Hits and Misses on Carnival Breeze

Saint Martin, Sint Maarten

Carnival Breeze docked in Phillipsburg, St Martin

This post is purely my opinion on the things I liked and didn’t like about Carnival Breeze. Some things that I hate most could be what someone else likes best – particularly when it comes to smoking areas since people who smoke like them, but being allergic to tobacco smoke I hate them. Everyone is different, which is why cruise ships have so many choices of things to do and places to go. I may not even notice something that is someone else’s favorite spot on board while some other people may never notice the places I like best. I’ve probably also missed a lot in this post since it was written quite some time after the cruise rather than while on board. Overall we liked the Breeze.

Hits on Carnival Breeze

The Breeze introduced some new things not seen before on any Carnival ship. My favorite of those was the Thrill Theater. This theater shows short films with moving seats and other effects that make the audience part of the action. The best one was the roller coaster movie because you get more of a motion effect having a track to follow. For about the price of two shows we got full-cruise passes and were able to see all the shows, with repeat visits to the ones we liked best. Unfortunately on a later trip on the Vista, which also had the Thrill Theater, they had no passes which made it too expensive to go much. Other people must have agreed because while it was nearly always full on the Breeze it stayed pretty empty when we were on the Vista. The Vista crew said they were going to do away with those passes on the Breeze as well, which will make the Thrill Theater far less popular.

new technology - use the sail & sign card to run the washing machines

random people using the launderette on Carnival Breeze

Something I always see as a plus on any cruise ship whether I actually use it on that particular cruise or not is a self-serve passenger laundry. Carnival ships always have them, which is great for anyone in need of an iron or who wants to wash their clothes.

fun on Carnival Breeze

orange drainpipe and yellow twister slides at the waterpark

Waterslides are always a hit, particularly when cruising to warm places. Breeze has two big ones, and a splash park for younger cruisers as well. I much preferred the twister slide, which judging by the longer line is the most popular one. Some people like the drainpipe slide better though.

Carnival Breeze atrium lights

looking down at the atrium lights

We also liked the décor on the Breeze, which generally had a Caribbean casual vibe. The atruim had kind of a floating lantern look. The ship had enough decor to give it a theme and keep it interesting without being overdone.

cruise ship decor, outside lanai

port side of the lanai on deck 5

The interactive TV’s in the staterooms were also a hit with us. Besides the usual things like the bow cam channel or watching TV, you could also use it to book shore excursions or see all of the menus for the week.

that's some tasty spaghetti

Spaghetti Carbonara at Cucina del Capitano on Carnival Breeze

Specialty restaurants like Cucina del Capitano, Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, and the Red Frog Pub had great food made to order. We did notice that the quality of the food was better our first time on the Breeze on the transatlantic than it was our second time on a Caribbean cruise a couple years later. We had the spaghetti carbonara at Cucina both times. On the transatlantic it was one of the best things we’d ever tasted in our lives, but on the Caribbean cruise it was less than memorable. The Red Frog Pub food that was so good on the Breeze transatlantic was also a bit disappointing several years later on the Vista.

porthole cabin

Porthole windows on the Breeze with two weeks of towel animals

Being budget cruisers always looking to get the best bang for our bucks, we really appreciate that Carnival books porthole cabins and window rooms with partial views as inside rather than as ocean view like most cruise lines do. You get a lot better price for a room designated as inside. We stayed in one of the ones at the bow once. Though no bigger than an ordinary inside room, when you stand up so you can see it the view is fantastic. (The lower half of the window is blocked by a railing outside.) For the price of an inside room it’s nearly a balcony since there are doors at both ends of the hallway across the bow that lead to an outside deck. Porthole cabins are as big as ocean view cabins, but book as inside at a lower price than the ones with obstructed view windows. They aren’t for everyone since you’ll feel and hear waves when sailing bow into them, but we liked it. We always enjoy the towel animals too, which Carnival stewards make each night.

adults only serenity deck

Serenity Deck on Carnival Breeze

Another thing we always liked about Carnival (up until the Vista that is) is that they treat all passengers the same. Whether you book an inside room or a suite, all the public areas are open to everyone. Well mostly. The Serenity deck is adults only and the kid’s program areas (Camp Carnival, Circle C, Club O2) are just for kids.

vegetarian cruise food

Vegetable Lasagna from the Breeze

A lot of people see the American Table menu as a miss, but I’m not putting it in that category. It introduced my favorite thing Carnival has in the dining room, the vegetable lasagna. Also having tablecloths only on elegant nights really makes those nights stand out as special while helping the environment by not washing all those tablecloths on all those ships every single day. They do need to add coasters though to keep the glasses from leaving water spots on the table. A lot of people say the food is not as good, but when cruising back-to-back on a ship with American Table and one without, the food was far better on the one with. Food quality does vary some from ship to ship within the same cruise line or even over time on the same ship regardless of whether the menu changed or not. This is true of all the lines we have sailed on and not just Carnival.

Misses on Carnival Breeze

The biggest miss on the Breeze – and indeed all of Carnival’s ships – is having the casino as the ship’s indoor smoking area. People go in there to smoke whether they are gambling or not. The casino is in the middle of a deck with other public areas on either end. There is no way to get from one end of that deck to the other without walking through the casino unless you go outside or to another deck. For a cruise line that claims to be family-friendly you would think there would be some way to get the kids from one end of the ship to the other on a public deck without walking through a smoke-filled room. The casino is also open on both ends so smoke drifts beyond the casino itself to invade other areas. Not to mention a lot of non-smokers avoid the casino because of the smoke so they are losing customers who otherwise would spend some money gambling. While they claim certain slot machines or areas to be non-smoking, the smoke doesn’t just up and stop when it gets to a supposedly non-smoking spot. Having a non-smoking area in a room full of smokers is akin to having a non-peeing area in a pool full of toddlers and alcoholics, both well supplied with drinks, and neither of which has left the pool for a bathroom break in hours.

cruise ship dining room

Breeze Dining Room Without Table Cloths – a lot of people gripe about this, but I’m fine with it

Really smoking is my only gripe with the Breeze. If it were up to me I’d have a fully-enclosed and well-ventilated smoking lounge located where nobody would need to walk through it to get anywhere. Ruby Princess had a totally enclosed cigar bar in a corner of their casino, which was perfect. Conveniently located for smokers, yet keeping the smoke away from everyone else.

