimum stay is 2 nights. They tend to book up well in advance.

cabins at Cama Beach State Park

There are several shuttle stops within the park for a park-to-park shuttle that runs between Cama Beach and Camano Island state parks. In addition to the state parks, Camano Island also has county and local parks scattered around the island. 

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Sailing Boston Harbor

Boston’s central wharf

The Liberty tall ships have been sailing Boston Harbor since 1993. Liberty Clipper and Liberty Star are schooners modeled after ships of the 19th century. They run daily sailings seasonally, retreating to the Bahamas in the winter. They were still in port when we visited Boston in early October. The last afternoon trip had already set sail when we arrived at the Central Wharf ticket booth after walking the Freedom Trail so we bought tickets for a sunset sail. The voyage started out in daylight and ended in near darkness with the sun setting as we sailed around the harbor.

leaving Boston’s Central Wharf

Two tall-masted wooden sailing ships sat next to each other tied to the dock next to Boston’s aquarium. Whale-watching vessels came and went in the small passageway between them and the fast-ferry and other vessels tied up on the other side. We had a couple hours to kill between buying our tickets and when the cruise started so we spent some time at the aquarium since it was right there next to the dock.

city view after leaving the wharf

After boarding people found places to sit on just about any raised surface along the sailboat’s deck. It had a couple actual benches, and many other spots that were part of the ship so everyone found somewhere to sit. A few of them could have made a better choice though. They sat next to the boom of the front sail, which would not be a pleasant experience once the ship set sail where the boom moves back and forth across the ship. It would likely hit harder than a baseball bat whacking someone in the head. The captain and crew did ask those people to move before the ship actually left the dock. The even larger booms of the much bigger central and back sails also swing, but they were higher up, above head level at rest and even higher once the sails were hoisted.

getting ready to hoist the sails

The ship left the narrow harbor under power, but once out into more open water it was time to raise the sails. The 2-person crew got some voluntary assistance from some of  the passengers to help pull on the ropes and raise the sails while the captain drove the ship. Likely they could have done it more quickly and efficiently themselves, but it’s all about the experience for the guests. Once that was finished the captain let anyone who wanted take a turn at the wheel. Mostly people just stayed there long enough for a photo op.

John takes a turn at the wheel

We had good weather and smooth sailing with the sails fully raised. When someone asked what all the strings dangling from the sails were the captain explained they were  for containing the extra material when they needed to shorten the sails down in strong winds.

sails raised high

The crew served drinks as well as manning the sails and dock lines, but didn’t say much. The captain on the other hand was as much entertainer as he was captain.

city view

If we had come to town specifically for a sunset cruise we would have dressed warmer, but since we had come earlier in the day dressed for walking the Freedom Trail we were quite chilly as the sun sank lower in the sky and the temperature dropped. The wind didn’t help for comfort either, though it definitely was good for sailing being enough to fill the sails, but not so much as to cause rough waters.

a bit of color in the sunset

Although it was called a sunset cruise, and the sun did set while we were out there, there was not much view of the actual sunset. Boston is after all home to many tall buildings whose skyline blocked most of the sun’s setting. The city skyline itself made for a nice view in the ever darkening sky though. A bit of color from the sunset showed behind and between the buildings.

reflection of the sailboat in a building

One building in particular had quite a unique view. Before it began to get dark as the ship approached a very shiny building the captain mentioned knowing that people would like a photo of the ship in full sail. Of course you can’t get that from onboard so you would need either a friend on another ship or a giant mirror. I haven’t got a friend on another ship he said, but I do have a giant mirror. As we approached that big shiny building he said to watch for the ship’s reflection to appear. Another ship passed by between us and the building, but our taller ship appeared above it in the reflection. Later in the cruise we passed by it again on the way back. It was darker then and some of the rooms in the building had lights on which somewhat interfered with the reflection, but it we did get a bit of one even then.

ship turned into a floating bar

The view changed as the sun went down from more water and sky to mainly city lights. The lighted outline of a docked ship in the distance brought a question from someone as to what it was for. The captain said it used to take kids out for learning to sail, but that company went out of business due to covid and the ship got sold to people who now use it as a floating bar.

Nantucket lightship replica

We passed another ship that had tall masts with lights on top and no sails. It had Nantucket painted on the side in giant letters. The captain said it was a light ship – a ship once used like a light house guess where – obviously Nantucket. He went on to say that it was not the original lightship Nantucket, but a replica. The Olympic, a sister ship of the Titanic, plowed into the original and sank it in a thick fog while the lights, radio, and fog signals were on. Visibility was very poor at the time. The crew barely had time to don life jackets before the crash. Although the Olympic sent out life boats to search for them and 7 were pulled from the water, only 4 of the 11 crew survived. The original Nantucket still sits at the bottom of the sea where it sank that day in 1934.  So not a good track record for the White Star Line, whose response to the tragedy was to donate the replica now on display in Boston Harbor.

looking for color in the sky

It was a nice evening cruise. The captain was very entertaining and informative and the scenery beautiful and interesting.

sailing in the setting sun

In spite of feeling cold we had a good time on the sailing ship. When we were done we felt lucky that the aquarium subway stop by the wharf where the ship docked went to the blue line, which was the same line that went to the stop nearest our hotel so we could take it straight back without the need to change lines anywhere along the way.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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Shows on Symphony of the Seas

ice show

Most of the shows on Symphony of the Seas required pre-booking in their app. Which would be fine if there was actually availability to see the shows, but some were already booked full when they first appeared and others that were there when we boarded had all the choice times already taken when we went to book on boarding day. Even that wouldn’t be so bad if the bookings actually showed up. Two out of 3 shows that I booked did not show up either in the daily calendar or for the crew who check to see if you actually have a booking. Being my first time booking shows that way I didn’t know to look on the first one and assumed when it said we had made booking that we would be allowed in when we got to the show. This was for the water show, but when we showed up at the appointed time our booking wasn’t there and we had to vulture the show outside with all the people who didn’t have reservations to see if they would let us in once the show started. They actually let everyone in and there were probably more than 100 people waiting so either a lot of people book and never show up or they leave a whole lot of seats open.

drone lights at the ice show

The booking went as scheduled for the ice show, and that one I checked to make sure it showed up ahead of time. Later in the cruise a theater show called Flight showed up in the app. I booked that one and then checked the calendar and it wasn’t there. Going back to the bookings it said I’d already booked and wouldn’t let me book again, though it never showed up on our daily planner or in the calendar. I finally found it in a screen that shows the boarding pass and such things. When we checked in for that show once again the crew said we didn’t have a booking, but that time I knew to look at the other place rather than the calendar to show them that we did have it and they let us in. So something was not quite right with their booking system. There were a few shows on the schedule that didn’t require a booking, but most of them did.

WATER SHOW

The first show we went to was the water show, called HIRO. We made a booking for a 10:30pm performance because all the 8:15 ones were already taken. Or perhaps the app just said that because families with children were allowed at the 8:15 performance while the 10:30 one was for vaccinated guests only so it may have only showed that one as being available even if the other wasn’t actually full. Regardless, the 10:30 one was the only one it would allow me to make reservations for, but in spite of having said I had that reservation when I made it, when we got there it did not show up so this was the one we had to wait outside with all the show vultures until it started to see if we could get in.

HIRO water show

If we had known ahead of time that people could get in last minute without reservations we might have vultured the earlier performance. There was no sort of first come first served que or anything, people just mobbed the entrance once they were allowed in and the last to arrive were closest to the opening since they were just asking if they could get in, so they were the first to do so even though others had been waiting a long time. Luckily everyone got in. There were still seats to spare so either those were left open for social distancing or there were just very few people who actually got in with reservations and a lot of seats left open, or a whole lot of people who made them and didn’t show up.

dancers, drummer, and legs in the pool

The water pool that is the main stage for this show had false bottoms that could make it anywhere from dry space that is not a pool at all to deep enough for high divers, and other levels in between from ankle deep to about the depth of half a person. Not all spaces in the pool were always at the same level either, sometimes there was a walkway through the center while people dove into the ends.

diver in the air

Costumes for this show were reminiscent of old Samurai warriors, or at least enough of a resemblance of such to give people the idea that is what they were. It was quite a varied show with lots of dancing, diving, and drumming. It also had aerialists and tightrope walkers. It was also quite loud. You could hear it about halfway through the ship, and other nights we heard it from our room, which had just one cabin between ours and the big fancy suite at the back with a wraparound balcony going both from the inside with a view of that show to the outside along the water. Ours was just a regular waterside balcony cabin. The boardwalk view balcony cabins at that distance probably could have at least somewhat seen the show from their balcony as well as hearing it from their room.

diving from the top

A narrow strip alongside the pool came equipped with fountains that sprayed up on both sides of a line of dancers on that bit during part of the show. It was definitely worth seeing, far more than an average cruise ship production. Throughout the show the water level in the pool changed often. People would dance in ankle deep water, then as soon as they cleared the way divers might drop down from above, or perhaps dancing legs would appear sticking up from the water with the upper half of the person hidden underneath. It changed often between divers or drummers way up high to dancers or other water level acts below as well as the part with tightropes and aerialists.

ICE SHOW

soldiers in London skate with the show’s hero

Lighting effects made the ice show called 1977 far more spectacular than the skating alone, and it was pretty amazing what the skaters could do in such a tiny ice arena compared to the size of skating rinks on land. It started out as London in 1977, with the lighting giving the ice the appearance of the river Thames. The show starts with quite a lot of lighted drones flying around with different colored lights. It just looks like lights until some of them turn off, at which time you can see the drones.

a colorful scene

The premise of the show is a jewel thief stealing the crown jewels. The show’s hero follows that thief through time and places as the sets and costumes change flawlessly from one country to another throughout the show.

skaters doing lifts

Lighting helps set the mood for each segment of the show as the hero and thief travel through time and many different countries.

ice aerialist

At one point there’s even an aerialist on skates who does most of her tricks above the ground in a ring, still with skates on, and some of them with skates on the ice while still encircled within the ring. Quite a few of the stage show on some ships feature aerialists, but doing that on ice skates adds another whole element of difficulty to the performance.

oh no, there’s a hole in the ice

One of the more interesting lighting effects shows the ice as ice – or at least most of it. There appears to be a hole in the ice through which all sorts of fish and even a giant whale swim past before the skaters come out for that scene. All of the skaters during that part of the show avoid the hole as if they would actually fall in if they got too close.

skaters at the ice show

At the end of the show the hero catches up with the thief, who turns out to be both a girl and his skating partner.

THEATER SHOW

During our cruise they had several shows in the theater. We did not go to the Broadway type production of Hairspray, the singer, or comedian, but did go to the one called Flight that showed up on the schedule near the end of the cruise. We might have gone to Hairspray if an evening performance had been available, but did not want to commit to the 3pm offering on a sea day when we’d probably be busy doing something else and that was the only one open.

going into space on a cruise ship

We thought about going to the comedian as it was just first come first served and didn’t require a booking, but when the time came we didn’t feel like going to a show so we only went to Flight, which was one of their production shows. And quite a production it was.

Wright brothers’ airplane

The flight show combined video screens with live action. It started out as a flight to Mars, then regressed through major flight events throughout history ending with the Wright brothers first flight – complete with an airplane flying around the theater with the aid of wires.

Martians

In between both real events like world wars, breaking the sound barriers, Amelia Airhart, and space flights had their time along with the radio broadcast of the imaginary War of the Worlds which came complete with dancing Martians. Though there was no actual invasion, the radio program and panic it caused are a real part of history.

some of the aerialists in FLIGHT

The airplane wasn’t the only thing to fly during this show as there were numerous aerialists during some of the other sets. Aerialists seemed to be a major thing on this ship as they appeared in all of the shows that we went to.

barnstormer

All three of the shows we saw on the Symphony of the Seas were definitely worth seeing.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022

 

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Kayaking in Costa Maya

Sunrise over Celebrity Constellation in Costa Maya

On most cruises we venture forth on our own at most ports, with an excursion booked here and there. The first time we went to Costa Maya we found a taxi tour to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins. On our cruise on Celebrity Constellation we mainly booked excursions. This was during the height of the omicron outbreak so that kept us mainly around other people from our ship. Besides wanting to stay healthy we had another cruise scheduled for the day after disembarkation so we’d again need a negative covid test to board. At least that’s what we thought when booking the excursions. The second cruise, which was supposed to be on Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas got cancelled while we were on the first one so we didn’t actually end up needing that.

little private resort on Bacalar Lagoon where kayak excursion went

In Costa Maya I’d eyed a river tubing excursion through the ship that went to Bacalar Lagoon, AKA the 7 colors lagoon. That one went down a river into the lagoon. We often book our cruises through Vacations to Go as they have a selection of reduced-price cruises for a variety of lines. They send out a notice about booking excursions through them, but we hadn’t actually done one that way before. I noticed their selection included kayaking on the 7 colors lagoon for half the price of the river tubing excursion so we booked that one instead. Costa Maya is in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

signs at the entry to Costa Maya Cruise Port

Their instructions were to meet at the Native Choice office outside the port 45 minutes after the ship docked. The ticket included directions and a link to a map. Having been to Costa Maya once before we were familiar with the port and knew it was a bit of a walk to the exit. We had also seen the pyramid in the middle of the road where we were to turn so we had a pretty good idea where to go.

port view from the ship – the dock itself is a bit of a walk

The total walk from the ship to their office was 1.5 kilometers, which is just shy of a mile, so not a bad walk. Their instructions did mention people could take a taxi from the port if they didn’t want to walk, though they’d probably be around halfway there before they got to the taxis. On our way there we came across other people also making their way to that office, and a guy at the pyramid directing people where to go. The office was a few blocks walk down the road beyond the pyramid on a gravel path surrounded in trees. It was easy to spot due to the fleet of white vans parked outside. Inside they handed out various colors of wristbands depending on where people had booked to go. There was just one other couple in our van so we had a nearly private excursion. They were very nice people and it turned out they were also on both the snorkel excursions we had in later ports. The local guide talked about the area and the people on the way there. She also said that all of the money paid for excursions through their company went straight to locals. While the ship only waits for its own excursions, she said their company had never brought anyone back late so nobody booking through them had ever missed their ship.

the other couple on our excursion

It took about an hour to get from the port to the lagoon, a lot of it on a very straight road through the jungle. On cruise ship days there is a bit of traffic on that road, but according to our driver it’s pretty deserted if there are no ships at the dock.

the local guide in her kayak

Our guide said the area had not been settled until the 1980’s when the government gave people land there and they came in from other areas of the country. The original people of the area are descendants of the Maya, but there are people of Spanish and other descents now, and a lot of mixed blood residents, of which she was one. We passed through two small villages on the way, the first she said was mainly mixed blood people and the second Mayan descendants. At the far end of the second village the van headed down a steep and rutted dirt road to a tiny resort at the bottom, which was our destination. It looked like the sort of road you need a 4×4 to traverse, but our van did make it back up – though not easily. It took the driver some maneuvering from one side of the road to the other rather than heading up the middle to reach the top. The village is called Buenavista, but there are other Buena Vistas in Mexico so Bacalar and Quintana Roo are important to designate this specific village.

little bar/restaurant at Cora’s Place

The little private resort called Cora’s Place had a little villa where people could stay and a separate little open sided restaurant/bar. Another small building housed restrooms. Some people made a brief appearance on the porch of the villa they were staying in, but the four of us and our guide had the restaurant, beach chairs, and dock to ourselves. They were expecting a bigger group from Carnival Dream later, but they did not get there until after we left so we had it to ourselves the whole time we were there. The people staying in the villa were allowed to use the dock and outside area, but did not come out while we were there.

cactus hanging from a tree at the water’s edge

First the guide and someone from the resort put kayaks into the water. Both couples opted for doubles while she took a single. They were a bit wet from an overnight rain, but the instructions had said to bring a swimsuit, which we all had on so it didn’t matter if we got a bit wet. Stepping into the kayak, the water in the lagoon was a bit refreshing (as they say on snorkel excursions when it’s kind of cold), but the puddle in the bottom of the kayaks was warm.

green and blue shades in Bacalar Lagoon

We paddled along the edge of the lagoon until we had gone as far as the guide said we could and then turned back. You must have to fly over the lagoon to see all 7 colors. From where we were it just looked like a very large lake with a little color variation that is more noticeable in photos than it was while we were there. The guide said sunlight and a variety of minerals give it the different colors so some of them only show up in the right light.

solar powered boat

We had a fun time kayaking. It was pretty relaxing. With so few people there was no worries about keeping up with a group. If somebody stopped for photos or something the others waited if they got too far ahead. We were all going slow enough that it wouldn’t have been hard to catch up even if nobody waited. Near one dock along the way the guide stopped to point out the only fully solar powered boat on the lagoon.

something that looks like a giant Venus fly trap growing on a tree

The last time we went kayaking on a cruise I’d just recently broken my arm and was forbidden to paddle at all. This time John was recovering from a broken wrist, though that was farther distant in the past so I was the main paddler, but he could contribute some too. Usually he sits in the back in a double kayak, but this time I did since I’d be the main paddler. We decided we both like it better with me in front. We saw some interesting vegetation along the way. Something growing on a tree looked like a giant Venus fly trap, though I have no idea if it was carnivorous.

water swing at Cora’s Place

After kayaking we had some free time. The water was still a bit on the cold side, but I waded out to the giant swing next to the dock, which meant getting wet waist high. It’s hard to get a swing to actually swing when it is sitting on the surface of the water, but I got it to go a little. Easier to do from a standing position than sitting. Then I joined the others sitting on the dock, which had some deck chairs and the option of sunny or shady spots, where the loungers on shore had only sun. If the water had been a bit warmer I would have gone for a swim and probably snorkeled too, but I decided I didn’t want to be that wet for the rest of the day. I normally pick shady spots, but went with sunny this time to have a better chance of getting somewhat drier.

giant chair at Cora’s Place

Lunch and drinks were included with the tour. People could get what they wanted to drink from the bar. The main lunch was fajitas with the option of chicken, pork, or some of each along with an assortment of toppings. The guide asked about special diet needs on the way there, and they had made a special vegetarian meal for one of the other people as he did not eat meat. Real Mexican food made by real Mexicans in Mexico and it was delicious.

flamingos at the cruise port in Costa Maya

We had a different driver on the way back as the first one had left right after dropping us off to go back and take other people somewhere else. The guide stayed behind to wait for the Carnival group. It started pouring rain when we were nearly back. They drop people off at the port entrance rather than walking the whole way back, but he stopped by the office and got rain ponchos for everyone on the way. They were quite useful on the walk into the port, but it stopped raining before we got all the way to the ship.

Celebrity, Constellation, Caribbean Princess, and Carnival Dream in Costa Maya

Ours was the only ship there when we left for our excursion, but when we got back besides Carnival Dream there was also Celebrity Edge and Caribbean Princess. The Princess ship looked pretty small compared to the rest, but for some reason from the dock Constellation looked bigger than Edge. An optical illusion due to the positioning of the two on the dock I suppose because Edge is actually quite a bit bigger, as was obvious once we were onboard. On the other hand, Caribbean Princess actually was considerably smaller than the other three ships docked there.

Constellation looks bigger, but really Edge is

We haven’t booked outside excursions often, but when we have we’ve always made it back to the ship on time. It was nice that this one provided transportation both directions as not all of them do. We did an awesome horse swim in Jamaica once where they did take us back to the ship, but we had to get there on our own.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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Walking to Town in Khasab, Oman

a dhow sails past the Lirica in Khasab

MSC Lirica docked at Khasab harbor, about 3k from the city center in Khasab, Oman. There are 1.6 kilometers to the mile so that’s a bit less than 2 miles. There were of course excursions available through the ship for that port as usual. There were also last-minute excursions available both in the port building and outside.

dhow tour in the Musandam Fjords

People who just wanted to go to town without walking there could buy all-day tickets onboard the ship for shuttle busses into town for a nominal fee. These busses went back and forth all day and ticket holders could ride them as often as they wished. For people who don’t mind walking it’s an easy walk into town from this port. We took a dhow boat ride in the morning, which was awesome, and then had time to walk to town when we got back from our excursion.

streetlights on the road to Khasab

Staying on the main road out of the port leads right into the main part of town. The road leading out of the port area had some fancy streetlights.

canal through Khasab

Veering off on another road to the right leads to the other side of the river. On the right there are some small mosques, a very large store, some eateries, and a road that leads into an area of town where a lot of the buildings are boarded up and closed if you go too far away from the main road, though walking through that area we never felt unsafe.

old dhow boats at the fort museum

Also on roadway off to the right, but nearer to the main road, you can get to one of the town’s two forts and the giant store. Close to that fort a sign points the way to the other fort, giving a distance of 1 kilometer. At the end of the giant store’s parking lot there is a good view of the city center. There’s also a much larger mosque over on the main city side than any we saw on the other side.

little mosque

We took a 5k walk on the opposite side of the river from the city center, so we never made it into the main part of town. We walked past the fort in town, but did not go looking for the other one a kilometer away. Before heading back to the ship we went into the mega store, which was called LuLu Hypermarket. The store had all sorts of food, both familiar things and stuff we’ve never seen. Some candy bars that come in one flavor at home were available in multiple flavor options there.

LuLu Hypermarket

There were also all sorts of things that are not food in the giant store as well. One thing it does not have is alcoholic beverages since Khasab is a dry town. There were things that appeared to be, but had no actual alcohol content.  I don’t know if all their cashiers speak English, but the one we had did. A lot of people in Oman do.

stray puppy

Early in our walk we saw some cute and friendly little stray puppies who seemed to be in pretty good shape. They had little nests dug into the sand where they slept in the shade of a bit of vegetation on a small vacant lot. One popped up out of its nest and came right up to us wanting some attention. It was so cute and friendly I would have loved to take it home, but of course that is not possible on a cruise ship or easily done from a foreign country so we had to leave it there. Later some distance away saw mama dog, probably out in search of food. She seemed to be in decent condition as well.

fancy gate

The stray cats in this town didn’t look like they were faring so well though. All of the cats we saw looked pretty thin, especially one very scrawny half grown kitten. One stray cat popped up out of a garbage bin when we walked by. Probably its main food source as the barren rocky hills surrounding the town don’t look like they have much to support life of any sort so there probably isn’t much for them to hunt.

bigger mosque

We saw some interesting looking buildings. There were places with fancy architecture, places with fancy gates, and one place with a fence around a tangle of trees.

looks like a pyramid

We even saw something resembling a pyramid. It was off by itself in a rare green area on the outskirts of town.

view across the river

We didn’t come across too many other people walking around in the area where we went. Most of the ship’s passengers who walked to town went on the other side of the river into the main city area, which is probably where most of the locals would go too, unless they were going to the LuLu Hypermarket and they probably drive there. We did see a few people here and there though. All of them seemed friendly enough. The ones who said anything to us as we passed by all spoke English.

Khasab Fort

For people looking for things to do there, Khasab Fort has a museum and there is a castle and some restaurants in town.

buildings in Khasab

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
Posted in Lirica, Middle East, MSC, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment