Yu Garden in Shanghai, China

temple building in the garden area at Yu Garden

Not far from each other, and fairly close to the Bund on Huaihui Road, sit Yu Garden and Yuyuan Garden. The bus tour map of Shanghai that we had showed Yu Garden and our other tourist map that showed the subway stations showed Yuyuan Garden. Google Maps showed both. The ship’s explore on your own lecturer on the Holland America Westerdam mentioned Yuyuan Garden in his talk on sights to see in Shanghai, but the description he gave of it actually fit Yu Garden.

funny sign at Yuyuan Garden – people letting their kids pee on the plants must be an issue there

We found Yuyuan Garden first since that was the one we were looking for from the talk on the ship. It turned out to be a small park with a couple pathways through some greenery rather than the 5-acre garden with lots of markets and old-style architecture we expected, though we did pass through some local markets in old Chinese style buildings on the way there. Yuyuan Garden had lots of plants and some funny signs about not peeing on the plants. In China they don’t use diapers and have a tendency to just let little kids pee whenever and wherever they are when they need to go. (Such as in a garbage can at a restaurant right at their table while everyone else was eating – yes, we saw someone let their little boy do that even though there was a restroom nearby.)

one of the old-style buildings in Shanghai

After finding Yuyuan Garden and consulting the map we headed back in the direction we had come from toward Yu Garden. Along the way we passed through an area of beautiful buildings in old Chinese style.

Shanghai is full of scooters

There were lots of scooters near those shops. There are scooters all over in Shanghai, and some of the drivers pay no attention to any sort of traffic laws or rules. They ride with or against the traffic among the cars, and through the crosswalks while they are full of people. These are mostly electric scooters and often at night they ride with no lights so their batteries will last longer. Sometimes parked scooters take up the whole sidewalk so people have to walk in the street.

shops at Yu Garden

After walking down the road through those buildings for a bit we found what would be called China Town if we weren’t already in China. The place that looked like China Town was the markets of Yu Garden, on the grounds of what was once quite a large temple complex. There was foot traffic only between the buildings there so no cars or crazy scooter drivers to contend with.

Chinese Food

The market is made up of all sorts of old temple buildings and it is free to walk through the market area unless of course if you buy anything. All sorts of things are for sale there with a variety of food, souvenirs, clothes, toys, shoes, art, jewelry, and more.

jewelry makers at work

A little restaurant had one guy making potato noodles and another making walnut cakes right in the front window. A jewelry store had several jewelry makers out front busy at their craft. Most of the stores just had merchandise and salespeople.

bridge and coy pond

A sort of central area had a large coy pond, which also had swans swimming around on it. Pathways across the pond were quite a popular attraction, and the fish would swarm to the surface if anyone fed them anything.


The pathways over the pond are the star of the free area of Yu Garden. The pond is full of coy of varying sizes and if anyone feeds them they are literally on top of each other and often sticking their heads out of the water trying to get the food. Some of them are huge. We also saw three white geese swimming around one section of the pond.

doorway in the garden area of Yu Garden

Yu Garden does actually have a garden, but you have to pay extra to walk through it. There are more stone pathways, rockeries, water features, and buildings than plants and not really any open green space, but it is nice to walk through and has a lot to see.

window on one of the buildings in the garden area

The buildings in the garden area are smaller than the ones in the free area, and none of them are shops. They had intricate detailing in the architecture as well as in the carvings, statues, or other artwork. The pathways there are smaller too.

sidewalk in Yu Garden

Even one of the pathways had decorative artwork.

one of the bridges in the garden area

A few of the pathways are the original uneven stone, worn slick and smooth from centuries of feet passing over them. Most of the pathways are not quite that old, therefore more even and easier to walk on. Some even appear quite new. Some passed through a pond as raised bridges.

these fish want food

Fish in the garden pond swarmed to anyone with food just like the fish out in the market area pond did.

there weren’t a lot of flowers at Yu Garden, but it had some

The garden area had bridges between buildings and some crossing between pathways. We found a flower garden near one of the bridges on the pathway to a small temple.

little temple in the garden

This little temple was open to look into, but not to go inside.

rockery garden

A lot of the original pathways are blocked off to keep them preserved in their current state, including all those running through a rockery. You can view these areas, but not walk through them. 

pond between shops in the free area at Yu Garden

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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Symphony of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas in Saint Thomas

Finally a cruise that didn’t get cancelled. Things aren’t quite back to normal in a covid world, but ships are sailing again. Cruising isn’t quite the same, but there are ships on the sea. I took a week-long Caribbean cruise with my sisters on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas. Pre-boarding has expanded from the regular registration that was always required to include proof of vaccination (for some cruises) and a pre-boarding covid test. Things onboard aren’t quite back to normal either. Some of it is good, like being on a ship that holds over 6000 passengers, but had less than 3000. And that there were no covid cases onboard during our October sailing.

2 of the ships 3 waterslides

While that still means a lot of people on board, it’s a big ship and nothing ever felt crowded and hardly anything had much of a line. Masks were required in all indoor spaces. Which is good to prevent spreading disease, but when you’re often going from inside to outside and back it’s pretty easy to forget to put the mask on or take it off. The ship had individually packaged masks available for anybody who needed one – or who forgot to take one with them when they left their room.

the 3 mask-ateers

Going with the theme, even though it’s standard to take masks off for photos, we had quite a few with them on. Being as there were 3 of us wandering about the ship in masks the 3 mask-ateers seemed like a good nickname for the group. Since none of us are all that photogenic and the mask hides a photo-ruining expression they were helpful in getting photos where we all look OK. Like the times when you start out with a genuine smile, but by the time they get around to clicking the camera it’s gone to a forced expression and the mask hides that. All the photographers used the same 4 poses and it wasn’t until the very last one we finally found someone who would allow other poses besides facing forward, group hug, hands on hips or facing toward or away from each other. We got really tired of those same poses over and over again. Sometimes we traded places. Here I’m in the middle, which as the middle sister I often was. The dining room photos were a bit different being seated, but they always came by while we were having salad and then took them pretty quickly, often while somebody was still running their tongue around their teeth inside their mouth trying to make sure there wasn’t any lettuce hanging out between teeth, which really makes for a really bad photo so most of those didn’t turn out well.

giant bubble decor by elevators

Currently the largest cruise ship in the world, Symphony of the Seas is 1188 feet long and 255.5 feet wide with a passenger capacity of 6680 guests in 2759 staterooms, and 2200 crew. It has 18 decks, 16 of which are open to passengers. This ship is so large the cruise line has the public areas divided up into 7 neighborhoods – Central Park, Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place, and Youth Zone. It has 9 complimentary eateries and 10 premium restaurants or food shops that have an extra cost.

balcony cabins above the Boardwalk area

Rooms come with more options than other ships can even imagine. There’s quite a variety of suites, some of which have balconies that wrap around from outside to inside the ship with great views of the water show and boardwalk area on the inside and the ocean on the outside. There’s a 2-story high family suite with a slide from the upper level to the lower, and some other 2-level loft suites as well. Balcony and window rooms have greater than normal variety too since some come with views of Central Park, the Royal Promenade, or the Boardwalk from what would otherwise be inside cabins as well as the standard ocean view staterooms with windows or balconies facing the sea. There are some interior cabins without windows or balconies, but even some of those come with virtual ocean views.


Like many cruise ships, it has a theater and a comedy club, but those aren’t the only places to find shows. The ice area and water stage also put on some fantastic performances. You can find the normal things to do like exercise classes, trivia and other contests from the entertainment staff, casino, pools and hot tubs, arcades, and games like shuffleboard or ping pong.

kid’s splash area & waterslide

Additionally this ship has so much more. It has 10-deck dry slides, 3 waterslides, a zip line, mini golf, rock climbing walls, flow riders, laser tag, a carousel, and for the little ones a splash zone with kid-sized waterslide. For adults there’s the solarium, a covered area with hot tubs, deck chairs, a bar, and no kids.

track on the promenade deck

It also has the best outside promenade deck ever.  Not only does it go all the way around the ship, but it is actually set up to be a walking and running track. There’s some deck chairs at the back where people can sit and watch the wake go by, and a couple duck-outs with games. One had shuffleboard and cornhole, the other a ping-pong table. The surface of the promenade deck has two lanes like a track, one for walkers and the other for runners. If you start at the marked starting line it has markings along the way that tell you how far you’ve gone, and signs that give distances for amounts of laps. There are also encouraging signs hanging above and some other signs along the way, some for information and others for entertainment.

Symphony of the Seas Christmas tree ornament ship model

The gift shop had the one thing I always look for – a ship model Christmas tree ornament. They weren’t in boxes or blister packs like they usually are. These were loose and a bit hard to find as they were in a bin blending in with key chains that had the exact same little ship, but with a key chain attached to one end instead of a little gold string on the top. It’s bigger than the average ship model ornament and as a key chain would take up a lot of purse or pocket space. For a Christmas tree ornament the size is fine. Rather fitting that it is the biggest of my ship model ornaments since it is the biggest ship, though the size of the models compared to one another doesn’t come anywhere close to reflecting the true size differences between the actual ships.

the Rising Tide bar elevates up poles from the Royal Promenade to Central Park

Of course there are bars, 23 of them actually, though some are not accessible to everyone being located in a pay-extra restaurant or special lounge for suite guests or those with high loyalty status. Most of them are for everyone though, and not all are ordinary bars. The Rising Tide Bar is part elevator, sometimes sitting in the Royal Promenade, and other times rising several decks higher into Central Park. The Bionic Bar has 2 robot bar tenders who can make drinks from their menu or people can customize.

Central Park on a cruise ship

Central Park has pathways through gardens with actual live plants. It has tables and benches among the gardens and shops, eateries, and a bar at the edges. It’s open to the sky many decks up. Staterooms with balconies occupy the walls rising from both sides of the garden, resembling apartments in a city.

Royal Promenade

The Royal Promenade somewhat resembles a street passing through a city with shops, bars, and eateries along the sides, and residences in the form of staterooms with windows above the shops.

entrance to the Ultimate Abyss 10-deck slides

Enter the Boardwalk to a real working carousel, available for rides at no extra cost during the hours it is open. The boardwalk area is open to the sky with balcony staterooms rising many decks above. The water show theater sits at the back, which also has movie screens. Rock climbing walls are located on either side rising up the walls just forward of the aqua theater. Bars, eateries, shops, and an arcade sit along either side. The ultimate abyss slide exits near the aqua theater, the entrance is 10 decks up.

piano stairs

Some of the fun things on the ship aren’t on the map – you just have to find them, like the piano stairs. They’re near the elevators by the buffet between decks 15 & 16. Although each stair is not actually a piano key, they are made to look as such. They have motion sensors that play a tune when anybody walks on them. If you are the only person on the stairway you can make the song play faster or slower by going faster or slower yourself, but if there is more than one person on the stairs it just plays at normal speed.

cruise ships sometimes have some really weird art

The ship had artwork on the stairways. Some quite nice, but a lot of it very odd. The most interesting was the one above the piano stairs, which had 3 frames with little chef guys that would draw different things and then erase them and start over. The rest of the art wasn’t active like that bit, just hanging there like normal art. The oddest one looked like a painting of a decorated egg behind a statue of legs with their clothing down like they were sitting on a toilet. It reminded me of naked toilet man, a painting in an elevator on Carnival Splendor. Kind of makes me wonder who chooses cruise ship art and what they were thinking when they chose it.

mini golf

The crew is very attentive and the food on our cruise was quite good. They can cater to special diets, but for dining room meals they require pre-ordering for breakfast and lunch as well as dinner. Gluten free food can be found at the buffet, some for the asking and some ready to go.

Barbara on the flowrider

We saw 3 of the shows on this ship, the water show, main ice show, and one theater show and all were very good. We really enjoyed our time on the Symphony of the Seas. There’s so much to do on the ship it’s hard to fit it all in.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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Freedom Trail Revisited

Boston Freedom Trail

On my first trip to Boston as a cruise embarkation port, I spent a couple nights there pre-cruise. That trip I sailed with a couple aunts and an uncle. We stayed at a hotel near the subway and used it as our main mode of transportation. At that time the USS Constitution, which is normally near the end of the Freedom Trail, was undergoing repairs and not available for tours so we didn’t cross the bridge leading to it. There was a nice area on the riverside with a walkway and benches and things where we hung out a bit before walking back to Boston Commons at the other end of the trail where we had started out.

Old South Meeting House

I had an opportunity to visit Boston again on a trip with my husband as the airport we flew into on a trip with the final destination in Vermont. This was my first time out of our home state of Washington since the pandemic started. Though this trip was not for a cruise, it was supposed to include a day-trip cruise on a lake in Vermont  – which like so many other cruises got cancelled. This time due to a death in the captain’s family. We did take a harbor cruise on a sailboat in Boston though and spent some time one day in New Hampshire doing about the smallest sort of cruising possible – paddling around a lake in one-person kayaks.

subway station at Boston Common

This trip we were nearest to the blue subway line which did not go directly to Boston Commons as the one near the first hotel had. It did however have a station that crossed one that did so we were able to change trains and get there easily enough. The Freedom Trail starts at Boston Commons. The red and green subway lines stop there so if you start out on a different color find a station where you can switch to either of those.

Most of Boston’s Freedom Trail is marked by a brick line in the sidewalk

There’s a brick line in the pavement just uphill from the subway station. That line indicates the Freedom Trail. From there it goes either direction. Facing uphill if you go to the left it leads to some government buildings where that end of the Freedom Trail starts (or ends if you began at the other end). If you go to the right it leads to everything else along the Freedom Trail.

Boston alley

Much of the freedom trail was the same as on my first visit, though there were bits of it that had detours or where the road had been worked on since my last visit that no longer had the original brick. Not that the whole thing had the original brick on my first visit, there’s just a few more patches that don’t now.

John poses with a statue at the Green Dragon Tavern

The last time I walked the Freedom Trail I wore Sketchers shoes, this time my Sketchers boots. Sort of a coincidence, but not entirely since a good portion of my shoes are Sketchers as that is the brand where I most often find comfortable shoes that fit well. The boots are great airplane shoes too since besides being soft and comfortable, they’re slip-ons so no tying or other sort of fastening involved which makes getting them off and on quick and easy – quite handy for boarding if shoe removal is required at the security check.

Granary Burying Ground

We took the time to explore a few things along the trail that I just walked by last time. The first was Granary Burial Ground, the graveyard where Paul Revere is buried. There are large monuments to some other people there, and a lot of tall skinny gravestones. Some still stand up straight, but a lot of them have gone wonky over all the years. Some are still readable, some not. We never did find a marker for Paul Revere, but assumed it was the one surrounded by a tour group with a guide yakking on and on so nobody else could get near it. There were a few signs around the cemetery, one of which mentioned a family that had lost several children under 2. The oldest was 18 months and the youngest 3 days. Quite sad indeed. We did see some living residents of the cemetery in the form of squirrels.

Faneuil Hall

Other places we walked through that I had not gone inside on the first visit were Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. Quincy Market had a variety of little shops inside. Faneuil hall turned out to be full of food places, but we’d had breakfast at the hotel and weren’t hungry for lunch yet so we didn’t stop anywhere.

Unicorn Unicyclist

In front of Quincy Market there was a busker doing a unicycle show. He had a regular sized unicycle and a 12-foot tall one with a fake unicorn on the top. He called himself the unicorn unicyclist. He was part showman and part comedian and put on a pretty good show which included jumping the small unicycle over a child and juggling bowling pins followed by dangerous objects from atop the large one.

Paul Revere’s house

We walked past a couple places I’d gone inside last time, Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church. Last time the road out front of Paul Revere’s house was full of dips and bumps, but this time it was flat and smooth.

cobblestone road by Paul Revere’s house

It still had cobblestones rather than having been paved over. They looked different, but whether that was because they weren’t the same stones or just because they were now arranged in nice neat flat rows instead of all over the place on uneven ground I don’t know.

Old North Church

The Old North Church is still hard to get a decent photo of because it has trees blocking one side and buildings the other. The steeple rises high enough above the surroundings that it can be photoed from a cemetery at the top of the hill next to it. There’s a building blocking the view of the rest of it from there though so you can’t get photos of anything but the steeple.

dog tag memorial at the Old North Church

There was a dog-tag military memorial outside of the church that had not been there on my first visit. This is the church of one if by land, two if by sea fame from The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

wonky gravestones at Copp’s Burying Ground

The cemetery above the Old North Church, called Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, had more of the skinny gravestones like the ones at the Granary Burying Ground near Boston Common. It also had a sign saying bodies had been moved and the stones were not in their original location, though that must have all happened long enough ago for some of them to go wonky as they weren’t all standing straight up.

Boston skinny house

Across the street from the gate to the cemetery a very skinny house sat sandwiched between larger buildings. Built in the mid 1800’s, the skinny house is just over 10 feet wide at its widest point and just over 6 feet at its narrowest. At 1166 square feet over its 4 stories, it’s more spacious inside than it appears. It even has a small backyard at the far end of the skinny alley that leads to the front door, and a rooftop deck with a view of the harbor. It recently sold for over a million dollars.

rickety temporary bridge on the Freedom Trail

This trip it was the Charlestown Bridge undergoing construction rather than the Constitution. There was a detour to the other side of the road there, and the whole side of the street where we went down to the waterfront area last time was fenced off and inaccessible. We followed the new painted red line to the detour across the bridge. It went over a rickety temporary bridge, then on to the Naval Shipyard that is home to the Constitution.

little locks in Boston – Charles River Locks

Crossing over the temporary bridge we had a view of some small locks. I didn’t know Boston had locks. There was nothing going through them either on our way over the bridge or on our way back. No big ships could go through as the 3 slips were small and smaller and it didn’t look like the height difference between the water on one side of the locks or the other was much over a few feet. So not nearly as impressive as the locks in the Panama Canal, or even the Ballard Locks, but it still would have been more interesting had there been any boats going through.

USS Constitution

Touring the Constitution (AKA Old Ironsides even though it is made of wood) we found it mostly as space to hold cannons. The upper deck was full of them, as was the one below. Other than the captain’s quarters and some very small rooms the only sign people lived onboard was many hammocks bunched together at the bow.

the whole ship is pretty much full of cannons

There’s also a visitor’s center and a museum nearby. It’s free to go inside the visitor’s center and to tour the ship, though you do have to pass through security to access the area. They need to see ID and run all your belongings through a scanner. The nearby Constitution Museum was not behind the security screen, but did have a fee to enter, or at least a sign that said suggested fee or something along that line so we didn’t investigate further.

Freedom Trail Map

The Freedom Trail runs for nearly 2.5 miles and has 16 historical sites along the way. These sites are Boston Common, Massachusetts State House, Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel and King’s Chapel Burying Ground, Boston Latin School (site of Benjamin Franklin statue), Old Corner Bookstore, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Boston Massacre Site, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, USS Constitution, and Bunker Hill Monument.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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Khasab, Oman Cruise Port

MSC Lirica in Khasab


The city of Khasab is located on northern Oman’s Musandam Peninsula which juts out between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the Strait of Hormunz next to United Arab Emirates. This small city has many foreign residents and vacation homes for Omanis living on the mainland. Ferries and a highway give easy access to UAE tourists visiting Khasab. It has a hot desert climate with average rainfall just over 7 inches, falling mostly from December to March.

building in Khasab

Oman is a traditional Islamic country so shoulders and knees should be kept covered in respect to the residents while visiting there. Arabic is the official language, but many other languages are spoken and a lot of the people there know English.

lone tree on a hill above Khasab

The city was originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century as a supply point to obtain water and dates for their naval ships sailing through the strait. The town is protected from floods by three large dams. Khasab has some resorts and hotels and is a popular weekend spot for people from the UAE as well as a vacation place for mainland Omanis. It is also well situated for trade with UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

dhow boat tours are very popular in Khasab

Currency is the Omani Rial. It takes about $2.60 USD to equal one rial. There is a substantial population of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, like in mainland Oman, who work in a variety of jobs including restaurants, grocery stores, supermarkets, and as tour operators.

port building in front of the ship


MSC Lirica docked at Khasab harbor, about 3k from the city center. Shuttle busses were available for a nominal fee for an all-day ticket. For people who don’t mind walking it’s an easy walk into town. We were given port entry cards as we disembarked the ship, which are given to cruise ship passengers in lieu of a visa which would otherwise be required for people from some countries, though nobody ever asked to see those cards at any of the three ports we visited in Oman.

shopping booths by the ship

There’s a tour desk in the port building where passengers can book last minute tours. An amphibious vehicle was parked near the ship waiting to fill up with tourists booking there. They could also book a ride on a traditional dhow boat.

road to town

More options of things to do could be had just outside the port building where people with signs offered independent tours. The van/taxi city tours went to a mosque, a couple forts, and some shopping, all places that those who don’t mind a bit of a hike could walk to if they had enough time. There were also boat tours, including the dhow boats, for a bit less than the price inside the building, which cost less than booking through the ship. Some of the outside people were willing to bargain a bit on the price.

canal through Khasab

Along the road into town, not far from the port, there were shops advertising various tours so people could likely also book something to do there. The road splits before reaching the main part of town with the main road going left into town. The right fork leads to the other side of a canal in an area that is mainly residential, but there is a fort and a superstore on that side of the canal.

Khasab Fort


Visit the Portuguese built Khasab fort (castle) with museum and tunnels, sail in a wooden dhow boat for dolphin watching, fishing, or snorkeling, go diving, see the fjords, or visit Telegraph Island. There’s also beaches and parks. Book a 4×4 mountain safari, paragliding or parasailing. Or just go into town and have a look around. There are a few cafes and small shops, but no bars – it’s a dry town.

dolphins in the Musandam fjords seen from a dhow boat

Excursions offered from our ship in Khasab included a scenic dhow boat tour with swimming stop, a dhow boat tour with fishing and snorkeling stops (and they also had a dolphin watching stop, though that wasn’t listed in the excursion details). Other excursions included a city tour and visit to Bukha, a town an hour away on the boarder to UAE, and a safari 4×4 drive to Jebel Harim, or the mountain of women with scenic stops along the way.

view of the Lirica from the walk into town

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022


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How to Fold a Towel Iguana

towel iguana

Supplies Needed to Make a Towel Iguana

One bath towel

Two hand towels


Directions for Folding a Towel Iguana

roll both ends of a bath towel to the center

BODY – The towel iguana uses the standard towel animal body. Lay the bath towel out flat, smoothing out all the wrinkles. Tightly roll each end into the center from the short sides, making your rolls as tight as you can and smoothing out any wrinkles that form along the way.

fold towel in half with the rolls to the outside and pull the tips out of the center of each roll

Fold the towel in half with the rolled side out. Pull the tips out of the center of each roll. Take two tips from the same roll in one hand, and the two tips from the other roll in the other hand and pull both sides away from each other, stretching them into legs so it becomes a body.

pull the ends of the rolls away from each other – this one is just partly done. You don’t normally stop halfway like this, but keep pulling until finished. I just stopped for the photo,

If you are unable to pull all 4 roll ends at once you can do one roll at a time as long as you make sure you have the tips from the opposite ends of the same roll each time.

towel animal body

When you are finished pulling it will be a body with 4 legs.

hang the very center of the towel on a hook

TAIL – Fold one hand towel across the center of the short side to find the exact middle. Hang the middle point on a secure hook or tuck it under your chin to hold it if you don’t have a suitable hook.

both sides rolled under

Roll both sides from the center point at the same time, keeping both rolls as tight as you possibly can. You will need to move your hands up and down the rolls as you go to keep the entire thing tightly rolled. The tighter it is the better it will work.

fold almost in half with a bit of the bottom edge visable

HEAD – Fold the other hand towel almost in half across the short side, leaving just a bit exposed below the unfolded end.

fold the raw edge over

Fold the overhanging bit over the edge of the towel. This is to cover the raw edge kind of like putting a hem in clothing. You can skip this step, but if you do one end of the mouth will have the raw edges.

fold towel in half so the folded ends are even with each other

Fold in half so that the edges are even and the first fold covers over the raw edge that was folded back on the second fold.

fold the corners down from the end where the two folds meet

From the end where the folds meet, fold each edge over the towel into a triangle. The tips of the triangles are at the end where the folds meet. There will be space in between the two triangles.

flip the towel over

Flip the towel over so the triangles are on the underside.

Fold the center up to the other edge of the towel

Fold the centerpoint back up over the towel.

fold both sides down

Fold in half moving towel downward so the underside is on the inside of the fold and the point of the triangle is on the outside. The part on the inside of this fold is the part that was the underside after the center was folded up.

place the body rolled side up

ASSEMBLING THE TOWEL IGUANA – Set the body so the side where you can see the full rolls is up.

tuck the tail and head in between the rolls of the body

Tuck the tail between the body rolls with the rolls of the tail facing up. This is the underside of the animal, so tuck the head in on the other end of the rolls with its underside facing up. Fold the legs from each side together over the things tucked into the body to hold everything in place and flip it over. If your rolls aren’t tight enough to keep your iguana together on their own you can put rubber bands around the ends of the head and tail that are tucked into the body and not seen. Open the iguana’s mouth, pose the legs and tail as desired, and add eyes. Googly eyes are ideal, but you can make eyes from bits of paper or felt if you don’t have any googly eyes. Double stick tape works great for holding eyes in place. You can add a tongue or other embellishments if desired.

finished towel iguana

For more towel animal folding instructions see My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021

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The Fairy House

Some years back a miniature fairy house appeared in the woods on top of a stump alongside a trail through a park. Being one of the smaller horse trails it isn’t one of the most traveled trails there, but it does get regular use – mainly by pedestrians, but horseback riders use it too. Someone had put quite a bit of effort into carefully crafting the scene, self contained on its own circular platform. The house had a light fixture as the top of the roof and central pole, though it never provided light as it was mounted directly to the base with no power source. A ring of lavender colored petals made up the rest of the roof, while bark formed the sides of the little house. A tiny white picket fence encircled the base, and the yard inside the fence had scenery including a pond, pathway, lawn, and some miniature trees and mushrooms. Unfortunately it never occurred to me to take a picture of it, though I enjoyed seeing it and often slowed down or stopped to look whenever I passed by.

the earliest photo I have of the fairy house – and the only one of the original

By 2018 when my daughter and her kids came to visit the fairy house had already been there several years. It was still mostly intact though a portion of the little fence had seen better days. Sheri took a few photos, one of which is the earliest picture I have of the fairy house. She did more than just look at it in passing like I always had. Tucked into a hidden nook in the stump she found a little jar with some papers inside. They identified the place as a geocache and had a list where people could put their names and where they were from. Considering she had come from Australia and would be the most distant person on that list she made sure to bring a pen the next time we went to that park so she could add her name. Eventually over the years as the stump rotted a bit the little nook became exposed enough that the jar was easily seen. It stayed around for quite awhile after that. Sometimes people would move it to different places on the stump, but always somewhere near the fairy house. Eventually the little jar vanished forever.

a small log tucked into the side of the stump made a new fairy house

Occasionally people moved the fairy house to other nearby stumps, but it remained in the same area and always came back to its original stump. As time passed the scene around the little fairy house became a bit barren. The house itself fell over a couple times and even off the platform once, but always got returned to its original spot, though eventually it was just pieces of bark rubber banded around the light. Then one day the little house was gone, light fixture and all. It wasn’t laying on the ground nearby as it had been previously when it fell. This time the little purple roof sat in the fairy yard all alone, no longer topping a fairy house.

new additions to the yard

Since that was obviously an intentional removal it seemed possible that someone might have planned on replacing it since it was in ever-deteriorating condition, but weeks passed and no new fairy house appeared. I missed it being there and started scouting through the woods as I passed along the trails in that park looking for a suitable replacement. Though there are many downed trees, branches, and sawed bits where trees that had fallen across the trail and been removed, there were not any of the right size nor any with a flat end to set upon the platform. I did find one of the right circumference though. This log I tucked into an indent on the edge of the stump. With the purple petal roof on top and the platform set next to it turned so the opening in the little fence sat against the new log like a doorway a new fairy house was born. It stayed that way for quite a long time.

closer view of the new additions

The yard of the fairy house was still a lot more bare than it had originally been. At Christmastime one year when there are a lot of little figurines available in the store for not much money I got a snowy tree and a log pile with some squirrels on it to add a little more interest.

the new fairy house

One day not too long after my new additions were added the fairy house was gone. Not the log forming the house itself this time as that remained tucked into the stump, but everything else. The whole entire platform had disappeared along with the little roof – and the squirrel logs and snowy tree. The platform had not been temporarily moved to another stump ever since the fairy house was no longer sitting on the platform. It had not been moved this time either. It was just gone. Perhaps whoever had originally put it there took it home for repairs? I considered that possibility, but it never came back. Missing the fairy house every time I passed by that stump one day I gave it a roof of dead fern leaves (because it was winter and there weren’t any live ones nearby), added some greenery from fallen branches, and stood pine cones around the edges wherever there was a spot to put them like a little fence. It wasn’t much, but it was at least something. Someone else added a tall stick. Most of the pine cones either got knocked completely off the stump or knocked over so they didn’t stay long. Whether that was wind, people, or squirrels I have no clue.

new fairy house in the snow

I couldn’t find anything like the original petal roof, but fashioned a new one with a plastic vine and flower from the dollar store. Adding a miniature ceramic bench from the local thrift store put a bit of color into its yard, which without the platform consisted of moss and stump top. Apparently I wasn’t the only one missing the fairy house because it wasn’t long before a little clump of red ceramic mushrooms appeared near the tiny bench. Soon after someone added a trinket to the house log giving the appearance of a window. Later a heart necklace showed up hanging on the side of the big stump. I added a fairy door and bridge to make it look more like a fairy house and populated the yard with a tiny turtle and a few itty-bitty frogs.

fairy house door

One day I noticed a painted rock on top of a post on a trail on the other side of the park. It sat there for about a week, then was gone. About a week or two later that very same rock showed up at the fairy house.

a painted rock comes to the fairy house

It’s fun always nice to walk by and see when anyone has added something new. Walking by with my husband one day I mentioned a dragon in a cave-like opening at the bottom of the stump would be a good addition so he ordered one on his phone before we even finished the walk. 

dragon’s lair

This fairy house was not as fancy as the original and never would be, but it was fun to add things and to see what other people add too. It turned onto a community effort. The regulars who go by there definitely enjoyed the return of the fairy house, and their part in decorating it. It still brought smiles to the faces of any visitors walking by too, at least anyone who likes coming across anything whimsical in the woods.


Eventually the dragon vanished. Apparently some people think they can just take whatever they want even though they have no right to abscond with anything they didn’t put there. People leave things for everyone who passes by to enjoy, not as free additions to somebody else’s private collection. It is possible people searching for the geocache think things are there for the taking, but also possible people just want the things for themselves or there’s one person who doesn’t like whimsy in the woods that takes it all away.

gnome village

One day the fairy house had new neighbors. A gnome village appeared on a nearby stump. A lot of people missed the original fairy house and bring new things to the area for everyone else to enjoy. It’s a continuous work in progress. I found a bigger and more roof-shaped flower to replace the small one in the middle of the vine roof. Not as good as the roof the original fairy house had, but better than it was.

new roof on the fairy house

Unfortunately not everyone brings things to the fairy house. Some people take them away. The turtle and painted rock vanished together one day.

fairy house with new painted rock

Several weeks later one of the three frogs vanished, and a new painted rock appeared, followed closely by another painted rock.

there’s a grinch in the woods

Sadly one day the replacement fairy house vanished, along with all the gnomes not attached to the village platform. Unlike the grinch in the story, rather than returning it, this real life grinch did further damage to the stump and threw the log that had made the base for the house into the nearby woods, then it left the area. Someone found it somewhere eventually and put it back, but the ledge it once sat on at the side of the stump was one of the things damaged when it was first taken so it doesn’t sit up so high now.

it’s not much, but enough to show people care

Not to be discouraged, other people added a few things, one of which looks suspiciously like the light that was the infrastructure of the original fairy house. It’s an ongoing everchanging display by those determined not to let one grinch ruin things for everyone else. After the small things stayed for some length of time it was time to try a new fairy house. The third rendition is much smaller, but came with a fairy and her yard furnishings as well as a number of small creatures.

in the third rendition a much smaller fairy house includes a fairy and her yard furnishings

Eventually some of those items began to go missing, starting with the painted rocks and moving on to small things like mushrooms and a bunny. It’s unknown whether this is the work of the whimsy hating grinch, or of people looking for the geocache who think items are there for the taking – nothing had vanished for several months until a welcome to the fairy house sign which said additions are welcome, subtractions are not disappeared.

a few things have gone missing

Shortly after things started going missing many new neighbors to the fairy house appeared scattered around the immediate area.

some of the new neighbors to the fairy house

After all those years of the original fairy house sitting in that spot, it’s now become constantly in flux with some people bringing things and others taking them away. It’s always fun to see what’s new, and sad to see what’s gone.

two new fairy houses perched on nearby stumps

The dolls didn’t last long, unlike the gnome village which is still there, minus the last gnome. Currently there is nothing but a ladybug left on the original stump, but the orange fairy house pictured above is still there along with a purple one hanging from a tree. Hopefully the new fairy houses and anything else people bring will stay for a long time.

The things in the woods are kind of like the people you meet in life. Some just pass through your life briefly while others stay around a long time. Some are like the very trees of the forest. It seems like they have always been there and always will be, but nothing is forever and sometimes windstorms knock down trees.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021


Posted in Randoms, Uncategorized, USA, Washington | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Boarding a Cruise Ship in a Covid World

Symphoy of the Seas in Miami

Boarding a cruise ship in a Covid world is nothing like the boarding process once was. First it starts with all the hoops you have to jump through before even arriving at the dock. Then there’s no more priority boarding or first come first served, or getting on early if you get there early and the previous passengers have all disembarked. Now there’s assigned arrival times and no waiting inside if you get there earlier. Vaccine cards and negative covid test results were added to the usual documents required for boarding such as passports (or other approved ID) and boarding passes. Most of the check-in information has been available to fill in online for quite sometime, and can now also be done in the app so there’s not a lot left to do once you get to the port. Even a lot of the documents can be digital if you choose that route rather than printing them out.

We flew to Miami a day ahead, which almost wasn’t soon enough. Barbara had no trouble on her flights and arrived in the afternoon. Our hotel was supposed to be downtown, not far from the cruise ship dock, and have a cruise ship shuttle. That’s what their online info said. The address didn’t match up to the blurb though as the one we ended up in was not near anything, looked nothing like the picture, and had never even heard of a cruise ship shuttle. It appeared that there were two hotels by the same company and though the address of the one we booked matched, nothing else did so apparently the booking site put the address of one hotel with the info for their other hotel. It was pouring rain all afternoon so Barbara didn’t really want to go anywhere anyway and probably would have stayed in for the afternoon even if she had been in the hotel we thought we’d booked.

long lines outside the port building

Meanwhile, Linda and I had what was supposed to be a 2-hour layover in Dallas. They had a very useful info finder that would show whatever you want to find at the airport, including restaurant locations and their menus so we had a great lunch at a Qdoba we wouldn’t have even known existed otherwise. Everything seemed fine up until boarding time. They even started making the initial boarding announcements and those who board first were all lined up and ready to go, but they didn’t let anyone on the plane. People waited and waited and finally they announced some mechanics were fixing the plane and boarding would start as soon as they were done. More time passed and they kept saying they would know in 15 minutes, but no info ever came. Then it changed to hopefully there would be a new plane provided if this one didn’t fly. People began to panic and look for other flights, but it was already late in the evening and there weren’t many. Just a few spots for over $350 per person that would take 10 hours to get to Miami with long layovers somewhere else. Nothing at all to Fort Lauderdale or even Orlando. So it was looking like if that plane didn’t fly Barbara might have been taking that cruise by herself unless we could find something leaving the next morning that would get us to the ship on time as the few available spots leaving that night would be snapped up by whoever had the fastest connection the second they announced the plane wasn’t leaving. Finally 2 hours after we were supposed to take off the plane boarded. It made up some time in the air and we arrived about an hour late, at that point not caring that the hotel was not where we expected it to be and looked like it had probably been quite a nice hotel in the 60’s or 70’s, but had nothing done to upgrade it since. We were just relieved to be in Miami at all.

after you get through the first line you go to the line to get in the door

Check out time was 11:00 am, and our boarding time wasn’t until 2pm. That was the earliest time available when I did our online check-in. Perhaps there may have been something earlier if it hadn’t opened a week before I was able to do the check-in, but it had never been open anytime I’d tried previously, then we were out of town for awhile. When I finally got the chance to register a lot of other people had already done theirs first. The very earliest times are probably only offered to the people with suites or high loyalty status who would normally have gotten priority boarding though.

Since we had lots of time and no shuttle, we took an uber to a Denny’s that was nearer to the dock than our hotel and hung out there a bit while some time passed. I wasn’t hungry so just had a glass of water, but the sisters got some food. There seemed to be a staff shortage like everywhere these days so it took awhile, which was actually good when you’re just trying to kill some time. A guy at the table next to us choked on his coffee and sprayed it all over his table companion, even dousing the poor guy’s phone. They moved them to a different table and wiped that table down, but did not remove or replace the caddy holding condiments and things. A bit later they seated a poor unsuspecting older couple totally unaware of the coffee shower there. Hopefully they did not need any condiments.

sisters on the gangway from the port building to the ship

We took another uber to the dock, which probably worked out better than a shuttle that would have gotten us there many hours too early. As it was it was still nearly an hour before our time. There were signs marking lines for 1:00-1:30. 1:30-2:00, and 2:00-2:30, with short lines at the first two and a very long one at the third, which we found the end of curving around back toward the other lines. As that line grew and the others shrank they started letting a few people at the front of that line into the other two so little by little we worked our way up to the front of the line, and eventually got put into one of the others before our actual boarding time. If anyone showed up with the earlier times they were ushered into a shorter line where people were sent to from those lines, the others of us they let through were sent to a longer one, but both ended up at the glass door entering the port building. Once we finally got through that door we just had to show our documents and were then sent upstairs.

stopping to photo the ship from the last bit of gangway

Instead of having the line maze that puts everyone through so the first person goes to the next available desk, this one was set up in separate lines. Some led to one desk, others to two. Unfortunately people were ushered into a line not of their choosing and we were sent to the end of a one-desk line. Which would not have been bad if people from that line actually got to go to that desk and get helped, but someone on the other end kept sending people from other lines there – even lines that had two desks of their own. All the other lines cleared several times while ours didn’t move at all. The people at the front of it loudly complained for a very long time before they finally got sent to the desk, but the next ones in line were not helped afterword. The only way anyone from that line ever got helped was to run to an available desk when the person directing people wasn’t looking so all the other lines cleared again a few times before we finally made it to be next. We were all poised to run to the desk in front of us as soon as the people there left, but just as we were about to go the person directing people showed up and sent people from the next line over who had just gotten there instead. There was a post to the right of our line and one line with two desks on the other side of it so as soon as the closer one cleared we made a break for it and got there first. The people who had been behind us in the never moving line were still there waiting their turn when we finished and were finally on our way to the ship. The person at the desk neither asked for us to show the credit cards we signed up our onboard accounts with like they used to always do nor gave us room cards, just checked the paperwork and said the key cards would be in the mailbox by the door to our cabin. I guess they just assume everyone goes straight to the ship since there’s no card to scan you in with to let them know when you board.

Finally on board!

Overall the boarding process went pretty smoothly, though it would have been a lot quicker had we not got stuck in the one line where they didn’t want to let anyone go up to the desk. That part would have gone a lot smoother if they had just let people go to the closest desk on their own rather than directing them out of other lines, or better yet made a one-line maze and directed the front people to the next available desk so everyone got helped in the order they arrived.

balcony cabin on Symphony of the Seas

We found our luggage in the hallway on the way to our cabin, so we brought that with us and had it right when we went inside rather than having to wait for an evening delivery as has happened on some cruises. One in particular out of Puerto Rico where we boarded fairly early in the morning never even got our luggage in time to change for dinner.

our muster station was by the exit of the 10-deck slides

The muster drill was quite different than pre-covid. Rather than gathering everyone up together, people individually watched videos either on the app or on the cabin TV (which knew if you watched it so no cheating) then went to their assigned muster station on their own where crew members waited to scan your card proving you had found it. Social distance muster drill. Actually a lot quicker and easier than the old way, other than for the crew people at the muster stations who probably had to stand there for several hours waiting to scan people’s cards. Especially the stragglers whom they kept announcing that the ship wouldn’t sail until they checked in at their muster stations. Calling them out by name didn’t even get them all until they finally made the announcement in Spanish so there must have been someone who didn’t speak enough English to understand what they were supposed to do.

Cruising during the pandemic was similar to prior cruises, yet different. Itineraries are far more likely to change between when you book the cruise and when it starts now. Entire cruises are also more likely to get cancelled, though far less likely now than a year or even a few months ago. That could change pretty easily with all the new variants that keep popping up. On a ship that holds over 6ooo passengers, our sailing had less than 3000. Not sailing with a full ship means more space per person and less lines and crowds, though there were entire sections of the ship closed off like one level of the dining room and some entire hallways of passenger cabins. All of the adults and older children were given a blue ribbon to wear around their wrist indicating they were vaccinated, and even though it was required for this cruise so there wouldn’t be anyone eligible onboard who wasn’t, showing the ribbon for proof was required to enter some venues like the ice show.

In the dining room people were seated just with their own party rather than at a larger table with other guests. All the venues kept vaccinated passengers separate from families with unvaccinated children, and some events and areas of the ship were for vaccinated guests only.

the three mask-ateers boarding the ship

The most noticeable difference was masks required in inside spaces. Since people are frequently going from inside to outside or outside to inside it gets pretty easy to forget to put the mask on or take it off. In case you showed up somewhere without one, there were pre-packaged individual masks available for the asking, and not just at guest services. Even the towel huts had a supply. Crew members were pretty quick to remind anyone they saw who forgot to put one on as they stepped inside.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021


Posted in Randoms, Royal Caribbean, Symphony of the Seas, USA | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Shanghai Tourist Attractions

shops in Shanghai

After disembarking the Westerdam in Shanghai we made our way through long hallways and many lines finally making it through the port only to find another long walk to the taxi stand. Too far for the wheels on my $30 bag, one of which started having issues about halfway through the terminal making the bag feel twice as heavy as it actually was. By the time we finally got to the taxi stand the wheel was bent into the frame and no longer mobile. At that point I decided I was done with cheap suitcases and invested in better quality luggage before my next trip. I haven’t had a problem with my bags since. It actually costs less to spend the money for good luggage once than it does to frequently replace broken cheap bags too flimsy for airplane travel.

world’s biggest Starbucks on Nanjing Street in Shanghai

Even though we walked the long distance to the official taxi stand in an attempt to avoid the much closer overpriced scam taxis, you don’t get any choice in which cab you get when your turn comes up. Though the ones in the approved taxi line are all registered cabs it doesn’t prevent the driver from not turning the meter on and charging too much. John pointed out that he had not turned the meter on, but he still refused to do it. Even after we said the amount he quoted was way too high and he pretended to agree on something a bit more reasonable he still charged what he originally said and not the agreed upon price when we got to our destination. Someone we met randomly at a restaurant who came to the same area from the same ship had a rare English-speaking driver and paid his honest cab a third of what ours cost. We did not take any cabs for the rest of our time in Shanghai. It’s easy to get around town on the subway when you want to go too far to walk, and the hotel had a shuttle to the airport.

Bund Riverside Hotel

We had a reasonably priced hotel called the Bund Riverside Hotel, which was walking distance to both the Bund and Nanjing Street as well as other area attractions. Our room had a view of the nearby canal, which is much smaller than the one by the Bund, and of the tall buildings in the Pudong area across the canal from the Bund with an especially good view of the Oriental Pearl Tower, one of 3 tall very towers in that district.

shopping mall in a subway station

A few blocks walk to Nanjing Street brought us to a subway where on line 2 it was just 4 stops to the Science Museum, which is also the station where you find the AP Plaza market with knock-offs or back door name brand products at more reasonable prices than in stores. The market is underground right at the subway station and extends for quite a distance with stalls up and down many hallways. Some are more willing to bargain than others, but if the price is too high at one shop you can always find the same item somewhere else. The quality of products here seemed better than at some of the other markets around town. Most of the shops are out in the open, but there was one designer purse shop hidden behind a panel in another store where you could only see their merchandise if someone invited you in.

Nanjing Street

Nanjing Street itself is a tourist attraction with many brightly lit shops, little trams and tram trains for people who’d rather not walk too far, and a pedestrian mall on part of the street so people can shop free of worry from cars.

inside the world’s biggest Starbucks

West Nanjing Street boasts the world’s largest Starbucks in the Starbucks Roastery – a large round building housing actual working coffee roasting equipment as well as coffee bars on two levels and a teavana tea bar upstairs. You can also get chocolates and pastries there, but the prices are as oversized as the building. In spite of the high prices the place was packed when we went in.

the Bund

The walk to the Bund was a bit farther than to Nanjing Street, but not bad. Even at night the area is well-lighted in most places, though the street leading to Nanjing is a small one and not lit as well as larger streets and there is a bit of a darker patch between there and the Bund as well where all the shops shut down at night, but neither is too dark to see. There are funny little alleyways off most of the bigger roads that have open gates leading to numerous little doorways. Some are small shops or massage parlors, but most of the places in the little alleys are people’s homes. We never felt unsafe walking around Shanghai in the dark, though day or night you do have to watch out for scooters. They’re everywhere, and often don’t use their lights at night. Scooters also rarely bother with any traffic laws, using sidewalks as well as streets (or parking up the whole sidewalk so people have to walk in the street), running red lights while people are in the crosswalks, and sometimes even traveling in the lane for traffic going the opposite direction. Somehow though they miraculously seem to manage not to crash or hit anyone. Which hardly seems possible considering they’re electric and run very quietly so you don’t hear them coming.

the Bund at night with the buildings lit up and colored lights on the little waterfalls at the canal’s edge

The Bund is a raised waterfront walkway along a wide canal where all the buildings are lit up at night. Mostly in white lights on the Bund side, and a neon light show across the water in the newer Pudong area. If you take one of the night cruises on the canal you can see color-changing lights on waterfalls under the edge of the Bund. About halfway between Bejing Street and Nanjing Street if you stay on the street level sidewalk rather than going up to the raised walkway of the Bund there are lots of little shops.

Hop on Hop off busses in Shanghai

Hiding between a couple shops is the entrance to the Sightseeing Tunnel, a ride that goes under the canal to the other side with a light show along the way. Shanghai’s hop on hop off busses can also get people across the canal on their route between tourist attractions.

Oriental Pearl Tower and other buildings in the Pudong area at night

If you want to get to the other side of the canal cheaply then go up to the raised Bund area and walk down to the ferry landing because it costs next to nothing to take the ferry across. In the daytime the canal is full of working boats, many of which the people who operate them live on their boat. Boats pass by in all states of repair or disrepair.

brightly lit boats cruise the river in the evenings

In the evening after dark the river comes alive with brightly lit boats taking people out for short river cruises. Mostly they’re just sightseeing cruises to look at the light shows on the buildings at the Bund and in Pudong on the other side of the water, but dinner cruises are an option too. The sightseeing cruises run for about 50 minutes. The ships sail past the Bund and Pudong before turning around to go back the other way and return to the dock. While it stays within the area of well-lit buildings, the cruise does venture farther down the river than the average tourist would walk along the shore on either side.

scenery inside the sightseeing tunnel

The Sightseeing tunnel is the fun way to cross the river between the Bund and the Pudong area regardless of which direction you want to go. On the Pudong side the entrance is by a convention center near the Pearl Tower. Little glass-sided trolleys take people through the tunnel on narrow gage tracks with an ever-changing light display along the tunnel throughout the ride. Try to get in the very front of the car because that is the only place where you really see the whole experience. They tend to stuff the cars full, but when it wasn’t busy we asked to wait for the next car when there were people ahead of us and they said that was fine so then we were first in and got to ride up front. Other ways to cross the river besides the super cheap ferry and the tunnel are by subway, bus, or taxi.

looking down on the Shanghai World Financial Center from the Shanghai Tower

Shanghai is full of tall buildings, but even there some tower above the rest. The Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center which looks like a giant bottle opener, and the Shanghai Tower, which is the tallest of them all. At the time we were there it was the second tallest building in the world next to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which is still the tallest. The Merdeka 118 in Malaysia is now second, but also still under construction. The Shanghai Tower had the world’s fastest elevator and an observation deck 120 stories up. The other 3 nearby very tall towers also have observation decks, and all of them are open to the public for a price. The night views are actually better than daytime views because in daylight only the things near to the towers are easily visible with everything else vanishing into the ever-present smog. At night you can see the lights of the city for a much greater distance.

pathway through Yuyuan Garden

Not far from each other, and fairly close to the Bund on Huaihui Road sit Yu Garden and Yuyuan Garden. The bus tour map that we had showed Yu Garden and our other tourist map that showed the subway stations showed Yuyuan Garden. Google Maps showed both.

Yu Garden’s many shops and old buildings sprawl through a former temple complex

The ship’s explore on your own lecturer on the Westerdam mentioned Yuyuan Garden in his talk on sights to see in Shanghai, but the description he gave of it actually fit Yu Garden. Yuyuan Garden is a small park, but Yu Garden is a large former temple complex full of shops in ancient buildings, pathways, a pond, and places to eat. It’s free to walk around the shopping areas, but it does have an actual garden and there’s a fee to go in there.

shops and Shanghai’s ever-present mob of scooters

Shopping is a big thing for tourists in China and there are plenty of shops in Shanghai. In addition to all the shops found at street level, there are numerous stores underground. Most of the subway stops have at least a few stores, and some have sprawling malls which can be anything from discount stores like the ones at AP Plaza to upscale malls like the one by the station in Pudong.

Gucheng Park

Shanghai is a sprawling metropolis, but it does have some green space. We found several parks or gardens within walking distance of our hotel, and from the window of our room we could see a trail running along the canal. Gucheng Park between the Bund and Yu Garden has trails through greenspace with sculptures and plants and even sculptures that are plants.

Yu Garden

Of course Shanghai has temples too. We didn’t visit any in Shanghai other than the former temple buildings at Yu Garden, but there are temples there that tourists can see.

canal boats and tall buildings in Shanghai

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
Posted in China, Holland America, Port Cities, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Muscat, Oman Van Tour

Lirica arriving in Muscat

Cruise ships share the port in Muscat with industrial uses so people are not allowed to walk through the port. Excursion busses meet at the ship and there are free shuttles to take other passengers to the port entrance. MSC Lirica passed out landing cards to passengers in lieu of a visa that would otherwise be required for entry into Oman through that port. This was standard for all of our port stops in Oman as they don’t require visas for cruise ship passengers from some countries where visas are required from other tourists.

sultan’s palace

There were a few taxi or van tours available at the port. There were not many and these were unwilling to negotiate for a better price than they were asking. There were a lot of taxis and vans just outside the port gates, and the price for these was negotiable. Prices were per vehicle and time at this port rather than per person so the more people who grouped together the less each one had to pay. We got together with 4 other people and got the price down from $50 per hour to $40 so the total cost for a 4 hour tour was just $160, or less than $30 each for the 6 of us. It was in euros, so a little more than dollars, but a whole lot less than if it were in Omani rials since euros are only worth a bit more than dollars, but rials are worth more than double.

Grand Mosque

First we went to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It was enormous. It looked new, but was built in traditional style and quite ornate. Sultan Qaboos reigned from July of 1970 until he died in January of 2020. During that time he built many things for his country including the grand mosque, which is the largest in Oman and was completed in 2001. Using all the different areas it can hold up to 20,000 worshipers.

you can look, but don’t touch these holy books at the grand mosque

Conservative clothing is recommended for going anywhere in Oman, but for mosques they are even more particular, especially for women. Our ship’s literature said everyone had to wear long sleeves, but they did let men into the mosque with short sleeves. Not so for women. Long pants (or skirts) were required of everyone, and head scarves for the women. I did have a scarf in my purse just in case I needed it for anything. I hadn’t brought anything with long sleeves though. We hadn’t planned on going inside a mosque, but since we were on a tour with other people we ended up doing so.

mosque worthy clothing

Outside of the mosque underneath a sign saying not to sell or rent clothing there was a guy with the trunk of his car full of clothes which he rented for $5 to women so they could enter the mosque. He was one of many. I got a long-sleeved full length coat sort of thing and one of the other women we were with got a scarf as the one she brought didn’t cover enough to meet with approval by the person at the door who checks everyone who enters. If you don’t have proper clothing they won’t let you in. Our dinner companions on the ship took a taxi tour and said their own taxi driver provided clothes for them to wear into the mosque. There were racks of clothes just in front of the entrance where they checked to see if people were dressed properly, but since we passed inspection I did not investigate whether those were for sale or rent.

leave shoes here

Some places inside the mosque required the removal of shoes. There were racks of shoe cubbies outside the doorways of these areas to put them in. You don’t necessarily come out the same door you go in, and there are multiple alcoves with shoe racks so it is very important to remember where exactly you left your shoes if you ever want to find them again. We went in 2 such rooms. Large open rooms with no furniture.

smaller plainer room in the mosque

There was no furniture anywhere that we saw in the mosque. The second room was far more ornate than the first. We assumed the smaller and plainer room was for the women and the larger and fancier one for the men. It had holy books in little niches along one wall, which people were not allowed to touch. The floor was carpeted, with trails of plastic set over it for the visitors to walk on. It had giant ornate chandeliers in the ceiling.

large fancy room in the mosque

Restrooms were of the Chinese style squat toilets, but at least these were clean. BYOP though. (Bring your own paper.) The sign for the men’s said restroom, but the women’s sign said ladies ablution place. They have cleansing rituals or ablutions to perform before prayer, but these apply to men as well as women.

fountain at the mosque

The mosque covered a lot of ground, mostly outside and some places had gardens. Unlike many desert countries, water is not scarce in Oman. This mosque also had fountains.

polishing the floor outside the opera house

Next we went to an opera house. It cost 9 euro to go inside so we just wandered around the outside for a bit since nobody in our van wanted to pay to go in. There was a guy driving a little cleaning or polishing machine around on the courtyard tile that reminded me of a zamboni in an ice skating rink.

viewpoint on our tour

Muscat’s Royal Opera House is the main venue for arts and culture in Oman. It has  educational programs as well as performances. It was built on the orders of Sultan Qaboos and holds up to 1,100 people. The opera house complex contains a concert theater, auditorium, formal landscaped gardens, retail market, restaurants and an art center.


We drove past a big beach and then went a few places for photo stops with views of the sea or marinas. Nestled in a little cove we saw a resort called Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort, which we could see only from a distance as we drove by.

Sultan’s palace

Last we went to the sultan’s palace, official residence of the monarch of the Sultanate of Oman. The sultan has fleet of yachts, some of which are big enough to be small cruise ships themselves.

gate at the sultan’s palace

The palace grounds where people were allowed was quite expansive, with views through the gate of a fancy entryway. I’d imagine there are private grounds as well where nobody can see them.

chandeliers in the big room at the mosque

We had planned to walk around the old town and visit the Muttrah souk, a famous shopping bazaar/flea market, but about the time we were leaving the palace it started to rain. Before we got back to town the rain turned into a downpour, the roads into rivers. None of us wanted to walk around in that so we just went back to the port entry where we had found the tour. Someone we talked to later on the ship said they had been at the souk when the rain came and it flooded. They had to walk out in water above their ankles.

There were shuttles waiting by the port entry so we got on without difficulty, but MSC is not very efficient getting people on and off the ship and of course many people returned when the downpour started. It was like a cattle call with way too many people all trying to squeeze under two little shelter tents. Most cruise lines let people in or out in a continuous stream, but MSC only allows a small group at a time on the gangway so it takes quite a long time to get people through the door. Meanwhile water poured between the little tents so if you got stuck standing in the bit of space between them you had a cold shower unless you could maneuver your way out from under the crack through the crowd.

sultan’s yachts docked at the port

All aboard time was 4:30, with departure scheduled at 5:00. We could see the gangway from our cabin on the ship. Time came and went and the gangway wasn’t lifted. A few lucky people squeaked in past all-aboard time from two HoHo busses with just a couple people each, and the same with a couple port shuttles. One of the officers paced up and down the gangway while talking to someone on the phone – likely about an excursion that hadn’t yet returned. Finally at 5:20, nearly an hour past all-aboard and 20 minutes beyond departure time a busload of people pulled in, a ship’s excursion returning late. Besides watching the late arrivals, from our cabin window we could also see what looked like a couple cruise ships, but they were actually two of the sultan’s yachts.

waiting for stragglers to return to the ship

Not getting left behind if you return late is the biggest benefit of booking shore excursions through the ship. If something goes wrong and you don’t make it back on time the ship waits. Not so for anyone venturing out on their own. There’s a number to call for help if you miss the ship, but financially catching up to it at the next port is all on you. The crew waiting outside hurried the late arrivals onboard and took down their shelter tents, but didn’t pull the gangway. Shortly after another late bus arrived. Perhaps a couple of the farther venturing excursions got stuck somewhere for awhile with impassible roads in the afternoon rain. At about 5:40 a third bus showed up and they finally pulled in the gangway so we were quite late leaving port. That probably cost the ship extra since they stayed nearly an hour past the scheduled departure time.

Grand Mosque

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

Camano Island Airbnb

Cabin on Camano Island

When looking for a place to book for a short getaway at a time when nobody knew when Covid vaccines would actually be available, somewhere at least somewhat isolated sounded a whole lot better than a visit to a city. Islands, mountains, or in unpopulated rural areas even beaches can fill that bill. In searching areas not too far away to keep with local travel, Camano Island seemed a perfect spot. While it is an island, it’s accessible by a bridge so no boat required. It’s largely rural with just a few businesses like stores and restaurants, and has beaches, forest, and two state parks.

cabins at Cama Beach State Park

I brought my mom with me on this trip as the getaway was a Christmas gift to her. By the time we actually went we had both received vaccines, but of course we hadn’t known if that would be the case at the time I booked the trip. I looked for an Airbnb to stay in, of the sort where you get the entire house to yourselves so we would not need to be in contact with anyone. I didn’t think Camano Island had any hotels, but google says it does. There’s also camping at the state parks. One of them has quite a few cabins, which are more or less just wooden tents since you have to bring everything including the bedding and the occupants use a shared public restroom. They’re also closer together than we wanted for this trip, so we stuck with looking for an Airbnb.

one bedroom had an orange bedspread and free-standing nightstands with lamps

I found a nice cabin on the south end of the island with two bedrooms and a waterfront view. It had space available at a time when both of us had nothing prior scheduled that would interfere, so I booked it. When booking several months in advance you never know what the weather will be, but that’s what raingear is for should the need arise. As it got closer to time to go weather forecasts varied from no rain to raining the whole time we were there. In the end it only rained on part of the way there, part of the way back, and during one night. Even the predicted clouds that were supposed to hover about throughout our stay didn’t materialize, or at least not enough to fog out our lovely view.

the other bedroom had a blue bedspread and wall-mounted shelves and lights

It’s nice when Airbnb’s have a name so the listing is easier to find should someone else want to book it, but this one was just listed as Puget Sound view cabin + beach access. It has two nearly identical bedrooms so nobody has to worry about who gets the best room. Both are about the same size with queen beds. The main difference was nightstands in one and wall mounted shelves on either side of the bed in the other. Both had small closets, but not for the guest’s things as one housed the on-demand water heater and a vacuum cleaner while the other held cleaning supplies. There was no locked closet like you find in most bnb’s where they keep their spare linens and cleaning supplies. Everything here was accessible to the guests.

hammock in the backyard

For the most part this cabin is very easy to find. You just take the Stanwood/Camano Island exit off I-5 and head west. The street changes names a few times along the way, but we never had to turn off it. My GPS was unaware of when we had arrived though so it never alerted us that we had reached our destination. The cabin is set back a ways from the road and you don’t see it as you come around a corner. I’d have missed it if it weren’t for the arrow-shaped sign with the address on it pointing down a gravel driveway people otherwise may not notice. When we got back into the car the next morning the GPS wanted to know if we wanted to continue our route as it still hadn’t realized we were already there. Once you turn at that arrow and head down the gravel driveway you can see the cabin.

kitchen in the cabin

The cabin has a great room with kitchen and living room areas. The back wall contains 2 barn doors, each opening up to a bedroom, with a door to the bathroom in between. The full kitchen and is supplied with pots, pans, and dishes as well as basic cleaning supplies like dish soap and towels. It has cabin sized appliances with a small refrigerator and cute little stove. There’s several choices of where to sit and eat with a couple stools at the small kitchen island, a little table for two with comfortable chairs by the window, and a third table with wicker stools by the door.

living room

The living room area held a sofa and two chairs, one with an ottoman. It had windows pretty much all the way across the side facing Puget Sound, with a view of Saratoga Passage, Whidbey Island, and the Olympic Mountains. The view also included the backyard which had a fire pit and chairs to sit around the fire and a hammock. A porch extended across that side of the cabin, and had a couple seating areas for anyone wanting to sit on the porch to enjoy the view. There’s no TV or internet, but nature provided entertainment. Besides the view there were often birds in the yard and sometimes a squirrel.

bathroom in the bnb

The cabin sat on a bluff above the water. The beach access was a short walk on the main road to a small side street that ran steeply down to the beach. The street ended a bit above the beach, with some large rocks providing a way down and a rope above to assist in getting back up across the steepest of the rocks.

beach near the cabin

We walked down to the beach the evening we arrived and found that at high tide most of it was under water, though there was a small bit of beach near the rock access where we took a very short beach walk with a lovely view. This is a nice cabin for people looking for a quiet place to get away.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
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