For outdoor smoking a place at the stern would be ideal so the ship would leave the smoke behind as it sailed forward, again in an area nobody would ever need to walk through. They do have designated smoking and non smoking areas outside, but the smoking areas are located where you could easily end up there without meaning to. The public smoking area on deck 5 also means balconies above that area can get pretty smoky even though all passenger cabins and balconies are non-smoking areas. As with most ships, on the Breeze this is on the starboard side so after not being able to use our starboard side balcony on the transatlantic due to the smoke, if we book a balcony now we always make sure it is on the port side.

 

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Cruise Ship Decor on the Ruby Princess

the only ship in a town that holds 4

Ruby Princess in Skagway

In general the décor on the Ruby Princess is suitable for a ship of royal lineage – she is a princess after all. It’s mostly tastefully done in faux opulence without looking tacky.

Arabian or Egyptian themed lounge on Ruby Princess

this could be a palace – in the Explorer’s Lounge

Some of the scenes in murals or paintings could be of royalty or kingdoms from a variety of countries and centuries.

cruise ship art

sea turtle statue

One thing the Ruby Princess lacked that I had begun to think was a requirement of cruise ship décor after sailing quite a few ships on a variety of lines was ugly statues randomly placed about the ship. Other than a few themed statues that were part of the décor of a lounge, bar, or other room, the only statues I ever saw on board were near an elevator on the Lido deck, and they were not ugly. These statues were of sea turtles on coral, two things I quite enjoy seeing when I go snorkeling. Looking at them reminded me of fun times.

model ship

Salty Dog Gastropub had model ships

Different bars, lounges, and restaurants each had their own theme, some maritime and some not. Same with wall art in different hallways or areas.

cruise ship art

sea life wall art on outside Lido deck

The Lido deck featured sealife in some outside areas while other decks and inside hallways featured scenes of charming old towns or life scenes of bygone eras.

Ruby Princess Piazza

Piazza

The Piazza, a central area open to several decks with a fancy light at the top, featured some exquisite tile work, as did the hallway near the shops.

fancy floor

tile in the hallway near the shops

The Piazza was reminiscent of a town square with an open area for activities surrounded by different places to go like a 24-hour cafe and a wine bar.

24 hour cafe

seating area for the Piazza cafe

Some of the activities they had there during the cruise included a champagne fountain, horse or moose racing, and puppies. While the horses were wooden and they added antlers to call them moose, the puppies were real live huskies who came on board in Skagway. The champagne was real as well and guests were allowed to take a turn pouring it as well as drinking it. Sometimes they had music there too.

cruise ship cigar bar

Speakeasy Cigar Bar

The Ruby Princess had a room that would be a nice addition to any ship that allows indoor smoking – a fully enclosed cigar lounge. Not that I would ever set foot in there, being allergic to tobacco smoke, but I appreciate that people have a place to go smoke where they can be comfortable without spreading their smoke throughout the ship. It was located in the casino which gave smokers a handy place to go without filling the entire casino with their smoke. You could smell the tobacco stench from nearby areas outside the room, but it was nothing like the smoke floating freely through the air on ships that allow smoking in an open casino.

spa thermal suite

heated ceramic chairs in the spa

The spa had an Asian theme. Heated ceramic tile chairs may not look comfortable, but they totally are. Take the spa tour on boarding day on just about any ship and you can try them out for a few minutes for free.

space themed nightclub

Skywalker’s Nightclub is out of this world – or at least decorated that way.

Skywalker’s nightclub has an outer space theme.

cruise ship Piano Bar

pianos climb the walls at Crooners Bar

Pianos are the theme at Crooners Bar. Spaces and places on the Ruby Princess each have something unique about them.

Share restaurant

Share – one of Ruby Princess’ premium restaurants

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Disney World – Animal Kingdom

Disney World photos

posing at the entryway to Animal Kingdom

Unlike the rest of Disney World where the animals are all characters, animation, or wild visitors – like birds or squirrels dropping in, Animal Kingdom has actual live animals as a planned part of their exhibits. Of course it’s still very Disney with plenty of animals of the character or animated variety. Animal Kingdom has the regular sort of theme park rides, but it also has jungle adventures.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

animals on the animal trek

Animal Kingdom is divided up into several different lands. The Africa part had a jungle trek trail with views of a variety of animals like tigers, water buffalo, and all sorts of birds including a bunch in a walk-through aviary.

Disney World safari

Kilimanjaro Safari ride was in actual trucks

Africa also had the Kilimanjaro Safari on an open-sided jungle truck through animal habitats where visitors can see real live zebras, giraffes, elephants, and other animals. One of the elephants had a tiny baby, but it did not get close enough for a photo.

Disney World safari

elephant on the safari

The animals on the safari wandered freely through their habitat. Every now and then the truck passed through gates between habitats for different types of animals. Though the gates are open, they all had things to keep animals from passing through that felt like bumpy terrain to trucks driving over. One place had a bridge that appeared questionable, obviously part of the ride since the guides made a point of acting like it was scary to cross. Not that Disney World would ever let anything get into poor repair because of the liability, but if it somehow did happen they would not point it out.

alligators at Disney World

Florida has lots of alligators and some of them live in Animal Kingdom’s safari

Some of the animals roam freely through the areas where the trucks drive, but the more dangerous ones like alligators or hippos have walls around them.

Animal Kingdom

monkeying around at Disney World

The Asia area had live monkeys in a habitat in the middle of the main walkway area of the park. We saw them on the way to one of the park’s most popular rides – the Everest Expedition roller coaster. This ride has a minimum height requirement of 44 inches. Portions of the line go through indoor areas with displays about yeti, and the yeti does make an appearance during the ride.

roller coaster in a mountain

Disney’s Mt. Everest houses the Expedition Everest roller coaster

Try and get fast passes for the safari and the Everest roller coaster, and if you can’t get the fast passes do those two as early as possible before the lines build up because they tend to have the longest lines in the Animal Kingdom. Dinosaur was a distant third on the amount of wait time required during our visit there. Most of the rest of Animal Kingdom’s attractions did not have long lines during our visit. Of course during peak season everything probably has long lines and some things that may normally have long lines were closed for refurbishment.

Pandora at Disney World

new World of Avatar – Pandora at Animal Kingdom (internet photo)

While we were there construction was going on for the new Pandora – The World of Avatar exhibit. This section just opened a couple weeks ago, so most likely that is where the longest lines are now. The main attractions in Pandora are a special effects flight ride and a river journey.

Dinoland

TriceraTop Spin ride

Dinosaur is in the DinoLand section of the park which also includes a giant dinosaur statue and a roller coaster called Primeval Whirl which looked fun, but had a minimum height which was too tall for either of the grandkids at 48 inches so we didn’t go on it. The Triceratop Spin there is like Dumbo from the Magic Kingdom without the overly long line other than the ride cars are dinosaurs rather than elephants.

Disney World ride

on the Dinosaur ride

The ride just called Dinosaur puts visitors on an expedition through time in a failed attempt to capture a dinosaur before the meteor arrives. Minimum height is 40 inches for this ride. The darkness and dinosaurs may seem scary to some small children.

tree theater at Disney World

The Tree-ater – showpiece of Animal Kingdom housing the It’s Tough to Be a Bug show

Attractions at the Animal Kingdom include shows as well as rides. One called It’s Tough To Be A Bug is inside of the large artificial rainforest tree dominating that section of the park. First show we’ve ever seen in a tree-ater. Make sure all the kids sit in their own seats rather than on someone’s lap so they get all the special effects in this show.

animals at the Animal Kingdom

Hannah brushing sheep at the petting farm

There’s also the Wildlife Express train out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, an area with a petting farm, live animal shows, and a view into a lab and veterinary office. There’s lots of conservation information along the walkway as well as some monkeys and other endangered animals on display. Animals in the petting farm area have ropes they can pass under if they want to go where people aren’t allowed.

rhino at Disney World

rhino on the safari

Being Disney there are plenty of places in the Animal Kingdom to shop, eat, or meet Disney characters.

fountain at Animal Kingdom

the kids loved this fountain

Throughout the park we found random things you pass by that kids can enjoy like drums they can play or a fountain where sticking a hand or finger in it changes where the water goes. Speaking of fountains, there are drinking fountains near every bathroom in all of the Disney World parks.

Disney World Animal Kingdom

giraffe on the Kilimanjaro Safari

Animal Kingdom was the least crowded of the 4 parks during our visit there. It’s possible that could have changed due to the new Avatar Land, but I would guess that Epcot and the Magic Kingdom probably remain more popular. The best way to know where to avoid the crowds is putting the Disney World app on your smart phone during a visit there. Besides letting you book fast passes and listing wait times for rides, the app can also do things like show park maps and give directions from where you are to where you want to go.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Tauranga Cruise Port

Cruising to Tauranga

cruise ship from the beach at Mount Maunganui

Arcadia in Tauranga

The cruise ship port at Tauranga in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty sits about 4 miles outside of the city center. When we stopped there on the P&O Arcadia they had a free shuttle that would take passengers for the short ride to town. There was plenty to do within walking distance of the port for anyone who came with no prior plans or excursions booked.

Mount Maunganui

view of Mount Maunganui from the ship’s stern

The cruise pier sat near the small town area of Mount Maunganui, the mountain itself looming large in the view off the stern.

New Zealand ice cream

ice cream shop at the pier

The smaller town was once independent of Tauranga, but was absorbed by the city after completion of a bridge between the two and is now officially a part of Tauranga. Besides the small shops you can see from the port area, Mount Maunganui also has a large shopping mall. The area is a popular vacation spot.

sailboat rental

sailboats and other fun things for rent

A sand bar connects the mainland to the mountain – a lava dome created through an upwelling of lava several million years ago. There’s a great harbor beach running along the sandbar from near the ship to the mountain. People can swim there, rent kayaks, paddle boards, or sailboats, or walk the boardwalk to the mountain and hike to the top. Unseen from the port, the other side of the sandbar has an ocean beach popular with surfers. There’s a little ice cream shop at the end of the beach closest to the ship with a variety of unique flavors to choose from.

beachside boardwalk

beachside boardwalk to the mountain

Lots of passengers from our ship hiked up the mountain. From bottom to top of the mountain some said they made it in under half an hour, others said it took much longer. All agreed the view from the top was spectacular.

view of cruise ship from kayak

Arcadia from the kayak

We walked down the beach and rented a kayak after we got back from our excursion to the Hobbiton movie set. We paddled out fairly close to the ship and took some photos.

Tauranga Shore Excursions

Hobbiton, New Zealand

cruise ship passengers on the Hobbiton tour wait to see inside the open hobbit hole

Tauranga also had some interesting and unique shore excursions available for those passengers who wanted to book one. We took the one to Hobbiton, the movie set for the Shire in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

thermal valley, New Zealand

Pohutu Geyser in Whakarewarewa thermal valley – internet photo

There are a number of geothermal features near Tauranga. Our ship offered a tour of Rotorua and the thermal valley and another geothermal tour to a place called Wao-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Other excursions included Maori Heritage tours and Highlights of Tauranga.

seagulls on a piling

Mount Maunganui from a dock near the ship – and seagulls

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Carnival Vista Family Harbor Cabins

Vista Family Harbor

Family Harbor on the Vista

Carnival’s newest ship, the Vista, has two new stateroom categories not found on any of their previous ships. The Havana cabins are for passengers 12 and older and include exclusive daytime use of a pool and deck area. Family Harbor has some cabins that hold up to 5 people and comes with entry to the exclusive Family Harbor lounge, concierge service, and other perks beneficial to families with young children such as a night of free babysitting at Night Owls and free meals for kids at the premium restaurants.

nautical flag decor

nautical flag themed bedding

Family Harbor is found at the back of deck 2. Cabins and hallways in the Family Harbor area have a nautical decor exclusive to that area of the ship.

nautical flags

nautical flag letter chart

Pillows and bedding have nautical flag letter symbols. In addition to letters of the alphabet, nautical flags also have other meanings. Some, like diver down, signal what you are doing. Others like yes or no are used for communication with passing vessels. Some are signals for help.

inside cabin

inside cabin 2423 holds just 2 passengers, but some have drop-down bunks and hold up to 4

Like any area of the ship, the least expensive way to get into Family Harbor is with an inside cabin. Inside cabins hold two to four passengers, with the majority accommodating 3 or 4. All cabins in the Family Harbor area include the perks exclusive to that area, which means they cost more than similar cabins without extra perks.

Carnival Vista Deck Plans

Deck Plans Carnival Vista Deck 2 (click photo for larger image)

There are a couple fully accessible interior cabins that hold up to 3 passengers and some interior cabins have connecting doors to the cabin next to them. There are two sets of connecting cabins that hold 3 passengers each and two sets that hold 2 passengers each. Interior cabins don’t have a lot of space so passengers booking these for a family will likely appreciate the use of the Family Harbor Lounge.

ocean view cabin

deluxe oceanview cabin 2420 holds a maximum of 4 passengers

For more space and a view, Family Harbor has oceanview rooms that hold two to four passengers and deluxe oceanview cabins for three to five. Two beds are standard in each room. The extra beds come in the form of drop down bunks that fold out of the ceiling and a couch that converts into a bed.

5 passenger cabin

deluxe oceanview cabin 2418 holds 5 passengers

The majority of the oceanview cabins hold 3 people, though there are several – mostly accessible – cabins that hold just two and one that holds 4. The deluxe oceanview cabins mostly hold 4 or 5 people, but there are a couple just for 3. You can put less people in a cabin than the maximum that it holds, but not more.

cruise ship cabin with 2 bathrooms

deluxe ocean view cabins and Family Harbor suites have an extra partial bathroom with tub and sink

The deluxe oceanview cabins have an extra partial bathroom with a tub and sink, which comes in handy when you have four or five passengers staying in the same room.

cove balcony cabin

cove balcony cabin 2419 sleeps 4

There are just 4 balcony cabins in the Family Harbor area. These are all cove balconies, hold 4 passengers, and have a connecting door to a suite. The connecting suites hold 5 people each so a total of 9 could book into these pairs of cabins. The interior space of the cove balcony cabins is less than in the oceanview cabins because the balcony occupies part of the space allotted to that cabin. Cove balconies are wrapped in a metal shell with watertight doors into the cabin and an open windowlike view from the balcony to the sea, which is fairly near since these cabins are located on deck 2. Balconies on higher decks are more open with just a plexiglass barrier across the seaside edge.

suite cove balcony

look up from this suite cove balcony to see the lifeboats, down to see the water

Connecting doors stay locked between cabins if unrelated parties book the two that connect, but if families or other people traveling together have booked both cabins the doors are unlocked so they have inside access from one cabin to the next without going out into the hallway. Cabins without connecting doors are preferable if available when you are not sailing with the people next door because you can hear your neighbors more through the door than through a solid wall.

suite

people can order cabin decorations like these in suite 2417

Suites in the Family Harbor area have balconies half again as long as the cove balcony cabins, and the cabin itself is also that much wider making it more spacious. The suites also have the extra partial bathroom with a tub like the deluxe oceanview rooms. Each suite has a maximum passenger limit of 4 or 5 people.

exclusive area on a cruise ship

Family Harbor Lounge

Maximum passenger limits per cabin are the same with or without a portable crib because even though a crib means extra bed space could be available, the baby counts as a person for lifeboat space. Maximum passengers allowed on board is limited by the lifeboat capacity so not all rooms on the ship can be booked up to the maximum allowable capacity of people for that room at the same time and extra people over the stated limit for that room are not allowed. A ship could be booked full and still have a few empty cabins if the lifeboat capacity is reached before all the cabins are full.

private lounge

snacks area in the Family Harbor Lounge

The Family Harbor Lounge is only open to passengers booked into Family Harbor cabins. It is open 24 hours a day. The lounge has breakfast and snacks available daily.

family harbor

tables in the Family Harbor Lounge

It has concierge service, computers, video games, and family movies as well as a selection of board games to keep kids and families entertained.

family harbor lounge

sitting area in the Family Harbor Lounge

For more blogs about cabins on the Vista see Vista Cabins or Havana Cabins.

cruise ship decor

hallway decor in the Family Harbor area

For a complete list of blogs about cabins on other ships see My Cruise Stories Ships and Cabins page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Is Your Sunscreen Reef Safe? Deter Natural Mineral Sunscreen Is!

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Snorkeling at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Coral reefs worldwide are in decline. Along with the nutrients released by glaciers, which are currently receding at an alarming rate, corals are at the bottom of the food chain, the basis of all life on the planet. Which means their decline should be of concern to everyone – so of course should be the overall health of the planet, but unfortunately to many it’s not. Some of the worst offenders are governments of countries who could do the most to help if they cared to.

sunken ship

Shipwreck in Bermuda provides structure for coral and other sealife

At least some countries care about coral. On a recent visit to Bermuda our local guide on a snorkel excursion mentioned how they have a lot of protections for the coral there. It has declined only 11%. Which sounds bad unless you are aware that Caribbean corals are at around an 80% decline. There’s not a lot each individual can do to stop rising ocean temperatures, changes in the PH balance, water pollution, storms, overfishing, fertilizer runoff, and other things that harm coral, but there are a few things everyone can do. First of all don’t touch the coral you encounter. Also never litter. Besides fouling the land, things people carelessly toss aside often end up in the sea. Just as important, especially when in tropical areas, do everything you can to protect the coral. Unfortunately the mass-marketed sunscreens that most people use are oil and/or chemical based. Just one drop of chemicals widely used in sunscreen like oxybenzone in an area larger than several olympic sized swimming pools is enough to deform coral cells and kill their larvae. Other damaging chemicals include octocrylene, 4MBC, butylparaben and octinoxate. Chemicals used in the average sunscreen bleach the coral and oils smother it. Even some natural oils – those that work as insecticides – can kill coral. You don’t even need to go to the beach to do harm because the wrong sort of sunscreen can make its way to the ocean through the sewer systems when washed off.

diving in the Philippines

soft coral in the Philippines

Luckily there are some companies making biodegradable reef-safe mineral based sunscreens. The best thing about these is that their active ingredients of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are what dermatologists recommend most to prevent skin cancer because they actually create a physical barrier to block harmful rays. This protects skin far better than the chemical based sunscreens most people use. The ingredients are far more important than the SPF factor in providing cancer protection so while protecting the environment you also better protect yourself.

coral safe sunscreen

Deter reef safe sunscreen

One such company making not only reef safe sunscreen, but also other environmentally friendly products is Deter. Besides being mineral based and reef friendly, their non-greasy hypoallergenic fragrance free child-safe sunscreen also has skin care ingredients including carrot and green tea antioxidants, aloe vera and emollient rich natural oils from soybean, sunflower, almond, sesame, and cocoa butter that are not the sort that harm coral like lavender, tea tree, or jojoba oils can.

sunscreen

Deter and Alba Botanical out of the package

The Deter lotion is not as thick as the three I tried last year. It is closer to the consistency of ordinary sunscreens and rubs in just as quickly and easily as the Alba Botanica, which was the easiest to apply of the ones I tried previously. Once on it has a lighter feel on the skin than the other brands I’ve tried. You really don’t notice that it is there. It does not give a specific amount of time for water resistance before the need to reapply, just saying to repply after swimming where the others all gave a time. When asked about this, the company said that according to the FDA sunscreens are given only ratings of 40 or 80 minutes resistance which they earn through testing. This one has not been tested so the amount of time it actually lasts in the water is unknown, though I have noticed that mineral sunscreens tend to last longer than any of the others. The fact that the times given on the package are assigned through passing expensive government testing rather than the actual time a sunscreen lasts explains why the mineral sunscreens last longer in the water than regular ones with the same rating. Regardless of the rating, it’s always a good idea to reapply sunscreen after leaving the water.

Antigua coral

coral near Bird Island, Antigua

I was quite surprised when sunscreen from a company that makes environmentally friendly products arrived in a box of styrofoam packing peanuts. Hopefully the peanuts were recycled from something shipped to them and they were just trying to keep them out of the landfill. (It happens. I re-use the air pillows and bubble wrap my packages come in on things I ship out.)

You probably won’t find coral safe sunscreens in the average store, but they are available online. I haven’t had a chance to try Deter at a beach or for snorkeling yet, but the ease of spreading it on and the light skin feel make it great for everyday use to protect from sunburn and skin cancer. The price is significantly lower than mineral sunscreen from the dermatologist’s office and comparable to other reef-safe brands.

Deter Reef Safe Sunscreen

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Things to do On Celebrity Infinity

leaving San Francisco

Sometimes people gather by the railing to watch the scenery go by

What is there to do on a cruise ship? A lot. All the large cruise ships of the major lines are like floating resorts with all sorts of things to keep passengers entertained when they aren’t off roaming around at port stops.

Infinity dining room

the dining room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner

First of all there’s food. Food in the dining room, food in the buffet, food in the specialty restaurants, coffee shops, outside grills, and a variety of other places on any given ship where food might be found. For a really fun meal on Celebrity try their very unique Qsine.

frosty cold drinks

drinks on ice

And if that’s not enough there’s always room service. Of course the ships all have bars. Inside bars, outside bars, poolside bars. If you want drinks on board you don’t have to look too hard or go too far to find them. The major ships all have pools, hot tubs and casinos too.

cruise ship specialty restaurant

chicken crepe at Bistro on Five where crepes were the specialty and you could watch them get made

And food. Did I mention food? Eating is a big part of cruising for many of the passengers on board. Want to go shopping? The onboard shops open every day when ships aren’t in port. How about a trip to the spa? The spa stays open even in port. Cruise ship spas offer a variety of things from massages to facials, haircuts, manicures, and even acupuncture and other treatments.

fun and sun

pools and loungers on the Lido deck

Celebrity Infinity has lots of deck chairs all around the outer decks. Whether you like sun or shade, a place where you can people watch in the center of things or a quiet corner for relaxing or reading, you can find a deck chair that suits your needs.

adults only solarium

Infinity has a free indoor spa-type pool

Want a deck chair that’s not outside? Infinity has those too, all around the thalassotherapy pool in the adults only solarium. Speaking of that pool, besides being inside it has racks to sit on over bubble jets and water fountains – things often found only in spa pools people pay extra to use, but on the Infinity the thalassotherapy pool is free. The solarium also contains the AquqSpa cafe which serves healthy alternatives to breakfast and lunch and always has jugs of lemon, lime, or orange water available.

poker tournament with the officers

free texas hold’em poker tournament final table

Besides all the usual casino games, the Infinity’s smoke free casino offered both poker and blackjack tournaments for free during the course of our cruise. Passengers competed through several rounds to make the final table and finalists played a passenger vs officer round where bystanders could bet on whether a guest or officer would win. A ticket drawn from the winning side’s bucket netted a lucky passenger an awesome prize. Better in fact than what the tournament winner got, even if that winner was a passenger. All players who made the final table got t-shirts too.

cruise ship theater

theater on Celebrity Infinity

Each night brought shows to the theater. They had some Las Vegas style production shows with the onboard cast, but many nights guest entertainers put on spectacular shows above and beyond the expected cruise ship entertainment. They also had resident aerialists who put on quite a show whenever they performed – usually as a small portion of some of the nighttime shows, but one afternoon they had a show of their own. The theater is a great source of entertainment in the daytime too with guest speakers and other presentations.

cruise ship ice carving

one night Infinity had ice carving

Other lounges and meeting rooms about the ship also play host to a variety of seminars or activities. Whether it’s dancing, fitness, health, music, technology, or wine you’ll probably find an event or activity to suit. Like most ships there’s also art auctions, which with the right auctioneer can be pretty entertaining even if you have no intention of buying any art. Besides the daily activities, during the course of the cruise they sometimes have special events.

fun and games

Infinity’s own game show with audience participation

Checking the daily newsletter, Infinity Today, shows a full schedule of activities where each hour brings more options than any one person could ever attend. Fun and games come in choices from the more sedate trivia or bingo to active games like beanbag toss.

sunset with a bonus

watching the ship go under the Golden Gate bridge in the setting sun

While there are plenty of scheduled events to keep passengers entertained all day, people can also entertain themselves quite easily on a cruise ship.

would you want this in your house

odd or ugly statues seem to be a requirement of cruise ship decor

If you’re easily amused sometimes it’s fun to wander about on a cruise ship and wonder what they were thinking when they chose their art.

cruise ship galley tour

see where all the food comes from on the galley tour

Get a peek at what goes on behind the scenes on Celebrity’s free galley tour.

Celebrity Infinity rooftop terrace

rooftop terrace photo from Celebrity’s website

New since our cruise, the Infinity now has a rooftop terrace with outdoor movies and snacks.

cruise ship events

Top Chef on Celebrity Infinity

One day on our cruise the Infinity had a Top Chef competition – with passengers selected from the audience to do the cooking and the judging.

Some onboard activities are pretty standard throughout the cruise ship industry, but others vary from line to line, ship to ship, or even day to day. One thing is for sure though, when on board a cruise ship there is always something fun to do.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Celebrity, Infinity, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Princess in Victoria

Victoria cruise port

Ruby Princess in Victoria

Ships that cruise round trip from Seattle to Alaska all make a brief evening stop in Victoria on the way back. Victoria sits on the south end of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. While it is a touristy town with lots to see and do, the cruise ships generally don’t come early enough or stay long enough to take advantage of all Victoria has to offer. Why bother to stop there at all since the stops are so brief?

carriage rides

little horse carriages roam the streets of Victoria looking for passengers

Ships stop in Victoria because Canada is not the USA. Unless the ship is registered in the USA which they normally are not, it can’t do a completely domestic cruise in the USA. It has to stop in at least one foreign port. Ships that cruise to Alaska from Vancouver B.C. do not have this problem since Vancouver is in Canada. It is not however on Vancouver Island, but on the mainland nearby. There is also a city called Vancouver in Washington State, but it does not have a cruise ship port. There was once an early explorer named Captain Vancouver sailing around the area and all these places are named after him.

fancy chocolate dessert

Ruby Princess had different special chocolate desserts each day

Ruby Princess arrived in Victoria around dinner time. Dinner on a cruise ship can be a lengthy affair and some people’s scheduled meal time would have meant choosing between dinner and the port. To counteract this they started dinner a bit early that day and made all dining rooms Anytime Dining for that evening. Which meant a lot of people lining up at the door before it opened. Our original plan had been to go to afternoon tea and skip the dinner, but the head waiter who did a wonderful job of looking after my gluten-free sisters did not seem to want us to do that. He said that night’s meal was too good to pass up and that he would let us in a bit early before the official earlier dinner time of the day. Things did not go quite as planned when the mob rushed the dining room as soon as they cracked a door open to let the special needs diners in before the scheduled opening time. They looked at us apologetically and said to run to the table. We did manage to get to our usual table before anyone else took it and had a fine meal with time to go explore the port.

tally ho in Victoria

blurry picture of the tally-ho taken through a rainy bus window

We had booked an excursion, but before the cruise started we were notified that it had been canceled and did not book anything else in its place. I had seen the tally-ho horse carriages in the port area on a previous cruise and we thought it might be fun to take one into town, but it turned out they were all there to take passengers booked on an excursion. None were available just as transportation to town.

buildings in Victoria

building in Victoria

On my last visit taking a taxi cost less with several people than the shuttle, but this time the shuttle was fairly cheap and the ticket was good for round trip so we went with that. I’ve heard it’s not a bad walk, but we would have needed to skip dinner to have time to walk to town and have hopes that anything might still be open. That is one advantage of a booked excursion, some things that close earlier to the general public do allow them in.

fancy chocolate shop

no chocolates today, the shop is closed

The shuttle let us out not quite in the area with the Empress Hotel and the Parliament Buildings, which are something most tourists like to see. It was not too far to walk there from the shuttle stop. The late hour saved one of my sisters some money because she would have gotten something at her favorite chocolate shop when we walked past it if it had been open. A lot of the souvenir shops stayed open, but the little specialty shops were more likely to be closed.

Empress Hotel

Empress Hotel

We pretty much just wandered around town for a bit, and through the Empress and its rose garden.

garden

gardens at the Empress

The Empress has gone through some recent renovations and for a time I was wondering when they would get around to replacing the threadbare carpet running through the hallways until I realized what looked like a severely worn-out carpet was actually just a printed pattern. Sometimes you have to wonder what people were thinking when they choose their decor.

Pearl in Victoria

Pearl in Victoria, docked next to Ruby Princess

We had not seen another ship at any of our ports through this entire cruise up until Victoria. It was our last port and by then more ships  had started to arrive for the season. Some stopped there. We had one of Holland America’s ships on one side of us, and the Norwegian Pearl on the other. I always like spotting the Pearl since it is the ship on the banner of my blog due to a random photo and the fact that I like its paint job.

Victoria, BC

totem pole by the inner harbour in Victoria

Arriving in Victoria by Princess ship revived an old song from a commercial that tends to rattle around in my head when Victoria and princesses combine. Before the Victoria Clippers of today there was a ship called the Princess Marguerite that made daily sailings from Seattle to Victoria. Their commercial played frequently on TV with a song that went: Take a Princess to sea, take a princess to sea, have a crumpet and tea, have a crumpet and tea. She’s fun aboard – all the way, sail away for the day, hey,hey, hey – let’s go to Victoria on the Princess Marguerite. I don’t think they had anything to do with Princess cruise line, but it’s still a ship called princess going to Victoria. I never sailed on that one or the Victoria Clipper for that matter. The only ship I’ve sailed on that served crumpets was a British ship, the P&O Arcadia, where you could get crumpets at afternoon tea in the dining room. P&O is tied into Princess closely enough that if you sail on P&O the cruise counts toward your loyalty points on Princess.

Victoria Parliament Building

Parliament Building in Victoria

I didn’t have anything much to say about Victoria from this particular trip since we didn’t do much, but there’s more about that charming city in these other blogs from Victoria:

Craigdarroch Castle

Victoria Harbour Ferries

A Quick Stop in Victoria

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Canada, Ports of Call, Princess, Ruby Princess | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

runDisney

cruise ships in Port Canaveral

Disney Fantasy and Norwegian Epic from a cove balcony on Carnival Magic at Port Canaveral

Usually cruising involves a ship, but sometimes people cruise along on their own two feet. Sometimes those very feet take their people into races, and whether literally or officially, races can be a challenge.

Disney World

typical Disney World – kids and Cinderella’s Castle

Disney World brings up images of rides, castles, princesses, and most of all happy families and children having fun. Most people probably have no idea Disney also sponsors marathons and other races. I would never have known if my daughter and her family hadn’t made plans to come to America from Australia where they live to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon at Disney World. Of course when that was over we took time for a cruise on the Carnival Magic, sailing out of Port Canaveral which is the closest port to Orlando.

runDisney in Epcot

Aaron jumping over the finish line at Epcot

RUN DISNEY

runDisney includes a variety of events throughout the year with some taking place at Disney World in Florida and others at Disneyland in California. Some events include full marathons plus other races. Other events top out at a half marathon. Races go through Disney parks. Disney characters may be spotted along the way and some participants run dressed as characters. Participants get t-shirts and finishers get medals. The marathon at Disney World is one of their biggest events including both half and full marathons as well as other races. Some participants continue on after the marathons are over to another 5k race out on Disney’s Castaway Cay – but they have to take a specific cruise on a Disney ship to get there.

marathon runners

tired near the end of the marathon

Our daughter ran the full marathon, which was her first full marathon and at 26.2 miles about 6 miles farther than she’d ever run before. Her husband signed on for the Dopey Challenge, which included both the full and half marathons as well as 5k and 10k races. There’s also a Goofy challenge for the half and full marathons. The kids each did one of the children’s races. Age groups for kid’s races started with the diaper derby which barely has to cross the finish line and then 100, 200 and 400 meter races for younger kids with each successive age group running a bit farther. The mile is open to any kids 13 and under who can run that far.

ESPN sports world

posers at ESPN – before they ran any races

Small children can run with their parents, and for those who don’t there’s a corral at the end where the parent has to have the claim strip that matches the child’s number to retrieve them so no child can leave the pen without a parent and no adult can enter the pen without the claim strip or leave with a child unless the child they take with them matches the number that they have.

runDisney kid's race

kid’s races – Daniel crosses the finish line first and Hannah running the mile

The short races run in waves with one following after the other in fairly quick succession. Daniel won his wave in the 200 meter with a personal best and although Hannah was young enough she could have done the 400 meter, she chose the mile instead and made a personal best on her time while crossing the finish line about the middle of the pack – ahead of a lot of kids bigger than her. The boy who crossed first was about twice her size and finished the mile in less than 6 minutes (5:39)

race shirts - not really free since you pay to enter the race

runDisney shirts

Each race in the runDisney marathon weekend has it’s own unique medal. Participants all get a shirt for each race they entered when they pick up their numbers and everyone who finishes within the allowed time gets a medal. The 2-race Goofy Challenge comes with 3 medals and the 4-race Dopey Challenge with 6 as well as a shirt for each race entered plus one for the challenge. Top finishers earn money as well, but most people run for their own personal reasons with no chance or thoughts of winning. Some even walk the marathon, which is allowed as long as they finish within the maximum time.

Mickey Mile

Hannah crosses the Mickey Mile finish line wearing a Minnie Mouse skirt

Disney characters are a big part of each race and participants can stop for photos with them along the race route. They may not want to wait in line for that, but there are other photo ops along the way and if they choose to buy their photos the race package is combined with any photos they have taken in the park. Race photos are identified through their number bibs which are equipped with tracking and park photos through scanning their cards or wristbands.

medal winners

posing with medals at ESPN

Most races started and finished at Epcot, but kid’s races and number pick-ups were at ESPN. Getting there is easiest when staying in a Disney resort, but those who aren’t could take the bus from Disney World to Pop Century Resort and then one from there to ESPN. Cabs are also available, but uber gets you there just as quickly and costs less. Uber or cabs also work for getting to the races from off-site hotels which don’t run shuttles nearly that early. We used uber quite a bit around Orlando.

runDisney Marathon

Sheri has a Minnie Mouse skirt too

Safety is always a concern. The half marathon got cancelled due to lightning on a rainy, stormy day. Quite a disappointment to any runners entered in that race. All the runners still get their medals, but those in the Dopey or Goofy challenges don’t get the satisfaction or bragging rights of actually completing all their races. Some participants ran on their own to put in the mileage when the weather cleared enough, but they don’t get any official times or the experience of seeing the Disney characters along the way. Entrants were given a choice of park passes or vouchers for merchandise as a refund for their entry fees.

tired runners

marathon finishers with medals

There was a program to get updates on a runner’s progress through the marathon. People could get alerts through facebook, email, or texts. While helpful to a point, the updates weren’t frequent enough to really know what time a runner would arrive at a specific point. When they do get there odds are quite a few others will pass by at the same time. Runners wearing something that stands out from everyone else certainly makes them easier to spot in a crowd while those wearing the race shirts they were given blend into the multitude. It’s not all that easy for the runners to spot family in the crowd either. We had signs, but just small ones made last minute with colored pens and computer paper and they almost missed us. We didn’t see a lot of encouragement signs at Disney World, but apparently it’s a thing at other races – at least in Australia anyway.

runDisney in Epcot

running through Epcot’s world showcase

Runners had to walk some distance both to the starting line and back to the parking lot from the finish line. It took quite awhile for them to collect their medals and come out of the finish area.

run Disney medals

runDisney Dopey Challenge medals – one for each race plus Goofy and Dopey

The runDisney marathon brought about 70,000 people to the area, which of course made not just Disney World, but also nearby parks like Universal far more crowded than they would be during what otherwise would be the off season when all the kids have gone back to school after Christmas break. The best day we had there for getting on rides was the day the half marathon got cancelled. The crowds didn’t show up in the miserable weather so the lines were shorter than any of the other days. Plus they let people in before the park officially opened that day so we got on a couple rides that usually had long waits before any lines had a chance to get started.

If I had it to do over again I’d enter the 5k or 10k. Maybe both in case one got cancelled. It doesn’t matter if you can’t run that far, it’s OK to walk. Plus if you stop for photos with the characters you can rest a bit while waiting in line. This experience did inspire me to start running. Unless Sheri and Aaron do the Disney thing again I may never enter a race, but I can run a full 5k now without stopping. Which isn’t much to a marathon runner, but a lot farther than I ever could before. I was on the track team in High School, but only as a sprinter mainly doing 100 or 200 meters with the max at 400, which seemed quite far to me then. By the time we see the kids again I might even be up to running a full 10k.

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

Hobbiton, New Zealand

Tauranga cruise port

Arcadia in Tauranga, New Zealand

Hobbiton

Hobbiton movie set

sign at the trail leading into Hobbiton

When our cruise on the P&O Arcadia stopped in Tauranga, New Zealand, one of the shore excursions offered went to Hobbiton, the film set for the Shire where the Hobbits lived in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.

flower in New Zealand

flower in Hobbiton

The bus ride from the cruise dock took about an hour through beautiful countryside with rolling hills covered in grassy fields. Near to town most had cows or horses, but once out into the country we started seeing the many sheep New Zealand is famous for. The country has way more sheep than people. In spite of that, and the fact that the set was built on a sheep farm, they imported sheep for the movie because they wanted a more rugged looking variety than the sort that already lived there.

Hobbiton movie set

trail through Hobbiton

The spaces in between farms and small stands of wild bush held Jurassic looking trees. Some looked like the fern trees we had previously seen in Australia’s Blue Mountains. Others resembled pine trees, only bigger and shaped more like a deciduous tree. Nearer the lowlands there were also some that looked something like miniature palms. The bus driver mentioned one area that held acres of wild bush where people could hike and camp. He said New Zealand has none of the poisonous snakes or spiders found in Australia so their bush country is much safer to hike through.

what's inside the hobbit holes on the movie set

not much inside the open hobbit hole

After reaching Hobbiton the bus pulled into the parking lot, or car park as they are known in Australia and New Zealand. We arrived a bit early and the tour guide wasn’t ready so they let people browse through the gift shop for a bit. Once the guide came the bus moved on while the guide explained how the film people had scouted the land on the Alexander’s 1250 acre sheep and beef farm near Matamata. When they came back knocking on the door to ask about filming Lord of the Rings there the owner replied with “Lord of the What?”

Bag End on top the hill

stairway leading up to Bag End

The youngest son had read the books and told his dad. “Sign, it’s a gold mine.” He now runs the tourist operation while his older brother runs the farm. That knock on the door must have been like winning the lottery for the Alexander family living there.

Bilbo and Frodo's house

the tree on top of Bag End looks real

Great care was taken through all the details of Hobbiton. They have 39 hobbit holes, all with working electric lights. Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins lived sits at the top of a hill, the biggest of the hobbit holes there. The large oak tree on top of Bag end was cut down nearby and wired with artificial leaves for the filming of Lord of the Rings. Since The Hobbit story took place 60 years earlier they replaced it with a smaller, younger looking tree of steel and silicon construction.

Hobbiton movie set

mill and bridge across the lake from hobbit holes

The mill and bridge were originally made from scaffolding, plywood, and polystyrene, but in the 2-year reconstruction of Hobbiton for The Hobbit they used permanent materials and now keep the 12-acre set maintained. It took just 12 days to film the Hobbit trilogy.

Hobbiton vegetable garden

vegetable patch between hobbit holes

In between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit the movie set sat empty and abandoned. It was only after filming The Hobbit trilogy that it became a tourist attraction.

hobbit house with garden

hobbit hole behind flowers

During the tour we walked through the set where hobbit holes dot the hillside. Each one is staged with different things out front. One had jars of honey, another painting supplies, and yet another had fish hanging to dry. All had little gardens with flowers and round doors and windows.

hobbit hole

cozy home for a hobbit

Some had clotheslines with their little laundry hanging out to dry. Between the hobbit holes some areas had vegetable gardens. One area had fruit trees which the guide said were actually apple trees, but for the movie they hung artificial plums on the trees for a 5-second scene. Mostly the pathways wound their way between the hobbit holes, but here and there a path crossed over a bridge.

Sam lives here

Sam’s home on Bagshot Row

Near the end of the hobbit holes we came to a group of 3 called Bagshot Row. The one with a yellow door belonged to Sam in the Lord of the Rings.

Green Dragon Inn on Hobbiton movie set

The Green Dragon Inn is a fully functional restaurant

After making our way through the hobbit’s living areas we crossed the big stone bridge past the mill. The mill had a working waterwheel. The Green Dragon Inn sat on the other side of the bridge and everyone on our tour was given a complementary beverage of their choice.

Green Dragon Inn at Hobbiton

bar inside the Green Dragon

Options included several beers or non-alcoholic ginger beer. Outside behind the inn under canvas pavilions cruise ship passengers were also each given a large scone and a dessert where options included coconut covered cake squares called lamingtons, a regional favorite we first discovered at the airport in Fiji on a previous vacation and later saw in Australia.

hobbit house

hobbit hole

Cruise ship passengers can book the tour on their ship. Visitors to Matamata or Rotorua can catch tour busses there. People can also drive to the farm on their own. Hobbiton is just one of 20 sites New Zealand has scattered around the country where different scenes from the movies were filmed.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Arcadia, New Zealand, P&O, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments